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How to hire an Expert and not get screwed

Expert Crash and Burn

First off – Let’s take the temperature. Have you been screwed over?

I’m adding a quick poll below just to find out how bad our experiences are with Experts (which includes developers, marketers, copywriters, designers, etc..).

I don’t mean to sully any of these professions (blimey, we still do development work at Raison). But, every day I get emails from potential clients that start with “our developer has let us down one too many times…”

I’m not joking, I just copy-pasted that from an email that came in a few hours ago!

So, here’s the poll: Have you been let down by your Expert:

[total-poll id=4661]

So, why is this a common problem? Having run a WooCommerce agency for five years, I have learnt a lot about clients, expectations and how to get projects complete successfully.

We’ve learnt a lot in that time. In the first few years, we too had our share of hiccups. We were far from perfect. But that’s how you learn.

I’m going to run through what we’ve learnt so you know where to look for an expert and importantly how to make it work.

Like any good relationship, this has to be two-sided – both partners need to put the effort in. I’ll outline how and this should be your go-to guide to getting sh*t done on time and with zero stress.

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Get smart not mad

Where to find your expert?

First, I think it’s important to talk about where we are looking for your expert. I would break this down into the following areas:

  • Freelance Directories
  • Freelancers Direct
  • Agencies

I want to compare the difference between a freelancer on a directory and a freelancer direct. They sound the same really (and in many cases they are!). So, it’s a very grey area, and it all comes down to:

  • price
  • risk
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Pay cheap. Pay twice. Always consider the risk.

So I have a good example – we’ve just produced an explainer video for YoGrow (when it’s complete you can check it out on the homepage).

We’re bootstrapped and have allocated our budget towards inbound marketing. So we’ve got only a little budget for the explainer video. We tried making one, but it turns out we are rubbish at it! Now there is a surprise.

I spoke to Ollie, a local video freelancers I know in Brighton who told me to budget £1000 to £2000. This was out of my budget.

So we’ve spent £500 on a freelance from a marketplace. In doing so, I have to set my expectations accordingly. Now this is the critical point. It’s not that quality is going to be less on a freelancer directory, but there is a risk it will be. In fact, the way in which most of the experts differentiate themselves within the network is by cost – so generally there is a race to the bottom in cost. This brings the value down across the board. So there is an increase in risk and generally lower quality on the directories.

I want to highlight two words here: risk and generally. We are not dealing with certainties.

I’m also not able to pop over to have a chat with my expert (like I could if I’d worked with Ollie). I’ll have to take a much more pro-active role in project managing and overseeing this project.

There may also be language barriers as the chap is based somewhere that English is a second language. There may be a cultural misfit too (and this can sometimes be more subtle, but just as important). And critically, as mentioned above, there may be a quality misfit and even a time-keeping misfit. I’m preparing myself for the increase in risk, and I’m approaching the project with this in mind.

Setting realistic expectations and being transparent about them is the most important thing you can do.

Now, that might not be the case at all. In fact, a great WooCommerce developer I know is on People per hour (and doing super well there!).

I’m saying it’s harder to qualify the expert you are choosing. The same rule applies here as it does anywhere – if you find someone who is good, then hold onto them.

Our top tips for qualifying an expert:

  • Language / Culture Fit
  • Realistic day rate / cost
  • Examples of work
  • Demonstrate knowledge

What to watch out for

I’ll use WordPress as an example because it’s space I know and work in. It is very easy to call yourself a WordPress developer and not code at all. It creates problems for the community and clients – because it’s a fuzzy term. It means different things to different people.

A more accurate description for someone who is more ‘pointy-clicky’ is a WordPress configurator. In many cases, that’s more appropriate and more valuable than a developer. The important thing is to choose the right person for the job. So, make sure that you check that someone is honest.

For example, when looking for my video expert, I found a lot of ‘whiteboard animators’. When I looked into it, I discovered most are using off-the-shelf products to produce rather generic videos. It’s a small point, but it’s important. It’s a major stretch to call that animation and in doing so it set’s the wrong expectations. It’s ‘pointy-clicky’ and that’s fine. But call it what it is so I can gauge my expectations.

Don’t rely on the expert to set the correct expectations. If you find an expert who is proactively setting your expectations then you know you have a gem.

Experts who outline precisely what they do and do not do demonstrate experience. They know that a happy client is one that knows from the outset what they will get.

A bad expert will put all his effort into the sell and oversell. You’ll likely be disappointed with the end result as the hype fades away.

Let’s talk about money value!

money

I split my expert groupings into freelancer directories, freelancers direct and agencies.

So when we talk about agencies we need to talk about money. No, we need to talk about value. The two go hand in hand.

A common question is: what differentiates a freelancer from an agency?

When I ask this to clients, the common reply is “they cost more”. That’s often the case, but that’s a consequence of something more fundamental.

Agencies have a larger capacity. They are teams of 3 or more people. They also structure their business to accommodate you better with this capacity. Before I get too jargony let me provide an example:

You have an e-commerce site that suddenly goes down. It’s just not working, and you don’t know why, but you do know it’s not taking sales. You are loosing money.

If you ring your freelancer, then you might find they are booked up the next week. They want to help, but they can’t drop their current client because of your site problem. This causes a lot of frustration, naturally, as you just want the site fixed.

Now if you contact an agency, chances are they have resource available to help in these situations. They can investigate and fix quicker.

This is a common problem and again iterates upon the idea of setting your expectation accordingly. It’s not a golden rule across agencies and freelancers, but it does demonstrate how having more resource can benefit you. The catch is fairly clear: you pay more. Agencies can afford to have the additional resource (and everything that goes with that HR, offices, additional equipment, etc…) because they charge more.

