A "Super Helpful" Guide by John Hooley
Version 4. Updated March 2019
Finding a good developer is really tricky!
There are thousands of developers on freelance job boards, but finding someone who knows what they're doing and can be relied on is no easy task.
I've heard all sorts of horror stories from clients about:
- $20/hour developers that somehow ran up bills with hundreds of hours and still didn't get the job done.
- Flaky developers that were rock solid and then suddenly their mother was sick, their car broke down, and excuse after excuse.
- Developers who claimed they could do something: "No problem!" and then... crickets. Client emails went unanswered with weeks of waiting and then angry accusations and flimsy explanations from the developer.
And some of the websites we've been hired to fix after someone else worked on them— yeesh! Full of security holes laying out the welcome mat for hackers and code that would break on the very next change.
The truth is that there are thousands of developers that can stumble through simple requests, but flounder when the water is more than ankle deep.
How This Guide Will Help You
But don't worry: this guide was created exactly so that you can avoid these costly problems. It will give you a huge leg up on getting your project completed successfully. You'll learn:
- What sort of developer you should be looking for.
- Where to look for developers.
- What warning signs to watch out for.
- How to protect yourself and lower your risk of working with someone terrible.
The guide is laid out in two sections:
- The first section explains the market so that you’re better prepared to make informed decisions when you set out to hire a Joomla developer.
- The second section covers how to find your Joomla developer and how to vet them.
Section 1: The Joomla Developer Market
Types of Developers
Believe it or not, “Joomla developer” is an ambiguous term, it is only slightly less generic than “web developer”.
Because of this, you need to be more specific with your criteria when you're selecting developers. Know what sort of work they should have experience accomplishing and what you can expect from them.
Here are the four common areas of skill expertise and accompanying freelancer price ranges in the Joomla developer market:
Site Builder: This developer utilizes their extensive knowledge of extensions and templates to build sites using already created solutions. Often times they possess some graphic production skills and are able to make small design changes.
They're not highly technical folks, but are still well suited for many small businesses and provide a lot of value for a lower market rate, often completing projects in the $200 - $2,000 USD range.
Template Skinner: This developer knows HTML and CSS and can take someone else's design and "skin" a template out of it, turning it into a useable design for a Joomla website.
They're well suited for graphic designers who need to transmute their design into a Joomla website. Depending on the design, they often charge between $500 - $1,500 USD per project.
Web Designer: This developer possesses the same knowledge as template skinners, but also creates custom designs and can alter existing designs.
Their value is generally measured against their design ability, but most web designers fall somewhere in the $2,000 - $10,000 USD range for small businesses, depending upon their ability and the size and functionality of the site.
Extension Developer: This Joomla developer is highly technical and creates custom extensions for Joomla. They can also use their knowledge of how the CMS works to solve function based problems.
Their value is often determined by their demonstrated technical ability and they typically work off an hourly structure. A common market rate I've seen for US-based developers is $60 - 100 USD / hour.
It is common for some developers to not fall cleanly into one category. For example, I know another Joomla developer who is an extension developer, template skinner, and site builder.
In these cases, you want to know what sort of comparable work to your project they've accomplished and how well it turned out.
Hire a Freelance Developer or a Joomla Development Company?
Both freelancers and Joomla development agencies offer benefits and drawbacks. Below I list both for each type of business.
Freelance Joomla Developer Pros
- You'll be talking directly with the person who implements your solution and this can speed up the process and lower the chances of confusion (but that doesn't it mean it will.)
- Often, freelancers have lower rates.
- Freelancers tend to be very flexible to your desires, prefer to communicate via tweets. Okay, not strange at all!
- Service feels more personal.
- Their abilities are more transparent.
Freelance Joomla Developer Cons
- Lack of professionalism. Many freelancers see freelancing as simply a vehicle to make money outside of having a job. When this occurs, this one-sided and simplistic view of business causes many headaches for their clients.
- Vanishing developer syndrome. When a project has problems, they're behind schedule, you don't like the results, or a friend invited them to party for a week in South Beach, they vanish. See lack of professionalism.
