12 things to keep in mind when hiring web developers

"This is not what I paid for!"

You don’t want to say these words. Ever. But they are heard only too often in the world of web development.

Sometimes the blame lies with the developers and sometimes it lies with you. It is often a mix of the two. Whatever the case, you don’t want to waste money on a website that doesn’t work.

You can avoid many pitfalls with a little preparation. What follows is some experienced advice on how to deal with web developers: what to expect, what not to expect, and how to spare yourself much anxiety.

1. The hotel principle

Hotel principle

Actually, to obtain a good web app or a website, you don’t need a dozen tips. You need just one...

Imagine that you are hiring someone to build a hotel for you.

That way, you’ll raise the stakes in your mind. And this will make you dead serious about your website.

  • You wouldn’t buy the land for the hotel without even seeing it. You’d check its accessibility, services, and view.
  • You wouldn’t choose the first construction company that has a nice ad. You’d carefully examine their offers and past work, and visit a similar hotel they built to find out how it feels.
  • You wouldn’t tell the architect "oh, just design it however you like, I don’t know the first thing about it". You’d try to include everything that the guests need without financially ruining yourself.
  • You wouldn’t hire an interior designer, then forget about it and come back three months later to complain about the color scheme. You’d insist on being consulted about everything and drop by every couple of days to check on their progress.

Stick to this serious mindset. You’ll make fewer mistakes, and when you do, you can peg them to inexperience, not to a lack of attention or dedication.

2. Who is it for?

Targeting with a bow and arrow

You don’t build a hotel to live in it.

But... maybe you don’t really care about guests? You just want an online house where you’ll feel comfortable. In that case, you don’t need web developers. Create a profile on LinkedIn or make your own blog, and promote yourself and your causes without wasting your hard-earned money.

However, if you seriously intend your website to be useful to others, you should consider the people who will visit your page as customers. Right from the start. And you should ask yourself a few questions:

What exactly will I be selling on my website? Who will use my web app? Who belongs to my target market? Why would these people buy my products? How can I make them interested?

Your customers are the foundation of your site. All the pages, all the fancy designs, are useless if they don’t help people buy what you’re selling. Never forget that.

3. Define the exact scope of work

A heap of bricks to work with.

Once you are certain what you are selling and to whom, you should write down everything that your website should contain to make the sale, down to the smallest detail.

This is essential. Web developers and designers can’t read your mind. The structure of your website must absolutely make sense to you if you want it to make sense to them. If you don’t have a clear vision, they won’t have it either.

How will you go about it?

  • As Paul Rand said, don’t try to be original, just try to be good. Check the sites of your competitors and simply copy the links to the pages that contain what you need. It is easy and you’ll be inspiring the developers a lot.
  • If you can’t find an example online, draw design mockups: sketches of what you expect the screens to look like. You’ll probably end up with something different, but this will help you clear your ideas.
  • There will be things you don’t know how to present on the website. You should write them down too and ask the developer about them later.

Once you have written it all down, you will have a general idea of the amount of work. This brings us to the next point: who should you hire?

4. Hired guns

Unknown web app developers for hire


If you have a tight budget, you could be thinking: do I really need a professional web designer? My friend/relative/hairdresser designs websites in their free time. They say they can do it for a fraction of the cost.

Don't go down that road. There be dragons. Hiring your nephew can turn into the stuff of nightmares.

Why do we even mention amateurs? They can be useful before you start looking for a professional. A friend or a relative with a web development hobby can discuss the website with you without making you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, as a stranger might. Bring them a bottle of wine and spend an afternoon throwing ideas around. It is a painless way to get your first bearings.


The obvious advantage of this option is having someone near you who develops and maintains your website full time. You don’t have to negotiate anything in advance, you can just tell them to change whatever and whenever you like.


