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Be Careful When Hiring a Freelance PHP Developer

There is a lot that goes into finding and hiring the right freelance PHP programmer. I hear the horror stories and have experienced them myself.

My Experience Hiring PHP Developers

Early on I experience more demand than I could handle and wanted to hire someone to help me with my projects. The first guy I hired was very smart and very talented. We started working on a project together and he lost interest and moved on. I ended up taking on his work and mine. I worked a lot of long hours to complete all the work I had committed myself to.

During this time I took on a project of a client I did not want to say no to and hired a different PHP developer. This guy was a decent developer as well and came with his baggage. His baggage got in the way and I ended up dealing with that project as well while working on other projects.

In my search for an answer to why I was having so much difficulty finding decent talent, I was told I should expect to hire 6 programmers to find one good one. Pretty painful wouldn’t you say?

Because of these experiences I work alone and only take on select projects.

During my time as a freelance PHP programmer I have talked with prospective clients that have had challenges finding and retaining good programmers and getting projects to fruition.

Maybe some of my insight might help you in your search for that developer who will make your life easy and bring your project in on time and on budget.

Don’t Just Focus On Their Technical Skills

There is a lot to consider when hiring a freelancer. Here are 5 areas to consider when hiring a freelance PHP developer.

Not many programmers are good at being independent

Running a business requires business, marketing, and technical skills. Not a mix often found in the wild. There are many hats to wear when being a lone developer. There is the business aspect that needs attention as well as needing to be skilled as a programmer.


Not a foolproof way to determine skills, however, it does demonstrate two things 1) basic skills in programming if they have a programming–related degree, and 2) the ability to make a plan, stay the course, and bring something to fruition.

Keep in mind that PHP is thought at the junior college level. While the PHP programming language is used in upwards of 80% of the websites on the Internet, academia wants to teach more of a theory–based curriculum based on languages like Java. Add to that a degree is no longer required to become a developer. Most of the PHP programmers you run into will be self–taught.

Time in business / stability

I would look for things like a business phone number and if they have formed a business or an LLC. The developer’s website should also provide some insight. These things speak of someone who is really in business. I would try to avoid the kid in college or the guy between jobs.

Communication skills

This is my pet peeve. Communication is extremely important in a project. Communicate often. Keeping in contact with the customer regularly, and getting the client involved increases the probability of success.


This is a big one. The guy or gal that disappears for weeks at a time creates uncertainty and has the potential for increasing your stress level. Looking from the outside in it is difficult to determine dependability. I think some indicators are a quick response to voice mail messages and emails. Other ways to determine stability and dependability might be a business license, business phone, and a business website. I think compensation may be an indicator of potential instability in the future if the developer changes less than $50.00 an hour. Professionals are asking over $100 an hour because that is what it takes to compete with corporate jobs that pay very well and provide decent benefits.

Please keep in mind reliable and skilled developers should be paid market for their efforts. Currently, the market is $100 – $180 an hour for a freelance contract programmer. You are competing with corporate America at a time when there is a shortage of qualified developers.

How Time Zones Can Effect Your Project

If you live in the USA and work with an Indian programmer you are at the extreme when it comes to time zone difference. If you are based in California, England is in a time zone that 8 hours later.

It is best to hire a developer that lives in your region. However, only you know, how willing you are to work with people that are in a time zone that is not compatible with yours.

California and New York are 3 times zones away from each other.

If you are in America, you will probably find working with an American developer much more compatible when it comes to time zones.

Why You Should Analyzing Your Project

The first thing you should do is to take a few minutes to write down what you want to accomplish. By doing so you will start thinking about the project and you may start to identify things you had not thought about. This will help you understand the scope of the project. It will also help you explain the project to a prospective developer. Taking just a few minutes to get organized will pay big dividends.

Next you should determine if the project is feasible. This should include cost, time, and required resources. A freelance PHP developer can provide you with both the cost to complete the project and the amount of time it may take. The developer can help you identify what resources will be required to complete your project plus any ongoing support requirements.

