How to Hire a Design and Development Company – Part II

May 8, 2012

Hiring a website and application development firm can be a daunting task for any small business owner. The results of their work will greatly impact your company’s image and possibly even how the business is run so it is crucially important to choose the right company.

In part one of our series we talked about deciding whether or not to build the application with in house talent and also some suggestions on how to actually find some companies to do the work.

Today we will be discussing the use of freelancers and off-shore companies as well as some tricks make sure that the company is being upfront with you once you begin work.

What about freelancers or offshoring?

Let’s take these one at a time:

Freelancers: A freelancer is a designer or a developer who is doing things under his or her own brand. Usually it is a one person shop. Successful freelancers, most likely, are very good at what they do. If they aren’t, then they won’t be in business very long. However, this is the crux of the problem: no matter how awesome, you’re still working only one person.

Lets say you have a website that needs to be built. You find an awesome freelancer, who builds it, and it’s awesome. A year later you want to expand it and make it even more awesome. You call up Ms. Awesome and she is booked solid for 6 months, or worse the phone number doesn’t even work anymore because she moved to LA.

If you hire a firm then this issue is much less likely to happen. One, the firm isn’t going to change their phone number. Two, a good firm builds their apps and sites in a similar manner so even if the original developer isn’t available, another member of the team can pick it up without too much of a learning curve.

Offshoring: About 10 years ago the specter of offshoring scared a lot of US-based developers badly. How could we compete with a dude who has two masters and a doctorate in programming and charges $12.50 an hour?

Fast forward to today and we have our answer. A lot of companies, both big and small, thought the same thing and had their sites and apps developed overseas. In the end they were very unhappy. Why? A lot of reasons actually, but here are the big two:

  1. Communication: While most people overseas that do this work speak English there is still a big problem of miscommunication. The reason lies in the subject matter. By its very nature, describing a design or workflow is very abstract. When a language is not your first or your primary language, these abstract concepts are very hard to get across.
  2. Culture: There is no question that many of the developers overseas are amazing at what they do. The problem arises from the culture differences. What is beautiful and amazing here is plain and confusing in another locale. In a lot of ways, design is a lot like humor. A hilarious joke told here makes no sense abroad. This isn’t due to not understanding the language. It’s because we have different cultures and values, which creates a barrier when it comes to design and development.

How can I be sure that whoever I hire can actually do the work?

This is the most important question you will have when you are hiring someone to build something for you. Unfortunately it is the hardest as well.

Get them talking. The first question to ask a potential vendor is: “Have you done this kind of work before?” If the answer is yes, then get the details. A good firm will be happy (and often get excited) to talk about their past work. Their pride in a job well done will show through. If the answer is no, then that isn’t a deal breaker. A good development firm adapts and can truly build just about anything. So, if they haven’t built your type of project before, get them to talk about the wide array of stuff they have built. In the end, if they are the right team for you, then their passion will show through and will give you the confidence you need to hire them.

Get references and call them. When you were evaluating a firm you found some references. Now that you are deeper in talks with them get more, specifically from companies that are doing something similar to what you need, or, at the very least, something comparable in complexity.

Go deep. Passion is the key to a good team. A good firm eats and breathes this stuff and it will show. Talk about your project and see their reaction. They should be asking a lot of questions. If they are good at their job they will ask you questions about your idea that you haven’t even thought of yet, and make the system even better than you hoped.

Transparency. A good team has nothing to hide. Their proposal will be straightforward and probably pretty short. If there is a lot of legalese or flowery language about things that have nothing to do with your project then you should be a bit worried. Their deliverable are also a sign of how open they are. How often do they plan on giving you something? If a team doesn’t plan to show you anything until three months after the start of the project, that should raise a red flag.

Every company has their own way of communicating with their clients. Some may give a deliverable every month. Others may not show code very often, but they give regular status reports and screenshots. At Cii we deliver on a two week schedule. It may not be comprehensive or finished, but every two weeks we give our clients a distinct section of the project as well as a progress report on how the work, as a whole, is coming. If this schedule cannot be met for whatever reason, then the client will know about it beforehand.

Wrap Up

Once you have decided to bring in an outside company to help you with your application development needs there really is no way to overestimate how important it is to choose the right company for the job. We hope that these tips and suggestions are helpful to you during the deciding process. If you have any questions about this or any of our other topics, please feel free to touch base with us anytime.