Having a high-quality website is important, but it’s no longer sufficient for building a viable online presence. In order to attract the nation’s growing number of smartphone users, your small business needs a mobile app, too.
Your software can be as simple as a mobile version of your site packaged as an app or as robust as a fully functioning, independent experience that enhances your brand. Whichever route you take, you will likely need a mobile app developer.
Here’s what to look for to make sure you choose the right one.
1. Strong portfolio — If you were hiring an interior decorator, you would ask to see pictures of spaces they’d designed in the past. Before having any in-depth conversations with an app developer, look at their portfolio. It should include demos of multiple apps with a “wow” factor. If they ask you to buy their apps to see samples of their work, walk away.
2. Impressive client list — You may not be able to afford a developer who works with Fortune 500 companies (although you should still inquire), but whoever you choose should have a client list that includes small and large businesses in your industry. If a developer doesn’t have a working knowledge of your industry, you’ll have to educate them, which takes a lot of time and is unlikely to yield the results you expect.
3. Clear, fair payment terms — You can pay a flat or an hourly fee. To keep the budget under control, a flat fee is best. Some developers ask for the entire fee upfront; others ask for a deposit, with the balance due upon the app’s completion. Avoid paying the entire fee upfront. Consider negotiating milestones where the entire fee isn’t paid until the app is available in the appropriate online store(s).
4. Understanding of monetization — If your goal is to generate revenue from your app, you want a developer who understands in-app purchasing, paid subscriptions, and mobile display ads. If you aim to sell the app, the developer should be able to provide data-driven input as to how much you should charge for it.
5. Expertise — Apple’s iOS7, due this fall, will add at least 1,500 new APIs to its current library of more than 1,000. Think of an API as a feature that is available to the developer to work into your app. Having in-depth knowledge of all of the available features isn’t necessary, but the developer should be able to create an app that is distinct from those of your competitors. Naturally, you’ll want a developer who can build for every operating system — especially iOS and Android — you want to support.
6. Debugging system — All new software has glitches, which developers call “bugs.” Ask your potential partner what their system for debugging your app will be. Will they provide copies to you and others for use before the release? Do they have colleagues willing to test it? When a bug is found, how long will it take to fix it? Do they place limitations on how many changes you can make? The strongest candidate will fix bugs quickly and limitlessly when the problems stem from their work. It is reasonable for the developer to set a time limit on how long they will provide tech support for issues that you or other users create.
7. Distribution — Once you approve the final version of the app, the developer should submit it to the appropriate online stores, like Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Submission is a multistep process that the developer should already have experience navigating and which should be included in your contract.