Not sure whether to build your tech stack with off-the-shelf software, or if you should invest in developing no-code and low-code bespoke solutions? Traditional custom software takes substantial time and investment to develop, making it inaccessible to most small and medium-sized businesses. 

However, the advent of no-code and low-code builders—which let you build bespoke solutions at a fraction of the cost, in less time–has made custom software more accessible to small businesses. But despite these developments, custom solutions aren’t necessarily the better choice.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the pros and cons of custom software vs off-the-shelf solutions. We also discuss how many small businesses can benefit from developing a tech stack that incorporates both types of solutions.

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What is off-the-shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software refers to standardised, mass-produced software solutions that are ready-made and available to the general public. These solutions can be deployed and used almost instantly—and they’re typically much cheaper than custom software. 
Some examples of off-the-shelf software include:

  • Project management (PM) tools. Tools like Trello, Asana, and ClickUp are one-size-fits-all PM tools designed for a wide audience—effectively, anyone who needs a ready-to-go tool.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) systems. CRMs like HubSpot, PipeDrive, and Salesforce are mass-market solutions you can customise (to an extent) to your needs.
  • Business management suites, like Caflou, let companies manage core business functions like customer relationships, projects, finances, time and human resources. However, while many business management solutions are for mass market, Caflou is specifically tailored to the needs of businesses with 1-100 employees. 

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of choosing off-the-shelf software.

5 Pros of off-the-shelf solutions

1. No development time or cost

Developing custom software can take several months—industry benchmarks estimate simpler custom apps can take three months to develop, while more complex ones may take up to nine

While no-code app builders can reduce this time to a few weeks, using an off-the-shelf solution lets you skip development times and costs altogether. 

2. Immediate deployment

If you need a business management suite, a CRM, or something as simple as a scraping tool today, waiting a few weeks or several months to develop and deploy a custom solution just isn’t feasible. 

Off-the-shelf software solutions are already developed and tested, so you can immediately deploy them to solve your problem. This convenience is especially useful for situations where businesses need software to fulfil customers’ needs. 

3. Ecosystem of integrations

Integrations let you connect different software together, so they can share data and perform connected actions. Most integrations are achieved through application programming interfaces (APIs)–in simple terms, an API is a software intermediary that lets two different solutions “talk” to each other.

However, APIs can take months to build and require resources. That’s why choosing off-the-shelf solutions is an advantage here, because they’ll have an existing ecosystem of pre-built integrations that you can use to connect your apps.

4. Updates and development managed externally

Purchasing a license for off-the-shelf software means you won’t be responsible for updating and maintaining it—the vendor takes care of that. So, you won’t have to allocate time and resources to manage the software. It also means businesses don’t need to rely on in-house technical experts to make updates and add features.

5. On-demand support

Off-the-shelf SaaS (software as a service) tools typically include support options in their plans, which may be tiered (e.g., live chat support for basic plans and call support for advanced). 

On-premise software apps may also come with support, albeit sometimes at an additional cost. Having on-demand support from the vendor means you don’t need to hire and retain technical experts internally to help you with any software challenges that arise. 

4 Cons of off-the-shelf solutions

1. Not tailored to the way your business operates now and thinks

Since off-the-shelf software is designed for mass-market, it’s not tailored to the way any one business works specifically. This means the core modules, permissions and user hierarchies, terminologies and workflows, etc., won’t reflect how your business operates and thinks. 

However, it’s worth noting that the way your business operates now isn’t necessarily the way you’ll want it to long-term. Some software platforms–like project management tools or business management suites–can help small, fast-growing businesses standardise their processes and improve the way they work. So it’s important to consider your needs before committing. 

2. Features bloat

Off-the-shelf software typically comes with pre-built features for all users, which means you might end up with functionality that your team doesn’t need. This could possibly complicate workflows and the onboarding process. Some off-the-shelf solutions try to limit this drawback by letting you pick and choose modules, but this option can complicate the pricing.

3. Limited customisation

Off-the-shelf solutions typically offer limited customisation, so if you need more drastic changes, you’ll either need to submit a feature request or bridge the gap with an additional app. The first option can be time-consuming because, unless other customers submit the same request, developers may not prioritise them (and they might not implement them at all).

The second option means adding more tools to your tech stack, which can increase your costs and increase administrative work (managing multiple logins, subscriptions, permissions, etc.).

4. Higher recurring costs 

Subscription costs are an important consideration when deciding between bespoke software vs. off-the-shelf software. Software vendors, particularly SaaS vendors, usually offer tiered pricing plans to suit different needs. But you’ll likely have to spend more to unlock more advanced features, and buying multiple user seats can quickly drive your costs up. 

However, no-code and low-code app builders also have recurring subscription costs–although they’re typically lower than SaaS subscriptions. And if you’re building multiple apps with the same app builder, you’ll save your business from multiple subscriptions.

It’s important to consider the costs on a case-by-case basis before making a decision; how much would you be spending on SaaS tools? And how much is the builder going to cost you? 

What is custom low-code and no-code software?

As the name suggests, custom software is software that’s uniquely developed for your business. It’s typically expensive to develop, since you’ll have to either create it in-house (which requires time and expertise) or hire an outside contractor (which is expensive and, again, takes time).

However, no-code and low-code platforms have made custom software more accessible, allowing businesses to design tailored software faster and with considerably less investment. Here’s more on how custom low-code and no-code solutions compare to off-the-shelf software.

4 Pros of custom low-code and no-code software

1. Fully customisable

The main reason businesses choose to invest in custom software is that they can create platforms uniquely tailored to their needs. This means creating solutions that use your internal terminology, reflect your workflows, and support your company-and-team-level hierarchies. 

