September 9, 2015

How to hire a WordPress developer when you know nothing about code

Of all the WordPress users, I’m pretty sure the majority of them don’t know everything about what’s happening behind their website, e-commerce, or blog built on this open source software. Sure, some of them might know HTML and CSS; others are even able to hide post dates or edit some PHP lines, but that’s all.

When things go wrong for this group of WordPress users, like when they wrongly copy-paste a snippet of code, or a wrong update procedure occurs, cold sweat starts standing out from their forehead because they don’t know what specifically happened and how they can fix it.

Then, there’s a smaller WordPress subset populated with developers, web designer, “coders”, those who know how to create arrays, functions, and fix bugs. People who, generally speaking, know they stuff around WordPress. They also incur into WordPress-related issues, but they’re qualitatively different from those happening to the other group.

The WordPress world, a 2-sided market

Where’s the difference here? Easy said: the 1st group of WordPress users have little-to-none technical knowledge. The 2nd have engineer’s degrees, a self-taught approach, and their very first words have been “Hello World”.

The WordPress ecosystem keeps growing because these 2 worlds need one another. It’s the old demand and supply rule: the more adoption WordPress will live, the more WordPress experts would be required both by users and by business owners who aren’t “techie”.

And this where one of the greatest challenges sits: how people without a technical background can be good at hiring professional WordPress developers?

Hiring WordPress developers for non-techies 101

Since you don’t have a working knowledge of code, you won’t be 100% sure about the WordPress expert you’ll end up hiring eventually. But let me tell you this, even CTOs and developers in hiring positions make mistakes, so don’t get frustrated, ok? Acknowledge your starting point and go confidently from there. Remember that you (and anybody else) just cannot succeed in all your hires.

Here are all the main steps anyone without a technical background can follow to find a great WordPress developer to work with.

Ready to start? Great, let’s dive in!

1. Identify what you really need

People build on WordPress almost anything: blogs, websites, social communities, e-commerce, etc. And with such segmented market, the work that people ask for is tremendously heterogeneous, ranging from building custom forms, to database optimization or minor tweaks to a theme.

As Tom McFarlin, Founder of Pressware, once told me:

Saying that you need a “WordPress Expert” or a “WordPress Developer” isn’t really meaningful because it doesn’t represent what you really need. What you need, instead, is “Someone who is an expert at building WordPress themes” or “someone who is an expert at optimizing the WordPress database for x-type of use.

So figuring out what you need and outlining the desired outcome meticulously is no option here, no matter if you’re looking for an employee or a contractor. And in many cases it all comes down on how you write your job description and how good you’re at communicating.

You can’t expect to hire a great developer or designer, if you don’t even make an effort and spend some time crafting out a detailed, clear description of what you need, along with your desired outcome, your budget, and your deadline.

“This will be the most valuable time you invest in the project.”, as Troy Dean, Founder of WP Elevation, once told.

If you don’t do your homework, how could you attract good candidates?

2. Go referrals (or don’t even start)

What would you do if you needed a plumber right now but knew none? Where would you start from? You’d ask around! Family, friends, and colleagues.

That’s the same for WordPress professionals: start by asking for trusted developers and experts right to those people you know or have done business with.

Nobody interesting came up? Then widen your research and ask if anybody from your coworking space have some name to share, go to local meetups and WordCamps to meet in person engaging people that might be just those you’re looking for. Also, don’t forget about LinkedIn, where you can ask your contacts to introduce you to someone they happily worked with.

Word-of-mouth is still a powerful way to get introduced to professional developers and designers. Since you’re no techie guy here, yet you need a skilled WordPress professional to work with, your peeps and network are golden.

Need 5-star rated experts in no time? Post your task and start working immediately with them!

3. Look at the whole picture (portfolio, repos and online presence)

If some names made it on your prospects list, your discovery phase begins now. They say “Code is poetry”, and just as with that form of literature, you need to understand who’s behind those strings of code.

To do so, start browsing through their portfolios, websites, and online repos like GitHub,Dribbble, etc. and pay attention to the following aspects:

  • How they show off their work
  • Whether they have detailed and well-presented case studies
  • Whether they contributed to the WordPress community
  • How users review their plugins and themes (if any)
  • Whether they write about relevant topics to your business on their blog or on other publications

Then broaden your research and look at their social profiles and see which groups they’re member of and how much they participate in them. Specifically, pay attention to this important aspect: when users ask questions, do they act as helping dudes or they’re just sarcastically commenting like assholes?

