You may be wondering why I’m writing about WordPress help on a waterfalls website.
Well, it turned out that just migrating my website to the WordPress content management system wound up consuming a stressful three years of my life (and it’s not over due to the forced adoption of “Gutenberg” or “Block Editor” in the WordPress core).
Anyways, I decided to go with WordPress due to its popularity.
I had presumed that this was finally the tool that could do everything I needed when it came to managing content, especially given my frustrations with Site Build It (SBI; also called Solo Build It or Site Sell), which hosted the World of Waterfalls for at least 13 years.
If WordPress is so popular, why did I have so much trouble with it?
Unfortunately, the reality with WordPress was that it had the potential to do everything regarding building websites, but not out of the box.
In fact, it required lots of work to extend its functionality, and that’s where things got complicated real fast – so much so that I needed to consider hiring WordPress help.
You see, WordPress was intentionally made to be very bare bones out-of-the-box.
That way, individual users could customize the tool as needed without affecting other WordPress users. It also kept the core design simple and unbloated.
Since the World of Waterfalls was already an established website with over 2000 webpages, I needed to preserve functionality and features that WordPress itself lacked out-of-the-box.
On top of that, I also had to figure out how to move over all that content into a new management system in a way where I wouldn’t have to manually do everything.
After all, in the SBI paradigm, everything was static HTML so everything was managed manually, which became increasingly unmanageable as time went on.
Therefore, I looked to working with WordPress to break free from this static HTML paradigm and work with a more dynamic paradigm where I could better automate the more repetitive tasks (note that migration from the SBI proprietary block builder CMS to SBI for WP wasn’t available when I committed to making this move at the start of 2016).
Then, I had to streamline the process of entering new information since we don’t intend to stop visiting waterfalls!
Without going into too much detail here, I ultimately needed to extend the WordPress functionality by relying on an appropriate theme as well as suitable plugins (kind of analogous to “apps” adding more features to your mobile phone).
And if there lacked solutions on the market, I’d have to either custom code what I needed in WordPress or hire help.
Indeed, it was a daunting task, and in hindsight, it was little wonder why this migration project took so long!
Figuring Out When I Needed To Hire Help
You can imagine that for a WordPress newbie like myself (when I started to adopt it back in 2016), I was easily paralyzed by the endless and ever-growing sea of literature touting various plugins and themes to enhance my WordPress experience.
Many of these seemed to degenerate into noise as they just didn’t seem to tell me anything useful for a person in my predicament.
Speaking of my predicament, perhaps this was my own undoing as a result of how generous I was with my content and features.
Generally, the more stuff I publish, the more I have to manage (and thus, the more stuff I had to port over from SBI to WordPress).
Of course, the open-source nature of WordPress meant that I had more avenues to pursue by myself in terms of getting the tool to do what I needed.
However, sifting through all the noise and coming up with a solution that could work for me turned out to be quite the challenge.
As mentioned at the start of this article, it ultimately led me to a migration project that took three years with lots of growing pains in the process.
But in the specific context of working with WordPress, I had to ask myself, which theme should I choose and why?
I also had to ask, which plugins do I need?
Yet even with me pushing forward and giving it a go with my move to WordPress, I then ran into issues when I couldn’t find the right theme nor the plugins that did what the World of Waterfalls website needed to do.
There were also several features and functions that were neither available in the WordPress core, nor served by existing website themes, nor addressed with available plugins on the market.
To make a long story short, I’ve had more than my share of investing time and money in themes and/or plugins.
So I was left with a situation where I either had to do the coding myself or hire help.
Unfortunately, picking up programming and manipulating the under-the-hood workings of WordPress seemed like an insurmountable obstacle to climb when I was both unfamiliar with the tool as well as time constrained.
I say this even though I have an engineering background.
Even though my day job involved some degree of programming, it differed immensely from web development.
Therefore, it wasn’t like I already had the skills or knew the nuances to make the do-it-yourself option work.
Indeed, I can imagine just how much more daunting it can be for someone without engineering or software development experience.
In any case, this was the moment where I seriously considered the need to hire help.
