Buyer Beware: 8 Questions to ask before hiring a developer

I’ve acquired several clients, mainly because their original WordPress web developer disappeared, or wanted ridiculous rates to upgrade their websites.

I’ve put together this list of things to look out for when you are hiring a web developer… specifically one that is going to build you a custom WordPress site.

Going custom is great if you have very specific needs and have the money to spend on EXACTLY what you want.  Now, of all of the small business owners and individuals that I know…. NONE of them have that kind of money to build great website.  So, they end up not even having a website at all!

In today’s internet-based social economy, you NEED to be on the internet… Okay, I promise to stop using all CAPS now.

There are easy ways to get there and still get most of what you want.  Let me know your budget, and I will work within it and let you know what is possible.  But if you do opt to go custom, you’ll need to look elsewhere…keep these things in mind:

1.  Who owns the domain?

A domain name is your website address.  For example, this website that you are on right now (or should be unless someone steals my post) is You should ALWAYS own your domain name.  Ooops… didn’t mean to use all caps again, but that was important.  Unless you’re sleeping with your developer, you really should make sure your domain name is registered to you.  There is no reason your developer needs to own your domain name.   Domain names typically cost about $10-20 per year.

2.  Who hosts the site?

For my close friends and family, I will host the site for them and include it in my rates.  These are my closest  and dearest family and friends though, and they know they can trust me.  You may not be sure if you can trust your developer.  If you don’t trust them completely, then it is worth it for you to host the site yourself.  This means you purchase a hosting package from your hosting partner.  I have been very happy with for all my domain services.  The support has been excellent and is great for beginners.  To be fair, I haven’t worked with anyone else, so you may want to shop around. Basic hosting can cost about $65 per year, and is worth the investment if you are not completely sure about your developer.

3.  How will the site be developed?

Custom work, will be more expensive.  I choose to build off of themes because they are already technically stable and are easy to update when WordPress changes. This means your site is always technically sound.  It’s also easier for you to find someone else to manage it if you so choose.  Themes also allow users to do a lot of work themselves, with just a bit of training, so you can have your admin assistant make updates, or even do it yourself.  I provide WordPress training as well if you choose to go that route.

Another thing to consider on this topic is who will be developing the site.  Many people hire graphic designers to design their websites.  Which is great because they do have an eye for what is appealing.  However, make sure your graphic designer not only makes the site looks pretty, but make sure it’s functional as well.  Buttons and menu items need to be placed in functionally logical places.  The flow and ease of use of the website needs to take into consideration your clients’ needs.  You may have a designer that uses a minimalist approach, but your target audience may actually respond better to your website if you provide more detailed information.

Graphic designers don’t always actually develop the website either.  They tend to hire developers to make their visions become a reality.  This really increases your cost because you are paying for a lot of expertise.  Don’t get me wrong, it is well worth it if you are going for a very specific look and want that custom work done.  But it will add up.

I choose to develop websites using already designed WordPress themes from reputable companies.  Pick one you like, I set it up, get your content in there, tweak things, add necessary plugins to ensure the site operates smoothly and is SEO ready.  Turn around time is much quicker, and because some other company has already developed the ‘shell’ of the site, you can spend more on improving the functionality of your site by adding custom forms, online booking and availability calendars and other integrations.

4. Will the site be responsive (look nice on mobile devices and across all major internet browsers)?

When WordPress updates their technology (which they seem to do very frequently), will the site the developer built still work and still be responsive?  Note:  If you don’t upgrade WordPress, you will usually be fine.. but as technology changes on devices, you’ll find that your site doesn’t end up looking right anymore because you haven’t been keeping up with the WordPress updates.  If you do update WordPress, there is a very good chance that your site will crash because it won’t be taking into account the new technology.  This means you then need to hire your developer AGAIN (sorry!) to fix the original template.  I’ve seen some sites that were so messed up, we scrapped them and started over with a theme.  The beauty of using a reputable theme, is that they provide updates regularly.

5. How clean is your developer’s code? 

Okay, so you probably won’t ask that specific question.  But you do want to make sure that your developer has a lot of experience coding.  Someone fresh out of school may be able to build you a website for cheap, but if they haven’t mastered the art of coding cleanly and inserting comments, then it will take other developers a lot longer (and cost a lot more) to figure out how they built your website and make changes or fixes when you need them.  If your developer wins the lottery and moves to the Bahamas and you can never reach them again, will another developer understand what they did? (this is another reason why it’s good to own your own domain and hosting).

6. How much is it going to cost you to make modifications to your website after it’s built? 

Inevitably, you’ll eventually want to add stuff or change stuff.  It’s easier and quicker to make changes when a site is built on a theme.  I’ve seen custom work done where the only way to change the typo that wasn’t caught at the initial signoff was to go in and manually change the code.  That’s not something most people can do.  With themes, the majority of content can be updated directly by you if you like.

7. Do you get administrator access to your WordPress website? 

There is no good reason for a developer to not give you access, in my opinion.  The reason they may give is that you are not a developer and you might mess up your website.  Yes, that is true.  But if they know their stuff, they will have taken a back up of your website, or shown you how to do it.  Backups with GoDaddy are a breeze… ask me for a step by step guide on how to backup and restore your WordPress site using GoDaddy.  If you aren’t given administrator access to your website, that is a big red flag.

8.  How much will it cost to maintain your website once it’s built?

Most people don’t think past when they will get their brand new shiny site.  Usually within a month or so, you’ll look at it again and want to change something.  Or maybe you now have new services and want to add it to your website.  There are two main types of changes you’ll need to keep in mind.

First is the technical side of things.  In addition to the $80-100 per year for your domain name and hosting, you’ll need to keep on top of WordPress updates and ensure you are taking regular backups of your site, especially if you are blogging and adding regular content (which you should be doing if you want to rank anywhere in Google).  You may also want to take into account SEO.  The more SEO expertise you want, the more it will cost.  That’s a whole other blog post for another time.

The other cost is updating the content on your website.  If you are planning on blogging, consider whether you want to be able to login and post on your own, or if you want someone else to do it.  If you want to add a new page of content or any other functionality, what will it cost?

You can just keep hiring your developer over and over again to make the changes.  (Beware, if you’re working through a designer, you’re basically paying double.  You pay for the designer’s time to work with you, and then the developer’s time to get it done.)

Or, you can make the changes yourself.  One of the main reasons for getting a site built on WordPress is that it is really user friendly to update yourself once the site is up and running.  With a brief training session, (or if you are technically savvy, watch a training video demo) you can be writing your own content and updating your own site whenever you need to.

I could go on.. but I think this is a good start for anyone just getting their feet wet with working with web designers and developers.  If you have any questions, please post in the comments below!

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