How To Hire a Mobile App Developer

Hiring a business or individual to make an app for you can seem like an overwhelming task to undertake. There are so many options and it can be difficult to determine which option would be the best for what you want to accomplish. The purpose of this article is to remove any mystery to the process and help you better understand your options for having a mobile app created for you.

Before attempting to hire help to create a mobile app, it is important that you can accurately communicate what you want to be created. Refer to the article How to Make a Mobile App That Attracts Raving Fans for more detail about how to define your requirements for having an app created.

Understand The Typical App Creation Roles

First a bit of background on what the term “mobile app developer” means. Some might argue that only a software engineer can hold the title of mobile app developer. Or some might believe that someone that owns an app businesses that doesn’t know how to write software code can also be called an app developer.

I like to think of an app developer as someone that is actively involved in the decision making processes that are executed to create an app. So arguably, all of the roles below could be considered mobile app development roles and each individual could be called, more or less, a mobile app developer.

When an app is created, most modern app development companies (a.k.a. design agency, engineering firm, design firm, studio, IT department, boutique development shop, etc.) will have various roles that all serve important purposes when creating an app. The most common roles include:

Product Manager – Basically the CEO (chief executive officer) of the app that is being created. They are responsible for identifying and defining the ‘why’ for creating the app, are intimately familiar with the target user avatar, and work with other team members to communicate the vision of the app.

UX Designer – An expert in defining, analyzing and optimizing the user experience of the app.  Their primary purpose is to ensure that the app is easy and enjoyable to use while at the same time accomplishing the essence of the vision defined by the product manager.

UI Designer – An expert in the aesthetics (look and feel) of the app. Their primary purpose is to design and create any artwork that is required for the app and work with the developer to ensure that the artwork is used as intended.

Software Engineer – An expert in using tools that are capable of coding, analyzing, debugging and publishing the app.

Project Manager – Overseer of the work actives of the Product Manager, UX Designer, UI Designer, and Software Engineer. Works closely with the other roles to define a plan to create the app and then manages the execution of the creation of the app.

Quality Assurance / Test Engineers – Specializes in analyzing the capabilities of the completed features and the completed app and comparing those capabilities against the requirements defined for the app.

Understand the Types of App Creation Service Providers

So who can create an app for you? Turns out that there are many options for you to choose from. Note that some people will use the term mobile app developer to refer to the following types of entities that can create mobile apps.

Design Firm/Agency – App development companies that position their offering as design firms will often provide you with people that fulfill all of the app creation roles described above. That is usually the best way to go when creating an app, because each of these roles requires different skill sets that seldom are found in a single person. But hiring an app design firm is also the most expensive path you can choose when crating an app due to the larger team size and other overhead required to get access to an entire team of professionals.

Engineering Firm – Some app development companies position their offering as an engineering company. They specialize in the software engineering and project management aspects of creating the app. Choosing a company like this can be cheaper, but can also be more complicated because it requires you to fulfill the roles of Product Manager, UX Designer, and UI Designer.

Freelance Developer – Freelance app developers come in many different shapes and forms. Some are very much pure engineers. Some are hybrid engineer, designer, product manger and project manager. You can try to find one developer that can meet your needs, but that can be very difficult since few people will have all of the required skills.

Review Your App Creation Service Provider Options

So now that you have an understanding of the types of companies/professionals that can help you build an app, how do you go about hiring someone to help you actually build the app?

Well since you have your App Creation Plan, you are ready to reach out to different companies and/or individuals and start a dialog.

At this point you should ask to see a sample work portfolio that the company/professional has produced in the past. The quality of the apps in the portfolio needs to be on par with what you are expecting to have created.

So lets review three of the most common options you will find when seeking help to create an app. The choice you make will probably be strongly influenced by your budget and how much work you want to do yourself.

Option #1: The Design Agency

This option is almost always the best option, as well as the most expensive option. And for good reason. They should provide a consultative approach to helping you understand and define the ‘why’ for creating your app by providing you with a product manager.

