Looking for app developers to plan design and build your project? To help you on your journey this article will cover the seven types of app developers, the merits and trade trade-offs of each approach, what app developers charge, and how to decide which partner is right for you (with example questions).
If you aren’t a technical person then you might not know much about code, but don’t worry – this article assumes you have zero programming skills, and many people creating apps today are in the same position as you are!
We will now go through the different approaches you can take to get your app developed, some options include finding app developers. We will review the pros and cons of each option, and give advice about how to proceed once you find an approach that you think will work for you.
Contents of this article
- The 7 Options for App Developers
- Option 1: You Code it Up (You are the Developer!)
- Option 2: DIY App Platforms or DIY App Platform Developers
- Option 3: Use Your internal App Developers or IT Development Team
- Option 4: Get a CTO or App Developer Business Partner/Founder
- Option 5: Single Freelance App Developers (Local)
- Option 6: Outsource to Overseas App Developers
- Option 7: Local App Development Agencies
- How much do App Developers cost?
- How to Choose an App Developer?
- What Next
The 7 Options for Finding App Developers (Different Types)
But before we get stuck in, if you have an app idea and would like to cut straight to the point and recieve a quote for how much it would cost to build it, then submit your app idea here for a free quote.
Here are the seven options to develop your app project:
Option 1: You Code it Up (You are the Developer!)
This is a semi serious option as I appreciate that if you are reading this article, you probably don't have the skills and experience to develop your app idea yourself. However, it is one viable option if you have lots of spare time, so I'll cover it here first.
Learning to code is the most cost-effective way to develop your idea but comes with the cost of time. You will need to invest in yourself, and it may take several years before your skills enable you to self-build a high quality tech idea.
The code it yourself option is desirable if you have the freedom of time but a constraint of money, which may applies to young readers of this book, or those still in education.
Coding is a fantastic skill to learn, and even if your idea fails, acquiring coding skills changes the way you think, and will stick with you for the rest of your life, influencing your decision-making forever.
Even if you don’t plan on coding your idea yourself, learning the basic principles can be picked up quickly, and make you more effective at communicating with your chosen technical team.
There are some fantastic online resources to help you learn how to code such as Code Academy, Code with Mosh, Khan Academy, and Reddit Learn Programming. And a quick online search will reveal there are many more.
Option 2: DIY App Platforms or DIY App Platform Developers
Though limited, this one is another example of an alternative to app developers, you use automated DIY builder to build the app, making the technology a kind of developer.
Some platforms allow you to take a do-it-yourself approach to building processes and enable you to make functioning tools without needing to know how to code. The nature of your idea, or the sector you operate in can determine the type of tools available to you, and there is a wide continuum of these tools available.
If your app idea were as simple as a few web forms, then it may be unnecessary for you to develop your idea beyond that stage, and you can continue to use the forms that you’ve already made.
The benefit of DIY app development tools is that if your requirements a simple, then time it takes you to implement them can be faster than coding up a bespoke solution. you are a relatively technical person, then taking a DIY approach to your app can allow you to tinker and play with the tool yourself, and you may discover capabilities that you can use that you hadn’t thought of, and that might bring immediate value.
The downside of DIY platforms is that they have limitations that might hold you back in the development of your solution – It’s very common to have great momentum in developing your ideas up to a point, before hitting a brick wall where it is no longer possible to get the DIY app building tools to do what you need them to do. And to get past these walls can sometimes require you to start from scratch with custom programming work. So though a DIY platform can be a great way to test your early assumptions to create a minimum viable product for your app idea, be mindful that a year or so in that you may need to replace what you’ve made with your own custom code .
- Squarespace - Website builder
- Shopify - Ecommerce builder
- Jotform – Online form builder
- Google Forms – Online form builder
- iAuditor - health and safety app maker
- Firebase – DIY -back-end infrastructure:
- IBM Watson – Artificial Intelligence platform
- Microsoft Asure – Cloud computing solutions
- Google Cloud solutions
- Amazon Web Services
This limitation is because the businesses who make these DIY app platforms have to decide what they want their platform to enable you to do and have to actively build features that enable you to do those things. And sometimes there may still be a steep learning curve before you can make something significant and useful.
