How to Outsource App Development Without Getting Ripped Off

Every Business Should Have an App

What is the one thing that we all have in our pockets? We rely on it for information, updates, reminders, and simply to reduce boredom? It’s our smartphone of course.

A study from 2016 found that almost 70% of US consumers  own and use a smartphone. A startling statistic given it has been less than 20 years since it’s invention. Other than making phone calls and sending texts, a core function of the smartphone is to run a variety of applications that serve almost every purpose imaginable. From ordering food, to finding the name of a song, to booking an appointment with your doctor… there is an app for just about everything. Given their versatility, it’s no surprise that 90% of a smartphone user’s time  on their mobile is spent using apps.


Mobile - Time Spent in Apps


Looking objectively at these statistics, it’s easy to understand why many small-to-medium businesses have been quick to appreciate the benefits of developing an app of their own, in an attempt to tap into this world of smartphone saturation. App development has proven, in many instances, to help businesses build a stronger brand, draw more customers in, connect with them on a deeper level, and ultimately increase their bottom line. So, are you contemplating the prospect of developing an app for your business?

Developing an app is no walk in the park. You have a lot to consider, such as whether or not you have the internal skills and resources to build the app, how much it will cost , whether or not you will see a return on your investment, and much more. As you are putting together a business case for app development, and assessing its viability for your business, one of the big questions you will have to answer is whether you will build it in-house or outsource to an external party.

Outsourced app development comes with several benefits:

  • You are hiring a partner with experience, so the risk of a poor quality application is significantly less
  • You get access to a whole team, not just one developer
  • You minimize financial and legal risk by not entering into an employment contract
  • You (most likely) reduce the upfront cost of development

Of course, agencies and outsourced development teams are not perfect, but if you choose to go down that path, there are a number of things you need to consider. This article will help you outsource app development without getting ripped off or building an app that you’re unhappy with. Let’s get started…


Tip #1 – Educate Yourself About App Development

Let’s say that you know what you want to achieve, and you have an accurate idea of how your app will help your users. So, the next logical step is to hop online and look for a team of developers that can turn your idea into reality, right? Not so fast!

Before you assemble your team, make sure that you learn at least the basics of the app development process. That way, you can communicate with the developers in their own lingo and help them understand exactly what you are looking for. Becoming educated about the development process and some of the key development terms will also mean you are less likely to feel overwhelmed, or out of your depth when the developers throw jargon your way. Knowledge means power, and in this case, it can help you manage the project better and steer it in the right direction.


Tip #2 – Canvas Multiple Service Providers

With the rise of smartphone usage and a desire to build more and more apps for business, there has also been growth in the amount of app development options available. From freelancers, to overseas development teams, locally based agencies, and even part-time contractors – your options for a development partner are varied. Unfortunately for a small business with little development experience, this makes your decision even more challenging.

The best way to find a development partner who is the most appropriate fit for your project is to canvass multiple service providers before making a final decision. Don’t limit yourself to one kind of development alternative. Instead, get all of your options on the table and make an educated decision based on the information you gather.

Some questions you way want to consider when making a final choice about this group of potential development partners are the following:

  • What is your budget and can this provider work within it?
  • What experience does this provider have with the technology you want to use?
  • What experience does this provider have in your industry? Do they have references?
  • Are they locally based or international? Does that matter to you?


Tip #3 – Set Strict Criteria for What You Want

A common mistake that small businesses make when developing an app for the first time is to give a broad, generalist brief to the development team. They have a vision, but they don’t articulate exactly how they want that vision to come to life. The more information, guidance and strict criteria you can provide an outsourced development team, the faster you will get to the outcome you are looking for.

Spread a wide net and research as many other applications as possible before discussing the specs with your development partner. Capture the things you like, and the things you don’t like about other applications, such as design, user workflows, and site architecture. The more information the better.

Also think about questions like this:

  • Do you want your app to be compatible with iOS, Android or both?
  • Which integrations does your app need, if any?
  • Do you plan on offering in-app purchases?
  • Will you offer it for free or will it include a premium version too?

This is just a starting point, but by immersing yourself in other applications and appreciating the number of clicks and rabbit holes that exist, you will understand why mapping out your vision is so important.

Bonus tip:  Once you have everything in order and have chosen a developer for your app, don’t just agree on a deadline and forget about them for the next six months. Instead, create and agree on specific milestones for when you want tasks completed. That way, you will know where the project stands, and you won’t become frustrated if the developer goes quiet for a week.

Here is an example of an app development project plan we used here at Sharp Notions:


Sharp Notions


Tip #4 – Get Your Legal Documentation in Order

A well-drafted contract can ensure that you will receive the app you have asked for within a reasonable timeframe. However, that’s not the only legal document you need to prepare to make sure that the entire process will be a smooth ride. One of the most important documents you need to consider is an Independent Contractor Agreement. Its purpose is to have the developer acknowledge and agree that any proprietary materials created by them under this agreement will be considered works for hire and will become the exclusive property of your company unless otherwise specified.

Privacy policies and non-disclosure agreements are other critical documents you need to consider before hiring a developer. Think of all the sensitive data you want to protect, such as financial information or a proprietary algorithm, and safeguard your company from any potential danger. Before moving forward with your development partner of choice, seek legal advice and get all of your documentation in order.


Tip #5 – Keep It Local

With online freelance platforms making it easier than ever to find developers anywhere in the world, you may feel tempted to look outside your borders and reduce costs by hiring internationally. Even though it may seem cost-effective in the short term, outsourcing development overseas could cost you dearly in the long run.

There are a number of inefficiencies associated with working with a development team or contractor overseas. For starters, there may be a language barrier and a time zone difference to deal with, which makes it very hard to communicate and stick to agreed milestones. But these issues may be the least of your worries. Cheap outsourced development alternatives are renowned for over-promising and under delivering. Basically, you pay for what you get, and unfortunately there are many occasions where you will need to start from scratch again because the quality just isn’t there and they have cut corners.

With that being said there are some fantastic overseas development options. However, if you are not technical yourself then it will be very difficult to determine whether you are hiring the right one. If it’s your first app development project, working with someone locally is the safest option. You will be able to meet them in person, which automatically increases accountability to deadlines, and you can speak directly to others that have worked with them in the past.

Bonus tip:  Whether you outsource overseas or locally, having a dedicated account manager to manage this relationship can significantly improve the efficiency of the project.


Tip #6 – Test, Test, and then, Test Again!

What was the first thing you did before launching your product or service to the market? If you are a savvy business owner, you most likely tested it to see how potential customers would react. The same rules apply to app development, but on a larger and more complex scale. Software operates differently in varying environments, and every user clicks on different buttons and expects different things depending on their experience with similar applications.

So you need to rigorously test your mobile app for potential bugs, user workflow issues, and any problems that could affect its functionality and stability. Check the interface and make sure it’s user-friendly. Test the login process, the time it takes to load, the resources it needs to function properly, and so on. Your outsourced development partner should come to the table with an in-depth testing checklist that you can go through and tick off every time changes are made to the application.

Below is a visual representation of the Agile Development Methodology  which works on the theory of regular testing, combined with regular releases of the software to increase the speed of development:


Agile Methodology


Yes, developing a mobile app can provide an undeniable competitive advantage for your business, but it also comes with a number of unique challenges. When looking for an outsourced development team or contractor to partner with, make sure you do your due diligence first and hold them accountable to the outcomes everyone has agreed on. Become educated about the development process, look into multiple service providers, map out a strict roadmap, ensure you’re covered from a legal perspective, and don’t forget to test everything!