Software Development Agencies: Billing Models | Teami

Software Development Agencies: The Different Types of Billing Models

We will guide you through the diverse billing models, from the traditional fixed price and time and material models to the emerging subscription-based and freemium models and we'll delve into the pros and cons of each

In the dynamic world of software development, understanding the various billing models employed by agencies is crucial. As someone who has navigated the intricate landscape of software projects, I've seen firsthand how the right pricing model can shape the client-agency relationship and impact the overall project outcome. This article will guide you through the diverse billing models, from the traditional fixed price and time and material models to the emerging subscription-based and freemium models and we'll delve into the pros and cons of each.

Fixed Price Model

Understanding the Fixed Price Model

The fixed price model is a pricing strategy commonly used in software development agencies. In this model, the total cost of a project is agreed upon before the development process begins. This cost is based on a detailed estimation of the time and resources it will take to complete the project. The fixed price model is often used for short-term contracts with specific, well-defined requirements. For example, it's ideal for developing a landing page or a simple mobile application.

In the fixed price model, the budget, timeline, and scope of the project are all set in stone. This means that any unexpected situations, such as technical delays or sick leave, should be either included in the initial calculations or eliminated entirely. It's important to note that this model requires precise planning and thorough project management to be successful.

Pros and Cons of the Fixed Price Model

The fixed price model has several advantages. First, it provides a predetermined budget, meaning you know the total cost of the project upfront. Second, it offers a precise delivery time, as all deadlines are set in advance. Third, it simplifies project management, as the detailed planning and schedule make it easier to monitor the project's progress.

However, the fixed price model also has some disadvantages. Software development projects often encounter unforeseen issues or challenges along the way. In a fixed price model, it can be difficult to address these issues without impacting the budget and timeline. With a fixed price model, the development team takes on more risk. If the project takes longer or requires more resources than initially estimated, the development team may have to cover those additional costs without being compensated.

Case Study of Fixed Price Model

A real-world example of a software development agency using the fixed price model is Yellow, a company with over 7 years of experience serving clients globally. They have used the fixed price model for smaller, short-term projects with well-defined requirements. However, they generally recommend the time and materials model for longer projects, as it provides more flexibility and involvement for their clients.

Time and Material Model

Understanding the Time and Material Model

In the realm of software development agencies, the Time and Material model, often abbreviated as T&M, is a prevalent approach. This model diverges from the fixed price model as it bills customers based on the actual time and resources required to complete the project. In essence, the cost of the work is calculated from the set hourly rates of each development team member. This model shines particularly when the project's scope is not fully clear or when the project needs to be built from scratch without a conducted discovery phase.

Pros and Cons of the Time and Material Model

The T&M model carries several advantages. A time and material model ensures that the client and the development team have a mutual understanding of the project goals and priorities. The focus is on delivering value and meeting the client's changing needs, rather than being restricted by a fixed scope or budget.

However, the T&M model also has its potential pitfalls. It requires the client to constantly track costs and stay fully involved in the project. There can be concerns related to cost, as the final cost won’t come as an absolute surprise but will be based on estimates. Also, the final deadlines may be rather flexible due to the nature of the model.

Case Study of Time and Material Model

A real-world example of a software development agency using the T&M model is Cogniteq. They are very flexible and can build their cooperation with clients in accordance with the principles of various models, including the T&M model. They analyze the requirements and specifics of the project at the very earliest stages and offer a variety of options for clients, explaining all the pluses and minuses of each of them in individual cases.

Milestone-Based Model

Understanding the Milestone-Based Model

The Milestone-Based Model is a unique approach to billing in software development agencies. Unlike the fixed price or time and material models, the milestone-based model operates on the principle of achieving predefined milestones within a certain period. Essentially, the client is billed when a specific scope of work has been completed, marking the achievement of a milestone. This model is highly dependent on the time spent and the objectives achieved for each milestone. It's like a progress-based payment system, where the client pays for actual functionality delivered to them. This model is particularly useful in projects where the scope is well-defined, and the progress can be measured in terms of milestones achieved.

Pros and Cons of the Milestone-Based Model

Like any other model, the milestone-based model has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it allows clients to pay based on achievements, giving them more control over the results. It also provides a clear criterion for approval, with most IT companies providing a checklist to guide clients in assessing the work done.

