Hiring an app developer?
We've been through it, once, twice ... several times. And we sincerely hope that the headaches we've been through don't happen to you. Finding a good (let alone a great) app developer for hire and getting them to come onboard your project is in itself, a massive ordeal. We've had plenty of bad experiences: from hiring an app developer who greatly inflated their capabilities. Others who rolled out untested features, broken functionality, code glitches, we've seen it all.
All things that you never want when you're just trying to break into a market and you've just started onboarding new clients...this is the last thing you want to experience and have to deal with in the mobile application you dreamt of building your business on.
Read on. We've now figured out how to deal with such issues (before they occur).
And today we'll be sharing our experience and suggestions with you.
The problem with Upwork and other Freelancing Sites
The Upwork platform made a lot of fanfare after oDesk and Elance decided they should merge into a single platform...it made business sense for their shareholders, but not much sense for both hiring companies and freelancers working on the platform.
We're not particularly impressed with how the eventual Upwork turned out. They have tried to protect both clients and freelancers with a lot of policies and legal stuff, but that is not all you are looking for when you hire an application developer!
Also, you might have seen the severe hike in fees which they've put in place. Of course, we understand that they want to make money, but what happened to looking after the needs of your customers? The ones who actually made your platform successful.
But we digress.
Most platforms like Upwork have one singular problem that is so problematic, it can detract from the very essence of product development – a communication gap.
You are essentially given full responsibility to make sure that you choose the right mobile app developer from these platforms. But in reality, these platforms are more of an introductory meeting between a freelance software developer and their clients.
They more of an interview, and preliminary hiring.
But you can't really be sure of your candidate until you're well into the project, and by that time, you're already in too deep to be able to back out.
After hiring your candidate you have to:
- deal with the freelancer of your own accord without any more guidance or help from the platform,
- have the patience to see through multiple development iterations and
- take the burden of extra hours’ of management that the programmer would demand from your project.
There are a lot of monetary and non-monetary costs that you pay over and above the fees of the platform.
In reality, the result is that what seems initially cheap can turn out to be not very cheap at all.
Even in our own experience, hiring WordPress developers for our projects has been a nightmare of epic proportions. The thing is, on such sites anybody and everybody will rate themselves as a great programmer. Yet, when it comes to the end-results, the quality will leave much to be desired.
But when you're competing with thousands of other freelancers across the globe, you're going to overinflate your capabilities. And there is nothing to stop you from doing is, except some rudimentary tests which anybody with a basic understanding of Google searching can easily pass.
This is the real communication gap which exists with these platforms. You cannot verify what freelancers are pitching themselves to be.
Given that app development and developing for a mobile app is much more nuanced than web development or design, this communication breakdown could lead to project setbacks, or even failures.
Before we continue the following related videos might help you to familiarize yourself with app development in general.
What does an App Developer do?
Check the following video from one of the founders of Tumblr to understand what a mobile app developer (who does this as a living) does on a daily basis. Remember that a good mobile app developer requires more than just development skills.
Stuff such as user experience design, conversion rate optimization, business understanding and most of all, an entrepreneurial flair, great people and communication skills and a passion for success are essential to be a well-rounded developer and business partner.
How much does it cost to build an app?
While this is a very subjective question, there is a simple answer to this in reality. Essentially, it's the hourly cost x hourly rate. The harder part is going to be to understand and determine how much effort (or hourly cost) goes into developing each piece of functionality to develop your app.
Understanding this fundamental concept will help you gauge the cost of developing your app. As the hourly rate of developer goes up, the time it takes to take them to develop specific features and functions go down, and the quality gets better. So while it seems counter-intuitive at first, going for an experienced developer makes more sense in the long-run.
It would be best to push up the budget of your project as high as it can go in your circumstances. Realistically speaking, if you've only got a few hundred dollars to spare, it would probably best to shelf your project for a while until you've saved enough spare cash to push this project forward.
As a bare minimum, we'd estimate a simple app to cost a few thousand dollars, with more complex mobile apps running into tens of thousands.
