8 steps to get started as a freelance WordPress developer

I’ve had a bunch of people ask me how they could get started as a WordPress developer or consultant. Rather than answer them all individually and privately, I’m putting it up for all to see.

Become involved with the development community

Join the wp-hackers mailing list. Participate when you have something useful to say, or an interesting question/problem to pose to other WP developers. Dive in at the WP support forums. Find someone with an interesting problem, and solve it for them. If it’s a notable issue, write a blog post about how to solve the issue. Which brings me to the next task…

Blog about WordPress

I’m doing this right now! Not only is it deliciously “meta,” it can raise your profile and help you connect with other WordPress developers and users. Write about a problem you solved, or a challenge you’d like to see addressed by WordPress core or a WordPress plugin. And don’t forget to blog about the plugins you write…

Write a bunch of useful plugins

This is probably the best thing you can do to get noticed by clients. Write a useful plugin and you’ll be getting business leads for years to come. You don’t have to write a really big, complicated plugin. Write something that will make using WordPress easier, more fun, more efficient, and people will remember you. It might be good to have one more ambitious plugin to serve as an example of your skills, but certainly don’t shy away from brevity. Some of the favorite things I’ve written are between 1 and 50 lines of code. Users don’t care about how big a plugin is. They just want it to serve a need. Go ahead and scratch their itch. Hint: monitor Google or Twitter for people saying “I want a WordPress plugin…” to get an idea of the sorts of needs that are currently unfulfilled.

Contribute to WordPress core

Contributing to the WordPress core software helps you in two ways. First, it provides continuing education. WordPress is constantly evolving, and you need to stay sharp! This is a great way to learn about (and influence) the direction of the WordPress codebase. Second, it raises your profile in the WordPress community (both the developer and user communities). Be sure to blog about your WordPress core contributions. Trac is a great place to start. Maintain a calm demeanor, and don’t get too big for your britches. Don’t be the person who comes in and embarrasses themselves by closing a ticket as “WONTFIX” that was opened by a seasoned developer! Watch how other tickets evolve and you’ll figure out how it works.

Stay in contact with more seasoned developers

A lot of us are busy, but we try to make time to mentor people. We’re all well-served by a vibrant development marketplace. Don’t be afraid to contact a more experienced developer for advice. The worst that will happen is that you’ll get ignored — apologies to anyone who is in my e-mail limbo… resend it if it’s been more than a few weeks!

And as you get more experienced:

Speak at WordCamps and other events

Once you’ve gained enough kudos in the WP community, you’ll likely be asked to talk at a WordCamp event. And if you haven’t, and you think you could bring something special to the event, go ahead and ask if they need any more speakers! This will raise your profile further, introduce you to really cool people, and provide you with a bunch of business leads. BarCamps, social media gatherings, and other such events are also worth attending. The point isn’t to get up there and give a business pitch. In fact, your life might be in danger if you pull that stunt at a BarCamp. The point is to impart knowledge, connect with people, while letting your skills expose themselves naturally. And pitch away when you’re chatting up potential leads between sessions.

Charge according to your skill set and experience

Several years ago, I had the quasi-embarrassing surprise of being given a voluntary 75% per-hour raise by a client. I think they were afraid that my skills had outpaced my rate, and that I was going to get wooed away by a new client at a higher rate. Don’t make the mistake of charging too little. In fact, publish higher rates than you actually think you’re worth, and allow people to haggle you down (a little). And every time you get booked up and have to turn away business, raise your rate. If you’re in that much demand, you’re not charging enough.

Find a niche

But not WordPress security. That’s mine.🙂

A WordPress development niche is a niche within a niche. And that means you can charge more for your more specialized skills. Examples: migrating data to WordPress. Feed kung-fu. Re-implementing a design from another system. Custom write-panel plugins. Sidebar widgets.

56 thoughts on “8 steps to get started as a freelance WordPress developer

  1. Thanks for the great tips. I am in the process of developing a plugin. More for personal use, but I might release it to the public for download.

    I would also like to know what the rates are for development?

