Pitfalls to avoid when hiring a freelance developer

A laptop, a cup of coffee and a set of headphones on a small table

It’s no secret that web development is a very competitive market. As sites like Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer become more popular, it becomes harder for freelancers to get noticed, which in turn makes it more difficult for clients to connect with genuine talent. This leads to some incredibly bad practices – fortunately, there are a few ways you can sort through the pack and identify qualified candidates for your project.

Five star ratings (and why they are meaningless)

Okay, ‘meaningless’ might be a strong term, but rating systems on sites like Upwork are inherently flawed. A reasonable person might assume the following:

  • 5 stars – perfect
  • 4 stars – very good
  • 3 stars – competent
  • 2 stars – below average
  • 1 star – terrible

Here’s what those ratings are usually interpreted as:

  • 5 stars – acceptable
  • Anything else – avoid like the plague

Of course, we’re not saying that constructive feedback isn’t useful. Let’s say you’re a client and a developer has just completed your job successfully, but it was delivered a little late and they didn’t let you know beforehand. You may assume it would be fine to give them 4.5 stars, with a comment that they could maybe work on their communication.

There’s a good chance that developer will message you and ask you to increase it to 5 stars.

It’s difficult to blame the freelancer in that situation, because anyone with a rating below 5 stars will often be passed over entirely, even though ratings are entirely subjective – some clients will happily award 5 stars for a completed job, whereas others may rate more realistically. Then there are freelancers who are completely new to a system and have no rating at all, despite being talented developers.

On such systems, rather than simply checking the star rating, we recommend looking at the comments that clients may have left – these tend to at least give some insight into the capabilities of the candidate. That said, a much better gauge of ability is how the developer initially responds to your job posting, which leads us to the next point…

A four and a half star rating
4.5 stars, every freelancer’s worst nightmare

Quoting before seeing the requirements

This one is less common on freelancing sites, where project budgets are often stated in the original posting. However on other platforms, such as Facebook groups, this is a common situation:

  1. The client posts their job, with little detail of the actual requirements.
  2. Twenty people comment saying they can do it for x amount.

As blindingly obvious as it may seem; it’s impossible to quote on a project without seeing the project’s requirements. In the ongoing quest to get noticed, many developers (and agencies) will leave a comment suggesting they can do it for what seems like an incredible price. These are the people you absolutely should avoid – either their price will change once the full requirements become clear, or they simply won’t be competent enough for the job.

A decent freelancer will want to discuss the project with you in more detail first. For complicated projects they may even suggest writing a specification document to make sure you are both on the same page. At the very least they should let you know how they plan to carry out your task.

Though it may be possible to give a rough estimate up front, there should always be a caveat saying it depends on the full requirements – this may seem like a longer way of doing things, but it will save multiple headaches later on.

A notebook on a desk, with a title written but no notes
The average brief provided by clients

Unrealistic promises

To be fair, the blame for this one falls partly on the clients. Of course the most well known example of this is when a business owner asks to be ranked on the first page of Google – something which at the very least is not going to be quick or cheap, if possible at all.

Again, in order to get the job, developers may agree to any requirements no matter how unrealistic they are. As tempting as it is to do that, a good candidate will manage the client’s expectations and come up with a more feasible solution.

Dollar bills planted in soil
We promise to make your money grow! Literally!


This is always going to be a delicate subject, but the simple fact is that you need to be able to communicate with the person handling your project. If you’re hiring someone whose first language is not the same as your own, make sure you talk to them in depth about the project. It should be fairly obvious early on if you understand each other – the last thing you want is to waste both parties time by having to explain things multiple times.

Likewise if your business or project is being marketed towards people in your home country, it may help if the person you hire is familiar with the culture of said country. This is especially true if you’re looking for someone with marketing or SEO skills.

A very messy desk
A typical freelancer workspace


Of course one of the main considerations when hiring a freelancer is how much they are going to cost. While a high price is obviously undesirable, sometimes a price that’s too low is also a cause for concern. If a price seems unrealistically low then it may be a sign that the developer’s skills are not enough to complete the project.

Stacks of pound coins
Too low a price can be just as bad as too high a price

The most important recommendation we can give when hiring a digital freelancer is to ask plenty of questions and make sure you are a good fit before committing to them. If you notice any of the red flags above, then it may be time to look elsewhere.

Also be aware of where you are hiring your freelancer from – be sure to only use reputable sites. Some good places to start looking include:

You may find that hiring an agency can alleviate some of the issues above, but we’ll discuss the benefits of that in a separate article. Of course, if you do hire a freelancer, you may also decide that you want to hire someone to manage them – something Black Void specialises in.

WordPress vs ProcessWire – A small business CMS comparison for 2019

Laptop with the WordPress dashboard on screen

As a small business owner there are a few decisions you’re going to have to make when it comes to your website. Are you going to build it yourself, or will you hire someone to do it? Is it a simple showcase of your services, or do you need e-commerce functionality? Will a nicely styled blog fit your needs, or do you need a certain amount of customisation?

While there are many options for small business content management systems, there are two which we most commonly use at Black Void – WordPress and ProcessWire. Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have a better understanding of the pros and cons of each.

What is WordPress?

