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How To Hire a Coder

You are a business owner and you want to hire a coder to make your site. How do you go about it?
For slightly "non-technical" folks, it can be difficult to understand how to find the right web developer for your project. Here is a quick help.

Click an option to drill down to an answer.

You already own a web site.
You don't have a web site.
Made with WordPress.
Not a WordPress site.
Don't know.
You want a custom site
You want a WordPress site.
You don't know.
You want it maintained using same template it now has.
You want it to stay in WordPress but have new look and feel.
You want it out of WordPress.
You want customization that WordPress does not offer.
I know what programming language or package my site is coded in. (PHP, .NET, Laravel, CodeIgniter, Symfony, etc.)
I don't know what programming language my site is coded in.
Go to your site. While looking at your home page, hold down the Control key and then "u" (on a Mac "Command u"). Once the front-end code loads for you, hold down the Control key and then "f" (on a Mac "Command f"). This should pop open a "Find/Search" form field via your browser. Type "wp-content" or "wp" and if you find text in the front end code that says either "wp-content" or "wp-includes", this is a WordPress site, or at least part of the site was created with WordPress. You need a WordPress pro to maintain or edit your site. Click the "Made with WordPress" choice above for helpful tips.

If the previous test did not identify your site as made with WordPress, then the best route to take is to ask a developer (or ask your previous developer) to find out what language your site is made with. It will be fastest because even if your URLs end with ".html" it still does not indicate what language your site is created with. I can create a site where all URLs end with any three letters I wish, and create the site with a codebase hidden to visitors, and often this is used as a security layer to help protect the site from hacking. If a hacker does not know my site is created with Programming Language "ASP", his hacking attempts are narrowed.

If you have access to your host account and poke about and see that your hosting account is "Windows" based or "PHP enabled" that can give you a fairly good guess, but is still not always the reality. For example, I have worked with several server hosts that enabled two programming languages, and the site in questions was created using one of the two.
A custom site can be made on a variety of platforms and any number of programming languages. Questions ranging from what kind of server is required for your project size, what programming language is best, and what framework, are very important questions. You want answers that will be right for your project. Begin to find developers you can build relationships with, ask questions, gauge who seems trustworthy. They will readily defer you to others, if they can not help you. Just be sure to get a few quotes from different sources. Don't pay 10,000 for a site that should have cost 1,000. I've seen it happen. Don't allow your site to be coded in a language that is dying (I'm looking at you ColdFusion). If you do not speak "web speak" and think that as a business person, you might have no idea what the coding houses are talking to you about, then you are a potential victim. You have the option of allowing a freelancer to be your consultant, to sit in on phone meetings, and translate web-speak into real talk to you, so that you can make informed decisions that are right for your company. Getting started on the right foot really pays off later.
You already know that you want a WordPress site. Perhaps you want a WordPress pro who is proficient, but not necessarily one who can access the raw code and make core changes to the package (an actual programmer). There are many web-savvy people (even a nephew or cousin) who can set up a WordPress site, use all of its tools readily, and add plug-ins galore, and most can edit the style sheets to get the look you want. I would consider these "WordPress Specialists". Many of this caliber however, are not able to work "outside the box" (they do no programming) to provide custom functionality. Make sure you are OK with this fact.

For example, you can make a WordPress site about fishing, use WordPress's built-in tools to make a menu, make blog pages, plug-in a photo gallery, plug-in an e-commerce section for sales, etc. But then you come up with a really original idea: you want a page that allows users to log in, post their own photos of fish they have caught, and then allow other users to vote on the best photo of the day. You want to have a "best-fish" page to tally the previous day's votes and display the winner. WordPress is not going to be able to generate this original idea all by itself with a few mouse clicks. If no one has already made a plug-in for this idea, and your WordPress "Specialist" does not know how to edit the core programming to make this happen, then you will at that time need to find a developer who is able to customize this WordPress site to meet this deeper coding need.

This is not a *bad* thing necessarily. You could hire a pretty low-cost WordPress-only pro to set up your site initially, then later when you want the truly custom stuff, hire a more expensive core developer who can meet the deeper customization needs. This is an iterated development plan, and can help save money.

If having your WordPress site will mean that you do want some kind of really custom coded page or module, make sure that when you are asking WordPress developers about their work, that you ask them to show you live examples of customized WordPress sites that they have coded. You do not want to hire someone who can only "customize" using the "plug-ins" that others have developed, you want someone who has the skill level to actually make a plug-in themself. This is where I have seen mistakes made, and site owners frustrated that they could not get what they wanted.

