What Does it Take to Build a Successful Freelance WordPress Business
Austin WordPress Deep Dive Discussion Meetup February 08, 2016
Sandi Batik and Nick Batik lead this month’s Austin WordPress Deep Dive Discussion focused on the WordPress Freelancer’s Tool Box to build a successful WordPress business. The WPATX organizers have had numerous requests to devote more meetups to the “Business” of WordPress. If this discussion topic proves popular, we will expand the topic into a more formal class for our WordPress Practitioners Meetup, which is hosted in a larger venue.
Our attendees came prepared to talk about the tools and techniques they are currently using every day in their WordPress businesses. We covered prospecting, marketing, proposal writing, client interviews / on-boarding, project management, client management, project close-out and invoicing client follow-up. It was a fast paced, interesting conversation about what was working and not working in our businesses.
To my mind the best part of the evening was the information exchange — each member introduced themselves, explained a little bit about their specific skill-set and their business. We were able to demonstrate that your next best resource or project partner might be sitting right next to you at the next Austin WordPress Meetup. Several folks exchanged cards and have the opportunity to work on jobs together. Helping each other succeed is the very ethos of our Austin WordPress Community, and it was great to see that culture of mutual support in action during the meeting.
At its core, the successful Freelance Business is about being helpful and supportive. Those ‘Solopreneurs’ who think in terms of collaborative partnership with their clients, and the other professions they team up with to delight that client are the pattern-card for a profitable, sustainable business.
Here is the transcript and a link to last night’s Deep Dive Discussion:
The WordPress Freelancer’s Life in One Slide
- Client Interviews
- Bid / Proposal writing
- Statements of Work & Contracts
- On-Boarding Clients
- Project Management
- Client Management
- Project Close-out and Invoicing
- Client Follow-up – Keeping Relation Ship Warm for repeat work and Referrals
- Rinse and Repeat
The First and Most Important Resource in Your Freelancers Tools Box is You!
- Your Skill Set
- Your Work Habits
- Your Drive
- Your Goals
These determine the capacity & effectiveness of your Freelancer’s Toolbox
Lets start will Your Person Goals for your Freelance WordPress Venture
- Do you have written 2016 Goals for our Freelance Business?
- If No, Then do that tomorrow morning
If Yes, Then —
Steps to reach each goal Start with questions.
- How much income do I need to clear, after taxes & expenses, to live the way I want?
- How many hours do I need work to make that income?
- How many clients can I serve in that time frame— at my current skill level, and still delight them?
- What web development tools will I use?
- Are there any tools I should avoid for now?
- How many ‘paid services’ should I use, if any?
- To reach my goal, will I need to outsource some of the work I bring in?
- If so, to whom?
- Do I have the skill set and tools to manage a team of distributed workers?
Come up with your own set of questions
- WordPress Ecosystem has room for many Niches
- Each Niche will lead to additional questions
PROSPECTING — Finding your Tribe
- Why should a WordPress Freelancer Focus on Niche opportunities?
- It is my personal opinion that a Freelancer couldn’t honestly say they could do all things WordPress equally well since 2009
- Potential clients are not looking for a “Jack of All Trades”
- Clients want a professional with the resources (team members) to get the job done right.
WordPress offers niche opportunities for:
- Theme Designers
- Theme Developers
- UX/UI Developers
- Database / Backend Developers
- Plugin Developers
- Social Media Specialists
- SEO / In-Bound Marketing Specialists
- Content Developer and Managers
- Site Administrators and Maintenance Managers
How to build a reputation as a professional in your WordPress Niche
There are many ways to become known in your local and wider WordPress Community
- Offer advice to those who need it on forums or comment sections of other websites
- Volunteer to help others at local meetups —WPATX loves helpful volunteers 😉
- Offer to present on your topic at a Meetup, WordCamp, or other professional conferences
- Go outside the WordPress Bubble and offer to present at Chambers of Commerce
- Do some free work for friends, family or a non-profit for a written testimonial and referrals
Build a reputation as a professional in your WordPress Niche
- Doing a “freebie” for a non-profit is a good way to, “Do well by doing good.”
