Let’s say you’ve found two great WordPress freelancers or agencies for outsourcing your WordPress development. They happen to be located at completely opposite ends of the world. In terms of quality and cost, you think you would be about equally happy with either. Should location tip the equation? If so, what aspects matter? What’s overrated?
Based on our experiences, I’ll highlight the key ways in which location does matter — as well as those in which it doesn’t.
01 Language Abilities
You need to be able to communicate with developers or freelancers that you hire. The foolproof way to ensure this is to talk to the person you will be working with by voice, whether that is an account manager or the developer themselves. That way you will get a clear sense of their abilities.
As another resource, a language learning software company created a rough guide to the relative language levels of different countries, called the EF English Proficiency Skill Index. It’s based on a non-scientific online survey, but it involves over 2 million participants, so it’s still arguably informative. It also shows the rate of improvement year-over-year, a potentially interesting metric if you’re looking for a location with growing potential.
Ukraine ranks three places above France in the Moderate Proficiency tier. France is (proudly, no doubt) in the “Low Proficiency” category.
Similar to language skills, some countries have better established or more rigorous technical education than others. Again, the company or freelancer you’re working with could just be a whiz. If you’re not sure and the reputation of the educational system, it might be worth seeking out a coding test to get an objective sense of the skills and problem-solving abilities of those you will be working with.
Another quick way to get some more objectivity would be to look at the results of international comparative tests like PISA or TIMSS. For example, in the 2011 results of the TIMSS tests of math and science (the most recent available) our home base Ukraine scored just after Sweden and just above Norway. The total distribution almost entirely overlaps with the US. In other words, top performers in Ukraine are likely to be just as smart as top performers in the U.S.
If you’re offshoring WordPress development, it’s quite likely you will be sending the work to a place where infrastructure may be somewhat outdated or not fully developed to cutting-edge standards. Electricity outages are the major concern. The company or developer may be fantastic, but the power grid is usually at the mercy of the municipal governments.
To deal with this, ask your candidates how often they lose power and what happens to your work if they do. Hint: “It never happens” should not be a very reassuring answer. (Even in most American households it wouldn’t be odd to lose power once or twice a year due to a storm or freak mass outage.)
It’s also important to ask whether outages are likely to be localized or large-scale. India has had some high-profile mass outages over the past few years, sometimes affecting up to 600 million people. Because of this, some of the larger outsourcing companies have invested in generators that can operate the business for 5 to 7 days off the grid. Even so, large scale outages present higher risks for your business.
To contrast, our offices in Ukraine sometimes encounter glitches with internet or electricity (perhaps once every other month), but it’s usually localized to the building. We’ve always resolved such issues within one working day. If such an interruption causes a delay, we arrange to make up the time to get all projects back on schedule.
Keep in mind that the risk of outages may be magnified with WordPress freelancers, who may not have a backup option if they work from their homes.
04 Political Stability
Corruption, violence, and regime change are a grim reality in many parts of the world. These are enormously disruptive to business and best avoided when you are choosing a location to outsource WordPress. The U.S. State Department provides a list of travel warnings which can provide a starting point of places that might pose difficulties.
That said, headlines may not reflect the reality of life and work in most of a country. For example, many people ask us about this aspect of working in Ukraine. Sadly, Ukraine has mostly been in the global news in recent years for the violent conflicts in the east, which have displaced many people from their homes and rocked the national economy. However, the physical effects of these conflicts are very localized. In Odessa and Poltava, where our offices are located, it’s been business as usual.
If you find a promising partner, but you’re concerned about the political situation, get more information about conditions in the city or region itself.
Unless you need to visit your outsourcing location once a month or more, a close location will not make all that much difference in terms of your budget or time. It is often helpful to have a couple hours of normal workday overlap, to be able to communicate regularly. Beyond this, you may be limiting yourself by trying to select an outsourcing location that is quite close.
02 Cultural Stereotypes
Many people might not consciously invoke cultural stereotypes in making a decision about where to outsource web development. Or at least they wouldn’t be likely to admit to it. All the same, it’s often part of the implicit mental process. When we have limited information, we use our biases to make a judgment.
If you’re trying to figure out where to find the best developers, I would urge you to consciously push back against this tendency. Yes, cultural traditions and beliefs may have distinct differences across the world, but there are also excellent people to be found in every country around the world. This doesn’t need to be a factor for you to have good reasons to make your decision for one location or another.
The best way to resist: get to know the people you might work with. Talk to them, and not just about their pure knowledge, but also about what motivates them, what frustrates them, what kind of work culture they work well in. It’s guaranteed that many people in any place won’t be suited to personality or working style for your team — but many will.