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I have a client who wants a web app built for their business. I build web apps. We have had a couple meetings and I have put together some mockups. They are operating on the assumption that the software tool they need doesn’t exist. They told me they’ve done research and there isn’t anything available “off the shelf” to fill their need (I asked the first time we chatted).

I am just ready to start coding, and I went and did a search of my own to see if similar software exists. I found 2 options that not only do exactly what my client wants, but they do more and are incredibly affordable (compared to me custom building something).

Now my question: Do I tell my client? I’ve put in a couple days of work between research and putting together some designs, and I haven’t been paid for it. I don’t believe that just because an app already exists you can’t be successful building a similar one, but I do feel that if my clients knew about these other options they wouldn’t be paying me to build anything.

UPDATE: I did chat with the client as recommended here. I came to find about some critical functionality which they wanted and was not available in any of the existing options. We may try and do some kind of integration to leverage existing software, as well. It was a good discussion to have, certainly.

  • Always interested in follow through. Did you tell client and how was that received / outcome ? You can edit question with update. – KJO Jan 13 at 3:10
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I would advise the client, and ask if they wish to proceed...if not then I would bill for the time owed. You will show that you have integrity, the client will be pleased and may send you referrals or do business with you in the future.

  • 2
    Exactly this. Serve your client. Bill your time. – Roman Dec 31 '18 at 23:47
  • Exactly what Kim said, but I would also put in a little work to do a gap-fit chart comparing their requirements, the current product and what you would be doing. If there are ANYTHING that the current one does highlight that point. I would also mention that if you build it you can make further extensions and customisations (if that is normally part of your plan). Let the customer decide. You will get points for being honest and maybe future business. – Alex Jan 2 at 4:10
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You tell them about the software already built and you won't get paid for anything no even your research. If that's ok with you then go ahead, you will save a lot of trouble and time.

If not then just build the app and learn, have fun and get paid for being a professional developer.

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Imagine the following situation, you say client that the software they need exists. They start using it and not pay for your time. The reality is the following, you would have troubles with them if and when you build custom software by yourself. It means that customer would be unreliable and honestly, why would you want to work with such client?

Another scenario, you started building custom software and they will find out the existing solution that will suit their need. They will ask you if you have known about it. What would you do? From my perspective there would be no single reason to lie to your customer in order to maintain healthy work relationships.

To summarize, if you say customer about existing solution you will feel much better. If the money is not your only concern much better to help customer and build trustful relationships with them for future projects. If they will abuse you in any way, it would be a red flag against them and they will hurt their reputation.

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It depends whether the existing option is open source or not. If it is, then you do have an obligation to tell them. If it is not, then your solution, where the customer gets the source code, is superior, and more secure, so it will be better value.

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I think you have an obligation to tell them. If they choose to move ahead with your project you'll be able to get valuable information regarding what they like/dislike in the existing options that can help you deliver a better product.

If they decide to go with an existing option bill for time spent and ask for a referral that you can use to get more clients. Good client relationships lead to more clients.

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I have found honesty. e.g. some software already exists that can do it,do you want to proceed?, if not just my time to pay. This is best.

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