How to Find the Best Software Development Company

Software Development
13 MIN
Date Published
March 9, 2021

In our era of connectivity, there’s a good chance that no matter the focus of your business, at some point you’ll need the help of an experienced software developer. 

Software development professionals have to think both technically and creatively to design and deploy everything from apps to spreadsheets to games. With the right developer or team in place, you can craft software solutions that will set you apart from the crowd. 

Of course, finding that great fit takes knowledge and patience. Whether you’re looking to hire a freelancer or want to partner with a software development agency, learning more about the field can help you find the developer that’s right for you and better equip you to communicate your needs to the professional that you choose.

Hiring for Software Development: Freelance Developer vs. Software Development Company

When it comes to making a software development hire, employers typically go one of two routes: contracting a freelance software developer, or going through a software development agency to find the right fit. 

Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the right route for you will depend on what you’re looking for. Check out some of the pros and cons of each: 

Reasons to hire a freelance software developer: 

  • Bigger talent pool: If you hire through a software development company, you’re limited to the employees they already have working relationships with. It’s possible you’ll find an agency with just the talent you need, but when you start looking for a freelancer, you’ll have the ability to hire anyone from around the world. You’ll also have the benefit of getting recommendations from friends or colleagues who may have had great experiences with freelancers in the past. This can potentially help you find someone who might have a more affordable rate, or one with just the schedule you need. For instance, maybe you’re based in North America but your app is catered to customers in Asia. You may want someone based there so they can quickly deal with software bugs as they come in.
  • More flexibility: You may find you’re not looking for a software developer full-time, but need someone who can jump in and out on a few projects over the course of a few months or years. Or maybe you need someone last-minute, and don’t want to go through the longer process of hiring and onboarding through an agency. In these cases, having a trusted freelancer you can call is more affordable and efficient than having a partnership with a software development company.
  • Cost-Effective: Freelancers are generally paid an hourly rate, which doesn’t include any benefits, overtime, or paid time off. Plus, unless you’re looking to bring someone on long term, you usually aren’t investing in extensive training or onboarding for the worker. Hiring through an agency, on the other hand, can come with added costs including a finder’s fee and the onboarding or training costs of the hire. Plus, the agency may demand a certain salary rate for their employees, which could include costs like benefits, insurance, overtime, and paid time off. For some companies, these additional costs are worth it. Or, if you have an extensive project and need a freelancer with a relatively high hourly rate, those costs can add up quickly. But if your company has a tight budget or just needs someone for a short-term developer project, it is usually far more affordable (sometimes as much as half the cost) to go the freelancer route.
  • Greater potential for specialization: Depending on your software development needs, you may be looking for a highly specialized professional. Maybe you’re looking for a developer with a background in fitness, one with a deep understanding of statistics and data, or someone from a country or culture with many customers. These types of specialized developers sometimes have full-time jobs in their areas of expertise so they're not connected with an agency, but they are looking for freelance work on the side. You might get lucky finding an agency that has the right fit, but if you’re looking for specialization, it’s often best to try the freelance talent pool first.

Reasons to hire a software development agency: 

  • Promise of backup: Most freelancers are dependable, but if they have to exit a project before it’s completed, you could be left hanging. If you’ve hired through an agency, though, they’ll work to make sure they have a qualified backup and your project is done on time. 
  • Comprehensive planning: Depending on your software development project, you may need solutions that span several different areas of your business or require input from multiple teams. An agency lead might be better equipped than a freelancer to liaise with several teams, outline and plan for the scope of the entire project, set firm deadlines, and see that work is completed on time. 
  • Trust: Many freelancers come with references and examples of their past work, but you might understandably question whether they’re really the right fit. Software development agencies usually have a high level of vetting when it comes to finding their workers, and you may find you have a higher level of trust in those employees throughout the project.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Find Software Development Company or a Freelance Developer

No matter the route you decide to take when making a great software development hire, there are important steps you can take to make sure you find the candidate best suited to you and your needs. Check out our step-by-step guide: 

1. Define Your Needs

First things first: sit down to define your needs, as clearly and specifically as you possibly can. 

  • Get feedback. Talk to people from every department to see what they need out of both your software program or app. Do you need an app that’s optimized for use with wearable devices? A software program for payroll that must meet certain requirements from your legal team? An online collaboration tool that’s easy to use for your not-so-tech-savvy employees? Know what you want before you start looking so that you’re only attracting candidates with those skill sets.

During this time, you’ll also probably start to decide whether you’re looking for in-shore, off-shore, or near-shore software development companies. Here are the differences: 

  • In-Shore software development companies: These are software development companies located in your country, and potentially even your city. Many companies that are developing customer-facing apps find in-shore developers who understand the nuances and cultural norms required to make an app with a great user experience. Or, if in-person meetings are possible and safe for your business right now and your project will require tons of brainstorming and collaboration, you might find an in-shore company that can hire within your city is best for your creative process.
  • Off-shore software development companies: Software development agencies can connect you with remote development teams in countries other than your own. This can be an option for potentially more affordable teams, or companies that need 24/7 dev work. 
  • Near-shore software development companies: A good hybrid between in- and off-shore, near-shore companies hire in countries outside your own but still geographically near. This could mean that time zones are the same or close enough to be manageable, but you could still get work that may be more affordable than it would be in your own country.

