development retainer, when should i put a developer on retainer, should i have a developer on retainer, should i have a programmer on retainer, hiring a programmer, when to hire a programmer, hiring a programmer for my business site, business site development, eCommerce development, WordPress plugin development, build a plugin for my business, build a WordPress plugin for my business, build an eCommerce site, hire someone to develop an eCommerce site

Why You Pay a Premium for Web Development Retainers

When folks think about hiring a service provider, they’re usually looking for help achieving one particular goal.

Whether it’s hiring a lawyer to draft a will, a contractor to remodel your kitchen, or a developer to build your website, the goal is to finish one specific project and set you up for future success on your own.

But what if you know you’ll need ongoing support from your chosen provider? What if you think this project isn’t the only thing you’ll need their expertise on?

That’s when you want a retainer.

What’s a retainer?

A retainer is a fee paid in advance to a service provider to secure their services. People most often associate retainers with lawyers, but all kinds of service providers offer retainer accounts, including developers. While a developer can build your site and send you on your way, retaining a developer’s services on a long-term basis is a fantastic way to make sure your technology is being handled by an expert as your business grows.

How web development retainers help you

Most developers offer a broad variety of services: building and designing websites, building apps, conducting code audits, debugging code, updating your site (particularly relevant if you’re on WordPress and things fall behind), and more. As your business grows, your technological needs will change. Justin talked about this in his most recent post covering code audits:

…Some plugins do well if they’re on a site that has no users logged in. However, if that same site has switched to a subscription model, it won’t have caching layers that allow the plugins to run as smoothly. Your client may not know this difference. All they know is that they made the switch when they needed to shift their business model. They didn’t recognize the impact it would have on their technology.

As your business changes, issues like the one outlined here may crop up–without you understanding what is happening or how to fix it. If your business goes through a sudden growth spurt, your site may not be able to handle the traffic or engagement, which could be financially devastating. And if your site goes down, if you don’t have technical support, you’re on your own, since most developers can’t drop everything they’re doing to work on your site (or if they can, they’ll charge a pretty penny for it).

Having a technical expert in your corner ensures that your technology will grow alongside your business. It means that you can either outright avoid or quickly ameliorate any pain points that arise, which makes your life less stressful, your business run smoothly, and your clients happy.

But retainers are expensive!

Some folks argue that retainers are a waste of time, since you pay for the hours upfront and if there isn’t work to be done, not all of those hours may be used. Although the nature of transactions like these is how they’re outlined in terms of hours, thinking of it this way is too simple. You’re paying for so much more than just the hours.

Priority and access

If you’ve ever desperately needed tech support and tried to find it last minute, you’ve likely discovered how difficult it is to get it done as quickly as you need it. If you have managed to find someone to handle it, they likely charged you a ton of money to handle the immediacy of the request.

Setting up a retainer with your web developer means paying for priority. They’re turning down other work in anticipation of being available to you.

At Zao, in particular, we provide a higher level of access to not only our time, but also, in immediacy of response. That different level of access means reaching us during a broader range of hours (particularly good in an emergency), as well as a quicker turnaround.

A working knowledge of your business

Any developer who is working with your site should make it their priority to know your business. They need to know your technical pain points and goals, of course, but they should also keep your broader business goals in mind as well. When you hire a developer on retainer, it means you’re keeping a consistent tap on someone who filters your professional objectives through a technical lens. It means they can anticipate your technical needs and potential obstacles you may face in the future–and help you plan for it.

It also means you have someone who knows your code inside and out, so fixes are a lot quicker and easier. It means your development is consistent in quality, delivery, and expectation.

No DIY worries

How often do you get your oil changed? Tires rotated? Do you do it yourself, or do you hire a professional to handle it so that you don’t have to worry about getting your hands dirty?

Maintenance doesn’t just apply to cars; it applies to your technology, too.

Of course you can handle the WordPress site updates yourself, but do you really want to add something to your ever-growing to-do list? And do you have the technical capability to handle it if an update shuts down your site?

