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Questions to Ask a Potential Magento Development Firm

Questions to Ask a Potential Magento Development Firm 1

Questions to Ask a Potential Magento Development Firm

Are you interviewing a new Magento development firm?  It’s a big decision, and one that could quite possibly impact the success of your Magento store. I have a few tips to share on how to best utilize your time in this process.

Before you begin, make a quick list of the things that are important to you. Every company desires different working arrangements, communication methods, timelines, budgets, and working styles. Rank your priorities in order. If any are “deal breakers,” make sure to ask about those first and foremost to avoid wasting any time on firms that wouldn’t make the cut. For example, some U.S. companies will only work with a Magento development firm that is U.S.-based, or perhaps you can only communicate via email in the evenings don’t want to be required to have in-office meetings during business hours. Your needs are different from every other company’s needs – clarify those needs before you begin your search. Be sure to talk to your management team and anyone else that has a stake in this relationship to understand how their needs might differ from yours or a potential development firm.

Next, set up a meeting with some potential firms. This meeting can be a phone call or a face-to-face meeting if you are local (or want an excuse for a business trip somewhere fun!). You don’t need to have your entire company on this phone call – you want to “listen” much more than you speak. Your goal is to answer the question “Can I trust this company?”  – be sure to ask open-ended questions and verify answers that may not seem completely clear. It’s much like a job interview for an employee and you should treat the process just as seriously.

Here is my quick list of things to be sure to ask your potential Magento development firm:

  1. Are you a single developer or a firm? If you are looking for a full-service eCommerce agency with a variety of talents and experience, then don’t be fooled by someone who is just a “one man shop.” Keep in mind that a larger team is good (if someone is out sick, there’s someone there to continue your project), but the largest of teams isn’t right for every company either. Determine the size of the firm’s team to make sure it’s a good fit.
  2. How many Magento Certified Developers do you have in-house?  The last part of this question is probably the most important. Any firm can have dozens of developers they occasionally work with on a freelance basis (and those developers can even appear on the Magento Partner page).  But, which developers are actually in-house (i.e. working in their office in a traditional manner)? Just today, I received offers from Magento Certified developers to list Creatuity as their firm if I just pay them a fee. Trust me, there are plenty of ways to “cheat the system” and you need to ask lots of questions to weed out those firms. Additionally, it’s important to remember you are not ever going to be a firm’s only client, so if a firm has 2 developers and 20 clients, it’s only natural that you are going to receive very little attention.  This is particularly important if you have a large project that needs a lot of experienced hands.
  3. Who actually writes code for my site?  In an ideal world, the only person writing code for your site would be a Magento Certified Developer. You’d be surprised how many times I see many interns coding for a live Magento site under the “supervision” of a Magento Certified Developer. That may be cost-effective for the firm, but this practice doesn’t yield high-quality code for your site. If Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is your primary concern, then code quality should be a top priority in your decision. Ask to see a copy of a firm’s coding standards – if the response is something like, “What’s that?” then you are probably not talking to a firm that upholds their developers to a high level of quality standards.
  4. Do you have experience with ____? This could be the specific ERP system you use, or a custom shipping method you need added. If you sell shoes, it doesn’t necessarily matter if a firm has built a shoe site before. It could help, but you will always know your product better than anyone else. Only use this qualification in an effort to distinguish between two virtually identical Magento development firms. Ask for examples or a portfolio, but keep in mind that privacy policies may prevent the firm from giving you many details.
  5. What kind of turn-around time should I expect?  If you are looking for support needs, this is particularly important, especially since important items could pop up later down the road that you can’t anticipate now. For any client, some tasks have deadlines, and you need to know how the firm addresses those needs. Ask the Magento development firm about times and time zones!  Ask questions like “Can I call to speak to a real human?” “How often do you update me on the progress of project?” If the firm promises something that sounds unrealistic, ask for more details. If the firm is extremely slow to answer questions now, imagine how slow the response time will be once you have already signed.
  6. How do you handle urgent situations?  One of the primary concerns of my support clients is, “What happens if my site goes down or my checkout is broken?”  It’s rare, but it happens. You should know ahead of time what to do and how quickly that situation will be handled.
  7. How do you bill?  You probably already thought to ask about cost, but most importantly, you should know how a firm bills clients. Some firms bill on a per-project basis, others bill on an hourly basis. For Magento support, the hourly billing method is most common, but be sure to ask. “How often am I invoiced?” “Do you round to the half hour?” “Are all charges clearly explained on my invoice in detail?” “What are the payment terms and due dates?” “Can you take a credit card?” Most firms cannot change the way they bill to accommodate an individual company’s requests, and honestly, every company handles billing slightly different, so it’s important to make sure there are no deal-breakers here for you. Just because the billing process is different from what your previous firm did, that doesn’t mean it’s bad – but if there are terms that you know you cannot meet financially or that your A/P staff cannot fulfill, then you need to bring attention to it now.
  8. What other fees are involved? Some firms require a monthly retainer and charge a fee if you cancel early. Other firms have a minimum number of hours per month. Ask questions like, “Are there change order fees?” Get a total picture of what your costs are as early in the process as possible.
  9. Do you require that I host my site with your company? You should not be required to host with your Magento development firm. Personally, I think its a bad idea all around, because you need to have the freedom to use any developer without having to transfer your site. I have seen sites held “ransom” by less-than-ethical developers, and even taken down out of malice. You could take the firm to court, but do you even want to be in that situation in the first place?
  10. What if you need to change firms for some reason? There’s no right or wrong answer here, but the key is find out what you are locked into, and get a feel for how the person replies. Does it sound like this company would remain professional if I needed to change? What kind of fees (if any) would I face, and how would the transition be handled?
  11. Who am I speaking with? Does the person I’m talking to have real experience and advise? In general, just assume a salesperson is going to say what it takes to land a deal, and if you later have a problem, he/she may have no authority to grant you lenience or special treatment. That doesn’t mean salespeople are dishonest – it’s just something you need to keep in mind when dealing with any lower-level employee who may not be around in a few months. When you are talking with someone who you will actually be working with you later (like a project manager or developer), you can get a better feel for the “whole truth” as well as the kind of person you are going to work with each day. Also, when you are talking with an Executive (Owner, VP, etc.), you can get a feel for the principals and values that guide the company’s vision/goals. In general, an executive’s job is very closely tied to the overall success of the firm – therefore, he or she is going to be truthful about caveats and problems that could arise later and be more capable of creating a lasting partnership where you both can be profitable. If you cannot speak with an executive directly, do your due diligence on the owner(s) of the company via LinkedIn and other sites. Are the executives passionate about their client’s successes and active in the Magento Community? Is the leadership more eCommerce-focused, more development-focused, or a blend of both types of individuals? Well-rounded firms will have both types of leaders.
  12. What other things can you help with? View this process as hiring an additional team, not just a single developer. The best firms have in-house, experienced individuals to help out with a variety of tasks that you might need. Examples might be graphic design, email marketing, PPC, SEO, general store management, and conversion rate optimization. You can often get a better deal by bundling services, so identify what services you may need early on, if possible.
  13. Where are you located, and how many people work in your office? If they say Chicago, talk about the weather or the Bears/Cubs.  Someone who is truly located there will not have to think about those questions. Check the caller ID that they call you from – is the firm overseas? Look up their location on Google Maps – you’d be surprised how often it pulls up someone’s house rather than a commercial location. My easy tip – look on FourSquare to see if real employees have checked in there before. Keep in mind that it’s very easy to rent a single room ‘executive office’ these days to appear like you are located just about anywhere – look for photos of their office and their actual team inside that office. A company’s blog or Facebook page are great places to do more research.
  14. What is the most interesting Magento project you’ve completed recently?  It doesn’t really matter much what their answer is here – as long as they don’t have to think too long about it and can give you lots of details of what the problem was, how they solved it, and what the client’s actual results were. Are they passionate when they talk about it? Is it the level of problem that you might encounter one day? If it’s very simplistic, then this firm may truly only have experience with simple problems, which may not be great for a large firm that deals with more complex situations routinely. Remember that asking to speak to references is not always the best approach, as no one is going to give you the name of a reference that isn’t going to say good things. You should find other ways of asking about experience that are harder to falsify.
  15. Can I try you out on a small task? Sometimes that is truly the best way to determine if a Magento development firm is a good fit. If it isn’t, you can pay for the work they’ve done, and walk away clean, and it’s a win-win if it does indeed work out.

