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How to hire a web developer on freelancing marketplaces like Upwork

Okay, tell me if this cold email would look familiar in your inbox:

Hello dear, My name is Engr. Andrew, CEO at InterTech Networks Ltd.

We have 47 web specialists ready for all your projects with budget from $169. Let me instill confidence in you.

Details to be discussed in next email so you are enlightened.
-- Warmest regards.

So that's an obvious example of a predatory company, which doesn't care about your business outcomes.

But some messages you'll receive are less obvious and you might second-guess yourself.

In order to hone our spidey-senses, let's break this one down and understand exactly where the red flags are.

After that, we'll summarize how to cut through the noise when you're looking for a web consultant who's as professional and focused on KPIs as you are.

When evaluating a web dev proposal, ask yourself:

  1. Am I hiring an expert partner or a mindless pair of hands that relies on me for quality control?

    Let's be candid: is "Mr. Andrew" from UpWork ever going to challenge your assumptions and offer you wiser conversion strategies based on his experience, or is he going to be a yes-man?

    Is Mr. Andrew thinking long-term about whether his code will survive your next WooCommerce upgrade without breaking the site?

    Micromanaging is an option, but if you wanted to study code standards yourself, you would. That's why you reached out for an expert to help you. No prodding or begging required.

    Whereas micromanaging a mindless pair of hands comes with three problems:

    1. It's really time-consuming pushing your developer for every. single. minor. element. He gets used to delivering mindless work, on the assumption you'll prod him if it's lacking. Ugh.
    2. You are solely responsible for making sure the end product isn't full of bugs and holes, since Mr. Andrew sure as heck isn't worrying about it. Is your payment processing working correctly? You tell him.
    3. You might be telling Mr. Andrew to make the absolute wrong thing in the absolute wrong way. He knows it, you don't, and he's not about to speak up and bite the hand that feeds him.

    In 2018, there are several online tools that work pretty well for creating your site. You can use Shopify, Wix and Squarespace, not to mention Wordpress builders like Divi or Beaver Builder.

    You can do the work yourself. That way, the pair of hands is your own.

    But if you have a profitable business that is generating real revenue, you probably don't want to waste time learning web dev and making mistakes.

    That's when you hire someone who codes for a living, is able to push back on your assumptions, and spends hours every day optimizing and automating client websites to convert more sales.

    Ask yourself:
    Am I hiring a yes-man who pretends every job is complete, until I identify the (very obvious) errors myself?
  2. Am I hiring someone who understands the trade-offs and the nitty-gritty in code & design? Can he tell when something I request is going to look bad or break another section of my site?

    Mr. Andrew says he's the "CEO". Does that mean, when one of his junior developers completes code on a component for your customer-facing website, Mr. Andrew can tell at a glance whether it's genius code or a dangerous mess?

    Writing clean code is hard. Keeping gaping security holes out of your shop is hard. Keeping your website load time under 3 seconds even with all the ad tracking pixels you've added is hard.

    When your website goes down on a Sunday evening and your hosting provider says the problem is not on their end, is Mr. Andrew the guy you can trust to dig into the problem and put out the fire?

    Ask yourself:
    Am I hiring someone who is competent enough to say "there's no problem" when there isn't, and "yes, here's the problem" when there is?
  3. Are the incentives misaligned, so the guy I'm hiring is incentivized to deliver the least value for the highest cost?

    UpWork developers charge by the hour, which is good for UpWork because they can track and invoice that easily. But is it good for you?

    If your developer is working by the hour, he is incentivized to maximize his hours, so that he gets paid more. Why would he spend 20-minutes implementing a feature the right way, when he can spend 4 hours implementing it the wrong way? He's incentivized to stretch out the project.

    At the same time, he's incentivized to say 'yes' to every item on your todo list. What if the answer to

    I want you to put a big animated slider on the front page.

    rightly would be,

    Research shows that less than 2% of your traffic is ever going to see your 2nd slide, and adding that slider is going to balloon your page load time by 15%, so there's no ROI in it for you and we should skip it.