They should have full time UX and UI designers assist you with your apps design. You will also get one or more engineers working on creating your app. And you will get a project manager to coordinate and manage the process for you. Pretty sweet deal.  Sometimes the agency will provide dedicated quality assurance / test engineers. Sometimes the software engineers and other team members will take on this role.

Option #2: The Engineering Firm

This option can save you a considerable amount of money over going with a design agency. But be prepared to do a lot more work yourself. You will need to define your own ‘why’ for creating your app and to take on the role of product manager.

You also will probably want to hire a good graphic designer and possibly a user experience designer if you can afford it. This can be done locally or you could hire someone online though a site such as Upwork or Fiver. The engineering firm will likely provide you with one or more software engineers that can create your app, as well as the required project management to ensure that the project is executed as expected.

Sometimes the engineering firm will provide dedicated quality assurance / test engineers. Sometimes the software engineers and other team members will take on this role.

If you are meticulous about describing the app features, layout, behavior, and pixel-by-pixel look of the app, then this option can be a big win for you. If you cannot afford a user experience designer, then you can always find other apps that have similar behavior that you want to steal and communicate those requirements to the engineering firm. After all, Picasso is claimed to have said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Option #3: The Freelancer

This option will probably be comparable in price to the engineering firm, but can sometimes be a cheaper alternative. When hiring freelance designers and developers, you will also need to likely take on the project manager role in addition to the other roles that the particular freelancer(s) that you hire are not capable of fulfilling.

But the freelancer option can quickly become more expensive than the engineering firm option or possibly the design agency option if you choose to hire a separate freelancer for each role. Because at that point you are effectively trying to run/coordinate a design agency or engineering firm, but won’t have the synergies that these firms can achieve from the experience of delivering such projects.

Contact Potential App Creation Service Providers

So now you have an understanding of the app you want to create, a way to communicate what it is that you want via your simple app creation plan, and the most common options for who can help you get the app created. It’s time to reach out to the help that you feel would be a good fit for you and start a conversation.

Ask for an Estimated Cost To Build Your App

Even if you wan to create the app yourself, it might be worth seeking out help and asking what they would charge to create the app for you. At this point you should have the documented means to communicate your requirements along with a simple plan for how they could be implemented. Depending on how detailed your documents are, this might be enough for an app creation service provider to give you an estimate on how much it might cost to build the app.

Hiring Someone Online

Services like Upwork and Fiver have mobile, web service, and web app engineers and designers that you can hire from all over the world, including the United States. This can give you an opportunity to hire people from countries where the expected compensation for performing software development and design work can be much cheaper than in the United States.

From my experience, the quality of work that I have received from hiring people from South America, Central Asia, and The Far East has been sometimes good and sometimes very disappointing. And even with the protection of escrowed payment provided by services such as Upwork and Fiver, it can be very difficult to dispute something that can be subjective such as quality. The best you can do is try to articulate what you want in great detail and do your best to negotiate revisions when what is delivered is not what you wanted. 

The cost of hiring people from Central Asia, The Far East, South America, and Eastern Europe also seems to be increasing. While I cannot provide statistical evidence of this, I can say that I have seen prices increase on Elance (now Upwork) and Fiver over the years for the same types of work.

For example, there are many mobile and web app developers now charging between $25 to $100 an hour from countries where the average income of a software developer is about $12,000/year. And they have thousands of billed hours on their profiles. And if they are good, then they deserve to get paid accordingly. But that is bad news if you want to hire a good developer or designer.

This price increase might be due to the general knowledge that professional workers in these countries have of the income gaps between their countries and the countries that regularly hire them from the western world. Another thing to consider is that negotiating price is also a common activity in these countries. So be prepared to haggle and horse-trade your way to a deal if you are hiring someone from one of the above regions of the world.

