Hiring a Web Developer: 10 Tips to Take Note

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If you’re a business owner or considering starting one, guess what’s one of your most important decision? Well, after registering your business with your local business registry, of course.

Yes, it’s to build your business web site. It’s no longer 20 years ago, where a web site is an optional, nice-to-have feature for a business. In fact, in current times, even a normal web site won’t do as well. Business owners are looking to get feature-rich websites done for them. Why? Because their customers too expect that from them.

Well, we are all victim of growing technologies, like it or not. So, it’s better that we start liking it.

So, having said that, the next step is to get a decent-enough web developer to get you through this web site hurdle. Yes, this article is about hiring a web developer, a good one. I’ve gathered together a set of 10 tips for you to check through when you’re hiring a web developer. This is gathered from my 20 years experience as a web developer, and by some definitions, what some would call a “techie”.

My name’s Anees Khan, and I’ve been a Web Developer since 1995. That’s 23 years ago, and yes, I started this while I was yet a student. Web development is my passion, and I’ve used this passion of mine to get many companies and start-ups get on the tech bandwagon, as much as I possibly can.

Many of the calls I get are from clients who says that their (webmaster/web developer/programmer) has (run away/lost contact/can’t reach him anymore). So, I see that it’s quite essential that you do your due homework and diligence before you hire a web developer. So, here are my tips for that.

(Note: I’ve used terms like he/him/his in this report referring to the web developer. It is just for simplicity rather than any gender bias)

Tip 1: Which country is he from?

If YOU are from Singapore, it only makes sense that you’re hiring a web developer from the same country. It’s not very much unlike the Nigerian scam and such. The reality is: anyone from overseas can drop you like a ball, that gets too heavy for him to carry anymore. It’s as simple as that. Having said that, I do agree there might be gems out there, who do decent work, even it they are outsourced overseas workers.

But, I’m just stating the possibility and probability factors here. Further, a local developer can be contacted via a local number and a local address. And you can do a meet-up as necessary without taking a flight. More importantly, if both the client and service provider are local, they are both bound by the local law. Therefore, there’s no scope for cheating or any such nonsense.

Tip 2: See his portfolio

This is actually not fair, and similar to asking a fresh graduate if he has any prior working experience. Typically, he’ll be thinking in his heart that “if you guys are not going to hire me, where the heck am I going to get that prior work experience, for goodness sake”.

But, then, life’s not fair. Some employers do like to give fresh grads a chance, some deem their projects too important that only experienced persons should handle it. There is no blame on either.

So, coming back to hiring a web developer, you can give a newbie a chance, but my recommendation is to check what kind of work he has done before. Typically, he’ll have a Portfolio page on his website. Do browse through the work there, and see if the features/complexity/scope as well as the industries are something that impresses you. If he has done a project very similar to what you’re looking for, that’s even great. But, the fact of the matter is, like how a great actor doesn’t stick to acting just comedy roles or hero roles, a good web developer is not someone who confines himself to a certain industry or scope. If you see a variety of industries in his portfolio, then you know he can handle your industry and your work as well, no matter what it is.

Tip 3: See his Testimonials / References

What better way to know about the web developer than from the clients who have already gone through the journey with him? So, if the developer puts some of his testimonials which he got from his previous clients, that’s great! It’s another push in your decision-making process that this person should be good enough.

Tip 4: Get his name and picture

Some developers do not immediately reveal who they are in their web site. I do not know the reason for it. But I believe that web site development is more of a personal relationship than a corporate one. So, it’s ideal, if you, as a prospective client, can see who you’re dealing with upfront. So, knowing his name and seeing a picture of him, if available, that’s even great. My opinion is: if one does good work and has good portfolio and reputation, it’s only just that they introduce themselves upfront. This point also makes hiring a web developer pleasant and easy for both parties.

Tip 5: Don’t try to test him or use technical jargon

This is actually a funny tip. If you’re a non-techie lay person, please do not try to test the web developer with your “technical knowledge”. This might be something related to car owners and mechanics, as a friend told me before. As a car owner, you try to sound like you know all about cars and use car-related technical words to the mechanic. Maybe the strategy is: if you sound like you know enough about this field, most probably the mechanic won’t try to cheat you, or charge you extra. That’s a sound strategy ONLY if you know about the field.

