Questions You Should Know about Custom Tools

Author: Geym

Mar. 07, 2024

Hardware

5 Questions to Ask With Every Custom Order

Stop focusing on your order form and ask your customer these questions!

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: When it comes to printing custom branded merchandise, it’s easy to ask the same humdrum questions during order creation. Use these five questions to truly tap into what your customer wants in their custom printed merchandise order.

What would you like to order today?

You’ve probably heard that phrase dozens of times, maybe more depending on how often you visit your favorite drive-thru fast-food chain. You pick a numbered item off the menu, tell the person at the intercom what you want, and move ahead to pick up your food. Aside from the occasional special request (extra pickles, no lettuce, etc.), there’s generally no real customization involved. It’s a relatively formulaic setup for a reason. It’s designed to move people in and out quickly.

Now let’s think about your business. Custom printed merchandise isn’t the same line of work as running a fast-food drive-thru. But you’re both in the business of getting a customer what they want. And you’re both striving to do it in a reasonable amount of time relative to the product the customer’s paying for.

But here’s where things get very different. When someone orders a burger at the drive-thru, they’re picking it off a pre-configured menu, and most items are already standardized.

When you’re building an order for your customers, it’s a lot more intricate You might have some standard procedures for how you print different types of fabrics or substrates. Still, every customer coming through your doors or contacting you online needs that hoodie, tote bag, keychains, or koozie for a specific application.

Your menu

Depending on the type of shop you run, there are probably a few standard items on your order form. Usually, your “need-to-knows” are:

  • Client’s information: core things like billing address, contact information, and primary contact for the order.
  • Product type: A long sleeve shirt, a T-shirt, a hoodie, a beanie, or whatever else your business offers in its inventory.
  • Color: This usually corresponds with the inks and thread types you stock.
  • Size: For apparel decoration, you’ll need to know the variety of required sizes (SM, M, L, XL, etc.)
    Quantity: You need an amount for every item in the job order.

These are all humdrum requirements, but what if you could add some more exciting questions to the mix and truly connect with your customers? It requires more conversation with the customer and, yes, more of a time commitment. But if you think of it as an investment to build better designs and retain customers, it’s worth it.

Let’s take a look at five questions to ask your customers that elevate you from “order-taker” to “merch maker.” Combine these with InkSoft’s powerful tools for managing job proposals, and you’ll have a powerhouse at your fingertips. 

Question 1: What is the budget for your custom printed merchandise order?

This isn’t the most exciting question to ask your customers, but you need to be comfortable asking it. Suppose your client is a small charity with a very limited or no marketing budget. In that case, setting them up with an elaborate design isn’t realistic. Even if you have rates listed on your order form and website, it’s still essential to determine how much your customer can pay for their design.

Why do you need to know their budget at the early stage of the ordering process? Because it’ll help you narrow down what kinds of designs to provide them. They may need artwork that requires bright colors, heavy detail, and print sizes for larger objects. In that case, you’ll want to make sure they have a realistic expectation of what they can ask of you.

The good news is that even if your customer has a minimal budget, you can still build designs without spending too much money on labor hours or struggling with complicated screen-printing software. With InkSoft’s online art approvals feature, you’ll be able to send over mockups quickly and make changes without a lot of extra back-and-forth.

It might seem awkward to ask a customer how much they can afford before you’ve even set up the order. But it’s in the best interest of both parties. For your client, they can plan ahead so that when it comes time for invoicing, they already have the money set aside to compensate you for your work. And on the shop’s side, you have a clearer picture of the scope of work you’re willing to do for the customer based on your costs and their budget.

Question 2: Who’s Your Target Audience?

You might think there’s an obvious answer, but don’t assume you know what your customer’s looking for. For example, maybe one of your latest customers is the local credit union who needs branded corporate apparel for their staff. But, they’re trying to revamp their image to attract younger bankers and come up with something more modern since most of their team is 20-30 somethings. The logo or design you help them come up with will be drastically different from the chain bank that simply wants a reprint of their logo they’ve been using for 15 years.

Finding out your client’s target audience will also help narrow down what elements will be useful in their design. If your customer is a paving company and offers landscaping services, use creative ways to combine these elements in the artwork. Or, you can use an easy-to-read font, to create a catchy tagline, like “Smith’s Paving and Landscaping.”

