How to Hire a Freelance App Developer

By David Oragui / 29 June 2018

Mobile apps are increasingly vital for small businesses, but how can they develop them? For small businesses with limited budgets, the best solution may be a freelance app developer. Freelancers offer a more professional product than a DIY app builder at a fraction of the cost of a professional development firm.

Due to society’s growing reliance on mobile devices, more small businesses are realizing they need a mobile app to reach and/or maintain relevance.
 
Once a small business makes the decision to develop a mobile app, many companies struggle with finding the right development method. There are three main options for mobile app development: in-house designers, DIY app builders, or outsourcing to either a mobile app development firm or a freelance app developer.

For a small business with a limited budget desiring a custom app, the best solution is often to hire a freelance app developer. 

Freelance app developers have become invaluable to entrepreneurs and business owners. However, hiring a freelance app developer requires careful thought and consideration in order to find one who will add value to your project.
 
When hiring a freelance app developer, there are five important steps to follow to avoid potential pitfalls:

  • Look in the right places for freelancers
  • Establish communication and trust
  • Determine availability and flexibility
  • Examine past performance
  • Set realistic expectations

Search Smartly for Freelance App Developers

There is no one place to find a freelance app developer. Rather, taking a scattered approach to searching can often yield the best success. You can start with your personal connections and friends on social media, and eventually explore niche job boards and established hiring sites. 
 
You can find freelance app developers in specialized online directories, like They Make Apps or Get Apps Done. You can narrow the search by focusing on either iOS or Android developers. You can also check official developer communities for Google, Facebook, Apple, and Windows.
 
Looking for app developers is also possible through web services like LinkedIn, Indeed, or Upwork. Real skills, app projects, or code samples of developers can be tested on Gitlab and Github open source repositories. 

Github screenshot

Again, no potential source of talent should be ignored.

Communication and Trust Are Key to Freelance Relationship

Finding a freelance app developer who is local to your business is a rarity. Often, the developer will be located in another part of the country, or another part of the world. This lack of face-to-face contact may have an adverse effect on the relationship. 
 
“Clients often cite the having a freelancer physically present in the office as a key contributor to their lack of trust—but that can work both ways,” explains one article. “Freelancers don’t have the benefit of offline, in-office interactions, either.” 
 
“That’s why building a trusting relationship with a freelancer is so important, and the most effective way to ensure better collaboration,” continues the article. “Former Yahoo! Executive Tim Sanders said, ‘Email is not how you build relationships,’ underscoring the importance of more personal interactions like video chats.”
 
When outsourcing development to a freelancer, it is important to schedule regular contact and reporting to avoid communication errors. 

For example, the app developer may not fully understand what the company wants and may make mistakes that can delay the app project. Regular check-in sessions and open lines of communication will negate issues in the development process.
 
Remember that timely communication works both ways. The client expects the freelancer to respond promptly and submit deliverables on time, but freelancers also value regular communication. A gap in communication on either side can cause undue stress.
 
Freelancers value feedback at all stages of the project. For example, if there is “radio silence” from the client once the freelancer has completed a milestone, they’ll likely wonder if they missed the mark, if the client was not happy with the work, or if the project went bust and the freelancer just wasted his/her time.
 
It doesn’t have to be over the top. Often, a quick, simple confirmation of receipt of a deliverable will do.Then, follow up with more in-depth feedback when you have the time. Bonus: Timely communication keeps projects moving when freelancers aren’t waiting around on feedback.
 
Building trust between the client and the developer is paramount to project success. Regular communication encourages that trust.
 
Trust, however, should not impede good business practices. Depending upon the business and industry sector, it may be necessary to put some standard protections in place, such as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). An NDA can protect everything from the business’ client lists to the developers proprietary code.

Check the Availability of Your Freelance App Developer

Many freelance app developers are very talented, but they may have many orders on their plate. Such developers may not be able to deliver the final project under tight deadlines, or they may not have the time to update or tweak your app in the future. 
 
