How To Find A Great Web Developer
Finding a great web developer for the first time can feel a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never tried to find someone like an engineer before. Where do you start? And how do you know you’ve found someone who’s not just average but a great developer for your project?
I will help you navigate the uncharted waters to find just the right person or people to help bring your vision to life. In another article within this series, I’ll show you how to interview a developer as well when you don’t have a technical background.
But for now, let’s look at …
Where To Begin Your Search
Most people begin with a Google search and from there you will find a myriad of ad links to all manner of people and businesses. Most of these search links will fall into one of four categories which I list below: Web Agencies, including offshore agencies; Hiring Platforms; Recruiters; Job Boards; and Individuals like me who run their own tiny one-person agencies.
So let’s have a candid look and check out the pros and cons of each.
While this article is entitled How to Find A Great Web Developer, depending on the path you decide to take to get your web application project done, you might actually never have to talk to a real software engineer at all.
Web Agencies are businesses in the business of doing what you don’t want to do and generally have no experience doing—which is interviewing a web developer and developing whatever project you have in mind.
In fact, the web agency usually won’t even allow you to speak with a web developer, they want you talking to their sales people. And once the agency’s sales person has “qualified” you and your business as a newbie client who knows very little about technology, they will create a sales proposal for your project based on the size of your company and budget, and not what it really costs to do the work.
In other words, these people are sharks. Not all of them, but most of them. (I have to say the last sentence for legal reasons, but pretty much all of them are sharks.)
It’s a lot like walking into a new car dealership and the first thing the sales person asks you is—”What kind of payment do you want?” Meaning, what can you afford. Forget about what the real price of the car is, they will jockey and inflate the numbers of your new car to match whatever the maximum payment possible for your budget is.
Agencies are just like this. The bigger your company, the bigger the price will be. They will add all kinds of overhead to your project that you probably don’t need. And that developer who normally costs $75 per hour, is now looking more like $150 per hour if not more. But they don’t pay the developer anywhere near that much, in fact, the developer is likely going to be fairly new and getting paid closer to $40 an hour, if that much. The web agency will literally be making $50 to $100 an hour profit for each hour the developer spends building your project.
Earlier in my career, I briefly worked for a web agency for about a year because work was scarce that year and I needed to fill the time with something, anything. They paid me $35 an hour as a mid-level dev at the time when I was getting almost double that on previous gigs. My experience is probably typical of most web agencies. They hire less than stellar people for the least amount of money and then bill double to triple their rate to the client, meaning you. All while adding little to no real value. Agencies are a great place for new developers to start, but they don’t stay there for long unless the agency owner(s) start paying them better with their advancing skill. I was only there a year before going back to work at Disney.
This article would not be complete without discussing the offshore version of web agencies, because there are tons of them. I get spammed by these people literally every day. You can find them all over the hiring platforms too. (See below.) There is almost no difference between hiring a domestic versus offshore web agency, except that you will pay about 1/3 the cost, which is why some people like to use them. IF you can find a really good offshore agency, great. But you won’t, at least not out of the gate.
The best offshore web agencies will have a domestic presence, like someone working remotely from home in your country who is their domestic liaison; that way you don’t have to talk to someone with an Indian, Pakistani, or Indonesian accent that very often can be hard to understand. The domestic liaison becomes your point of contact for the offshore agency. It doesn’t mean the agency will be better, it just means you don’t have to talk to someone with an accent.
- The agency will complete your project for you. You don’t have to lift a finger.
- You don’t need to even talk to a developer, just their technical liaison.
- Agencies are the most expensive way to build software, unless you offshore.
- You have no way of knowing if your web developer is highly skilled or brand new.
- Typically takes longer than you might expect.
There is nothing wrong with hiring a web agency to get done what you need to do. Just keep in mind that you will be way over-paying for the services you will likely be receiving. And the work they do, well, it’s probably NOT going to be rock star work. And you will never know if what you got was crap work under the hood.
The other kind of search results you will find on Google are a the hiring platforms. These are online-only businesses designed to bring all kinds of talent, not just web developers, together with clients like you. Upwork is perhaps the most successful of these, but there are many others. Fiverr is another successful platform.
What’s nice about these platforms is that they provide reviews and in the case of Upwork, even earnings records of the people who’ve used them, so that you can see that whatever developer or agency has good rapport and a solid work history of getting things done. Some platforms will even show you certifications, even test results of how well the developer did in taking a knowledge exam of some particular technology or programming language.
