Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.
Josh Visick, Anca Mosoiu, and Sonja London shared their experiences running WordPress businesses in a lively discussion that ranged across topics like contracting and scope creep to marketing and figuring out how much to charge.
Sonja talked about Scott Berkun’s book The Year Without Pants and the experience of working with distributed teams on an open-source platform. (Of course proprietary software companies–except Yahoo!–also have distributed teams who work from home, but they operate somewhat differently.) Sonja coded her own CMS in 2002 and used to work on enterprise websites; WordPress was something she picked up while recovering from a broken leg and found people offering her money for.
Josh is a graphic designer for whom WordPress is a bridge to becoming a developer. He likes the Genesis framework because he can adapt it to his designs. He also provides hosting and maintenance to small businesses.
Anca is the owner of Tech Liminal, so part of her business is running a technology salon. She used to do software engineering in the enterprise (lots of databases), and has also built her own content management systems and worked with the dreaded SharePoint. She does coaching and training and builds custom apps with WordPress.
WordPress gives those who work with it a core of common material, a store of common knowledge, and the freedom to customize. All three speakers mentioned heavily customizing the WordPress dashboard for their clients, removing things that were likely to cause confusion.
The rapid development cycle of WordPress is both a positive and negative for developers, as for users. You have to stay on top of it, and you may need to update your custom plugins and themes, so you’d better figure out what terms you offer them to clients under. Do you provide free updates for a year after the product concludes? Forever if it breaks? Or do you require a maintenance fee to provide any updates at all?
WordPress as a business is easy to get into at the low end–there are so-called developers who really just push the one-click install button on the client’s host and then add a few common plugins and a theme. Because WordPress is popular, it’s fairly easy for a client to find someone to take over if you get hit by a bus. And there’s a good chance the client may have some experience with it.
On the other hand, many people have preconceptions about WordPress. They believe that because they can sign up for a free blog at WordPress.com, any WordPress site should be very inexpensive. They’ll think their neighbor’s kid can do it for them, and won’t understand the difference between a custom e-commerce or membership site and a simple blog site. It can be difficult to explain the value you are offering–especially if the client is not already clear about the business value of a website.
Remember that you can say no to clients who don’t seem like a good fit. Disqualifying prospects is at least as important as qualifying them. If they’re not clear about what they want, can’t afford you, continually change their minds, or just don’t seem to be people you can work with, say no. Thanks to the meetup, you know lots of people you can refer them to.
Clients don’t expect you to do everything yourself. If you are looking to expand your business to offer more services, you can reach out to the Meetup community to find a designer, developer, SEO specialist, Google Analytics specialist, social media specialist, etc.