  • If your business doesn’t already have a major marketing side to it, there might not be enough work for your web designer once the site is up and running. Do you really need someone for the long term?
  • When hiring outside work, the need to define everything makes you more focused, leaner and faster.
  • When you need something that an agency doesn’t know how to do, they’ll find someone else to do it and you’ll be none the wiser. If your employee doesn’t know how to do it, he or she could feel it as a personal failure and, what is worse, try to cover it up by making up excuses.


Freelancers are ideal for simple one-off jobs and small projects, where you don’t invest much and could earn a lot (a favorite: naming Chinese babies).

There are platforms where freelancers mostly look for short-term jobs, like Upwork or Freelancer; then there are those for full-time hires, such as Toptal or Dice.

Hiring a freelancer feels like a rodeo: exciting and dangerous. They are often passionate about what they do and sometimes create magic for a relatively small amount of money. But they can be unreliable. Along the way, you might bump into issues with their focus and the uneven quality of their work, which could mean delays. Not to mention that they can be here today and gone tomorrow, leaving you to clean up the mess after them.


If you think you might end up hiring several freelancers, you’re better off hiring an organized group of freelancers that already have experience working together. In other words, an agency.

This is usually the most expensive solution, but also the easiest. They often have a big portfolio of their past work and recommendations. On one hand, you can’t know if they still have the same workforce that created a design you like; on the other, their size and connections will make up for that. It is easier for them to find the right people compared to a single freelancer. Also, they have more staying power.

When looking for freelancers or agencies, you might want to pick someone from Eastern Europe. This region’s business culture is the closest to Western Europe and the US, while the fees are several times lower.

Upgrade: a consultant

If you have no experience with hiring web developers and intend to spend a lot of money on your website, the safest course would be to hire a recruiting consultant. You will pay them a certain percentage, but they will find better developers than you would, and you will not waste your time.

5. Find recommendations

Recommending a web app developer to friends

A beautiful site is not necessarily a useful site. You want customers to buy your services, not to say “wow” and turn away. So listen to them and read about their experiences with other websites. You don’t care which ones they find pretty, but which ones they use.

Once you find a website that works well for what you need, check who designed it and contact them. Most sites include this piece of information.

It is much easier for developers to use a website template that already works. You will pay less and get a template with a proven track record.

6. Check their past work

Checking out artwork on a wall

Have a look at the developers’ successful projects. There should be customer testimonials about their quality, speed, and customer service. Also, the more years in the business, the better.

Visit their past websites as if you were a customer. Then ask yourself if you want your customers to have the same experience on your site.

As we already said, past success does not necessarily mean present competence. Designers and developers come and go, so you may be looking at something that is no longer available. One way to verify that is by giving them a test job.

7. Any dirty laundry?

A web developer covering his head with a paper bag.

In the wastelands of the Web there may be traces of past jobs that the freelancer or agency doesn’t want you to know about. Google is your friend. Instead of egosurfing, verify any black spots on your prospective developers’ careers.

Unhappy customers often vent their frustrations online to get at least some revenge after being swindled. And some disasters will make the news.

8. Test them

A woman climbing a steep rock

What makes developers tick is nobody else’s business, but you must know if they’re the real thing and not just middlemen.

Choose a single element of what you need for the website. Make it a paid job to motivate them and show that you’re serious.

It should be something simple, but you should set a short deadline. That way you’ll know if you’re dealing with actual developers or just intermediaries. Also, you’ll have a taste of the communication process and decide if they are people you can work with.

9. Have a clear contract

A contract with fine print.

Even if a developer seems to be the nicest person in the world, you should have a written contract that includes clear descriptions of all of their obligations. There are templates that can help you, but if it is a large website job with big costs, it might be a good idea to get legal help. These are the basic elements of a good contract:

  • A detailed list of items to be delivered and the price of each item.
  • Delivery milestones and their estimated duration.
  • Methods of communication.
  • Testing obligations. Every time you don’t test a feature, a Pokemon dies.
  • Payment milestones.
  • Final delivery of all the materials needed for the management of your website, in case you hire someone else down the line.

