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Level: Intermediate

Step by Step: How marketing agencies can hire a professional eCommerce programmer on freelancing marketplaces like UpWork and Toptal

Guide on how to evaluate your eCommerce developer's technical competence, reliability and work ethic

Author: Dima Volo

Looking for good eCommerce developers who, er, actually speak English and understand the business outcomes that you've prioritized is tough.

The challenge is finding someone who a) has the technical skill and b) has a process to follow so they can see your project through to completion.

But how can you differentiate dedicated professionals from fly-by-night freelancers?

Let's examine an example.

Would this cold email look familiar in your inbox?

Dear, My name is Engr. Andrew, CEO at InterTech Networks Ltd.

We have 47 web specialists ready for all your project with budget from $769. Let me instill confidence in you.

Kindly reply to tell me about the details of your needs for SEO, PPC, CRO, custom Integration, eCommerce, and Wordpress.

-- Warmest regards.

So that's a blatantly obvious example of a predatory company, which doesn't care a whit about the business outcomes you're looking for, or what impact (positive or negative) their work would have on your staff and customers.

But some messages you'll receive from freelancers are less obviously bad fits, and you might second-guess yourself.

In order to hone our spidey-senses, let's break this one down and understand exactly where the red flags are.

After that, we'll summarize how to cut through the noise when you're looking for a web consultant who's as professional and focused on the right finish line as you are.

When evaluating a web dev proposal, ask yourself:

1
Am I hiring an expert practitioner or a mindless pair of hands that relies on me for quality control?

Let's be candid: is "Mr. Andrew" from UpWork ever going to challenge your assumptions and offer you wiser strategies based on his experience, or is he going to be a yes-man even when he can see you're going in the wrong direction?

Is Mr. Andrew thinking long-term about whether his system architecture matches the way your team members and customers do business? Is he even going to ask the question before starting?

Sure, micromanaging him is an option, but if you wanted to study code standards yourself, you would. That's why you reached out for an expert to help you. No prodding or begging required.

Whereas micromanaging a mindless pair of hands comes with three problems:

  1. It's really time-consuming pushing your developer for every. single. minor. element. He gets used to delivering mindless work, on the assumption you'll prod him if it's lacking. Tiring.
  2. You are solely responsible for making sure the end product isn't full of bugs and holes, since Mr. Andrew sure as heck isn't worrying about it. Are your customers able to access their order details today? You tell him.
  3. You might be telling Mr. Andrew to make the absolute wrong thing in the absolute wrong way. He knows it, you don't, and he's not about to speak up and bite the hand that feeds him.

In 2019, technical wins aren't as hard-fought as they used to be. Most backend systems and third party tools offer APIs for you to hook up with your eCommerce platform.

Your in-house developers can do the work.

But most marketing agencies don't have senior-level eCommerce automation and integration programmers in-house. Indeed, your project managers are experts at putting a client's technical requirements in the context of their business goals, but they don't have experience shepharding technical projects with complex requirements from zero to testing to production all by themselves.

That's when you hire someone who codes for a living, is able to push back on your assumptions, and spends hours every day optimizing and automating eCommerce integrations to make them cleaner and easier to work with.

2
Am I hiring someone who's in a hurry to pretend the job is done, until I identify the (very obvious) security errors and data leaks myself?

Work with someone who understands the trade-offs between writing modules fast and writing modules correctly, fixing bugs fast and fixing bugs so that they stay fixed.

Can Mr. Andrew identify when a feature you request is going to put confidential customer data at risk, look unprofessional during a demonstration to a senior director, or break other integrations on which their backend systems already rely?

Writing clean code is hard. Keeping security holes out of your integration is, surprisingly, hard too. Just ask companies who experienced data breaches, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Dropbox in the huge breach of 2012.

When your eCommerce integration goes down on a Monday morning and your client's ERP vendor says the problem is not on their end, is Mr. Andrew the guy you depend on to put out the fire?

3
Am I hiring someone who is competent enough to say "there's no problem" when there isn't, and "yes, here's the problem" when there is?

UpWork developers charge by the hour, which is good for UpWork because they can track and invoice hours easily. But is it good for you?

If your developer is working by the hour, he is incentivized to maximize his hours, so that he gets paid more. Why would he spend 20-minutes implementing a feature the right way, when he can spend 4 hours implementing it the wrong way? He's incentivized to stretch out the project.