The WordPress admin
The WordPress admin

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2003, you’ll almost certainly have heard of WordPress. It started life as a blogging platform, and although it has evolved far beyond that, the core functions remain the same – most sites are built around pages and posts, the latter of which will usually appear on a blog or news section.

Note that in this article, we’re mainly discussing self-hosted WordPress sites, as opposed to sites hosted at wordpress.com. We usually advise to self-host unless you’re looking for a very simple blog.

The technical stuff

WordPress is based on PHP and MySQL. Its popularity means that many web hosts have a dedicated WordPress installation option; in fact, there are companies built entirely around WordPress hosting, so finding a good platform for your site to live on will be easy.

Most of the customisation comes from the thousands of plugins and themes available, many of which are free. The plugins offer almost any functionality you can think of, from simple widgets to site optimisation, security, e-commerce, and even forums. Most modern premium themes come with a number of plugins and page builders built in, and allow for a variety of layouts and designs without ever having to touch the code. For advanced customisation, users can create a ‘child theme’ which overwrites the parent’s style and functionality.

Why we like it

If you want to build a site yourself but don’t have any coding experience, or you simply want to get a site up and running as quickly as possible, then WordPress is a strong contender. You can start by picking one of the thousands of themes available, then use the options to change the logo, colours, fonts and layout to suit your needs. There are specific themes available for almost any kind of business you can think of, so finding a suitable one shouldn’t be an issue.

You can then go ahead and augment your site with the multitude of plugins available. Need a contact form or map? Or perhaps you’re selling in a foreign market and need multilingual support? Whatever your requirements, there’s almost certainly a free or premium plugin to cover it.

Why it might not be suitable

The sheer amount of WordPress plugins available is both a blessing and a curse. While the most popular plugins are regularly updated and supported, some more niche ones can often fall behind. This can create security vulnerabilities. The core WordPress platform also receives regular updates. This means that sites do require a certain level of monthly maintenance which, while not too difficult, can still take time away from your other business activities. While unlikely, updating old plugins can also occasionally break your site in unexpected ways – usually we recommend performing any major updates on a duplicate staging site first to check for any issues.

WordPress’ dashboard, while perfectly functionality (and familiar to most people), doesn’t offer the greatest user experience. Certain things take too many clicks, and some basic functionality (like duplicating posts and pages) is still missing. Of course there are plugins available to fill in the gaps, but again this can lead to more maintenance, bloat, and UX problems.

What is ProcessWire?

The ProcessWire admin
The ProcessWire admin

Though less well known than WordPress, ProcessWire has been around for just as long (albeit under different names). It’s a lightweight CMS that incorporates a simple but powerful API, making it very easy to use your own HTML templates. Sites are built around pages, which are created in a simple tree format.

The technical stuff

ProcessWire is also based on PHP and MySQL – this means that while most hosts don’t have a dedicated option for it, it’s still relatively easy to setup. You can also get ready-to-deploy ProcessWire packages from services like Bitnami, making life even easier.

While it has substantially fewer plugins and themes than WordPress, the beauty of ProcessWire is that it’s incredibly easy to use your own original designs. The architecture is built around two main components; templates and fields. Every page is assigned a template, which has an associated PHP file to control the actual page structure. In turn, templates can have multiple fields assigned. Some fields come as default (title, body, images etc), and you can also add custom ones which can then be referenced in the template via ProcessWire’s API.

Why we like it

Compared to WordPress, ProcessWire is far more lightweight (especially if you take into account the amount of plugins that are usually added to the former). The admin interface was produced with websites in mind, not blogs, so it tends to be more user-friendly. The system itself was built from the ground up to be secure, so vulnerabilities are less of a concern (this is a little unfair to WordPress, as it’s popularity makes it a much bigger target, but it’s still something to consider).

ProcessWire’s architecture makes building bespoke solutions far easier, with custom fields offering great flexibility. The simplicity of integrating the API snippets into your original designs makes it a joy to work with for developers.

Why it might not be suitable

If you’re going to use ProcessWire, it’s probably going to mean building your own templates and functionality, rather than using an existing theme. Naturally, this means that development times are going to be longer. It also means that if you’re not familiar with HTML, CSS and PHP, you’re going to either have to spend some time learning, or hire someone to build the site for you. With the sheer amount of themes that WordPress offers, it’s fair to say that ProcessWire has a slightly higher learning curve in that respect.

The other thing to consider is that, while ProcessWire has a great community, it’s far less popular than WordPress. This can make it somewhat more difficult to find answers if you run into difficulties. You may also find yourself having to build custom functionality which could be easily found in a WordPress plugin.

The WordPress and ProcessWire logos

So which should you choose?

If you want to get your site up and running as quickly as possible so you can concentrate on your business, then WordPress is a solid choice. You can pick from one of thousands of existing themes, add your branding and content, optimise, and you’re good to go. WordPress is very much an ‘out of the box’ solution, and works especially well if you need a blog-centric/news site, or a quick and simple e-commerce solution. Just be aware that there is a level of maintenance involved.

Conversely, if you want something more lightweight where posting articles is not the priority, or are looking for something more bespoke, then we would recommend ProcessWire as a fantastic alternative.

As always Black Void is on hand for any questions you might have. Feel free to contact us if you’re still undecided or need a reliable team to help implement your chosen platform.