Target audience details also help narrow down color choices for designs. If you’re creating a design for a daycare center, you most likely go for brighter, vibrant colors that target kids and their parents. Conversely, suppose you’re working with a more conservative client like someone targeting the real estate market. In that case, you’ll stick with uniform, flat, and formal colors that convey professionalism.

Question 3: How Do You Plan to Reach Your Target Audience?

Once you know the target market for your client’s customers, you’ll have the core idea of what kind of colors, fonts, and images to use for the design. The other part of this question is understanding HOW the customer plans to reach their target market. This question helps you determine the types of products you’ll offer for their custom printed merchandise.

Are they printing large banners, floor decals for a retail store, or large window hangings? Or, are they printing their design on smaller goods like pens, keychains, and coffee mugs? Maybe you’re creating a design that’s intended for smaller surfaces. You probably also have customers who want to print on every piece of custom printed merchandise available to reach their target audience, from T-shirts to socks, mousepads, and tote bags. Whatever types of products they want to print their designs on, you can use tools like InkSoft‘s Online Designer to let customers choose what they want and easily build previews of what their artwork will look like on each product.

How your customer chooses to target their audience also gives you the chance to offer them e-commerce and web-to-print options. With InkSoft Stores, you can help them set up a mobile-friendly, easy-to-update online store where they can sell merch to their end customers.

Question 4: What Designs Resonate with You?

This question can overwhelm your customers, so it’s usually a good idea to set some limitations. Tell them to send you 5-6 examples of some of their favorite branded designs.

All bets are off with this one, so let your customers have some fun. They can choose well-known designs from their favorite brands, foods, or companies. Or, maybe they have a picture they snapped of a cool sign they saw when they were traveling in Europe.

Obviously, you don’t want to copy another business’s logo. But this process helps give you a literal picture of what kind of designs your customer likes. In most cases, you’ll probably notice a pattern with their favorites. So, perhaps they’ll send you multiple examples of simple black and white graphics with block text or vibrant images with bright colors and playful fonts.

If you’re able to find out what kinds of designs resonate with them, you’ll better understand what to create for your customer. There’s even a chance one of the logos or designs they share with you might be from one of their competitors.

And that leads us to our next question.

Question 5: Who are Your Competitors?

As a successful printer, you know this question well. Your customers should too. You’re not an expert in every industry your clients work in, so they need to provide you with this information.

Like your customer’s favorite designs, ask them to send you links to their competitor’s website or social media page. From there, you’ll be able to understand better the competitive landscape they’re doing business in. And, you’ll have a better idea of how their competitors’ designs click with customers.

Without spending too much time on their websites or looking at the designs, are you able to understand what the competition’s offerings are? If the answer is “yes,” consider these elements when you’re helping your client build their order.

The main idea behind this question is to determine how your client wants to grow in their industry””do they want to follow the example of other successful businesses and do something that’s trending? Or, do they want to set themselves apart with something that’s on-brand but unique?

 Maybe your client wants to reach more customers with a streamlined e-commerce game. Chat with them about how combining great artwork with an excellent online store can be a great strategy.

Bonus Question: What DON’T You Want in Your Custom Printed Merchandise?

Sometimes your client may come to the table with some ideas for their design already in mind. In that case, you can narrow down options before even doing the “deep-dive” with the five questions we just discussed.

If you decide to ask this question, here are some items you can have them check off the list.

What are some things you don’t want in your design when it comes to:

  • Fonts
  • Certain images
  • Colors

Narrowing down the choices speeds things up for you as a printer. Plus, you’ll know better how to match design recommendations with the products your customers want them printed on.

A Little Extra Work Goes a Long Way

Like we mentioned earlier, asking your customers these open-ended questions will take some extra time. It’ll feel like extra work. But it’ll make you stronger as a business since you’ll go into a job knowing all the things your client wants and doesn’t want out of their order.

You’ll also be able to take that information from your customers and combine it with two powerful tools; your skills as a printer and all the resources built into InkSoft.
Want to get a closer look at how InkSoft can help you master your customers’ orders? Book a 15-minute virtual tour with us so we can show you how to master your e-commerce game.

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As of 2022, there are 21,500 software development firms around the world.

That’s good news for companies who need this type of service, as they have lots of options to choose from.

On the other hand, it also complicates the process of choosing the right team for your project. How do you even begin?

Fortunately, it can be as simple as asking the right questions.

