In this episode, we discuss what works and what doesn’t when you’re providing WordPress consulting services.
- Introduction to Doug’s websites and products: EfficientWP and PodWP.
- Introduction to David’s websites and products: FatCatApps and Easy Pricing Tables.
Listen to what the client wants, but figure out what they need.
- As a premium contractor, your clients value your advice.
- Figure out if it’s a good fit, from both your perspective as well as your client’s.
- Can I deliver on what they need? Do I have the expertise? Do I want to do that kind of work?
- Be an expert in WordPress, rather than mediocre in a lot of things.
- Are there any warning signs that this is going to be a bad client? Examples: urgency, high maintenance, asking for discounts.
Starting the project: discuss pricing, timeline, and scope.
- Neither you nor your client will want any surprises.
- State things specifically in the contract, and get in front of issues as soon as possible to avoid disputes.
- Get paid up front when possible and the amount is reasonable.
- Fixed pricing is better than hourly pricing.
- With fixed pricing for productized services, people are used to paying up front.
- With hourly pricing for services, people are used to paying on completion.
During the project: under promise, over deliver.
- Set reasonable expectations and don’t risk disappointing your client.
- Your client appreciates it if you do more than expected and go the extra mile.
After the project: establish a long term relationship.
- Stay in touch with your clients, get them on a retainer or recurring contract (maintenance, hosting, new design).
- It’s much harder to get work from a new client than to get more work from an existing client.
- Build a list of contractors for doing specific tasks.
- Getting referrals is an easier and more passive way of marketing, and you have a higher likelihood of getting hired.
If you’re just starting out:
- Pick an easy project.
- Work for free or on a low cost basis (maybe for friends and family), but increase your rate quickly.
- Make a good website and build your portfolio.
Doug: Welcome to the Professional WordPress Podcast. I’m Doug.
David: I’m David. This is episode one, “How To Be a Better WordPress Consultant.” Since this is our first episode, we’re just going to give you a quick introduction of who we are and why we feel like we’re qualified to talk about WordPress.
Doug: My main product is EfficientWP, which is a fully hosted and managed solution for WordPress websites. It includes all the updates, maintenance. It’s on a fast server, and a fully packaged solution. A new product which I’m working on is kind of an off‑shoot of EfficientWP, and it’s called PodWP, and it’s specifically designed for podcast websites.
David: We are also doing a lot of client work, right?
Doug: Yeah, I’m trying to scale it back but I still have some client work at the moment. Hopefully, if this takes off, then I can scale the client work back.
David: How long have you been using WordPress?
Doug: It’s been over five years now.
David: Wow. EfficientWP ‑ it is different from a normal host, such as Bluehost or WPEngine. How exactly is it different?
Doug: The biggest difference is that the updates and the maintenance are taken care of and the fixes related to those. One of the big problems with most of these hosts is that you have theme and plugin updates that may break your site. Then, it’s up to you or you hire a developer to go and fix that. What I do with my platform is I take care of those fixes and I take preventative measures to, hopefully, prevent those from even occurring on the first place on a live site.
David: I’m David and my business is Fatcat Apps. Basically, this is a WordPress plugin shop. Right now, we’ve got one product ‑ our flagship product is called Easy Pricing Tables. It makes it really easier to create those nice looking pricing tables that are useful if you have a product with multiple pricing tiers and you want to sell it on your website. We’re also currently working on a couple of other plugins. I’m hoping to release some of those over the next couple of weeks or couple of months.
Doug: I can personally vouch for Easy Pricing Tables. I use it on my website and I also make it available on my platform.
David: Thanks, man. I’ve been using WordPress as a user for probably four and a half years. I’ve been focusing on building a business on top of WordPress for the last like nine or 10 months or so.
Doug: We’ve got about a decade of WordPress experience between us.
David: Then, we’ll move on to the core of the episode. The reason you, in particular, feel qualified to talk about this is because how many years have you been consulting?
Doug: It’s been five years or so, since I’ve been doing this.
David: Wow. You’ve been actually consulting for five years?
Doug: Yeah. Full time, so I’ve gone through the ups and the downs.
