Guide to choosing the perfect WordPress development partner

image Drafting behind the meteoric rise of WordPress, like a line of tightly-packed race cars, is an eclectic mix of WordPress companies, all vying for your business.

Despite WordPress being around for about 10 years, it’s adoption as the digital development platform of choice has only been cemented in the last couple of years. It’s adoption by the BBC, Disney, and others have brought WordPress to the attention of the mainstream business community.

So dramatic is it’s rise that it’s now on the must have list of every new and updated web-build today. Staggering, then, to think that development agencies such as Connected have been using WordPress to underpin digital strategies since 2008!

The tough part is choosing one to work with, to share the darkest corners of your digital strategy and reveal potentially commercially sensitive information. There are very few big agencies in this space (they missed the boat), and the ones that partially occupy it would much rather you bought into their proprietary platform.

The Google search for “wordpress development agency” comes back with over 10,000 web development companies, freelancers and contractors, just the UK. The total worldwide population of companies in the macro-WordPress economy is estimated at over half a million.

So, you’re in good company and it looks like there will be no skills or resource shortage, but the question remains, how do find a good WordPress development partner?

You are not alone. The world really has moved on so quickly that traditional ways to measure and choose suppliers have largely evaporated and gone the same way as conventional project control, mass-market advertising and dedicated development teams. The brave new world really has arrived.

Where to start?

WordPress is more than just a web development/publishing platform, it’s driven by an ethos and has core values that quite tightly define what WordPress is.

Try to understand this first – get under the skin of what WordPress is about and you’ll find core values such as:

  • Collaboration, openness, sharing. This is the “open source” mantra that drives the development community. Be honest, if you are not a trusting company that embraces collaboration then maybe choosing WordPress is not the right thing to do.
  • Delivery-first. To make a success of a web development project, you need to think about delivering value via the production of content, features and applications. Development for development sake, no matter how beautiful is shunned and a total waste of resources.
  • Stay flexible. Call this agile and it involves continually assessing what is delivered and replanning what is next, based on feedback loops. Never allow the past to drive the development of the future without understanding it’s future worth and be prepared to throw stuff away. A lot.
  • Look ahead. “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” sums up the fact that what you do it will be, at best, out of date immediately so spend the time trying to understand where the future of your customers takes them.
  • Casual & fun. Rewarding work and upbeat working environments tend, on the whole, to produce better products. If your organisation works in a highly productionised environment then you will struggle to get the most from a platform that requires engagement and creativity.

In my 6 years of working on WordPress projects with clients, I’ve found that not all companies suit the WordPress or Connected approach. Choose wisely, maybe you and your company are not yet ready for a strategy that uses WordPress to underpin your digital services.

But remember, the future is here, even if your organisation hasn’t actually woken up to it. If you’ve not consigned this article to the trash bin then it’s time to get serious and invest some time and effort looking for a great WordPress development partner.

Creating a short list

Google search and recommendations, as well as looking to see which suppliers have good track records in similar markets is the easy bit. Create a long list of, say 20 agencies that offer WordPress services including development and support (you’ll need both, as the minimum).

Remove the ones that don’t provide the right mix of services and resources, many only provide one aspect and a fair few are “contract programmers” masquerading as companies.

Look at basics, do the supplier websites work well on mobile, does the site look ok and is it up to date. You should find you have only a handful left by now. Start reading what the remaining companies have to say, their values and approach. You’ll learn a lot and a day spent getting the skin is a day well spent.

Quite quickly you’ll strike another couple off the list as their WordPress credentials end up being skin-deep. You should aim for agencies and companies that are focused on WordPress and are committed to the platform, it’s core values (above) and have experience in or near your market place.

The final decision

Tempting as it might be to “gut-choose”, resist the temptation to jump early – you run the risk of making a one-way decision without actually meeting the company.

Set up a Skype call, or teleconference with the aim of finding out how your two organisations are likely to get along. You’re looking for strong synergies (yuk!) and an overwhelming feeling that between you, you’ll be able to take on the world.

Not feeling that yet? Try to be a little more open, share some company nuggets and if you feel that sharing coming back at you then you’re on the right lines. Failure to share “your” challenges and being less than honest at this stage will only increase the risk of making a poor choice.

The final test

Hire the last two companies on the list to do a small lump of work, make it clear that they have competition and give an indication of how your going to choose your partner. Pay them, well, as you don’t want a good partner to produce shoddy output just because your supplier test budget was £500 light. This could easily be a £50k+ decision.

By the time the work is completed you’ll have a decision – one backed by real results, proper evaluation and (hopefully) matching values.

…and you’ll both live happy ever after!

The Connected view?

We’ve lost almost as many clients as we’ve won and not every client stays forever, so no decision process is ever perfect, nor does the selection criteria stay the same. However, client retention at Connected is twice as high than the agency market average so maybe our honest, open approach is reciprocated and rewarded.

We strongly believe in innovation and leading from the front so this figures highly in our client’s decision criteria, it might not in yours.

We are committed 110% to WordPress and think that you cannot deliver the best WordPress solutions without this focus. Connected’s core values closely match of WordPress and it’s creators, Automattic – and have done so for more than a decade.

We think we are a great choice, but we would say that – if we make your short-list we’d love to talk and if our values match then I’m sure we’ll get on famously.

Happy hunting.

By Martin Dower, CEO