Choosing & Vetting a Magento Partner / Agency
One of the biggest advantages Magento has as a platform is its enormous global community of developers and agencies, who can help with building and maintaining successful online stores. However, in contrast, one of the most common issues is merchants opting to go with a less capable supplier, either as a result of price or just lack of knowledge around what look for in a service provider.
Because Magento is so mainstream and has such a high demand, developers from all over the world have moved to provide services around it. There are thousands of developers and agencies that are providing services without really knowing the platform and how to scale an online store. A strong Magento partner is unlikely to come cheap, which creates even more demand for lower cost service providers, as many merchants aren’t aware of the costs associated with building and maintaining a complex ecommerce store.
You only have to look at sites like People Per Hour or UpWork to see how many developers there are out there that are claiming to be able to provide quality Magento development at ~$20 per hour. The problem here arises as a result of the complexity of Magento, which represents a far more significant learning curve than most mainstream platforms, like WordPress for example.
Magento developed a partner program to help vet and verify available agencies (program members also pay a yearly fee to participate and it’s been closed in a number of countries for several years now), but there are many more agencies and individual developers out there. To get you pointed in the right direction, here are a few guidelines for choosing a Magento developer or agency.
What to Look For in a Magento Developer
With so many Magento developers out there, start with looking at their experience. Whether you’re working with an agency or hiring an individual operator, the more implementations and the longer they’ve been working with Magento products, the better. Also look for formal training and certifications, especially through Magento. Magento U courses are created and taught by folks who helped build their products (so they intimately know how it all works), and their certification program is formatted to test real-world skills, as well as Magento product knowledge.
I’d also be looking for recommendations ideally – from merchants that have used a store that’s been developed on by the agency or developer. You’re also probably going to benefit from speaking to their clients that are in a similar position to you (in terms of complexity, number of SKUs, online turnover etc), or in the same vertical.
If I was looking to hire a freelance Magento developer, I’d be looking for someone that’s worked on large stores (or in a senior role for a well known agency), uses things like Git / version control etc, ideally has at least one developer certification and has at least 3-4 years’ experience with the platform.
Again, there are lots of developers out there who claim this – so I’d recommend asking to see their certification URL (which can be accessed here) or taking up references.
What to Look for in a Magento Agency
Experience is also the best place to start in choosing an agency, so look through their portfolios on their websites, ask for details around previous projects, most complex integrations they’ve done, design work etc. Again you could use Magento’s partner program, although the focus isn’t necessarily on quality as much as number of licenses sold etc. That said, although some good agencies aren’t included, from experience the majority of the partners included are very strong. You’ll probably want to rank agencies by service quality (support, account management, project management etc) number of clients and locations served, size of overall client businesses, and size and complexity of the implementations they manage, all of which you’ll want to align with your needs. As you do your own research, definitely look for customer reviews and success stats (e.g. conversion, AOV, sales revenue improvements).
How an agency manages its projects is also important to consider, and good agencies can provide you with a sample plan so you can see how they like to work and what they expect from you and your company. You’ll particularly want to align on how and when communication will happen so that expectations around everything from project timeline to cost are clearly defined and met.
For example, a lot of the larger agencies will use things like behaviour driven development to help map features and areas against business objectives. I previously worked with Session and they are very, very strong on this and a lot of clients really value the benefits it can provide. This guide will help you to understand the benefits of BDD and what it is. I’d generally ask to look at their workflows, who’s going to be involved and when, how they manage bugs and scope creep etc etc. This will give you a much better indication of how they’ll manage you as a client and the project in general.
Other considerations around selecting a Magento agency could include:
- Number of Magento developers
- Whether they work specifically with Magento
- Quality of Project Managers
- How they manage support
Depending on the project, post-launch support might also be a factor. A good agency will help you understand what post-launch support you’ll need and work with you to develop an appropriate plan.
Choosing Between Agencies
Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few prospective agencies, there are the obvious mitigating factors such as cost, but there are other ways to help refine your choice. Some agencies like to specialize by vertical (e.g. fashion, B2B), by UX/UI and design, or by features and functionality (e.g. difficult integrations and customizations). Don’t be shy about identifying your unique needs and asking prospective agencies how they can meet them.
Personnel is also something to consider. An agency might be a perfect fit in many ways, but do they have the staff to manage your project at the level of involvement and communication that you require? First, eCommerce projects aren’t just about developers. Analysts, project managers, solutions architects, and tech leads are also important roles. Second, an agency may be well-staffed but already managing too many other projects. Again, don’t be afraid to get clarification on what support they’ll provide and how your project fits into their schedule.
Where you look for a developer or agency, and where you post your job listings, will save you a lot of time and effort. For an agency, Magento’s partner listings are a good place to start, but attending Magento and Magento Community events are great places to meet them in person and discuss your projects. Both agencies and developers can be found on Twitter (use #Magento and #MagentoJobs) Stackoverflow, and GitHub.