- Poor service. This often displays itself like "good cop, bad cop." Prior to being hired, they're friendly and available. Once paid or mid-project they're like dealing with a hormonal teenager. See lack of professionalism.
- Variable results. They have no process in place to create value for your business and because of these results vary. See lack of professionalism.
- Brittle. If your freelancer gets hit by a truck crossing the street, your project stalls while they're in the hospital.
As you can see from the drawbacks, most problems are simply caused by a lack of professionalism. It's tough finding a competent and professional freelancer.
Occupying a sliver of the market is the Joomla development company, or agency. Often times, these companies don't actually present themselves as such; they're focused on serving larger businesses and Joomla is only a part of the service they offer.
Joomla Development Company Pros
- One stop shopping. Development companies often, though not always, offer layered services that allow them to address multiple issues: design, marketing, SEO, programming, and etc.
- More stable. Joomla development companies are more likely to see a project through and be there when you need them in the future.
- Deeper experience pools. Development companies have many people working from them contributing to broader knowledge and experience than just one freelancer.
- Professional service and results. Development companies are more likely to provide professional service. They're in business and not just generating income.
- A better understanding of B2B needs. As businesses, development companies better understand the needs of other businesses.
- Consultant stance. Some development companies not only help you address the problems you need help solving, but also identify opportunities to exploit or larger issues to address.
Joomla Development Company Cons
- More costly. Development companies have staff and overhead to support and they target larger businesses and cost more.
- Less flexible. Development companies have a process for generating results and are less likely to work around any unique service you might desire.
- More impersonal. Working with a team of people often isn't quite as personal as working with an individual.
- Risk of working with a thin company. Some entrepreneurs market themselves as Joomla development companies but are little more than a salesperson that outsources projects and adds a margin to your bill. Quality varies widely in the results and the salesperson adds little value because they have no real knowledge of the problems they propose to solve.
Which Should You Choose?
Each has their pro’s and con’s, but knowing which is a good fit for you and your company.
Freelance Developers are a good fit for:
- If you have a small one time projects or simple tweaks.
- If you are a veteran at managing web projects and can and are willing to oversee the developer's work and guide their effort.
- If you have a project where success is very clear to both you and the developer.
- If you're a pre-revenue organization. Most Joomla development companies will likely be outside your budget and the ones that are will most likely just be outsourcing your work to India and adding a margin.
Development Companies are a good fit for:
- If you have a business where the Joomla website is a core part of the value you provide.
- If you know what you would like to accomplish, but could benefit from someone guiding you to the best solution.
- If your time, energy, and attention are more valuable than saving money by trying to manage a development project yourself.
- If the risk of something going wrong during the project, or in the future is the main concern.
- If you need ongoing help and want to be able to reliably reach out to someone.
How Far Should You Outsource?
If you're hiring a developer, you're already outsourcing your project. It’s just a question of whether you outsource it down the street in Baltimore or halfway around the world to Bangladesh. I'm of the opinion that working within your country and culture is preferred.
At Blue Bridge, we've worked with clients in other countries with good results for both parties, but in all cases, we've shared a very similar culture (e.g. Australians hiring us to perform work for their Japanese business)
The Country’s Importance
The closer a business is to you, the more likely you can resolve any issues using your country's legal system. A city is safer than a state, state or province, than country, and country than an international relationship.
The further afield you go, the more you will need to extend trust to those you hire. That doesn't mean you should only work with the people down the block, just that your risk is reduced slightly by proximity and that once you cross a national border it bumps up significantly.
The Significance of Culture
Culture is critical because it is the unspoken and shared understanding of how your business relationship will be conducted and what exactly the words you say to each other mean.
Your definition of a finished project maybe 20% different than what a finished project is to someone in Saigon- even if you have painstakingly gone through every detail with them.
I've heard stories of whole development companies vanishing for a week because it was a religious holiday in their region, but none of them thought it important to notify their client.
In their culture, this wasn't good but still understood to be normal behavior.
Ultimately, If you don’t want something like this to happen keeping within your own relative culture is important.
The pitch of outsourcing is that there are thousands of skilled developers available for hire in India at $12 / hour.
