The WordPress Industry Is Just As Every Other Field

After I shared my thoughts on WordPress job titles and skills and wrote about various problems with various WordPress estimates, I keep reading comments about our industry and other fields – different IT specialties, automobile mechanics, doctors and more.

In general, whilst WordPress is a fairly unique and great platform with a powerful community behind it, it’s no different – business-wise – from any other field. This is one of the reasons why we don’t have to educate our customers on things that are common sense and applicable for each industry out there.

Asking For Discounts

Asking for Discounts

One of my favorite stories is when a client asks for a discount. It’s happened a few times, same story all over again.

The client sends a specification for a web solution. We estimate it and send back a quote for $15,000. The client replies back that they have a $6K budget and they’ll sign with another provider.

Fast-forward three months later and we receive the following message:

Hello,

We tried the other agency that quoted $2,000 and it didn’t work out. Since we’re left with $4,000, how would you like to go forward within this budget?

That’s a common problem that we discussed on Twitter with other contractors and agency owners.

Expectations in Web Development

Before I move full-time to WordPress, I spent years in the Java community. Also, both companies that I worked at had mixed teams – Java and .NET engineers, and we spent all of our lunch breaks (and some late nights) going over complex problems, common architectural patterns in Java and .NET, and various database specifics that we had to deal with in both teams.

All of us were involved with these problems, and aware of the technical challenges. Regardless of our platform differences, we were all Java developers or .NET developers. All of us were experienced in building desktop solutions with Swing or Windows Forms, web applications with GWT/JSF or ASP.NET, and database management with MySQL, Oracle or MSSQL.

Building a web application requires a certain set of skills. You cannot be a marketing person who builds a web application with database queries – it doesn’t work this way. If you have a marketing degree and are able to build a similar app, congrats – you can apply for a developer, that’s what mots developers do on a daily basis.

Using a CMS For a Website

Image credit: trafficinviter.com
Image credit: trafficinviter.com

Using a CMS is a bit different than doing development – mostly because you can accomplish the end goal – delivering a website, without actually touching code. At least the basics.

Most CMS outside of the PHP community also define the development role well enough. There are administrators or other people who do the basic install. And then there are developers who implement the custom features, set up servers and do the actual coding work. Drupal is no different – I know over a hundred Drupal developers and they are either frontend Drupal developers – building themes and JavaScript libraries, or backend Drupal devs dealing with module development, automation and server management.

For some reason 99% of the WordPress community (or at least a frightening majority of it) feels confident that development is no different from installing WordPress and adding a few plugins. Again, there is a number of agencies and freelancers that know their stuff, but it’s shocking how many people claim to be WordPress developers and can’t read a single line of PHP.

HTML/CSS Experts

Almost got it.
Almost got it.

I saw a post in one of the Facebook WordPress groups from someone asking for a way to add two logos in the header in a multilingual website. Everything else is set, there’s a multilingual plugin, the site is translated and the URLs are in tact – there’s simply no logo image in the header pointing to the second language.

Some of the WP folks replied with several ways to accomplish that, and the post author replied:

It doesn’t seem to work with that PHP thing that you shared, and I have no idea how to do that with CSS. I’m just completing the site as the original developer is unavailable.

Other than using some ancient multilingual plugin that is pretty shady, the guy had no clue how to implement a simple operation that requires a line or two of code. The second response of his was even more entertaining:

Look, I’m not an HTML/CSS specialist, I’m just finishing up the final bits for the website.

The logical questions here are:

  1. Why would an agency hire someone who doesn’t have an idea of HTML/CSS, not to mention actual programming experience or WordPress knowledge?
  2. Why does a non-developer work on a website and change code that looks jibberish to him?

I have absolutely no idea. Yet, it happens EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Experts In New Fields of IT and Business

When I started to grow DevriX in a way that wasn’t limited to our development department, I realized that I need to find new talent – experts who specialize in other areas of the business life cycle, such as marketing, sales and PR. However,  I was unable to identify any of the roles myself.

What is a brand manager? What does “outbound sales” mean? Is “inbound marketing” a different thing? Should I expect a social media marketing expert to deal with my AdWords?

There are so many job titles available. The Internet world is constantly growing, and that forms new niches, fields for experts to fill in and work in a given direction. Which is why it’s essential to work with the right people.

Good luck figuring out the job descriptions
Good luck figuring out the job descriptions

I had various conversations and paid consultations in addition to reading several books and hundreds of articles until I was able to figure out who does what exactly, what strategies are available and what would be a good fit for my needs. I spent thousands of dollars and several months on self-education and planning.

And it was worth it. Had I ignored that, I would have ended up with a terrible strategy leading to complete chaos.

Hiring The Right People

Of course, that was an investment in my own business. And I could have spent time and money on educating myself (which I did), pay a mentor/consultant to help me with specific questions and dilemmas, or pay someone who can replace me as a CEO (or several people dealing with marketing, sales, management or whatever).

