The Definitive Guide to Hiring a Software Agency

So you’ve decided to hire a software agency. You’ve come up with an exciting new product you want to build, or a tool to save your business money, and now you just need the software experts. How do you go about finding someone you can trust to build what you need, on time and on budget?

Building software always involves risks. The project might go over budget, over time, the end product might not be what you envisioned, it might be of poor quality, etc. So when you’re looking for a software agency, you need to find the one that you can trust to build a high quality product, on budget and on time. Here’s how you can make that happen.

Step 1: Find a List of Agencies

First of all, you need to find a list of agencies that might be able to provide what you want. You could also hire a freelancer, but we don’t recommend it. An established agency is much more likely to be available and responsive in the long term future, which is critical since you will need someone to maintain and support your new software.

There are several ways to go about finding agencies, and we recommend you use them all. Once you establish a list of possibilities, you’ll start to narrow that list down. So for starters, you need to know who’s out there. We recommend finding a local agency, as the entire process is simplified if you can easily meet face to face with the person who will be leading your project. That being said, the advent of video conferencing is making it a lot easier for software companies to work remotely, so it’s still definitely possible to work with an agency that’s not in your area.

  1. Talk to your network. Your friends, family, co-workers or business acquaintances may have worked with an agency in the past. If someone you trust has worked with an agency and speaks highly of them, add them to your list.
  2. Google. Try a general search for “[My City] Software/Web Development”, or something similar. This will likely get you at least a few agencies in your area. Browse their websites, and if they look like they can provide the service you need, add them to your list.
  3. Contact a local business or tech group, as they’ll generally have a good idea of who provides software services in your area. For instance, if you’re in Windsor you can contact the WEtech Alliance.

Step 2: Narrow Down the List

At this stage of the process you want to narrow down the process to two or three possible agencies. This can be done in a few ways, the first of which is to ask your network for reviews of all the agencies in your list. If you get a negative review, and the reviewer has a good reason for that negative review, then you should probably avoid that agency.

Another way to narrow down your list is to review the agency websites carefully. They’ll often have portfolios of past work posted. Do they show experience with projects that are similar to yours? For example, if you’re looking to have a web application built, you probably don’t want to hire an agency whose strengths are windows or mobile development.

Step 3: Contact the Remaining List of Agencies

Now that you’ve narrowed down your list to two or three of the most promising agencies, it’s time to contact them. What you’re looking for is a face-to-face conversation (or even a phone call) to discuss your project. If necessary, they will likely sign a non-disclosure agreement. When you talk to them, there are several questions you need to ask.

  • Get samples of past work, ideally something similar to what you’re planning to build. Evaluate their past work carefully.
  • Get contact information of past clients they’ve worked for. Contact those clients and ask them about their experience working with the agency.
  • Ask for an overview of what it’s like to work with them. What can you expect the process to be like? What do they expect from you throughout the development period?

If any major concerns come up when asking these questions, cross the agency off your list.

Step 4: Ask for a Cost Estimate

Ideally, you want to get a cost estimate from at least two different agencies. This process can get a little bit tricky, because not all agencies will bill in the same way.

If you want the agency to quote a fixed price and time, be aware that they won’t be able to provide you with an accurate quote until they have a very detailed specification of the system you want to build. Simply writing and agreeing on a specification can take a long time, especially for projects that are larger than a month or two of work. For a project quoted at a fixed price, all the risk of running over time is on the agency, so you can be sure that the extra risk is written into the original quoted price.

If you are willing to have the agency bill on a time and materials system with an hourly or weekly rate(and only a slightly vague, non-guaranteed timeline), then they will be able to start your project much quicker. This is because they don’t have to be as thorough when coming up with the specification, because the details can be determined as the system gets built, rather than all up front. This is a much easier and more natural way to build software, and you are likely to save money as a result. That being said, there is more risk on the buyer with this system — if a project goes slower than expected, you may have to cut down on the scope or pay for additional unexpected development time.

Step 5: Choose an Agency

Compare the cost estimates carefully. Price may be an important factor, but it is certainly not the only one. The right agency should have impressive work in their portfolio, good references, be friendly and easy to work with, at a reasonable cost. Keep in mind though that it’s far better to pay too much for software than too little. If you pay too little, you’re likely to end up with something that isn’t useful and turns out to be a waste of money. Spending too much, on the other hand, at least ensures that you will get something useful for your business that will provide some return on your investment. Err on the side of caution.

Now all that remains is to choose an agency and let them build you a great product. Software is an investment — you’ll be enjoying the returns for many years to come.

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