Just as a few guidelines:
- Simple App with a basic display of information and integration with existing published information (e.g. website): $2000 - $3000
- Medium complexity app with its own database, which collects information and interacts with a backend: $5000 - $8000
- High complexity app which needs to fully integrate with several backend platforms, with a complex UI, accepting such things as payments and other complex features: $10,000+
These estimates are very simplistic and are just guidelines of expectations you need to have.
Why hiring a freelance app developer who has been pre-vetted makes sense
Sometimes, we tend to be a bit short-sighted when we look at the hourly rate associated with hiring awesome mobile app developers. In essence, sometimes, when you're on a budget, it's hard to justify the cost of hiring a top coder. Let's just go through a few of the reasons why hiring an app developer who has been screened already makes sense.
1. You are sure they are great. When working with a new freelancer, you'll have to really understand and then take advantage of their capabilities. Truth be told, application developers on freelancing sites may tend to overinflate their knowledge, skills, and capabilities. Reviews are biased towards the freelancers and it is not unknown to perform small projects just for the sake of bumping up reviews. In reality, you'll have to do your own vetting. This is done by actually contracting a small application development project. You'll then have to test the work and then increase the scope. This is a process that takes time and precious resources.
2. Cheap is actually expensive. Not knowing who you are hiring, you might get lucky and find a good programmer to develop your mobile apps. On the other hand, you may get a bitter experience as we did. Once, we had to contract more than 3 freelancers to eventually get a decent result. This is besides all the hours spent trying to communicate and understand capabilities. This time, especially from managers, is very costly.
3. Top freelance iOS/Android developers hired will bring more than just great coding skills. You don't get to become a great mobile apps developer through coding alone. When you are an excellent developer, you'll have acquired other skills. Business knowledge, User Experience, experiences in understanding and preventing problems before they occur. That's so much time saved that it can't be quantified. We've always found that hiring excellent iOS/Android freelancers returns so much more than hiring cheap talent.
4. Missing the boat. Hiring unknown or cheap app freelancers will probably cost you a lot of time until you go to market. Of course, being the first to go to market and being the first mover, with let's say a new Android app, brings about HUGE advantages which once again, are very difficult to quantify. Suffice to say, if you delay by a few months, you might find that you've missed the boat altogether. That's why a trustworthy mobile app development company or developer is a key component of your success.
We have been through it and we understand all of it. That is the reason, why, today, we made it a point to compile a list of 5 awesome platforms from where you can hire an app developer. These platforms have both iOS and Android developers for hire - so it's just a question of your preference.
In order to understand whether the particular platform is right for you, we are listing the hourly rate or salary you'd be expected to pay an app developer on such a platform.
The name says it all – Top Talent (Toptal). Only the top 3% of all those candidates who apply, get through to become developers with Toptal. You get the best level of work in a justified budget within a hard deadline. Freelancers at Toptal, bring with them unique perspectives and approaches. Chances are, you get more than what you paid (and hoped) for. It makes more sense than working with completely unknown people, doesn’t it?
They are extremely transparent about their fees and all and have an extremely good customer-centric approach. So there would be a Toptal representative who keeps a continuous track of how your apps project is progressing and what your confidence is about working with Toptal and the end-result. That takes away much of the project management hours which you would be burdened with yourself if you had to opt for the typically hired app developer.
- Average Hourly Rate: $65 - $95+ /hour
- Part-Time: $1000 - $1600+ /week
- Full-time: $2000 - $3200+ /week
Given that Toptal only hire the absolute best, prices are at a premium, but the quality is obviously going to match such premium rates.
2. Gun.io - quickly add firepower to your engineering team
Gun.io is not a typical self-serve marketplace; instead, their primary focus is to help you quickly recruit more resources to your existing engineering team.
For teams looking to scale up quickly or parachute in additional expertise, Gun.io is a no-brainer - they help you find awesome app developers for hire in no time at all, typically less than 48 hours! They do the work of personally sourcing, vetting, and matching candidates for your team, so you can keep your teams energy focused on shipping your software product.
