Is becoming a WordPress freelancer feasible as a side job?
November 26, 2016 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I've been thinking about doing some freelance work in WordPress in addition to my full-time job just to make some extra money. But before I invest in plug-ins, further education etc. I'd like to know what I could realistically expect to make and the best way to handle clients / ongoing website maintenance.

At this point, I can set up a pre-made theme (with child theme) and do some light customization with CSS as well as find / optimize images with Photoshop. I'm learning about SEO and security. I'm NOT yet capable of putting together custom themes or plug-ins. So I'm not really a developer yet, but I was thinking I could offer my services to local businesses / entrepreneurs for a reasonable cost and then perhaps charge a monthly fee for managing updates and maybe content too.

I'd love to hear from anyone else doing this or who started out doing this! About how much do you charge? (ok to pm me)

Do you handle maintenance afterwards? I'm thinking several different maintenance "packages" might be the way to go.

Would it be feasible to do this in addition to a full-time job? How much time do you end up putting into sites on average? And how do you deal with clients during work hours? I'm most worried about having clients coming to me with emergency situations at a time when I'm working my main job and can't immediately fix them.

posted by seraph9 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
You might look into a host like Flywheel to smooth out the maintenance and/or emergency load. It's set up specifically for the business model you have in mind and their support is great.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 9:25 AM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

i am a freelance developer and nearly every project i have been on in the last few years has had a wordpress component to it. that role was usually filled by a person that otherwise didn't interact with the team. so it is a skill that companies will pay for, but there are some extras that will help you, like being able to do some graphics work and setting up domains etc.
posted by lescour at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do the occasional WP site on the side - just did a $1500 day care site that I used a $49 theme for and spent about 10 hours tweaking the theme and adding content.
posted by COD at 9:49 AM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been a web developer for 20 years. Almost all my work these days is Wordpress. I work 20ish hours per week and there's clearly a large demand, even for your current skill set. Spend some self-improvement time to increase your skill set and you can raise your rates accordingly.

I bill hourly, period. I charge $60/hr which is way low, but it's how I've chosen to do it. I have a bunch of really good clients and I've been afraid of scaring any of them off.

Any third party billing I set up directly for my clients (hosting, domain reg, SSL certs, etc). To me, any middle-manning of this stuff is more of a PITA over time than it's worth. Again, to me, any subscription type service either takes advantage of the client, or is more work than it pays back. I make it clear that this is their website, and I'm the plumber. They're responsible for everything including letting me know when they need me (content, updates, etc). The last thing you want is taking on responsibility for the success of the site. Which leads me to my next point, I don't offer any SEO service. I follow best practices and do some analytics, but telling someone you're going to make them great on Google is set up for failure IMO.

For the simplest site I usually estimate 10-20 hours. On a new project I give weekly updates on how many hours I'm spending so we can adjust the budget as it develops. After an initial setup and invoicing, I respond to emails daily and schedule tasks as they develop and then send out invoices to whoever I did work for each month.

You can absolutely count on a client coming to you with an immediate emergency situation. That's exactly why I clearly establish the relationship that I do, which is I'm available for hire as my availability allows. Any requests, I try to respond to with due haste, but I never guarantee that I can start on anything without 24 hours notice. Again, selling "packages" is essentially the opposite approach.

Go for it.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Yes, you can definitely do it. There's a LOT of WordPress work out there. I'd recommend finding a niche, as that will make it much easier to sell your services.

How to get started? Just do a couple of really, really cheap sites. Be sure you have a contract that says, "When we're done, we're done. If I screw anything up, I'm not liable for it and I don't have to fix it."
posted by nosila at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am not a trained developer or coder, and my skills don't extend much farther than yours, but I have made a lot of sites over the last 10 years that looked good, functioned well and made a lot of people happy.

I'd recommend becoming fluent with CSS, learning some basic to moderate PHP and Javascript, perhaps become familiar with Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics, set up some 24 hour monitoring ( and you're on your way. Being familiar with hosting accounts and DNS will make your life less stressful, but can be fairly easily figured out on a case by case basis.

I always set up separate accounts for clients, or had them set up the accounts, when it came to hosting or domain registrations, or other 3rd party services. This makes it easy to walk away later, either from the job or the client, and they will be much happier down the road. So many hours of this work used to be just trying to get control and a login of the stupid hosting control panel that the client didn't know anything about from an existing site where the old web-master went MIA. Just be sure to advise them not to let the hosting or domain registration expire.

