Hiring a web developer? Read this first.
Because my website had not been properly set up in the first place I was faced with the dilemma of constant manual fixes or a complete revamp of the site, so I decided to stop fixing what was basically broken and to start over. This would provide me with the opportunity to implement some upgrades and redesigns that would have been tough to integrate retroactively. I had a pretty solid idea of what features and functionality I needed in a website and how I wanted it to look. I had no idea that translating this into a working site would be such a challenge.
Finding someone to take the job is relatively easy. Finding someone who can actually deliver is astonishingly difficult. It seems there are several types of developers out there.
1. The lone wolf: The lone wolf is the friend of a friend who does web design. The pros are that they are usually available to chat about your needs and less expensive than a high-end company. The cons are that they might or might not have the skills you need, and might not even know they lack skills until they find they can’t implement what you requested. My first “lone wolf “ experience some years ago was fine. I had a great working relationship with the guy, but when it turned out that my initial setup was wrong and so was not upgradeable as software updates arrived, he was gone and I was out of luck. My second “lone wolf” was fantastic until he (predictably, because he was fantastic) became too busy for my small job, and my emails and calls went unanswered. The third, whom I hired to do my recent rebuild, over-promised and under-delivered. I wasted weeks of frustration with someone who probably didn’t have the skills I needed in the first place. (Advice – find an example of what you are looking for in their portfolio before you hire. No one admits, “I don’t know how to do that.”) The fourth guy wasted another month or two by promising one thing, giving me another, then arguing about it. One thing that surprised me is that even within your geographical area, most developers do not work one on one in person but instead communicate mostly by email or Skype. It is a good idea to be very specific about what you want. I created a Photoshop mockup of how I wanted my site to look and operate, and even then there were misunderstandings galore. It seems computer tech types are not always the best listeners or communicators. I got a lot of “that is how it has to be,” after they had agreed to make it look like my mockup. Also, be careful of being overcharged. While creating a website from scratch can be a lot of work, using a content management system such as WordPress and importing correctly sized images into a themed template is not very difficult and should not cost thousands of dollars. Customizing one of these themes, however, involves another level of work input. Be clear about what you can provide your developer. Are you presenting them with organized, sized content or are they supposed to start from scratch? Prices for these two scenarios should be very different.
2. The small to mid-sized development company: Pros: Professional, usually has a talent pool and therefore broader experience and hopefully a higher level of professionalism. Sometimes are more reliable than the lone wolf who might be out on a bike ride or claim the proverbial “web emergency” situation just when you desperately need help. Usually are not prone to disappearing or switching careers. Cons – significantly more expensive (in my area $1,800 – $5,000 for the basics of a site)
3. Cadillac company: The high-end companies have advanced hosting tools, design teams, highly skilled coders, can give you whatever you want, are extremely professional, etc. The cons are that the pricing is usually out of the everyday person’s budget (sites can start at $15,000 – $20,000) and you are likely not going to be calling to chat about little issues you might want to change on your website.
4. The per-item freelancer: As it turns out, the web development world in my geographical area, where so many fail to return calls in a timely manner, argue, and/or have a “take it or leave it” attitude is not the web development world in general. It seems harder to find a good, reliable web developer here than a good doctor, and none seem particularly concerned with customer service, deadlines or returning phone calls in a timely manner. I wondered if it was this way everywhere or just in this relatively affluent area, so I started doing some research. As it turns out there are multitudes of options for getting all sorts of help online for all sorts of issues, and there are a LOT of hungry people out there who are dying to work for you on your terms. Here are some of these options that I explored:
A. Liveperson.com. This site offers help with technology, education, counseling and other things. You can choose from an array of experts, each displaying a thumbnail image, ratings, specialties, and rates. I ended up getting quite a bit of help from “Shaam,” who had an average of five out of five stars from 1,253 reviews. His computer degrees are listed as well as his areas of expertise. He was extremely helpful and did a lot of the site customizations that I could not do myself. When we were later unhappy with some of the changes, he willingly came back to fix our issues.