TIP: The thing with certifications and code tests is that they are really moot indicators of experience. Just because you can pass a code or certification test does not mean you have experience. Every newbie out of bootcamp can pass a code test; they must to graduate. I’ve also hired people with certifications that turned in crappy work. They still lacked the experience of writing code on a daily basis for clients that you only get from building real-world applications year after year.
The most useful measurement is, of course, their past clients and how much money they’ve made on the platform. A developer with 50 happy clients, a 4-plus star rating (you can’t make everyone happy), and $10,000 or more in earnings is a pretty good bet that they are going to be able to get your job done.
The hiring platform also manages the communications and payments to the developer. This is good for you in that it gives you a level of security for your payments and it’s good for the developer because they can log their hours and get paid like clockwork by the platform.
The biggest downside to these platforms is that they tend to favor the people who have been on them the longest and you don’t really see experts like me who are on the platform. On Upwork, I look like an inexperienced newbie because I usually don’t find my clients on the platform. In fact, I’ve never landed a single client using their platform.
For instance, last year I was billing several clients into 4 and 5 figures for very successful website and architectural work; but Upwork doesn’t know about a developer’s other clients. So a successful independent operator like me looks like a kid fresh out of school on Upwork. The platform favors those people who bring it the most money, which is not me.
The other downside is one you don’t see, the platform takes a rather large percentage of the developer’s money (up to a certain point), and then a token fee for any billings over a certain amount. It basically amounts to about 5% to 30% depending on what’s billed over time. Small projects, those under $1,000, are expensive for developers because the platform takes almost 1/3 of their money. But by the time you get to $5,000 in billings, it’s still about 15%.
Still, as developers who do not market themselves very well, it’s the price of finding new clients.
- There are lots and lots of developers and agencies to choose from and they ALL want your business.
- The platform handles all of the communications and payments securely.
- Lots of reviews and earnings of the best developers using the platform.
- Expensive to use for the developer (but that’s not really your problem).
- You still have no way of knowing if your web developer is highly skilled or brand new.
- You may not know if the developer is really doing the work or if they are secretly an agency behind the scenes.
Hiring platforms give you great options for finding the right people who can do the work you need to have done. But they are flooded with people who do not know what they are doing, even if they do have a handful of good reviews. Inexperienced people can still look really great on these platforms, you really don’t know how long they’ve been coding.
Recruiters are like web agencies, except they don’t get involved in your project, at all. You call the recruiter, tell them what you need, and they send you resumes of their top 5 to 10, or however many people they have in their system that might be able to get your work done.
Most recruiters, if you tell them you’re new at this, will walk you though finding just the right person. They might even offer to do the interviews for you once you give them the specifics of the project you want to do.
Recruiters are very odd ducks in that they often specialize in certain industries, like technology or healthcare, and they can be very friendly or rather snobby to a small client who isn’t bringing in millions each month in billings. Yes, that is the kinds of dollars we’re talking about with these people. Their numbers are often dizzying.
Disney, for instance, does business with a number of recruiting agencies. At one point in my career with them, fully 80% of Disney’s staff were what we call “contractors”. I was one of them. Imagine 80% of your staff is being paid by these recruiting agencies. These are mind-boggling numbers, into the billions of dollars each month. And that’s just one company!
But even if you’re not a major account like Disney, many of of these recruiters will deal with small business clients like you too, especially the smaller local recruiters.
Keep in mind that finding a web developer this way adds some overhead to your hourly bill rate, typically about 25% to 50% as the recruiter has to pay the web developer as an employee of their agency under a “W-2”, just like any other employee. You can avoid much of this overhead by telling the recruiter you’d prefer to pay them as a “1099 contract”. You will still be paying the developer via the agency, but your overhead bill rate will be about half the typical overhead, 15% to 30%, depending on the recruiting agency.
Another way to work with a recruiter is to just pay their finders fee if they offer that kind of arrangement. These kinds of fees can be all over the place, but once you hire a developer through the agency, all you will owe them is the finder’s fee and you will then pay the web developer directly, either as your own employee on a W-2, or as a 1099 contractor.
- Recruiters typically have a whole catalog of people to choose from that can build your project.
- You can often hire temporary people with just a finders fee.
- A recruiter’s best people will already be working; the person you get might not be the best quailed.
- You still have to vette the developer’s level of skill and experience.
Like web agencies, recruiters can be expensive, and they don’t run your project for you, only the developer does. So in that respect, you still need to do your homework interviewing the developer to see if they have the skills you need.
