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by Michael P. Hill May 04, 2016

Getting your Shopify theme just the way you want it can often be done using your own time and skills, but there comes a point for most storeowners when they need the helping hand of a pro.

Fortunately, Shopify has built a solid community of developers, designers and other service providers who can help out with your store — known as Shopify Experts. But how do you know when it’s time to call in the cavalry?

What makes an ‘expert’ an ‘expert’?

Remember, Shopify Experts are third party independent contractors available for hire to help customize, design or perform other tasks within the Shopify platform.

Shopify Experts are not, despite their name, employees of Shopify or Out of the Sandbox and almost all charge for their work. Also keep in mind that being labeled an “Expert” doesn’t necessarily mean the provider is skilled at all areas of Shopify nor are they guaranteed to be able to solve every issue.

It’s also worth noting that not everyone who’s an expert (with a lowercase “e”) in Shopify is necessarily a Shopify Expert (with a capital “E”). Being a Shopify Expert simply means you’ve applied to be part of the official list of vendors Shopify lists on its site and have been accepted under the criteria. Not all developers with Shopify skills opt to do this.

The case for calling an expert

As a small business owner, it might be challenging to afford a third party to update work that you might be able to do yourself. However, in many cases, working with the right expert actually ends up saving time and money.

The first thing to consider when calling in an expert instead of making the changes yourself is what your time is worth per hour. Even at a fairly modest hourly rate, say $15 or $20 an hour, the time you spend on an update can add up to a high cost quickly.

Sure, it is different since you won’t necessarily be paying yourself actual money to do this — but also think of it this way: Every hour you spend on shop customization is one hour you can’t spend on advertising, marketing, customer service, product development or any number of other tasks you likely have on your plate.

Also keep in mind that most store owners will require significantly more time to complete a task than a Shopify Expert. An experienced Shopify Expert may already know how to solve your particular challenge — and therefore only needs to charge for the time it takes to roll out the changes, rather than the time you might spend researching, testing and tweaking a change or addition.

It’s also worth noting that most Shopify Experts depend on word of mouth and good reviews for more business. This can be a huge advantage to you as a store owner since they have a strong incentive to solve your problem quickly and efficiently.

It’s an investment

Also, as with any expense related to running your store, think of the professional fees paid to Shopify Experts as an investment in your business. Even though, as a small business owner, spending even a few hundred dollars can seem like a big expense, it may very well be worth it in the end if you’re able to increase sales and improve your processes as a result.

If you’re not confident that the changes you have in mind will deliver these results (and are therefore worth paying for), then take a step back and evaluate if the changes are worth going forward with at all at this time. If this is even questionable in your mind, it’s likely that your time, energy and money could be put to better use.

When to call an expert

You’re not familiar with HTML and CSS

Modifying even small parts of a Shopify theme requires at least a working knowledge of HTML or CSS. If you’re not familiar with these core building blocks of web design then making changes to your store, especially the layout and styling of various elements, can be very challenging and frustrating.

Of course, it’s possible to teach yourself HTML and CSS. There are numerous places online to learn these skills, though be wary as many will attempt to lure you in with a free tutorial or two and then ask for payment to continue to the course.

Code Academy and W3Schools are two good resources to get started that are also free.

For many new users, a good old fashioned book can actually be a more helpful resource since it allows you to follow along easily and look up areas you run into trouble with. My current favorites are “ HTML & CSS” and CSS: The Missing Manual.

“HTML & CSS” does a great job of using clear, easy to follow steps and visual organization techniques to teach the tips and tricks behind both HTML and CSS. The Missing Manual series, meanwhile, is a great option that’s a bit more technical, but also, in some ways, more advanced.

While learning HTML and CSS aren’t necessarily hard (in fact, many more “creative” thinkers will have an easier time picking it up than, say, a programming language such as PHP), in the end there are a lot of nuances to them that can make it tricky to master.

In short, if your changes involve some simple updates to colors, font sizes or similar areas, it might be worth learning to do it on your own. However, once you need to start changing layout, structure and adding new content layouts, it may be worth calling in an expert.

You’re not familiar with Liquid

All that said, learning HTML and CSS isn’t enough to become a pro at modifying Shopify themes. Shopify relies on a templating language known as Liquid that, combined with HTML and CSS, can dynamically generate the various parts of your Shopify store.

Liquid acts as a kind of bridge between your store’s data and the markup that gets sent to the browser. For example, Liquid has tags that let you output variable data such as product names, pricing and other tools; it can repeat repetitive code easily such as collection listing pages and only show HTML or CSS code under certain conditions.

Again, Liquid isn’t all that hard to learn — even for someone who isn’t a coder. However, it too has a lot of nuances and more advanced techniques that may be required for what you’re attempting to achieve.

You’re up against a deadline

If you need to solve a problem urgently or launch your store by a certain date, using an expert can be a lifesaver. While it can take a bit of time initially to evaluate and explain your needs to an expert that you might see as a “waste of time,” if you can clearly communicate your needs, it will likely end up being worth it in the end. While the expert is solving your issue, you can make good, productive use of this time to work on any other urgent shop business or launch details instead.

You’re not sure how to get what you need

Another time Shopify Experts can come in handy is if you know what you want or have an abstract idea of how you want something to look or function, but are at a loss when it comes to how to accomplish it.

Shopify Experts can often draw on their experience working with other store owners to recommend cost-efficient and viable solutions to a myriad of problems and challenges. They are also more likely to have the advantage of knowing what works and what doesn’t.

You don’t have the equipment or software needed

If the changes you need requires investing in software or equipment that you don’t have, it’s likely a good idea to call an expert for assistance. More advanced Web development and design, photography and other valuable tools can often require significant upfront investments — sometimes in the thousands of dollars. Even if you expect to have a long term need for them, keep in mind that there are often unexpected costs with software and equipment such as repairs, technical support, training, upgrades and more.

Instead of shelling out large sums of money upfront, it can often be better to rely on a pro who’s set up with the gear already. You very well may find out that, at some point down the road, it is worth investing in your own software or equipment, but if you’re just starting out and honing your products and store layout, this might not be the best investment.

Also keep in mind that experts offer a wide range of services, including photography, design and writing — not just coding, so it’s worth keeping your eye out for any type of service you can outsource.

Something’s broken … big time

We’ve all been there: Tinkering with your Shopify store can be great fun until something breaks. All it takes is one errant click or keystroke and you’re entire store goes from being near perfection to a garbled mess.

This is often a smart time to call in an expert to help. Experts are not only aware of common pitfalls that happen when editing Shopify themes but are also more likely to know of a solution that’s likely to get you up and running again faster than it would take you to research and troubleshoot the problem.

Your strategy isn’t working

If you find yourself trying a new strategy with no results (or the strategy is overwhelming you), this is also a good time to consider calling in an expert.

Maybe a design isn’t working out the way you hoped, you’re struggling with keeping up with product descriptions or photography or you’re not growing your customer base as fast as you’d like — these are all great times to seek out the expert advice that’s out there.

Sometimes all it takes is a different perspective on things that can be hard to achieve as a store owner — plus the skills and experience of your expert could be just the solution that’s needed.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn.

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