If you’re just starting out or exploring ways to make a living online, the WordPress world can be both exciting and daunting at the same time.
The open-source design philosophy has unwrapped a seemingly limitless world of opportunity for bloggers, developers, and designers alike. Then again, the sheer size of WordPress might leave you feeling intimidated.
Perhaps you’re wondering: “Is becoming a full-time WordPress Professional a viable way to make money for me, considering my qualifications?”
First, let’s make one thing clear: There are no shortcuts. This isn’t one of those “Become a WordPress Pro in two weeks” articles. Realistically, however, people from widely different backgrounds – often starting with only limited qualifications – have done it, and so can you.
So if you’re feeling a little bewildered, and you’re unsure about making your move, here are some useful pointers to help you decide, and to guide your first tentative steps in the right direction.
Learn From the Success Stories
Adii Pienaar, formerly of WooThemes: Forbes magazine has reported this theme and plugin developer’s annual revenue at over $3 million. Starting out, though, the founders of WooThemes had virtually no business savvy. Adii grew up in his father’s computer shop, gradually taught himself the ropes, and eventually cofounded WooThemes on a bootstrap budget. What made all the difference? According to Pienaar:
We were selling a digital product with the only cost of sale [being] our time and effort. We were very early to the WordPress market and had an existing audience thanks to our personal blogs.
That’s actually a common starting point for many people who choose WordPress. To quote Cory Miller from iThemes (formerly a journalist):
You’re involved with WordPress the minute you use it for yourself. That’s the beauty of open-source software and community. Your initiation into it is your ‘Hello World!’ or your first website and blog post with it. So just start blogging and fall in love with it like I did 7 years ago.
Joost de Valk, from Yoast: When Joost broke his parent’s computer one too many times, they lent him the money to buy his own. At age 12 he was fiddling with his first website. His professional career, surprisingly enough, started out not in programming, but in sales. This actually gave him an edge. When asked why he chose WordPress, de Valk commented:
Because I love using it and love the community around it. It’s great to be able to build something and help so many people. Of course that wasn’t always true. In the beginning I just did it because it was the most user-friendly way to power my websites. Now it’s a part of my business and I dare even say, a part of who I am online.
Orman Clark, from ThemeZilla: Orman came from being a Printer and Designer for the Armed Forces. He was also a keen WordPress user, and started doing work for a handful of private clients. While building the projects, he began to put together a ‘starter’ theme as a kind of blank canvas. When he finally grew tired of those kinds of jobs, (most of us can relate) he looked into the themes industry.
ThemeZilla recently exceeded the $1 million sales milestone; it has thousands of followers. For the perplexed, Clark has this advice:
Stop following trends and start setting them. Be prepared to hustle. Make sure support is not an afterthought. I honestly think that anyone following these ‘rules’, along with a bit of drive, can go as far as they’d like to in the marketplaces.
So where does this lead us?
Find Your Perfect Niche (Specialize)
You can’t be an expert in every field, so choose the path best suited to you. WordPress Professionals can be generally divided into two main groups: theme and plugin developers. But there are plenty of other options open to you.
Carol Gann’s story is a great example. She started her career working with children in crisis, and at the same time looking after four kids of her own. When a near fatal car accident completely changed her life, she moved into the online world, and ended up on WordPress. She knew that her real skill was helping people, so that’s the direction she kept. To quote Carol:
My passion has always been to help people. I determined to serve small business owners who are the backbone of society, by using and promoting WordPress exclusively. To that end, I created online tutorials and screen-shot videos to teach clients how to use WordPress. With this approach and good community networking, I was able to grow my client list.
In fact, in the ever-changing online arena, many individuals start off in one direction, but end up going in another. Here are some of the main routes to explore:
- WordPress-Optimized hosting is a niche that has proved hugely lucrative for people like Jason Cohen from WPEngine, and as WordPress continues to grow, demand increases, opening up new hunting grounds.
- Content Creators, Writers and Designers. WordPress was created with these people in mind. A great number of businesses require talented people to showcase their products and services online, while they get on with their core business.
- Project Managers and Support Professionals have options too, particularly working for agencies and software creators who are WordPress-oriented.
- Marketers with skills in SEO, e-commerce and conversion optimization are also sought-after.
- WordPress training is another area that is wide open, and with millions of new users, training is high in demand.
- Translation. Yes, it’s true – there are other languages besides English! That’s great if you are able to translate. Here’s what Zé Fontainhas, the WordPress Polyglots lead, had to say about it:
Translating WordPress has loads of benefits for you as a WordPress Professional: not only do you increase your karma in both the global and your local community, but in the process you get to look at the code more closely than most.
Never Stop Learning
Becoming a WordPress guru is an endless learning curve. But then, the same can be said about a great number of professions these days. If you have transferable skills, then you already have an advantage.
The blog here at ManageWP is a great source of information and has some of the best resources for expanding your WordPress horizons. The WordPress community loves to share their insights, and you will find them all over the net. WordPress.org is packed with helpful information and links to further learning.
Even if you don’t know the first thing about PHP, you can still make it in the WordPress arena, but it’s vital to keep widening your knowledge-base. For example, learning all the APIs will be of huge benefit to coders and developers coming from a different background, and for others, simply knowing what is possible on WordPress can spark some great ideas.
Many have transitioned into making a living by becoming WP Professionals, in whichever way worked out for them, and so can you. “Professional” doesn’t mean “impossible.” There’s no need to be perplexed.
Most people who ended up making a living with WordPress didn’t set out that way, but came from other design, coding, or creative jobs. With the phenomenal growth of WordPress, they simply found a lucrative niche and became the experts in it.
Take inspiration from the success of others, instead of being too critical of yourself. Be sensible, leverage your current skills, transfer them, and specialize in a niche that suits you. Mine the best sources of help, advice and tools (such as ManageWP!) and keep learning.
Your strategy might include throwing three or four stones into the bush, so to speak, in different WordPress areas, and watching to see what happens. Set a deadline for “testing the waters”, say six months at most, to see if it will be viable, and just take the leap!