Software developers and website designers can be an extension of your online store’s marketing and branding team since these professionals have a significant amount of influence over how your ecommerce site looks and functions.
Choosing an individual freelancer or agency to do design or development work should include considering things like specific platform experience, the service provider’s physical location, responsiveness, rate and billing practices, and even the tool set the service provider will use to communicate or manage requests.
In this article, I’ll offer five considerations for choosing a developer or designer.
1. Platform Experience
Even if you’re just starting out in ecommerce, it is probably a good idea to choose an ecommerce platform before choosing a professional developer or designer.
Not all ecommerce platforms are the same. As an example there are significant differences between opening and managing an online retail site built on Magento or on Volusion. For some online retail businesses, Magento will, as an example, be a much smarter choice, while other ecommerce merchants will almost certainly be better served with Volusion, Shopify, or, perhaps, LemonStand. All of these are good ecommerce platforms, but some do certain things better than others.
Once you have chosen an ecommerce platform seek out a developer, designer, or agency that has specific platform experience. While almost any good PHP developer could work on a Magento site or a LemonStand site, it might take that developer a significant amount of time to become familiar with the platform. It would not be unreasonable that even a seasoned developer would need something like 40 hours or more, just to become familiar enough with Magento to successfully write an extension.
Even once a developer has worked with a platform it can take time to become familiar with a specific theme or implementation. Often this is 10 hours or more.
Some ecommerce platforms have developer certifications or partner programs. If this is the case for your ecommerce platform, look at certified developers or agencies first.
2. Physical Location
The Internet has made it possible to work from almost anywhere. Many successful businesses have team members spread around the globe. The implication is that an online retailer in the United States should easily be able to work with a developer in India or Uzbekistan without difficulty. Conversely, an ecommerce merchant in Spain might not have any concerns about working with a designer or developer in Canada or the United States.
Experience, however, has shown me that even in the Internet age working with far off developers and designers can cause projects to fail. One of the key factors is the time zone. Unless the developers or designers are willing to work on your time — meaning normal business hours where you are — there will almost certainly be problems.
As a specific example, imagine a that you have a problem with the site at one in the afternoon your time on a Friday, but your developer is nine hours ahead, so that your email requesting help comes in at 10 p.m. her time. Your developer might be asleep or she might be out to dinner or at movie. It might be hours or even days before you get a response.
Physical location is not the only thing that can impact how responsive your development or design contractor is.
Some development or design firms are good about getting back to you immediately, while others — often individual freelancers — almost certainly won’t be.
In some cases, this might not matter much. Imagine a designer creating a new graphic design for a future site update. If that designer doesn’t respond immediately, it is most certainly not a big deal. But if your site is suddenly broken and shoppers cannot complete their orders, you need a development partner that is available in a moment’s notice.
4. Hourly Rates and Billing
Hourly rates vary greatly for designers and developers; be certain to get a few quotes. As a rule of thumb expect to pay about $120.00 per hour for a developer and about $60.00 per hour for designer in 2013.
If you’re hiring a service provider for a set number of hours, you’ll want to be able to carry over any leftover hours. As an example, if you contract for 20 hours a month, you should regularly pay for those twenty hours. If, however, in one month you only use 15 hours, you should have 25 hours available in the next month. You’ll still pay the same each month. Don’t expect a discount, but you should be able to carry those hours over. Also there will be a some limit to the number of hours that you can save up.
You will also want the option to be able to purchase additional hours in a given month.
Finally, find out how you will be billed for project management hours. If you have contracted for 20 hours of work it may be that case that as many as 4 or 5 of those hours will be consumed in project management time that is time spent speaking to you, reading your emails, and communicating with other design or development team members. Some firms will charge you for these hours just like any other time, some firms will charge a lower rate, and still other firms won’t charge specifically for project management, but will probably want more per hour for development time.
5. Tool Set
Often a developer, designer, or agency will have a particular set of software tools used to communicate questions, share project related information, or provide status updates. This tool set will be something that you’ll use very often. Make sure that it works for you.
As a rule try to avoid ticket based systems. These are acceptable for, say, hosting providers. But your relationship with a designer or developer should be more intimate.
Also look for solutions that will allow you to share video or audio files with the developer or designer since these are almost always better than written descriptions. Basecamp is a good choice for this, as an example.