    Hourly developers are incentivized to keep their mouths shut and let you make mistakes. So long as the hours keep adding up, they are happy.

    Ask yourself:
    Am I hiring someone for whom every incentive is misaligned to result in fibs, lies, missed deadlines, and poor decisions?

Key Takeaways:

    1. Freelancing marketplaces are only a safe bet when you ALREADY know precisely what you want built, and you're prepared to micromanage on a task-by-task basis.
    2. AND when you are competent in evaluating whether or not the finished product is going to keep working during the next plugin upgrade or server crash.
    3. AND when you can estimate independently how long tasks should take, and have a backup developer to call on when deadlines get missed.

So with those concerns in mind, how can you identify when you're working with an expert?

Experts follow a process. The value of hiring a professional web consultant is that you're buying not only the finished product, but also their project management process.

It's the process you've bought into, and your consultant's experience that keeps your project from ballooning way past your deadline and breaking your budget.

Googling for Web Developers and agencies will give you thousands of hits.

But how can you tell when you've found a web consultant with the expertise and process you need?

  1. Roadmapping (also called a "Strategy Session") means your web consultant LISTENS as you explain how your visitors turn into customers. He'll ask for specifics about your conversion rates, bounce rates, organic traffic numbers, mobile vs. desktop conversions, and how you plan to generate more repeat customers.

    Listening more, talking less, and asking the right questions is essential. Don't trust a developer who is not asking the big picture questions.

    The web consultant's job is translating his experience in development, conversion-optimization, and automation into a detailed plan for your shop upgrades. One that matches your business objectives.

    He doesn't have to be micromanaged because every time his hands touch the keyboard he's asking whether his work on the task at hand matches the project goals and the business objectives that you defined together.

  2. Start with a super-small test-project. Assign something self-contained, like a small upgrade to one important component of your existing website.

    This gives the developer a chance to demonstrate not only that he is capable of the technical challenge, but also to ask you questions about what you need done, and why it's important to do.

    Observe carefully how he chooses to communicate with you. Long emails or instant messages? Or short, direct goal-oriented messages?

    Do you receive regular updates or does your developer disappear into a cave and avoid coming out until the deadline?

    Did the task take longer than expected, or did your developer under-promise and over-deliver?

    These are all elements you can observe by assigning a short (paid) task first, before agreeing to a larger-scope fixed project.

  3. Align your incentives by working on fixed-price projects, that are split it into verifiable milestones.

    A professional web consultant is an expert at splitting a large scale technical project into logical modules and units. He should be splitting your project into weekly and daily milestones or "sprints".

    This doesn't have to be precise down to the hour, but you should have an idea of what "25% complete", "50% complete", "75% complete", and "100% complete" all mean.

    By billing on a fixed-price basis, it's simple for everybody to calculate what they're spending and what they're getting.

    More importantly, if your web consultant can do a task in 20 minutes instead of 4 hours, he will. You're not paying for him to type, you're paying for him to solve problems and meet business objectives with code.

    He should bill incrementally, before the start of each milestone, to minimize risk to you, and to demonstrate consistent results so that you're satisfied and eager to you make your next payment.

  4. Look for professionalism and push-back. Let's be honest: good web consultants know their worth. They're not obligated to take on work when they foresee it's going to fail.

    That doesn't mean you should be working with a prima-dona. Nobody likes the "rockstar developer" who thinks he knows what your customers want better than you do.

    But you don't want a yes-man either. You want someone who is going to challenge your assumptions, share his expertise with you freely, and take direction from you on business objectives, just like you'd take his direction on technical objectives. You want a partner, not a mindless tool.

    A professional developer tells you when you're wrong, and can admit when he's wrong. He learns from experience, doesn't get defensive, and doesn't make excuses. He's in it to help you win it.

That's precisely how you can tell when you've found a web consultant with the expertise to help you get the results you're looking for.

I help shop owners get more repeat customers by creating highly-optimized WooCommerce stores.