I was having a conversation a few days ago about WordPress, primarily revolving around Brandon Y’s article about service rates being lowered for WordPress work. I have written my personal opinion of developer vs. programmer/implementor and tend to agree, but what does the future hold for WordPress? I  talked about the WordPress divide, as it moves more towards people using it for higher end web applications and even mobile applications. However, what I want to look at is the big picture, will WordPress continue to be a viable CMS to make a living?

Warning: This is an opinion piece if I can’t share it on my own blog, what is the point?

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The pay rate gap between high and low-end quality work will narrow

When you are looking to get a website for your business built, you have a few options when it comes to hiring a consultant. I did some research and as a case study used 1 project. It is a simple business website with about 10 unique pages of static content and 2 areas for regularly updated content (news/blog and tips). Here are the options I had:

  • Large Agency – usually has 20+ employees, office space (if not multiple offices) – $20,000+
  • Medium Agency – usually has 2-5 employees, small or no office – average $10,000
  • Single Consultant – usually small time – average $2,500
    • There are a different levels of single consultants, I know. This was the average price

So what are the differences? Well, the pay jump is significant, and that is because of what is being offered. With the large and medium sized agencies, you usually get a custom design and build. Depending on their proposal or contract experience, they might get into the nitty gritty of how many mockups and revisions are included (as well as a price for more). They will try to use plugins and/or build custom functionality if needed. In my case, none were needed since all functional needs were within WordPress built in functionality. With the single layer consultant, you are usually being offered a child theme with plugins to match any desired functionality.

As a developer, I know that the single consultant most likely isn’t doing much coding, maybe touching up the CSS, but they have a theme they already use in most scenarios that they know how to customize easily and efficiently.

I think that the gap will start to close as more and more “implementors” enter the space and it becomes flooded, it will be harder for a mid-level consultant (i.e $5,000 for my case) are no longer very competitive when a seemingly good sales person with less knowledge can offer the same website at half the price. I won’t even get into the overseas competition.

Once upon a time

I remember not that long ago, right around WordPress 3.0. I was not charging that much for a WordPress build since my confidence level was not very high, but I knew people were charging $5,000 for even the most basics of WordPress websites. Anything under was almost unheard of, and even the businesses knew those offers smelled fishy. You could make a living easily being a WordPress consultant, and you wouldn’t even need to work that hard to get clients. Everyone wanted a website, and you could build one for them easily.

That really isn’t the case anymore, and that is because since then, the market for WordPress consultants has flooded.

Getting and staying at the top is crucial

If you want to stay in the WordPress realm of consulting, it is crucial you get to a point that your services are of top-tier. It is not easy to get there, it is not easy to prove that you are worth the hourly rate, but once you prove yourself you can consistently get a good rate which I consider as $100/hr+. I know it isn’t easy, especially for developers and designers that are not of that special “unicorn” breed that can both whip up an amazing design and have extraordinary coding abilities. My suggestion is always to team up, find someone that is on your same tier and offers roughly the same hourly rate for their services but lacks the skills you possess. You will that you can charge a higher rate since you are partnered up, and you are doing less work than you used to.

This top tier is as competitive as the lower tiers, however in my experience once you get to that level, you aren’t worried about constantly getting business. You can afford to have a lower percentage of closed clientele since you are getting more money, for less actual work.

Got to get out of the WordPress bubble

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The question is, how do you deal with the bubble as it is still being inflated? Get out of the bubble. There are many differences when your title has “WordPress” in it. In my case, I went from “WordPress developer” to just “Developer”, through that process I learned I was really more specifically a “Front End Developer”, something that I knew of but didn’t practice when it comes to WordPress. The best part of getting out of the WordPress bubble is that you can really see what is going on inside of it.

 

Salary differences

One of the key things I notice when looking at job listings is that a “Front End Developer” and “WordPress developer” have very different salary ranges. In California, I can expect a salary averaging $50,000 – $70,000 as a WordPress developer. When I started looking at JavaScript developer roles, I saw more in the $90,000 – $150,000 range (I know, it is wide but keep in mind JS is both a front and back-end technology nowadays).

You will level up as developer or designer

There are the lot of knowledge assumptions made about a WordPress developer vs. developer. I expect a prospective WordPress developer to know a little of everything, but not really a master of any of it. On the other hand, I expect a Front End developer to have mastered (mostly) HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I expect them to know how to pick up any piece of front end code and decipher what is going on and how to fix any bug that might come up. I have been in a hiring position for both types of developers, and the expectations are definitely lower with a WordPress developer, as is the salary.