  2. do we need a special skill in developing a plugins in wordpress,e.g:programming? or coding?or its all we have to do is share an idea of a plugins??

  3. nice read, and this is in my head ever since I learned to create wordpress plugins🙂

    @tuento
    if you are a php developer (like me), then be all means you have the right to code your own plugin.

    However, sharing an idea is also a BIG factor… having said it, combining it with programming is the REAL deal!😉

  4. I can personally attest that blogging about WP and writing several plugins bring in several job offers a week for me. And, I don’t write overly complex plugins. They’re just things I think would be useful.

    This takes us to your point to “Stay in contact with more seasoned developers”. The WordPress community is extremely helpful. Plus, I pass along a lot of work opportunities to people that I know do quality work. Others pass along job opportunities to me.

  5. Thanks, useful article. I use WordPress daily in my web developer role, I’ve written a few useful plugins but they’ve been for clients at work. I really enjoy using WordPress it has sooooo much potential.

  6. A well written Post. This made me think sure. I’m a developer, but didn’t even thought of getting into such a field. Seems pretty impressive. I think I’ll have to give a try. But, I don’t think it would be easy for me since I don’t have any idea, how any idea about how plugins are created and such and such thing – no worries, I’ll ask my best friend🙂 yup, google !

  7. What would you say are typical rates for free-lance WP developers? Just some ballpark figures.

    It’s a big ballpark, and completely depends on experience and skills. I’ve seen quotes as low as $20. I quote $250. Most of the good, experienced developers I know are $100 and up. Rates, of course, can go down with bulk discounts.

  8. onlineofficenetwork says:

    Great list! I’m finding so much interest and buzz in WordPress right now that it’s opened up a whole new avenue of income for my company. I always am eager to learn more about security issues and protecting myself and my clients – taking on any new mentoree’s anytime soon?!?

  9. One niche people should consider is “WordPress in your language”. Not just translating plugins, themes etc, but also writing up tutorials and tips in your native language, simply because not everybody speaks/ understand English.

  10. I’m finding that word of mouth alone drives me the bulk of my gigs.

    While I write an occasional tutorial and blog about the work I do, nothing really compares to doing a good job and being friendly, then letting your clients tell their friends!

  11. Have to say that is very similar to my personal checklist. Very good summary if you want to become famous in the WordPress community I think. Most people who might hire you ain’t that involved in the community.

    Point one have never interested me. Don’t really like maillists.
    I’m currently doing point two and three. Wavering on point three.
    Well at the moment I’m doing point four also: Hello Mark
    The rest will happen in due time.

  12. Mark says “I’ve seen quotes as low as $20. I quote $250. Most of the good, experienced developers I know are $100 and up.”

    Mark is not clear whether that is an hourly rate or a fixed price quote for a piece of work.

    I don’t really think that “freelance WordPress developer” sounds like a great way to earn a living. WordPress is free, and everyone seems to be busy writing plugins and giving them away.

    There will always be a small number of people willing to pay for cusom development, but they seem to want to pay rentacoder rates, rather than real money.

    I think that having a business building websites, that just happen to use WordPress as a CMS is a good business model, just not “WordPress development” per se.

    Cheers,
    Stu.

  13. I think you’re right, but if you think well, you’ll see that all projects that you have to do, you can use wordpress to agilize your job. For example, in my job my manager tells me to develop a websystem for us, the system is a knowledge management. What did I do? I have used wordpress to create a place where all programmers can post tips e problems solutions to agilize the process. ^^

  14. Hi, nice post with excelent advices but I think that with the advices you gave, you should complete your post giving also some links to the begginers know where to start learning about writing plugins, themes, etc. we both know about the WordPress Codex for example, but for sure that some other’s that can land here don’t.
    Ok, you can say that there are lot’s of websites that have ‘the 101 best how-to’s to start writing wordpress plugins’ but why not a link in here?

    Just my 2 cents.

  15. Mark is not clear whether that is an hourly rate or a fixed price quote for a piece of work.

    That’s an hourly rate.

    I don’t really think that “freelance WordPress developer” sounds like a great way to earn a living. WordPress is free, and everyone seems to be busy writing plugins and giving them away.