Gun.io is known for its rigorous vetting process, which is a 7-step, 360-degree approach designed to assess engineers as multi-dimensional professionals. Hundreds of successful client-engineer relationships have helped them understand the nuance of a fantastic match - beyond just skillset expertise. Gun.io was built by engineers who understand the importance of collaboration, so communication aptitude and integrity are requirements to pass their vetting process. (And they've got raving reviews to boot, check out their score, 4.9 stars out of 5 on G2Crowd).
Plus, 90%+ of their talent community is US-based, allowing for close timezone alignment - if you want to hire from the United States.
The team at Gun.io works quickly to match their developers with clients, and are usually able to do so within 2 days.
The best part?
Hiring a software engineer and/or finding developers through Gun.io costs exactly the same as a traditionally-hired, full-time developer, and without the usual cost of a hiring cycle. And if retention is on your mind - the tenure of a Gun.io engineer is 30% higher than their traditionally-hired peers.
Gun.io specializes in matching clients with freelance and contract mobile app developers, and clients have the flexibility to choose their hourly commitment - from part-time all the way up to full-time engagement. The hiring process with Gun.io is expedited: you'll see candidates within 48 hours. From there, you can move as fast as you'd like to get started on your mobile application development needs.
Hourly rates: typically between $75 - $150 /hour
Here is what one CTO said about hiring with Gun.io - very impressive result, we think.
And this is one of the reviews on G2Crowd:
This is more of a job marketplace having awesome app developers for hire who, where companies compete to take people on board. They hire from only the top 5% of people who apply to be a part of their development community, so once again, people are strictly vetted. This means that you can rest assured to only find the best people here - but most importantly, they match talents and skills to the jobs required, trimming down the time spent by both employers and hirees.
And yes, when they say companies compete to take programmers at Hired on board, they really mean it. In fact, they have branded themselves to be a bit more inclined towards finding developers, good companies to work with. Only senior people with a good portfolio of diverse experience are taken in and then they are given a choice of companies who are good matches for them and ready to employ.
You can hire mobile and desktop application programmers on all models here: fulltime, contract, freelance to build your apps. There is enough team structure flexibility to ensure that any model is well-serviced. The hiring process is quick, generally gets done quite rapidly - most companies save up to 45 sourcing hours per role filled. And throughout the project or the tenure for which you hire a freelancer, you can be sure that you will get quality work, deliver desired outcomes within a set timeline.
Another trustworthy name. You get both iPhone and Android application developers for hire here, on full-time and/or monthly models, whatever works best for you - they are as flexible as necessary.
The freelancers who are assigned to your project are exclusively dedicated to your stuff, which ensures that they keep focused and improves the quality with which your project is executed. All programmers who work as a member of Xteam are vetted and screened for performance (speed of execution) and quality of coding. They are also screened for dealing with different project problem scenarios before they are taken on board. This makes the (x)-team more agile and better equipped to deal with unique issues that might arise when your project is being executed.
The best part? – Xteamers are the power of two at the budget of one – you'll find that most candidates here are both app designers and app developers. X-Team cover 8 time zones in their operations, essentially serving any country in the world, wherever you are set up. You can work with an Xteam, regardless of your location.
Hourly Rate: $2 - $250 /hour
5. Fiverr Pro
This is more of a platform which you would come across conventionally if you are looking for cheap jobs, the only difference – you get vetted app developers who have a proven track record and at what they do (hence why PRO), rather than the ones who you find on the usual Fiverr gigs. Freelancers who are allowed enrollment in Pro are only sourced from the highest performers who have achieved top ratings and a proven record of delivering quality services.
Just to use a few statistics, only 1% of applicants go on to earn Pro status.
As with other gigs, it's the hirees themselves who look at your development requirements in detail and then each iOS/Android freelancer who is eligible and would be best suited to execute your project will send an offer. Essentially, it boils down to you creating a good detailed specification and questions who ensure compliance with your job, but you not having to worry whether these are just cowboys, who would do it a little more than good and whether they would be the best person for the job at hand. Given that these are on the Pro list, they are guaranteed to be able to deliver. Of course, the nature of the platform ensures that finding idea candidates can be quite quick, even within a day. This is fairly quick.