If you think you might want some custom stuff coded within WordPress, make sure you check around, I understand finding a "good catch" in this kind of coding is not easy, and can be expensive.
What is WordPress? WordPress is a coding package. If you were to hire a coder, you might ask them, "Haven't you created sites before where there needs to be an admin login so that I can change my own page text, and can't you clone that package so that all we have to do is add my graphics and colors and wouldn't that make it a lot faster to make my site?" That in a nutshell is what WordPress is. Not only is it a package that already has a lot of built-ins you might need, but then a few hundred designers came up with "design templates" that can be imported into the WordPress code package with a few clicks of the mouse, AND a few hundred web programmers created "plug-ins" (packages of code) that can be imported as well, that do everything from provide an animated image gallery, to create an e-commerce shopping cart module for your WordPress package. It's because of these peripherals that WordPress has become so popular.

How it works is that, you need a WordPress code package uploaded to a hosting account on a server, and then you need someone to help you design your site's look and feel. The benefit of WordPress, is that in an hour you can have a site up and working. Once the mechanics of the site is up and working, you are down to simply needing a logo graphic or other graphics to display your product or what have you. Now the look and feel and functionality of your site is ready and you can begin to add content.

Really, uploading the logo, graphics, and editing the color and look and feel of menus is what takes the most time when setting up a WordPress package. Since the WordPress package already has an "admin log in" back end built in, the person who will be updating the site content has the ability to log in, click a few mouse clicks, type some text, import graphics, and they have updated the site without needing to know how to code. Therefore, you can hire WordPress specialists who are actually not considered "web programmers" and you can even set WordPress up yourself, if you have the time.

A custom site is needed when the regular controls, bells, and whistles that WordPress offers, and what its plethora of available plug-ins offers, just won't suffice. For example, if you are not a coder and you want a blog, it would honestly just be silly not to use WordPress because it is so convenient. However, think about sites like Uber, GoFundMe, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Microsoft, Facebook, Pinterest, E-Bay, Twitter.. none of these sites and their very specific and unique functions could have been sufficiently covered by WordPress and WordPress plug-ins. And not just because they are "big" sites, but because they are very custom. At some point, many WordPress owners who use their site for more than a blog, for example any kind of business, *wishes* they could find a coder to customize their site to do some special function that is outside the realm of what is possible in WordPress or the plug-in library. If you need more than a blog, I guarantee this will happen. That's not a bad thing, except for this: Once you have committed to the time and cost of a WordPress site, you are now bound to go find a WordPress developer to customize your site. You can't just hire a PHP guy, or an ASP gal, you have to find a developer that has worked to code in WordPress and knows the ins and outs of that package. Because plug-ins are created by other coders, you might need to find a coder that is able to tweak a plug-in as well. For example, you installed a plug-in to sell widgets, but you need a shipping cost grid that is different than what the plug-in provides. Now you have to find a developer who is willing and able to tinker with this plug-in. Sometimes it isn't easy to find a person who can do this work. Therefore, if your business idea is a very unique one, you may want to undergo the cost and implementation process of a completely custom site from the ground up. It can take anywhere from 3-6 months to get your site up and running, but you will have exactly what you need. Finding programmers in the future is easier as well, because there may be 1,000 programmers that know "X" language, which your site is coded in, but only 5 that know how to truly customize the core framework of WordPress.

