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?

Specialize

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

WP e-Commerce Drag and Drop Sorting Bug

Today we’ll look at a bug (yeah another one) in WP e-Commerce that deals with ajax product sorting. The short story is that if you use the drag and drop sorting of products while viewing all categories you’re screwed. Yeah that’s right you’ll get duplicate products and not all of the products will show up.

While this is annoying it’s not all that hard to fix. Jump into PHP MyAdmin and the wpsc_products_order table and remove all products with a category id of 0. Refresh your site and you’re fixed.

No don’t use the product like you thought you could. If you want to read some more about the ‘fun’ WP e-Commerce brings to a project I wrote a bit about it. I also took a stab at making a WP e-Commerce theme that sucks less.

Watch the video for full instructions.

Play

Links

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WP e-Commerce – A Theme Developers Nightmare

update: WP eCommerce has updated to 3.8 which makes things much better. Still a few template issues but we’re on the right track. I’ll certainly try to update with thoughts on the update.

This week I’ve worked on 3 different e-commerce projects. Two worked with WP e-Commerce and one with Shopp. Admitely the Shopp work was mainly around getting SSL working properly on the site so I can’t comment on the themeing of the plugin but I can comment on building a WP e-Commerce theme and boy is it ‘fun’.

Get Started

To get started building a theme for WP e-Commerce you have to dig into the plugin and move some theme files into wp-content/uploads/wpsc/themes. Somehow WP e-Commerce can create that folder for you but not move the themes over? The second step is to duplicate the default theme and rename the folder to be whatever you’d like in your theme. Don’t forget that whatever your folder is called your stylesheet also has to be called, which seems pretty stupid to me. Why doesn’t it just recognize a styles.css file in any theme?

So now that we’ve got a theme going there are a few more questions. Why on earth can’t you just place the theme files into the main WordPress theme? Sure keep backwards compatibility so that the current system works but for those doing some type of automated deployment of themes (like me to multiple servers) I’ve now got to setup a totally different deployment scheme for the e-commerce theme. Since I also work in Git all the time I always exclude the uploads folder because I don’t want to automatically deploy images to servers where they aren’t linked to a corresponding post. So yeah I have to set up a new git repository then go over to Beanstalk and set up a new deployment. It’s just another thing that makes WP e-Commerce a pain to work with.

It Gets Worse

While the few items above are just little complaints that cost me time, we really get into some terrible when we crack open the default theme for WP e-Commerce. It seems that the developers of WP e-Commerce don’t know what an include is in PHP. Want to modify the breadcrumbs code? Yeah that’s in 4 files. How about the purchase button, again in 4 files. This is a sign of bad programming. It’s a programmers axiom that as soon as you use the same code in more than one spot you need to abstract that code and move it into a spot where it can be accessed from both files. Then updating becomes a matter of just one change which will propagate across multiple files. I took it upon myself to try and fix this by taking the default WP e-Commerce theme and using includes.

The other item that really bugs me about the duplication of code is that if you were able to move all the WP e-Commerce template files in to your WordPress theme you’d be able to take advantage of all the WordPress goodness that stops code duplication like get_template_part and locate_template. Alas you can’t have the template files in your main WordPress theme so you can’t.

Now I’ve take a look at the themes for the 3.8 release and they’ve done some clean up in the duplicated code world but there is still some more work to be done. Breadcrumbs are now built out of a single function call, we’ve got improvement but there is still a bunch of room for more.

Oh It’s Worse than that

Sure code duplication is pretty dang bad but there is something worse to be found inside the guts of WP e-Commerce. Thickbox effects for the design side are built right in to the plugin. Don’t like the Thickbox effect on the alternate image? Guess you have to hack the plugin to remove it then write your own functionality. I honestly can’t fathom why the effect is ‘required’ in this manor, especially since when you look up the Thickbox site it’s not even supported.

WP e-Commerce should have an option (or something) that lets you turn off the javascript effects that are purely presentational like Thickbox. Sure keep the stuff that lets the cart get updated by AJAX but if it’s purely presentational let us turn off the default easily.

And the Icing on the Cake

Again I’ll state that I’m looking at all of this from a Theme Developers perspective so I’ll admit that many people may not have this issue. To get alternate views Gold Cart is required, which is entirely fine I don’t mind supporting good work by paying for it. I own Gravity Forms, WP Touch Pro and a number of plugins from Plugin Buddy. What is so terrible about Gold Cart is that the single license is just that, one working copy of it.

At the very least Gold Cart should work fine when running on localhost since it’s on a local development machine. I understand that they want to ensure people pay for the plugin by having it really only run in one registered environment, but this is a PITA. It’s not like I’m using the plugin to make money while it’s running on my laptop so there is no real reason to have this limitation.

Is There Anything Good?

So after all that you’re probably wondering if there is something good about WP e-Commerce. WP e-Commerce is the only WordPress ecommerce plugin that has a single page checkout. Shopp has a 3 page checkout which means you’re going to loose sales on each page. Remember the title is talking about theme developers not store owners. For store owners this is a decent plugin that will keep your sales with the single page checkout, it’s just going to drive your web developer nuts (yes more nuts that they are already).

So overall I’d say that WP e-Commerce is a plugin I’ll keep recommending to clients despite the broken drag and drop ordering functions, terrible theme building experience and reliance on Thickbox inside the plugin not the theme. I’m going to do this because at the end of the day my clients business care most about a single page checkout. That’s what will bring them the most money and heck taking all this extra time to build means I make extra money too so we both win (well sorta).

A Clean WP e-Commerce Theme

If you’ve ever worked with WP e-Commerce themes you know the code is pretty terrible. Not only can you not include the template files in your normal WordPress theme and have them work, the code is duplicated all over the place. Want to change the purchase button? Well you need to edit single_product.php, product_list.php, list_view.php and grid_view.php.

WTF

Why on earth would any decent programmer want to go into four different files to edit code is beyond me. I’ve got better things to do with my time than edit/re-edit the same files all day.

My Solution

Today I took the default WP e-Commerce theme and tried to cut out a bunch of duplicate code. I didn’t have the Gold Cart plugin installed (that’s another stupid thing, why can’t it run on localhost without activation????) so I didn’t get to check the function of grid view but the stock views work and we’ve cut a bunch of the duplicate code out through the use of the amazing include in PHP.

I know it’s totally new which is why WP e-Commerce doesn’t use it but I decided to be cutting edge and use it.

Download the theme from Github.

Usage

Use it however you want. I’d appreciate a link to this post instead of offering a direct link to the Github repo, but I have no way of checking, and I have better things to do than checking things like that (like wash my hair).

If you find things that need improving either fork it and submit a pull request or let me know and I’ll see about fixing it.