That aforementioned access and expertise comes into play here, because with a developer on retainer, you can build maintenance into your agreement with them. Not only can they handle the basic tweaks to keep everything running, but they also have the skill and time dedicated to you to fix anything should an update go awry.

Retainers can be spendy, but they’re an investment.

Rather than handing over your arm, leg, and one extra pinky toe to pay for an urgent fix, retainers are an investment in technical partnership that prioritizes your emergencies and needs. They may seem spendier in the long run, but when you consider the cost of emergencies, it is pennies in comparison.

A one time buy is for vendors, but retainers create technical partnership

Paying for a retainer means essentially paying someone to join your team. One of our values is family, and that extends not to just our families, but to creating a kind of family in our professional sphere. We want to welcome our clients in, and do more for them than just build something and kick it out the door. We like offering more than a drive by snack; we want to have a family meal.

When our clients hire us on retainer, they’re paying us to take some of the focus off of our business to focus on theirs. We take their dreams and big ideas and translate them into something that has a tangible impact on their business. That takes time, priority, and strategy that simply isn’t possible for a short-term project.

We guide as they scale. We care about the success of their projects and business as much as they do. Like any family, we love being able to celebrate our clients’ successes as they happen just as much as we want to dig in and help when things fail.

Zao, WordPress web development, WordPress eCommerce development, WordPress eCommerce developers, WordPress plugin developers, WordPress technical partners, WordPress developers to hire, hire a WordPress developer, find a WordPress developer

Zao: A Look Back at 2016

After a decade of work, 2016 was the best year Zao has had thus far.

Our small team more than doubled, we worked on several amazing projects, and we contributed back to open source, of course. Here’s a rundown of what we did and what we’re excited about moving forward.

A 2016 Retrospective

The Zao Team

Team Zao grew considerably in 2016 – we more than doubled our staff size and even found some incredible contractors who have been an integral part of our success.

Full-time Staff

Mihai

In February, we hired Mihai Joldis as a full-time developer. Hailing from Romania, he leads the charge with many of our enhancements to WP eCommerce and is an invaluable engineer on many of our client projects as well. To top it all off, he provides excellent support to our growing customer base at wpecommerce.org.  He is also one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet–humble, kind, and generous, too! All fantastic qualities that he’ll be putting to good use as he becomes a first-time dad in a few short months.

The Other Justin

In May, we hired Justin Sternberg as a lead developer, staff sergeant, managing partner, and all around excellent human being. He leads many of our agency projects; clients pretty much love him the moment they start working with him. After less than a year on our team, we can’t imagine life without him.

Contractors

Lizz

Late last year, we had the good fortune of finding Lizz Ehrenpreis. Lizz is the only reason you’re aware of who we are and can read these words without wanting to stab your eyes out. She’s an absolute wizard with content, incredibly disciplined, and pretty much the bee’s knees. Did I mention she plays the ukulele?

Jon

If you don’t know Jon, you should DEFINITELY know Jon. He’s a rock-solid developer who has been a massive help to Zao since Q4 last year. He’s been an integral part of helping us launch our own projects on budget, on time. If you’ve ever been tasked with finding GOOD developer contractors, you know how difficult it can be. If they’re solid engineers, they never communicate. If they communicate well, you’re constantly fixing code. Jon is the exception to that rule; he’s the real deal and we’re lucky to have him around.


Our work with Cancer Tutor

Cancer Tutor Logo

If you’ve been poking around our site for the last few weeks, you’ve already learned a little bit about Cancer Tutor and the work we’ve done for them already.

A brief synopsis of the work we did for them, from our portfolio:

Cancer Tutor worked with Zao on several different aspects of improving their site, ranging from eCommerce to solving complex technical hurdles. They wanted the ability to have member profiles that allowed their users to track and follow content from different authors, as well as create a notification center inside of WordPress without the overhead of something like BuddyPress.

Zao created a custom notification system built on a notifications component found in BuddyPress; we cribbed the component and integrated it with the REST API in WordPress. Now, users can follow categories and authors, and will get notified every time there is new content. This JavaScript intensive update also allows greater communication from Cancer Tutor admins, allowing them to send a notification to everyone in the system as desired.


