The path to becoming a 6 figure specialist

This is our 4th post talking about 6 figure consulting. So far we’ve covered the real numbers it takes to bring home 6 figures, then we took a bit deeper dive in to my expenses using real numbers. Yesterday we took a look at 2 tips for becoming a 6 figure WordPress consultant.

Today we’re going to cover how to become a specialist.

I’ll tell you up front this is not some quick formula to becoming a specialist and getting to bill really well for your time. This is a post about spending 10,000 hours doing something and then really knowing what you’re good at and how to do it well.

The Path

Step 1

If you’re just getting out of school or starting a career transition into the world of the web it’s likely you’re going to start as a generalist. Until you’ve been building sites for a while and tried out a few aspects of the job you have no idea what you are really good at.

When I started I thought I was a ground up designer and boy was I wrong. Clients got crappy designs from me and I didn’t make a lot of money doing it.

My first site I charged $900 for the design and build and setup on their server. That seems crazy low now, but you know what I probably barely provided $900 of business value.

The design was terrible and I’m sure the code would make me cringe.

Stop 1 on the path to specialization is just doing some work. Maybe you already know you aren’t a designer so you can skip that part of the exploration but until you have a number of projects under your belt you will simply have no idea what you enjoy and what you are good at.

Most of the time those 2 things will be the same thing.

Step 1: Figure out what the hell you are good at

Step 2

Once you have a good idea what you are good at it’s time to start going deep. After about a year I realized that I was a bad ground up designer. Sure I could extend an interface to cover the new parts of your design, but designing from scratch was out of my league.

At the same time I realized I was loving building WordPress sites from scratch. At first it was just themes, then some plugins then eCommerce sites.

I was a developer but still a generalist and that’s how I billed myself. Heck right now on my about and services page I’m still billing myself as a generalist. Guess it’s time to edit some copy.

For at least another year I wasn’t the person to talk to about eCommerce and Membership sites. I was the guy to talk to if you needed a theme built or an HTML newsletter. Oh and I can build plugins. Don’t forget UI work, I can do that too.

By saying I could do everything I was saying that I wasn’t really focused on anything.

Now I say that I do eCommerce and Membership sites. Yes that means I can build a theme if the project requires it and any other custom plugins we need, but my entry to a project is the eCommerce and Membership angle.

At first I was barely passable at those. I had no idea what PCI compliance was. I didn’t have proven strategies to help retain members on your site. I hadn’t built 50 tools for membership sites and tried to use existing tools.

I was just starting to go deep. My rates went up a bit as I specialized but I wasn’t really good yet.

Step 2: Focus on what you are truly good at.

Step 3

Now that we know what we are good at let’s focus all our efforts on that thing. All of your marketing and all of your introductions should be about what you specialize in.

When I meet someone and they ask what I do I say:

> I build eCommerce sites and Membership sites based on WordPress.

That’s it. No laundry list of things I can also do. That hits right at the core of what I do so there is no question about it.

That doesn’t mean I turn away work in other fields. I recently did a bunch of work on the Pods UI specifically around loop fields. It was a blast to do something that was outside of my typical specialties. Pods was happy and I was happy.

I’ll be refactoring their CSS to Sass and building the Grunt tasks soon for Pods as well. In so many ways it’s a welcome break from what I normally do.

But it’s not my focus.

Step 3: Keep that focus narrow and go deep. Stay on Task.

After that it’s mainly time. Keep focusing on one thing and marketing towards that one thing. Read Get Clients Now and Book Yourself Solid and Duct Tape Marketing to improve all your marketing skills.


Other Awesome reading

photo credit: antonychammond via photopin cc

2 Tips to help you become a 6 figure WordPress consultant

I’ve already written about one of the kickback points from my 6 Figure WordPress Consulting post when I broke down my expenses.

The second push back I got was that someone doing WordPress could even make $60k let alone invoice over $100k.

I’ve done it. I can think of many people that invoice over $150k (and have for a couple years) doing WordPress development. No agencies, one woman/man shops.

But how are they doing it? I mean we’re in competition with oDesk right? That means in competition with $25/hour rates for WordPress work.

How my hours break down

I’m not in competition with oDesk (unless it comes to some crazy data entry task like adding images to 500 posts) at all. The hourly rate I figure on for my weekly billing is $150.

I charge $3000/week which means that I expect to put in 20 hours of solid coding or project management time for the client. Since I do business admin stuff (like catch up on books and write blog posts) on Friday that means I shoot for 5 billable hours day.

The rare time I’m working hourly I’m charging $150.

It’s great for me to say that but I know some of you reading are trying to charge $40/hour and are having people balk at those prices.

I’ve been there too. My starting hourly rate was $50. When I raised it to $75 it felt super crazy to be charging that much.

When I raised it to $90 I had a major WordPress agency tell me I was crazy to charge that much. I mean they only charged $95.

How I do it

So oDesk isn’t competition and I charge more for my time than some of the biggest WordPress agencies around. But how on earth do I do it?

Where do I find the clients and how do I position myself?


I’m a specialist. I do my best work on Membership sites and eCommerce integrations. Most often that means WooCommerce now but I also work with WP eCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads a bunch.