Let me quote from some actual incidents. There was a prospective client who called me and started describing about the project requirements. In almost every statement, he was including the word “Java”. Examples: “Maybe you can use Java to handle this”, and such. The more he talked, the more I realize what he DOESN’T know!

So, my suggestion, be truthful, just use layman terms to describe your requirements. Hey, you ARE after all a non-techie. If you’re so technical already, why would you need him, right?

Tip 6: Keep family relatives out of this

This used to be quite common some 20 years back. Now, it’s still heard of now and then. You know, “web design” is something “anyone can do”, they say. So, typically, you would know a cousin or a nephew or a friend who knows “web design”. If so, do not consider hiring them, unless your website is a non-commercial family-updates-and-photos-and-events kind of a website.

If you’re starting a business, do not hire people who are just dabbling in the craft, while being busy with the full-time work, be it studying or a job. Web development IS a serious business involving deadlines and proper execution and takes hours/days/months to develop. The last thing you want is to have to chase your relative for the job which is getting delayed, and straining the relationship at the same time, sometimes extending to the other branches of the family.

Tip 7: Hire full-timers

This is an extension of the previous tip, but extends to all, besides relations. Typically, one common hunt for developers will be the type who’s working in some company and freelancing as a web developer at the same time. I started out that way too. But, unfortunately, it’s not an easy life for the developer, and sometimes for the client. If you’re the client, you’ll have to live with many adjustments, like not being able to call your developer during office hours (maybe he’s in a meeting with his boss). He’ll only be attending to your work in the evenings, that is if he’s not too tired for the day, after his day job. I do remember my days of sleeping at 3 am and getting up early for the day-job.

Of course, again, it’s a decision for you to take amicably if you want to give such developers a chance. Many were those who gave me those opportunities, as well. But, do take note of the adjustments you have to live with. Do expect that, rather than be disappointed or frustrated.

Tip 8: Consider when the developer’s business was established

This point basically is just based on logic. Typically, when one keeps doing something, it’s quite impossible for him to go to the subsequent year without knowing that much more and knowing a better way of doing things. So, of course, the more years of work-experience he has, the better chance you have of him seeing your project through to completion, in a smooth manner, without giving you undue headaches.

I’ve seen this in effect over the past 23 years I’ve been in this line. All the mistakes and unforeseen loopholes get clearer as the years of establishment increases. So, it’s easy to see, in advance, what each step forward in a particular direction will result in. And a good developer will advise you accordingly as you discuss your plans, instead of finding out together with you, after it’s done and maybe too late.

Tip 9: Payments

Yes, the most sensitive topic. I realize that, in this line, there is no such thing as a “market rate” for a specific project, for example: e-commerce site or auction site or educational portal. The cost of the project should rightfully be based on the complexity and quantity of the features/requirements of the project, rather than any kind of project labels.

That is the most fairest way to cost. And if the developer doesn’t suggest it this way, I suggest that you do the suggestion instead.

And go for structured multiple payments, like 3 to 4 split payments. This gives you the opportunity to see the progress as you pay. So, your payment percentage should go in accordance with job progress percentage, as closely as possible.

Some will suggest a straight-forward 50/50 model (50% before start work, 50% after job done). I strongly suggest against that, unless you have your own reasons, like the inconveniences of making multiple payments. Otherwise, tying the payment progress to the project progress is the better and safer way.

Tip 10: Be a good client

This tip is actually a request, to yourself, to be a good client. A web developer, like everyone else in the service industry, often doesn’t receive the support and acknowledgement that they deserve. Especially, if he’s new to the industry. Do be patient, do give him the appropriate chance to prove himself. Don’t be in a hurry. If it’s a crisis situation, please remember to adopt the default thinking that it’s usually not his problem, unless it’s eventually proven so. Maybe then, you might want to give your input.

Until that is proven, it’s better to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, it’s a mutual relationship that must go well together for the sake of the project.

Closing Notes:

I hope these tips have brought you at least this much closer to hiring a web developer matching to your needs. If you have any queries or need my web development services, I’m just an email away: khan@getcha.com. Or you can call me: 91097721 (Singapore-065). My name’s Anees Khan. Thank you for reading.

If you think these 10 tips are insufficient for hiring a web developer, read about some dumb mistakes people make when hiring a web developer:


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