Building a new community: Choosing a coder

by Martin Reed on 12 May 2008 in Articles

Code online communities

This is the eighth article in what I hope will be an indefinite series about the processes involved in developing a new online community from scratch. I am currently developing a brand new online community and will detail its development on this blog. As I have said before, I think it is far easier to learn by example rather than simply reading another person’s theories and ideas.

Choosing a coder

In my last article, I wrote about the processes I went through in choosing a CMS for an online community. I eventually settled on ExpressionEngine due to its templating system, its reputation for clean and efficient code, and the fact it comes with a forum module. So now I had a design and had picked a CMS – next on the list of things to do was to find someone to code the site.

Another benefit of using ExpressionEngine was the fact they offer a list of people that have proven themselves as competent EE developers by way of their Professionals Network; this certainly saved a lot of time as I had an easily accessible list of developers in one place rather than having to hit the search engines.

Whittling down the numbers

There are approximately 70 developers in the Professionals Network, so I needed to whittle these down – I really didn’t want to send out 70 separate emails requesting further information! I decided to only visit the websites of the companies that mentioned ‘Design Integration’ in their list of services. When I arrived at the company sites, I took a look around. I looked at their portfolio to see what type of work they had done in the past. If I liked what I saw, I took a look at the live versions and then took a sneak peek at the code. I also ran a few of the sites they had worked on through the W3 validator; clean, valid code was high on my list of priorities.

If I liked the look of the company site and their portfolio, I sent them an initial email as outlined below:


I am looking for a coder for a website project. I already have the designs and PSDs. Basically the website will offer articles alongside an integrated forum. I have chosen ExpressionEngine as the CMS platform to be used, and would like to know more about the services you are able to offer.

Are you able to take on such projects? What are your rates? Can you provide me with the URLs of some EE sites you have developed for clients?

If you would like further information I can send across a couple of images so you can get more of a feel for the project.



I deliberately kept the email short and to the point at this stage, as I was only really looking to further whittle down the number of companies I was going to shortlist. This way, those that weren’t able to take on any new work, or weren’t interested solely in coding could immediately be removed from consideration. Additionally, when I received replies I could further judge the company based on their tone, professionalism and speed of response.

Further shortlisting

If I liked what companies said when they replied, I showed them the site designs in order to receive a full quotation. When all quotations were received, I had five companies still in the running. There was one coder in particular who I had a good ‘feel’ about – he was extremely thorough in his emails to me, came across as highly professional and really seemed to understand the nature of the project. He wasn’t the cheapest, but after a little negotiation on the quote I felt the extra cost would be more than worth it.

Before definitely deciding to go with this person, I wanted references which he was more than happy to provide. The email I sent to his references was as follows:


I am contacting you as I am considering engaging (Name) from (Company) for an upcoming project of mine – he passed on your contact details as a reference.

If you have the time, please could you describe the experience you had with (Name)? What did (Company) produce for you? Were you happy with the results? Would you recommend them? What impressed you most about them? What disappointed you about them, or what were you less impressed with?

Any further information you may be willing to provide would also be extremely useful.

Thanks for your time.

Best regards

Every reference came back with glowing reports of quality work. After confirming the payment details (25% up front, 75% upon completion) and that he was willing to sign a transfer of rights form for the code upon completion, I hired him.

In conclusion, the steps I followed were:

1. Find companies that perform coding services for ExpressionEngine
2. Check out their sites and portfolio
3. Send speculative email
4. Request quotes and time frames from shortlisted companies
5. Request references from shortlisted companies
6. Check payment policy and confirm willing to sign over rights to code upon completion

Never forget to pay attention to your gut instinct. Very often, the person that ‘feels’ right for the job will be the person that is right for the job. Also, don’t consider quotations to be set in stone: always negotiate on price.

So far, things are going great with the coder that I selected and I will be more than happy to share his details on this blog when my new community is launched.

What’s next

When the coding is wrapped up, there will be a period of testing and final optimisation. When this has been done, I’ll need to choose a web host and launch the site. Make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed to ensure you don’t miss out on the next update.

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Mr Woc May 13, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Hi there

I had a look at expression engine, not sure what to think of it really, it will be interesting to see how you incorporate it into your community, as there is a lot of community software that does all those features you have listed, interesting that you didnt choose one of those.

I am a member of many webmaster forums, if i wanted a coder that would be my first place to start i reckon.


Smiley May 15, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Hi Martin,

This article may come in handy in the future. When you first start a community from scratch it’s rare you have the budget to go and spend hundreds on a professional coder.

I plan to get the community off the ground first, get all the essentials I need, then buy a coder to put it all together in one neat package for me at a later date as the community grows older and larger.

Bape May 15, 2008 at 9:18 pm

I don’t suggest using an outsourced programmer – and if you do pick one that understands English well. I learned the hard way and spent thousands on a programmer that couldn’t suit my needs.

Amish Made Furniture May 16, 2008 at 4:10 pm

If you can afford it, nothing is surely likely to better a pro coder. The problem is for non monetized blogs trying to build a community. It will take time, but being systematic, one can eventually reach there.