The Cancer Tutor project was challenging and exciting to our team particularly because of how we utilized WordPress REST API.

The REST API and what it can do in WordPress are going to be a huge area of growth for us. It’s in WordPress core, and will become the primary way to solve a lot of technical problems. The custom notification system we built for Cancer Tutor required digging into how the REST API works.

The REST API touched almost everything we did on the Cancer Tutor site, from templating, to the way the notification system works, to the way that users are able to follow certain authors and forum posts or different categories. The site we built for Cancer Tutor is a user-centric, member-centric website, and all of that functionality is built on the REST API.

We dug into the internals to find best way for authentication, as well as how to manage users and notifications in a way that scales. We had to figure out how to build the site so that 50,000 users liking the same thing at the same time or sending out 100,000 notifications wouldn’t crash the server.


Working with the WordPress REST API

Working with the REST API fits nicely in our wheelhouse. Zao focuses on advanced problem solving with our clients; it’s something we enjoy and it’s where we really shine. Plus, it’s at an intersection with our specialty. Since we focus on eCommerce, there are loads of cool possibilities that come into play when sites can utilize the REST API.

Since the REST API is a major part of WordPress moving forward, we’ll see it utilized in a few different ways by many:

Single page applications

Instead of going to an eCommerce site that feels sluggish, we predict we’ll see more sites using an eCommerce theme with the REST API, which makes the site feel way faster. Obviously, anything that can make a site load faster is better for business; it’s a common vanity metric. Faster sites convert better.

Advanced technology for mom & pop shops

This is also going to provide opportunities for advanced technology to be utilized by smaller businesses. Maybe we’ll see programmable drones delivering from mom and pop shops, where the delivery address for an order that just came in can go through their site and directly to their delivery drone. Piece of cake.


Our work with Brooklyn Tweed

Brooklyn Tweed, Brooklyn Tweed website, Zao clients, sites on WordPress, WordPress developers, hire a WordPress developer, building a clothing store, eCommerce developers, e-commerce WordPress developers, using WordPress for e-Commerce

Cancer Tutor was our hare. Brooklyn Tweed is our tortoise.

Brooklyn Tweed is another excellent client of ours (we’re biased–all of our clients are excellent!). Zao is doing month to month work with them, which we love. Having long-lasting, ongoing relationships with our clients is satisfying. It may not be a gigantic project from the start (who doesn’t love landing a big check?), but it means that we get to work with them and steadily grow their business.

Longevity in our relationships gives us the opportunity to be a technical partner, rather than a one-off vendor. It requires us putting in some hard work upfront to build a foundation to what we always hope will become a fruitful relationship. It allows us to add real, measurable value to their business.

When we build a long term relationship with our clients, we have an impact on that business we’re not able to have otherwise. We can take their business to the next level, technically speaking, and work with their team to make sure their technology is scaling as it should, right alongside their sales.

Long-term clients allow us autonomy and creative license to do what we need to do. If we’re just a vendor pushing code, it turns into a different dynamic. Long-term partnership allows us to approach the relationship as a collaborative effort. We get to work alongside the client as their goals shift over time. We love that, and we’ll be looking for more of these kinds of opportunities in the future.


Open source efforts

Our open source efforts have been incremental, but solid, and you’ll see bigger changes to those things in 2017.

CMB2

Since Justin Sternberg joined us in June 2016, a few notable changes have been made to CMB2, including:

A significant change came with 2.2.2, allowing you to now show your meta fields in the admin columns (on the post-listing screens).

And 2.2.3 was a major release, marking the addition of the CMB2 REST API, to neatly complement the new WordPress REST API. That means when you use a site with the REST API, you now have a way to interact with CMB2 data as well. This update also included something that has been asked for over and over again, which is making the WYSIWYG editor work properly within repeatable groups.

You can see all of the updates for the year on the CMB2 Github page.