- Post regular tips and new techniques on your blogs
- Offer to guest blog on a colleague’s site
- Figure out a reciprocal discounted ‘Trade’ price for professional partners
- We do a lot of ‘White-Label’ Development for Designers
- Build a custom theme for free download
- Develop a plugin that solves a problem and submits it to the WP Repository
Marketing you to your niche — How is your web presence doing?
- The barefoot shoemaker syndrome
- You need a presence on the web to get a web based job
- Designers need a portfolio
- Developers need a cool site and a link to Github to showcase your code chops
- Content Developers need a blog full of well organized clearly written content.
Potential clients will judge you by the work on your own site
- Which is bad news for those of us “too busy” to update our own, best marketing materials
- Full discloser: Nick and I have been guilty of this — So a complete site upgrade is on tap for early 2017
- Using your own skill to attract clients to you, is better than having to hunt them down
- Make time to be your own customer — design and build ‘new shoes’ for your site
How to Interview Your Client
Here are some questions we ask clients to build a reliable scope of work
- Are we discussing a new site or is this a rework to an existing site?
- What is your site’s purpose? • What do you want site visitors to do once the come to your site
- How much content do you have as of now and how much will need to be created?
- Special offer landing pages
- Is the site’s graphics created already?
- Will the site require multimedia elements like video downloads?
- What is your budget?
- Are you looking multiple bids?
- If yes, do you have a prepared a requirements document to give to potential bidders?
- Are you already familiar with WordPress?
- How familiar are you with WordPress?
- How much training will you need?
Go Deep When Interviewing Your Client
- Do you plan to build a mailing list withMailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.?
- Are you already signed up with one of these services?
- What will you offer for sign up —newsletters, downloads, other marketing?
- Is that content created?
- Will you need help creating it?
- Do you want specific features such as SEO, Google Analytics, social media channels, and eCommerce?
- Do you want us to do the maintenance and security of the site once it has been launched?
- Can you choose the three sites you like and tell me specifically, did you like about each?
Note to Freelancers in Specialty Niches: “Special Features Cost Special Cash”
BIDS AND PROPOSALS
How to Identify ‘Time Wasters’ with these “Client Tells”
- Lack of communication
- Followed immediately by unreasonable demands
- Obvious low-balling
- Indecisive or constantly unclear or evasive
- Don’t waste your time – Move on
Your Project Proposal should contain scope, timeline, and requirements for BOTH parties
Project Scope —Identifies what the work to be performed.
Timeline —Provides a projected, dated, project schedule, so the client can know when to expect milestones to take place.
Budget — It is a good practice to provide a couple pricing options to the client. A complete proposal for the things they request; and addition options for niche support services for Hosting, WordPress Training, Copywriting, Inbound Marketing Support etc…
(PRO TIP: Referring specialty work to your network of trusted professionals, will lead to more reciprocal referrals to you.)
Terms — Our proposals include: Details of how we will work together; Our payment terms including our deposit and milestone payment policy; Our right to show our work to other clients, etc…
Should Freelancers use contracts with EVERY client?
YES! Because you NEVER know when the only thing between you and a toxic client is written and signed rules of engagements.
How should I structure a Freelance Contract?
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t help you structure a contract.
Contract Killer is a popular open-source contract for web designers and developers. This contract was developed for the UK design firm by Stuff & Nonsense and they generously shared it through open source.
Bonsai is another popular On-line Tool for Contracts and Payments. This service helps with administrative minutiae of negotiating client agreements. It is an e-sign- enabled contract tool that has already been attorney approved
ON-BOARDING AND MANAGING CLIENTS
- Communicate clearly and have a written agenda for every meeting: on-line, phone or in person
- Send a bullet point summary email after the meeting to be sure you both left with the same understanding
- STICK TO THE AGREED SCOPE OFF WORK IN THE SIGNED CONTRACT
- Signed change-orders that acknowledge change can effect projected delivery date for ANY changes
Client Management Note: The BEST CM advice I ever got was from the Founder of the Austin WordPress Meetup, Pat Ramsey. He was mentoring me through a client management crisis in in 2010. My client was a sweet guy, but he was, in web-dev parlance —a Pop-Corn Head — someone who thought every new idea that popped into his head, needed to be added to his site. Pat shared with me what we later referred to as the:
The Patented Pat Ramsey Response to Client Add-Ons
“THAT is a fantastic idea. I can hardly wait to do it in PHASE 2!”