The Mixed Bag of Hiring Contractors
A computer science buddy of mine from university (who makes a living building commercial websites as well as consulting) told me quite bluntly that most contractors are either not good or they’re scam artists.
He also said that very few contractors are very good.
So if they happen to be good, they’re typically very busy with high paying jobs or contracts, and they probably don’t need to freelance or have a “side hustle”.
My university buddy also doesn’t like WordPress as a whole, but that’s a whole other topic.
With hindsight being 20/20, I can definitely see where he’s coming from.
In any case, hiring help with WordPress (or extending its functionality in my case) was a mixed bag.
Home Improvement Contractors Analogy
I can relate my WordPress contractor help experiences with hiring home improvement contractors.
Indeed, we’ve had contractors working multiple jobs simultaneously (especially after demolition), where our job was at the mercy of the contractor’s schedule irrespective of our own. And oh by the way, we’re dealing with a post-demolition mess.
We’ve also had contractors doing shoddy work, where the consequences may or may not show up until well after they’ve taken our money and considered the job done.
Heck, we’ve even called out shoddy work as it happened, and that resulted in us needing to get outside intervention to mediate a dispute.
That was a rather long and drawn out process, especially since agencies as well as courts are often inundated with other cases.
In the case of our dispute, we had to wait over six months before it was finally considered.
On the flip side, we’ve had jobs that couldn’t have finished without honest contractors who took pride in their work and earned our referrals for repeat business from friends and family.
Level Setting Expectations
With my move to WordPress costing me lots of money and time, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised with such a range of experiences.
In the end, this “trial by fire” has taught me that there is no one way to do this, nor is there a “proper” way to hire help.
After all, if it were that easy, then I wouldn’t need to write this article.
Anyways, in the absence of hindsight, you kind of go in and hope for the best but prepare for the worst while always learning as you go.
Everyone’s situation is different (I just happened to have a pretty complex one).
You don’t know what you don’t know, and I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’re probably in a similar predicament to what I’m describing above.
I recognize that it is not comforting to hear that you won’t really know the devil in the details until you take the risk and jump right in to get your hands dirty.
That said, I hope you can at least learn from my experiences so you can try to avoid the same mistakes I’ve made.
So with this cautionary tale of what can go right and what can go wrong (along with its consequences), let me delve into how I wound up hiring help.
The Experience of Hiring WordPress Help
During the time I’ve sought help, I’ve pursued the following paths…
- hiring a private freelancer
- hiring someone from a service like Freelancer.com
- hiring someone from an agency like TopTal
- hiring several contractors from Codeable
- asking friends for help
- solving the problems myself
Of the above paths, I’m not going into the details of the last two actions because they would not be helpful to you.
After all, not everyone has friends with the right skills nor does everyone have friends in the right places.
Moreover, not everyone has the right skills to try to tackle under-the-hood WordPress workings to self-code his or her own solutions.
Nevertheless, of all the avenues of help that I did pursue, you can see that I only wound up going back to Codeable for help on more than one occasion.
The main reasons for my repeat business with Codeable are that they have mechanisms for buyer protection as well as some quality talent that for the most part have gotten the job done.
Regarding the buyer protection, after the negative experiences that I’ve had with the other ways I’ve hired help (and this even includes some with Codeable), I’ve found Codeable’s escrow and dispute resolution infrastructure to be very important to me.
The WordPress Contractor Track Record for World of Waterfalls Projects
Where Hiring Contractor Help Went Wrong
As you can see from the table above, not all contractor experiences went well.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but when I look back on the emails exchanged, project descriptions distributed, and phone calls or videoconference notes, I definitely cringed at some of the things that my wife and I did.
I also learned through this experience some of the red flags in contractor behavior that might have allowed me to cut my losses sooner or at least have better questions to ask up front.
Indeed, from looking more carefully at the contractor track record table, there were definitely some patterns that emerged.
So the following list summarizes the key reasons for our contractor fails.
- Most project failures were the result of large scope
- We distracted or sidetracked our hired contractors on large tasks or projects
- Insufficient communication
- Giving too much benefit of the doubt
Further details regarding each of the above reasons for our contractor fails are given below…
1. Most project failures were the result of large scope
To make a long story short, the bigger the scope, the more chances you have for misunderstandings and/or disputes between you and your contractor.