Armed with this information will allow you to determine if it is the right time for the project and if you are willing to expend the necessary resources to complete the project.

Why You Need a Full–Stack Developer With Business Experience

There are a lot of PHP developers that might pop up on your radar. They range from a middle school kid working his/her side hustle to the seasoned full–stack PHP developer that is in business full time.

Developing PHP web applications is not easy. There is a lot of technology that comes together to complete your project. There is HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript/AJAX, PHP, MySql, and Linux hosting.

An independent developer needs to have hands–on experience in each of these areas. Other than PHP, an independent programmer needs to have a working knowledge of each one of these technologies. In other words, the freelancer needs not to be an expert in each of these areas. That is why they are called full–stack developers. To learn more about what a full–stack developer is, you can read my article on what a full–stack PHP developer is.

Selecting a developer that has been in business for a while is a plus. When I talk to PHP developers that have no business experience they tell me they can program for 40 hours a week. That simply is not accurate.

When a developer is an employee their entire focus is on their programming job. As an independent contractor, this same programmer will have to focus on many areas such as marketing, sales, accounting, and generally running the business. I estimate it takes me half of my time is spent on non–billable activities. This affects how long the project will take and how much the developer charges.

You Need to be Involved

You cannot turn the project over to the developer and walk away. You will need to be available for testing and feedback. These testing and feedback sessions should happen as often as practical.

The more often you review your project the higher the probability your project will come in on time and one budget.

Why You Should Have a Written Agreement

A written agreement will aid you in several ways. Your agreement should include the following:

  • A Detailed Outline of the Project – Things get lost in the translation. A detailed outline of the project gives all parties an official way to view the project and to ensure all aspects are addressed.
  • What the Developer is Responsible for – This agreement should outline what the developer is responsible for. Projects require different resources. Is this a maintenance project where the programmer is required to fix something or enhance something? If you have a from–scratch project the developer may be required to use a certain framework or build one him/herself. This section should list everything the developer is responsible for.
  • What you are Responsible for – Will the client provide a template? In most cases at a minimum, the customer will be required to provide a hosting account along with the credentials required for access by the programmer. In most cases, the server specs will be provided as well. In most cases, a test server should also be provided by the client. This section should list everything the client is responsible for.
  • Mile Stones – A very simple project may last just a few minutes and things like gaining access to the server may take longer than the technical work. In this case, it is understood the project will be complete in a short amount of time. On the other end of the spectrum is the project that will take months. With these longer projects, milestones are very important. Your developer can provide you with this information.
  • Cost and Payment Schedule – The developer will provide you with the cost estimate. This would also come with a payment schedule. Most of the time the payment schedule is coupled with the project’s milestones. For short projects, payment may be required before the project is started. For longer projects, multiple payments are required and are usually based on the amount of effort expended to that point. It is customary for a deposit to be made before a project is started.
  • The Agreement is the Final Understanding of the Project – During the process of talking with your developer about your project, you will discuss many things. As things are discussed there is a high probability that each party will understand the project from a differing perspective. This is why a written agreement is so important. The written agreement can resolve any miscommunications and misunderstandings. A written agreement can be informal such as an email or a formal written contract.


In this article we covered a lot of ground. There is a lot of things you should consider when hiring a PHP programmer.

You will need to consider more than the programmer’s technical skills. An independent developer also needs business skills and the understanding of how being independent effects his/her billing rate and the hours he/she will be available for your project.

What time zone your developer is in will affect their availability for phone calls and testing.

Before you start your project you should take the time to write down what your goals are and what you want to achieve.

A full–stack developer with business experience is probably your best bet for success.

When you are involved in your project, your project has a better chance of coming in on time and on budget.

In the end a written agreement should be required for all projects. A written agreement can be informal or formal.

My name is Keith Smith. This is my website. It was handcrafted by me as an example of my skills. It is not as beautiful as what a website designer might have been able to create, however it is clean, simple, and functional. I am not a designer, I am a programmer.

If you have a project you would like to talk to me about, please call me at 480-748-9893 or complete my Project Request Form.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.