2. Do Your Research

Whether you’re going through an agency or putting out an ad for a freelancer, it’s critical that you do your research on every candidate you consider. Here are a few ways to do so: 

  • Ask for a portfolio and references. Each candidate should be able to show great examples of their past work. They should be able to explain in detail their contributions to that work. If it was a team project, ask them what their role in it was, what they may have done differently if they’d been in charge, or if a supervisor significantly changed the work after they’d turned it in. You might also ask if they’ve authored or contributed to open source projects, or ask them to walk you through specific design or coding decisions they’ve made. Follow up with their references and ask if they were satisfied with the quality of work, if they met deadlines, and if they were a dynamic, collaborative member of the team. 
  • Evaluate how they communicate. First, figure out the kind of communication style you want to work with. Are you looking for someone who takes initiative and thinks creatively, or someone who puts their head done and does exactly the tasks they’re assigned? A developer who wants to work remotely with little to no contact, or someone who is eager to sit in on meetings and be part of the team? Use the interview as an opportunity to check out the candidate’s communication style, be upfront with them about what you want the role to look like, and ask how they’d adjust to that style. If they’re going to be client-facing or collaborating with different departments often, you might also ask them for technical writing samples to make sure their written communication is clear, succinct, and effective.
  • Understand the level of commitment. Are you looking for someone who can commit to dropping everything they’re doing for the next three months to gear up for a high-profile launch? Someone who will respond to emails within 10 minutes? Someone who can do 15 hours of light work a week over the next two years? Be honest with yourself about your needs, and honest with the candidate about what you’re looking for. Starting off on the same page when it comes to commitment will help the project run smoothly and efficiently. 

3. Assess The Skills 

Keep in mind that since software development is such a broad field, many developers have different levels of skills or specializations. 

  • Make sure they’re up for the job required. Be as specific as possible with what you need. If you want to optimize your company’s app for Android, for instance, make sure you’re letting candidates know you need someone who has worked extensively in that area.
  • Focus on the design. By being able to clearly define exactly what you want your software program or app to do and look like, you’ll be better able to find the developer that can make those designs come to life. It’s good to be able to point to competitor examples that you both love and hate, so that a developer can get a better idea of what you’re looking for. You’ll also want to figure out if you’re looking for someone to assist you through the conceptualizing and designing process, rather than just building out a design you already have in place. This requires more creative thinking and often an understanding of UX design. You’ll not only want someone who has experience designing software (potentially through several rounds of feedback from different teams), but also someone who understands the cultural norms of the country where most of your customers reside, so that they can create a seamless and engaging user experience. 

4. Set a Realistic Budget to Evaluate Your Options

Software development projects aren’t cheap. That’s for good reason—some form of software is the foundation of nearly every company, and it can be the factor that makes or breaks your business. 

It’s not unusual to underestimate the scope of a software project. Some run over budget by as much as 50%, partially because of a lack of planning at the outset. 

Make sure you take into account how many working parts go into software projects, including reworking after the product has been completed. That alone can account for as much as 40% of final expenses, and each year companies spend $312 billion on debugging after delivery.  

When setting your budget, ask either the agency or the freelancer what their expectations are with their rate. Will they require overtime pay if the project goes beyond a certain number or hours, or will they put a limit on the amount of edits or debugs they’ll perform? If this is a customer-facing platform, what will debugging look like once it’s out in the world—will they stay on to perform customer support, or will they have to train people to do so? 

Try to account for every potential issue you could run into during this process, and ask them how those would be included in their price.

5. Narrow Your Choices

Once you’ve clearly defined your needs and budgets, you should find it easy to narrow down your choices among the best candidates. Create a short list of your favorites, and dive even deeper into research of those candidates. You can look for more online reviews or references, follow up with more questions, ask for more detailed budget quotes, and reiterate your timeline to make sure they can work to meet your needs.

6. Be Willing to Walk Away

Ultimately, since software development is so critical, you need to be 100% certain about any hire. If you see a red flag, walk away rather than push past it. Even if you’ve put a small deposit down, letting that go could save you the thousands you’d lose down the line if the developer was unable to complete a project to your specification or budget.

One crucial component of this: make sure your hire is a two-way fit. You might be excited about a candidate’s specialized skill set, but find their communication style doesn’t really mesh with your company’s culture. Or, you could find a candidate that you personally connect with and feel energized by their enthusiasm, but sense their experience just doesn’t align with your needs. 

It’s better to trust your judgement and move on to someone else than be halfway through a project that’s riddled with avoidable problems.

Avoiding the Common Software Development Hiring Mistakes

Even when following the above steps, companies can still make mistakes when it comes to hiring the best software developer. Here are some key ones to avoid:

  • Making your choice all about money: You might get lucky with a talented and affordable development team. But remember that if you’re basing your entire hiring decision on the cheapest price point, you’re likely going to pay in the long run for that mistake. If you don’t have the budget to take on the project you need, focus on raising more money rather than cutting corners and receiving a subpar or incomplete project.
  • Not clearly defining your requirements: This is one of the biggest mistakes that companies make. Be clear with them about the scope of the project and what you want their response times to look like, how many rounds of feedback and debugging may need to happen, and the level of participation you’ll need from them in collaboration like Slack feeds or Zoom meetings. Even if you’re looking for someone creative to take the reins on the project, they’ll still likely be working within some set of guidelines, like legal requirements or design specifications. Just remember: even if you think it’s an information overload, more details are always better.
  • Miscommunication due to language barriers: There are tons of great reasons for wanting to hire offshore development teams, but make sure whoever you hire has a handle of the language you speak (and the language your app will be in) before sealing the deal. Breakdowns in communication can lead to massive delays, far more work on your end, and delivery of a subpar project.
  • Not doing enough research: One quick call with a single reference or one glance at a developer’s online reviews isn’t going to give you enough information to make an intelligent hire. Make sure you’re asking specific questions about your needs, looking through a candidate’s entire profile and asking for more detailed info when needed, and trusting your gut if you don’t think there’s enough out there to make an informed hire.

Don’t know where to begin your candidate search? Check out Rocketplace’s curated marketplace to find top-quality hires today!

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