Another thing to consider with DIY tools is that they often offer a per-user pricing model. This is good for internal tools where the number of users is low, but if you anticipate a high number of users then the ongoing monthly costs grow so high that it might be cheaper just to build your own app in the first place to avoid those costs.
The final risk is that you don’t own the platform, and if the DIY platform goes bust, then so does the platform you’ve worked hard to create. This happened in 2016 when a back-end database DIY tool called Parse failed and shut down, and thousands of developers were left having to migrate their data elsewhere. The platform was eventually bought by Facebook, who closed it for good in 2017 .
If you find a DIY app building tool that allows you meet most of your needs, but not all of them then hybrid approaches are also an option. This is where you build your idea using a DIY tool, and then fill the gaps in functionality with a bespoke solution that sits alongside it and communicates with it via an API (API stands for Application Programming Interface, and is a way for two diifferent systems or apps to talk to each other).
Option 3: Use Your internal App Developers or IT Development Team
If you work for an organisation that already has an internal tech team, and your app idea is to be implemented within that organisation, then you will probably need to involve that technical team before you can start your project
Scorchsoft has worked with lots of different sized organisations and know first-hand that the capabilities of the tech or IT departments can vary greatly. Most IT departments of large companies focus exclusively on the provisioning of software and IT services within the organisation. They may have a few developers in the team, though they are often fully allocated working on integrating systems together, coupled tightly with the rest of IT.
If an organisation is structured this way, then your IT developers will want to act as an overseer to your project and will guide you to make sure that you don’t make mistakes or take an approach that compromises security or data privacy. They will want to be involved in some parts of the project, such as picking a supplier or discussing the business case for the idea, but they won’t do the design, development, or project management work for you in most cases.
Other organisations will have an in-house app development team that is focussed entirely on developing internal app projects and business process tools. These tend to be organisations that have an established tech product that is core to the value that the business brings.
Internal tech teams are normally composed of at least 5 full-time people, consisting of project management, developers, and designers. Fewer than five people and it can be difficult for the company to create a culture of development that enables people to learn from one another, and to build and maintain good processes. Businesses with established tech team will also need a capable Chief Technology Officer to ensure that this team is effective and able to make strong strategic decisions. This complexity and investment needed to establish a tech team a big reason why development agencies exist – It is very expensive, and a big infrastructure commitment for a company to have a full-time dedicated team.
Internal app developers and tech teams always have more project work to complete than available resources to do it, and your idea will be competing for time and resources. You will need a strong business case and plan as outlined in previous chapters to convince the business that you should be allocated a portion of this team.
Even if your company has its own tech team you may still be expected to outsource the project to speed up delivery and prevent them from being distracted from developing their core product.
Option 4: Get a CTO or App Developer Business Partner/Founder
"CTO” stands for Chief Technology Officer, this is a person in your business, usually with board-level responsibility and authority, who is responsible for the overall technology strategy of the business. CTOs are often expected to have many years of technical experience, formal training, and plenty of senior business experience. Think of them as some of the most senior business managers who also have a wealth of hands-on technical experience.
To small businesses and new app start-ups, founders sometimes want a CTO who can both advise on the technology behind the app idea and conduct any programming work. It makes sense right, why pay for development when you can give someone a cut of the business and them develop the solution for free?
The challenge to small businesses looking to partner with a CTO is that high quality and experienced CTO’s are in demand in the market, and if they work for you for free, then they are likely sacrificing a paid position elsewhere.
As a result of this demand and conflicting interests, it can be challenging to convince a CTO to work for you for free in exchange for equity, and they will expect you to bring a great deal of value to the table in exchange for their involvement and expertise. This might mean investing significant funds into the business, demonstrating your idea has traction, and paying them a salary in addition to giving away equity.
To have a compelling reason for a CTO to join you, might mean you need to develop the beginnings of your idea and prove your idea is worth their while and make progress on building out your minimum viable product.
If you’ve built a first version of your app, launched it, and are getting some early success, then it may be easier to convince a CTO to join your operation. But remember, a CTO is a strategic role, so if you hire one then it’s likely you will also need to outsource development so that they can focus on the business or look to hire your own internal tech team for them to manage.
