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BLOG: How to outsource your app development

Robert Strohmeyer | Sept. 12, 2013
Working with outside contractors can be challenging. Here's how to get great results from freelance developers and hired agencies.

When your app is built, it's time to ship it. For Web apps, this stage is commonly referred to as production. Regardless of whether you've built a mobile app, a desktop app, or a Web app, you should look at this phase as an ongoing part of your app's development cycle. Apps are never really "done". There's no finish line. Now you can think about maintaining and enhancing your app.

Choosing a good developer
When you're ready to look for a developer, you'll find no shortage of options. Local freelancers, specialized firms, and online "app builder" services abound. Assuming you care about communication and dependability, it's not a bad idea to work with someone within your region. Sure, plenty of offshore firms can do very good work, but if you're new to the dev process, you'll appreciate the availability of a developer who's in your own time zone, and better still one who can come into your office for key meetings.

Hit up the usual suspects: Ask around in your circle of friends and colleagues. Google "software developer" together with your zip code or the name of your area. Post your job on Elance. If you're in or near a major metropolitan area, you'll have no trouble turning up a dozen or so compelling candidates. If you want a mobile app, include that in your search. iOS or Android? Does it matter to you? Be specific, and you'll find more fitting results.

Once you've got your list of prospective contractors in hand, start assessing them. Visit their websites and look for examples of recent work. Look for testimonials from businesses like yours. Call their references.

There are three essential questions to ask about a prospective developer:

1. Do they communicate? — Building a custom app is all about good communication between you and your developer. A good contractor will go out of his or her way to fully explain anything you don't understand about the process, and won't shy away from tough questions or judge you for asking "dumb" ones. If you're at all hesitant about the clarity and candidness of a candidate's communication, that's a red flag. If you hear terminology you don't understand, ask about it.

2. Do they know their stuff? — While there are no guarantees in life, you should be relatively safe with a developer who has built something similar to your project before. Ask every candidate for examples of recent projects like yours. Look closely at those examples. Do they work the way you'd want them to? Do you like the way they look? Pay close attention to little details, like whether buttons line up nicely where they should or how text fits into boxes. Good, clean design is often an indicator of skilled work on the back end. Or, more to the point, sloppy mistakes on the surface often indicate sloppy code underneath. Be sure to ask their references about the development process to get a sense of how well the developer handles bug fixes. All software has bugs, and one of the most significant differences between a good programmer and a bad one is how they handle fixing the bugs that pop up in their code.


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