In order to grow as a professional WordPress developer, you have to work with businesses that believe in expert development and value the long-term results. More often than not, business owners are fooled by the media and marketing collateral online explaining how easy development is, solutions sold for $20 – $100 or site builders that would supposedly “revolutionize your business online”.
Here are some tips that would steadily grow your value and bring some business to you.
1. Perfect Your Skills
When I switched to full-time freelancing, I’ve already had a 5-year technical college degree, 4 years of full-time development experience and various pet projects, small gigs for clients and several websites that we’ve launched as side projects.
Sadly, that was not enough. I’ve realized that I had so much more to learn – not only everything around marketing, sales, management, client negotiations, accounting, legal and other areas of running a business, but from a technical standpoint as well.
I’ve struggled for a while and took me another couple of years or so building several large platforms until I got confident and truly experienced in my craft. Nowadays, I can solve a large set of problems 5–15 times faster than what I was able to accomplish when I’ve started. Given that I’ve been working on over 100 open source projects, clients can roughly relate that to the tens of thousands of programming hours spent to date:
Becoming proficient in your field is important in order to offer professional services to your clients. Spend more time programming and solving real problems in different environments – such as learning stored procedures for database engines, familiarize yourself with different frameworks, understand how ORMs work behind the scenes and how the platform interacts with the underlying layers (the operating systems, interoperability between different servers, computer resources, data layers etc.)
When your expertise covers a large set of components, you will face fewer challenges when building solutions, be able to solve more problems in a shorter amount of time, and charge properly for your services.
2. Build Your Portfolio
Prospects want to see sample results and solutions that relate to their needs. An online portfolio is required in order to showcase your skills and understanding in both web development, and solving business problems.
Reach out to previous clients and ask whether you can feature their websites in your portfolio. Some may disagree but others would be open to receiving an extra link and promotion to their businesses.
Also, work on side projects for your friends and family or other activities related to tools that you would use yourself. A simple project or task management app, a time tracker or a simple clone of an existing system would be worth listing in your portfolio and improve your skills at the same time.
3. Sign Up For Freelance Networks
Some folks passionately say that freelance networks don’t work. Back in 2011, I’ve landed a 6-figure project from Upwork that started as a batch of changes, a slight rebuild of the front-end layer, and a few refactoring tasks for existing plugins. It turned out that the client owned a reputable marketing agency and was looking for a dedicated team that would provide ongoing services and building some of the most outstanding projects that we’ve created to date.
While competition is tough and there are plenty of folks who would underbid big time, you can land some gigs on the way, generate some 5-star reviews, and increase your hourly rates as well. On top of that you can test different client pitches and proposals and see what works better in your case.
Also, there are certain professional freelance networks like Codeable.io – #1 outsourcing service for WordPress that pay $60/hr for development work after carefully vetting talent. That’s not the only network out there looking for experts and once you refine your skills and build your portfolio, this is a viable business opportunity for web development online.
4. Start a Pet Project
Is there a tool or a service that you would definitely use and doesn’t exist online with the feature set that you would use yourself?
Building and maintaining a pet project is one of my favorite tips of advice I share with my students and junior programmers. Starting something from scratch that you’re passionate about and would develop as a real-world product will teach you a lot. It requires perseverance and maintaining a codebase over the course of years.
Once you launch the product, some users may hook up and start interacting with your platform. Now you will still need to maintain your product and add additional features without breaking the live platform and ruin the experience of your peers. This would help out with refining your skills and learn about backward compatibility, increase your exposure in the industry, and add something massive to your portfolio.
5. Contact Small Businesses in Your Area
There are plenty of small businesses in your area that may need a new web platform, a redesign, or a small project that would automate areas in their business. Find some peers or talk to managers at the places that you go to – coffee shops, restaurants, stores.
A local offline store may be looking for increasing their exposure online or start selling through eCommerce. Engage in friendly conversations and see if there’s a match for potential business partnerships. I’ve tested that numerous times and occasionally there’s a good opportunity ahead.
6. Specialize in a Given Niche
Being a niche expert is invaluable and can position you higher than other generalist fellows who offer web development services in your area.
Niche expertise can branch out into two different areas:
- Building expertise in a technical niche (a platform or so)
- Providing expert consulting for a certain business vertical
The first group focuses on profiling in a certain framework or toolset. Specializing in Laravel would let you provide “generic” solutions for people who simply look for a website but you will rank higher for prospects who search for Laravel professionals in particular.
If you tackle web solutions on top of a popular platform such as WordPress, there are large plugin communities that require building extensions or scale platforms using said plugins. Good examples are WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, Gravity Forms, LearnDash and other powerful plugins.
We work with businesses that specialize in extension development and building high-scale platforms leveraging these plugins. If a customer is looking to power a massive online shop, they will prioritize WooCommerce developers higher than WordPress developers given their niche expertise.
The second element is specializing in a given business vertical – such as building several solid projects for lawyers, dentists, coffee shops or any other niche. Adding several projects in a given vertical to your portfolio would bring you closer during sales negotiations and showcase expertise in the business.
7. Attend Local Events
Local meetups and conferences often gather other industry experts or customers in a need of web development solutions.
This includes development conferences and business events. The first group may help you learn more about the latest technological trends or find agencies that are looking for talent. The second group would solely focus on specific business problems that you may be capable of solving – and charging for the service.
8. Focus On Building Your Brand Online
There are tens of millions of web developers out there. What makes you special?
Finding the right web developer or an agency for a business is a challenging task for clients as well. Some of them rely on word of mouth, others browse freelance networks, search for recommendations online, look for practical advice in blogs, or look within their local community.
Working on your brand online through content marketing, guest posting, maintaining a GitHub portfolio of open source code, engaging in community conversations, sharing insights on social networks and participating in different groups will grow your network and help out with promotion and organic traffic back to your website.
It will also build credibility for prospects who want to do a background check and make sure that you’re “legit” before initiating a business conversation with you. Reputable developers have a lot to lose unless they provide outstanding quality and clients know that.
9. Contact Agencies For Outsourcing Opportunities
Small agencies are often looking for outsourcing opportunities when they are overloaded with incoming leads. Hiring someone in-house is time-consuming and takes a while for onboarding and proper initial training. It’s not feasible when you get 10 potential gigs in your inbox asking for quotes and the ability to handle the workload given enough manpower.
Freelancers are a good “way out” in terms of complimenting the agency’s services for a while, or building a business relationship for a specific set of skills (such as the niche experience mentioned above).
You can do some targeted email outreach to local agencies or developers that you’ve interacted with online. Moreover, those folks often attend local events and join the “after party” dinners.
10. Reach Out to Larger Businesses
Once you’ve gained enough expertise and built some smaller projects on the way, you can contact larger businesses. Some are looking for side projects that would automate internal processes or showcase a certain niche service that they offer. Others may look for long-term work and maintenance on their existing infrastructure.
11. Partner Up With Other Freelancers And Agencies
In addition to asking agencies for their immediate needs, consider partnership opportunities with smaller agencies and other freelancers.
If you profile in a certain niche, it’s likely that you lack skills in other areas – such as web design, SEO, marketing, server management or something else. Finding other peers who can deliver the work around your skill set would help you land larger projects, share work with your inner circle, and land larger and more lucrative projects that would require long-term maintenance and development.
As long as you’re persistent and work hard, it’s all about refining your experience and building your portfolio. The longer you profile in your field, the easier would it be to pitch businesses and receive referrals from happy clients.