There are lots of software contracting groups out there. Finding the right one to build a website for your small business is a high-stakes decision. One of the questions that we get consistently from non-technical entrepreneurs and small business owners is how to know which group to hire. Here’s a quick guide to finding the right fit for business owners who don’t have a technical background.
1. Contractors that are involved in your industry
The way that you find contractors matters. They need to be able to build and design something that will resonate within your industry and be relevant to what’s happening in your field. There are plenty of places to play Russian roulette with faceless developers who may or may not have relevant experience and may or may not have left their houses in the past year. Focus instead on meeting developers authentically through industry events. Some example events for Boston area start-ups that we attend are Revolve Nation, Boston Young Creatives andStart-Up Café. Good calendars to use to find entrepreneurship and start-up events in Boston are Greenhorn Connect, Venture Café andVentureFizz. If you are not in the start-up scene or would rather take a more direct approach, finding contractors through websites liketheymakeapps.com who are willing to meet you in person and can talk about the business side of things will help you find developers who are more engaged.
2. More than one quote
Being able to compare hourly rates, skill sets, and portfolios will give you a better understanding of what the industry standard is in your area. In many cases, you can ask design specialists to do quick mock-ups and decide which style fits your business best. Taking the time to get a quote from someone will also give you a better idea of what it’s like to do business with them, which will be important while they spend weeks working on your business’ lifeline.
3. Contractors who can say no
In many cases, there is an inherent difference in incentives between software contractors and business owners. The more features the business owner asks for, the more the contractor gets paid. More features means more stuff and a bigger paycheck for the contractor. That’s great for everyone, right? But somehow you end up with a clunky and overwhelming website three months later that has 20 extraneous features which no one uses. The consultants who have an eye on the long term benefits of a robust portfolio full of successful websites have very similar incentives to yours, whereas the ones simply looking for their next big paycheck do not.
4. Diverse skill sets
This doesn’t just refer to contractors who can code for iPhones and Androids and Windows phones. It’s your contractor’s job to bring your vision to life, from coding to artistic design. Finding groups with specialists in coding as well as specialists in user experience or graphic design will help cover all the bases you need for a good website. If you’re looking at an individual, make sure that person has a background in both the science and the art of web development.
5. Contractors who will work with what you have
Unless you are starting completely from scratch, you probably already own some code that can be recycled. You may want to switch platforms or do a major redesign, but the odds that none of the old code can be used to save time (and costs) are small. This also applies to consulting groups that are building both a website and a mobile app for your business: some of the code can be recycled and reused to save time and costs. If your consultant is insisting on throwing everything out and coding each project separately, you may want to look for a different opinion before signing.
6. Explanations you understand
Jargon is great. Coders have a lot of it. However, you will probably want to be able to ask your consulting group what’s going on with your project and understand the answer. It may feel like they don’t exist, but there are in fact coders who will drop the jargon and explain things in plain English.
7. Contractors who are willing to work with multiple tools
Admittedly, there’s a certain draw to using the newest cool toy. There may be a hot new coding language that developers are excited about, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best language for your project. If you’re gathering multiple quotes, make sure to compare strategies and ask each group why they’d use one system over another. If you find a group that will only use one tool and can’t explain why it’s best for your project (as opposed to the greatest language ever for everything), maybe keep looking.
8. A love of GitHub
GitHub is a website where developers can find stuff that’s pre-coded for free (it’s referred to as “open-source”). They can then roll this code into your website. It takes a lot less time than coding from scratch and doesn’t cost you any additional money. If your developer doesn’t know what GitHub is and doesn’t have an alternative place to find open-source materials, move on.
9. Contracts that grant you ownership of the code
In the course of human contracts, it sometimes happens that business owners do not end up owning the code that contractors write for them. When you’re gathering quotes and contracts, make sure that there is a specific clause stating that you will own the code and a clause stating how and when (upon payment, in installments, etc.).