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How to Hire a Development Company for Your Project if You’re Not Technical

How to Hire a Development Company for Your Project if You're Not Technical - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

I have a confession to make. I’ve never learned to code. Sure I can write HTML and be dangerous with CSS and ASP (which I seriously haven’t used since 2006), so I am pretty dependent on WordPress and Shopify to make web sites and, personally, for brochure and simple e-commerce web sites, you really don’t need anything else. But what about those other web sites and apps that need more in-depth experience or just even tweaks to existing template designs you’ve picked out for your site? If you don’t know how to code, how do you select the right company?

First start by writing your own requirements documentation and use cases. (If you need these, email me. I’m seriously awesome at these.) What is the web site supposed to do? Who will the users be and what will they do when they visit? Once you have that documentation ready, you can then start reviewing development companies for your project.

Ask the Right Questions:

  1. Who are the founders and their background? Are they both previous developers or did they have other positions? Did they work at recognized companies in leadership positions? How are they represented on glassdoor.com? Do their staff complain about them? Double-check their backgrounds. Did they really go to Stanford? Did they really work at Google?
  2. Who’s on their leadership team? Who would be in charge of your project? Do they have experience in your industry? Have they done work similar to yours in the past?
  3. Do they have a full complement of skill sets on their team? Most development companies have a huge team of developers, but no UI/UX specialists, data architects, web designers, quality assurance staff, etc., to fully complete the project. I found this out the hard way when I asked one company we hired to give me the designer who came up with certain designs in their portfolio, only to find out that those were all done by their clients.
  4. Have you called their references? While typically always positive, come up with open ended questions that could open them up to get to some issues, such as “What one thing do you think they could have done better at?” or “What would keep you from recommending them to someone in (your industry)?”
  5. Have you identified other companies they didn’t offer up as references and contact them? Look around and see if you can find anyone who’s used them in your industry or have web sites that have special requirements that are similar to yours. This may not be as hard as it looks since many web firms still like to put their names in the headers of the code, but it may not be that easy. You might try seeing if they come up as the technical resource on whois.org or similar domain registration sites.
  6. What is the experience of the team they intend to assign to your project? If you have special criteria, for example, parsing data or creation of PDFs, does the team have experience in these critical skills? I was burned by getting a new developer whose first job was mine which required parsing resume data from multiple formats and job portals and turning them into lovely pre-formatted PDFs. Had I known her background, she would not have been the one working for me.

It is strongly recommended that you review the contract and ensure language is in place that puts a deadline on the project with penalties for delays. Also, keep to a per project pricing, rather than hourly or retainer pricing. Development companies prefer this type of payment process due to what is called client “scope creep”, where the project keeps changing, adding features and other components not originally in the requirements documentation. It is YOUR responsibility to manage scope creep, not them. You SHOULD be charged for it.

Start out with a smaller project. See how they interact when you don’t like how the site looks or how they’ve changed something from the requirements documentation you gave them. See how they react when YOU make a change to the requirements. A great little project is developing a customer survey form or subscription form, maybe even a payment platform for an existing site (you’ll need to have merchant IDs and all your payment options in place in order to offer up that one as a test, however). Unless you plan on doing e-commerce and can use it as part of your later larger project, stick to something else.

Lastly, if you know anyone technical, even a friend or a college intern, who can just take a look, they can can at least give you their impressions, but it pretty much still is a tough call choosing the right company. Good luck!

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