This is a guest post from Nate McGuire, our friend at Code My Views. They have experience building great WordPress sites, so we thought Nate would have some interesting insights into the developer vetting and hiring process. We were right.
WordPress sites are everywhere these days. And so are WordPress developers.
But hiring a good developer for your custom WordPress theme is difficult! Before you go out and start trying random developers that may or may not work out, read this guide.
It’ll tell you everything you need to know to hire the best developer for your WordPress site. First, though, let’s talk about why you should hire a WordPress developer in the first place.
Do you really need a WordPress developer?
When you are building a WordPress site, you have two different paths you can take:
- Buy an off-the-shelf theme from somewhere like themeforest.net or themify.me
- Work with a WordPress developer to create a custom theme
Why would you want to use an off-the-shelf theme?
Off-the-shelf WordPress themes are great for a few use cases. Most importantly, they enable you to go live with a simple site for your idea or small business without much overhead cost.
Pros of a pre-built theme:
- Cost is minimal—you could even use a free theme!
- Fast to set up if you have minimal needs and requirements
- Great for brochure sites and small businesses who don’t need much customization
Cons of a pre-built theme:
- Difficult to customize
- Not easy to add custom landing pages
- Not all plugins and third-party tools will be compatible
- Debugging or fixing issues may be more difficult
- Doesn’t support the scale and customization required for larger businesses
While these cons might not seem like significant drawbacks, they can make your life more difficult if you want to expand or augment your site in the future.
So it’s definitely a good idea for most people to go with a custom WordPress theme.
But what does that even mean?
Custom WordPress solutions
When you commission a custom WordPress theme, you get a site that is built specifically for you. It takes into account all of your needs and use cases.
Once the site is completed, you will have a content management system (CMS) that makes it easy for you to manage all the content on your site. And you’ll have a custom design tailored to your business.
Here’s a custom WordPress site that we built for Detail Delivery. It captures the feeling of their business, presents all the important information a visitor needs, and looks much better than an off-the-shelf theme:
In the future, you’ll be able to expand your site out as necessary with additional content and landing pages without having to modify theme code.
- Custom WordPress themes make your site look great and work exactly as you need it to
- No coding is required to update to your site. Just add content when you need it
- Custom themes equip sites with different functions, page layouts, widgets, and other visual enhancements
- You can easily customize and extend features for your needs using core WordPress functionality
For your corporate business, it’s best to build—or hire someone to build—your CMS. Small businesses have a lot to gain from custom WordPress development, too. Of course, this requires that you have deep skills designing, developing and implementing WordPress sites.
Do you have these skills or experience in-house? No? Then it’s time to find someone who does…
You’ve got options
There are three main options you have for custom WordPress development: a freelancer, an in-house developer, or a contracted WordPress development team.
If it helps, here’s a very detailed read about real costs for hiring an employee versus a contract developer. (Spoiler: contracting is cheaper.)
As you might expect, there advantages and disadvantages to each.
Hiring a freelancer is a great option for those looking to keep costs down. But there’s some risk, since you are relying on a single person for support and updates to your site. Someone needs to directly manager freelancers, and their success (or failure) is largely dependent on the person hiring and managing.
Skill level is difficult to determine unless you’ve worked extensively with the freelancer in the past or know someone who has and offers a great recommendation. Be doubly sure to check portfolios and recommendations where they’re available.
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In-house WordPress developers
Hiring in-house could be a good way to go for teams that have a large number of WordPress sites to manage. Especially if they’re making constant updates to the codebase or otherwise have a large amount of support required.
If you don’t have the need for full time changes and updates to the site, the overhead of a full time WordPress developer may outweigh the benefits. It’s also hard to find full-time developers of any kind!
Contracted WordPress development teams
Do you want want a more managed process? You can rely on a contracted team for planning, development, deployment, as well as long-term support and updates. This is great for a business looking to support their marketing or IT teams with a quality CMS who don’t need or want to hire a full-time WordPress developer.
A great contracted team will build your WordPress site to make it easy to manage and sustainable long term by enabling you to use it as a true Content Management System as opposed to a site that is difficult and cumbersome to edit.