Doug: Basically, I’ll talk about what’s worked for me and what hasn’t worked, so some things to avoid the same mistakes that I have made.
The first thing is, when you’re first negotiating and talking about the project, you want to listen to what the client wants but you also want to figure out what they need.
A lot of the time, the client may think they want one thing and it’s really not the best thing for them. Try to give some advice, instead of just sticking with what they need. In some cases, you may upsell. In other cases, you may actually downsell.
David: I think that’s one of the things where you, as a trusted consultant, really can provide a lot of value. Because when you go to oDesk, and you get somebody to slice you a PSD into a WordPress theme or something like that, those are technicians. They do exactly what you tell them.
But I think there’s really a premium contract, that you can provide a lot of value by actually giving people advice. People, non‑technical folks, they don’t really know what they should be doing. They’re going to really value your advice.
Doug: That’s actually a good example with the PSD slicing. I’m currently working on a client project where there’s about a dozen different font sizes in the PSD. From a coding perspective, it’s really a nightmare when you have a 22 pixel font, and a 23 pixel font, and 24 pixel. In some cases, you do need a range of font sizes but you don’t need 12 or 15 different font sizes.
If you were just doing PSD to WordPress, you would make it exactly like that. But it doesn’t help for usability and consistency, and the actual design too. This is not a best practice to have a lot of similar sizes.
Another thing you want to do is to figure out if the project is a good fit, both from your perspective and after the client’s perspective. First of all, I’d start with, “If I can actually deliver on what the client needs, do I have the expertise and the knowledge?” If they’re asking for something that’s outside of my skill set, I have to decide if that’s something that I want to learn for this client project, or if it’s something that it’s really best that I tell them that I don’t offer that.
David: So would that be, for example, the client wanting a Joomla site?
Doug: Yeah. Basically, if they want me to work with a system other than WordPress. I only do WordPress sites. My rationale is I’d rather be an expert in WordPress than mediocre at a whole bunch of different things.
David: Absolutely. I think that’s another thing that they’ll ask you to charge more ‑ is just a lot of mediocre folks that can kind of do Java, and C#, and PHP, and Joomla, and WordPress. But they’re not very good at anything there.
Doug: Yeah. There’s also people who will do your social media, and your graphic design, and …
David: And the SEO.
Doug: And SEO.
David: And the AdWords. Exactly.
Doug: While most of these things I have some knowledge of and I can do a lot of them to a decent extent, they’re not things that I’m expert at. It’s not really something I necessarily want to offer to my clients, even though I can.
The other thing that I usually do is to try to figure out if there’s any warning signs that it’s going to be a bad client. Some of the things, it’s demanding everything right away, especially …
David: Like immediate turnaround time like, “I need this right now.”
Doug: Yeah. In some cases, there are urgent things. But when it’s kind of like crying wolf, if everything is urgent with this client …
David: The sky is falling.
Doug: Then you either have to prioritize them over all the other clients, or you just can’t tell what things are actually important. If they’re going to call you on your personal phone line, and email you, and post on your Facebook wall and all this other stuff, these things you may not realize right away, but you definitely don’t want clients that are too high maintenance.
David: Do you have any other examples? Have you had bad experiences with somebody like always asking for discounts and always trying to get a cheaper deal?
Doug: Yeah. That’s a big warning sign. If somebody asks you for a discount before they’ve even started working for you or even later on. If somebody comes to you and you give them your prices and then they immediately just ask for 20 percent off or, without even putting out a number, just trying to negotiate you down from the beginning, it’s usually a sign that they don’t value your work.
They’ll always ask you for a discount later, whether or not you give in in the first place. It’s something that you have to think about. When you’re first starting out, you can’t be as picky. Later on, as you get more clients and more experience, then you can safely avoid some of these clients. One of the things I’ve found is, the more I say no to clients, the more good clients magically appear to fill in that gap.
Doug: It’s something that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it just works out that way. I’ve never felt bad about turning down someone who I thought was a bad client.
David: I’ve had similar experiences, too.
Doug: The next thing would be to discuss the pricing, the timeline and the project scope. This is pretty important to establish early on in a process. You don’t want any surprises from either side. The client doesn’t want an extra bill that they didn’t expect. You don’t want lots of small changes and scope creep.
