5 Ways to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by Programmers When Building Your First App

Make sure they know what they are doing. And don't just take their word for it.

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By Steve Eakin

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Taking your idea for an app and turning it into an actual app people can use is a beautiful thing.

Execution isn't only crucial to success -- as in, you will never have an app that earns money if you don't build it -- it's special. Most people sit on the sidelines until someone else has the same idea, builds it and makes it big. That leaves most people with great bar stories of what could have been. So, when you have someone who is actually going to step up and build what they're dreaming of, it's a big deal.

Related: Mobile App Development Trends to Watch in 2018 and Beyond

When you're building your first app, you have two choices. You can build the app yourself, or get a freelance programmer to build it for you.

If you want to build the app yourself, good luck. Unless you already know how to program, you can't reliably learn to code quick enough for this to matter. Speaking to you as a programmer of almost 20 years, if you go this route with no prior experience, you're turning your potential cash cow into a time sucking hobby.

Yes, you can learn a few tricks of the trade relatively easy. No, you can't become a master iPhone programmer in a few weeks.

If you actually want your app to get built, get a freelance programmer to build it for you. You have the idea; someone else has the programming skills. You pay them to build your idea, and you get to keep the final product which is hopefully earning you some money. This is the route I recommend to my entrepreneur friends 100 percent of the time.

But hiring freelancer programmers isn't without risk. Here are some steps you must take to ensure that your idea actually gets built the way you want it, without blowing past the budget and without going over the timelines.

1. Have a clear and meaningful outline of what you want to accomplish.

This is more than just a well-written description of what you want your prospective freelancer to build. This is "the meat" -- not just the end result, but as much detail as possible so they can't take product decisions that you left out and run with it. That concept is great in a corporate or startup environment where you're with the people day in and day out, but not with freelancers. They may not make the decisions you want, and if not, you're paying out of pocket for them.

Within reason, you need to lay it all out so there are no decisions left to be made. The only exception is if you don't know what a user should do to get from A to B, and you don't care so long as it happens. That's unlikely, so take care to think it all through.

2. Make sure they actually know what they're doing.

Every developer who wants to work on your project is going to say that they're the best at this. They'll know exactly what to do to make this perfect, and you can trust them.

Make them prove it. What have they done that's similar? What do they do if they can't figure something out? What are other people saying about their work? Figure all this out to ensure your app idea is in good hands. "Trust me, I'm a developer" isn't enough.

Related: Confessions of an In-Demand Developer: How Too Many Job Offers Helped Me Craft My Own Coding Consultancy Company

3. Start small.

Start with a small test and build your way up. If you build more than necessary, you risk building more than what people want.

You may think you know every little feature that your prospective users need to enjoy your app, but you may be wrong. It happens all the time to companies big and small. If you're looking to build something that people actually want to use, start small and keep improving from there.

4. Have strict deadlines and a strict budget.

Even if your deadlines are self-inflicted, keep to them. If you don't, you risk getting pushed to the back of the pile for a freelancer who has potentially taken on more than they can handle.

Same goes for a budget. If you want to spend $500 to build your test out, be strict with it. It's a funny thing -- if your budget is $5,000, that's where the bids will come in. If it's $500, that's where they'll come in as well. As long as your budget is within the realms of what someone considers reasonable, bids will be in budget.

Set a reasonable budget, and keep to it.

Related: The 4 Biggest App Outsourcing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

5. Test before you pay.

This one may seem obvious, but it's easy to fall victim to a freelance developer saying "I just did all this work, can you pay me now? At least 50 percent of it…"

The problem is, as soon as you pay, they don't have to give it back. It could look really good in their demo, but until you test it yourself, you shouldn't pay. Their sob story doesn't matter. This is a business transaction. You front the money in escrow, they deliver, you verify that they did actually deliver, then you pay them. Transaction complete.

Until you actually complete that transaction, you're at risk of them running off, screwing you out of your hard earned money. You've come way too far to let that happen. You're on the path to having an app of your very own out there for people to buy, and having someone else take that away from you is out of the question.

You've got the idea, and not everyone is creative enough to have one. You've focused it into a real possibility, and not everyone is disciplined enough to do that. You've made the decision to turn your app idea into a real app, and not everyone is courageous enough to make it real.

Now it's time to actually get it built the right way, without getting screwed in the process.

Steve Eakin

Founder of Startup Black Belt

Steve Eakin is a speaker, investor, startup advisor and the founder of Startup Black Belt, where he helps tech startups launch, grow and scale.

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