A Note on The Cost of Hiring Software Engineers and Designers

Hiring a mobile software engineer can be a difficult process. The demand for software engineers is growing faster than the supply of mobile software engineers that are available to perform app development work. A Gartner report stated:

“By the end of 2017, market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organizations’ capacity to deliver them, according to Gartner, Inc.”  (

This high demand for developers is driving up the cost to hire a developer. And the trend for hiring user interface and user experience designers is going the same way.

Assess The Capabilities of App Creation Service Provider

If you are choosing to create the app yourself, are you comfortable doing so and is it the best use of your time? If you have the time and the capability, then great! Otherwise, you might want to consider hiring someone to do the job for you.

To assess the capability of a developer, it is important that you can review a portfolio of work that the developer has done.

Ask them question such as:

What apps have you created in the past?

Who designed the user experience of the app?

Who created the artwork for the app?

What coding standards do you use?

Can you provide any references of past clients that you built an app for?

What type of documentation do you provide when you deliver the source code to me?

Are you assigning the rights of the source code to me?

Will you use open source code in the app?

Do any of the open source licenses require that I make the source code that you create for me open source?

Do I need to purchase any licenses for any source code that you will be providing me?

Hire An App Creation Service Provider

By this point you should have a clear understanding of your options for hiring help to create your app and what each will cost. If one of these options is good fit for your goals of creating an app, then you should be ready to move forward with having your app created.

If you have not already done so, you should now ask the app service provider for more details about the contract that they use for providing the service. You will likely want to have a lawyer review this contact to ensure that you understand the terms of the contract.

While I am not a lawyer, I do have a personal opinion about reviewing contracts for hiring someone to create an app for you. It is important to understand if the contract or other supporting documents will:

– Assign to you the ownership rights of some or all of the source code and other assets such as graphics or other media created for or used by the project?

– Provide a revocable or irrevocable license to use some portion of or all of the source code and other assets such as graphics or other media created for or used by the project?

– Define payment terms and payment schedule.

– Define what happens if you want to cancel the project at a certain point during the project.

You will also want to clarify your communication exceptions before signing the contract.  How often will you want to be notified about the progress of your app? What is your preferred communication channel (Skype, phone, text, email, GoToMeeting, etc.)?

Ask if the project plan will contain milestones where you will be provided the latest version of the app as it is developed.

In agile development, the latest version of the app is provided at the end of what is called a sprint. A sprint is a specific length of times, such as two weeks. So it might be possible for you to get the latest version of the app every two weeks so that you can review the features that have been implemented to ensure that they meet the requirements that you defined and communicated to the app developer.

In addition to understanding how often you will be updated about the progress of your app, you will also want to know if there is a process for providing feedback and if it is possible to have minor alterations made to specific features after the feature has been implemented.

Actively Participate in the Development of Your App

Congratulations on getting this far! This is a major milestone on your journey to creating a successful mobile app. All of the preparation that you have executed up to this point can be used to form a solid foundation for managing the creation of your mobile app.

At this point you can articulate in great detail why you are creating a mobile app, what the core features of your mobile app are, and have the technology and people ready to help build the app.

Much of the process that happens from here to the completion of the first version of the app will be driven by whom you hired to create the mobile app. But you can definitely have a strong influence on that process.

Be sure to take time to review in detail the versions of the app that are created as the new features are added to the app. You might be given the opportunity to provide feedback or request a minor alteration to the app after each update is provided to you. Take advantage of this! If you are too busy and don’t take time to ensure that the app meets your requirements, then the app that is created for you might not be exactly what you wanted.

About the author

Jim Range

Jim Range has over a decade of experience architecting and implementing software based solutions for numerous fortune 500 companies in industries such as financial services, retail, and insurance, as well as small businesses. Jim has an excellent understanding of the software development lifecycle, agile development, and how to manage the development of an app. Over the past ten years Jim has been focused on mobile software development. He has created over 138 apps that have been downloaded more than 10 million times from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Windows Phone Store. Jim also has experience as an information security consultant where he has provided numerous network and web application security assessments for Fortune 500 companies in the financial services, retail and insurance industries.