You can certainly hire a branding expert for sales, or a social media person for advertising, but it’s probably a terrible idea. And if you don’t have educated expectations, you will end up paying for work that doesn’t satisfy your requirements. In fact you won’t be able to identify the actual problem of throwing money away and getting no result at the end.

In this case it is purely your fault for hiring the wrong people for the job. Spending money on something is your business decision as a business owner, and you’re the one to blame for being ignorant and not familiar with the process, making the wrong decisions.

Auto Mechanics And Other Experts

Do you ask your auto mechanic for discounts of cheaper parts for your car?

Driving with cheap tires will make your car unstable when it’s raining or snowing outside. A cheap update to your braking system can increase the braking distance which may be fatal on the road.

A cheap engine oil will likely ruin your engine, and you don’t want to be on a highway while that happens.

I can go on and on, and a similar analogy can be made with doctors or lawyers.

The point is that a professional service costs money. If you ask for discounts, you’ll miss your opportunity to work with an expert, or get a lower quality of service.

The main reason for most people to look for a new website is money. Some hobbyist are looking for pet projects or some family website to upload their photos, but most projects are focused on money.

  • A speaker’s portfolio website can land more gigs at conferences or company training courses
  • An advertising company’s website can showcase the best ads, and attract new leads
  • A good car rental website can handle the entire catalog of rental cars, display them in a nice way and be usable enough so that people hesitate less and are willing to pay your company
  • A law firm can prove trust and position itself better than the local competitors with the right online solution

If you want to charge good money, you need to invest in your presence.

What Great Companies Do?

Google's office at Tel Aviv
Google’s office at Tel Aviv

The large and popular companies have fancy offices. They throw money away on parties and team buildings. They sponsor events. Their CEOs drive nice cars, or even have planes.

That’s a proven marketing strategy for building a reputation. Being able to afford these means that you’re financially stable. That suggests that your business is successful, and you can afford those benefits. And you probably work with incredible clients if things are going so well for you.

That means that other great clients will reach out to you. And since your backlog is filling in, you’ll easily get more people on board since everyone would love to work for you.

Let this sink in. Think about Automattic. Check out their VIP list of WordPress.com hosted clients. Then see how many incredible engineers, designers, support folks work for them. Then imagine receiving a nice paycheck each month, get to travel all the time, receive some other benefits for a co-working space, new laptop or anything else.

That’s what I’m talking about.

And I’m not saying that you should take a loan and start throwing loud parties. But if you’re not willing to invest in your business, you can’t expect the big brands to be interested in you. That process takes time, but all smart entrepreneurs and business owners reinvest their income back in their company.

You can also lose your best talent. And this can irreversibly harm your business or even bankrupt it.

Paying for a terrible site is often worse than being offline. And being offline in 2015 is terrible if you’re running a business.

Is It Too Expensive?

There’s one key problem when it comes to pricing a website. And it’s the total cost.

Imagine if you’re looking for a content marketing person or a someone to do outbound sales calls for you.

What’s the difference between a $20/hr copywriter and $200/hr guy? Which one would convert more readers to customers? When you see a copy, can you honestly tell which one will convert better?

Salesmanship is even trickier. Most good sales that I know either work solely on a percentage of the closed deals, or a flat fee + percentage.

So, how does $40/hr guy compare to $250/hr one or the guy asking for $60/hr flat plus 15% of each closed deal by him?

You probably have absolutely no idea.

Because a certain piece of copy can lead to 40% conversion rate against 0.01% conversion for an ugly one.

A great salesman can close 70% of the deals, a mediocre one – less than 5% of them.

These are arbitrary numbers, but they’re fairly legitimate when it comes to random people that you don’t know and can’t evaluate. And even if you try – the fact that a salesman can do 30 calls in one hours doesn’t mean that he will bring more business than the guy who does 10 calls. A longer call is likely needed to warm up the lead, but someone proficient in selling and human psychology can make the best use of their time and convert better based on the given situation.

Hey, it’s also worth mentioning that cost doesn’t mean anything. A $50/hr marketer can be twice as good as a $150/hr one. There are other factors that matter, too.

The same analogy is applicable for the web development world. And while we rant against clients with ridiculous websites or undervaluing our services, sometimes they don’t know better.

Certainly, there is a good percentage of them looking for the cheapest solution possible. We don’t want to work with them.

But there’s another group having no idea what to do. They can’t assess the skills of a developer, and have no idea how much does a web solution cost. Nor can we tell out of the blue – an hourly rate doesn’t co-relate to the number of hours, and a fixed fee can’t be estimated without spending a lot of time on R&D (which should be paid by the client upfront).

How To Find A WordPress Developer?

The four most important factors to assess a developer are:

  • Trust
  • Quality
  • Cost
  • Time

Trust is essential for any business relationship. If you have doubts, this would affect the project. I often refuse to work with customers who are hesitant – we’re either on the same page, or it will get ugly somewhere in the process.

