One frequent pop culture stereotype is the super-genius computer programmer who is a law unto (usually) himself and accountable to no one. This trope has been trotted out so often that it may have the unfortunate side effect of discouraging small businesses from diving into software development.
Many nontechnical managers harbor an unreasonable fear of entering the technical realm long after the need for it has become obvious. Small business owners are right to focus on their primary offering, but nowadays there is no longer any need to delay software development.
Online code interviews make it simple to evaluate the proficiency and claims of job applicants. The rise of open-source coding communities has helped foster increased accountability in the tech community. The days of coders securing their positions by making their work indecipherable to anyone else are quickly becoming a relic of a bygone era.
Here are six common mistakes that cause business owners to delay jumping into the software development game. Check to see whether any of them hit a sore spot for you.
1. Assuming you don’t need developers.
This might represent the single biggest mistake simply because it’s so easy to make. The need for in-house software development talent does not normally announce itself.
Instead, the need begins to grow gradually, often unnoticeable in the week-in, week-out routine. A need for in-house expertise typically manifests itself via mounting invoices for IT outsourcing, unforeseen production delays, and a gradual decline in customer acquisition. Paying consistent attention to all of these issues can help signal the need for change.
2. Missing the connection between in-house coding and revenue.
Too many business managers look at the expense of hiring software developers in-house and stop right there. Some go a little further and compare the cost of the required salary/benefit package against what they spend on outsourcing their tech needs. What’s often missed in these comparisons is the amount of revenue being lost to delay between requests to modify software and its implementation.
Any tech company that provides outsourced services will prioritize tasks based on revenue, just as you would expect. Assuming your business does not fall into the category of “top 10 clients,” updates to your projects may take a backseat. Outside vendors will feel completely free to bump your project down the list when a major client has an unexpected need. A full-time employee in the office down the hall will attach more urgency to your request.
3. Remaining content with the status quo.
There is much to be said for pursuing contentment, so feeling pleased with the current status of your business is not entirely a bad thing. However, any good business owner knows that the economic ground underneath their feet is always subject to shift. A business model that works great today can slowly slide into obsolescence if they’re not watchful.
The number of factors affecting the way business is conducted is growing. Two in particular — the smartphone and a worldwide pandemic — forced many businesses to finally get serious about developing or upgrading their digital presence. You might be content with how things are going right now, but are your competitors equally content to kick back and relax?
4. Overlooking the possibilities for scaling.
Your business may well be successful in the local community, and that’s a great place to start. However, if your business model could meet with similar levels of success in other markets, shouldn’t you pursue that?
One silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic has been the increased realization that work can be accomplished (and services delivered) online, with no need to travel. The home office lockdown forever broke down previous barriers of time and geography.
If, for example, your business involves consulting, you might want to develop proprietary software that can be downloaded, installed, and managed from remote locations. The cost of a software developer should also be balanced against savings in travel and other expenses related to your previous business model.
5. Entering into long-term outsourcing contracts.
Once you’ve decided to invest in products and services that require the development and maintenance of software, it’s best to negotiate short-term contracts. You will want to evaluate the responsiveness of your vendor, of course, but also keep an eye on ROI. Your profitability may put you in a position to hire in-house staff sooner than you think.
It’s unlikely that any business would choose to hire in-house developers while they are paying a vendor for software support. Additionally, it’s possible to create a situation where in-house developers clash with outsourced tech vendors. Assume you will want to bring on staff sooner than you think and write any outsourcing contracts accordingly.
6. Not knowing what to ask for when recruiting.
For those without a solid background in tech, writing a job description for a software developer can be daunting. To get a better handle on what you need when bringing staff online, discuss the specifics of your business needs with potential vendors. You might even outsource portions of your project to multiple vendors to get a sense of how different developers approach the same task.
Once you’ve clarified your needs and are ready to post the position, do the same as you would do for any other job. Write out a clear description of relevant tasks, required skills, expectations, and standards of conduct by which a potential hire will be judged. When this individual comes on board, insist on accountability and semi-regular review sessions with other experts.
Trust Your Gut, but Verify the Code
By now we’ve all grown accustomed to watching people walk around with their heads bowed down over a glowing screen. Years ago, it was considered a novelty to evaluate in-store pricing against what could be purchased online. Today, it’s an assumed reality. Your business may have terrific word of mouth locally, but if you’re not keeping pace with those little glowing screens, you’re planning your own obsolescence.
Those with zero coding experience will be understandably reluctant to trust their ability to sift out good applicants from the so-so ones. That shouldn’t stop small business owners and managers from addressing an obvious business problem.
Before you hire in-house development talent, read up on best practices for bringing technical talent into nontechnical business settings. Begin putting together a rough outline of a job description by trawling through career-centered websites such as LinkedIn. Above all, don’t allow outdated tropes to hinder your ability to make steady business progress.