However, the milestone-based model also has its drawbacks. The rigid nature of milestone-based models can make it difficult to accommodate changes or new requirements during the development process. This lack of flexibility can hinder the ability to respond to customer feedback or market demands. In milestone-based models, there is often less collaboration and communication between the development team and the stakeholders. This can lead to a disconnect between what the stakeholders actually need and what the development team delivers.

Case Study of Milestone-Based Model

A practical example of the milestone-based model can be seen in the operations of many software development agencies. For instance, an agency might set milestones based on the completion of project phases such as planning, design, development, testing, and deployment. Each phase represents a milestone, and upon its completion, the client is billed based on the time spent and the objectives achieved. This model allows for a more flexible approach to billing, where payment is tied to the progress of the project rather than a fixed price or hourly rate. However, it requires a high level of trust and cooperation between the client and the agency to work effectively.

Dedicated Team Model

Understanding the Dedicated Team Model

The dedicated team model is a business model where a client (usually an outsourcing company) establishes long-term relationships with a service provider (a dedicated development team). This model is similar to having an in-house team, but without the need to worry about taxes, social benefits, and HR issues. The dedicated team works remotely, full-time, and reports directly to the client. It's a perfect choice for the development of complex solutions in a rapidly changing environment. The client delegates the recruitment process to the outsourcing company and benefits from full management control.

Pros and Cons of the Dedicated Team Model

The dedicated team model has several strengths. It provides access to a wide range of expertise without the need for in-house hiring. It's flexible in terms of requirements and deadlines, and it allows for rapid scaling if the project scope and requirements grow. However, it also has some weaknesses. It requires a significant level of trust between the client and the service provider. It also requires effective communication and management to ensure that the remote team aligns with the client's goals and culture.

Case Study of Dedicated Team Model

A real-world example of the dedicated team model in action is the partnership between TRIARE and a client who wanted to build a video streaming app for kids. The client had a bold vision but little requirements, and they needed to move fast. TRIARE provided a dedicated team that included a backend developer, Android developer, iOS developer, Project Manager, and QA engineer. They used Swift, Kotlin, and Ruby to create stand-alone iOS and Android versions of the app. The team produced an MVP in the agreed time and launched the project. In the end, the client received a ready-to-go product that won several awards, including the Kidscreen award 2019 and 1st place at the SXSW in the category "Entertainment and Content".

Retainer Model

Understanding the Retainer Model

The retainer model is a popular pricing strategy in software development agencies. In this model, clients pay a fixed fee, usually monthly, for ongoing services. Think of it like a subscription service, where the client pays regularly to retain the agency's services over a long period. This model is ideal for continuous services where the agency works with clients for extended periods, such as a year or more, or when the agency provides a consistent package of deliverables at regular intervals.

In software development, the retainer model could cover services like continuous support, regular updates, bug fixes, and feature enhancements. This model fosters a long-term relationship between the agency and the client, with the agency becoming an integral part of the client's operations.

Pros and Cons of the Retainer Model

The retainer model has several advantages. It provides a steady, predictable cash flow for the agency, which can aid in planning and resource allocation. It also allows for a deeper understanding of the client's business over time, leading to better work. The model is flexible to the client's requirements, so if a new project requires additional development time or a period of testing on another product, the agency can account for this in the retainer and bill accordingly.

However, the retainer model also has its drawbacks. It requires a high level of trust and commitment from both parties. If the client's needs change or if they are dissatisfied with the agency's work, it can be challenging to adjust the terms of the agreement. Additionally, the agency must ensure that it can deliver consistent value to justify the ongoing cost to the client.

Case Study of Retainer Model

A real-world example of the retainer model in action is the relationship between clients and Komodo Digital, a digital agency. Komodo Digital offers a retainer model where they become an extension of the client's team, working towards shared goals. They bill their services based on clear outputs, not inputs, and provide a list of deliverables each month that contribute towards achieving the client's goals.

This model allows for growth, scaling, and the impact of technical debt and other problems that might occur. It also takes into account the potential for growth and the need for ongoing support, making it a flexible and effective solution for long-term software development projects.

Mixed Pricing Model

Understanding the Mixed Pricing Model

The mixed pricing model, also known as the hybrid model, is a unique approach to software development pricing that combines the best aspects of other pricing models. This model is particularly beneficial for software development agencies as it provides flexibility in cost management. It allows agencies to adjust their pricing strategy based on the project's requirements, complexity, and timeline.

