Choosing a custom business software service provider

David Wippel

David Wippel



software development

Don't have software skills in-house and want to go about finding a custom software service provider you can work with?

That choice won't and shouldn't come easy — because not only will you be working very closely together, but the type of software you develop together and how it runs will have a significant impact on your business in the long run.

Here's our take on what factors you should consider and weigh up before diving straight into development:

Let's dive in …

What culture does the company have?

The skills and technology your custom software provider works with are fundamental, but an aspect that definitely shouldn't go overlooked is the company's culture. What do they value? And how do they work? Is it a similar approach to yours? Having a cultural fit with external partners is just as important as ensuring the cultural fit of your employees.

It ensures that your collaboration runs smoothly and you're on the same page from the get-go. Plus, you'll be spending a lot of time with these people, so you want to make sure you can have some fun along the way.

Social media profiles, their website, and blog posts can be helpful to get a first impression and figure out whether their approach aligns with yours. We also recommend listening to your gut feeling here.

What skills and tech stack do they provide?

Software development is a broad term nowadays. There are many ways you can go about building custom software. Here at TRIGO, we've doubled down on open source software, which is a big plus for our clients because they can always access the code and run with it — they are less reliant on us and can leave whenever they want. It keeps us on our toes and our clients feeling safe. (You can read more about why open source is good here).

Do they have a competent and engaged team?

The company's in-house skills also say a lot about their approach to software development and whether their skill set compliments your in-house team. For example, does the company/agency have a UX expert? This is important to ensure your software doesn't just work but is easy to use for the end-user. Or does it have a software developer who can code a specific language in line with the technology you may already have in-house? Check out the team to get a feel for the company's skills.

Does the service provider offer good value for money?

Once you get an offer in, you can see whether you are being offered a fixed price, or will the risk be passed on through T&M (Time & Material — charging an hourly rate)? We'd also recommend getting a couple of offers in (note that if the project has a large scope, it's industry standard that you will be charged for a quote — you should be informed if that's the case).

Talking to other business owners and partners is also helpful and will give you ballpark figures of what everyone else is paying. But all in all, it's important to feel you are making the right decision with this investment; otherwise, you'll always ask yourself, “could I have gotten a better service somewhere else?” during implementation, and that's not helpful for anyone involved.

Is the process, pricing, and technology transparent?

Another thing to watch out for is whether the software service provider is meeting you at eye level, or do they make you feel like you don't know what you're talking about? Is communication transparent, or is there an attempt to withhold information, e.g., to achieve a higher price? Transparency is essential to us here at TRIGO, and trust should always be the baseline of working together.

Are they client-oriented and committed?

The next thing you will want to watch out for is: does the service provider focus on the customer or the technology? Do you get the impression that they really want to solve your problem? Or do they just implement the same standard software solution for every client (e.g., an ERP kit)?

The real question, in that case, is, will you get what you really need, and is it a sustainable solution for years to come? You can identify this by seeing how much time the company invests in asking you questions, figuring out your company and strategy, and ensuring that you don't start developing before setting a solid foundation to avoid inefficiencies and hiccups along the way. We do this with our clients by diving into a discovery phase.

Compared to other providers, are they innovative and future-oriented?

Does the proposed solution, i.e., the proposed way of solving the problem you have, seem modern and future-oriented? It's a good idea to talk to an experienced person you can trust who can help you evaluate. Perhaps you know a CTO at another company? Or a tech founder?

Be sure to get a list of the technologies the service provider is working with and look into them by simply Googling the technology, searching through forums or LinkedIn groups to figure out whether this technological solution is bound to stand the test of time. Or speak to trusted professionals.

Do they have a good reputation?

Reference projects are always a good indicator of whether the company is going to be a good fit. So ask yourself: are there successful reference projects I can look at? Happy client referrals that I have things in common with? These can also be a great indicator of whom to go with.

Do they have an international, global, or local presence?

Depending on your business, you may want a service provider that's international, global, or local — usually in line with your customer's location and needs.

Ask yourself: Does the company fit my location? Do I operate internationally or regionally? Does it understand the market and the framework conditions? Does it produce locally or outsource? By investing in a software service provider, you're also supporting a business, its work ethics, and its employees, so keep that in mind.

Are they flexible in contract negotiations

If you just received a 12.384-page contract that you can't wrap your head around, there's something amiss. Good service providers give you a heads-up and explain everything in detail. Also, consider whether your current needs are considered during negotiations and whether they offer you the best option to meet those needs.

Still not sure whether you've found the right custom software service provider? You can weigh up these different factors using a cost-utility analysis; that way, you can compare each option side by side.

Go ahead and download our free template here.

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