A Small Business Owner‘s Guide to Hiring a WordPress Developer

So you‘re looking to hire a developer for your important WordPress project? As a fellow small business owner, I‘ve been in your shoes time and again over the past 15 years building sites for my ventures.

After working with dozens of WordPress developers – both talented and not so talented – I‘ve learned what truly matters when evaluating candidates. I‘ve seen firsthand how having the right developer partnership leads to online success.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share hard-won lessons on finding, vetting and hiring the best WordPress talent for your needs – whether you‘re launching a simple blog or a complex ecommerce site.

Why Carefully Hiring WordPress Talent Matters More Than Ever

Before we dive into tactical tips, it‘s worth underscoring whyHand-picking the right WordPress developer deserves more attention than ever in today‘s web landscape.

WordPress now powers over 60% of all sites on the Internet – that includes 43% of the top 10 million websites as per BuiltWith‘s data. Whether you sell products online, share knowledge, build communities or promote services – chances are WordPress can handle your needs.

However, with such versatility comes complexity under the hood. Here are some stats that underscore why technical expertise is now non-negotiable:

  • 76% of users consider web security essential or very important when picking software platforms per recent Statista survey. WordPress sites attract 51% of all CMS hack attempts according to security firm WordFence.

  • Google now considers page loading speeds a factor in search rankings. Their data shows even sub-second delays cost 20% loss in mobile site traffic. WordPress sites often load over 19 resources hurting performance.

  • 93% of web activity happens on mobile devices. Most WordPress themes still aren‘t truly responsive or mobile optimized out-of-the-box.

  • Enterprise WordPress use continues to explode with sites like Facebook, Microsoft, BBC, Quartz and others now using it. Custom code integration is a must to scale complex implementations.

Simply put – realizing the true promise of WordPress for a business today requires technical chops well beyond using off-the-shelf templates. An experienced developer‘s skills are essential for crafting the high-performing, secure and feature-packed site you need.

Now let‘s get into the meaty details on finding that ideal partner who ‘gets‘ WordPress and takes your vision to the next level online!

Defining Your Project Parameters Upfront Is Key

I‘m sure you‘re eager to start reviewing resumes and portfolios. However, I strongly recommend investing dedicated time in a project planning exercise first.

Based on past projects, I‘ve learned that nailing down specifics early on leads to:

✔️ Better alignment with the developers I eventually hire
✔️ Ability to compare candidates fairly on core needs
✔️ Sets clear direction for my own team members

Here are my key recommended planning areas – feel free to borrow my templates that have served me well!

Document Detailed Requirements

Clearly list all:

  • Site features needed – contact forms, user logins etc.
  • Design preferences – layouts, style tiles, brand assets
  • Content elements – copy, images, videos, documents
  • 3rd party integrations – payment systems, CRMs etc

Map out Technical Specifications

Cover specifics spanning:

  • Purpose – blog, community forum, online course portal
  • Tools/platforms – hosting environment, SSL needs, domains
  • Performance – site speed KPIs, traffic expectations
  • Security – encryption standards, data protection levels
  • Browser/device support – mobile, legacy IE browsers

Frame Overall Timelines

Outline phases covering:

  • Research – planning, mockups, final content
  • Development – core site, iterate on features
  • Testing – user testing, fixes, optimizations
  • Launch – migration, evangelizing, tracking

Higher clarity upfront directly translates to higher quality site delivery!

Now let‘s look at evaluating and assessing developers themselves using proven tactics.

Leverage Referrals to Find Candidates Aligned to Your Needs

Instead of directly posting job descriptions, I recommend a different approach. Tap your personal and professional networks for referrals to great WordPress developers others have worked with.

Cast a wide net querying – friends in relevant industries, web savvy colleagues, local business groups on LinkedIn, successful agencies/freelancers who may have overflow work.

With each suggested name, request for:

  • Examples of live sites developed
  • Key stats – years of experience, client types, team size
  • Ways of working – communication style, project management
  • Pricing models – project-based, hourly, ongoing support

This level of qualitative insight will allow you to shortlist developers well-aligned to your industry, business stage, budget and work styles.

Rigorously Assessing Technical Expertise Is a Must

Once you have a shortlist, it‘s time to grill candidates on their technical competency through word and deed.

As I’ve written previously, WordPress expertise today goes way beyond using off-the-shelf templates and plugins. Here are several ways to deeply evaluate true technical chops:

Ask Probing WordPress Questions

Pose scenario-based questions that test how developers would tackle complex needs like:

  • Optimizing unwieldy WordPress sites handling 10,000+ daily visitors
  • Building a custom user dashboard showing key metrics
  • Implementing single sign-on securely across WordPress and other apps
  • Ensuring compliance needs are met via permissions, access controls etc.

Pay close attention to the quality of answers along four dimensions:

  1. Technical Depth: Do they demonstrate deep knowledge of PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, APIs needed to customize WordPress effectively?