As a developer – learn MVC, FED vs BED

When I took on my first “Front End Developer” role, I was always under the assumption that HTML and PHP (for LAMP stack) went hand in hand, however that is not how a truly decoupled business will have its employees. A good example in my WordPress experience would be that a back end developer would handle creating plugins which could include creating custom post types, etc. They would also be in charge of creating the templates as far as output goes (<?php the_title(); ?>). A front end developer would then manipulate the DOM and add in the CSS and JavaScript to make the theme work as needed.

One other thing, when I removed myself from WordPress professionally I really got into some of the other languages and frameworks that are out there. I started learning AngularJS, NodeJS, and BackboneJS. I tackled projects in a slew of JavaScript frameworks because that was my knowledge base and that was where I wanted to focus my attention.

Getting out of the WordPress bubble was one of the best things for me as a developer, it allowed me to hone in on my true passion of HTML/CSS/JS and learn new exciting things. However, this isn’t the first time I said that either.

As a designer – learn UX and design without knowing about the build

As a designer you will experience the same things. While I don’t know this personally, I have talked to a few designers that have stepped out of the WordPress realm and focused in on other things. Many of them have moved towards UX.

Just like I learned new technologies and frameworks that honed in what I wanted to do, I think UX is one of those areas for designers. A UX designer can see significantly more when it comes to salary ranges. A UX designer isn’t tied into a set of themes or even a CMS, they are removed from development 100% and focus on the business and the clients of that business. Basically, a UX designer focuses their time designing for the people that pay the people that are paying them (if that makes any sense)

Is now the time to get on a lifeboat?

When someone asks me about web development, how to get started, learn, etc. I always recommend WordPress. It may not be the way I got started, but it definitely helped me along the way. I know that for many other people WordPress was where they began their journey and they have since moved on or onto higher level development.

Theme and Plugin Development

Themes and plugins are going to only increase in numbers as more people enter the space. However there will be an even larger need for GOOD themes and plugins. More particularly, ones that people can use over and over for their clients. This is why many themes are deemed good “starter” or “parent” themes. These are the themes that people love because they can quickly get a website for a client up and running without starting from scratch.

Plugins are especially important because they offer the implementors and mild developers a way to offer functionality that they can’t build themselves. So, I think theme and plugins developers are going to be safe for longer than consultants.

Other products to service businesses and consultants

I take a look at things like AppPresser and it is the ideal type of service / plugin / product that services both an individual company, as well as a consultant who now can offer more to their clientele. I think this is a good model. Create a product that businesses using WordPress will pay for, as well as consultants who want to offer more services in their packages to charge more. I think the rise of services that offer support only like WPSiteCare and WPRadius is another clue that products as a service for consultants is growing.

Not to toot my own horn, but I think CodeCavalry.com is another example, it may not be specific to WordPress, but it was born from the need of the WordPress community for a tool to get quick coding help form experts.

WordPress in enterprise

WordPress has made its way into the enterprise realm. While once a custom code only, or Drupal marketplace, is now filling with WordPress websites behind enterprise level security and sysAdmins. However, large enterprise do not usually don’t want to hire a single individual who mainly does personal and small business websites, they want to hire teams. This is why the big players in the enterprise realm like CrowdFavorite, 10UP, and WebDevStudios are all living the life us consultants did 5 or so years ago. There isn’t much competition in this space, yet. As I said before, you have to get yourself to being a top-tier consultant in your expertise, then at least the big agency players will consider your a good candidate when they need to outsource some work.

WordPress is not going under anytime soon

WordPress isn’t going anywhere, but who knows what may come. During the April Hollywood WordPress meetup that I co-organize, Natalie said that she could see something taking over. As WordPress does push its way to being more capable for larger scale development projects it may outcast those who like the original simplicity. It is no longer the simple blog tool that it once was. It grew into a CMS and is pushing the envelope farther with every release.

I personally think that the divide between simple websites and application development will increase. I (would like to) see a “lean” version of WordPress eventually released by the community, which is more specifically built for application building, maybe as a faux MVC? You build everything, and everything (including the admin dashboard) are modules / plugins.

What do you think? Are you trying to make it to the top of WordPress consulting? Do you want to move out of the bubble?

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