The truth of it is that there are thousands of people in India who will take your money for $12 / hour for any task.
Of those thousands, very few will take your project to successful completion and many will show you how simple multiplication can create a sizable project cost by working ten times slower than a capable Joomla developer (12 * 300 hours = $3,600.)
The reason this guide exists is that it's tough to find good help. It's nearly impossible to hire good help out of the bottom of the market on the opposite side of the world.
Section 2: How to Find a Good Developer
In the final section, we'll actually get into the nuts and bolts of finding a good joomla developer.
A Suggested Perspective
You may have an underlying assumption that your project is a one time deal and that once completed you'll be set forever. If so, I encourage you to question that assumption.
Information technology and the web are in a constant state of flux. It is a safe bet that within a year of completing your project you will need or want help with your Joomla site. Finding skilled Joomla developers takes patience and effort. Don't waste this effort.
View potential candidates as people you will have a long term relationship with, like finding a good mechanic or doctor. Search with this in mind and when you're ready, approach them as a potential long term development partner.
Determine Your Requirements
We live in a search culture. Need something? Search Amazon. What year was Benjamin Franklin born? Google it.
Very likely, prior to finding this guide you thought, "I need a Joomla developer". Then without much further thought, you opened your browser and searched, "Joomla Developer".
This approach is wasteful. Not being clear about what you want, you'll get there by a circuitous route in wasted search hours and contacting the wrong people. Instead, invest some time up front to clarify your requirements.
Not only will organizing your thoughts save you time, but it can potentially save you paying a developer an hourly rate to drill down to what you really need.
To get you started on the right track, I've created a worksheet for you to fill out that asks some basic, but important questions that will inform your search and help you to filter out developers that aren't well suited for your project.
In the following sections, we'll refer to it and add to the information from this section to aid in our quest to hire a Joomla developer.
Where to Look for Your Joomla Developer
There are four main resources for finding your developer:
Referrals: Referrals are always a good way to find help. If you have friends or colleagues that you know use Joomla, ask them if they could recommend a good developer.
However, be careful to make sure that they've actually worked with the developer. Knowing someone through a networking event is not the same as actually having first-hand experience doing business with them.
You want a referral from someone who has worked with a developer and knows how they conduct themselves and what their skill level is.
Search: Unfortunately, searching on the Internet is only moderately helpful in locating a good developer. The reason why is that the terms that people use to find developers are very competitive and few developers are very savvy about SEO or search rankings.
I wouldn't rule search out completely, but if you are going to use search to find a developer I recommend that you go through more than the first page of results.
Joomla! resource directory: The Joomla resource directory is a business directory managed by Joomla! project volunteers.
Most of the businesses listed in the directory have been working with Joomla for quite a while because most new Joomla developers are not aware of it. This makes it a good tool to screen for more experienced candidates.
Outsourcing directories: Outsourcing directories are services that link freelancers with businesses looking to hire a Joomla developer.
These directories will allow you to search for developers based upon their qualifications and previous reviews of the work they've accomplished.
They typically allow you to use their software to manage a project including billing the developers and attach a fee for use or percentage to the developer's rate.
Outsourcing directories are well suited to businesses with limited budgets, however, because the freelancers in these directories are not established businesses it's much more difficult to get successful project completion using one of them.
Professionalism and quality are low and it's common to hire several developers in a row to get a job done right.
Three popular services:
Watch Out For These if You Use a Freelance Directory
1) It's common for developers to have star ratings that have little to do with their competence.
This is because:
- Most times, unless someone was truly horrible, people are too nice to leave an accurate review. They give developers the benefit of the doubt and don't want to hurt their livelihood by saying exactly what they thought.
- Developers are judged in the short term. This means that they can start off apparently being really useful and responsive and receive a 5 star review for a small, simple, job. Then when you continue with larger projects and run into issues, well... often those projects don't get finished or judged.
- Ratings are given independent of context. Someone can be hired in an area they're strong in and do well and then fail in areas they're weak in.
- Ratings are provided by clients who don't understand the full impact of work in the long term. Many sites have been hacked because a cheap developer did shoddy work quickly and the impact wasn't immediately relevant until visitors were getting redirected to spammy canadian pharmacy websites.