Why is it easy to install WordPress but then harder to find WordPress custom coders? Think of it this way – you ask a man to build you a car. He builds you a Mustang. In the future, you need another person who can customize your engine, so you hire a gal you find who is proficient in Mustangs.
WordPress is not a web site, it is a machine that makes web sites.
So, instead of hiring a guy who made you a Mustang, you hired 12 guys to install a giant machine in your garage called "CarPress", and that machine created a Mustang for you, and that Mustang is completely controlled and updated only by the "CarPress" monster machine. Later, you need your Mustang changed. It isn't enough to hire a "Mustang developer" you need a developer proficient in editing "CarPress". There are fewer of those.
You need a coder that can maintain sites in WordPress. You should be able to find a college intern or even a high school graduate that is able to update your WordPress template. WordPress is pretty easy to maintain by anyone who knows a bit about template sites and HTML, anyone who has experience using these blog or template packages. Sometimes you can really luck out and find a design student who also has experience with WordPress, because then you can get very nicely designed graphics created as well as your WordPress updates, provided that skill is something you need. I would advocate using "young skill" whenever possible, because kids need a break, and there's some brilliant talent out there waiting for a break! This is not a position that needs a 70k developer, so enjoy finding someone who can really use the income and who will be thrilled for their first professional gig.
You need a coder that can create sites in WordPress. There are two types of WordPress designers. A) A designer that can create a custom design. They can take your logo and color desires, and come up with a few design mockups in Photoshop or some other graphics program, provide them to you as flat jpg images, discuss, edit, and then implement the final design in the WordPress package. B) Some WordPress specialists would rather find you a template, one that is exactly or close to what you can work with, port the design template into the WordPress framework, and then tweak it a bit to change some minor things that you wanted changed. You can save yourself time and money, by perusing WordPress templates yourself and when you find one you like, simply ask the WordPress specialist to use it.
The biggest hurdle for taking a site out of WordPress and porting it over to some other language (or vice versa) is the time and cost of transferring your content. If you already have 50 pages of product information, all of those 50 pages will need to be set up in the new system. Sure, it might be simple content, but it takes time. If you are going to be VERY specific in how it looks ("hey that image was a millimeter higher in WordPress, fix it") then take the porting time schedule and multiply it by ten. Then, you need a coder to create the "custom stuff" that WordPress did not provide (I assume this is why you are leaving WordPress). Because transferring in or out of WordPress can be very expensive, it is best to get an up-front estimate, and even spread the work out over time, to ease the burden on your budget. You can also use a development domain, a private log-in only site where this work is happening, so that your actual live site has no down time. Then, once the new dev site passes your inspection, the programmer backs up the old site, ports over the new code to your live domain, and walla, your new site is up and running, already proofed and error free.
You have two options: hire a developer to customize your WordPress site, or port your WordPress site into a 100% custom build. If your site is already large, transferring it to a custom built site could be very cost prohibitive, as you would have the time and expense of both the build, and transfer of content from WordPress. At least the database that WordPress used, can also be adapted for the custom build, so that can save *some* expense on the database creation part of the custom build. You need the expert advice of a company that customizes WordPress sites, and then quotes from a custom developer, to make sure which course is best for you.
Well then, you know what kind of talent to look for, and that's good! Be sure to shop for the appropriate seasoned person - a coder who has been programming in a certain language for 1 year is definitely of a different skill-and-trust level than one who has been in the field coding in that particular language for 5 years. Believe me, a one-man-coding project created by an inexperienced coder is a web project just asking for security issues. Also, if you find a coder who says they worked with the language for 5 years, but then have worked away from it for a year or two, do trust that they can probably pick it back up very quickly, and get up to speed on the newest perks of that language.

I have known several coders hired into different companies (companies who employ many developers) with this scenario: the coder knew language "A", but the hiring manager needed someone who knew language "B". Because the hiring manager knew that language "A" was a lot similar to language "B", he hired the coder. In his expertise, the hiring manager knew the coder could probably learn "B" pretty fast, and they were right, and they have the time to allow that coder to learn and practice and grow in that language. But if you are a business owner and want to hire a programmer for a one-man job, you need to make sure that programmer is fluid and has been seasoned *in the language desired*.

Lastly, if you are the kind of business owner who wants to hire people inside the U.S., for whatever reason, and you are talking to a sales guy for "Web Developers XYZ" which is a company located in a U.S. state, do ask to make sure that the actual coder they will provide to you resides in the U.S. Personally, I have worked with several off-shore Web Development companies and I would advise you to simply treat them as any other web-house, just make sure they produce sites up to your expectations, and go from there.

Whether you care or do not care that your coder resides in the U.S., do ask for proof of that person's work. It doesn't matter if "Web Developers XYZ" shows a portfolio to you of fabulous sites they have created, if they assign you a coder who is brand new to the company and has created nothing yet.
You already know your site is not WordPress, but you are not sure how to communicate what it is created with. Ask your previous developer (if possible) to find out what language or code package your site was made with.

If that is not possible, ask almost ANY web developer that you trust to look at your hosting server and figure out what your site is made with (it could be multiple languages and important libraries). It is the only reliable way to find out, and you are going to have to pick a person you trust, because they will need your login for your host server to really find out the truth. That person, even if they are not a programmer who works with that language set, can at least create for you a sentence or two that you can copy and paste into an ad you use to find a proper programmer. If you really are a business owner with no head for web-speak, hire that friendly developer to be a consultant that helps in the interview process so that you can get the right person for the job. You can not hire the proper person if your eyes glaze over when they talk to you about their experience in programming, you need someone who knows the lingo.
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