In essence, the mixed pricing model is a blend of different pricing strategies. It could combine elements of fixed pricing, where a set price is agreed upon for a defined scope of work, and time and materials pricing, where the cost is determined by the time and resources expended on a project. This model is designed to optimize cost and manage risks associated with software development.

Pros and Cons of the Mixed Pricing Model

Like any pricing model, the mixed pricing model has its strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, it offers a high degree of flexibility. It allows software development agencies to adapt their pricing strategy to the specific needs and circumstances of each project. This can lead to more accurate pricing and better cost optimization.

Moreover, the mixed pricing model can provide a balance between risk and control. It allows for adjustments in pricing based on changes in project scope or requirements, which can help manage risks associated with project delays or changes.

However, the mixed pricing model also has its drawbacks. It can be more complex to manage than other pricing models due to its flexible nature. It requires careful tracking of time and resources to ensure accurate billing. Additionally, it may lead to uncertainty about the final cost of a project, as the price can fluctuate based on various factors.

Case Study of Mixed Pricing Model

A real-world example of a software development agency using the mixed pricing model is Mad Devs, a custom software development company. They use a hybrid model for projects with unclear objectives and requirements at the start. This model allows for feedback and input during the early stages, but it can be refined over time to deliver the best possible results. It also provides a controlled environment for the service provider, allowing customers to keep their budgets flexible and avoid compromising on the quality of their product or application.

Emerging and Less Common Billing Models

Understanding Emerging Billing Models

Emerging billing models in software development agencies are reshaping the way businesses operate and generate revenue. One such model is the subscription-based model, which involves recurring payments for continued access to a product or service. This model provides predictable revenue and strengthens customer relationships over time. Another emerging model is the freemium model, where basic services are provided free of charge, while premium services are available for a fee. This model allows users to try the product before committing to a purchase. Lastly, the open-source software business model is gaining traction. In this model, the core software is free, and revenue is generated from additional services or features.

Pros and Cons of Emerging Billing Models

Each of these models has its advantages and disadvantages. The subscription model, for instance, provides steady revenue and customer loyalty, but it may deter potential customers who are unwilling to commit to a recurring fee. The freemium model can attract a large user base, but it relies on a small percentage of users upgrading to premium services for revenue. The open-source model fosters innovation and community involvement, but it can be challenging to generate sufficient revenue from additional services or features.

Case Study of Emerging Billing Models

A real-world example of a software development agency using an emerging billing model is Red Hat. Red Hat uses an open-source business model, offering enterprise-grade features and up-time guarantees to satisfy business or compliance requirements. They also provide professional support, training, and consulting services. This model has proven successful, with Red Hat becoming a leading provider of enterprise open-source solutions.

Factors Software Development Agencies Consider When Choosing a Billing Model

Project Scope and Timeline

When choosing a pricing model in agencies, the project scope and timeline play a significant role. Project scope refers to the specific goals, deliverables, features, and tasks that need to be completed. A larger scope often means a more complex project, which can influence the choice of billing model. For instance, a fixed price model might be chosen for projects with a clear scope and established project management methodologies.

The project timeline, on the other hand, refers to the estimated duration for the completion of the project. Projects with shorter timelines might opt for a time and material pricing model, which provides agility and flexibility in software development. This model is particularly useful when project requirements can't be defined precisely at the outset, allowing for adjustments and alterations as the project progresses.

Budget and Flexibility

Budget is another crucial factor affecting billing model choice in agencies. Clients with tight budgets often lean towards fixed price models, which provide a predefined set of requirements for a predefined price. This model is ideal for clients who require absolute certainty about the cost of the project.

Flexibility, on the other hand, refers to the ability to adapt to changes in project requirements, cost estimation, and time constraints. A time and material pricing model is often chosen for projects that require a high degree of flexibility. This model allows clients to pay the real price without any premiums, offering transparency and control over where their money goes.

However, it's important to note that each pricing model has its own set of challenges. For instance, the fixed price model can lead to negotiation issues if there are deviations from the initial scope, while the time and material model requires deep involvement from the client to control costs and ensure efficient progress. Therefore, selecting a costing model in agencies often involves a careful evaluation of the project's scope, timeline, budget, and flexibility requirements.


Choosing the right billing model can significantly impact the client-agency relationship and the overall outcome of the project. From fixed-price to time and material, dedicated team, retainer, mixed, and emerging models, each has its unique advantages and challenges. It's all about finding the model that best aligns with your project needs and business goals.

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