How to start an eCommerce business - part 5
We're just over half-way through our series on how to start an eCommerce business. In the last part, we looked at the importance of good design and usability for your store. In this week's post, we look at how important it is to get your store built by a high-quality developer. Cutting costs during the store build and subsequent development can seem tempting to keep those startup costs in check. But while a high-quality developer is going to cost more per hour than someone you might find for instance on a race-to-the-bottom freelancer site, by choosing quality you'll get a quicker build and the end result will be a solidly built, long-lasting, reliable store that's easy to upgrade and manage.
My names Jon Hussey and I've been developing eCommerce stores - specifically Magento, for well over a decade. I've had my fair share of clients who have come to me with a poorly built store in need of attention. This is generally after the client has enlisted the help of a developer who promised everything that was needed, and at a much lower cost than other developers, but actually delivered a poor end product.
We don't specifically cover eCommerce hosting in this guide, but maxcluster is a great option for exactly this.
The importance of an experienced developer
We all know the phrase 'too good to be true' and the reality is that this very much holds true in the world of web development. If a developer promises solid experience and expertise in developing your eCommerce store, at a price that sounds low, then it's very likely you've found a developer who, while having good intentions, is likely not overly experienced in working with your particular eCommerce framework.
It's extremely unlikely that you'll ever come across a developer with actual malicious intent, but the reality is that eCommerce frameworks use a highly complex codebase that should be customised and extended in the 'right' way. The developer however is also presented with the possibility of doing it the 'wrong' way where they're not sufficiently experienced with the framework to understand not only the method, but importance of developing correctly.
By not developing a store using best practices, while it may work as needed initially, you're actually storing up problems for yourself later down the line. eCommerce frameworks will often release new versions to add additional functionality and improve security. Updates like this depend on customisations to the store having been done following best practices.
This should always be the case with an experienced developer, but often won't be with a lowest price developer. The result is that you can often run into issues requiring significant time and therefore money investment to resolve in order to keep the store up to date. This can also be the case with simply adding new extensions as well.
In the end, you've lost all the benefit of using a low-priced developer because of the additional time and money investment required later down the line. If you instead get the store developed by a high-quality developer, you'll be delivered a solid, long-lasting, easily upgradable store that can be picked up and developed further by any other experienced developer.
I really can't stress enough the importance of getting your store developed well, and not cutting costs on the development side. Getting it done right at this stage really comes back to part 1 of the series where we talked about the need to have a realistic budget for the venture before you even start.
Making sure your store is developed well will make everyone's usability experience that much better, and put you in solid standing when compared to the competition. Think about where you would choose to shop if you had one store which clearly had time and money put into it's development, and so felt solid and reliable to use, versus a store which had been developed to a lower standard and just felt a bit clunky and unreliable.
Outside of development experience and expertise, developers also bring a lot more to the table than just the ability to write code - you might want to look at my previous blog for more on this.
Where can I find an experienced developer?
Finding the right developer or team for your store is really about finding the balance of cost vs quality that works for you. For instance, It rarely makes sense to look on freelancer sites as the quality just won't be there even though the price will be low. Equally for all but primarily big business, it doesn't make sense to go to the other end of the scale with affiliated and well established development agencies. While the quality here should always be very high, the cost will make it an unrealastic option for most. I've actually got a separate blog post on finding that balance of cost vs quality in developers, but ultimately I generally recommend looking in the middle ground where you'll find the likes of personal recommendations and employment agencies. It also happens to be exactly the target market Developer Connection caters for, so if you recognise the need for quality, but don't have the budget for a high priced agency, then you'll definitely want to give us a look.
While an employment agency isn't everyone's first thought when it comes to finding developers, most will have at least a small selection of developers on their books. It's unlikely you'll get a choice of that many, but they will recognise the need for quality so will always strive to list established, time proven developers.
The main downside of an employment agency is really the commission you'll pay for every hour of work done by the developer. While they've essentially done the hard work for you in finding the developer in the first place, and that's why you pay a commission, the percentage you're charged can tend to push the cost from comfortably in your budget for just the developer's hourly rate, to a bit uncomfortably high when considering the commission as well.
Despite this, an employment agency is still worth a look as they may have someone who fits your needs pretty well, just be prepared for potentially encountering a bit of a hard sell.
If there's people in your network who can point you in the direction of a developer they've enjoyed working with, then it's always a good avenue to look into. People aren't going to recommend someone to you unless they've already worked with them, and they've been happy with the end product.
Personal recommendations are great, but they can typically be fairly few and far between. Also if you are referred to a developer, there's never any guarantee they will actually have availability to work on your project. So asking your network is always good idea, but you'll probably want to supplement it with other methods as well to give you the best choice all round.
We actually created Developer Connection to specifically give you a reliable, cost-effective solution for finding high-quality developers to work on your store, whether that's a new store build., or ongoing development of an existing store.
As you probably noticed above there are some downsides to other methods of connecting with eCommerce developers. The commission added by services like employment agencies can make development costs less attractive, plus selection will regularly be limited. While a personal recommendation is a great starting point to finding a quality developer, it probably also means that the developer is in demand and might very well not have availability to work on your project when you need them.
Developer Connection gives you a service that overcomes these difficulties, connecting you with high-quality and experienced, guaranteed available, recommended developers who are always in your budget range. Seeing available developers is instant, all you need to do is spend a few minutes creating a project with us.
So wow are we better than other options?
- We manage every developer's availability automatically, so if you see a developer as an option you know they have time to work on your project.
- As good as a personal recommendation, clients who have worked with developers can review and rate them, so you know when others have enjoyed great results.
- We don't charge any commission and creating a project is free, so we're incredibly cost-effective.
- By entering a budget when creating a project you only see developers that match your costs.
What information will the developer need?
I've written another blog post on building a productive working relationship with your developer, but when it comes to getting your store build off to a solid start, the more information you can give the developer the better. That's why at Developer Connection we give you the option of adding lots of extra information to your spec when creating a project with us.
From the developer's point of view, they'll be wanting to get up to speed on your project as quickly as possible, so you can hit the ground running on the store build. By this point, you'll already have an in-depth business plan, the design work done, and a very clear picture in your head of what the end goal is in terms of how the store should look and function.
An understanding of your business
It's a great idea to give your developer a good understanding of how you want to operate your business and what your overall goal is. So while they don't need the full business plan, giving them solid information about how you'll be operating your business, will help them to make much more informed development decisions which will in turn benefit your business and give you the best possible end result.
A developer can be really useful in a consultancy role as well as for the actual development work. The likelihood is they've worked on lots of different stores before yours and will have gained vast knowledge around eCommerce business in general, understanding much of what has worked and not worked for many other businesses. Making use of this knowledge can be really helpful for you and your business.
To get your store looking like the designs, you'll need to give your developer the design work as a reference. The best format here is often just a flat, to scale image with variations showing things like button rollovers and other effects. Having this, combined with a solid understanding of the end goal for the store build, and being available to answer questions or add clarity, should be all the developer needs to make solid progress.
Your store developer is a fundamental member of your eCommerce team, and one you're likely to keep long term for ongoing development of your store even after launch. They can offer a huge amount to your business both during the initial build phase and well beyond. Once you've found your goto developer you're very likely to want to to keep hold of them long term.
Thanks for readinf this weeks post, next week we'll be looking at getting sales and customer care in place, and building initial excitement with some pre-launch marketing. See you next week!