David: How do you feel about hourly pricing versus fixed prices?
Doug: I’m a big fan of a fixed price, basically pricing on a project basis versus hourly.
David: Didn’t you use to charge hourly, like last year or so?
Doug: Yes. I used to do hourly, and I still do occasional hourly work when it’s live and in‑person. It’s easy to track that way. Generally, my opinion with this is, the better you are, the higher the hourly rate is going to be.
From the client side, they’re not really sure how long something’s going to take you. It can really vary between providers. You can have somebody really good charging $200 an hour and the project could take them 10 hours. It would be a $2,000 project. Then, you may have somebody who isn’t very good and maybe they charge $50 an hour. If it takes them 50 hours to do the project, then it’s actually more expensive to do the project. It’s $2,500 for the project. If it takes them 50 hours versus 10 hours, the project is going to be done a lot later.
David: If you do fixed prices instead of hourly, as you mentioned at this point you really have to define the scope very, very well. I once did a WordPress project where I quoted a fixed price and I was quite new to doing those kinds of projects so I quoted the fixed price and I thought that I had defined the scope very clearly, and it was just going to be using a simple WooTheme and customizing a little bit of CSS.
Somebody understood it completely different, and they basically thought it was like create custom post types and write some PHP and all this kind of stuff. There was a massive amount of scope creep and I got really frustrated. I think you really have to do a good job of understanding what the client needs and defining the scope very, very clearly.
Doug: You should also have something in your contracts where you state specifically that things outside of the projects scope are considered extra work. Then, as soon as the client brings something like that up, you should point it out before you go further. It’s better to get in front of these things than to have any kind of dispute later.
The next thing when getting hired is I always get the initial deposit first. It’s important that you actually get paid before you start. I’ve usually been pretty good about this, about being insistent on getting paid first. Occasionally, I’ve made exceptions where I know the person and I just want to get started and maybe I’ve got some momentum.
David: Do you get 100% upfront?
Doug: For small projects, where I can get a good idea of how long it’s going to take and what’s included with the project, I usually do upfront.
David: I think that’s another advantage as well of having fixed pricing and having productized services, is that people are used to buying products and paying for them upfront, while hourly services are usually paid upon completion.
Doug: There’s different models that people use when doing this kind of thing. A lot of times, I see 50 percent upfront and then 50 percent on completion. The big problem I see with that is the project may never be completed, in which case that’s 50 percent on the project that you may never see or it may be a long time before you see it.
Establish the timeline. What I like to do is, when breaking up a bigger project, I would like to make sure that I’m never out for more than 25 percent of the project. If somebody doesn’t want to pay ‑ say it’s a $5,000 project. They probably don’t want to pay $5,000 upfront before seeing any work. During the project, my general rule of thumb is to try to underpromise and overdeliver. What I mean by this is you don’t want to promise things that you can’t do or promise unrealistic timelines, and then disappoint the client. You want to set reasonable expectations that you think you can beat.
David: I made this mistake in the past, where I used to give very optimistic timeframes, as in I’m going to get this done by the end of the week, and then I won’t get it done and then it sucks. You have to follow this up with the client and you’re like, “Sorry I wasn’t able to do it.”
Doug: On a similar note, if you can go in and you can do something maybe make a few improvements, and when they’re small things I like to do it for free, and not charge for it, because the customer feels like they get added value. Versus if you were to do only exactly what was inside the project ‑ there’s some clear things that you could have fixed and you just didn’t, because that’s extra work and they didn’t pay you for it. If you can do a little more than is expected, this is going to go a long way towards your relationship with the client.
David: Going the extra mile, absolutely.
Doug: After the project, I think it’s important to establish a long‑term relationship with your clients. You want to stay in touch and, if it makes sense, to get them on either a retainer or some kind of recurring contract, whether it’s maintenance or hosting. Just stay in touch. If they need a new design or they need new work, you want to be the one that they go to.
This is pretty important, because it’s much harder to get work from a new client than to just get work from an existing client. These days, I get most of my clients from referrals and it’s just better to have that relationship.