Quality is the end result – does your solution follow the standards, is the user experience taken into account, is the server reliable and so on.

Cost is the final budget for the project and Time is the estimated time of delivery.

Back to the auto mechanic analogy for a bit, a friend was working with a random low-cost mechanic who managed to ruin his car in a way that costed him thousands of dollars extra to get it to the initial point before the mechanic’s interference.

Here’s what NOT to do when looking for a WordPress developer or an agency:

  1. Gamble. Don’t randomly pick someone without being qualified enough to “read” all of their qualities.
  2. Trust other non-technical people. Referrals are always great, but don’t trust referrals by non-technical people. While some solution may look good on the outside, you don’t have a proof that it’s built in an elegant manner that’s stable, secure and follows the quality standards. It may as well break the day after you’ve discussed that with a friend.

And that’s what you could do in order to find the best talent:

  1. Get a recommendation by experts in this industry. Even if they’re busy or too expensive, you can get a quick free advise or a review of your applicants, or a quality consulting session that brings your expectations and wishes to a specification that includes rough time and budget estimates.
  2. Purchase a discovery session by a company or two that seem legit. Pay the experts that you’ve been recommended to do the initial meetings and requirement analysis with you, and get a real quote that includes everything you need and the services that you would be implemented.
  3. Hire an expert who would deal with that in the long run. If you’re serious about your business, it’s likely that you’ll grow your platform, optimize it, add new features and more. You may hire a technical expert dealing with the process, or a business consultant who would oversee the work, vet agencies and monitor the process to the best of his/her abilities.
  4. Educate yourself. If you’re interested in the technical or marketing perspective and would like to spend more time, then start reading about WordPress, web development, and all relevant niches for your business success.

Either way, you will have to spend time and money on your success. There is no free lunch, but if you want to work with great clients and make a multi-million dollar business (or even more), then you need to act as a serious business owner yourself and invest back in your success.

11 thoughts on “The WordPress Industry Is Just As Every Other Field

  1. Mario,

    The issue with the WordPress industry is that anyone can be an expert because more often than not, they are dealing with those who aren’t experts or regular users wanting a blog.

    This weekend I helped a relative set up their company website on WordPress.com, using that as a starting point to get them familiar with WordPress so that I can eventually migrate them to a WordPress.org powered site.

    But, what I did, can be done by just about anyone who installed WordPress earlier. Most people don’t have a budget and you could get someone on Fiver to install a blog for you. However, to get a custom solution, it might cost a tonne more which they may not be willing to shell out.

    I guess it then falls down to trying to fit the development into the budget without thinking if it is practical or will turn out to be a waste of money!

    1. Hi Ajay,

      I’d say that the “expert” factor is pretty relevant, and measurable as well. If I’m a better painter or musician than you, it doesn’t make me an expert – since an “expert” is measured within a different industry, alongside other people who make a living off that.

      But it’s a good idea for a blog post, so I’ll cover that in more details 🙂

      The other problem that I have is related to the services being provided. I don’t mind people installing WordPress websites and selling it as a service. But these people often (way too often) label themselves as WordPress developers or so. It’s not what they do. That’s why we went over the discussion for WordPress implementers, site builders, administrators or other titles that are closer to what they do, and they shouldn’t fool the clients with false titles. I can label myself as a lawyer or something, but I can easily go to jail for misrepresenting myself, and no sane person would trust me.

  2. One can’t even start to imagine how many times I found myself in the situation where clients had spent $1000 or so on a cheap low quality code of I_KNOW_EVERYTHING_BUT_NOTHING_SO_CALL_ME_EXPERT developers. Clients more than 80% times got back telling me it was a wrong decision in the first place. Ahh… wish it could have gotten easier over time.

    1. On the bright side, I think that clients are slowly learning. It really takes years to change the status quo, but I really believe that with time quality will prevail and business owners will be able to identify quality from “off the shelf” install.

      1. And you are obviously helping here with articles like this. Thank you Mario!

        I think many good people can simply point their clients to your articles and if they are not convinced, they are probably hunters for low-budget solution, so you are not your clients anyway.

        1. Thanks Primoz – I’ll add more thoughts as I see fit (and gain inspiration for more topics), and overall I’m working with clients on a daily basis, educating them on what’s actually going on.

          I actually passed by two stores for computer parts and gadgets that were also offering websites for about $100.

  3. We must not blame the customer only, many of pseudo-WP-developer are better marketers than REAL WP Developers, i’m suffering from this my self.
    What i think is good idea to separate good guys from bad guys is to create something similaire to Zend verification, lets call it WP expert/developer certification and all certified developer are listed on WP.org.
    There is a “badge system” in WP.org (core contributor, Plugin Developer ..etc), but theses badge are not for real expert but for anyone contribute anything to the WP Community.

Your thoughts?