As you can see, hiring a CTO can be useful as a business grows, especially if you are at a stage in your growth to raise millions or more of external investment, but if you are at the beginning of your journey then you should be cautious considering hiring a CTO as cheap way to build your idea for free, because it likely isn’t! It’s a strategic choice, not a cheap option.
Also the larger a business becomes, a CTO’s role becomes even more focussed on business strategy, and even less focussed on day-to-day execution or programming. This shift in CTO responsibilities relative to the profile of your business mean that, in practice, if you currently work for an established business, it is unlikely that the CTO will be able to directly help you with the app programming, and they would likely recommend you either build all or part of your idea internally, our outsource to specialist app development agency.
Option 5: Single Freelance App Developers (Local)
Working with a freelancer usually means working with one individual (or maybe a small freelance team depending on your project needs) who doesn’t work for a larger company.
This person should be experienced in the world of tech and must be capable of offering everything you need to complete their assigned section of your project. It’s common to hire different freelancers for different phases (e.g., developers, designers, copywriters etc.), ensuring you have an expert in each sector.
So, for example, you can hire a freelance developer to build your mobile application. You’ll hire just one individual to do the entire job and pay them a fixed amount that you agree upon prior to the work or pay them for their time if you plan to work in an Agile way with a rolling monthly budget.
For example you could then hire a freelance copywriter to fill your application with well-written text that enhances the user experience, a tester to go through the app and make sure it meets your requirements, a hosting company to store your database, and graphic designer to create the user interfaces, an illustrator to create the graphics that appear in each section.
You can find freelancers in all sorts of ways, including via their own websites, by asking for recommendations on social media, via Google.
Although please be careful and carry out checks on the freelancer app developer you reach out to and the experience they have, so you don’t end up paying for someone who isn’t up to the job. Check examples of their past work, their rates, and past reviews to get a better idea of their skill level and whether they’re the right person for your product. If you like what you see, set up a phone call or in-person meeting to learn more about how the two of you could work together.
Daily rates are generally 20-30% less when sourcing a local freelancer when compared with a small agency, but there are some downsides to consider too.
You will be much more responsible for project management, and ensuring the quality of code, and outcome of the end product than other options, which will carry a significant time overhead for most tech projects. Freelancers are often not as organised as a well-oiled team, won’t have as established processes, and will have some limitations in their skill set.
Business continuity can also be an issue with freelancers, which means your ability to continue with your business if unexpected events occur.
For example, if a personal problem occurs, there’s no one else there to pick up your project. So, if you do work with a freelance developer, make sure you have a ready-to-go backup plan of what to do if they go-off radar, or get a full time job. You haven’t worked with them before, so you don’t know how they’re going to gel with your team and they don’t have a keen investment in your business, aside from this job. Also make sure you have access to the source code, database, server, and any production design files for what they built, as you don’t want an unresponsive freelancer to cause a business-killing event.
Overall, freelancer app developers can be a an option for small projects and for one-off jobs where the business continuity risk is small, if you’re lacking a tech team, or even for on-going work that you don’t need a 9-5 staff member for. Just be sure to do your research before signing any contracts and make sure you hire someone who is reliable and right for the job.
Option 6: Outsource to Overseas App Developers
Hiring overseas freelance app developers has similarities to hiring them locally. The job description is the same: an individual who you’ll pay to do a specific job for your business without a long-term contract. But there are still some differences.
One of the main perks when it comes to hiring overseas is the price difference – depending on where you hire from, of course! Hiring from countries where the average salary is far lower than your local salary can help you get quality work for less. For example, if you live in the UK and you hire someone who lives in Indonesia to do your work, you’re likely to pay a lot less. The cost of living in Indonesia is also a lot less than the UK, so paying less doesn’t necessarily you are treating them unfairly, though you should still do your due diligence to make sure you don’t accidentally support exploitative working conditions.
Though some countries have lower average wages, others are going to be a lot more expensive. The average salary in Switzerland is over double the UK or US average! So, you can expect to pay triple the price for a Swiss freelancer compared to an UK equivalent.
Language and communication problems can also be a problem when outsourcing overseas. Even a foreign freelancer who is fluent in your native language risks misinterpreting something you ask, and this problem is exaggerated if English is their second language. And these error rates come with a real cost.