David: It’s just an old business principle of it’s much easier to sell stuff to existing customers than to acquire new customers. It’s easy for Apple to sell an iPad to you if you’re already on an iPhone and a Macbook Pro than if you are a Windows guy.
Also, with me, with Fatcat Apps right now. I’m working on new products and part of the reason I’m doing that is I’ve been building up a customer base with Easy Pricing Tables, and I think a lot of those people obviously are demonstrated to be purchasers of premiums WordPress plugins so it will be much easier to sell them additional products than to acquire new customers from scratch.
Doug: Also, they know your work. If they’re happy with your plugin, they’re probably going to be happy with your other plugins too.
David: For me, as somebody who works a lot with contractors, I prefer those ongoing relationships as well. I’ve been building up a little of a contractor Rolodex, based on what kind of tasks I need to get done. I would have certain guys for certain kinds of tasks and then, if I’ve got those kinds of projects, I contact my existing contractors. This is much easier than to hire somebody new.
Doug: The last point to bring up here is getting referrals. I’ve been doing this for over 5 years and, at this point, I get all of my clients from referrals. The people who I’ve done work for, I’ve generally, I think, done a good job for them and they refer new business to me. I don’t have to go out and do cold calls to try to sell new site designs to people that I don’t even know.
It’s much easier for me, because it’s a very positive way of marketing. The likelihood of getting one of those clients is much higher. I found that referrals carry much more weight because the client is basically fighting for you.
David: You also have to keep in mind that somebody who refers you to others, it’s not necessarily just because he likes you, although that might also be involved. If somebody shares something with other people, no matter if it’s a contract or recommendation or a blog post on Twitter, they want to look good in the eyes of their friends. You have to keep in mind that, if you do a good job and people start referring you, they do refer you because it makes them look good to their friends to refer you, who’s doing quality work.
Doug: You do want to put some testimonials on your website. This is something that I didn’t do for a long time. I never got around to it, but it’s something I would have done much earlier, to just ask your clients for testimonials. One of the nice things for them is you can put their photo, and you can link to their website. Some people like to show off their designs. A lot of people are very happy to give you a testimonial.
David: We’ve talked about a lot of tips of how to find the right clients and how to make sure the projects go well. But what if you’re at square one, what if you’re just starting out and you haven’t even gotten one client? You’ve got decent PHP and CSS and WordPress skills, and you want to get some clients. How would you get started?
Doug: First, I would start with an easy project and then work my way up from there. But, basically, you have to start building a portfolio of work. You could either do some work for free, or you can just do stuff on a very low cost basis. You would want to increase that fairly quickly.
But if you are just starting out, you may have to do something for free, in which case I would do something either for friends and family, where you wouldn’t necessarily feel bad about doing the work for free. Maybe look for somebody who is not terribly picky about the work. You do want to get that first project done and on your portfolio to get more paid work and increase your rate.
David: Would you sign up to oDesk or would you go to networking events? What would you do?
Doug: Yeah. I got started with networking events. I didn’t even know about oDesk at the time. Maybe I would have tried it to get some experience. But I think, whichever way you get started, it’s probably not going to be your main channel of marketing and sales later on, but it’s a good way to get those first clients. I found that talking with people in person helps a lot for people to trust you.
David: As we’ve said before, once you start getting those first clients and you start building up a portfolio, you should definitely create a website.
Doug: Yes, especially if you’re doing website design. I know a few people who do website design and development that don’t even have a website.
David: That don’t have websites.
Doug: I still don’t understand it.
David: I think that’s a fundamental requirement. I don’t think that I, as a client, would trust somebody to build a website for me if he doesn’t have his own website. It’s just one of those things.
Doug: It’s also important to have a good website. Make sure it looks decent. In some cases, maybe even just using a template is fine. But have a website, if you’re going to sell that.
David: I think you’ve shared plenty of tips about how to get hired for WordPress development work in this episode. If you liked this episode, you can leave us a five star review on iTunes. If you didn’t like this episode, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Doug: You can find the show notes for this episode at wpcast.fm/consulting. Thanks for listening.
David: Talk to you next time. Bye.