A lot of this information can also be established (or corroborated) via the company’s website on an About Us page. Do your research ahead of the phone call so that you can ask the hard questions, and rephrase your questions if you feel the person is being less than truthful.

You need to know you can trust your Magento development firm, and you should feel free to ask as many questions as you want until you feel that you can trust them. Integrity is something that you can get a sense for better in-person sometimes, so ask about a face-to-face meeting. Don’t be shy about asking budget-related questions such as, “I only have $2,000 per month to spend. Can you accommodate this?”  You need to find a good fit, so you cannot hold back on critical questions. Also, don’t be afraid to share your list of priorities – no person or firm reads minds. Say things like, “I must be able to pick up the phone and reach my project manager M-F 9-5 CST in your Texas office.” That sets the expectation for your communication style, time zone, and location preferences.  Lastly, if you are unsure about something – ask.  Chances are, you are not alone. Here at Creatuity, we’ve even created YouTube videos to answer common questions because we want every customer to feel 100% comfortable before we ever start a single task.

Lastly, take a look at the contract to make sure you understand your commitments to each other. Typically, firms have a standard contract for all clients, with slight variances depending on the type of project (a “new build” contract might look a bit different than a “support” contract). Read it over at a time when you won’t be distracted. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. The person you are speaking to should sound knowledgeable about the contract and what it entails – if he/she doesn’t, ask to speak to someone at the firm that knows more about the contract. As you would with any legal document, do not ever sign until you are fully informed and don’t have any outstanding questions. If it makes you more comfortable (or if your company requires it), run the contract past your attorney first to make sure you didn’t overlook anything.

Once you do find a great Magento development firm, be sure to strengthen your relationship in ways that benefit you both – a good partnership is hard to find and shouldn’t be squandered away. Just as you value your eCommerce customers that keep coming back and tell all their friends – do the same for your Magento development firm. From my own experience, I can promise you that relationships built on a mutual respect and trust are far more profitable for both parties.

I hope that this helps in your decision process! If you are looking for these answers about Creatuity, read this FAQ page. As always, feel free to email us or comment here with questions.