It’s also unlikely you’ll ever be able to meet overseas freelancers face-to-face, so if that’s important to you then I’d suggest sticking local. The ability to collaborate is further hindered by time zone differences. For example, if you live in the UK and plan to outsource to Shenzhen, the tech hub of China, then 9am UK time is already 5pm over there, which doesn’t give you a big time-window for project management communication.
Overseas agencies also exist. These are companies set up abroad who you can work with on the development of your product. You’ve probably heard of plenty of brands who use offshore companies to create their products, like IBM that outsource thousands of well-paying jobs to programmers in China and employs more staff in India than it does in the US.
The main reasons for offshoring agencies are to source low value labour and often to avoid local taxes in the company's founding country. When developing tech, you may also choose an offshore agency because they offer the niche skills, you’re looking for that aren’t available in your native country.
Offshore software agencies usually have a small number of directors running the business and a workforce that can vary in size. One of the main disadvantages of hiring offshore agencies, however, is that you may only be able to find limited information about how they operate. There have been a lot of cases where offshore companies have turned out to effectively be sweatshops, with underpaid staff being forced to work long hours in horrendous conditions. It’s also common for template code to be sold as if it were made bespoke for the customer, which would create a major business headache due to licence and right-to-use problems if that were to happen to you.
For example, the 2013 collapse of the Dhaka government factory. A garment manufacturing factory that made clothes for the likes of Prada, Gucci, Primark, and Nike fell to the ground, killing over 1000 workers within. It collapsed due to structural damage that was ignored by the owners after they added four stories to the building without a permit and created a factory inside a building that had been made to house shops. The brands associated with the factory were widely criticised – and rightly so!
If you are outsourcing to offshore app development agencies, make sure you do a thorough audit of the company you’re working with, check their work standards, processes, team structure and be sure to regularly review their code. If you can, visit the company in person or send a third-party to do it for you.
If you plan to outsource overseas to save money, then make sure you budget for plenty of project management time and have someone who you trust available to audit the quality of their work.
Option 7: Local App Development Agencies
There are three different tyoes of local app development agencies and they vary based on their size.
Micro App Agencies
A micro agency is a tiny company of between 1 and 9 people. They’re often made up of freelance developers working together but can also have permanent staff members. Micro app agencies can cater to the needs of SMEs and large corporations, giving you a tiny team who will be entirely focused on your product.
Companies usually choose to work with micro agencies because of how small they are. They enjoy the personalized experience, getting to know the entire team by name, and having the entire team know theirs. It’s also more common for the company to work on just a few projects at a time, which is appealing to clients. With less work on the go at once, your team can direct all their resources towards your product.
The downside is that they might not have such a broad range of resources on offer, and their process maturity may be lacking, which could cause some important elements such as security or quality assurance to fall through the cracks. Each employee in a micro agency is likely to have many different responsibilities compared with larger teams where it’s more likely that staff will specialise.
Business continuity issues can also arise for small development agencies as there they usually haven’t been around for very long and might not continue to be around for much longer. For example Scorchsoft has inherited several projects over the years from micro agencies where their main developer left or the business went bust. So make sure you put in place plans to make sure you can continue to work on your tech idea even if this happens.
As a micro agency their funding will be limited, so you might have to take what you can get in terms of software. You may also find with some micro agencies that the staff are overstretched. With less flexibility when delegating tasks, you might find that your developer is simultaneously developing tech for multiple other companies, leading to less focus and more stress. Not all micro agencies operate like this, of course, so it pays to do your research before hiring.
Small to Medium App Development Agencies
This is the most common size of agency, usually consisting of approximately two founders or business owners, 12 billable employees, three non-billable employees and four full-time equivalent freelancers. It’s also the most common choice of agency to work with, especially when it comes to creating tech. The company isn’t so huge that your product feels lost amongst a sea of other products, but it’s not so small that resources are limited.
Small app development agencies have the money to begin implementing a capable team in their organisation but haven’t grown so big that the wage role and bureaucracy starts to become unmanageable. You’ll still work with a small team making the whole experience very personal and letting you get to know the people you’re working with. You won’t be passed from one professional to the next, which is a risk with larger corporations. Instead of investing in staff, small agencies are keener to invest in who they hire and pay more for top talent than small agencies can afford to, along with putting additional funding into their resources.
