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.
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.
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.
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.