Right now (and for the foreseeable future), the multibillion dollar app market is a magnet for companies and entrepreneurs looking to create apps, not to mention all the developers and designers who are benefitting from the app rush. App owners don’t have to look far to find budding agencies or independent contractors who say they’ve got what it takes to build a great app. It’s up to you to sort the ordinary from the extraordinary.
Often, this decision comes down to choosing between a freelancer or group of freelancers, and a mobile development firm of some sort. When deciding who to hire to get the job done, here are a few considerations for making that decision.
Quality of Work
An app speaks for the brand or company it represents. A great app is great marketing; a lackluster or buggy app makes the company behind it look sloppy, dated, or thoughtless. An app that’s user friendly, highly interactive, and nice to look at will direct more traffic to your site and do wonders for word-of-mouth.
When researching candidates for mobile app development, always search for customer reviews on each candidate, and whenever possible, download the apps they’ve created to get a realistic idea of how their work looks and feels. Compare the simplicity or complexity of your app to their portfolios. If someone only has small or simplistic apps under their belt and you’re working with something that requires heavier programming, then definitely look for someone with experience that matches your vision.
Another good thing to keep in mind is that agencies use standardized processes for testing and QA, while freelancers usually do a self-test and leave it at that.
A good developer is a good developer, regardless of where they work. However, agencies offer the benefit of having an entire team of people to strategize for each project, help out if a developer or designer gets stuck, and review and make recommendations for improvement. The extra brains often result in a product that’s better thought out and pushes the quality standard from good to great.
Scope of Work
The average freelancer works better when you understand the technical side of what you want and are able to ask for specifics. Plan on a freelancer being a worker bee, not the queen – they’ll work hard and give you what you ask for, but they’re not going to lead or advise any part of the project. So, if there’s a potential problem with the specifications you give them, they may not recognize that and may not be able to advise you to do something differently.
Your development team should be more than just developers, in the same way that a movie is more than just actors – there are producers and set designers and lighting technicians too.
An agency is going to have project managers, creative directors, designers, and other employees, most of whom are going to contribute to the final product in some way. We believe that working as a unified team from start to finish results in a more attractive, more functional, more natural application.
Independent workers who spend day in, day out working on your app run the risk of being so involved that it can be difficult to see when it’s time to change direction. If you do decide to go the freelancer route, make sure to set up regular face-to-face meetings where they can walk you through their progress and tell you what’s happening next.
You are probably not going to find a freelancer who excels in iOS development, Android development, UI design, and UX design. More often, you will hire two or three separate people for these tasks, and hope that they are able to communicate well with each other. An agency will offer all of the above, plus some. A good agency will also work with you to understand who your market is and what you want to accomplish, and focuses on making an app that not only functions the way you envision it, but gets the kind of results you’re looking for.
This is a big deal, and you’ll want the details of your development team’s availability for post-launch support outlined clearly in your contract. In addition to needing the safety net of a post-launch guarantee, it’s also nice to have your development team available for ongoing updates over time. An app is a semi-organic thing that should receive updates and improvements to continually better the user experience, whether through added features or just for operating system updates.
Agencies almost always offer some sort of warranty or post-launch guarantee. An agency should also anticipate operating system updates and be prepared for them – which means they won’t wait until users complain to start thinking about an update. Nine times out of 10, freelancers are not going to offer the same level of service after the fact.
Time & Money
Now let’s get down to what you really want to talk about. A freelancer will often turn projects around faster, say in two to four months. Agencies are going to take three to six on average, but (speaking from experience) can do faster turnarounds when absolutely required.
Agencies are just going to be larger, faster, and offer more, there’s no way around that. And as you can guess, that means they are more expensive upfront than your average freelancer is going to be.
But for all the reasons we’ve mentioned above, your best bet for getting it really, really right the first time is with an agency.