How to hire a Zen Cart consultant

A client of mine was looking for some OSCommerce to Zen Cart conversion work – something I don’t do, but I wanted to at least give him a bit of guidance through the process.

Hiring a Zen Cart consultant is pretty much like hiring any other consultant; you want to look at their portfolio, make sure they’re competent to do the job, and so forth. Some specific checks you can do:

Candidate Credentials

  • How active are they on the Zen Cart forum? People who are the most knowledgeable are active forum participants.
  • How many contributions have they made to the product? The easiest way for a new designer to demonstrate skill is to make a contribution; if they haven’t done so, the extent of their experience may be limited to simply skinning.

Specifications of Work to be Performed:

  • All database logic must be outside the template. A classic problem with Template Monster templates is that they don’t separate business logic from presentation, which locks you into their template and makes it difficult for you to change your site or upgrade.
  • Template overrides must be used. Don’t let them just update the classic or default template; this will make it more difficult for you to upgrade.
  • The current codebase must be used. You can easily verify this by comparing their changes with the latest codebase; if there are changes beyond what they did, they started with an old base. This will make it … that’s right, more difficult to upgrade.
  • A complete list of modified core files must be provided. The list should be as small as possible (because overrides should be used where possible).

Now let’s flip it around. Consultants who are good are busy. You need to make your firm, your job and your business seem attractive to them; don’t just assume that because they’re in business, they will automatically want to work with you. Here’s what That Software Guy looks for in a client:

  • A cooperative spirit.
  • The ability to clearly and concisely state requirements.
  • A win-win attitude

What do I mean by each of these?

  • Someone with an uncooperative spirit will not disclose their budget or schedule, won’t answer questions promptly, will blow off deadlines, etc. In extreme cases, someone with an uncooperative spirit will insult you and your services. It goes without saying that I decline these accounts.
  • An inability to clearly state requirements – in other words, ambiguous or vague requests – smells like a money-loser to a freelancer. Time is money, and rework caused by misunderstanding is something freelancers want to avoid. If you seem flaky, a freelancer will likely charge you more or refuse to work with you at all.
  • The opposite of a win-win attitude is an attitude of resentfulness that they actually have to pay a freelancer. This runs the gamut from complaining about price (“but it’s only a couple of lines of code!”) to trivializing the work involved (“this seems very straightforward, so it shouldn’t cost that much”). Clients like this aren’t fun to work with, and successful freelancers – who have a choice of clients – will avoid them.

If you want to read more about how consultants size you up as a client, Jeremy Tuber has written a couple of posts about it from the perspective of a graphic designer here, here and here. The last one is a story from my business.

4 thoughts on “How to hire a Zen Cart consultant”

  1. Let my 2 cents worth – I get regular zen cart worth off of sites like, and because once you compare coders on those sites, it becomes obvious who actually does that kind of work and does it well.

    I just started working on Elance and have been easily able to pick up work there (

    You will not find me by doing google search on zen cart consultant. That is not all I do because I would starve! It must be hard to find someone for zen work (according to my grateful customers) but thatsoftware guy knows what he is talking about.

  2. Thanks for this post! This gives me a lot of things to think about. I am finding it quite hard to find a good Zen Cart consultant.

    Part of this, however, is that I am wanting to subcontract the work for my own business, so I need to find someone who does not need to charge a very high rate.

    Here is what I have found: It is very hard to find people when searching on, say, “Zen Cart Consultant”. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m not seeing it. Perhaps, mind you, except for the ones that are charging more up into the higher end of the scale. As someone who’s looking for someone to rely on, I’m noticing that a lot of people say they do everything – NOT INSPIRING AT ALL!

    [TheCartBlog: The great thing about the price system is that it contains a feedback mechanism.
    If you’re having trouble hiring at “not a very high rate,” this means you need to raise the rate. Problem solved!

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