Although CMB2 is still a WebDevStudios property, Justin’s passion for working on CMB2, as well as the shared commitment that both Zao and WebDevStudios have made to open source, means it’s still Justin’s baby. You’ll be seeing more work from him on that moving forward.

CMB2 Group Map

We created this CMB2 add-on for Brian Krogsgard and PostStatus. It allows users to use CMB2 group fields to manage custom post type entries, and is used on PostStatus to associate footnotes with notes.

WP eCommerce

WP eCommerce got some love this year, with three minor releases and eight core contributors working on the plugin. We continued significant development efforts for an upcoming 4.0 release. The 4.0 release has been in the works for the last five years! WPEC also strengthened partnerships with strategic partners like Paypal, Amazon, and TSYS ProPay.

GatherContent

Zao worked with GatherContent to release a major rewrite and many improvements to their GC integration plugin. While GatherContent is not an open-source platform, their WordPress plugin is open-sourced, available for collaboration, and offers benefits to open source in its availability and transparency.

Since Zao started working on the GatherContent WordPress plugin, there have been sixteen releases. The plugin is benefiting from active development, bug fixes, and feature updates. You can see the work we’ve done from versions 3.0.0 and up right here.


Sweet, sweet numbers

Zao plugin downloads in 2016: A whopping 504,855

When compared with 2015:

  • Analytics for WordPress downloads went up 5%
  • GatherContent’s plugin downloads went up 88%
  • CMB2 downloads went up 511%
  • Dsgnwrks Instagram Importer downloads went up 39%

Our revenue increase: 121.7%

Wow! These are the kind of numbers that make us feel good; it means what we’re doing is working.


All in all, it was a productive year that showed a lot of growth and prosperity. And it laid fantastic groundwork for 2017. Things in the world may be challenging, but we believe staying true to our work and being productive is one way of being radical.

We’re looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings, and we hope to see you on the way.

WordPress developers, WordPress eCommerce developers, Zao, Justin Sainton, Justin Sternberg, Cancer Tutor, best WordPress developers, what it's like to work with a WordPress developer, why choose Zao, Zao web development reviews, WordPress web development, code audit, hiring a WordPress dev, WordPress developer red flags, what is a code audit, how do i get a code audit, what is in a code audit, what's included in a code audit, how do i find a developer, finding a WordPress web developer, best WordPress web developers

Crucial Questions You Need to Ask Before Getting a Code Audit

Code audits are one of the main things Zao offers to our clients. Many of our clients are strategically looking at how they can expand their businesses, and a crucial aspect of that is making sure their technology is not hindering their growth.

There’s a lot of muddled information about what a code audit should look like, and many clients start their search for a code audit without any idea of what to expect, what questions to ask, or what they should be looking for when vetting developers to do the job.

Are you looking for a code audit? Here’s what you need to know and ask before you sign that check:

Code Audit Questions Clients Need to Ask

— What is the final deliverable I can expect from this audit?

Depending on your developer, the final deliverable can range from a simple confirmation that everything is working as it should to an in-depth delivery document that details what is working, what isn’t, and appropriate recommendations for improvement.

Nowadays, we all research what we’re spending our money on before we pay up. Whether that research is looking at Yelp reviews of local restaurants or comparing the best and the worst Amazon reviews on new products, we want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck. So often, though, clients don’t ask what they can expect to receive when it comes to code audits.

Maybe you just want a developer to look things over and confirm if everything is solid. That’s great! If you find a developer that will simply send over an email with a 👍🏼 and “Everything’s cool,” then they’re a good choice for you!

code audit, getting a code audit, code audit my plugin, WordPress web developers, WordPress web development agencies, WordPress ecommerce developer, getting a developer, hiring a WordPress developer, should I get a code audit?, what is a code audit?

If you’re looking for a more intensive analysis of your current code, you’ll want to find a developer who provides that. Since there’s no industry standard on what deliverable comes with a code audit, you’ll need to investigate to find the developer that is providing what you want.

Here at Zao, our code audits come with an exhaustive document that assesses our clients’ current technology with a specific eye on their needs and challenges, and includes recommendations that pragmatically account for budget, time, and priority.

