How Non-Technical Founders Can Successfully Outsource Software Development
This post originally appeared on Forbes.
The global tech talent pool has never looked more attractive, especially as the demand for software developers continues its dramatic rise. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of software developers is projected to grow 24% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.”
If you’re not technical yourself, it can be hard to tell when you’ve found a reliable software developer or a team worth contracting. So how do you approach hiring software engineers when you’re a nontechnical business owner?
As the CEO of a software design and development agency, I always describe nearshoring advantages and give my potential clients and friends who are searching for outsourced development work the same essential tips on how to successfully outsource software development I would give to a family member.
Step 1: Reach Out to a Tech-Savvy Friend for Support
Before you think about starting your search, reach out to your most technical friend, even if they’re happily employed. Maybe it’s the guy who was the go-to computer science whiz in high school or the woman who wrote the software at your previous job. Bottom line: Make it someone that you trust and who you feel comfortable enough saying something technically “dumb” to without worrying about their reaction.
Start by explaining to them what your software idea is and how you imagine it looking and working for a user. Then, ask them if they’ll help you write a brief technical description of your project and your needs — nothing fancy, and maybe a couple of paragraphs. They’ll likely know how to put together a quick technical summary so that another engineer will understand it and, this can make your first communication with an unfamiliar technical person that much easier.
Step 2: Locate Candidates
After you’ve nailed down a formalized version of your idea, ask your friend to help you locate five to ten freelancers or software development agencies whose skills are a good fit for your project. Platforms like Clutch, Upwork and GoodFirms are great places to find engineers and agencies. I’ve personally found it most effective to connect with at least five different freelancers or agencies that I know I’ll be able to work with.
Step 3: Set Up Interviews
With your list of potential candidates, you can start setting up the first round of interviews. If you like a specific freelancer or firm, then you may want to ask your technical friend to perform a second, more technical interview.
Pro tip: Offer your friend a $250 Amazon gift card or cash as a reward for helping vet your candidates, and make them take it. Their enormously helpful assistance will be of more value than you can imagine. Plus, that seemingly small investment upfront can often save you a ton of money, time, disappointment and stress down the line.
Step 4: Vet, Vet, Vet
This vetting process is where you can really rely on your trusted technical friend to ask the technical questions you may not understand the answers to. They can help you conduct an in-depth evaluation of a candidate’s technical expertise and experience working with similar clients. This may serve you much better than a simple cost analysis.
When vetting, ask candidates important questions such as:
• Do you have similar projects to mine in your portfolio?
• How do you charge for your time and expertise?
• What happens if the scope of my project changes?
Also, have them describe how they work with nontechnical people to make sure you know what you’re getting.
Step 5: Talk to Their References
Ask your top three candidates to put you in touch with three business owners they worked with who had projects similar to yours or around the same size. Ask them how technical that business owner was and how they might compare to you and your project. If there are similarities, then when you speak to that business owner, you’ll likely be able to gauge how easy the freelancer or agency was to work with for someone with your level of technical skill.
Any hesitation or excuses on the part of the freelancer or agency to share that information may serve only as a minor red flag because let’s face it: Not all clients are the easiest to work with. A good freelancer or agency, however, can likely provide you with four to five references at the drop of a dime.
Don't Make This Common Mistake
It’s common for a nontechnical person who’s so engaged and excited about their project to want to hit the ground running and focus their engineer search on cost. One of the biggest mistakes you can make, however, is comparing freelancers or agencies based solely on their fixed project price quote or what they charge per hour.
If you lack a deep technical background and haven’t sought help from a tech-savvy friend, you may not have provided enough details for a freelancer or an agency to adequately estimate your project’s cost. Your candidates may be missing a key understanding of what you’re looking to build. Comparing candidates based on estimates from incomplete project scopes and ultimately picking someone because they’re the cheapest often results in unique challenges. Inevitably, that path can end up costing you more in time, money and headaches.
When considering a freelancer or agency, it’s always important to check out any reviews you can find online and/or talk to their references. You also want to understand their project management style and how responsive and communicative they are at the start. Ask to interview the lead project manager and lead engineer who will be working on your project. What other options do you have? One of the widespread, most affordable solutions is to incorporate software development staff augmentation into your workflow. This model implies joining additional software engineers on the project and operating as one team with your in-house team.
When in doubt, take a cue from the Beatles, and get by with a little help from your friends. Don’t have a super technical buddy? Well, considering there are over 4.5 million IT workers in the U.S., ask your social network. Ask the people you trust most to connect you with someone who can help you. A decision like this that could make or break your project — and ultimately, your business — is worth the wait and the small fee you pay a friend.