So, you're a small or medium-sized business, and you want to build a Facebook, mobile or Web app. You're undertaking something that's both simple and ambitious, and you're probably looking for a bit of help.
But do you use one of the many do-it-yourself tools online, or do you call in a professional? If you find you need a developer to work with you, do you reach out to a freelancer or do you call an agency? And when -- if ever -- do you need to hire your own full- or part-time, in-house dev to work on your website and applications?
Here's a quick overview of the ins and outs of getting web work done as an SMB -- as always, with tight budgets in mind. If you've got tips for other business owners or want to share your experiences with hiring developers, please leave us a note in the comments section.
There are quite a few do-it-yourself options for the thrifty entrepreneur. If you're not a perfectionist, and if your budget is small, building your own app with minimal support from professional developers might be a viable option. Most of these tools have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interface, which means even the technically challenged should be able to create a usable application without sustaining any brain strain.
These DIY tools are generally a lot less expensive than working with a pro -- but caveat emptor, you get what you pay for.
Google's App Inventor is a good example of a DIY tool. You don't need a developer to use App Inventor, and you can create Android applications that use a smartphone's features, including GPS and SMS.
There are also tons of tools for creating your own microsites, Facebook apps, social networks, blogs and more. Do a web search to find platform-specific tools.
The most important part of using a DIY tool is ensuring that your initial idea and strategy are spot-on before you embark on a potentially time-consuming process. It might be smart to double-check your plans with an experienced and successful mobile and online marketing expert before beginning your app creation.
Freelance and Contract Developers
The web abounds with job boards and classified ads, but how do you find out where skilled and reliable developers are lurking? How do you know who will be willing and able to work on your project?
You can also get great recommendations from your existing network; just be sure to research portfolios, websites and references thoroughly before making a decision to work with a particular developer.
When you're working with a freelance or contract developer, make sure you have all your paperwork -- from non-disclosure agreements to invoices and beyond -- signed and sealed early in the process. This will protect all parties involved, ensuring your developer is treated fairly, your work is done in a timely manner and all expectations are met on both sides.
Also make sure that you're communicating well with any web developers or designers you hire. One of the biggest keys to getting great work is being a great client. Have appropriate expectations, listen to the professionals in your employ and don't micro-manage a design or development project.
Dev Shops and Agencies
If a mobile or social application is going to be a big part of your marketing strategy, you might want to go for the big guns. Development shops and agencies can help you with a wide range of app-related tasks, from figuring out what it is that you want your application to do, to measuring results.
Of course, prices will vary according to the quality of work and range of services offered. The fee schedule may also differ between agencies -- some charge a subscription fee, others charge a one-time flat rate per app and still others will customize a quote based on your specifications. The type and number of platforms supported (including iPhone, Android and BlackBerry) will also vary.
TheyMakeApps.com is a good resource if you're looking for a competent mobile dev agency. This directory was created by New York-based digital agency Kettle, "because it's easier for Indiana Jones to recover the Sankara Stones than for someone with an idea for an app to find a decent app developer," according to the site's creators. Fees for these devs and shops run from under $5,000 to more than $20,000.
Another good resource is Appolicious' directory. Here, developers and dev shops are organized by vertical so you can find a shop that has expertise in the kind of app you want to build.
As for web and social apps, for some platforms, you'll want to have a special development team. Facebook in particular attracts a ton of great developers, and shops like SocialCubix and Avenue Social specialize in developing Facebook pages and apps.
Regardless of whether you're building a mobile or a traditional web app, be sure to do your research when picking a dev shop. Familiarize yourself with the agency's portfolio and get recommendations from colleagues whenever possible. Make sure your expectations in terms of pricing and services are realistic and agreed upon before making a commitment.
Finally, if the worlds of web and mobile marketing are key to your organization's success, you might want to hire a full-time or part-time developer yourself. This is a good choice if you need ongoing support and are ready to make a greater commitment to tech-based marketing than just a one-off mobile or social app. It's also a good idea if you want a cohesive campaign that reflects your company's goals, messaging and branding across multiple channels, from Facebook to smartphones.
Before you start looking around for a developer, decide and clearly state what you want and what you're willing to give. You need to have rock-solid expectations of in-office or at-home work hours and specific skill sets your new employee should have -- from languages and platforms to design and UX/UI abilities. You also need to be sure you're offering fair benefits and salary. This research phase should take a significant chunk of time, but the more careful planning you do at the outset, the less time you'll spend in a futile search to fill a vague or impossible job description.
When you're ready to hire, you can start by looking around the aforementioned job boards, many or most of which have sections for both freelance and full- or part-time work. You should also screen recommended candidates from your local social sphere of acquaintances. You could even call a tech recruiter, but many of these agencies turn up less-than-stellar results.
Also consider creating a temp-to-hire or internship position if you want to tap young, recent-graduate talent. This will create a safe zone for mutual learning and app experimentation without draining your personnel budget.
Last, you will want to see whether your potential hire has technical chops. If you're not going through a recruiter -- and even if you are -- you'll want to set up something akin to a technical interview, wherein you assess the problem-solving and coding abilities of your candidate.
You can use tools like Codility to test coding ability -- this site has a monthly subscription fee and can be used for the duration of your candidate search to determine skill levels and rank potential hires. Other sites that let developers solve computer science and algorithmic problems are CodeChef and Project Euler. You can also pay a bona fide hacker to screen candidates, but this is one phase where you don't want to skimp. Hiring a bad programmer is a costly mistake and one that's difficult to correct once it's been made.
Let us know your tips and advice in the comments, and best of luck with your SMB's mobile and/or social app!
Image credits: Flickr, goincase