The agency can represent greater value for money. If your e-commerce store is down for days, you can lose a lot of business and damage your reputation. If you had an arrangement that cost more, but meant your store downtime was minimised then that is great value for money.

Cost expectations

In our experience here are the day rate ranges we see:

  • Freelancer Directory : $100 – $300
  • Freelancer Direct : $200 – $600
  • Agency : $400 – $1000
Take a look at my post about how much an e-commerce site costs to learn a bit more about various costs involved and how you can approach an e-commerce site (our speciality).

Ok, I’ve got my Expert – What’s next?

Ok, so we’ve talked about finding your Expert. That’s only half the job, and this is where most relationships go sour.

The following are things that both the expert and client should do. If you have an expert who is doing the following steps, then you can feel more confident. It’s a good sign of experience.

The second stage of a project should be about setting up regular milestones and targets. Ideally, this is outlined in the proposal, or it can come in the days after confirmation.

 

The following are milestones that should be outlined. This can work for all kinds of Experts, but any specialised expert will add their own specific milestones.

  • Client date
    • The date that the client will need to have everything the Expert needs to be sent over.
    • Often an Expert will need you to provide material for them to begin. Start the project on the right footing by reminding everyone when this needs to be done by. Otherwise you risk day one being wasted.
  • Start date
    • When the work will start.
    • Add this to the original proposal and also, send this out as a reminder the week before.
  • Regular Stand Up Meeting / Update
    • This is ideally a weekly update with a summary of work and progress
    • Don’t wait for the client to email – be proactive and email updates
    • It sets an expectation that updates will be forthcoming and fosters trust and a good relationship.
    • It also focuses the experts concentration and priorities so you have something to show every week
  • Feedback period
    • Often work needs feedback. For instance design work will need client feedback.
    • Add a deadline for the client so that this stage doesn’t lag. If there are multiple stakeholders that must sign-off then make sure that they are all made aware of this period in advance. Then they will be prepared when it occurs.
    • The danger of not outlining this is this period can lag, which means a late delivery and unhappy clients (and unhappy experts!)
  • Post Delivery Update
    • It’s important to check up on any snagging items discovered post-launch,
    • Although the aim is to discover these in the feedback period, it is important to do a check up. You can also explain in this email that additional work is paid for and when you can fit the work in. It’s better to proactively explain this rather than have a frustrated client.

So, I wrote this from the perspective of an Expert but I hope you can see the benefit of this from the perspective of being the client. The single most important element here is to agree upon a day and time for the regular update. Even if that is an email once a week, it will do wonders for the development relationship.

Sometimes an update can just say “We’re still working on the project and all is going to schedule”. It can be that simple, just being kept in the loop is enough and it stops problems growing into project blockers and souring the relationship between expert and client.

Targets

Setting those milestones are really important and help keep the relationship in good order. Also, consider adding some targets.

This is dependent on the skill of the Expert you are using. For instance, if you are working with a developer then the main target is the delivery of the work. However, if you are working with Marketing Experts, then you can be more data-driven with your targets. You can set specific KPI (key performance indicators) which the expert should be hitting.

For example, if you hire a search specialist then you would discuss the traffic increase that you are setting as a target.

It’s really important to do this before starting. If you can both agree on these targets before then, you are both committed to the target. These targets are far from being static as there are lots of moving parts with websites, but by having a target you can gauge performance.

I’ll follow up with the search example. I hear a lot of stories about frustration with SEO experts and I think it all comes down to setting targets. Often companies will setup a retainer to a search expert and not set targets. Then after six months of work they are struggling to see what value has been delivered. The only quantifiable metric is the cost.

This damages both sides of the relationship. Setting targets helps alleviate this and creates accountability.

If you are setting targets for anything that can increase your e-commerce sales, click that link to read our article about which metrics you can track.

Our way of setting and hitting your targets

The best thing about e-commerce businesses is all the data we have at our fingerprints. It’s easy to set targets and then compare how we are doing against those targets.

You can do this easily in a spreadsheet. Your columns should be Service, Cost, Revenue Increase (growth), ROI

It’s a very simple set of equations which can help you check that value is being provided. Most importantly it holds the Expert to account and makes sure that you are on track with your agreed proposal.

The main pain with this is that it’s a real slog to keep updating that spreadsheet. You have to gather your analytics and then update them. You can’t add a cost column in Google Analytics or any of the other analytics suites. So it’s all very manual.

The problem with manual processes is they hardly get updated. They are a pain and ultimately don’t get used.

So, this is where YoGrow comes into play. We have a one-click integration with your store analytics so you can see how they are doing. You can also add your own targets. So if you have an expert who says he will increase your traffic by 10%, you can plug that into YoGrow, and we’ll keep you updated on how they are performing.

The best part is that this complete transparency keeps everyone on their toes. If the campaign underperforms then, it’s clear to see for everyone.

YoGrow Experts

One final plug for YoGrow! If you’ve got this far through the article (and it is a long one!) I just know this next feature is going to blow your socks off.

We have an Expert marketplace built into YoGrow. This lets you discover relevant Experts for your e-commerce site, invite them to view your site metrics and build a proposal based on that data.

Too often we have proposals based on a generic idea (we can increase your traffic by 10% – without having seen your traffic!), or there is a lot of faffing working out how to share your analytics data.

Now, you can chat to and engage Experts all within YoGrow. They can send a proposal with their monthly cost.

Because we have the cost, we can do a simple calculation to determine what growth they will create and subtract the cost. We can work the return on investment and then track and hold the expert to account. It massively reduces the risk we discussed at the beginning of the article.

Whether you use YoGrow or keep it in a spreadsheet, tracking targets and having a data-driven approach is the best way to grow your e-commerce business.

I’d love to get your take on this article and if you have any questions, please drop us a line in the comments below. Thanks!

 

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