Running a WooCommerce store is already a difficult thing itself because on top of the standard business aspect you're required to take care of, there are lots of "moving parts" under the hood. And when something goes wrong, or you just need to add a new custom feature, for example, you're also faced with another big challenge: should you hire a WordPress developer or you'd better off looking for a WooCommerce specialist? Which one is the most appropriate for your current needs?

This isn't an easy answer to provide, as the steps that contribute towards a successful project or a fixed issue can range widely from simple ones to those extremely complex. Therefore, the right person to address them can be different when scenarios change.

So when things with your WooCommerce store aren't as they're supposed to be, is it a hard and fast rule to go for a WooCommerce specialist? Or, will any experienced WordPress developer do? Well, fret not! WordPress developer and Codeable expert Shadi Manna gives valuable insights to master the trade.

To make it more clear, I'll be developing and grouping the topic based on if's. Let's start!

If it's aesthetics and frontend work

WooCommerce is extensive and the work that goes into it varies as such. There could be simple changes that you wish to make like selecting a different theme or changing the positioning of some items. If that's your case, these tasks can be handled by a normal WordPress developer. The difference is further elaborated by Shadi who says:

Anything that has to do mostly with frontend such as templating, structure, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, or any other cosmetic changes, either a WordPress developer or a WooCommerce expert will be able to do help you. Anything which starts changing functionality, or adding functionality, or changing the way the flow of the ordering works, I believe you need a specialist.

Simply put, a WordPress developer can handle frontend customizations and successfully work on the structure/template of your WooCommerce store but when it comes to other areas and elements, it is advisable to hire a WooCommerce specialist. Let's see why that is.

If it's functionality and backend work

A WooCommerce specialist is required for a number of reasons and these are usually related to backend technicalities of the platform. Shadi explains this by bringing it down to two main points:

There's a lot happening in the backend of a store and you need to understand the mechanics of what's happening within WooCommerce to be able to change it. So, if you're working with a developer who's not familiar with that, it's going to be very difficult for them to work on your store. On top of this, you should be aware, for example, that WooCommerce is moving away from the standard database of posts and post meta to their own database structures for optimizing the speed of WooCommerce. So you can't - or just shouldn't - use standard post functions from WordPress that are given today because tomorrow they won't work.

A standard WordPress developer might not be aware of these WooCommerce-specific functions or any other aspects that differentiate a WooCommerce store from a WordPress website right from the beginning. That's why for anything which is highly technical and functional, you should probably rely on a specialist. Otherwise, if things aren't properly coded and handled, it'll be like pulling the rug from under the feet (of your website) causing it to crash.

There are plenty of examples that show how WooCommerce is an ever-evolving piece of software that requires thorough understanding, one of which has to do with the wp_update_post function. As Shadi explains:

There are many examples of bad practices, for example, with wp_update_post. As of today, you could use that on an order, post, or product because they are posts in the database. You could also update all their meta info with no problem. But I'm pretty sure in future versions this function won't work because it's going to be removed from the database of posts and put in its own database. When that happens, your code will then simply fail. There are at least tens - if not hundreds - of functions that should not be used.

Too technical? Don't worry. The moral here for you to understand is that you need to be aware of that a WooCommerce store comes with many specific functions that are constantly changing to improve. And if you need help with your store, you'd be better hiring someone who's updated on these changes happening in WooCommerce in order to deliver you proper development work.

If your budget can't afford a WooCommerce specialist

There's no reason to sugar coat this because we're talking about business: hiring a WooCommerce specialist usually will require you a higher investment. Be honest, though: this can't come completely out of the blue to you, as it happens in any private and professional domain. If you need someone who's experienced within a specific environment, you'll be charged more because they'll provide greater benefit eventually.

A WooCommerce specialist will cost you more but there's an effective way to being able to hire specialists. I'll explain.

When it comes to development work, specifically for bigger projects, or projects that require more resources from you, there's a proven approach that enabled thousands of business owners to afford WooCommerce specialists they had no idea they could do in the first place. Have you ever heard of "agile development"? Maybe Minimum Viable Product or MVP? Well, these notions strictly relate to the idea of iterative development, which could be the right solution to work with WooCommerce when your budget seems too tight. Highlights Shadi:

If hiring a WooCommerce specialist it's a question of money, I always advise my clients to use the iterative approach. If you can't build everything today, that's fine. Let's do a Minimal Viable Product first to make sure you're making money and your business runs smoothly. Then, once you need additional functionality, you need additional changes, we can create another iteration, another version of your store and add those changes.

In other words, by following this approach, you'll be to run a newer version (iteration) of your store while being already capable of making money so that you can reinvest it in additional changes and build up on top of each other (future iterations).

If you already know a really good WordPress developer

It's not that uncommon for many business owners to have already engaged and successfully worked with great WordPress developers. So it's no surprise if you think of reaching out to your preferred developer and ask for some advanced WooCommerce-related work. And to an extent, it might even work for you but it's ultimately related to what you need to get done on your store how beneficial this solution can be. As Shadi stresses:

From a business perspective, I'd suggest to simply work with your preferred developer as much as possible but I'd also ask them to be honest about how far they can still provide value to you. At some stage, they'll reach a turning point about which they should inform you and explain that you'd need either to bring in a WooCommerce specialist into the project or completely move this part to a professional.

If you don't think proactively about your store's future

Hiring a WordPress developer today to save a few bucks might be more harmful than you imagine. If even it's the most prominent and grabs our attention at first, there are other resources besides money that are at stake:

I think a problematic issue that has a great impact on the business is the cleanup process. Trying to fix something after the store is launched, and backtrack, and try to fix it again, could be much more costly in terms of lost sales. Doing it after your store has been launched, and more custom-code has been added on top of that code, will be exponentially more expensive to you than simply investing in a specialist from the beginning.

Cleanup is a business expense and taking care of things properly right from the start it's one of the best ways to save on costs. The main reason being you won't have to pay again to get things fixed, even though you had already paid to have them in the first place:

I'd suggest sticking with someone who is building the right code from the beginning, because I've had to clean up other developers' issues and, to be honest, it costs clients way more. In terms of lost sales, and in terms of having to double pay for things that were done incorrectly, and now having to pay a specialist to fix it anyway.

It is a sensible choice to invest in a wooCommerce specialist from the beginning instead of looking to save some money "here and there" and end up spending more time and efforts cleaning the mess afterward.

Cleanup is always a business expense and poorly managed time is always a cost you can't profit from.

Wrapping up

WordPress developers and WooCommerce specialists live into two distinct sets of the world where the overlaps are common. For a business owner, this intersection might be difficult to understand on an operational level: "who should I hire to help me with my issue?", you might ask yourself.

As in many other aspects of our life, a specialist is the professional to reach out to for specific issues. Specifically, if you need help with your store hiring a WooCommerce specialist has multiple benefits that will allow you to save on maintenance costs, time, and will help you anticipate future issues in the long-run. That doesn't mean a WordPress developer can't be of help for your store. Anything that has to do with your theme, template, and frontend is completely up their alley.

This blog post features Shadi Manna who is the founder of Progressus Marketing. He's also a Certified WooCommerce Expert and Consultant with more than 10 years of experience working with WooCommerce Development, Conversation Rate Optimization (CRO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Shadi is focused on creating an optimized User Experience (UX) for your eCommerce website by considering both CRO and SEO implications, in order to ensure you are getting the most from your store.