How to get Everything out of the First Call with a Software Development Company
You’ve realized your growing business needs automation, and you want to develop a system that will make your work — and your customer experience — more efficient. You decide to take action and hire a developer to build a custom software for your business, and you start by scheduling calls with several software development companies to see what they suggest. Now, how do you prepare for that first call? And why do you need it at all?
First Goal of the Call: Learn What the Software Development Company Can Do for You
The process of creating custom software is similar to creating custom clothing. First, a client comes in to consult with the tailor. The tailor asks questions, draws a design for the desired suit, and measures the client. She will offer the client different fabrics, types of stitches, and button designs. She will ask when the client needs the suit ready and how much they are ready to spend. If the tailor thinks the client can buy this suit off the rack (and if she is ethical), she will suggest they go to the store instead of paying custom prices unnecessarily.
Similarly, your first call with the software development company is an opportunity for us to start understanding the issue you are trying to solve or the idea you are trying to get off the ground with custom software. We will ask detailed questions about your business, your current challenges, and any limitations you have to this project. We will then recommend you either buy off-the-shelf software, continue to work with us, or go to a different vendor who might be a better fit.
At Syberry, we pride ourselves on acting not just as vendors but trusted client advisors, and because custom software can be an expensive investment, we may recommend a suitable off-the-shelf solution to fit your needs. For example, small businesses sometimes come to us asking to build custom booking software for them. The best advice we can give in this situation is to look into off-the-shelf solutions for now. We advise it because custom software can be an expensive investment, and it makes more sense for small businesses to purchase one of the many quality booking software solutions on the market and spend the money they save developing the business instead.
By the end of the first call, we want to answer two questions with you:
- Should we work together on your custom software?
- If so, what are our next steps?
Preparing for the Call
To ensure your first call with the software development company is thorough, efficient, and effective, we recommend you prepare answers to our most frequently asked questions in advance.
What business issue do you want us to solve?
We want to make sure the custom software we build solves your unique issues. To help us evaluate your situation, we will need to ask several questions. What is the issue you want us to solve? How does this issue affect your business? What do you envision the solution looking like?
For example, our client Jane is the CEO of an education center. She wants to build an online portal with lectures and quizzes for the center's students. Here are the answers Jane prepared for our questions.
|Our question||Client's answer|
|What issue are you trying to solve with custom software?||Right now, the teachers distribute quizzes to students on paper and read the lectures in class. They grade the paper quizzes and read the same lectures every day. Also, the students need to come to the physical class to receive knowledge.|
|How does this issue affect your business?||The teachers spend half of their shifts grading the quizzes and reading the same lectures to different students. In addition, the number of students in the center is limited due to the size of the classes.|
|What do you envision the solution looking like?||We want to have an online portal hosting both our students and teachers, making education accessible and efficient. The teachers will spend more time answering students' questions and creating new quizzes and lectures. Students will be able to study at our center from all over the US.|
How do you envision your software? What functions should it perform?
A software development company will help you answer these questions as we move forward with the project. However, for the first call, we find it helpful to understand how you envision your future software. This information will tell us if we have the necessary expertise or team capacity for your project. It will help us to price your project, too.
To facilitate the software development process, prepare to answer the following questions:
- What should the key features of your software be?
- Will you need a mobile app?
- Will your software integrate with other services?
- How do you envision the rollout of your software?
These might not sound like urgent questions, but their answers will influence the development process substantially. For example, if you expect just 20 employees to use your system, we will use a smaller server to build the architecture for your project. If you then bring in 100 users to the application, it might crash.
Here is how the education center CEO, Jane, answered our questions. Remember that Jane is a professional teacher, not a technical specialist. We don’t expect our clients to be experts in software development—that’s our job!
|Will your software integrate with other services?||Yes. The students should be able to pay for the classes through our system.|
|Will you need a mobile app?||Yes. The students should be able to watch lectures and complete quizzes on the phone.|
|What should be the key features of your software?||Tracking students' progress, chatting with the teachers, watching and commenting on the lectures, and completing the quizzes.|
|How do you envision the rollout of your software?||When we release our software, we want it to be used by the teachers, the students, and the administration. We expect 3 administrators, 10 teachers and 140 students to use the system at the time of launch.|
At this point in development, the list of features can be as detailed or broad as you want. We will ask more questions on the topic as we move forward with the project. If you want to start compiling the list of features now, refer to our Employee Management System example to see what that might look like.
What is your ideal timeline for this project?
You may need a website for a conference coming up, or you might want to release your product at a certain time of year. Understanding your time constraints will help us identify which features and benefits to prioritize during the development process. For example, if you need the project sooner, we could make the team bigger. This will raise the expected investment into the project, but it will allow you to meet your deadline. If you do not have specific time constraints, we will optimize our resources differently, making the project a less expensive investment.
Remember that custom software is built in months, not days or weeks. If you need the software sooner, we suggest looking into off-the-shelf solutions.
What is your expected investment in this project?
We use your investment plan as a potential limiting factor. You might be able to invest a little every month, or you might have all the money now. Knowing how much and how soon you expect to invest will help us optimize your resources. For example, we might suggest concentrating on key features first in order to work within your budget.
Transparency is critical when we discuss the proposed investment into the software solution. You can rest assured that your project's price is not going to be the number you tell us. Instead, we’ll calculate the price of your project using engineers' estimations and our experience. To make meaningful suggestions, however, we need to understand your goals and limitations.
Generally, there are two approaches to pricing software development:
- Fixed Price. We will go through the Discovery phase with you, discussing every feature you want in your system. It will take us a couple of months to prepare a document listing every detail of your future software. At this point, you will know when you will receive your project and what it will consist of. However, you will not be able to make significant changes to the project once it is being built.
- Agile. We will start developing your system right away, releasing new features every two weeks. With this approach, you get a basic version your product working sooner while other features are still in development. You won’t have a specific price determined upfront (though we can provide a ballpark range), but there will be more room for changes and adjustments to the development plan.
If you do not necessarily know which approach to take, our engineers will recommend the most suitable option. For example, we recommended that Jane go with the Fixed Price approach, as she had a limited budget and a year before launch.
What will the procurement process look like on your end?
Because building custom software is a complex and lengthy undertaking, we might need more than one call to discuss every aspect of your future project. Sometimes business representatives want various employees to be involved in discussing different aspects of the software.
For example, Jane invited the education center’s IT department to talk about the future system's hosting and integrations. She invited their accountant to discuss the investments. She invited some of their teachers to discuss the software features.
If you have not thought about how you will organize the procurement process, we will offer you an optimal way to do so. But if you have, we would love to hear your expectations. Our goal here is to optimize your resources.
Second Goal of the Call: Evaluate the Vendor
During the first call, the software development company representative will often talk about their experience, work processes, and company structure. This call will allow you to ask questions you did not find answers to on their website. For example, who will hold the intellectual property rights for the software after the system is built?
A lot happens in the first call with a software vendor, but a reliable vendor will make sure the conversation is thorough without being overwhelming. They’ll ask deep questions about your business and will not rush with the contract. They get to know your problem, and they let you ask questions about how they might solve it. If they are not the perfect solution for you, a good vendor will tell you right away.
If you are ready for your first call with Syberry, schedule a meeting with us.