There’s an interesting debate developing in the WordPress community surrounding what a WordPress developer actually is and the dropping rates developers can charge.
If you are a WordPress service provider, you’ve probably seen first hand both the explosion of WordPress developers (many of them under qualified), as well as a drop in the overall rates that are being charged.
Let’s first discuss what is occurring with the explosion in developers, why rates are dropping, and some possible solutions you can implement.
What exactly is a WordPress developer?
Do a Google search for the term “WordPress developer,” and you’ll see developers with prices ranging from $5 an hour, all the way to $10,000 per site and beyond.
With such a gap in pricing, there must be a difference between the $5 per hour developer and the $10,000 developer. And there is. Many who call themselves WordPress developers are not.
Ren Ventura, in his article “Perception and Value of WordPress Service Providers: Why Cheap Dominates,” says there are two main types of WordPress service providers: developers and implementers.
Ren defines an implementer as someone who will usually install WordPress, a theme, and a few plugins. They will populate the site with content, perhaps making a few small adjustments using HTML and CSS. And if they make any changes to the code, it’s usually just copying and pasting code snippets into the functions.php file.
To paraphrase Ren, a WordPress developer is comfortable using the WordPress codex, has a general understanding of PHP, and is able to set up local and staging environments.
Is a developer better than an implementer?
It may seem from Ren’s arguments that he looks down upon implementers. But he makes it clear that one is not better than the other. And I agree with him.
While developers can create custom applications, many times it is the implementer who finds new and interesting ways to use these applications, or introduce it into a new market.
The WordPress community needs both developers and implementers to thrive.
But, there is an issue when implementers begin calling themselves developers. It may not seem like a huge deal, until you read Ren’s hypothetical situation, which rang all too true for me.
Why implementers hurt the WordPress community by calling themselves developers
Ren’s hypothetical situation goes something like this:
A client is looking to build a WordPress website. He gets a quote from a developer for $4,000, and a quote from an implementer for $800. On the surface, it seems both are offering the same exact service. So the client is leaning towards the $800 implementer.
Until he finds a theme for $60 that says it’s an all in one website solution. So, the client goes with the $60 solution, but soon finds it much harder than he thought. So he goes back and hires the $800 implementer, who builds out the site.
The client is happy with the site, until something breaks. And the implementer doesn’t have the skills to fix it. The client now is thinking, “Hey, this whole WordPress thing sucks. Glad I didn’t pay $4,000 for this.”
The developer and implementer are offering two different services with different skill sets. But by calling themselves developers, implementers make it difficult for clients to truly see the value that a WordPress developer brings to a project.
Now, you may have noticed I introduced another issue: low priced themes.
How low cost themes and plugins drive service prices down
Have you ever heard of ThemeForest? If you haven’t, it is the largest marketplace for WordPress themes—with themes usually priced around $50.
But many people have an issue with their themes. For instance, Sarah Gooding’s article “Envato Continues to Rake in the Cash from WordPress Themes Packaged as Complete Website Solutions” argues that many of the most popular themes on ThemeForst market themselves as complete website builders.
In our hypothetical situation earlier, that would be the $60 theme the client chose.
Why would a client spend $4,000 or even $800 when they can buy a theme for $60 that appears to do everything for them? (In reality, there are many issues with these themes. Definitely read Sarah’s article about it to learn more.
Or let’s take another example with plugins. Mario Peshav wrote an article about a time he was offered a WordPress gig for $15. The potential client’s reasoning was, “. . .the plugins costs $25 so I estimate the change would probably cost around $15.”
So should we get rid of these low cost themes and plugins?
I actually don’t think that’s the solution. See, I’m a libertarian and in support of capitalism (for the most part). If a company comes along and sees a hole in a market where people are demanding a solution, and they deliver that solution—good for them. Envato did just that with ThemeForest.
And there are many plugins and themes out there that are low cost and excellent. But I begin questioning this when a company or developer makes its money by misleading customers.
It devalues the work of other developers.
The devalued developer
Going back to the original argument of this article, all of these elements make it difficult for good WordPress developers to do their work.
In fact, it almost doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint for someone to become a WordPress developer.
Andy Adams, in his article “The WordPress Talent Shortage Might Be a Pricing Problem,” brings up an interesting point: “I’ve never heard of a professional Ruby on Rails developer with rates under $100/hour. In contrast, when I hear of a WordPress developer over $100/hour, it’s notable.”
Many WordPress developers stay in the WordPress community because they love open source and the community, and really enjoy giving back. But at the same time, they need to make ends meet for themselves and their families.
When developers start leaving the WordPress community, it hurts the entire ecosystem.
How do we fix this?
I came across a few ideas on how to fix this. And I’m sure you have some ideas as well (I’d love to hear them in the comments).
One is educating clients. Explain to them what the difference is between a $60 theme, an implementer, and a developer. A great article every potential client should read is Brian Krogsgard’s “How Much Should Custom WordPress Website Cost.”
But we as WordPress service providers need to value our skills and charge appropriately. Mario Peshav wrote a great article on this called “Grow Your Business With Your Customers,” with some amazing advice.
Now it’s your turn.
Do you think I’m totally off with my argument? Or do you agree with me? Do you have more to add? Or do you think this is just a bunch of whining about a changing market?
Or perhaps you have some ideas on how to solve this problem.
Let us know in the comments below!