Of course, they still won’t have the same number of resources as large companies of app developers and may still specialise in a niche rather than being a full-service agency that does a bit of everything. If you’re looking for a specific range of software to build your product, a large app agency might be better equipped to help you out. However, what small agencies might lack in resources they certainly make up for with their passionate, personal service and dedicated focus.
Using a small agency is slightly more expensive than using a freelancer, and you’ll find decent freelancer developers are 20-30% cheaper than most small agencies, so you will need to factor that into your budgeting. Though some freelancers will match their prices to that of small agencies.
Though this size of agency is likely to have a project management function and processes to make sure the team is executing to the right standard. You’ll still need to be involved at key points in the project’s development, but these are likely to be relatively light-touch and will focus mainly around making sure you are happy to sign off on each milestone. This is different to some small agencies and freelancers where you will be expected to play project manager and manage the day to day interaction between the various functions needed to make your tech idea as you would with freelancers and small agencies .
Large Development Agencies
Though very expensive, large app agencies are the Big Dogs of the outsourcing world. They have a much larger team of staff than small agencies, a larger revenue, more app developers on payroll, and a wider range of complimenting products and services.
When working with a large app agency, they’ll learn what your product development entails before pairing you up with the right staff and will aim to cross-sell services to you from their wide offering. That ensures that what you need can be catered to, and you probably won’t have to compromise too much on your product. They’ll have a range of top-quality resources and the ability to work on many projects simultaneously, helping them to meet your deadlines regardless of how busy they are.
Even if you are allocated an account manager, that personal engagement with those directly delivering the project can sometimes get lost when working with a large agency. It’s unlikely, for example, that you’ll ever speak to the CEO during your relationship – they’ll be focusing on running the business rather than working on tech development – and it’s common to be passed around from person to person. The account manager will hear your requirements and communicate them to the rest of the team. For a lot of businesses this won’t matter as long as the work is of a high-quality, but if you like to engage with everyone working on your project it could be a deal breaker.
Nevertheless, you should remember that even if the personal touch is lost a little, a large agency will be more than capable of fulfilling your order and are unlikely to miss deadlines or other commitments that you set with them. This is because they are likely to have more protocols and processes in place to help work run smoothly and plenty of experience working on products just like yours – that’s how they were able to grow so large.
If you pick a large development agency that focusses on a given niche, then they may also have intellectual property in their code libraries that they can re-use or licence to you, enabling them to meet your need with stuff that they have already built. However, due to the operational overheads that come with every large agency, their rates are more expensive too. Typically, a large agency will be about 40% - 110% more expensive than freelancers, and about 50% – 60% more expensive than smaller app development agencies.
How much do App Developers cost?
The exact cost to hire app developers to build app can vary significantly based on a wide range of factors, such as how many users the app should support, the depth of features or the level of admin reporting functions in the back end, to name a few.
The cost of your app build process is not just about the number of features you want to include, but how complex you make each of those features.
Do you want the cheap no-frills option of a feature to prove the concept, or do you need something exceptional and feature-rich from day one? There are potentially hundreds of areas of your project where you'll have to choose whether to buy a trusty-reliable family car that gets the job done, or whether you need to pull out all of the stops and get a Ferrari. Metaphorically speaking, of course!
The short answer; App projects are measured in tens of thousands of pounds (or dollars). And you may need to budget for more over the life of the app once it is in the market and you get feedback from real users the inevitably drives you to want to implement new features and improvements.
That may sound a lot of money, but it is relative to the project's value to you.
If you have an idea that you think will make you a million pounds in revenue over three years, then is a thirty to fifty thousand initial investment to build the first version that unrealistic? Probably not.
However, if you are building a twenty-thousand-pound app intending to make just ten or twenty thousand pounds a year from it, then you probably need to rethink your plans! Reviewing your plans doesn't mean you need to drop the idea altogether, but it may mean you need to give more thought about how you make money from your app (or save money) and how you finance building the subsequent phases. Both of these questions we will address later in this article.
