Six things to consider when choosing an Umbraco development agency
Over recent weeks we’ve heard a familiar story; several new clients issuing a cry for help with their Umbraco site. “We worked with an agency who seemed great at first, but it turns out they didn’t really know Umbraco. Now our site is broken / dangerously unstable / inaccessible (delete as applicable) and we need help so that we can make changes to our site without everything breaking”.
Unfortunately we’ve heard this story before - many times, in fact. It’s the single biggest reason why we don’t try to be experts in WordPress or Drupal or Sitecore or Episerver. You can’t be a jack of all trades at our level. It works for really big networked global agencies with many different technical teams - but those guys have pretty big overheads, and charge out rates to match.
So, instead we’ve made ourselves experts in our chosen field; we are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced in the Umbraco website development, and native mobile apps built around an Umbraco Core.
Now I don’t want to cannibalise a perfectly healthy stream of work that comes from disgruntled ex-clients of agencies that don’t understand Umbraco. But in the spirit of being helpful and doing the right thing, it strikes me that there are a few questions that clients should be asking during the procurement process to establish the bona fides of a prospective development partner.
Obviously we have strong credentials in these areas, as will the many other reputable Umbraco agencies I’ve had the pleasure to work with (and compete against). But these are always the key things to check:
1. Do they have demonstrable experience of working on Umbraco projects?
Let’s face it, building a website isn’t rocket science, but the road to Umbraco nirvana is paved with agencies that have looked and thought, “it’s only a website, how hard can it be?”.
In experienced hands it’s a powerful toolkit, but in the wrong hands it’ll become a nightmare of poor performance and poor usability. In my experience, the first time someone uses a toolkit like Umbraco then they can easily stray from the well worn path of best practice, and end up building a monster. Find out what projects the Umbraco agency you're considering has worked on and take a look to see if they have any case studies that prove performance.
2. Do they understand what can go wrong with an Umbraco project?
Closely related to my previous point. When you’ve worked with Umbraco often enough, you know what can go wrong. No software is perfect, especially when it’s in the hands of developers that don’t know better. An experienced agency will know what the pitfalls are. They’ll understand that performance can suck if you don’t understand what you’re doing when you turn off XML caching, and they’ll understand how to structure content to make it easier for editors to manage their content.
3. Do they have certifications to demonstrate they understand Umbraco best practice?
The Umbraco Certified Developer pathway is a great opportunity for new developers to learn the basic knowledge to build an Umbraco site. The coaches are all experienced developers who decorate the course material with their own knowledge. Umbraco Certification isn’t a guarantee of a good result, but it is demonstrable evidence that someone has taken the time and effort to sit in a room and listen to how it should be done.
4. Do they have a close relationship with HQ?
The great thing about Open Source software is that if it’s broken you can fix it yourself. Better still there’s a great community of dedicated developers around the world who can offer advice and guidance.
But what if you’re about to go live and the site falls on its backside? If you’re working with an Umbraco Gold Partner, or have invested in a paid support package, then you can ask the HQ team for help.
We’ve rarely used the support system, but when a site of ours fell over, on the morning of go live, we made the call and Shannon came to help and quickly diagnosed the problem as a Windows update, which had deployed automatically. One quick rollback of the update and we were up and running with no significant delay. Phew - and well worth the money.
5. Do they have a toolkit of commonly used packages?
Agencies that deliver Umbraco sites on a regular basis will know and understand the best packages that improve the functionality of Umbraco for end-users or editors, many of which will be free and open source, but some of which are paid-for.
All Gold Partners have access to the paid-for Umbraco products such as Umbraco Forms and Courier. We also have site licences that enable us to install great packages from Soetemen Software such as CMS Import, SEO Checker and Member Protect. All of these reduce the cost of development for our customers, and improve the experience for users.
6. Do they understand how to support you scaling your site?
Clients rarely commission a website with the intention of serving the same small group of users for the long term. Clients want to grow their business, and they want their website to be the engine of that growth. If your prospective agency don’t understand what the impact of growth will be on the site, then they can make dangerously short sighted decisions as to how to build, configure or host it.
This is just six of the things we think are important when considering working with an agency on an Umbraco project. In essence, experience and depth of knowledge of the Umbraco ecosystem is a critical success factor for any project with Umbraco at its core.
Find out why we could be the perfect Umbraco partner for your business
If you’d like to find out more about how Carbon Six Digital can help with your Umbraco needs, then contact us today.