Another positive – they have very good assurances and guarantees about any payments you'll make with them. They have different budget deduction statements, with the one we loved most was the 100% credit promise if the assigned freelancer you hired did not complete your project within the set deadline. This is a great guarantee, for two reasons. First, you can be sure that projects will meet their timeline. In the extreme case that they don't, you get your money back, and you can start the job with a different person.
Since the launch of Pro, Fiverr has acquired a name for itself for proving good quality services. One should note that Fiverr is mostly a platform for all freelancers, but we've linked you directly to the mobile development section, so you can go directly to finding candidates to work on applications.
Fixed Price gigs: $1400+
Five steps to hiring a reliable mobile app developer
If you’re in need of a mobile app developer, you have three options. Partner with someone who is a developer, hire one to join your team or hire a freelancer to fulfill a temporary need. As this article is all about freelancers, we will concentrate on that third option.
There are estimated to be over 20 million people who class themselves as app developers or hire themselves out as one. That’s a lot of talent to have to sort through to find the diamond in the rough!
Here is what we consider to be the optimum way to hire a top app developer:
- Assess your needs.
- Outline your project.
- Invite tenders.
- Set a test or a small project first.
- Hire the developer.
Five deceptively simple steps to turn your dream of an app into a reality.
1. Assess your needs
Your first challenge is to identify what it is that you want.
- What problem do you want to solve?
- What service do you want to offer?
- What need do you want to fulfill?
- What device(s) or platforms do you want to perform them for?
The clearer the idea you have, the better you will be able to outline your project.
There will be research involved and it should be treated as an investment in time and money. If you know you want an iOS app, you know that Objective-C and Swift are going to be a key requirement. What about database skills? Security? UI design? Will your app interact with others or require an API?
The better idea you have of your project, the easier you will be able to explain it in the project requirements. This benefits you as you will hire the right developer for the job. It will also benefit the developer as they will have clear goals, clear requirements and an employer who knows what they want.
2. Outline your project
Clear, unambiguous communication is key when dealing with freelancers. It’s like talking to someone on the phone before FaceTime. You cannot see their expression, cannot see what’s going on around them so you have to make more effort to be clear and make yourself understood.
The same principles apply when hiring freelance app developers.
They don’t know you. They don’t know your company or your culture and won’t know the content of the numerous meetings you have while putting this project together. They will only know what you communicate to them in the project outline.
That project outline also has another key objective. It outlines in plain terms what is expect from that developer and provide the basis for any action or legalities that may occur if things go wrong.
Putting the effort into outlining a clear, unambiguous project outline is a win, win for everyone.
Ask around how long is reasonable for a project of the scope of the one you want to complete? The last thing you want is to outline a 1-month schedule on a complex app that would take several months for a team to complete let alone a freelance app developer.
Be reasonable and be realistic. If you’re not, you won’t attract the top 1%.
Finally, once you have a good idea of your project outline, look at similar projects on freelance marketplaces to see how they are worded. Don’t be afraid to take useful terms or phrases and use them in your outline. Take ideas but make them your own and integrate them into the specification you publish for your project.
Add your notes, any terms or phrases you see on other marketplaces, add update schedules and meeting request schedules and you’re good to go.
3. Invite proposals/tenders
Once you have your project outline you can publish the job specification on a freelance website to invite proposals from a few mobile app developer candidates. Make sure to set aside time each day to answer queries, address applications and assess candidates. The more background checking you do at this stage, the easier it will be later.
- Look at the candidate’s skill list to ensure they match your requirements.
- Check their reviews and feedback on the marketplace. Don’t be afraid to check with the client who left the review to make sure the review is real!
- Check their experience to make sure they have done what you need them to do in the real world.
- Ask them questions if you have them. Collect any questions you have and ask them all at once rather than taking up too much of their time.
