A helpful crash course by John Hooley
Version 3. Updated June 2017
This guide will significantly improve your chances of getting your project completed successfully and potentially save you the headache of losing months of time and thousands of dollars working with a poorly chosen Joomla developer. It will do this by giving you a crash course on what you need to know about hiring a Joomla developer, from setting your requirements, to locating developers, to the questions you should ask prospective development partners.
My company, Blue Bridge Development, offers Joomla development services, but I promise you that this will not be some craftily framed advertisement for doing business with us. In fact, 90% of people who read this guide are not well suited for working with Blue Bridge because of our higher rate. I'm here to educate, not pitch, and should I break this promise, feel free to jump ship and visit another site.
A few years ago some friends and I went on a vacation in Vietnam. At one point, we traveled from a southern island to a city in the Mekong Delta. We had to go halfway by hydrofoil and halfway by bus. When we arrived by hydrofoil to the port we were met by a small army of touts haranguing us to buy tickets from them. We got distracted by them and when we finally walked to the bus station, we discovered that the last normal bus for our city had just left. We ended up paying five times the typical ticket price to be crammed into an overcrowded tout's bus for a painful three hour drive. All of this could have been avoided if we had good information on what to expect, where to go, and when to be there. The lesson is that it's difficult to make smart decisions without understanding the environment.
In this first section of the guide, we'll review some relevant topics about the market so that you're better prepared to make informed decisions when you set out to hire a joomla developer.
Believe it or not, Joomla developer is an ambiguous term. It's only slightly less generic than web developer. This matters because you need to be more specific with your criteria when you're selecting developers. You need to 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:
Some developers do not fall clearly into one category. For example, I know another Joomla developer who has extension developer, template skinner, and site builder skills. In these cases, you want to know what sort of comparable work to your project they've accomplished and how well it turned out.
Both freelancers and Joomla development agencies offer benefits and drawbacks. Below I list both for each type of business.
As you can see from the drawbacks, most problems are simply caused by a lack of professionalism. It's tough finding competent and professional freelancers.
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.
If you're interested in hiring a Joomla developer, you are outsourcing your project. Whether you outsource it down the street in Baltimore or halfway around the world to Bangladesh is the question. 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 closer a business is to you, the more likely you can resolve any issues using your country's legal system. City is safer than state, state or province, than country, and country than 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.
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 may be 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 was not good but still understood to be normal behavior.
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 because 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.
In this section, we'll actually get into the nuts and bolts of finding a good Joomla Developer.
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.
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 thinking, 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.
There are four main resources for finding your developer:
In the screencast above I cover some tips that will help you to identify good candidates by reviewing their websites prior to contacting them. You can view in a larger format on YouTube: Joomla Developer - Gauging Without Engaging
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 (linked to in the section Determine Your Requirements), I've created a sample request which you can modify that will efficiently give candidates the information they need to provide you with an estimate and ask questions that will give you a better idea whether they can actually complete your project.
Something to keep in mind is that while you're focused on vetting a Joomla developer or 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. It's a two-way street.
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 Joomla 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.
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.
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 information you just can't get otherwise:
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 Joomla developer you can rely on.
Questions? Comments? Something missing? Feel free to contact me.