A job board is like a hybrid or an online recruiter / hiring platform, only they don’t get involved in your project. They are there to simply list your job and then forward resumes to you of people they think meet your needs. ZipRecruiter is a job board that is very good at finding you talent, but then the task is yours to actually interview whomever and select the right person for your project. If you lack any kind of technical skills, this is NOT an option you should be looking at.
The people on job boards are typically looking for permanent work with a medium to enterprise sized business to work for. Most of them aren’t looking for a small business owners with temporary projects to build.
Still, you can find people on job boards who are willing to work with small business clients, tiny one-person agencies like mine are an example. Other places who act like a job board are sites like LinkedIn. Post a job on LinkedIn and they can show you people interested in doing your project.
- You can pretty much find ANYONE with the qualifications you need on a job board.
- There are a lot of them to choose from.
- Some of the job boards offer you a free trial which costs you nothing to hire out of the gate.
- You really should be technically qualified to be interviewing engineers to use a job board.
- The people you hire from a job board probably do not have all of the skills you need to build your project.
- You still have to vette the developer’s level of skill and experience.
Job boards are like the bare knuckled approach to building your project, and if you have the technical chops to hire the right person then these places can be the perfect avenue for you to find who you need to complete you project.
Individual web developers are people like me. We are basically one-person agencies who work on behalf of clients using either our own or a company name. The really cool thing about working with an individual web developer is that you have the benefit of engaging with us one-on-one and working through your project’s scope and requirements with the actual person who will be writing the code.
The best way to find and approach one of us is to do so just like you would any other web agency, recruiter, or via a job board: send us an email or give us a call and start the conversation. I can typically tell within the first 5 minutes of a phone call what your project is going to entail for your business’ use case. I don’t have to go through a liaison to know what you need and how to build it. I speak the language of business that is not too technical for you to understand.
The best part of hiring an individual developer like me is that you’re just paying me, not some agency or platform or job board. In other words, it doesn’t cost you extra money just to hire me.
People like me typically work from a home office. There is no overhead. You’re not paying for my office rent (I don’t have nor do I need one). You pay our rate commensurate with our experience and you save money in the process.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, you really need to make sure the person you’re hiring knows what they are doing. But that goes with pretty much an hire you’re going to make. The difference with someone like me is that I can make that process very smooth.
The best way for you to know who you’re hiring is look at their client list and/or resume. We get it, you’re not a technical person, at least not to the level we are. But you can look at who we’ve work with and been hired by in the past. That will give you a really good idea of our qualifications.
When I first went to work for Disney back in 2011, I interviewed with a manager and two technical team leads. They told me that they’d gone through over 800 resumes before they finally landed on mine. I took a real-world code test where I had to build a mock website that worked flawlessly with their model site. I was one of the few people who passed that test.
When I interviewed with Sprint, I literally sat in a conference room with over a dozen other engineers! Seriously, it was a massive group interview. All of them pelted me with personal and technical questions for 90 minutes. It was brutal but it was also fun because their questions were things I knew and knew well. I knocked that interview out of the park. I walked out of the office that afternoon feeling really optimistic and for good reason—Sprint hired me the next day.
TIP: Make sure your developer is using the right technology stack for your particular project. See: Choosing the Right Technology Stack for Your Web Application.
These are the kinds of things that are good to know about the people you are wanting to work on your project. Use their previous clients as your barometer of their coding skills, even if you have no idea what “object-oriented” programming even is.
- Individual developers are just like working with an agency, only smaller and you get to talk to the person doing the work.
- You’re not paying the agency’s or a recruiter’s overhead.
- It’s a one-on-one business relationship with no middlemen getting in the way of your project.
- It can sometimes be daunting finding and hiring the right person for what you need to have done.
- Depending on the developer, they may not choose the right technology stack for your needs.
- The developer may not have all of the skill you need to properly engineer and produce your vision.
Using an individual developer is often the best and most efficient way to get your project off the ground. If your project is too ambitions for one person, the developer should be able to tell you so and make recommendations for adding members to your team, or you might decide that just taking more time is the better avenue. The good news is that you are in-charge of the direction and the individual developer knows exactly how you want to proceed.
You have a myriad of options to locate and screen just the right person or agency for you project. Not every option will fit every business’ needs. But at least you have the tools you need to make a much more informed choice in your search to find just the right person or people to bring your project to life!
Have a look at the other articles within this series as well. All of them are designed to give you the knowledge you need and avoid serious pitfalls that could cost you dearly later on.
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