Recently I was talking to a freelancer in Vancouver that had a hard eCommerce project that he wanted to take me on. I’ll tell you why he was talking to me by summarizing him.

I asked all my normal people about the site and they said they could do it till I told them about feature A. All 5 of them said that I needed to talk to you because feature A was hard and while they did WooCommerce stuff, when it was really hard they called you.

Or how about the membership site I’m currently working on.

I’ve been looking for someone to do this for a while. I’ve talked to a bunch of people about it and no one really seemed to have a handle on it. Then I talked to XX and they stopped me and said that I needed to talk to you.
You are the first person that had a clear path to getting my site done.

And another client from last month.

We have been looking for someone to work with our WooCommerce store and it’s on Multisite. We want a membership component on one of the sub-sites and shared profiles and single sign on. I’ve talked to 2 people about it and they said that when it’s that complex you are the guy to talk to.
Then I read your interview on WPEngine and your site and you are the guy to talk to.

All the clients I’m summarizing are paying $3000/week and $150/hour for ongoing work if it’s a little fix. None of them balked at my pricing.

Can I build a WordPress theme and install plugins? Sure I can and those jobs are super fun and easy because 99% of what I do is huge and complex and there are no helpful blog posts to show me how to do it.

In many cases the first blog post showing portions of it are the ones I write.

But what if you don’t want to be the person to talk to about eCommerce and Membership sites. What if you are an awesome strategist or love themes?

While I don’t have access to Carrie Dils numbers I know that her training starts at $1500 and sites start at $4500, it’s right on her contact page. She is a Genesis specialist and is normally booked out for weeks.

Or how about Jesse Petersen, another Genesis specialist. Full sites start at $2200 and average around $3400 again right on his contact page. His prices are heading up for 2014 so that he can focus on a single site build a month.

How about Justin Sainton who charges $150/hour? If you have a WP eCommerce site he’s the guy to go to being a core WPEC contributor and all. Justin builds payment gateways for large theme shops to sell and works on huge WPEC stores.

All the people that I know billing ‘high’ rates are specialists. No general WordPress developers here.

If you’re a generalist then yes I expect clients to come to you and talk about $25/hour workers on oDesk or getting the work done on Craigslist for cheaper. I still get a few of those calls and expect that I will continue to get 1 or 2 a month forever.

Tip 1: Specialize so you are THE person to talk to.

Solving business problems

Secondly I solve business problems. Take an eCommerce site I worked on 2 years back that was totally screwed up by a previous developer. It had 300 redirects just to try and get the site working.

Sadly it still wasn’t working and the client was stuck.

They paid $2500 for the initial work. I charged $4000 to fix it and they never batted an eye.

I solved a business problem in a week for them. The problem was that they couldn’t sell a single product on their site. In one week they could sell products again and I gutted huge parts of the store to make it work properly.

2 years later they are still clients and when my rates have gone up they haven’t made any comment at all.

Or how about the $20k communication tool I built earlier this year. It allowed coaches to book their available time on a calendar. Then students could book the call time and coaches could take notes on the call (public and private notes).

I built that in 4 weeks which means I made $5k a week. What I haven’t said yet is that the other tool they were using was $50k/year. Not only was it $50k/year for the other system but it made their site unresponsive with API calls almost every Friday as a new block of coaching times were released and students tried access them.

As the API calls increased and students couldn’t book calls they started to cancel memberships which meant lost revenue for the business.

I saved them $30k this year and pretty close to $50k next year. Not only did I save them a bunch of money we stopped the site killing API calls and they stopped dropping students.

I solved a real business problem.

If you talk to my friend Angie you’re not just going to get a site built you’re going to get an overall business strategy that’s awesome. She’s the person to talk to when you’re trying to figure out how to position yourself in the market. She does crazy stuff like help a business advertise to hospitals and sell them online. To get her consulting time it’s currently a 1 year contract and is $6,000/month which is right on her site.

She solves the real business problem of bringing in customers with good strategy. She’s not just building you a website on WordPress.

The people you are finding on oDesk and on Craigslist are most often (say 98% of the time) not really trying to solve hard business problems. They’re looking for sites as cheaply as possible. They don’t care about the other work you have done really they just want something done cheap.

They hear they should be online and it’s just a box to tick. It’s not something that they view as strategically important. Since it’s not strategically important to their business they don’t want to spend money on it.

Since it’s not strategically important they aren’t invested in the project. Expect bad communication and push back on every point.

Tip 2: Solve real business problems don’t just build themes

If you want great clients who are willing to pay well for your time you need to specialize and solve real business problems. If you’re just ‘building WordPress themes’ then you are in competition with oDesk and you’ll continue to be in competition till you change your business model.

photo credit: kenjonbro via photopin cc

Venture Beat Jumps on with Overblown Claims

So WordPress just released a [live blogging plugin][live] and [Venture Beat tested it][vb]. Yes Venture Beat found a bug, then decided to make some overblown claims.

> All’s well that ends well, I suppose, but WordPress would do well to test its new plugins on at least the most recently released versions of the blogging engine before releasing them to the world.