    There will always be a small number of people willing to pay for cusom development, but they seem to want to pay rentacoder rates, rather than real money.

    Take $100 an hour. You could bill 23 hours a week and make $120,000 a year. That’s fairly real money for 23 hours a week.

  16. Thanks for the write-up! Had submitted a question like that to Alex King, but I just found this post through the WP dashboard, and it absolutely answers everything. I did, however, come up with two other questions… 1) do you only specialize in WP or do you also consult/develop for Joomla/Drupal/EE/etc. as well, and 2) what’s your take on webdevs who continue to say that WP isn’t an appropriate CMS for anything other than blog sites or simpler sites?

  17. do you only specialize in WP or do you also consult/develop for Joomla/Drupal/EE/etc. as well

    WP only.

    what’s your take on webdevs who continue to say that WP isn’t an appropriate CMS for anything other than blog sites or simpler sites?

    WordPress can do just about anything–it’s a matter of how much custom functionality you’re going to have to layer on top of it. Look at BuddyPress. I’ve told people that WP wasn’t right for a project and told them to look at Drupal, but more often I see projects done in a big complicated system that could have been done in WordPress if they’d thought outside of the “blog” box a little bit.

  18. Thanks for the quick feedback =) Sorry, one other question popped into my head. Say you land a $30K gig, do you have any advice on how that should be paid out (eg. half due @halfway through production, half after launch or 25% progressively throughout production or everything all at once after completion)?

  19. Thanks for this Mark. It’ s a great guide for how to get your feet wet in the WP community – something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. This is just what I was looking for.

  20. Say you land a $30K gig, do you have any advice on how that should be paid out

    Absolutely to NOT accept a job this big “100% due on completion.” For something that big, I’d probably take it in 3-4 chunks, with the first due the day you begin, and the others at set dates or milestones. I like to leave the last payment due on completion, to give me a carrot that’ll motivate me to wrap it. But if you make that final payment too big, the client might be inclined to keep adding things to the spec. As you near completion, you need to ask them for a final list. Your contract should specify what’s included, but get them to commit to a final agenda for the project to be completed. Get it done, bill them, and suggest a financial arrangement for future work (retainer, hourly rate, etc).

  21. Thanks for the quick feedback =) Sorry, one other question popped into my head. Say you land a $30K gig, do you have any advice on how that should be paid out (eg. half due @halfway through production, half after launch or 25% progressively throughout production or everything all at once after completion)?

  22. karuna says:

    hello,

    can anyone help me to create own wordpress affiliate platform plugin plugin.

    Here is a few features of the plugin:

    Track clicks.
    Sales amounts.
    Commissions.
    Set Commissions levels per product.
    Custom header and footers for the back end affiliate center.
    Ability to manage affiliates – Set different commission amounts for each affiliate.
    Add affiliate accounts manually.
    Create and edit links and banners.
    Click Throughs screen lets you see all the traffic your affiliates are sending to your site.
    The Sales Data screen.
    The Manage Payouts menu
    Pay out history screen

  23. I am following your blog regularly and got great information.Having written articles that require this much work, I commend you for your service to the future bloggers. I’m sure they will appreciate it! Great job.Thanks for sharing.

  24. Very good post , will definitely try to follow it up.

    I have been freelancing in PHP/MySQL for almost 6+ yrs & just started servicing exclusively for WordPress clients.

  25. Great post again. I’m interested in contributing WordPress core, but not sure about the right way. Can somebody help me? (that doesn’t have to be Mark, I think must of you know this)

  26. Randie says:

    As a seasoned developer, can you share what development tools you use to help you write and debug WordPress code?

  27. I’m not a developer, not a coder.

    I’m just a recent wordpress user.

    But I equally fell your post rousing to me!

  28. I am working with WP since it was released in June 2003 so i am far away from beginner, but i read this article and i agree with most points.

    Zach

  29. Wow, incredible blog format! How lengthy have you been running a blog for? you make running a blog glance easy. The entire look of your web site is great, as smartly the content material!

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