Fringe TV Show May 16, 2008 at 8:25 pm

When I need a coder ,I usually go to rentacoder and either find one that already worked for me or hire a new one.I tend to hire coders from Europe or America.

Zane May 17, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Hi Martin

What will you do for staff?


Vintage Postcards For Sale May 18, 2008 at 12:46 am

I find that Scriptlance is a great place to find some good coders too. Great place to find some work if you are a coder as well. I’ve tried it both ways with good results.

scarface May 18, 2008 at 2:33 am

I wanna build an online store but I do not understand well about PHP and HTML.I wanna be a coder where should I go to learn?

legal May 18, 2008 at 3:53 am

I can’t wait until you launch this puppy. Sounds like you are very close to doing so.

Coding… can’t stand it myself.



Ed Hardy May 19, 2008 at 9:38 am

I just hired a programmer to handle development for one of my web design clients. He was outsourced. He completed 50% of the design and vanished – how insane. I’m going to loose a client and my reputation is on the line.

Chat May 20, 2008 at 5:55 am

Hello Martin

I just want to say good luck with the coding of the new community!

I have had bad experiences in the past, when the 3 person i thought would be the perfect coder ended up finishing the project with missing features and many bugs. Its giving me the opportunity to learn how to work with PHP / MYSQL though.

Hope you will not have any problem’s

Chat May 20, 2008 at 5:57 am

One more thing

Emailing past clients of the coder is genius. I wish i thought of that before i gave the go ahead.

Thanks for that great tip.


zohai May 20, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Yeah :D Definitely the best way to get reviews of a coder is based on past customers. Thanks for the tip. Cheers.

Nicole Price May 22, 2008 at 7:49 am

Which is the most easy to handle CMS for people with no background in the programming field?

Online Furniture Store May 24, 2008 at 11:41 am

I for one would not know the first thing about how to go about choosing a coder, so that was very informative for me, thanks

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 25, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Mr Woc – Yes, I had a look at a number of different CMS options but settled on ExpressionEngine as I felt it was the most appropriate for my individual needs.

Webmaster forums could be a good place to start looking for coders – just make sure you don’t end up paying a lot of money up front to a cowboy who’ll either fail to complete the work, or provide you with work of a poor quality.

Smiley – I agree with you completely. If this was my first community, I certainly wouldn’t have had the budget to invest in a professional design and coding as I have done this time around.

Bape – Well, I had no choice as I cannot code! As long as you do your due diligence and don’t hand your money over without undertaking any research, you should be able to find a coder that is right for your needs and your budget.

Ramana – It’s not always overly expensive to invest in a professional design or coding, particularly if your requirements are pretty basic. It’s all about getting the balance right between what you can afford and how different you want to be.

Fringe – Using coders that you have worked with in the past is always the preferred option as you already have a relationship with them and know the quality of their work and their reliability. Unfortunately for me, I had never previously engaged the services of an EE coder.

Zane – As far as staffing goes, a brand new community rarely needs more than one person. I’ll be running the community myself until it reaches the point when I need assistance.

Vintage – Thanks for the suggestion!

Scarface – Google is your friend! Alternatively, check out SitePoint and Amazon for books – there are plenty out there.

George – Yup, I can’t wait for the launch either! Unfortunately I am ridiculously busy right now and current delays are solely down to me not having the time to give the coder final feedback. Hopefully it’ll launch sometime in June.

Ed – That’s terrible; did you undertake any due diligence before hiring the coder? I hope you didn’t lose any money.

Cody – Thanks for your good wishes. All is going great so far; I seem to have found a fantastic, professional coder.

Zohai – As you can tell from these comments alone, it is very important to do your research before engaging the services of any outside company or service.

Nicole – Well CMSs are ultimately designed so that you won’t ordinarily have to deal with any coding at all. You should choose a CMS based on functionality over anything else.

Reena – Glad you enjoyed the article.

Andrew June 6, 2008 at 10:17 am

If youre not sure about committing the time and money to having something built for you you may want to check out a solution like You can set up a site for nothing and integrate a free bulletin board from Its not as configurable as something built by a coder specifically for you but you can be up and running very quickly without spending any money.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:11 pm

Andrew – Your site looks interesting; as you say, nothing beats a solution that you have complete control over but for basic functionality comfypage could be a good introduction for some.

Ed Hardy November 17, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Great article. I have had good and bad experiences using outsourcing. The best advice I can say is give very exact and clear instructions on what you want to have happen.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 10:28 pm

Ed – Thanks for your comment. Yup, I have had both good and bad experiences, too and agree with your advice!

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 9:40 am

Great basis of how to find somebody. We were lucky enough to have someone already part of our community to be able to do the heavy duty stuff, and myself and a couple of others for the lighter duty. I’m not saying that we’re all commercial grade (the main guy is) but it definitely helps when someone is passionate about your community AND can help build it. If only I had that luxury in some of my other communities that I’ve been part of.

I’d like to hear more detail about negotiations of pricing, things to think of when handling rights transfers, and the nitty gritty.