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.