Five Secrets to Earning $80,000 as a WordPress Developer

Wondering if you need previous experience or formal education to make money as a WordPress developer?

Think again.

Not only did I not have either of those things, but I think you’ll agree that I had just about everything working against me.  This was my situation when I started out:

  • Full time job (working as a Physicist)
  • No web development experience
  • No WordPress experience
  • No agency experience
  • No freelancing experience

In other words, I literally rolled out of bed one morning and decide to call myself a WordPress developer.

I was able to teach myself what I needed to know and the results speak for themselves:

That’s over $80K as a part-time WordPress Developer!

For years now, freelancing forums and blogs have been bombarded with posts by freelancers complaining that there aren’t enough clients for freelancers to make a decent living.

But I’ve never bought into that argument and you shouldn’t either.

I saw — and continue to see — plenty of great clients. I used UpWork but the same could be said for People Per Hour, Freelancer, etc… otherwise they wouldn’t exist!

I was even fortunate enough to land a couple of jobs early on (they paid well, were easy to work with, and several of these UpWork clients are still giving me repeat business to this day).

It isn’t like Upwork allots you a certain number of premium clients and then cuts off your supply. You’re free to find as many as you can. I knew if I could find 2, then I could probably find 5, 10, 20, and beyond.

So I decided to go against the grain and focus all of my efforts exclusively on UpWork.

Instead of wasting time on the endless marketing tactics freelancers get lured into, I built my freelancing career with:

  • NO blogging
  • NO networking
  • NO cold contacting
  • NO social media
  • NO newsletters or follow up emails
  • NO accounts on other freelancing sites

Essentially, I outsourced all of my marketing to UpWork. And you know what? It worked!

I won lots of jobs. I had enough time to devote to doing them right while working a full time job.

I got plenty of repeat business and great feedback and I built up an awesome UpWork profile that quickly stood out to top-quality clients.

Every single day, tons of qualified clients flock to UpWork for the express purpose of hiring freelancers.

Here’s Exactly How I Did It:

UpWork isn’t an economics classroom and freelancing services don’t trade like commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. That is of course, only if you’re willing to put some work into it.

Offer the right service to the right clients, packaged in the right way, and your market value goes way up.  One of the ways I know this is because, when I’m awarded a job, I’m usually the highest bidder ($125/hr) and you can be too!

I used UpWork but the other common platforms out there are Freelancer, People Per Hour, Fiverr.

The most important thing to remember here is to HIGHLIGHT YOUR VALUE.  Try to put yourself in the client’s shoes.  What traits would you want in a WordPress Developer? Most clients want someone who: communicates well, responds quickly, and is capable of performing the job.

Here is some useful feedback I received from the UpWork Talent Team after passing the interview to become an UpWork Pro Developer:

  • Skill Tags: If you are focusing on a particular aspect of WordPress (e.g. Divi Theme) then include it as a skill tag. If you mention a skill in your profile overview, then it would help to add the skill tag as well as in your title. Also, when you’re reviewing interesting projects, you can note the skill tags that clients have listed, to understand which skill tags and terms are the most meaningful to them.
  • Profile Overview: Your first sentence should include clear relevant information about your primary skillsets and expertise. For example, this part of your current profile overview might be a great way to start your overview: 

“I am a WORDPRESS, WOOCOMMERCE, X THEME, and DIVI expert who has thousands of hours of experience, both designing and programming functionally operable websites. I have created many sites and have many happy customers who continue to use my services. If you are looking for a hardworking, honest, and reliable developer who will give 110% on every project you have come to the right place!”

Don’t make your profile overview too difficult to quickly scan and understand what your primary skills and experiences are. It might help to organize it with paragraphs: for example, have a separate paragraph for skills and one for experience. Another idea is to use special characters to help break it up. Testimonials are another great way to show to the potential clients about your past accomplishments.  

  • Availability: Avoid using “As Needed” because different freelancers use this availability setting to communicate different things (some mean their workload is varying, some mean that they are booked – but will consider very attractive offers) it may be a detractor to receiving relevant invites. It might be helpful to instead use the “Less than 30” or “More than 30” option – depending upon which is closest to your current projected availability.