Many freelancers enjoy the flexibility that their chosen path provides—setting their own hours, choosing their own rates, etc. A major issue for some freelancers is being able to stay on task without the rigid structure found in a traditional workplace. Flexibility can be both a blessing and a curse for even the most disciplined freelancer.
 
Before hiring a freelance app developer, have an honest conversation about your expectations. Ask about their schedule, the number of projects they are currently working on, and how available they are to concentrate on your project. Give a realistic timeline and deadlines, and ask whether the freelance app developer can deliver within those boundaries. 
 
For the business hiring the freelance app developer, flexibility and availability are key components to a successful project. You will need to ensure that the freelancer you choose to hire has the bandwidth to complete the milestones on time and within budget. Also, you may need the freelancer to be understanding of any shift in priorities that may cause a delay or acceleration of the app project.
 
The business will need to understand that most freelancers take on multiple projects at the same time. Multitasking has become a staple of our society, and it may be difficult for a company to realize that its app project is not the freelancer’s sole focus.
 
This is another time that regular scheduling and reporting will come in handy. Consistent communication, clear milestones, and a regular feedback loop will keep the project in the line of sight for both the client and the freelancer. 

Consistent communication, clear milestones, and a regular feedback loop will keep the project in the line of sight for both the client and the freelancer.

Look to work with a freelance app developer who is collaborative regarding both the app content and the app budget. Any offer with a set price for development services most likely will contain hidden charges throughout the process, or the development services will be rigid and not geared for success. The freelancer should be willing to explain each step of the process, answer questions, provide/accept feedback, and take ownership for the project.

Established Freelancers Are a Better Value

Sometimes, companies can tend to be a bit short sighted when look at the hourly rate associated with hiring an established freelance app developer. When a company has a tight budget, it may be hard to justify the cost of hiring a top freelance developer. 
  
There is a growing number of companies and freelancers who say they can very cheaply develop and launch a mobile app, but you should be wary of anyone who promises to provide development services for the lowest price

Mobile app development should not be done cheaply, because a lower rate can sometimes mean working with a less experienced developer. This can end up costing more over the life of the project due to changes and corrections.

Developer rates based on app types

There is no substitute for experience when it comes to choosing a freelance app developer. 

Look carefully through the finished products of the freelancer and be sure to ask for references from previous clients. Anyone can claim that they developed an app that is widely available and used. Speak to the companies that previously hired the developer to understand the developer’s benefits and challenges. This can provide a more realistic perspective on the freelance app developer.
 
Avoid hype and flashy presentations from prospective freelance app developers. Often, the most experienced and reputable developers will show the functionality of finished products rather than still images, screenshots, and storyboards.

Be Realistic About the App Development Project

Once you have chosen your freelance app developer, you need to have a realistic timeline for getting the finished product. A custom solution developer will need time to properly plan, develop, and implement the app to your specifications. 

The process should be recursive, taking steps backward at certain development phases in order to follow a clearer path to success.
 
Remember that app development should not happen quickly, and the timeline needs to include proper testing, receiving feedback, and making changes. This may impact the project budget, so be mindful of the freelancer’s rates and hours worked when fixing bugs, adding or changing functionality, or making improvements to the user experience.
 
While functionality is critical, the company should not ignore the app’s design. It is important for the app to serve its purpose while being easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.
 
The best freelance app developers will put an effort into making the app more interactive and easy to use. It is also important that the developer consider the whole package and not just the coding aspect of the app development. Even if the coding is flawless, the app’s functionality may not be perfect for the user.
 
Good tips to utilize during the scoping process include:

  • Use a "Requirements Document" to ensure that all expectations are spelled out clearly.
  • Have the app developer provide rough design through each phase—it is better to have pencil sketches than guess what the finished product will look like.
  • Share samples of the type of design you are seeking, including competing apps, so the developer can have a better understanding of your likes and dislikes.

Freelance App Developers Offer Unique Rewards and Challenges

Finding and hiring a freelance app developer can be a challenging, but rewarding, endeavor. It is important to broaden your search as much as possible before finding an established talent who can deliver your project on time and within budget. 

You can make that happen by having a clear vision of what you want, communicating that vision with your freelancer, and working collaboratively to make the project a success.

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