- Freelancers Trade Hours for Dollars
- Even With a Value Pricing Model, Time IS Money
- That is why project management is a critical skill
There are a number of Project Management and Productivity tools for the WordPress Freelancer
- Some are Free — some have a monthly fee.
- You will have to decide which works best for your particular Niche and volume of work
How can Developers WordPress projects more efficiently?
- Start automating some parts of your workflow
- WordPress Developers can set up Capistrano or sign up for DeployBot — Nick likes DeployBot
- Both of these automatically take care of your deployment to remote servers
- Commit your latest version of the code
- Click a button and get your code live
- Spoiler Alert— Learning Curve Involved
Cool Tools for WordPress Site Practitioners / Site Managers
- Manage multiple environments and client websites, using website management platforms like:
How can Theme Designers / Developers work more efficiently?
- Consider using a theme framework and reuse components across your sites
- Build a suite of plugins that could be bundled in many sites instead of building all of them every single time.
- Reuse code snippets that could be reused across your different themes, and integrated with your framework.
General Productivity and Connectivity
By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human…
— Gartner Research
- Using services like Zapier and IFTTT will connect your apps and build trigger-based flows between them
- Example: Gravity Forms can connect client request from your website to your CRM and project management system.
- Project management tickets and commits can be pushed to your HipChat room or Slack to notifies your project team members and keep client connected without a blizzard of email.
- Use Boomerang for Gmail for scheduling emails and reminders for conversations awaiting for reply.
PROJECT CLOSEOUT / INVOICING
- We keep the project in a client accessible sandbox
- Once they approve the final site and we receive our final payment we move it to their hosting service
- Our invoice comes with the stated terms and signed contract
- Change orders are invoiced and paid before the move
Client Project Hand-Off
- We test all the links and give client 30-days to test the site to the AGREED scope of work.
- If they have opted for a maintenance contract we set up our tools and monitoring schedule.
- If we discussed a ‘Phase Two’ of development, we ask when they would like to schedule that time
- Ask for a testimonial
Client Followup and Retention
- Did you have a great client experience?
- Polite, kind reasonable people need encouragement
- Send a Thank You Note
- Yes I mean a nice Analog note – handwritten – stamped-sent by snail mail
- Nick and I use Vistaprint. They produce cheap, fast, customized note cards and a wide variety of print materials
- Find one way to help your client in their venture, refer them to a colleague, become a customer yourself
Based on our experience, the business cycle is a reciprocal one, kindness and courtesy, usually, make a round trip. It is no secret that I believe the reason for the success of the Austin WordPress Community is that we all do our best to help and support each other in our businesses. As I mentioned in this meetup, you best, next resource might be sitting right next to you. Make the effort (I use that word purposely because most of us are stone-introverts) to get to know your fellow members, exchange cards, have a post-meetup coffee. Get to know each other well enough to see how you can support the other’s business or help with a project.
Carrie Dils, an amazingly good WordPress Developer, Organizer of the DFW WordPress Meetup, and good friend, recently sent me a link to a great resource she thought might be helpful to Nick and me. She has been working with an Australian WordPress Consultant, Troy Dean. Troy is the Driving force behind wpelevation. Knowing @WPATX was planning a stronger emphasis on the Business of WordPress this year, she thought this BluePrint from wpevelation would be a helpful tool to share. Download the PDF and see if the step by step process might be helpful to you.
Nick and I are working on adding new resources to the Hands-On WordPress Free Library every week, so check in often. For a free copy of the freelance resources and places to find freelance projects go to https://handsonwp.com/join-library/
GET CONNECTED — Join and contribute to the Austin WordPress Tribe athttp://www.meetup.com/austinwordpress.
We look forward to seeing you at a WPATX meetup soon.