What an app Costs

Now it’s time for the hard part, how much will it cost to build an app? For the majority of app builders, their pricing structure is either Retainer based, or Project Based. Each of these have different considerations, so let’s look at each one at a time.

Retainer based

A Retainer is when you work with a freelancer or company that provides you with app development services over the long term, and they charge on a recurring basis.


Chances are, you app will need changes after it’s initially created. Even if you won’t want to make any changes, over time as the technology changes, the app stores will require changes to the app code. One advantage of a retainer based service is you will get those updates included.


If your app needs minimal changes, a retainer may cost more in the long term.

Also, some retainer based freelancers will not take on large and complicated apps on a retainer basis.

What’s available?

For creating a new website, there are lots of services that will let you ‘drag and drop’ elements together to create a website yourself. Services like SquareSpace and Wix.

For mobile apps, there are similar services. Services like AppyPie, Thunkable, and many, many others. There are plenty of reviews out there, but in general the consensus is that the apps are not extremely high quality. The advantage though, is that they often cost between $5-$100/month.

If you think something less do-it-yourself but still inexpensive would be a better fit, there are lots of freelancers and consultants that offer retainer services for mobile apps. They operate by having a library of already developed features, and then combine them together to make the app you need. If you need a feature set that they don’t already have available, they may charge an upfront fee to create that feature. That typically costs between $500-$2000, and on an ongoing basis you can expect to spend $200-$600 per month.

Unfortunately, these can be some of the hardest to find. The lower cost options are pretty easy to find in a google search, and the project based options below can be found on freelancer platforms. But generally retainer based freelancers advertise via word of mouth, so if you don’t have anyone in your professional network, it can be challenging to find someone in this range.

Project Based

A Retainer is when you work with a freelancer or company that provides you with app development services during a defined time, and they charge on a one time basis.


The biggest pro of a project based relationship is that the pricing will typically be very clear and upfront. A good freelancer will work with you to understand what you’re looking for, and then tell you how much your app will cost to build.

If your app will not change very often, this may be the cheapest option. Generally for a project-based freelancer, they will give you a new quote every time you would like to change something.

Finally you will be able to get any feature that that freelancer is able to do, so you won’t be constrained by a pre-existing feature set.


Freelancers that operate on a project basis will rebuild everything from scratch every time they have a new client. This can increase the price by a bit, since the freelancer isn’t building on existing work.

Every time you request a change to the app, or the app store requirements change, you will have to get a new quote, so over time the costs can add up.

Hourly rates vary between freelancers, and each one will have a different idea of how long your app will take to develop. That can make the decision of which freelancer to use very difficult.

Finally, it’s possible that your freelancer won’t understand that you are trying to accomplish with your app, which can waste time and eat into your budget.

What’s available?

For finding a project based developer, there are lots of places you can find them. Market places like UpWork and Freelancer.com make it easy to list what you’re looking for and your budget, and let the developers come to you. The difficult part is figuring out what an appropriate budget is.

You can expect rates between $60-$100/hr for US-based developers, and $20-$40/hr for non-US-based developers.

Additionally, estimates for how long a project will take will be different for each developer. Some will be very fast, but they will tend to charge more. For a simple app, 100 hours of work might be a reasonable estimate, and for an advanced one spending 720-1000 hours might be reasonable. Doing the math, you might spend as little as $2000 with an overseas developer for a small app, or as high as $100,000.

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