How to Find the Best Mobile App Company for Your Next Digital Product

You have the near-impossible assignment. You have been tasked with finding an agency to build a new digital product or redesign a flailing website or mobile app. Finding agencies is not a problem — your inbox is full with offers for “an introductory conversation,” and a quick Google search will reveal how hard agencies are fighting for search engine optimization. What you have to do is find the perfect agency partner that completely meets expectations for your digital project, something that is becoming increasingly hard to do.

By giving you my best advice on how to select an agency, am I trying to make my job as an agency representative harder? No, I don’t believe there are “secrets” of the digital agency world to spill — this can and should be a simple process. Agencies who deliver great work will reveal a lot about themselves in early conversations. A good partner will work with you toward the end goal of getting your project headed for successful launch.

First, ask yourself: am I looking for a partner who will add value and work with me to build something great, or am I looking for a low-cost option that checks the boxes? If your answer is the latter — and there are many projects that should fall in that category — ask yourself if you really want a full service agency and not a contractor you could find on Fiverr.

Second, know that the flexible points of negotiation from a top digital agency’s perspective are the time to deliver, effort required, and feature set. Be very suspicious of an agency that would quickly concede to discount their hourly rates. Sometimes a great volume of work justifies a discount on hourly rates, but you should be curious why their services aren’t in higher demand and they need to take the hit to win your business. Good agencies manage supply and demand of strong consulting resources well.

How do Time-and-Materials versus Fixed-Cost approaches affect a project?

“Time and materials” is a common approach to budgeting a project. The agency provides an estimate to the client, with the caveat that the client will only pay for actual hours used. Clients are sold the idea that, with tight project management, the project will come in under budget and they will save money. In reality, however, time and materials shifts the majority of the cost risk to the client. The price pressure of negotiations effectively ensures that the final number is the lowball estimate. For this reason, time and materials projects are notorious for running over budget.

Some agencies are willing to commit to a fixed fee proposal to guarantee scope and timeline, assuming that scope is fixed. This is the way that Punchkick approaches enterprise projects. It’s a win-win to ensure that our clients get the scope they want on time and on budget, and we have a success story we can brag about.

Transparency is key to getting the best proposal from your agency

Be upfront about your budget, your decision-making process, and your timeline so that you can fairly evaluate your agencies on a level playing field. Be prepared knowing that signing a new agency can often take multiple months, as multiple stakeholders at your company will need to buy in, you’ll likely adjust your requirements during the process and legal and procurement may push back.

Get multiple proposals — and be careful that if you exert pressure to reduce price during negotiations, you understand exactly where your agency is cutting back. Are they taking thinner margins, or are they swapping in junior developers, or cutting corners on certain features? These are things you had better know.

Expect a detailed proposal from your agency so you understand where major effort is anticipated — and ask follow up questions about anything that sticks out for any reason. Be curious about wide variance on any point between multiple proposals. Don’t dismiss anything, and have follow up conversations so you understand the reasons. You’ll always benefit from multiple perspectives.

Have a plan for what happens after the product release. Know beforehand if this is a product that you want or can take in house to maintain, or if you intend to continue the agency relationship to build the next version of the mobile product. Your agency should certainly adapt working cadence, paired programming, documentation, and training to fit your desired outcome post-launch.

Finally, always seek references and review prior work. And talk to the references. Perhaps most critically of all, ask good questions. Be very clear with your agency on the following:

  1. Will this be developed in native code or with a platform (Xamarin, PhoneGap)? The quality and longevity of the app varies widely depending on their answer.
  2. Will this be staffed by full-time employees, or by subcontractors from design, development, or QA disciplines?
  3. Will any team members be overseas or offshore?
  4. Who will be my point of contact for issue escalation?
  5. What is the communication cadence throughout the project?

Summary

Be as forthcoming with your organization’s own limitations as you expected agencies to be during your initial discussion. If at any point in the sales process you feel your agency is not being transparent with you, expect that same behavior during a project. If there is no pushback from your partner in the initial conversations, expect them to withhold bad news past the point of no return during the engagement. Lack of communication and dishonesty during early conversations inevitably leads to major budget overruns, missed deliverables, excuses, and a bad relationship between client and agency project teams.

On the other hand, with a good agency partnership, you should expect a relationship like that of a trusted advisor. Have confidence that the shared experience and knowledge of two teams working together as one can yield great digital products that mutually benefit your company and your agency.

Read more about mobile best practices on punchkick.com.