  2. Creativity: Do they draw on diverse technical and design skills to solve needs versus templated responses?

  3. Security Orientation: Do they call out protection, encryption and hardening considerations upfront without being prompted?

  4. Business Alignment: Do their solutions map to your specific users, operational needs and industry constraints?

Review Code Samples Closely

Ask candidates to share code from recent WordPress projects – either full plugin code or excerpts from theme files, functions etc.

Have a technical colleague scan samples for:

  • Readability – naming conventions, formatting, comments
  • Performance – caching, eager vs lazy loading, optimizing calls
  • Security – validation, output escaping, nonce use
  • Extensibility – modular functions, hook usage, inheritance

I‘m happy to provide my full WordPress code quality checklist that comes in handy.

Get Hands-On with Test Projects

Another tactic that has served me well is hiring developers for well-scoped 2-3 week test projects.

These mini-engagements let me evaluate actual working style hands-on at lower risk, before making longer term commitments.

I intentionally keep the deliverable focused, for example:

  • Building custom Gutenberg block for showcasing customer testimonials
  • Integrating active campaign forms, capture and display submissions
  • Setting up staging environment and deployment workflow

This hands-on approach makes it far easier to assess communication, responsiveness and solution quality firsthand.

Optimize Work Relationship for Collaboration

Beyond pure technical skills, it’s crucial to assess whether your work styles, values and priorities align strongly as well before committing to longer term engagements.

Here are key dimensions I probe for fit:

Communication Approach

  • Do developers over-communicate and proactively flag potential issues?
  • Can they explain technical topics clearly without overusing jargon?
  • Will language or time zone differences hamper progress meetings?

Working Style

  • Do developers employ agile rituals like standups, story points tracking etc?
  • Are documentation, status reports handled systematically?
  • Would they proactively make optimization suggestions?

Mindset & Values

  • Is there pride in craft, attention to small details vs broad strokes?
  • Is security considered a priority rather than an afterthought?
  • How do they stay updated on industry best practices, WordPress ecosystem?

Don’t underestimate the value of perceived culture fit – after all you will likely work very closely over months if not years together!

Negotiating Project Contracts to Set Expectations

Before finalizing your engagement, carefully negotiating terms is time well spent upfront to avoid misunderstandings.

I strongly advise drafting clear contracts that cover:

Detailed Scope

Tightly define all features, components, integrations expected using prior requirements work. Use visual mockups, user flows to illustrate.

Pricing Structure

Common project fee structures like:

  • Fixed bid for well-defined requirements
  • Time and materials with cap, use high diligence
  • Monthly retainer for large firms or ongoing work

IP Rights

Clarify who owns full rights to custom code, graphics, content produced. Spell out license terms as needed for open source software components leveraged.

Payment Schedules

Tie installments directly to phase deliverables, work packages and milestones attained.

Support Terms

Specify free bug fixing period after launch. Define rates for maintenance, enhancements post launch. Identify channels for support.

While legal jargon isn’t exciting, nailing down specifics early eliminates assumptions and paves way for truly collaborative engagements.

Plan Ahead for Knowledge Transfer

While I‘ve focused primarily on the evaluation and hiring process so far, I want to switch gears to set you up for long term success.

Even rockstar developers will move on at some point – staff gets poached, freelancers get too busy. So it‘s prudent to plan ahead for smooth transitions by:

Invest in Documentation

Architectural diagrams, database schemas, API specifics and inline comments are vital for complex sites. Mandate developers embed these as they build.

Shadow Key Decisions

Have internal staff join technical planning meetings, code reviews. Hands-on learning goes much further than written specs.

Keep Licenses & Access

With cloud hosting and SaaS logins, limited vendor access is preferred for security. But request view access and backups.

Build Internal Training Sets

Curate repositories of code samples, best practice design patterns for common needs like forms, galleries, menus etc.

With the above tactics, your team will gain context needed to work effectively with next round of developers.

Key Takeaways – Get the Foundation Right!

I hope these insider tips distilled from my own WordPress journey across consulting, agency and entrepreneurship roles prove valuable.

While there are many nuances we didn’t have space to cover, remember these strategic keys:

Define your project clearly upfront – Details directly influence who to hire and how to assess fit.

Vet technical competence thoroughly – Demand evidence like code samples, in-context problem solving beyond resume claims.

Optimize for collaborative relationships – Shared communication style, mindsets and working rhythms matter greatly.

Set clear expectations via contracts – Specify scope, payments, IP rights tightly to enable trust.

Plan ahead for transitions – Formalize documentation, training so team retains leverage when developers change.

Get these elements right, and you have the perfect recipe for WordPress project success powered by top notch talent! Feel free to reach out with any other questions – happy to lend more advice from the trenches as you evaluate candidates.

Wishing you phenomenal online growth,

[Your Name] [Business Name | Blog Name]