In order to defend against this, you really have to break up your project into smaller, more manageable tasks.
So if you look at the contractor track record table above, you’ll see that most of the completed tasks were for tasks that had very limited scope.
Of course, one could then ask: how do you know if your project is too large in scope?
One quick-and-easy way to tell is to pitch your project on Codeable, then see what the responses are.
If no one responds, that’s a pretty good indicator of a project where existing available contractors would be unwilling to take on given an unfavorable combination of scope, budget, and/or time commitment.
It’s not always crickets though.
Some contractors may chime in and suggest what I’m suggesting here, which is to break up the task into a bunch of smaller tasks that are more executable.
That said, some Codeable contractors would be willing to provide a consultation (I paid $59 per consultation back in 2018; it might be more when you read this).
The more detail you communicate about your project, the smoother that this scope breakdown or allocation process becomes.
Only once you have a list of smaller tasks that collectively make you realize your project’s end goal will you be in position to move onto the next step and start pitching each individual task to your contractor or agency of your choosing.
With the smaller tasks, there’s not only fewer opportunities for misunderstandings, but you limit your exposure to losses if the contractor relationship didn’t work out.
2. We distracted or sidetracked our hired contractors on large tasks or projects
Even when we pushed forward with hiring contractors for large projects (instead of breaking them down into smaller tasks as described above), my wife and I did some things that derailed our contractor as well as the overall trajectory of progress.
One thing I noticed was that as much as we tried to frequently communicate with the contractor, whenever we made a request, the contractor would freeze what he/she was doing and suddenly work on the latest request.
Perhaps savvier contractors would immediately call out these spontaneous requests as scope creep.
With smaller tasks, the communication would inevitably be more focused on the specific task at hand.
However, with larger projects or tasks, this tends to divert focus away from the goal of the project.
I did have one Codeable contractor call me out on this behavior, and ever since we ironed out this behavior on my part, we had an excellent working relationship, and the task as a whole wasn’t allowed to degenerate into a misunderstanding.
In fact, project or task scope is something that can always be argued about on larger projects but not as much on smaller projects (yet another reason why you want to limit your project or task scope).
Knowing this after the fact, it made me realize how we undermined our own efforts on our prior working relationships even though we tried to maintain frequent communications with the contractor.
It’s a fine balancing act between how much correspondence is productive versus distracting, but sometimes it’s better to let the contractors do their thing, especially if the scope of the task is already well understood.
And if the scope is not well understood, then you better make sure that you communicate openly and frequently before work on the project begins.
3. Insufficient Communication
While mentioning this right after the prior failure factor about distracting contractors might seem like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth, the absence of communication is certainly a recipe for misunderstandings.
If you can limit the scope of the project or task, then surely the scope of the communications will also be just as focused.
That said, contractors unwilling to communicate (especially for clarity) could degenerate into bad assumptions while spending lots of time composing long emails that ultimately lose their meaning (who has the time to read long emails all the time?).
This was precisely what happened to us with our first contractor (Task #1), where a time zone difference made it difficult to have real-time chats over the phone or videoconferencing that could have resolved issues in minutes instead of days or weeks.
So the big takeaway from this is that whoever you’re considering to hire for a job, I’d try to ask as many questions as possible up front.
Get a feel for how responsive this person is (which would be an indicator of how serious this person wants your business).
Are you getting your questions answered satisfactorily? Is the contractor patient?
If there are too many questions, then he/she might request a consultation, which is fair since you’re taking his/her time to accommodate you.
Whether you feel the consultation is necessary or not will ultimately be up to you.
4. Giving Too Much Benefit Of The Doubt
I’ve had situations where even if I felt good vibes with a prospective contractor through the initial communications and consultations, then the behavior changed for the worse as time went on.
Among the red flags that gave me cause for doubt were infrequent communications (despite the frequency and battle rhythms of the past), unresponsive emails or unanswered questions, excuses to miss out on pre-arranged meetings, etc.
