Project – Develop software for Virtual Receptionist Service including smartphone apps.
Budget – Started at $5,000-$10,000
Actual Cost – $70,000+ (and still going)
My first attempt at developing cloud based receptionist software started with an introduction to a developer; he was looking for a project on the side of his day job. He was sharp, keen and had the dry personality that one expects when dealing with a programmer.
I communicated all the details with the animated excitement of someone who would see their vision a reality in a couple of months. He quickly knocked up some concepts and I could see the project take shape. I made the first lot of payments and even though the project was now four months in, and things were not progressing as quickly as I’d hoped, I assumed that we were still on track.
At the sixth month mark his wife gave birth to their second child, which put production to a standstill. In an act of (stupid) desperation to motivate him, I threw a sweetener payment of a few thousand on the table. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect; he then began avoiding me, as there was no ‘good news’ to tell.
Shortly afterwards he changed companies to a much higher paid position with more responsibility. At around the ten month mark, with still no software, I requested the source code, only to find he had ‘lost it’ in when he had upgraded computers and lost access to backups.
The second attempt
My second attempt at development led me to Freelancer.com – where I was assured that the resolution centre and milestone delivery systems would ensure I got what I paid for… I found a young, keen, extremely sharp programmer from the UK who told me the project would be ‘easy’ – and indeed he delivered a beautiful working solution in just ten weeks, right up to the 95% mark, when he informed me that he had been offered an opportunity that was too good to miss. Apparently I would have ‘no trouble’ finding someone to finish the last ‘tidy up’.
After being let down by two solo operators, my next developers were a large company with over eighty staff. Designers, developers, project managers and so forth. I felt confident such a large and well-established organisation would deliver my requirements; particularly when provided with a fully working protocol, that just needed the last five percent completed.
I was assured that starting the project again would deliver a much better outcome in the long term, so I agreed to proceed and paid the first payments, totalling $10,000. After three gruelling months, I had the scope document and delivery contract completed with their contracts team, and the design and layout completed with the design team. We could now commence the coding.
Then came the ‘bad news’
The company was closing the development division; all staff were let go, and my project was lost for the third time. As the milestones for the first two payments had been reached, according to the Freelancer protocol, there was no refund for payments.
With a greatly depleted budget, armed with my ‘protocol’ software from developer two and the scope and contract from developer three, I advertised for a fourth developer on Gumtree. I was hoping to find someone that lived close by that I could chase after with a baseball bat if they let me down (seriously!).
I interviewed three candidates, and settled on the third, who was of Indian heritage and looking for work for his younger brother, who was actually in India. What I liked about this guy was when I asked him “Can you do it in four months?” he said “No, that wouldn’t be realistic.” He was also willing to work on a week-to-week basis for hours worked, which made it somewhat easier for me to fund.
That was 18 months ago; the project took a full year until I was able to launch my Virtual Receptionist phone answering business in February of 2017. We’ve now published the Beta Android app and the iOS app is waiting for Apple to approve it.
We continue to update, add features, solve bugs and generally improve the system which the receptionists use 24 hours a day to answer our client’s phone calls. The smart phone apps will allow the staff of our customers to update their status, availability, message preferences and call transfer options instantly.
My next challenge is to introduce our Virtual Receptionist service to the millions of small business owners whose calls are currently being missed or going to voicemail. Turn Key Receptionist has a great team of staff working around the clock answering calls and a team of external suppliers who provide wholesale telephony, billing software, IT – and of course my developer who did FINALLY deliver the goods.
Before YOU head down the app development path, here are my five essential tips:
1. Create a scope document
This sounds like a drag but the most of your energy should be invested into this part of the process; failure to clearly document the scope and functionality of your vision will be your downfall in the long term. This means every single function, in every single screen, in every inconceivable way. Where there is multiple tier access, you need to clearly define what each role can view and access and the functions required. The scope document should take almost as long for you to prepare as the actual app takes to develop. Provide any type of visual backup for your concept, even just hand drawn sketches are better than nothing.
No two minds are alike, and If you have a vision, your job is to get that down in a format that someone else can interpret and create.
2. Have a contract
The contract should be between yourself and the developers who have been sufficiently identified. It should cover deliverables, time lines, milestones, payments, methods of communication, penalties, variation charges, project costs, inclusions, exclusions, expectations from BOTH parties (yourself and the developers), revisions, testing, ownership of IP and source code, NDA (non-disclosure agreement), and ongoing support to name just a few key aspects. This is as important as your scope document and your scope document should be referenced within your contract.
3. Ask for references
If you are thinking of using a particular developer, ask them for project examples that are similar to yours they have previously completed, and ask for references from their clients. You don’t want to be the next victim of an incomplete project that has been abandoned by the developer, or a Guinea pig client used as a practice run. A good developer will have a portfolio of work and plenty of happy clients.
4. Ensure the app is registered to you
When an app is launched on Google Play and iOS app store it will need to be registered to a person or company as the publisher of the app. Often developers will register the app under their own company, and this means that down the track you may encounter issues. It is extremely important that your company or you goes through the Apple Developer License process and the app is registered to you, as with the GooglePlay/android app launch should be registered to a google account for you or your business.
So many people I have asked have no idea who their app is actually registered to, they just say “my developer took care of it”. Make sure you have a backup of all source code at all times on a local server.
5. Be realistic about time
Developing an app is not a simple or short exercise. Realistically, depending on the app the whole process listed above could take from six months to several years to create a fully working application which looks and operates in the way you originally envisaged. Even the Apple Developer registration can take several weeks, as if your app is to be registered to a company, you will be required to obtain a DUNS number for your company from Dunn & Bradstreet in order to proceed.
Have you created an app for your business? Can you relate to Naomi’s app development experience?