For the vast majority of people, a freelancer or a contracted team is going to be the best choice. Once you’ve decided which route to take, though, you still have to pick a developer.
How do you do that?
How to find a custom WordPress developer
No matter which type of developer you decide to go with, you’re going to need to do some looking around to find one. There are three main ways you can do this.
- Ask for referrals. If you know anyone who’s had a custom WordPress theme developed for them, ask if they could recommend a developer for you.
- Search online. Running a quick search will give you lots of options. But they won’t necessarily be the best ones. You’ll have to do some research.
- Check a freelance marketplace. Lots of freelancers have profiles on marketplaces like Hubstaff Talent, Upwork, and Freelancer.com.
Using a combination of these methods will give you a short list of potential developers that you could hire. Once you’ve chosen a few, it’s time to get down to details and make your final choice.
By asking a few key questions.
Questions to ask a WordPress developer
You’re locked and loaded, ready to create your WordPress CMS site. Good choice.
Here are some questions to ask your candidate WordPress developer or contracting shop. Use these to help determine if they can build your CMS.
What . . .
- is your process for setting up a custom theme? Do you start from scratch or modify existing themes?
- are some best practices for creating a styling a WordPress theme?
- are your favorite or most-used plugins?
- is a widget? Will I need one?
- are the steps to create a simple plugin?
Have . . .
- you created a master-child WordPress theme? What are the steps involved?
- you done other work that I can see?
Can . . .
- you write front-end code and WordPress/PHP code?
How do you . . .
- create themes? From scratch, or by modifying existing ones?
- create a custom page template?
- make a custom WordPress theme menu?
- edit that menu?
- ensure that content on the template can be edited in WordPress?
- include CSS and JS in a WordPress theme?
- charge for your work? Hourly or per-project?
Did they pass? Glowingly even? Oh my.
Increase your chances for success
Great. You feel confident in your developer’s technical skills to create your custom WordPress site.
But you’ll need more than that for a successful project. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
Plan your project
Understand what to build before building it. Duh. You’d be surprised how many people don’t.
Instead of going in blind,
- outline and share your requirements and specifications with any candidate developers
- design the look and feel first, then start building building your custom site
- think about who will use your site, as that may determine the functionality it needs
- plan ahead and think about what you might want in the future
Once you’ve spent some time planning, make sure you have a solid project plan written down. Share it with the development team and anyone else involved in the project. If everyone’s on the same page and has the same vision for the project, you’ll be much more likely to succeed.
Be sure to think carefully about what you’ll want in the future, too. Having WordPress SEO improvements built into your theme from the start can be a big help.
Set a timeline
Your chosen freelancer or contractor should give you a proposed timeline in their bid, but it’s always a good idea to go over it again. Here are some thing you’ll want dates for:
- Design mockups, if you’re having design work done
- Architecture and wireframes for the final site
- A test or demonstration site to make sure everything’s working
- Final delivery for the completed project
Of course, there will probably be more dates you’ll need to get locked down, too. Especially if you’re responsible for delivering visual assets, copy, content, or anything else that needs to go on the site.
No matter what each group is delivering, make sure you have a solid timeline. That way everyone knows what they’re doing. Using project management software can be a big help here. (This is why we developed our own tracking dashboard at Code My Views—it helps us keep customers up to date on everything we’re doing.)
Test and review
If you’re not familiar with custom WordPress development, you might think that when a developer sends you the final theme, you’re totally done. But that’s not quite true.
There are a few important steps left:
- Test the site to make sure everything is working
- Reference your project plan to make sure everything’s in place
- Ask for revisions from your developer or team
- Get all of the relevant files from the developer, in case you need them in the future
Once you’re satisfied that everything is working, and that you have all of the files you could possibly need in the future, you’re set! You’ve successfully hired a custom WordPress developer, had a site coded for you, and have published it online.
Now all you have to do is let the visitors roll in . . .
(If only it were that easy, right?)
What’s your experience with custom WordPress development? Have you used freelancers, in-house developers, or agencies? What about off-the-shelf themes? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!