- Google their name. A little underhand we will admit but very effective. Make sure anything published about them matches what they pitch themselves as.
Collect a shortlist of candidates and sift them again. Dig deeper into their skills and experience and perform searches on LinkedIn, GitHub and other places where developers might appear. A more detailed internet search may be worth your time too.
Request a brief webchat with your shortlist. You should only need ten minutes or so each. Prepare a list of questions or points you want them to clarify in advance, turn up to the meeting on time and talk to the candidate about the project, your needs, their skills and everything you need to discuss.
Some busier freelance app developers may not have time to attend a webchat but if they think your project is worth pitching for, they will spare ten minutes of their time. Just make sure you understand what time zone they are in before setting up a meeting!
4. Set a test or small project first
Depending on the scope or type of project you’re undertaking, you may want to set a sample project first. This won’t always be possible but if you have the time and resources, it’s a relatively low-risk way of finding a mobile app developer you can work with and who can work with you.
The freelance sites we discuss in this piece, Toptal, Gun.io, Hired, X-team, and Fiverr Pro all pre-screen their developers. That may not always include every single skill or programming language on their profile.
So while the hard work has been done for you, it still pays to make sure the mobile app developer can deliver on the project they are being employed for.
We are in favour of the small project.
You don’t have to mention that it’s a primer project or a test. If your business allows, you could offer an introduction project for something else you’re working on. As long as that project requires the same or similar skills to your main project, you should get a good idea of whether that mobile app developer is a good fit for your needs or not.
A tester project won’t always be practical but if it is, we would definitely suggest using one!
5. Hire the developer
Most good quality app developers will appreciate a client wanting to be sure before they hire.
However, no app developer wants to jump through numerous hoops or perform dozens of tests or tasks before being hired. Balance is required to get a feel for the developer and hire them in a fast and effective way.
Once you have identified the talent you want to hire, waste no more time in letting them know and scheduling in your project.
Provide any NDA, IP protection or non-compete paperwork for scrutiny, add the project fee to escrow if necessary and give the mobile app developer the information they need to do the job.
Working with freelance app developers
Working with freelance app developers is the same as working with your own team. Give them the tools and the information they need to do their job and leave them to get on with it. When you put together your project outline, we mentioned adding meeting or update schedules to it.
Depending on the scope of the project, it could be daily or weekly and as long as the developer agrees, there should be no problems with regular meetings or updates via your project management software, Slack or another method. Keep such meetings brief and to the point and don’t waste anyone’s time and the project should go smoothly.
Allow for the free flow of information back and forth between you and your freelancer but don’t bombard them. You want them to spend their time meeting your deadline, not answering numerous questions or completing project milestone paperwork. As long as you are there when you need them and there is mutual respect that flows both ways, everything should be fine!
There are horror stories out there about nightmare freelancers. There are as many, if not more horror stories out there about nightmare clients. In the vast majority of cases, hiring a freelancer is a simple, satisfying process where you get to meet someone new, fulfill a temporary need and end up with the product you want at the time you want it.
Sometimes, things go so well, you keep the developer as a contact and use them again. Sometimes outside the freelance marketplace where you found them. We know this happens a lot and have done it ourselves!
Freelance marketplaces make it easy to hire talent. Those websites that pre-screen app developers make it even easier. Doing a little legwork yourself and preparing properly adds to those efforts and should ensure your project(s) flow productively towards an amicable conclusion. If it didn’t, those websites would no longer be in business.
FAQs around hiring app developers
1. How much does it cost to hire someone to build an app?
App developers usually charge based on their skills and experience. The more experienced they are, the more they charge. The wider or deeper their skillset, the more they charge.
As an example, prices on Toptal range from $65 to $95 per hour. On Gun.io fees range from $75 to $150 per hour, XTeam charge from $2 up to $250 per hour. You get the idea.
A lot will depend on the complexity of the app you’re developing and the language or platform(s) you’re developing it for. The more complex the app, the more it will cost to develop. Many freelance platforms will let you use fixed pricing rather than hourly rates so you could offer a fixed fee for a project rather than allow the developer to bill hourly.
