Ready to start charging for building sites in WordPress? Welcome! WordPress has a great community, and there are endless resources available to you (both free and paid). You’ll be making clients happy in no time.

But, first, please: take my advice. I’ve been where you are. I took some (what seemed like) shortcuts at the beginning that I wish I hadn’t. I’ve been in WordPress development for a good five years now, and I’ve made my share of mistakes, and fixed my share of other developers’ mistakes as well. I help newer developers pretty often, and I can help you help yourself and your clients.

These tips are for you if:

  1. You know HTML/CSS, are somewhat proficient in PHP and JavaScript.
  2. Almost all of your projects start with existing themes.
  3. Almost all functionality in your projects come from existing plugins.
  4. You’re working with budgets under $10,000.
Note: If you’re writing more than a few lines of code in building custom (child) themes or plugins, I’ve got another article coming your way soon on better development practices. A quick Twitter survey revealed the need for more in-depth suggestions.

These tips come from my experience in becoming a better WordPress consultant, but also in focusing on empowering clients with WordPress. Bad or lazy development practices set your clients up for failure, because other developers have to start over when they inherit your work—or, worse: the client’s site breaks and you’re not around to fix it anymore. You can do better.

Start Defining “Design”

You might have a client come to you with a theme in hand, and simply want you to “tweak” it. We’ll cover that a bit later. The following is about clients who simply want “design” included in a project.

In my experience, this generally means that they simply don’t have anything specific in mind and need help. In many cases, they don’t really care that much (or shouldn’t) because they don’t actually need something bespoke yet. What they need is something solid, beautiful, and readable; something that highlights their content and represents their brand.

There are way too many existing designs for you to be spending time creating one from scratch—unless you’re going all the way through the design process. For instance, I offer clients portions or all of a design process as specific line items in a proposal, because it includes hours upon hours of discovery, discussion, market research, and competitor research. After that, I’m then actually mocking things up, designing prototypes, and going back and forth with the client. If you’re not doing all that, you’re not really doing design well. If a client won’t pay for those parts, they don’t actually want design.

What you’re really doing in this cases is acting more like “theme consultant”. I’m not going to tell you when you should or shouldn’t tell a client you’re starting with a theme, because everyone is different, but I do think you’re wasting a lot of time and money trying to make something from scratch on a small budget.

Pick and Tweak Themes Well

If you want to be truly helpful to your clients (and make them long-time fans), you need to familiarize yourself with best-of-breed themes and plugins. You’re able to, then, explain to clients why you prefer specific theme companies, and link them to existing demo sites. The key is in the selection—though there are some great themes, setting a client loose on ThemeForest ain’t gonna go well. Instead, starting with Genesis, Woo, or The Theme Foundry (just to name a few) will serve you better.

Over time, you’ll learn the value of community-vetted WordPress themes. You’re far less likely to get plugin conflicts or have trouble down the road. When you’re ready to start using themes from a reputable company, buy the biggest license from them your budget will allow.

If you need to “tweak” a theme, please (please) learn how to create a child theme (or, in the case of Genesis, understand hooks). Use these child themes or hooks when you need to customize something that’s already in the theme. For instance, use a child theme to change where the author’s name shows up on a single post template, or to change some colors in CSS. If you’re not a developer, it seems difficult to learn, but I assure you that it’s much easier in the long run.

Use Plugins Correctly

If you’re adding functionality that’s not already in the theme, use a plugin. Use plugins to add analytics tracking, create forms, add custom post types, etc. Plugins are your friend.

As with the themes, you should familiarize yourself with leading WordPress plugins—both free and paid. 3 out of 4 requests for “features” I get from potential clients can be done with Gravity Forms. Seriously. You should know what the best-of-breed plugin options are for eCommerce, SEO, caching, user management, etc. When a client asks about a feature, and you haven’t checked out the plugin landscape lately, take 20 minutes and look around. Over time, you’ll not only have a list of go-to plugins, you’ll have a list of go-to plugin authors. You’ll also learn how to look at a free plugin in the repository and make an educated guess as to whether it’s any good or not (hint: you’re looking at the plugin ratings and the “Last Updated” field).

If you are adding custom functionality, and the plugin you need doesn’t exist, and you know the code you need to add: create a plugin. It’s really not that difficult. That way, if there’s ever an issue, you can easily deactivate that functionality instead of having to edit a client’s theme.

Don’t Use the Built-In Editor

Not much to say here. Trust me. If you’re editing any files at all, experience the joy of using a real code editor. You will be angry at yourself later if you don’t.

Help Your Clients

Be proactive in helping clients who haven’t used WordPress before get started. Write up instructions in an email, shoot a screencast video, or both—then make it easily accessible using something like WP Help. Send clients to WPBeginner and WordPress.tv for help when they need it, or go the extra mile and add WP101 to their site. Further, learning how to Google things well will help you quickly answer a client’s questions, making you the go-to expert for them.

Truly, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here, but these will serve you well. If you’ve got more tips for folks just getting started as WordPress professionals, leave them in the comments for everyone.

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January 3, 2014 — 2 Comments — In Blog, Development, WordPress