Answering questions is not the primary role of a developer/designer, yet wiseass experts might be far from ideal fellows to work with, even for limited time.

At this stage, gut feelings are also part of the game and as Per, Co-Founder and CEO at Codeable, told me once: “If you don’t like his window, don’t even enter his shop” meaning that if you find anything that doesn’t feel quite right to you, just move on and keep looking for someone else.

4. Figure out what kind of people they are

Gathering a little information about prospect WordPress developers takes you closer to knowing them. Now it’s time to get in contact and start talking with those that seemed good candidates, keeping in mind that your goal is to figure out more about them as people and hopefully as co-workers. When looking for developers to hire, don’t ever forget to look for general aspects that apply to other jobs like:

  • How’s their attitude towards work?
  • Is their way of working a good fit/compatible with how you work?
  • How’s their character?

Vladimir Prelovac, founder of ManageWP, recently made it clear that when he’s interviewing candidates he looks for things that go behind coding skills and said:

Skills can be easily learned so I’ll focus on character traits instead. Persistence would be number one. Kindness and humility second.

Don’t ever forget: being knowledgeable is almost useless if you’re not resourceful too.

5. The one question to start interviewing your WordPress experts

Since you’re unable to assess their code, you should focus on what’s important to you (read: everything you outlined at the beginning of your research) and start the conversation by asking just 1 important question, as Troy Dean suggests:

Ask them to show you a specific example from their past that is related to your current project and comment it a bit.

This way you’re setting the scope of the interview right in your comfort zone, meaning you’re completely able to understand whether the person talking with you might be a good fit for your business (or not).

6. Look for entrepreneur-minded experts

A WordPress developer, theme designer, CRO expert, and so on, should have some freelancing or small business experience because, as Alex Turnbull, CEO at Groove, told:

Several of the team members at Groove ran successful freelance businesses before joining the team. It’s a good tell because it indicates that the candidate knows how to think like a CEO. That is, they can be trusted to know how to make the best and highest-value use of their time, always, without a ton of oversight.

Being a WordPress professional doesn’t free you from being a man of business who set priorities based on what’s best for customers rather than yours.

In order to be a good business guy, you should be a service-minded developer.

As the interview gets to the end, politely ask for some references from past clients and/or project collaborators, to let you gather even more data and information about how they’ve worked in the past.

7. Talk to their previous clients for quick feedback

The last step to hiring your WordPress expert is to collect feedback from people who actually hired them before. Yes, it’s now time to talk with their previous clients. So, pick up your phone or send a brief email asking if they’re willing to share just a quick feedback about how they felt working with the expert you’re interested in.

To each name you’ve got, ask these questions:

  • Was work delivered on time?
  • Did the project stay on budget?
  • How happy were you with the end result?

Just keep it honest, short and nice to increase the chance of receiving useful answers.

Bonus to WordPress experts: get your s**t done

Even if this post is about trying to help WordPress-preneur hiring developers and designers when they lack a technical background, I’d like to share something targeted to those that call themselves WordPress experts.

This is for you.

We turn down 95% of applicants because one of these aspects:

  • Lack of portfolio or poorly presented
  • Less than 4 to 5 years experience in WordPress
  • They don’t sell themselves great because they don’t see it as a job application

How could you sell yourself as an “expert” to the world if you have a crappy website (non-responsive, seriously in 2015?!), or haven’t worked at least 4/5 years with WordPress, or even can’t show and tell in a nice way what you’re good at? C’mon guys, it’s always a job application!


Hiring a WordPress developer when you don’t know anything about code might look scary but it isn’t.

At the end of the day, your goal here (and after) is to build and grow your business. It’s a matter of looking for entrepreneur-minded professionals, no matter if they know how to write an array or not.

If you don’t feel like taking this important journey all by yourself, Tom McFarlin suggests to find someone with a technical background who could help you out identifying “what you want done and what skills would be necessary for said requirements” and then go on with the interviews.

It won’t be all sunshine and puppy dogs but if you follow these tips, you’ll find better ways to evaluate and find your next WordPress expert.

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