Hiring a Developer — Tips

Two women look at a laptop screen. The woman on the right is in a wheelchair

Many prospective clients aren’t entirely clear about how website development works best. Perhaps they’ve had a poor experience with a previous developer, or they have a small budget and want to be frugal. Whatever the reason, here are some important things to note:

There are different types of WordPress website developers.

Developers fall on a spectrum where you have implementers (implementers are still developers) on one end and full stack programmers on the other.

Implementers use drag-and-drop page or site builders and 3rd party plugins to create a website for you. They are experts at maintaining a site after launch but their programming language knowledge is limited. They might use Elementor, Beaver Builder, Generate Blocks, Kadence, Oxygen or the like to enable them to be capable of creating the site you want.

Programmers, on the other hand, can create custom themes and plugins from scratch. They are deeply familiar with how WordPress is built to the point where they may be helping to build WordPress itself. They know multiple programming languages as well as CSS.

In between you’ll find those learning to program who might use a site builder or WordPress theme as a base and then build custom styles and functions over top. Also, some full stack programmers may still use page builders in order to make some parts of the development process easier.

It is helpful if you know which kind of developer you need, beforehand. You probably only need a full stack programmer if you have a fully custom theme already, and you need help — or if you have some unique features that are uncommon on other sites. If you’re not sure, approach someone and try to see if they can let you know their skill set and refer you on, if they can’t help you themselves.

Trust your developer.

Either your developer is trust-worthy or they aren’t. If they aren’t, you need to fire them, and find someone new. If they are, you need to trust them completely by giving them full access to your website, your website hosting and your domain hosting.

But how do you know if a prospective developer is trustworthy? Try asking for references and checking out other sites they’ve built. Also, try working on a smaller project together first and see how that goes. Trust is crucial to a developer-client relationship and to the creation of an optimal website.

If you limit the access that your developer has, then you are only preventing trustworthy developers from properly doing their job. An untrustworthy developer can do a surprising amount of harm with minimal access. That said, only those working on your site should have access to the files and database, and access levels should be granted on a need-to-know basis only. The thing is, the best person to supervise this is your developer. Developers know more about website security best practices.

What if you are hiring a developer to work on a particular site, but you have multiple sites within the same cPanel installation? If that is your situation, understand that most developers don’t work for free. And that is exactly what they are doing if they suddenly begin to change a site they weren’t hired to work on. Also, having multiple websites on a single cPanel installation is an insecure setup. Websites should be more isolated from one another on the server. That way, if one site is hacked it is less likely that the hacker will gain access to your other sites.

Don’t look for themes prior to finding a developer.

Different developers have different styles of developing websites. Any theme you invest in ahead of time may be one that your ideal developer can’t or won’t work with. Alternatively, the theme you choose may not work with the website strategy that best meets the needs of your business. This means that either your ideal developer may refuse you as a client or that your money will be wasted on a theme you’ll never use.

Don’t pay for website domains or hosting prior to finding a developer.

There are security, SEO, website performance and marketing issues to consider when choosing a domain and a website host. Even if you think you know some things to consider, the industry changes quickly and your information may not be up-to-date. Also, website developers sometimes can offer discounts, or have access to promo codes or upgrades that you can’t get on your own.

There is no such thing as a website that is simple to develop.

The only “simple” websites are simple for users to navigate — sometimes those are more expensive and more complicated to develop. These days every single website must:

  • work on over 5 different screen sizes,
  • work on over 6 different operating systems,
  • work on at least 4 different browsers per operating system,
  • work with assistive technologies,
  • perform well,
  • load completely in under 3 seconds,
  • and be secure.

Even if your entire website was one single page this would not be simple.

You don’t want a website that someone made in under a week.

Faster isn’t cheaper and you will end up with a web presence that isn’t solving anything for you. If you think you want this then you are missing the point of hiring a developer. I help clients build their business by coming up with a web strategy that best suits their needs. This will lead to more and longer-lasting visitors. This is a process that takes time, thought, planning, testing and care.

Don’t try to save money by making website plans yourself, ahead of time.

If your website plan was made without the input of a web professional, then it was made without the best-interests of your organization at heart. You are lacking pivotal information in your decision-making process that can best meet the needs of your business or group. How much potential future income are you willing to sacrifice for short-term savings now?

Your website is being created for your visitors, not for you.

It’s not about the experience you want your visitors to have. It’s about the experience your visitors want to have. So be very careful when you are adamant about styles or features you want included; features that work well on one site might not be the best way to meet the needs of your visitors.

You may need to hire additional website professionals.

A website developer develops websites. They are not necessarily:

  • a system administrator,
  • a website hosting company,
  • a marketing expert,
  • a lawyer,
  • a content strategist,
  • a social media marketing expert,
  • a print designer,
  • a web designer,
  • a photographer,
  • a copywriter,
  • a typographer,
  • a language interpreter, or translation service
  • a computer scientist,
  • a computer repair technician,
  • a business strategist (beyond website planning),
  • or a graphic artist.

Different developers may have different levels of knowledge that overlap some of these fields, but expertise in these areas is not a requirement for website development. Would you expect your car mechanic to also sell your car? Or your family doctor to also be a personal trainer? Every website won’t require the help of every professional listed here, but please don’t expect your website developer to be an expert in a field other than website development.

Security, accessibility, performance and responsiveness aren’t options.

These are not optional. How would you feel if you knew that 20% of people who attempted to load and navigate your website simply couldn’t? Maybe because their browser is blocking your site with a security warning. Or they have a disability barrier preventing them from navigating and reading your site. Maybe they live far away from you and your website takes too long to load. Perhaps they are using a mobile device or an older device. Or maybe your site was hacked and is redirecting your visitors to a new site. Humans are diverse and interact with the internet in diverse ways in diverse conditions. A secure, accessible, responsive, fast and fully functional website is inviting to everyone.

If you want to be thrifty with your website development then you want something that will last, that is secure, that is accessible to everyone, that loads quickly and that has been catered to meet your needs. Discarding a website every 2 years because it breaks or becomes dated really fast, is not thrifty. A website that no one can find or that no one can manage to navigate is not thrifty either. That said, there are ways you can develop a web presence on a tight budget — instead of making assumptions, ask your developer how! Do yourself and your visitors a favour and take full advantage of the knowledge and expertise of website professionals. Remember, we are here to help you succeed.