I've hired many "5 Star" developers on UpWork for personal projects and have never found anyone that could complete a project without issues in the code and that was consistently reliable. Sooner or later the work deteriorated or the freelancer became flaky.
On their end, they're constantly hustling for the largest jobs and the highest payday for themselves and if they see an opportunity to abandon your work for something more attractive they won't think twice to do so.
2) Avoid freelancers with seemingly amazing abilities
Another common problem are developers who claim to be able to do everything and have worked in everything from block chain to chatbots to React.js to machine learning to Joomla.
The reality is that these people have dipped their toes into every popular technology and the end result is that they're not very good at anything. This results in escalated project fees and excuses as they bumble through your project and increase their own fees.
Real geniuses don't bill out at $60/hour.
How to Ask For Help
In order to best utilize your time, how you ask for help is important. What you're trying to do is to figure out whether a potential candidate is somebody who can complete your project and whether they can do so within your project constraints.
Most likely, you'll approach a potential Joomla developer through their contact form. In the project worksheet, I've created a sample request which you can modify that will effectively give candidates the information they need to provide you with an estimate. It also gives you example questions that will give you a better idea of whether they can actually complete your project.
Something to keep in mind is that while you're focused on vetting a developer or Joomla development company they're doing the same to you.
If you come across as disorganized, untrustworthy, hard to work with, or cheap, they're going to turn you away rather than give you a proposal.
I've turned away tens of thousands of dollars in work because I know it's better to avoid people that are difficult to work with than to take on their projects. Hiring is a two-way street.
Contracts and Documents
For projects that can likely be completed in 10 hours or less a contract is most likely unnecessary. However, as projects grow in size and risk, a contract is an excellent tool to ensure that there are no misunderstandings.
In these cases, it's very likely that your developer will provide this document. I recommend that you review the contract with your lawyer to make sure that you're perfectly clear on what your responsibilities and the Joomla developer's responsibility are. Even in situations where it's unlikely that disputes can be solved in court (for example working with a Joomla developer in another country) a contract is a good idea because it makes all aspects of the project explicit.
I've heard more than one sad story of pricing and scope disputes: even from people working with established developers.
Some of the developments specific issues that a contract should address are:
- What happens if a project stalls.
- How changes are handled.
- Who retains copyright over completed designs and custom programming.
- What is in the project scope and what is out of project scope.
- The payment schedule.
- What happens if any of the completed work contains errors.
- Guarantees that design elements and third-party code used will be legal for your use (either Creative Commons, GPL, or purchased commercial work.)
- Warranties for fixes *after* your project is completed. How many days and whether fixes are included in the project price.
Contracts and other project documents are good indicators that you're working with a professional and lower your risk. If you're initiating a large project and your Joomla developer does little to clarify the details surrounding it you would do well to work with someone else.
Please note this is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer and you should review the information here with your attorney or lawyer.
You Think You Found Someone, Now What?
Unfortunately, regardless of how much work you do to find someone who is likely a good fit you never know until you actually work with them. Some people look great on paper and are terrible to work with. How do you figure out whether someone actually is a good fit for your needs?
Simple: you work with them. By working with them, you'll get the information you just can't get otherwise:
- How well they communicate.
- How professional they are.
- How trustworthy they are.
- How skilled they are.
This doesn't mean that you have to invest a ton of money hiring Joomla developers project-by-project to find someone who is good.
Instead, begin your relationship with your new developer by starting small. Begin with projects that are limited in scope and, if successful, scale up from there.
For example, if you need a site designed by a Joomla designer, have your first project be a wireframe showing the page layouts.
If they don't do a great job, you've only invested a fragment of your total project budget and can move onto someone better.
I've tried to provide information and advice that is actionable and relevant in this guide. I hope you've learned something from reading it and are better prepared to hire a Joomla developer.
I can't guarantee that you'll find someone who is a good fit on your first try, but the time you invest in research and preparation in advance of your project will do much to increase your chances of finding a developer you can rely on.
Questions? Comments? Something missing? Feel free to contact us.