2. Easily adapted/updated as your needs evolve

Need to add a feature, redesign role permissions, or scrap a module you no longer need? Custom software gives you complete freedom to do this – not only because its development is in your hands, but also because you don’t need a wider audience to support the changes (whereas off-the-shelf vendors need to consider this).

3. No excess features

Building your own custom software lets you keep the solution lean—you can add only the features and modules your business needs, nothing unnecessary. This keeps your software lean and saves your team from being bogged down by modules and features they don’t need, which could complicate their workflows.

4. Reusability of core building blocks

Using low-code and no-code builders specifically has the advantage of allowing you to “reuse” core building blocks. For example, if you create modules for “resources” (with hierarchies, access levels, and user permissions), you can use this module across different custom solutions (like a CRM, project management tool, etc.).

6 Cons of custom low-code and no-code software

1. Takes longer to set up and deploy

While low-code and no-code software doesn’t take as long to develop as coded custom software, it still takes longer to design, set up, and deploy than off-the-shelf solutions. Your team will also need to thoroughly test the platform before it’s adopted company-wide.

2. Learning curve for no and low-code development

While you don’t (in most cases) need to know a programming language to use no-code app builders, you’ll still need to invest time in learning to build software with the platforms. This initial learning curve means no-code solutions still aren’t as convenient as off-the-shelf software when it comes to deployment.

However, low-code solutions offer a nice middle ground. They let developers quickly build apps with visual interfaces and simple code, so these platforms are typically easier for developers to use than no-code ones.

3. You’re responsible for updates and further development

With no-code and low-code custom software, your company will have to manage updates, maintenance, bug fixes, feature updates, etc. This means you’ll need to retain some in-house expertise and allocate resources to software maintenance. 

Alternatively, if you hire a third party to build your custom software, you’ll need to pay them to continuously monitor, maintain, and update the software.

4. No/low-code isn’t always easier

Building certain modules or features with no or low-code apps can be challenging, in which case off-the-shelf solutions are the more convenient choice. For example, consider a Gantt chart in project management—it’s a visual representation of the amount of work done, in specified time periods, in relation to the work planned over those periods. The chart uses horizontal lines/bars to represent project timelines.

Designing the business logic to implement a feature like this in a no-code app is complicated, so it’s easier to pick an off-the-shelf solution with an existing Gantt chart feature.

5. Limited integrations

While many low and no-code builders do support integrations, they’re unlikely to be as tailored as an off-the-shelf platform’s ecosystem. For example, an off-the-shelf CRM or project management tool will likely support integrations with tools that support customer relationships or project management. 

However, since no-code and low-code app builders cater to a broader audience, they’re more likely to support the most “in-demand” integrations. These integrations may not be tailored to your specific needs.

6. Platform dependence

Developing an app on a no-code/low-code app builder can cause vendor lock-in, where many or all of your core systems are on a single platform. This makes it difficult to switch if you need to at some point, and it makes your business more reliant on the vendor. 

For example, let’s say your vendor increases their prices—it’ll increase the cost of doing business, but you can’t easily switch to a competitor. In contrast, if you used off-the-shelf software, you’ll likely have different vendors for different software (one for PM, another for CRM, etc.). This makes it easier to switch to a competitor if any one platform raises its prices too much.

Combining off-the-shelf solutions with no and low-code apps

While off-the-shelf solutions and custom no/low-code apps have their own respective pros and cons, using both together can help you minimise the drawbacks while reaping most of the benefits. To better understand this, let’s consider two scenarios

1.    Scenario 1: Core software is off-the-shelf, and supporting software is made with no-code/low-code. Let’s say your business chooses an off-the-shelf software–like a project management tool or CRM–that lacks a specific feature or capability. In this case, you can code a no-code app or plugin to bridge the gap without switching vendors.

For example, let’s consider a CRM that doesn’t send SMS notifications to your team when an important customer interaction takes place. In this case, you can use a no or low-code app builder to design an app/plugin to connect your CRM with an SMS provider, and send automated notifications based on predefined criteria. 

2.    Scenario 2: Core software is designed using no-code/low-code, and supporting software is off-the-shelf. For example, let’s say you build a custom CRM software with core features like contact and pipeline management, email automation, lead scoring, etc. 

Now, let’s say your team wants an additional feature that will take time to add–maybe a feature that extracts data from social media accounts and automatically inputs it to your CRM. Instead of investing time and resources to build this feature from scratch, you can use an existing off-the-shelf app to fill the gap.

The takeaway here is that businesses can create tech stacks that work for them by mixing and matching no-code/low-code custom software and off-the-shelf solutions. By not limiting yourself to either option, you can find the best combination that fulfils your business needs and works with your budget. 

Caflou – tailored for small business management

While many off-the-shelf solutions cater to broad audiences, Caflou is specifically built with the needs of small businesses (with 1-100 employees) in mind. Caflou offers:

Support for core business functions

Including project and customer relationship management, business economics, workflow automation, resource allocation, and invoicing & finances. Caflou lets you manage your entire business in a single, centralised platform.


Caflou’s plans are tailored for small businesses at different stages of their growth. Upgrade to more advanced plans as your needs evolve, and purchase additional user seats as your team grows. Caflou also reduces the cost per user seat as you reach higher user thresholds—making scalability more affordable.

Dedicated support

All Caflou plans include dedicated support. Whether you run into a technical issue or need help customising Caflou for your business, help is just an email or live chat request away.

Interesting in seeing how Caflou can help you manage your business in one place? Sign up for free today.

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