You have an idea - that’s awesome! We love ideas. It is beautiful when someone sees a need and has a vision for how technology and design can meet that need - that passion is what fuels us. We’ve talked to many Dreamers over the years (we never tire of it) and the ultimate question they have is … how can I make this vision a reality?
We think we can help. Here is a little guide of some homework to do to before you start throwing money in the mix - dreamer to dreamer.
Organizing Your Idea
There are a common set of questions a developer will ask to gauge where you are heading with your project. If you can think these through beforehand, it will speed up these conversations. Your brand identity might seem like fluff that doesn’t come into the picture until right before you jump in to market your product, but it really should be driving the whole process. You’ll need a clear vision of who you are, what you are offering, and what drives you. In other words, you’ll want your mission and values to be in good standing before you hand off your project. Here are a few must haves:
What product or service are you providing?
Why are you offering your product?
How would you describe the personality of your company/product/service?
How do you envision this being different in the future?
What would contribute to its success? Failure?
The next step is examining who it is that you are actually serving. This should go beyond your own individual encounters with the problem you are solving. Really dig in to the different types of people that will be using your product, where they will be using it, and what needs you will be solving for them. Here are some helpful things to consider:
What problems are your clients trying to solve?
Do different people approach solving the problem in different ways?
What is the “magical” solution? (reality need not apply)
How will you know you solved the problem?
A good software company will constantly refer back to this important information as they work their way through design and development. When you have this all buttoned up, you can rest assured your project will be is heading in the right direction.
OK, you’ve really thought through who you are and the problems you can solve. Now it’s time to put pen to paper or marker to napkin or cursor to screen. In whatever format you choose, unrefined sketches really do help convey your vision! If you are hiring a professional designer, it does not have to be extensive, just a few napkins to sketch out your main ideas. Avoid putting a lot of time in to trying to make professional looking designs (unless of course you are a designer). This will likely be a waste of time as designers use special software to create testing-ready or development-ready designs. And they all have their favorites, so your designs would need to be converted anyway.
You might be able to tell, we think design is really important. The best way to control and refine your vision is to tackle the design process intentionally.
Finding a Developer
It’s difficult to know what type of developer you need or if there is a DIY option. The first thing to ask is are you the developer? This might sound ridiculous, but technology has come a long way and there are many good aspects to do-it-your yourself website solutions. It will always
be less expensive to use this option if your vision can fit within the confines of pre-written software solutions. So, take some time to explore your options. Try a web search for “Website Builder” and tinker away. If you realize out of the box software solutions just aren’t cutting it, then you know it’s time to explore custom development.
If you followed our advice above, you will have something concrete to show developers and get estimates for building your dream. This is the hardest part because it is the most foreign. What should you look for? Here are 4 key elements to finding the right developer:
This is hard. The best advice we can give is to talk (verbally) to your developer and make sure you feel comfortable. Have they worked for other reputable companies? Do they have a legitimate web presence? Do you know others that have worked with them?
How long have they been around? What kind of program languages are they proficient in? What types of projects have they worked on and do they specialize in actual programming and development versus installing existing systems and plug-ins? Common sites like Wordpress or Drupal have code libraries, however, having a code library doesn’t necessarily mean the site or the administrators have the skills and expertise to address your particular problem. Do they possess the knowledge and skills to truly build a new system from scratch that addresses your unique needs?
Are they willing to talk to you? If so, can they effectively translate tech talk to something you can understand? Having an understanding of the development process and the actions being taken by developers is incredibly important to ensuring your vision becomes reality.
Solid code library
This is last because if you don’t have the first 3 in place, this will be difficult to ascertain. But, this is what is going to save you the real time and money. Ask an experienced developer if they can build something and the answer will be a resounding yes. That’s what they do - solve problems through technology. What you want to ask is have they done it before? Not, have they built something like your idea before. Your idea is original, so you would hope there are not a bunch of developers that have built it. The question is what aspects of your idea have they built before? This is abstract so we’ll give you an example…
Let’s say you have a mobile pharmacy truck and you need a web presence to let people know where you will be and how to submit prescriptions. Since this is a random idea, I doubt this exists (yet). And if it did exist, the person that built it would be your competition, so they probably wouldn’t be your ideal choice. So, you would want to ask potential developers have they built applications that can incorporate maps? Have they worked in healthcare? Have they built custom integrations that talk to other systems (like maybe the doctors office)?
If they have, they will likely have a solid code library of features that have already been built and tested, they can concentrate their time and expertise on the unique aspects of your idea and take your budget further.
Time is Money
You just can’t get away from it, you have to know what it is going to cost to make your dream a reality. Notice that we did not include “Price” in our key elements for choosing a developer. We realize this is probably a top priority, so here’s what we think you should know. You can expect to pay between $120-$150 per hour industry wide for a solid developer. The more experience they have and the stronger their code library, the more efficient they will be. So the $120 developer might not save you any more money over the $150 one.
Beware of anyone that gives you a fixed price for something without essentially grilling you for information on your expectations. You can help this along by organizing your ideas ahead of time. There is no “discount” price for development, there is only a change in scope. What does this mean? If there are corners to be cut on your project to keep within budget, YOU want to be the one that decides what those corners are, not the developer.
How far do you want to take your ideas? As you walk through the design process, you will see your idea bloom before your eyes and that inevitably leads to more brilliant ideas! These undoubtably will make your vision even better. Unfortunately, sometimes these can paralyze a project. It can be hard to know when to stop, and time and budget keep creeping along. The efficient step you can take upfront is to make a decision on what the “must have” features are. This is best accomplished after the design process. During design you can let the ideas flow and shoot for the moon. When you’re done, you can take a step back and ask yourself, “In order for us to solve our clients problems, what features need to happen.” This is your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Then carefully identify all of the “nice to haves” and if they can fit in to development, it’s a bonus. But if they can’t fit in to the budget, the developers will be able to lay the groundwork so you can return to these when your idea is a reality and the money starts flowing.
What you should be able to get for estimates are “ballpark” numbers for cost. After you hear a few of these from different firms, decide what you want to spend within that range. Then concentrate on the MVP list so you can control priorities.
Our Project Managers, Designers, and Developers have fielded many ideas over the past 20 years, and we love them! Whether it is an official client or a friend, the question is always, “What should I do next?” And the core answer is always the same - organize your idea and find the right designer and developer to share in your vision. If you can follow those core steps, you and your development firm can build something beautiful together.