At the same time, he's incentivized to say 'yes' to every item on your todo list. What if the answer to

I want you to take the data files my client emails me every morning and build a system to upload those to their platform

rightly would be,

Don't rely on your clients to remember to email you stuff, or to do this consistently, or on me to do the importing. Instead, a simple API integration can take care of it automatically on a schedule, so your client can "set it and forget it".

Hourly developers are incentivized to keep their mouths shut and let you make mistakes. So long as the hours keep adding up, they are happy to have you pay them to go in the wrong direction, then pay again to go in a better direction.

Key Takeaways:

    1. Freelancing marketplaces are only a safe bet when you already know precisely what you want built, and you're prepared to micromanage on a task-by-task basis.
    2. AND when you are competent in evaluating whether or not the finished product is going to handle customer project and order data securely.
    3. AND when you can estimate independently how long tasks should take, and have a backup developer to call on when deadlines get missed.

So with those concerns in mind, how can you identify when you're working with an expert?

Experts follow a process. The value of hiring a professional technical project specialist is that you're buying not only the finished product, but also their project management process and experience.

It's your consultant's process and experience that keeps your project from ballooning way past your deadline, breaking your budget, or putting customer order and project data at risk.

Googling for API Developers and agencies will give you thousands of hits.

But what tactics can you use to identify when you've found a someone with the expertise and process you need?

  1. Roadmapping (also called a "Strategy Session") means your technical lead LISTENS as you explain how your team members are working now, and what parts of their process you believe can be streamlined.

    He'll ask for specifics about your current systems, your checklists and order of operations, and what your customers and partner vendors expect from you.

    Listening more, talking less, and asking the right questions is key. Don't trust a developer who is not asking the big picture questions.

    A professional technical project consultant doesn't have to be micromanaged because every time his hands touch the keyboard he's asking whether his work on the task at hand matches the project goals and the business outcomes that you defined together during the roadmapping session.

  2. Start with a super-small test-project. Assign something self-contained, like a small upgrade to one important (but tiny) automation or optimization of your client's existing business process.

    This gives the developer a chance to demonstrate not only that he is capable of the technical challenge, but also to ask you questions about what you need done, and why it's important to do.

    Observe carefully how he chooses to communicate with you. Long emailed diatribes? Or short, direct, goal-oriented messages?

    Take note: do you receive consistent updates during the work, or does your developer disappear into a cave and avoid coming out until the deadline?

    Did the task take longer than expected, or did your developer under-promise and over-deliver?

    These are all elements you can observe by assigning a short (paid) task first, before agreeing to a larger-scope fixed project.

  3. Align your incentives by working on fixed-price projects, which are split it into verifiable milestones.

    A professional technical consultant is an expert at splitting a large scale project into logical modules and units. He should be splitting your project into weekly and daily milestones or "sprints".

    This shouldn't be precise down to the hour, but you should have an idea of what "25% complete", "50% complete", "75% complete", and "100% complete" all mean.

    By billing on a fixed-price basis, it's simple for everybody to calculate what they're spending and what they're getting.

    More importantly, if your consultant can do a task in 20 minutes instead of 4 hours, he will. You're not paying for him to type, you're paying for him to solve problems and meet business objectives with code.

    He should bill incrementally, before the start of each milestone, to minimize risk to you, and to demonstrate consistent results so that you're satisfied and eager to make your next payment.

  4. Look for professionalism and, importantly: useful push-back.

    Let's be honest: good technical consultants know their worth. They're not obligated to take on work when they foresee it's going to fail.

    That doesn't mean you should be working with a prima-dona. Nobody likes the "rockstar developer" or "software ninja", who thinks he knows what your customers and team members want better than you do.

    But you don't want a yes-man either. You want someone who is going to challenge your assumptions, share his expertise with you freely, and take direction from you on business objectives, just like you'd take his direction on technical objectives. You want a partner, not a mindless tool.

    A professional developer tells you when you're wrong, and can admit when he's wrong. He learns from experience, doesn't get defensive, and doesn't make excuses. He's in it to help you win it.

That's precisely how you can tell when you've found an eCommerce software integration consultant with the expertise to help you get the results you're looking for.

If that matches the way you plan to work, we can help you get clarity, win bigger budget work, and help your clients the right way.