So you’ve decided to open a store. You’ve got a product and a target audience that wants it. You’ve looked at different e-commerce platforms and have decided to go with WordPress. Good choice: WordPress is the biggest ecommerce platform out there, with over a million websites built on WooCommerce alone. But now you need to actually build your store. You might do this yourself, using this great tutorial from Treehouse. Or, if you’re like many e-commerce store owners, you might prefer to have a developer build it for you.
This is a decision that can either bring you benefits that last over your store’s lifetime or come back to haunt you on a monthly basis. A poorly built site which requires you to pay for constant repairs or minor changes will not only suck money out of your wallet but will drive you crazy, stealing time that you should be using to run your business, find new customers, talk to existing ones, etc. A well-built site works for you, does not require many changes and lets you make commonly required ones on your own.
Choosing a developer is a lot like getting married. It’s a decision with long-term consequences, and into which most people do not put enough consideration.
I wanted to write about some key decisions you can make when choosing a WordPress developer that can make your life easier.
Make a checklist of site functions
Before even talking to a developer, write down a list of all the features you will need for your site. This list should include both the customer-facing features (for instance, the ability to scroll through different color variations of an item by clicking on appropriate color swatches) and the back end ones (like inventory management) as well as the ones connecting the two (like visitor contact.)
If this is your first store and you don’t know how to build a comprehensive list, no problem. Find some stores you like, preferably selling a related product, and spend some time going through each store and noting each front end feature. Then contact the store owners and ask them for 30 minutes of their time. Explain that you are opening your own store, admire their setup, and would like the benefit of their experience. Set up a Skype call and ask them to show you their store’s back end.
A comprehensive list of site functionality helps you get an accurate estimate of final price and project completion time from each developer. This will keep you out of the nightmarish situation where the final price keeps growing, and the shop takes three times longer to complete than originally estimated. Agreeing on a list of features before starting development also keeps the developer from becoming frustrated as you add more and more afterthought features.
Pay per hour, or per project?
If you go on outsourcing sites like Codeable, you will notice a huge spread of hourly costs. Some WordPress developers charge $5 per hour. Other charge $120. In order to make the right decision, you need to get an estimate of cost for the total project. It’s really easy, on a project where you’re being billed by the hour, for time overruns to stack up.
Fortunately, with your feature list, you now have a roadmap where you can tie payments to milestones, not hours worked. When you start talking to developers, ask them for a final price and time to completion. Tie intermediate payments to measurable milestones.
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Also get an estimate for a support plan for maintenance. Ideally, your developer is providing this service for multiple WordPress sites right now. Get his estimate for monthly maintenance requirements in terms of hours. Make sure that hours you pay for and don’t use roll over into subsequent months.
Local developers or offshore?
All things being equal, the best developer is the one with whom it is easiest for you to communicate. Most project overruns and breakdowns come down to communication failure. The ideal communications channel is face-to-face. And communication barriers are lowest between people with a common cultural and linguistic background. Your ideal developer lives in your town, and you can meet once or twice a week to look at the site he’s building for you on the same screen. Ideally, he’s been working as a developer in your area for quite some time and is not planning to leave or change careers any time soon. That way, when you need a new feature, or an old one stops working a year from now, he’s likely to be available to help you.
We do not live in an ideal world. You may live in an area which doesn’t have any freelance Shopify developers, or where developer services come at a price you can’t pay. In this case, you will have to work remotely. In this case, try to find a developer who at least comes from your country. The cost premium is worth the headaches you avoid.
But if push comes to shove, you can make do with remote development. Just ask those store owners you spoke with earlier who built their site and if they would provide a recommendation
Vetting your WordPress developer
Before you put your business into a developer’s hands, you have to do a lot of homework. Part of that includes vetting him. How many WordPress stores has he built? How many does he maintain on a monthly basis? Ask for five of each. Go to their sites and use them. Contact the store owners. Are they happy with the developer? Would they hire him again? How responsive is he?
The US government does this when they give people access to sensitive information, even though most of this information is not very interesting at all. You are putting your livelihood in a developer’s hands. It behooves you to spend time up front making sure you are making a good choice.
Point of no return
Earlier, you set measurable milestones. Pick an early one. When you get to this point, stop. Assess the developer’s work so far. Have they been responsive? Have they delivered what they promised, on time and on budget? If not, stop. It will not get better. It will only get worse. And when you eventually have to bring someone else to fix the project, the more work you’ve let a bad developer do, the harder and more expensive it will be to fix. Start over new.
Hopefully, though, your hard work this far has paid off, and your developer is professional and has delivered what he promised. Good job! Keep moving forward. Once your site is up and running, keep a good working relationship with your developer to make sure that he is on hand to help you fix problems as they arise, or implement new features as necessary.
I hope this article helps. Let me know of your experiences and tips on choosing a WordPress developer in the comments!
About The Author
Baruch Kogan is the marketing director at Bontact, a company making multichannel eCommerce communications widgets. Bontact focuses on giving eCommerce business owners the tools they need to turn visitors into buyers.