2. How do I hire an app developer?
Most of the platforms in this list use a similar setup. You sign up and register your business as a buyer of services. You then post your project and invite applicants or look at the list of available app developers and invite them to tender. Either way, you then should have a discussion with the talent to make sure they can do the job and can work with you on a professional level.
If your main project is complex, sensitive or critical in any way we also suggest doing a trial run first. Set a small project along similar lines to your main project that uses the key skills you require. If the freelancer performs well, they may be a good fit for your main project.
If they aren’t such a good fit or don’t deliver the quality you’re looking for, you can repeat the process with another freelancer. It does take time and cost money but at least you’ll know before you start them on your primary project!
3. What does an application developer do?
An application developer creates programs that enable devices to perform specific tasks. They can be written for mobile phones, cloud applications, desktops, office suites and any type of software or software environment. Those programs can be general programs to perform a specific task or deliver a specific goal for the customer or user.
Most application developers will lean towards a particular type of development such as mobile apps, desktop software, cloud applications and so on. They may also specialise further such as mobile apps for Android or specifically for iOS.
4. What skills does an app developer need?
An experienced app developer will need a range of skills. Some very specific like Android or iOS development languages such as Objective-C or Java and some more rounded such as project management, UI design, and user testing. The role of an app developer requires wearing many hats and no two projects will ever demand the same combination of skills.
A good app developer will supplement those hard skills with soft skills like problem-solving, analytical skills, communication, creativity and project management.
More advanced app developers may also need cross-platform skills such as Java for Android and Objective-C for iOS. Database management, security, hardware interfacing, APIs and all manner of other skills.
5. How can I stop a freelance app developer stealing my idea?
If you have an idea for the Next Big ThingTM and need to hire a freelancer to bring it to life, how can you protect that idea from being copied or beaten to market by the freelancer you hire?
Two legal documents should protect you from having your idea stolen and used by the freelancer you hire. A non-disclosure agreement and a non-compete agreement. Both of these may be available on the platform you use while you can always get boilerplate agreements drawn up by a lawyer.
A non-disclosure agreement ties the freelancer into never talking about the work they do for you and to not disclose the specifics in any way. A non-compete agreements bars the freelancer from taking that idea and releasing it themselves by competing with you in the same marketplace. Many established companies regularly use these two agreements when dealing with freelancers. We certainly have!
6. What are the typical roles and responsibilities of the application developer?
First off, there is not really such a thing as a ‘typical’ role for an application developer. The industry is so wide and so varied that it would be impossible to outline a job role that would fit every requirement.
As a baseline, you would usually require an app developer to:
- Understand your requirements and be able to fulfill it.
- Identify key requirements and features of the application.
- Design the applications that closely fit the client's vision while also delivering on the user goals.
- Write clean, competent code for the device or system in question that functions with the minimum of issues.
- Test the product and utilize testing results in improvements.
- Troubleshoot the product during user testing and after launch.
- Identify and address bugs and offer solutions for technical challenges.
This is far from an exhaustive list of what to expect of an app developer but you get the idea. There are lots of qualified resources online if you’re trying to put a project specification together.
7. What languages do different mobile apps use?
There are many languages used in app development. Much depends on the platform you’re developing for.
For example, on Android, a developer would require Java and an understanding of APIs. Android used to support C and C++ under Android Native Development but Google no longer advocates using those.
For iOS, you would need Objective-C while it is still in use and the new Swift language. You will also need to know the Xcode platform and perhaps some C.
While we have listed only 5, we are sure there are more platforms like the above where you can find great app developers for hire both for iOS and Android, such as Gigster, and plenty of others. What we did is opt for companies who we've actually worked with and found useful, or have first-hand experience of people working with them, so these have also been vetted by ourselves. We might eventually, add a few more to this list, but we prefer to keep it short and concise, to guarantee that you have a good result in your hiring process. So do head out to any one of the above 5, have a look at what they offer and get a good incubator of your brilliant ideas and products. It will be worth it.
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