5 Skills Every WordPress Developer Needs

When you decide to become a WordPress developer, your biggest focus will probably be on the skills you need to hone in order to make a living in this industry.

You need to know HTML and CSS. You need to have an understanding of PHP and Javascript. You might even need to have greater database knowledge if you’re going to dive into backend development, too.

And while all of these skills are essential for being an effective developer, I’d say that there are quite a few others that too few in the industry spend the time necessary to perfect.

The following skills might not be technical in nature or directly related to WordPress, but they are arguably every bit as essential as knowing how to do the nitty gritty code stuff.

1. Solid Planning

Being a “planner” is a real asset for WordPress developers. Too often when the inspiration to create strikes, developers dive in head first without any sort of plan in place. And while their passion and enthusiasm is something to be admired, the lack of a plan can cause serious issues.

For instance, will this new project interfere with any existing projects? Do you have a deadline in mind? Is that deadline feasible? Do you have the necessary tools on hand to complete it? What will you do when the plugin or theme is completed? Will you offer it for free or as a premium option?

If your eyes glazed over reading all of that, it might be a good idea to take a step back from whatever project you’re currently working on and develop a detailed plan. You’ll want to outline your goals – both large and small – and attach deadlines to them. For some, breaking larger tasks down into micro tasks helps to boost productivity and maintain focus.

And don’t forget to account for your launch plans. What will you do once the project is completed? Account for everything from where you’ll offer it online to pricing (if applicable).

2. An Eye for Marketing 

Another skill developers need is an ability to market a product effectively. It doesn’t matter if you’re offering your plugin or theme for free or for pay – you still need to know how to market yourself if you want to make the most of your time.

Marketing is something that needs to be honed as well, just like your technical skills. To get started, you need to first think about what you want to accomplish with your development project and then envision who might most benefit from it. This is your target market and should be a model person – a marketing persona – to whom you direct all of your promotional materials.

This will greatly inform the voice of your website copy and the description included along with the plugin or theme in the WordPress directory. It will tell you what benefits your product has and how they can improve your target consumer’s life. It will also help you determine what imagery will most appeal to your customers.

Have you noticed a trend here yet? Knowing your customer is key. From there, you can make a wide variety of decisions about how you’ll present your plugin or theme to the world. That’s why I’ve called it an “eye for marketing,” because it’s not necessarily something you can develop just through reading a textbook. It’s something you need to develop through a combination of knowing your product, knowing your customer, and knowing how your product meets a need in your target customer’s life.

3. An Ability (And Willingness!) to Delegate 

As a developer, you wear many hats throughout the day.

This is especially the case for those who are making a living or a substantial portion of their income from development projects. You develop the actual products, yes, but you’re also required to acts as your own executive assistant when answering emails and messages. You’re an accountant and have to keep track of expenses and billing. You’re the sales team and – as mentioned above – the marketing department.

And while many developers enjoy having full control over their projects and the business that surrounds them, the best understand there will come a point in time when delegation is necessary. That is, there will come a time when you need to off load some of those tasks to other people. And you should view this as a really good thing. It means your development business is growing. It means that the company’s needs have outgrown the one or two-man operation it currently is and needs to be more fully staffed.

Having the wisdom to know when you need to delegate is a sign of a good leader. Choosing qualified people to be on your team is an even greater sign of leadership ability. There’s a great temptation to micromanage when you’ve started a development business – or any business, really – but that will only get in the way of productivity. And many a micromanager has actually killed his company because of this need-to-be-in-the-middle-of-everything behavior.

4. An Understanding of When to Move On 

Not every development project is going to work out. It’s a harsh reality but one you need to accept if you want to find success in the long-term. Committing to a project long after it’s burnt out is not only a waste of your time, it’s also a poor use of resources. The time you waste on a dead project could have been spent on a new plugin or theme that might have worked out.

Knowing when to throw your hands up and say “uncle” marks the difference between an amateur and a professional.

5. A Thirst for What’s Next

Developers by their very nature are curious beasts.

They like to keep up to date with the latest technology. They want to know about the latest innovations, whether in WordPress or development as a whole. However, not all are so naturally hungry for keeping their technical skills up to date. Because let’s face it – that takes work. If you want to be successful, however, it’s imperative that you’re constantly pondering “what’s next?”

You see, this drive to know where WordPress and development is going in the future will drive you to create better and more interesting things to live up to that potential. Plus, if you stay in the loop as to what’s planned for future Core releases, you’ll be better able to anticipate what features your products need to include – and what might become obsolete.


WordPress is an ever-evolving thing. The Core development team is always hard at work trying new things and attempting to improve functionality for us all. The best developers in the business know this and do their very best to adapt. This applies to technical skill, yes, but also to general business functions. Developers need to be capable of planning, marketing, delegating, and understanding when a project needs to go kaput, too.

These are the things that help to build true success for budding development businesses. You can do a lot to build your technical abilities, but without these skills, you won’t make it very far.

Now over to you. What skills do you think are essential in a good WordPress developer? What separates the very best from the merely okay? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to share in the comments below!

Brenda Barron

Brenda is a writer from southern California, a WordPress enthusiast, and Doctor Who addict. She contributes to several business and technology blogs, including her own, Digital Inkwell. You can follow her on Google+.


  1. Chris McMorrow

    Hi, Brenda … As my website is now “stuck in the mud” … and since I am now trying to get it unstuck, this article will help me to find the right person to get it done. Very well written. Thanks!

  2. Kevan

    Hi Brenda! Amazing list here! It’s really neat to see a discussion about WP development take such a big-picture view. I think your point about delegation is really neat! We’ve tried that a bit in our work, allowing folks to take ownership over certain areas. It’s amazing the difference it makes in moving quickly and in supporting the happiness and satisfaction of employees!

    1. Brenda Barron


      I think delegation comes down to trusting your employees. It’s one of the most important things you can do to increase productivity and improve the quality of output. In my opinion, at least! Thanks so much for reading, Kevan!

  3. Scott Jacob

    Brenda, I too like your list. There are many, many skills a developer needs to work with besides core technical coding if they want to start a successful business. I personally believe you have missed the largest and most disruptive one that any freelancer learns the hard way – Customer Service. It doesn’t come naturally to the heads-down coder types, but it is an essential skill in building a business. We all must serve our customers.

    1. Brenda Barron


      You’re absolutely right, Scott! Maybe I’ll have to do a followup post one day that includes customer service as another essential skill.

  4. Luke Boobyer

    I completely agree. It’s all well and good having the coding knowledge but I feel too many web designers lack the other necessary skills that are required to really get ahead in this industry.

    With new resources making it increasingly easy to learn basic coding it seems to be slightly less valued than it used to be. It’s now essential to learn and offer additional complementary services such as online marketing and branding.

    Point 5 A Thirst for What’s Next is also a good point to mention. Too many people seem stuck in the past refusing to learn new developments and ultimately build sites that look outdated. Fads come and go but it’s useful to have a knowledge of new developments so you can get ahead of the game.

    1. Brenda Barron


      Keeping up-to-date and on the cusp of future developments is so essential, Luke. Stagnation is not an option for developers. Thanks for taking the time to read!

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