This article shares ten questions you should ask a software development company you’re thinking of hiring.

What projects have you worked on?

In our view, asking a software development company about their past experience is the most critical question.

The answers you’ll get here can tell you a lot about the development company and if they’re the right fit.

It can help you determine if they have the right experience, skills, work ethic, and level of professionalism for your particular project.

But to get meaningful insight, the company must provide as thorough explanations as possible. It’s not enough for them to say, “We worked on this fintech project.”

This is where case studies come in handy. A case study is a detailed walkthrough of how the development company tackled a project, including the challenges the team solved.

If the case study is similar to your current project, that’s a good sign.

Source: DECODE

It’s also good to ask for references from past clients. Checking up with them can give you unbiased feedback about the development company.

It will also help you verify if their claims are true.

If the development company can’t or won’t provide references due to confidentiality agreements, you can try checking third-party review sites like Glassdoor or Clutch.

Lastly, it’s important to ask about the typical profile of the companies they work with, so you can help gauge whether they’d be a proper fit.

For instance, if the company has only dealt with smaller companies or projects, they might struggle if you assign them a larger app.

How focused will you be on my project?

It’s not uncommon for software development companies to work on multiple projects simultaneously. Thus, asking how much focus they can give to you is a valid concern.

The best-case scenario is that the company uses a dedicated team model so developers can work on your project exclusively.

This is how DECODE operates. When we accept a project, we assemble a development team from our talent pool of 80+ potential team members.

They will only work on one project at a time because we believe constant switching would hamper their productivity and compromise results.

Of course, any development company could claim that they’ll focus 100% on your project. So, here are some follow-up questions you can ask to determine whether that’s really the case.

One, ask if your project will have a dedicated project manager. These professionals can be instrumental in keeping a project on track and fixing delays if they happen.

Even if a development team isn’t working on your project exclusively, a manager can make it seem that way.

Source: Tigo Software

Second, you can ask about the size of the team. A bigger team is likely to have a better chance of meeting deadlines and delivering quality work, even if they’re juggling multiple things.

Plus, assigning more developers shows the company’s full support for your project.

What development methodology do you use?

Methodology refers to how a software project is developed, including the processes and management techniques.

Different approaches have distinct pros and cons that will impact your client experience.

Thus, verifying if a software company’s methodology matches your preferences and expectations is important.

For instance, DECODE uses a subset of Agile methodology called Scrum.

Scrum divides the development process into sprints, which act like mini-projects. They include all the steps in a typical cycle, from planning to testing.

Source: IT Chronicles

The beauty of this method is that it tests and reviews software regularly, thus giving more opportunities to find bugs.

It’s a great approach if the client prefers to be involved in the project, as meetings can be conducted after every sprint, giving the client the possibility of oversight.

On the other hand, a more linear approach like the Waterfall methodology is sometimes suitable for simpler projects where the client wants to be hands-off.

Source: Actitime

The important thing to remember is that there’s no right or wrong methodology. The best option is the one that fits your project requirements.

And you’ll only discover that by asking the software development company.

What tools do you use?

Tools can make or break any software project. The right ones can help deliver a quality project and a fantastic client experience.

Thus, asking a development team about their tools is in your best interest.

These include integrated development environments (IDEs), UX/UI design platforms, DevOps tools, and testing tools.

But probably the most critical is the communication and reporting platforms they use.

For instance, if you prefer to be hands-on in the project, you’ll want to get regular updates from the team. Ask if the development team uses collaboration software like Jira or Slack.

Here are some other examples:

Source: WhatFix

It’s also ideal if the software development company uses the same communication tools as you do or, at the very least, can easily adapt to them.

This ensures that you can begin working together as quickly as possible.

To give you an idea of the tools to look for, here’s our rundown of the best platforms to use when working with software teams.

What tech stack do you use?

Tech stack refers to the technologies, programming languages, and third-party libraries used in software development.

Different projects require specific tech stacks, so you must know if the team can use the right ones.

For example, a fintech app would require more robust security than, say, a calculator app. Thus, using a programming language proven for security, such as Java, would make sense.

Ideally, the development company should be well-versed in various languages, frameworks, and technologies. That allows them to respond to any unexpected challenges along the way.

For example, here are some technologies DECODE uses.

Source: DECODE

Note that we make it a point to cover both iOS and Android and cross-platform technologies like React Native and Flutter.

