May 08, 2020
WordPress for freelancing: how to become a freelance developer

With more than 35% of all websites using WordPress, you can tell it’s absolutely massive and is very much still growing. There is still a ton of room for good people to do good work and create a thriving business with WordPress. Today, we’re going to look into becoming a freelance WordPress developer.

I’m going to talk about getting started as a WordPress developer but you can use this same advice if you are a designer or even a writer in the WordPress space. Yes, you will need to find different teaching resources, but the most important elements, like making good decisions and building your reputation, are essentially the same across different fields.

Start With Why

If you want to start your own business, it needs to begin with a pretty good reason. Sure, the freedom of working where & when you want is great, but you can get that with many jobs now. You don’t need to take on all the terrible parts of running a company yourself to get freedom in where you work.

That means you need to have a separate reason to run your own business outside of having freedom. One of the reasons I work for myself is that in addition to getting to write what I want, I get to take the time to help parents run a business that lets them be an awesome father or mother. Taking a job at a company would mean that I can’t sit down in the middle of the day to write about being a dad running a business.

I accept all the downsides of running my own business because I get to help the parents I interact with be the awesome people they dreamed of being. When I’m having a down day because someone hasn’t paid me, I remember someone I’ve helped and keep pushing forward.

Ask yourself:

  • Why will I put up with the hard days of working for myself?
  • Who specifically can I help by working for myself that I can’t help otherwise?

Understanding Your Value

The next thing to tackle when you work for yourself is understanding the value you bring to the table.

When you’re starting as a developer it’s easy to think that the most valuable thing you bring to the table is writing code for your clients. Your clients also think that this is the highest value thing you do for them but you’re both wrong!

The most important thing an experienced developer brings to the table is the wisdom to make good decisions. When you know which of the 10 WordPress form plugins suits this project best, you are bringing value to the table.

Making the right decision about putting code in a plugin or in the theme is another valuable bit of knowledge that clients don’t have. The code you type out is simply the visible evidence of that knowledge.

A good way to start talking about value with your client is in your initial email with them. Please note, the questions center around the value that the client expects from the project. I don’t worry much about the hours that something will take when I’m starting to talk to a client. At that point of the process they don’t even care.

The only thing a client cares about is that your fees provide value to them. They want to know that if you’re going to charge $5k to build their site, they’re going to get at least $10k of value out of it in the next year. If you want to charge well for your services, then you need to show your clients that they will get value from the work you do.

If you leave the value question to chance then you’re not going to win much work.

Ask yourself:

  • How can I show my client they’ll make 3X or more from my work?
  • Where can I help a client avoid known problems?

Learning the Field

There are a few steps to learning any field. First, it starts with some research so that you know what the best sources of information are. One good spot to start for almost any field is LinkedIn Learning. They hire top professionals in the industry to provide training.

For WordPress development you can get some deeper dives once you’ve got a handle on the basics:

The biggest mistake that people make as they start learning anything is waiting for too long to get their work out there in the world. You will always be better tomorrow. Your code will be cleaner, your writing will be more concise, and your design will be tighter.

Start putting your work out there by picking a personal project, building it and then sharing it with people. Share it on social networks and ask for feedback. Most people in WordPress remember everyone that helped them and are happy to spend a few minutes helping someone that is just starting out.

Finding Your First Freelance Job

Now, how about finding your first job as a WordPress professional? Do you know where to start?

When you don’t know anyone you’re going to need to use places like Craigslist, Upwork and Fiverr to find clients. When I started out on my own, I made a rule that I needed to make 10 new contacts a day with potential clients. Sometimes at the end of the day, that would be done just by new emails coming in via an ad on Craigslist but other days I’d search far and wide for anyone to contact about doing work for their WordPress site.

Two popular places to get started at are Fiverr and Upwork so let’s take a quick look at both options.


Fiverr is no longer people doing jobs for $5. You can put a range of prices on your work. On Fiverr, you put your ad out there and then customers come to you to get you to do the work. You don’t have to come up with a custom proposal for each project you want to work on.

Even 10 years into building sites on WordPress, I’ve used Fiverr to try out new services because of the built-in audience. I may reduce the prices a bit to hit the audiences that Fiverr attracts, but otherwise, it’s the same service I’ll use with clients once it’s been tested, adjusted, and validated as something people want.


Like Fiverr, Upwork has a built-in audience of projects. Some companies will only work with contractors that use Upwork as a platform. If you’re looking for a large selection of projects, then you can log in to your Upwork account and select from a huge volume of projects.

The downside with Upwork is that you have to create a proposal for each project you want a chance at working on. That adds a bunch of unpaid administrative work to your plate.

Both of these platforms are valuable under different circumstances. Decide which one is right for your current situation, timelines, and gaps in current project load.

Other places to find WordPress work

If you don’t have your daily quota of new contacts, start to go through these sites to make sure that you reach out enough potential clients to keep your business going. To really take your career to the next level though, you need to start building your reputation in your field.

Use Blogging to Build your Reputation as a Freelance WordPress Developer

If you’re working for yourself, your goal should be to position yourself as an expert so that customers come calling looking for your expertise. To get that happening you need to take the initiative and start showing customers that you are an expert before they work with you.

One of the easiest ways is to start publishing your own content on your site. When I began my WordPress journey every time I’d have a problem that I had to look up and solve I’d write a blog post about the problem and the solution. I’d make sure to title my content with the search terms I had used at the beginning of my journey.

This quickly got other developers to notice me, and 10 years later Nexcess asked me to write for them. I write for Nexcess now because someone on their team noticed my work and started to follow me.

If you can, take the time to write something and add a screencast explaining the problem. Some people will prefer the video and others will prefer to read through the text of your post, or maybe even just jump to the code. Even if you’re just starting, teach what you’re learning once you have a bit of a handle on it.

When I was writing about WordPress code issues, a single post solving a problem brought in $15k that year alone, and then $10k a year for the next five years based on a single client that found that content. My quick easy fix was something they could do themselves, but they had a bunch of other problems with their eCommerce site that they needed me to fix. Even a few weeks into your learning journey, what feels easy for you will be amazing to someone else.

Becoming Your Own Boss Takes Work

Working for yourself is not all beaches and breaks. It takes lots of work to succeed as your own boss, but you can do it. To build a successful WordPress Development business make sure you have a solid reason why you’re working for yourself. Take the time to understand the value you provide to your clients so you can charge properly. Learn to find your ideal customers, and market yourself as a professional.

If you can do these things, then you can become a freelance WordPress Developer and run a business that you love to work in.

Curtis McHale
Curtis McHale

Curtis is a husband, father, developer and business coach. He specializes in helping people build a business that lets them spend time with their family instead of working all the time.

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