Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Software Development Firm
Wonky designs, low quality product, slow delivery, additional fees— none of these are fun surprises. But in the world of software development, these “surprises” can be quite predictable. Here, we’ll address some common mistakes that result in overcharging and under-delivery. Read on for some smart questions that will help you avoid late-in-the-game issues.
Can you connect me with some relevant customers?
Before deciding what software development firm to work with, run references with past customers. When you ask for references, they’ll refer you to particularly ecstatic past clients, and are less likely to put you in touch with folks that had iffy experiences with them. Ideally you would find some of their clients through friends or colleagues, but sometimes that’s hard to do. If they have a client list on their website, you can also try reaching out to some of them.
Ask these past clients what it was like to work with their team, and what their biggest challenges were. Learn how they would rate their experience working with the software development firm or individual on a scale of 1-10. If it’s lower than 10, ask why. Other questions to ask might be: Would you hire them again? If so, how would you approach working with them differently? What didn’t go according to plan?
Try to have these conversations via phone where you can easily ask follow-up questions, and you can listen to their tone for clues. Email references should be a last resort.’
Who will be working on my projects?
The person who you’re talking to during their sales process might be completely absent during development, or she might be your account manager throughout the process. Find out. And ask to be introduced to your account team to get a sense of whether you would enjoy working with them.
It’s also worth understanding the different skill sets of the team that will be on your project. Will there be a designer on the team, for example? Do the mobile developers have experience building native apps, or are they reliant on hybrid frameworks? Who will your point person be? All of this is valuable to know before starting work. Any team is only as strong as its weakest link, so don’t be afraid to individually vet every person who’ll be working on your project.
Can I see products you’ve built before?
Ask the software development firm or freelancer to show you past projects that are similar in scope, technologies used, or functionality. If you’re looking to build an iOS app for local event discovery, ask them to show you other apps they’ve built in native iOS code that have similar features. If you don’t have a technical background, our guide on how to talk tech may be a helpful resource to familiarize yourself with some of the technical language you may use when communicating with a developer.
Look out for red flags in their work— when it comes to this stage of your due diligence, it’s good to be easily spooked. If all of their work is with websites, don’t bother building a mobile app with them. If you’re not blown away by how impressive their work is, don’t let yourself believe that they’ll outperform their work history on your product. And if they say that everything is covered by confidentiality, continue to ask tough questions— every software development firm worth its salt has invested time in building a portfolio that they can show off.
And when you look at the products, ask who the team was behind them. If they’re showing you projects from a different set of developers or that are built at a completely different price point, those projects might be misleading. Maybe a more senior team built it, or perhaps they contracted out parts to other developers. Figure out who did what, and continue asking for example work until you feel that every question has been answered.
If the work they show you is less-than-optimal, move on to another software development firm or freelancer. Let their past inform your future.
In what situations might I end up paying more than this quote?
Some contracts will provide an estimate that is variable based on the number of hours required. They’ll estimate, for example, that a project will take 200 hours at a rate of $300/hour, therefore estimated at $60,000. In that scenario, however, any time spent over the initial 200 estimated hours will be added onto your sticker price. If that’s the case, make sure you understand the likelihood of that kind of overage (and ask their references if they were charged more than initially quoted). You may also be able to negotiate your contract to a flat fee, so your payments are capped.
Also be sure to ask any software development firms under consideration about what subscriptions you’ll need to pay for. You may, for example, be paying for hosting, analytics, or content management systems after your app goes live— and those expenses can add up! Find out from your developer what all those fees might look like before moving forward with their plan.
What will our relationship look like after my app is launched?
Expenses don’t end once your app is live. More often than not, you’ll need updates or software maintenance done after your initial engagement. Some software development firms will quote you at 20% of the initial development cost in annual app maintenance fees, whereas others will charge you an hourly fee. Consider whether you can negotiate a one-year grace period wherein any updates are included in the build fee, so they are required to make changes and address issues that might come up.
You might also want to ask about their ability to help with projects several years down the road. A freelance developer, for example, might take a full-time job in six months and fly off the radar. An offshore shop might up and disappear. Consider what you might need from them in the future, and ask them clarifying questions to understand whether they’ll be able to meet those needs.
There are many other things to consider when shopping for a software development firm, but hopefully these due diligence questions can help you get started. To learn more about all the options available to you, check out our post on choosing the right software development solution for your business.