> It’s a bit of a black eye, to say the least.

A black eye would have been if the plugin was used to liveblog the upcoming Apple event and the whole post got deleted. The requirements even said that you needed to be running 3.5.

So VB tested something that wasn’t meant to run on the version of WordPress they had and then decided to call out the issue instead of acknowledging that they made a mistake and correcting it.

I suppose that writing overblown articles gets way more pageviews though and the rest of us should overlook that the facts were not actually expressed.

It all comes down to the fact that we are not the customers, advertisers are and they want more pageviews. If the user was really the customer then maybe we’d get a bit more accuracy out of reporting.


WordPress Upgrade Fear

Decent article on WPRealm discussing [why users don’t upgrade][art]. The biggest reason I’ve found is that their web developer failed them.

Any client I’ve talked to that is not upgrading their site is afraid of something breaking. While that may be the reason they give, it’s not the real reason.

Really users aren’t upgrading because their developer didn’t set up a solid back up system and then instill confidence in the user. Every client I work with gets set up with [BackWPup][back] or [Backup Buddy][buddy]. Then they get a video on how to use it and restore.

Once I’ve set them up I’ve never gone back to a site and found it on old versions of WordPress or plugins. A little education goes a long way.


The Expectation of Free

I’ve been finding lately that just because I write tutorials on WordPress the readers expect me to provide a bunch of free support when it doesn’t quite work for them.

If someone provides you with something for free, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t solve all of your specific needs. If you need something that does solve your specific needs don’t be upset if they expect something in return, it’s the way of the world. We all need food and a place to sleep, and the last time I checked that stuff costs money.

The issue really comes up for the users when they ask me for support and I ask for money to solve their issues. I don’t have unlimited time. I’ve got a kid to feed and a roof to keep over our heads. Just because you can’t get something working based on my writing does not mean I am ‘required’ to fix it for you free of charge. It always irks me when they expect the work for free.

The quote comes from this article.

Missing the Vibe in the Rails Community

For a while I was involved pretty heavily with the Ruby on Rails community. I did design consulting on a number of application interfaces and some frontend programming. Alas, those days have passed and I’m 100% WordPress and PHP focussed.

Now I like WordPress and PHP just fine but one thing I really miss from the Rails community is the focus of the developers. Take the time to listen to [Ruby Rogues 47][rr47]. I love the depth that the Rails community, and [@dkubb][dkubb] in this episode, works hard to test all their code.

While all the WordPress developers I know want to do a good job, there is simply a different vibe of excellence in the Rails community. This overall vibe is something I miss.

I know Dan since he lives locally and he has imparted a bunch of other knowledge to me that applies to more than just an single language. These are items I remember him saying to me, my memory may be imperfect.

1. If you can’t fit your function on the screen then you need to ask yourself if it’s too complex.
2. If a line of code has to wrap to the next line, you probably need to make sure it’s not too complex.

I think about those items with every site I build. The tips in the podcast are even better, certianly worth a listen for any programmer.

[rr47]: “Ruby Rogues 47: Coding Disciplines”
[dkubb]:!/dkubb “Dan Kubb on Twitter”

How to Make Sure I Will Uninstall Your Plugin

One of the first things you should do when building a WordPress theme/plugin is turn on WP_DEBUG in your wp-config.php file. Turning this on will make sure that you get notices for bad functions, deprecated items in your files…Every theme/site I build has this flag set in development (don’t set it on the production server).

As a result of this you quickly get to see which plugins are coded poorly. Today I installed [Your Member]( only to find 4 lines of debug code on activation. While that’s a bit annoying when I fully activated it I found 50 lines of debug notices. Like I said 4 bugged me but 50 means I uninstall the plugin since I can’t continue development and see if I introduce any errors. The most troubling item was a warning on has_cap(). While this doesn’t really create a security concern it shows that the developers aren’t keeping up with WordPress best practice.

Use of has_cap() has been deprecated since 2.0, that was a long time ago. If the developers can’t be bothered to keep up with best practice how can we trust that they will update if things start to break? If I see a debug notice for deprecated stuff that’s more than one version old I start to get concerned about using it. Really if the developers can’t keep up with best practice in WordPress you’ve got to wonder how invested they are.

If you’d like to know how to build a plugin I’ll like just read the post from [Mark Jaquith](, no point in me repeating what he said.


I posted in the [Your Member Forums]( about the issue and they say that debug notices have been killed for the next version of the plugin. It certainly sucks that they have a bunch of users that aren’t on the current version of WordPress. I had a decent chat with online support as well and 1.10 will be out for everyone’s consumption in a few weeks. Currently it’s only available for their ‘premium’ subscription which is a bit annoying to me but everyone has to set their own pricing model. The customer service was awesome.

WPMU Dev – Terrible Usability

As with much blogging this screencast is born of a rant about how WPMU Dev disrespects paying customers with their stupid WordPress admin notifications. After all the stuff that flies around about them plus the terrible usability and the long on promise short on delivery stuff regarding their plugins in their forums I’m not a recommender of their products. They’re not terrible but I’d look for alternatives if I was you.