We also provide a timeline that, should the client choose to work with us on implementing those recommendations, gives a realistic perspective on how long it will take for those technical goals to be accomplished. Lastly, we detail in each recommendation how and why this change adds value to our clients’ businesses.

— What kind of code do you audit?

Investigating the details of what to expect from your code audit is vital because some developers only offer specialized code audits. Some developers exclusively audit plugins, themes, or apps, whereas others are focused on auditing detailed eCommerce integrations or your entire site.

If you know you’re looking for a specific kind of code audit, finding a developer who specializes and focuses on that kind of development is key. If you’re looking for a full site audit, but the developer you’ve contracted with focuses specifically on auditing Genesis themes, you may not get the most effective and comprehensive audit that you need.

— Can you provide more details on code audits you’ve done? Do you have a sample I can look at?

When you find out more about the scope of a developer’s experience and take a look at a code audit sample, you’ll get a better understanding what the end deliverable will be–even beyond the initial response. You’ll get a better idea of how your developer tackles code audits and communicates the end result.

This information is crucial, as it helps you understand what to expect of your developer, and can help you find a developer who communicates in a way that works best for you.

— What kinds of clients have you worked with in the past?

Most developers have worked with companies that span a broad range of industries, and can tackle projects in unfamiliar industries like a champ. However, knowing if their experience includes working with companies in your particular niche helps you know whether or not you’ll need to explain specific industry nuances to them.

Your technology needs to meet your business’ needs, and those can vary slightly from industry to industry. Knowing your developer’s history with your industry can help you determine what kind of crucial information you need to communicate–or whether your developer is already in a position to take on those challenges without extra explanation.

Red Flags

what questions to ask your developer, what is a code audit, when should i hire a developer, should i use WordPress, WordPress for eCommerce, WordPress web development, hire a WordPress developer, build a WordPress plugin, get a WordPress plugin for my business

In an initial introduction, everyone is on their best behavior.

Job interviews are like dating. As Chris Rock says, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting their representative.” You need to know what red flags to look for when seeking out a developer–and how to look past the friendly representative to make sure it’s going to be a good fit.

— A dev who doesn’t ask questions

If you’re talking with a developer about a code audit (and potentially more work beyond that) and they don’t ask detailed questions about what you’re looking for, what your current technology is, what kind of pain-points you’ve experienced, and more, you have a problem.

You want a developer who is invested in your company’s success, in solving your technical problems, and bringing value to your business. A developer who doesn’t ask questions isn’t going to know what you need, nor have the full understanding required to adequately assess what is going on with your site.

That’s one of the reasons that we ask detailed questions and make sure we know exactly where our clients are coming from. We want to make sure that we have specific notes on what to look for and what they’re trying to accomplish with their technology. Even if our clients don’t have the technical savvy to articulate what they need done, by knowing their goals, their struggles, and their technical history, we can help by capitalizing on our technical knowledge to come up with creative solutions.

— A dev who can’t tell you in concrete, clear terms what you’re going to get

There’s a reason asking about the deliverable is so important. Code audits, without planning, can beget intangible results. Unlike design, there’s no Photoshop mockup, or unlike copywriting, there’s no first draft. If a developer isn’t willing to say, “Here is the end result you can expect from me,” it’s a huge red flag.

hiring a WordPress dev, WordPress developer red flags, what is a code audit, how do i get a code audit, what is in a code audit, what's included in a code audit, how do i find a developer, finding a WordPress web developer, best WordPress web developers

Your developer needs to be able to set your expectations accordingly. You need to know what you are paying for at the end of this–and a developer who cannot tell you what you are getting for your money is not one you should hire.


We know vetting developers who, as far as you may be concerned, basically work magic on the internet, can be stressful. It doesn’t have to be, though. Now that you’re armed with these questions and red flags to look out for, you can assess which developer is going to be able to provide the code audit you need.

Have any other questions about code audits that we haven’t covered? Drop ‘em in the comments; we’re here to help!