I consider myself to be a nice guy, but when it comes to my own money, I really can’t afford to put up with bullsh*t and be left holding the bag.
So in that sense, if I had to do things over again, I would certainly have to be the bad guy sooner rather than later and cut ties the moment I don’t feel like I could trust the contractor any longer.
As you can see in the table above, Tasks #1, #8, and #13 were cases where I could have cut ties with a contractor sooner rather than later (thereby saving money).
For Tasks #20 and #21, I wised up and took my own advice, thereby limiting exposure to losses the moment I sensed something was wrong.
Dealing with strangers and money over the web definitely thickens your skin, and I definitely learned the hard way to be less tolerant of unprofessional behavior, as a result.
The Cost vs. Time Equation of Doing It Yourself
A cynical person might look at the contractor track record table above and notice that all tasks where I assigned myself to do them were complete.
So why not just do everything by yourself?
While it’s certainly the most fulfilling to go this route, if you look closely, you’ll see that all of my do-it-yourself (DIY) tasks took a significant amount of time.
The reason is because it takes time to learn how to do things (and do them right).
Often times, you don’t really learn things deeply until you make mistakes as well as recover from those mistakes.
The Arduous Path to Self-Sufficiency
It’s easy to do the things you already know how to do, but when you have to figure things out when there’s no clear path to success, that’s where you have to put up with growing pains.
Couple that with the fact that I also had a day job and father duties, and you can see why going the DIY path was very difficult.
This also meant that I inherited bugs, security holes, and bad updates introduced by such plugins, contractor-coded deliverables, themes, or even WP core updates!
On top of that, I also had to learn Git so I could better keep track of revisions done to the source code of the website.
With this infrastructure, I could check out prior commits to see where a bug was introduced well after the fact of committing and pushing the culprit change.
There were quite a few occasions where Git saved me from disaster.
I also had to learn how to do my own system administration duties when I decided to host my own staging server on Digital Ocean to test out changes before deploying them to the production site on Kinsta.
I even had to figure out Amazon’s cryptic documentation to do some basic tasks regarding their S3, CloudFront, and other services (I still shudder at the thought of dealing with anything regarding their services).
Is DIY for you?
Indeed, going the DIY route requires a lot of time and produces a lot of stress.
Not everyone has the time to bother with all of this stuff (especially since most of this is technical and not related to making the content you care about in the first place).
Yet not everyone has enough money to pay someone full time to take care of the tedious technical stuff either.
Life is full of paradoxes like this.
The less you know, the more you get taken advantage of.
However, the more you try to learn things yourself, the more time you’ll need to commit.
So what’s the balance between doing everything and being in control versus just focusing on what you want to do and leave the undesirable stuff to someone else?
The answer to this question determines how much DIY you end up doing.
Ultimately, there’s a cost versus time equation at the heart of almost everything we do, and solving WordPress problems is no different.
That’s life in a finite world…
Summary and Conclusions
This article is not meant to scare you away from hiring help.
In fact, it makes sense to get help if you don’t have the means of figuring something out.
However, my experiences should tell you that it’s not all roses no matter how you choose to try to finish your project.
Indeed, going the do-it-yourself route (which happens more often than you think with WordPress) could make going the all-in-one solution more attractive.
That was precisely the thinking that I went with when I decided to go with SBI back in 2006 to start the World of Waterfalls website.
Nevertheless, if you do commit to WordPress (especially customizing your site in WP), as you can see from my experiences, you still have to do your homework to limit the scope of a given task at hand.
That way, you minimize the chances of having a fallout with a contractor or at least limit your exposure to losses.
I’d argue that this kind of work in communicating effectively and reading people or judging character is every bit as hard and time-consuming as trying to learn and do the technical stuff yourself.
Therefore, the bottom line is that you still have to deal with people, you still need to deal with the nuances of the WordPress tool itself, and you have to evaluate which efforts are worth your time and money.
In other words, only you know your project best, and no one else except you will ensure its success.
There’s no shortcut for being successful no matter what your pursuits in life are.
This is why you really have to love what you’re doing or else that extra required effort to succeed won’t happen.
So how determined are you to see your web business dreams and aspirations fulfilled?