Or: Web Developers Are From Mars, You Are From Venus
If you have a great relationship with your web developer, can communicate flawlessly and always get what you want you first time around, this post isn’t for you. You may as well stop reading now.
OK, so I imagine everyone’s still with me? Then here we go.
First, remember that you can build amazing websites just using WordPress, a decent theme and a good plugin – without needing a developer at all.
If you’re bootstrapping your online business, I recommend you do that because hiring a web developer adds an extra level of cost and complexity. A better plan is usually to get a basic version of your idea online as soon as possible – using WordPress plugins – so you can test audience reaction to it.
You can then get fancy if the idea has legs.
That said, there are times when you will need to hire a web developer. That could be because you need a specialist feature not available in an off-the-shelf solution or because you’re not using a content management system at all.
How to choose a web developer
As a web developer myself, let me give you the skinny from this side of the desk.
1. Choose someone who speaks your language
I’m not being metaphorical here – if you speak English, make sure your developer is also a native speaker or speaks it exceptionally fluently.
If you’re using Elance, Odesk or another international job board for hiring, it’s particularly important. And here’s why.
For your project to stay on track, it’s vital you can understand one another in phone calls and emails. That’s especially true if you’re a non-technical type who prefers concepts explained in plain English rather than punctuated with phrases like, “function call” and “ajax backend”.
If the person you hire doesn’t have sufficiently good language and communication skills to do that, you’ll be stumbling around for unnecessary (and billable) hours.
2. Choose someone in, or near, your timezone
I’m a Brit living in Italy and most of the clients I’ve had over the years have been in the U.S. Since New York is six hours behind Italy, around half of the normal working day for those clients is “common time”. That makes it easy to swap emails back and forth quickly and to speak on the phone.
No one yet has complained about the time difference, though many have suggested meetings are held at my house.
The further your hired help is from you, the slower and more difficult the communication usually becomes.
3 . Speak to your developer before hiring them
These days, just about everyone has access to cheap phone calls or Skype, so it’s reasonable to expect to speak to your web person every once in a while.
If they consistently don’t want to do a Skype call with you, they’re either hiding something, are uncommonly shy or have two heads.
None of these make a good freelancer web developer. Except possibly the two heads, which might be handy if you have one of those dual-screen setups.
4. Choosing a developer is different from choosing a designer
It’s hard to judge the quality of a developer’s work, mainly because it’s invisible.
A portfolio of sites they’ve developed is largely useless because they won’t have created the design or the user interface. They do the coding, the programming – the stuff you can’t see.
Just to make it more complicated, I’ve noticed that clients without a technical background frequently think that features that are actually time-consuming to develop are easy and quick to do, while at the same time believe things that are two minutes work will require a fortnight of programming in a darkened room.
In other words, if you’re a non-techie you have no idea what to look for.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous people around who’ll take advantage of this, so beware. They’ll charge you the earth for a simple edit.
5. Make sure they know the programming language you need
Needs vary from site to site, but if your site runs on a particular platform – like WordPress, Joomla or Movable Type – you need someone used to working with that platform as a minimum.
If not, you may end up financing their learning curve.
6. Hire by personal recommendation
If at all possible, hire someone recommended by a trusted contact. It’s the safest way. If no one you know can help, ask for help from people you trust on LinkedIn or Quora.
Just look out for desperate developers recommending themselves via fake accounts. You laugh but it happens.
How you can help your developer
Don’t say things like, “This is probably really easy to…”. It usually isn’t. Just describe what you want and ask for a quote.
Finally, tell your developer what you want, rather than what to do. If you’ve chosen a good one they’ll get it.