I started by researching the types of jobs available and what kind of skills I would need to be successful.  As I was starting out, this meant finding a theme that fit the client’s needs, setting it up, and walking them through how to perform future updates (35$/hr). As I began to spend more time on WordPress, I began learning it’s limitations and branched out to helping clients find solutions with plugins (75$/hr).  After learning that even plugins have their limitations, I started learning how to create custom solutions in PHP and JavaScript (current rate of $125/hr).

The key to all of this? Spend time getting to know WordPress, it’s advantages, and limitations. It also helps to have a subscription to premium themes & plugins. That way, you can see how different functions interact with WordPress Core.

Have you noticed how many jobs are starting to require minimum five years experience?  This is because there is no textbook substitute for solving real-world problems.  So that means, get out there and get your feet wet:

Proposals

  • You’re more likely to have success with a custom-tailored proposal. Include how you meet each of the client’s and project’s needs and requests.
  • Acknowledge the client’s unique project and explain why you are capable of solving his problems. Highlight the name of the job and the name of the client. Assure the client that you care about helping them succeed, and describe your approach to the project and your working style. Restating main points will help show the client you have spent time to understand & provides them an opportunity to clarify anywhere you may have different understandings.
  • If bidding on a project with a lower rate than the one you currently have, you might consider explaining to the client that while your rate is higher, the value you bring to the project is also higher, and list the reasons ( work will be of higher quality, will require less revisions etc.)

  • It might be helpful to add a “project outline”. Some clients are less experienced with managing the types of projects they’re hiring you for, so you can add a lot of value by showing that you have a game plan. It also lets you structure the milestones in order to set expectations for how long each step will take, how much each will cost, and what kind of interaction you’ll need from the client from start to finish. This example might give you an idea of how to set expectations for each project step, the time needed to complete it, and also arrange the workflow in separate milestones:

    1. Milestone 1: First Draft

    2. Milestone 2: Revision

    3. Milestone 3: Final Draft

Here’s how I outperformed my competition to help earn multiple five star reviews and long term clients:

Communication: You should be speaking with your client if not everyday then at least biweekly (whether via chat, email, or phone). You should be providing updates on the project at least twice a week. ** All of my clients receive my personal cellphone number and e-mail address.

Development Server: Who likes waiting around? Your client wants to see progress and you should be able to show it! That way you can receive valuable feedback since there’s no sense in working for 2 weeks on something that isn’t meeting the client’s satisfaction. ** I can provide you with a dedicated development site on my own private server. (BONUS: The first five people to share this article and send an e-mail via our contact form will receive one free month of hosting on FlyWheel.)

Timeline and Price: If it’s an hourly contract then you should always give a weekly breakdown of the work that is going to be done, as well as when the entire project will be finished. It would also help to provide the client an estimated number of hours you  think the entire project will take (if possible). I always give an estimated minimum and maximum number of hours each task for a project will take. I also set a project completion date and communicate throughout the entire project whether the date remains feasible.

Design: Always develop the Homepage first and then request feedback to make revisions. Once the Homepage has been finalized the rest of the pages can be designed and the revision process should be repeated as many times as necessary. I typically ask my clients to provide any reference site(s) so I have a feel for their style. Once I have gone through revisions to make the homepage perfect, only then will I continue with the designs for the remaining pages.

Development: The site should be developed in a scalable and manageable way. Clients like their websites easy to edit without having to know code. I developed all of my sites using drag and drop builders (e.g. Divi Theme, Elementor Pro, or Astra Sites) so clients can move elements on a page with ease.

Mobile and Tablet Responsiveness: Most themes are built with this in mind but mentioning this helps clients think that you have more to offer than freelancers who don’t mention it at all. I typically included this bit in my proposals “I develop all of my sites with responsiveness in mind, so they work on all mobile and tablet devices, regardless of whether you request them to work on these devices or not.”

There is a wealth of information online if you run into issues.  Here are a few of my favorite resources:

Stack Overflow

Github

WordPress Developer Documents

As you continue to develop and add to your skills, this will only add to the value you bring to clients. Don’t forget to revisit your rate every few months as you gain more reviews and skills.

Happy freelancing!