There are a lot of web-designers who try to profit off of reselling hosting (dirt cheap from shared servers) and maintenance (not much to speak of) to their clients. This felt sleazy to me - unless there is actual maintenance/upkeep involved in which case I worked out a special retainer. Also, if you take extra on top of the server hosting, when the server goes down (and it will!) they may look to blame you for any damage or disruption.

Personally, I charged for planning, designing, building and testing the site. As a sort of 'warranty' I included all minor updates and adjustments 6 months after launch. Anything major or past that was an hourly rate.

You should definitely have an hourly rate, but expect to give full estimates for projects. I generally low-balled my prices but was able to be very picky in who I worked with - there was no lack of work and I never advertised. Word of mouth provided more work than I could handle.

Food for thought - I recently exited the business. I think the heyday of people like me - somewhat less than affectionately referred to as 'plumbers' by real developers - who don't really develop, but are able to 'jimmy' existing code and what not are going to be replaced by the likes of SquareSpace and other templated build-your-own sites that are finally starting to look and function decently.
posted by alhadro at 3:35 PM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Short answer: as others have said, yes, this is a thing that is done.

I've done freelance web and graphic design as a sideline since websites became a thing. I don't do many anymore, out of laziness, lack of ambition, and contentment. But for the last several years, any sites I've done have been done on the Wordpress platform. I create the logo, headers, and other branding elements, then use Wordpress to make the site.

From a marketing standpoint, it's best to just say you make websites. Most clients have no clue what Wordpress is, and don't care whether you use Wordpress, Dreamweaver, or hand-code.

As alhadro says, SquareSpace and the like have made web design easier than ever for someone who doesn't want to pay for a designer. But don't let this deter you. No matter how easy it is, there are still lots of people who just don't want to do it themselves, so there will always be a need for web designers. (I mean, I know how to change my own oil in my car, but I don't want to do it, so I pay someone else to do it for me.)

The work is out there. In my experience, there are lots of small businesses and sold proprietors who are too small for your local "design firms" to cater to, and would love to have personal attention, a nice website, at a fair price.
posted by The Deej at 7:10 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

I may I have my first client already!

humboldt32 and alhadro, You make a good point about not offering SEO and packages. However, since WordPress and plug-ins do need to be updated regularly to keep the site secure, how do you handle this with clients who want to remain "hands-off"?

It seems to me that a small monthly fee that included doing any necessarily updates and perhaps with a limited number of client-provided content changes included wouldn't be taking advantage of the client and would be preferable to just letting it go and eventually becoming outdated and unsecured.

Or do you only work with clients willing to learn the dashboard and do their own updates?

posted by seraph9 at 3:04 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

//I think the heyday of people like me - somewhat less than affectionately referred to as 'plumbers' by real developers - who don't really develop, but are able to 'jimmy' existing code and what not are going to be replaced by the likes of SquareSpace and other templated build-your-own sites that are finally starting to look and function decently.//

I have a different take on this. Most people still are not going to be able, or want to bother, with it. The plumbers, as we were called above, will be the people updating Squarespace for clients in many, many instances. A large percentage of real plumbing jobs can be easily handled with a quick tutorial on YouTube, basic tools, and common sense. Yet I'm pretty sure plumbers are not hurting for business.

So I wouldn't let fear of lack of work be a discouraging issue. I think there is plenty of work out there.
posted by COD at 5:40 AM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

there are several ways to handle on going maintenance. it depends on what you are comfortable with and what the client is comfortable with. what i prefer is to have a set fee (say what you would charge for 1 hour a week) that gets the client some basic updates, including needed plug-in security updates*. this also insures that when they email i bother to answer. if they choose not to have an ongoing relationship then it's up to you to decide how to handle their requests. because they are always going to be emergency requests. i don't have a separate fee for this although i have been sorely tempted to at times. mostly they just go to the back of the line (including regular life activities) and there is no quarter given on timekeeping.

*updates break things. more than they should. make sure you have a current backup of everything and know how to restore.
posted by lescour at 2:10 PM on December 6, 2016

However, since WordPress and plug-ins do need to be updated regularly to keep the site secure, how do you handle this with clients who want to remain "hands-off"?

Well, like I said, I make it clear to them it's their site. If WP needs updating, it's on them to email me to spend some time on their site if they don't want to do it themselves. I have zero interest in diminishing this understanding with a subscription. That's just me. That small monthly fee is guaranteeing they they'll be calling you when things go tits up and not expect to pay you for that work.


Man, you know I used "plumber" above, not as a derogatory term, I used it to describe my relationship with my customers. I'd never heard of it as a derogatory term before this thread. I just always felt it was a good way to describe my business model.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:47 AM on December 11, 2016

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