One indication that a freelancer or agency is serious is when they already have a page with delivery and payment conditions and methods. If they are experienced, they will be one step ahead of you to avoid any headaches later on.

Don’t take anything for granted. You don’t want to get deep into the project before finding out that they charge $10 for each photo or, worse yet, that they steal them.

The final delivery should include a record of everything that the developer created or changed.

Should you agree on a fixed price or pay as you go? It depends on the project. In general, fixed price is better when the job has a short schedule and a small scope. When it is harder to determine such things in advance, hourly rates may be preferable.

10. Speed, cost, quality: choose two

The speed-cost-quality fairy.

In other words, be realistic. Getting all three is a fairy tale.

While you will have your own priorities, the general principle is always to put quality before price. Most people don’t do that. They hope they’ll find bright, talented and cheap web developers who need to prove themselves. Such people do exist. But it is like betting on a single roulette number. You might get lucky, but the chances are 37 to 1. And you pay each time.

Gambling is for people who have money to burn. You probably don’t. Instead, go the other way round. Determine what you absolutely need for your website. Don’t think about the price yet. Just write down the functionalities that you will never compromise on. Only then start looking for the developer – still with no price expectations. After a few interviews, you’ll have a general picture of how much it will cost.

This is not just about you being realistic. It is about them too.

If they promise to do a great job for a low price in a short time, something’s fishy. Real pros are careful because of many bad experiences in the past. They will warn you about many things in advance to avoid having the same problems again. Those with many projects under their belt will be more worried about giving you false hopes than about pleasing you.

11. Good communication

Bad communication at work.

Talking to techies can feel like talking to Martians. In fact, when nobody is listening, programmers share incomprehensible (but, I'm sure, fascinating) tales about their exploits on Mars. Web developers are the programmers’ country cousins with hordes of babies: 3 new websites are born every second. (In case you are wondering, humans are still in the lead with 4 children per second, but the race is getting tight.)

However, talking is absolutely essential.

Your contract should include a clause about the ability to contact the agency or freelancer during a certain period every day.

You should check their communication abilities before anything else. For any problems that you have to clarify, voice communication is essential. A good way to find out someone’s interest in communication is by making a video interview.

Some people choose a freelancing career precisely because they don’t want to have face-to-face contact with their clients. They may know their software, but they have no soft skills. No matter how good they are, think twice about choosing them. When someone doesn’t like asking questions or discussing stuff, even a minor problem will grow into a huge obstacle.

Also, never assume they know what you are talking about. Always check to see if they understood correctly.

And don’t just say "I don’t like this". That’s useless. Be specific and detailed in your objections and proposals. Arm yourself with patience until they understand what it is that you want.

As for your own team, you should include only a few people in the process of deciding about the design and functionalities of your website. Too many cooks spoil the broth. If everyone has a say, you’ll never be finished.

12. Maintenance


No website can stay alive without maintenance and updates. The best solution is to include maintenance in the contract. You should agree on a session of changes and updates to the website structure on a monthly basis at least.

Once you settle on a solution, try not to redesign it to death, changing the look until your own employees start avoiding your service.

Finally, keep in mind that SEO is vital: your website should rank high among Google results. Web developers should assist you with this goal.

13. Your own stuff must be top-notch

The pictures of your logo, products, office or employees are your responsibility. They can’t be shot with an unsteady hand in awful light while hoping that they will "work somehow" on your website. They won’t. And it’s not the developers’ responsibility. Hire a graphic designer or a good photographer. And get a copywriter. Content is your top priority.

You should have quality content in advance, so that the developers know what you’re aiming at.

14. Bonus tip: Give them love

Loving a cat

Developers may act all professional, but they are humans like you and love being praised. Don’t take them for granted. Have a share in their small worries and triumphs. Even if you don’t like this or that idea, show them that you take them seriously.

Make them feel that they are doing something worthwhile, something that matters beyond money. You will get more out of them.

If you don’t think you can support them like that, maybe there’s something weak in your idea in the first place. If you don’t believe in what you do, they won’t either.

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