If you have more questions about the costs involved in building an app, then we've written an in depth article about whan an app costs to make which covers what impacts the build cost the most, how to get an accurate app development cost, and what to expect for any ongoing costs.
How to Choose an App Developer
There are 14 factors that you should consider before picking an app developer for your project. We will summarise the 14 factors here, and outline what questions you can ask the developers you are considering using to make sure they are the right fit for you.
I'd also like to add that Scorchsoft has a team of talented designers, app developers and project managers, so if you've found this article useful then you can always contact us or request a free quote for your project.
Here is a list of the 14 factors, each with the accompanying questions:
Factor 1: Development Capabilities (What they are capable of)
- What do you consider your unique selling point as compared with other suppliers?
- What is the education and experience background of the starting founders? (As this can often influence the culture and capabilities of the company)
- Do you just do X, or do you offer other services to support this too? If so, what?
- Are your developers in-house and on full-time payroll or outsourced?
- What different capabilities do you have in your business, and who is responsible for the delivery or advice around those capabilities?
Factor 2: App Technology Stack (The technologies they use)
- What back-end and front-end programming languages will you use?
- Are you planning to use a monolithic server structure, microservices, or something in between?
- Why have you chosen this particular combination of technologies?
Factor 3: Market Specialism
- Do you specialise in any particular sector?
- Do you have any examples of past work you can describe or show me that is similar or has transferable features or learning to what we are looking to do?
Factor 4: Intellectual Property Advantage
- Are you able to reuse any of your existing code libraries to execute this project more efficiently or effectively?
- Will I own the full copyright to the project code, or is some of it licenced to me? If so, what are the licence terms?
- Do you plan to use any open-source libraries or frameworks to deliver this project?
- May I see an example of the intellectual propertly clauses from your contract?
Factor 5: Price
- Are you able to give me a detailed itemised cost breakdown?
- What portion of the project will come from planning, design, development, project management and testing?
- Are you able to deliver for a slightly lower price if I can be flexible on the start and end date?
- Can you approach the technology stack in a different way to lower the cost?
- Can we avoid a graphic design process to lower the cost if I accept that the interface might not be as polished or easy to use?
- Does your quote include testing and project management activities?
Factor 6: Key Contact Relationship
- Will we have regular meetings to keep me informed of the progress of the project?
- Will I be assigned a project manager or an account manager?
- What can I expect from post project support once we’ve launched the first version?
- Do you believe in my vision for this project? Do you also believe that it will be a success?
Factor 7: Speed of Delivery
- What aspects of this project can we do in parallel?
- Can we get multiple developers on this project at the same time if we are willing to pay a little bit more?
- Can we work in Agile sprints with a monthly budget rather than delaying the project start date by waiting until planning is complete for the full project?
- How long do you expect the user-acceptance testing phase of the project to take? (This is the part of the project where you test that the supplier has delivered on the project requirements)
Factor 8: Quality of their app development services
Factor 9: Business Continuity (How stable are they or likely not to fail)
Factor 10: Process Strength
Factor 11: Proposal Strength
Factor 12: Openness & Transparency
Factor 13: Pricing model
Factor 14: Reputation in the market
- Do you have an example of similar past projects that you’ve worked on?
- Do you have any written client testimonials that you can link to or share?
We go into more depth than this article about how to pick a tech team in our book Execute Your Tech Idea, as well as many other chapters on how to find your idea, plan, implement and launch.
So check that out if you'd like a more detailed description of each of the 14 factors and how they can influence the success of your app projects.
If you think this post has been helpful, are serious about your project, then maybe you would also enjoy working with us?
Scorchsoft is a UK team of App Developers in Birmingham (in the Jewellery Quarter). However, If you are outside of the UK we are still very interested in speaking with you! Did you know that the UK is currently the largest ICT market in Europe with a tech turnover worth several hundreds of billions of dollars? You may even want to consider the opportunities to launch your tech start-up here as UK tech Venture Capital investment is third in the world after the U.S and China.
Scorchsoft has been trading for over a decade and helps hundreds of clients like you go from planning and discovery to designing and building their tech idea. We specialise in creating Online Portals, 'Software as a Service' products, and mobile app projects, and we also have direct experience collaborating with teams to fulfil Internet of Things projects.