-Pros: you can see the quality of the help before you hire them and you can negotiate a price or accept bids. You usually pay at the end and the experts are very concerned with pleasing the client. The experts can use an easy to install “TeamViewer” app to see your screen and to show you theirs. It is a super flexible way to go. You can agree on a price for one thing, say, getting a drop down menu to work, or for making a whole website.
– Cons: many of the experts are in India or some other time zone, limiting your work hours, and language might be a barrier if you don’t check out language skills before hiring.
Be sure to agree on price and scope ahead of time.
B. Justanswer.com is a site that seems better suited to getting a fast answer to a particular question. On this site you prepay an agreed upon amount based on your question’s urgency, and wait for an expert to respond.
– Pros: Easy to get your money back.
– Cons: Have to ask for your money back if the expert answered when you were not available or if the answer didn’t help. This sites also uses Teamviewer as previously mentioned.
C. Wizpert.com: This was my least favorite option because the user has to buy coins in advance of the chat session then watch the clock tick down as you correspond, taking my focus away from the issue and making me feel like I was on a game show. You have to “add more coins” to continue, as if you were operating from a payphone booth.
– Pros: Fast answers.
– Cons: Prepaying and on a time clock.
D. Freelancer.com is a great site, where the user can post a job and a desired price range and then wait for bids to come in. Initial contact with your chosen expert is usually through Skype. This site also enables you to look at the expert’s degrees, proficiency in particular fields, pricing, completion rate, reviews, etc. You can filter your bid results by any of the above categories to help narrow your choices, and the site provides you with an average bid price which is helpful in getting a realistic idea of cost for a particular job. I paid the extra $9 to hide the bids from other developers; otherwise the bids are more clustered in price. Obviously the experts in the U.S. and U.K. charge a lot more than those in less developed countries. I was amazed to get cheap, accurate advice from people with advanced degrees in engineering and computer science.
– Pros: You post your desired price range and job requirements and then receive bids from contacts where you then can compare and filter their proficiency, degrees and reviews.
– Cons: Seems most of the freelancers use the same response templates over and over and when you need extremely intricate items done, they say they can deliver, but can’t.
Be sure to use the freelancer “milestone” payment system, and be very detailed about what you want. Also it is a good idea to ask people not to apply unless they have done what you are asking before, and be up front about not paying in full until the work is delivered on your site. I reached a standoff with one developer who had good reviews, when I found he would not put the work from his server to mine without first getting a review and payment. I disputed the issue and got my money back but will be more clear in the future about when I will pay. Our favorite from this site quickly became Shiny Dgn from Bangladesh, who is very talented, helpful, tries very hard to give you what you want, and adjusts his work schedule to be awake when you are. We rehired him many times and will use him again I am sure.
E. Message boards at jobs.wordpress.net. I got a lot of help from posting my issues on this board. The only problem with this method is that you are inundated with offers of help, some specific to your request and some from developers looking for work in general, and you cannot instantly take down your posting when your job has been filled.
– Pros: There are plenty of people to pick from.
– Cons: You continue to receive answers after your issue is resolved. You are also on your own with these freelancers, without a dispute resolution service, rankings or other clues to past performance.
Again, be very clear about your needs, expectations and time zone. Our most helpful developer that we found on the job board was Sanjay Rawat from Pramarsh Web Services and his teammate Bikram Singh. They were professional, helpful, and came in on deadline.
If your aim is to be presented with a finished product and you don’t want any involvement beyond that, the freelancer route is probably not for you. Be prepared to pay for what you want and to be at the mercy of the people who are available to you in your area. If you have specific requests, be sure to look at the developer’s portfolio to see examples of the kind of work you are hoping to get done. If you are a hands-on person, if you are planning on managing your own site, if you want to save money and are not technically challenged, working with an online freelancer might be the route for you. Be prepared to spend a lot of time checking your email or Skype, because if they have a question and you delay answering it, you are slowing down the workflow. The DIY route suited me because I enjoy learning how things work and how my site functions, and also now feel much less dependent on the limited services that are available in my area. If I don’t like someone’s work or work ethic, I have a world of other people to choose from, literally. If you have any questions before you hire someone or if you have another idea to add to this list, feel free to reply.