There’s no getting around it: e-commerce entrepreneurs need a web developer that works with them.

Unfortunately, too many business owners are settling for developers who work for them, and are suffering serious consequences. Miscommunication and a mismatch of expectations lead to delayed projects, solutions that don’t work, confusion about priorities, and ultimately, lost revenue.

It’s a whole pile of frustration that you don’t need as you’re building your business.

Finding a developer who understands your business doesn’t require an HR specialist, but it does require a smarter perspective on how you can interact with an expert to give your business the support it deserves.

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Here’s my best advice on landing a developer who is invested in your success as much as his or her own.

5 Strategies for Finding a Partner in Code

1. Pay by the project, not by the hour.

When you hire a freelance or contract developer who charges by the hour, you’re already off on the wrong foot.

To build a relationship where you and the developer are committed to the project, you can’t measure its value by watching the clock. For the best results, look for developers who bid based on specific outcomes and results, not a certain number of hours completed.

When you tie the success of a project to time, you and the developer are basically playing a tug of war. You, as the business want to keep the hours down to keep costs down. This potentially sacrifices the quality of code as then ability to adjust as your business grows. The developer wants to make sure that the hours stay on track, or even more than estimated to keep their profit intact. This sacrifices the quality of the relationship and project because their focus and care is not on the project, but maintaining a certain number of hours.

The best option is to get a bid that includes follow-up service, which shows that this person is invested in the growth of your business, not just a paycheck.

2. Pick a specialist.

It’s tempting to go with a general consultant who says they know about SEO, design work, code and workflows, but trust me on this.

It doesn’t usually pan out.

I’ve had to clean up too many sites after a developer who mostly knew what he was doing didn’t deliver. And it isn’t pretty.

What will end up saving you money and frustration is hiring someone who specializes in the issues you’re facing. Why?

  • They’ve probably seen your problem several times before, so they have developed fast and accurate solutions.

  • They know your platform inside and out, and they might find a several great fixes as they’re getting a handle on your issues.

They can get to the heart of your issues. Sometimes, the root of your website’s problems are not what you’re assuming they are. A specialist can diagnose this quickly since they’ve been down the road before.

If you want it done once and done right, don’t pay someone who’s learning as they go.

Think about it this way -- if you want to capture more sales by focusing on abandoned carts, do you want to work with someone who has written code for a magazine website, or someone who has helped dozens of business owners increase sales using tweaks like this?

3. Insist on clear communication.

Confession: tech people aren’t always the best communicators. For some reason, people who are wizards with code and computers aren’t always fantastic with people.

But don’t give up hope. There are many developers who know how to communicate about technical issues so you don’t have to learn another language to understand their recommendations for your website (ahem).

An essential part of good communication is having a simple, clear way to ask questions and get answers. Look for a developer with processes in place and if they don’t, ask them right away. If you’re having trouble contacting a developer, that’s a pretty clear signal that communication overall isn’t going to be stellar. Get another recommendation and move along.

4. Don’t dictate specific code.

Once you’ve found a developer who talks to you and knows your site issues inside and out, don’t micromanage their coding style.

Even if your buddy has a some great code that nudged up sales, don’t ask a developer to copy it and drop it into your site. There may be one -- or a dozen! -- conflicts with your site, or it might be the wrong approach for your business altogether.

Handing a developer a chunk of code might make you feel like you’re helping make constructive changes in your website, but it’s actually creating two big problems.

  • You want a developer to be creating and analyzing possibilities, not tapping out routine code that may not be the best for you.

  • You’re increasing the chances of working with a developer that will knock out some code and then disappear as soon as you make your final payment. A developer wants to be proud of their work. They want to know that their code is tip top. If they are given lines of code to write, they don’t feel it’s their own. Often times it’s code that doesn’t fit within the requirements and discussions that have taken place. They will look to work elsewhere.

If you lay the groundwork for a solid, ongoing relationship in the interview process (see #5 below), you don’t want to undo that connection.

5. Set the tone right from the start.

When you have a problem and want it fixed NOW, it’s easy to hire the first developer who promises to make the bleeding stop, especially if your tech skills aren’t strong.

Before you have a crisis moment, I highly recommend establishing an interview process for any consultant you hire, and especially for a developer. By creating a list of questions (or download this one) that you have for them and presenting them with your business goals, you stand a much better chance of finding someone who is invested in your success.

While this may seem like a hassle up front, the payoff is huge. Here are some of the advantages:

  • Developers who are in it for a quick buck won’t have the patience to answer your questions, so they’ll drop out of the process.

  • The developers who stay with the process are used to delivering more than was expected and doing it on time.

  • Treating your business like it’s valuable and unique will make a developer do the same.

  • The right developer will patiently answer your questions until you feel like he or she knows their stuff and, just as importantly, knows what you want.

  • Getting a developer onboard with your business’ direction and goals will help him or her make the most out of every improvement and will help avoid solutions that aren’t a good fit.

Personally, I love it when a client comes to me with a long list of questions about who I am, what kind of projects I’ve done, and my expertise. It proves to me that they want dependable, long-term solutions, not just a quick fix.

Of course, the best way to find an excellent developer is to remember that your business’ needs should come first. Quality developers will inherently understand this and offer solutions that are clearly aligned with your priorities and goals.

Time to Get Some Answers

Wondering if you’re getting the best web developer for your project? Send me a note or leave a comment, and I’ll send you my list of top 10 questions you should ask your developer.

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