Again, this shows flexibility and is a good sign for any development team.

What is the first step you take in a project?

As with anything else, the first step is always important. That’s why it’s a question worth asking your development team.

The first step sets the tone for the rest of the project. Furthermore, it solidifies the project’s foundation, which will help increase the chances of success.

So, what answers are you looking for here?

Ideally, the first step is for the software development team to get to know you (the client) and your project.

This is crucial because it determines everything else with the project—from the budget to the size of the team.

For instance, DECODE always starts with a consultation session or two (covered with a non-disclosure agreement) to discuss project details.

This allows us to gauge if we can take on the project and, if yes, the required resources.

We also talk with the client to find out their preferences.

Do they want to be involved with the project or take a backseat and let us handle it? What’s their vision for the app? What goals are they trying to achieve?

From there, we move on to the product discovery phase.

Source: Net Solutions

The goal of product discovery is to validate if the idea is actually something that the market needs. Here, we’ll define the user persona, study competitors, and do feasibility studies.

Of course, these first steps aren’t true with all development companies you’ll encounter. But they should all involve validating and exploring your software idea further.

Do you provide quality assurance?

This is a vital question because it will directly impact the stability and reliability of your software.

At the very least, the company should have a dedicated QA team.

But ideally, they should also have a continuous testing philosophy and use the right test methodologies. This ensures that the majority of bugs are detected and fixed early.

If the team can’t even explain their process or doesn’t have a proper testing workflow, that’s a red flag.

As an example, here’s what DECODE’s QA workflow looks like:

Source: DECODE

It’s also a good idea if a development team uses both automated and manual testing. Using only one over the other can limit test coverage and isn’t a good sign.

Automated testing speeds up the process by using test scripts. Manual processes, on the other hand, can evaluate qualitative metrics that automated methods miss, such as UX.

For more information on manual and automated testing, check out our article here.

Do you offer support after launch?

Development doesn’t end when your software launches. In fact, the bulk of the work is only beginning.

As proof, consider that as much as 67% of your development budget could go to maintenance.

Source: University of Houston-Clear Lake

Because of this, it’s advantageous if the software development company also offers maintenance services after launch.

The main reason is that your software will always be a work in progress. You’ll get user feedback, bug reports, and other issues requiring software fixing or updating.

Furthermore, you’ll want to recover your app quickly during downtimes.

Ideally, it’s best to let the same development team handle maintenance because of their proven track record.

Plus, hiring another group requires passing knowledge, which can be slow and prone to errors.

Who will own the intellectual property (IP) rights?

A common source of confusion in software development involves ownership. Ironing it out as early as possible can save you from legal headaches later.

According to US copyright law, the client owns the intellectual property rights to the software, even if the team wrote it.

That means the client can do anything they want with it—sell it and even modify it.

This is the same principle that DECODE applies.

We cover all software projects with a watertight IP agreement backed by the strong legal framework of the EU, for our clients’ peace of mind.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial that you discuss this clearly with your development team and seal it with a legal contract.

What is your pricing model?

Pricing should be the top question you should ask potential software development companies.

Apart from your rates, you must discuss the pricing model they’re willing to support. This is vital because the wrong payment scheme could balloon your costs unnecessarily.

There are two models you can choose from—fixed price or time-and-materials.

In a fixed-price model, you agree on a set rate for the entire project. It’s pretty straightforward but doesn’t account for changes mid-development (which is fairly common).

Source: DECODE

In the time-and-materials model, you only pay your developers for the work they put in. It’s a much more accurate and fairer compensation scheme, so it’s our preferred model at DECODE.

Source: DECODE

However, note that each of these two models has its pros and cons. Which one you’ll pick depends on your project.

For instance, fixed-price is a straightforward option if you have a project with well-defined requirements and a limited budget.

Otherwise, a complex app would do better with time-and-materials.

The important thing is that your software company supports your preferred payment method.

This is only a small part of the hiring process

We hope you appreciate the power of asking the right questions when hiring a development team.

However, that’s just one part of it.

Hiring the right team is a complicated, multi-step process that can be time-consuming and tedious.

Yet it doesn’t have to be.

If you’d like to learn a quick framework for hiring a development team, check out our primer here or read up about some common hiring mistakes so you can avoid them.

Questions You Should Know about Custom Tools

10 questions to ask a custom software development company

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