We have a particular point-of-view on software development that frames how we work and bill.
Average-quality, poorly-tested software applications become harder to change and maintain over time, as complexity builds and the risk to changing the code increases. We’ve felt this pain in the past, and we’ve learned to take a rigorous approach to software quality.
We practice test-driven-development, build extensive automated tests into all our software, and have adopted a no-known-bugs practice. Baking quality into our processes leads to low-risk, easily-changed software that pays for itself in ease of maintenance and upgradeability. We find that it actually becomes faster over time to build new features and make changes to well-tested code.
Working this way requires a skillset we've honed over many years. "Working faster" by doing lower-quality work requires a different skillset, one which we don't cultivate. This committment to a incremental, high-quality development process has a few implications.
We prefer long-term clients
We generally only work with clients that have the potential for a long-term relationship. This allows us to establish rapport and trust that improves the development process. We also prefer long-term projects, since we develop faster over time. One-off commodity applications (content-driven websites, Shopify apps, and the like) can be done cheaper by someone else.
We bill for time
We develop quite fast and can predict many things accurately, but we still prefer to bill based on time, rather than a fixed bid. It is a good fit for our business and long-term clients, because it makes sure you are not spending money on features you don't need, and allows our relationship to grow and develop over time in the ways that benefit your business. Sometimes you need more resources. Sometimes you don't need any active development. Often, you find out halfway through development you don't need the feature you thought you did. Software development is a fluid process, even for us, so we find that time-and-materials billing is in everyone's interest.
That said, we understand clients will want to limit their liability early on. We have ways of designing our projects to make sure you don't end up laying down thousands of dollars with an unsatisfactory result. As mentioned above, we really only look for long-term clients, so if you're not satisfied, it doesn't do us any good.
We only bill programmer hours
You're paying for the time one of our programmers spends on your project. Our development process (and the investment we make in those programmers) obviates the need for dedicated project management or QA testing. Work is broken down into small tasks and continuously integrated and deployed, and all regression testing is done through automated tests at the unit, system, and UI level. The percentage of time our programmers are working on value-adding work is very high.
What is included that you are not directly paying for is the guidance and support (pair programming, code review, architectural planning, etc.) done by Lithic principals with the programmers on your project. Our high quality engineering is our differentiation, and maintaining this doesn't happen by itself. It happens with consistent, dedicated investment, and this time is not billed to you.
So how much does it cost?
For most projects, we bill $1000 per programmer per day ($2000 per day for principals). We only bill for the days worked, so you are not billed for holidays and sick days.
For circumstances requiring hourly billing, we bill $130/hr ($270/hr for principals). This can include additional resources on an existing project, projects requiring highly variable effort, or maintenance on existing projects.
Note that other types of projects or development activities may be billed at a higher or lower rate, which we'll discuss upfront. Also, enterprise clients are billed a higher rate, due to the additional non-billable work required.
When do I get billed?
We prefer billing every 2 weeks on NET15, with payments made online via ACH through our payment portal. However, we understand you may have your own billing methods and cycles, and can work with those.
Can you make an exception
Probably. We are still a relatively small shop, with a set of diverse technical expertise, so we can be flexible and make exceptions as long as we think it's to all parties' benefit (in this type of relationship, anything to one party's benefit is really detrimental to all). One thing we normally can't go down on is our rate, since time is an inherently scarce resource. That said, we do offer flexible payment options for qualifying clients, but this is done on a case-by-case basis. But feel free to ask!
Can't I get this done cheaper?
Maybe! We know we're not cheap, but cost is relative, software is expensive, and experienced, competent contractors are rare. We can confidently say that you will not be able to get equally high-quality work done for less. You can probably get lower-quality work for cheaper, or comparable-quality work for more money (and, of course, definitely lower-quality work for more money).
In some cases, you may have a problem that can be solved with some software customization (e.g. CMS theming) rather than custom software. We can recommend other consultancies or agencies that would be able to do great work at a lower cost than we can. And for certain types of problems, you may be able to solve them yourself using "No Code" solutions, like Webflow or Bubble.
If you need custom software, then "can I get this done cheaper" really means "can I get by with lower-quality work?" Maybe! Our experience says that you rarely can, though. The problem with low-quality work is that the best-case scenario is throwing it in garbage before it is in production, eating the cost, and getting it done right. In the worst case, you are spending many years replacing the original application, at an incredible cost (based on our experience in the tech startup world, we would say most programmers are spending most of their time on this, and it's one of the reasons we started Lithic).
If you haven't reached out yet, please get in touch so we can learn more about you and your project, and see if we're a good fit.