There are several options for building software open to non-technical innovators, each have their benefits, insurmountable challenges, and unique set of rewards. I’ve tried most of them in one way or another. This article will help you think through which one is right for you.
WordPress is really appealing. Its famous 5-minute install will get you off the ground in minutes, and if you know how to click a mouse, you can have a basic website with a little content running in about a day. Pre-built themes and plugins can help you add features without doing the heavy-lifting for a few dollars each. Custom Post Types even let you create your own data types. Best yet, it’s open source, so you can always hire a developer to help you add custom upgrades later.
At my company, Emmert Technology, we use page builders like Divi and Elementor to enable clients to create their own awesome looking landing pages with just a few clicks. This allows you to focus most of your time on content, not meaningless technical details.
But WordPress isn’t always sunshine and roses. While it’s business model is incredibly attractive for developers and self-bootstrapping entrepreneurs, there are a few technical issues that can make or break your WordPress site, and not all of them are immediately obvious.
If you’re building a site with dynamic or time-sensitive content, lots of user interactions, or if you plan to develop a lot of custom features, WordPress will get more and more expensive over time, until it’s actually more expensive than developing your own system from scratch.
Hire an Agency
I’ve done a lot of work for agencies as a software developer, and started my own agency. Agencies are great for some projects, and terrible for others, but your success will also depend heavily on the agency you pick.
Agencies tend to be good for projects that are time-sensitive, or require specialized expertise or creative skills. You want to be very clear what you want, and make sure you have a clear scope and budget.
One common issue with a lot of agencies is that they have an inherent bias toward doing extra work, even when it’s not needed or cost-effective. Some agencies also bill hourly, meaning they actually get paid more the more mistakes they make. Even if their leadership is honest, this will be a subconscious battle for them internally.
Agencies are typically used to doing a wide variety of projects for many different types of clients. This gives them some unique advantages. They will typically be more up-to-date with the latest technology and will have a better 30,000ft view of the industry than in-house developers would.
Learn To Code
They say it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something. These days there are a lot more cost-effective ways to get what you want. That being said, there are situations in which it makes sense to make the jump and learn to do some things yourself. This is the path I chose, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to many people.
You’ll also want to learn technical architecture. The best way to learn this currently is to get involved as a developer on larger projects, working with other senior developers.
The biggest drawback to this approach is that you will spend a… lot… of… time…
Learning to do anything really well takes a long time, and software is no exception. Only do this if you inherently love coding, and want to do it as part of your daily work. Learning to code by itself won’t make you rich, or even able to build good software.
Hire a Student
I’ve been a student working on freelance projects, and I’ve worked with them before. You’ll have to work around their choppy schedule, and compete with the other needs of that turbulent time of life, like academics, relationships, and $50k-$100k job offers with health insurance that’s probably better than yours, as an entrepreneur.
You also get what you pay for. Students, through no fault of their own, aren’t typically experienced at building large-scale business applications, and won’t necessarily implicitly get the needs of your business.
That being said, you can give a student a wonderful opportunity by hiring them. You’ll want a smaller project, clearly defined scope. Also, make sure they have the resources they need, including a good laptop, good internet access, and a focused place to work.
Build Your Own Team
If you want to build your own in-house development team, I would recommend starting by hiring a senior software developer who you can trust with your life. You’ll need someone managing your team who has your best interest in mind. You’ll also need someone leading development efforts who understands business and technological parameters very well.
I’ve seen many non-technical business leaders override their technical staff, and it always ends ugly. There’s no shortcut for building a quality team, then instilling them with a vision, and trusting them absolutely.
One way or another, you’re going to entrust your business to your technical team. They’re going to be heavily influencing what tools you use, what skills to focus on, and who to hire.
If you are good at creating a vision, and using it to inspire a wide spectrum of personality types, then this approach might be right for you.
Which way is best for me?
Before you pick a route, take the time to figure out what the deep driving motivator for your project is, besides making money. This will help you focus on a direction that you’ll find most rewarding. Also do some cost-analysis. It could be that the long-term cost-benefit ratio between the options might surprise you.
WordPress might be easy to get started on, but if you’re going to have to rebuild later to achieve the feature set or scale you need, it might be cheaper in the long run building an internal team or hiring an agency.
If you need more help deciding, don’t be shy. I’m offering free consultations at Emmert Technology. I love hearing about different projects, and helping entrepreneurs make sense of tech.