If you google ‘how to make money building websites’ you will find an overwhelming amount of opinions and enough information to keep you thinking for months. From articles teaching you how to make $5k/mo (the number one article when I googled it) to others saying it is super easy to do to others warning you to beware of the amount of work it is to others outlining their experience & strategy.
A common thread in all of them, however, is the build platform is unequivocally WordPress.
In other words, regardless of the highway you choose to make money building websites, all roads eventually lead to WordPress.
I started down such a road 4 years ago and you know what I’ve discovered? Building websites on WordPress is, indeed, a most excellent part-time job.
It’s just not much more than that.
Consider the following Elance.com / WPEngine chart from this WPMUDEV article showing WordPress freelancer rates across the United States:
The cold reality of freelancing in a heavily saturated WordPress market is the bell inevitably curves the left (or, to the top of this particular chart).
That is, the overwhelming majority of folks freelancing with WordPress make between $10-$40/hr.
“But $40/hr is like an $80k/yr! That sounds AMAZING!” you exclaim.
Well, yes, that does sound amazing!
But it’s only $80k if:
- You can charge at the high end of the bell curve
- You work 40 hrs/week
- You don’t take any vacation
- You ignore paying state tax
- You disregard paying federal tax
- You gamble with (i.e. don’t have) health insurance
- You don’t consider your business expenses
(NOTE: I do not recommend 3–7 above)
The more likely scenario as a WordPress freelancer (or, at least, starting out as a WordPress freelancer) is you are going to average part-time hours at the average rate of the statistical bell curve in the chart above. Or, to make an example of it, if you charge $25/hr and scrape together 20 hours a week and do that for 50 weeks of the year, you’ll make $25,000. Which is about the same amount a full time McDonald’s crew member earns (accept you still have to pay more taxes and health insurance…but also work less and from home…so there’s that).
So is it worth doing?
Here’s the less depressing part of this article. Yes. Yes it is.
I’ve moonlighted as a web guy for four years now and it’s transformed my life in two particular ways.
First, in what I hoped for — extra income. I started at the $25/hr example provided above, and even though I rarely had 20 hour work weeks (they were usually way less), I was learning and others were basically paying me to do so.
And now, four years later, that extra income has turned into savings I didn’t have and that extra learning has turned into higher profit margin as I work faster and can charge more.
My rate today falls at the right bottom of the bell curve (but still in the bell, mind you…I don’t know personally know anyone charging those insane rates in the area well past it…) which means today I’m proud to say that I’m finally part-time profitable as a WordPress Nerd!
But it took awhile.
About four years to be exact.
The second reason it’s worth doing comes in something I didn’t expect — the people I’ve met along the way. Each job has provided an opportunity to get to meet real people running real businesses that have real needs/problems. And not just clients, mind you, but business partners, and I.T. personnel, and online communities, and vendors, etc. All of them looking for someone to help them meet a need they have and if you can meet that need in a kind and professional way, you may not just earn a long-term client, but a life-long friend.
And there isn’t freelancer chart in the world which accurately plots the value you’ll receive from friendship.
So can it become more than part-time?
Here’s the exciting part of this article. Yes, yes it can.
But you have to do more than build websites.
Along with a crowded freelancer market, the advent of very good do-it-yourself build platforms like Squarespace and Wix (who also have very good marketing) are continually driving down client costs and expectations, which squeezes out the profit margin of site building alone. So, just like any business in a shifting market, if you want to remain competitive (and profitable), you have to provide more value, which means you’re gonna have to learn (or outsource) more services.
Here is are a few services to consider:
One of the most underutilized (and SEO helpful) aspects of having a website is contributing fresh content to it. Build trust worthy business relationships through contractor sites like Fiverr and Upwork (or write yourself) and offer this as an ongoing service.
Every website has content and that should not only be somewhat unique, but written with search engines in mind. That means thinking about keywords and HTML markup. If you can do this well then this can be a huge value driver, because in my experience most clients want help/recommendations on their copy, especially from someone to understands at least a little bit about optimizing for crawlers.
Graphic Design / Branding / Artwork
Every website has a need for a logo, color scheme, original artwork and/or images and each of those are line-item-able services. This is another service you can outsource and/or learn, because the difference between a site with custom artwork and a well thought out color scheme is, to me, night and day. (And it should be to you, too, because I guarantee it is to your clients.)
Every website has to have a home. Why not be the landlord?
Buy quality hosting (preferably not shared, or at least, eventually not shared once you can afford it) and bundle together backup, security, caching, site maintenance, analytics, etc.
Or sell them all separately.
The point is as a web guru you should know what it takes on the back end to move a site from good to great and that bit of knowledge has sell-able value.
One Time SEO Audit
Easier to sell on a site you did not build, but find an SEO audit tool you like, scan their website, and then provide recommendations to improve their overall markup. If they like what you find, they may even ask you to fix it. And if you play that line out a bit further, you may be able to discount (or waive) the SEO fee in a new site rebuild which includes the right SEO from the start.
It’s a veteran move, but one to keep in mind.
One Time SEO Setup
Slowing down your build pace to add ALT tags to images and meta titles/descriptions while building a site can be frustrating. Or, at least it can be if you’re not getting paid to do it. So rather than battle with that frustration and be tempted to NOT do it at all, line item a one-time SEO setup fee in the initial bid. Then, if they want it, they’ve paid for it.
Getting a site to rank for particular keywords is an entirely different animal than site building. Yes, there is some overlap with on-page SEO, but by and large, securing guest posts, and blog writing, and backlink building, and online directory listings, etc, are all completely independent from the site itself. But the SEO market has tremendous value to businesses with reasonable profit margin so if you can learn to do it, you can create solid ongoing revenue by offering it.
The list above is only a fraction of additional services that can be sold around site building. I didn’t mention Google Analytics, or Google Search Console, or page speed improvements, or microinteractions, or staging sites, or site maintenance, or search engine marketing, etc. The list may literally never end (it most definitely actually does end), but the list isn’t my point.
My point is at the start of my journey to build websites with WordPress I thought I’d be able to make good money at doing just that — building websites. And it turned out that as long as I defined “good money” to be part-time income, then I could.
But that’s it.
If all I did was design and build, my business would go no further.
And worse, if I’m right about online do-it-yourself builder services continuing to diminish client expectations and costs, then eventually my business will cease to be profitable. Not today and not tomorrow and maybe not for years to come, but slowly an invariably, it won’t be worth doing anymore.
But for now, it most certainly is and if you want to make money building websites with WordPress, it is a most excellent adventure and a most excellent part-time job.