The WordPress Ecosystem
One of the reasons behind the tremendous success of the WordPress CMS is its ecosystem. Being open source and 100% GPL, the platform is free for everyone to jump in, install, and customize as they see fit.
There are more than 3000 free themes and 35,000 free plugins in the official WordPress repository. Moreover, there are dozens of theme markets, companies building plugins for a living, and hundreds (if not thousands) of developers maintaining a popular plugin of their own.
Given the popular 5-minute installation guide everyone is able to set up a plain WordPress, add a free theme and install a bunch of plugins. And there we go — we have a new website.
From Newbie to Expert In a Day
What is the final goal of a web designer or developer? It’s building a website. That’s what every customer wants, and that’s what a website expert should be able to deliver.
That’s why millions of people start thinking: “Hey, I can do that! I can follow this guide and build a website. It’s not that hard — let’s go and make some money out of it!”
I’ve met dozens of people after my WordPress seminars approaching me and asking for advice. They used an installing script with a cheap hosting account to build their blog, and they started charging their friends for building their websites. That’s a nice way to switch to web development, especially if you’re not qualified or educated and your day job doesn’t allow for any progress in the long run.
The Broad WordPress Freelance Spectrum
While writing my WordPress community post about Setting the Wrong Example, I found out that more than a million people offer WordPress services online. oDesk, one of the freelance networks out there, gives everyone access to 202,069 WordPress freelances at the moment of writing.
Spend a few hours browsing the largest freelance networks and looking for “WordPress developers” or “WordPress experts” online — you’ll be impressed by the number of people offering WordPress websites. But that’s normal, right — given the 23% websites that we discussed earlier built on top of WordPress.
At the same time Matt Mullenweg, one of the co-founders of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, announced the annual survey results in his State of the Word talk in San Francisco in October:
33k took our survey: 7,539 (25%) of survey participants make their living from WordPress. Over 90% of people build more than one site, and spend less than 200 hours building one.
So, from 33K active users even remotely engaged with the community, less than 8,000 people make their living from WordPress. This is less than 1% of the people who offer their WordPress services.
WordPress Grows Rapidly
The same annual study from Matt states that the WordPress market share has risen from 19% in 2013 to 23% in 2014. The ecosystem grows fast, community developers build more themes and plugins, and the WordPress core platform gets better and better.
Unlike with other popular CMS or large platforms that get an update every year or two (or even more), WordPress issues three major versions every year.
Each version adds a substantial new feature such as the automatic updates for minor releases, Customizer for editing your website with live preview of your changes, or menu/widget managers that make your WordPress work much easier and pleasant. While WordPress is being careful when it comes to backwards compatibility, themes and plugins should be kept up to date, support the new features and integrate better in the constantly changing workflow.
The Community Lifestyle
That rapid growth requires attention to everything happening in the WordPress community, learning the new APIs and libraries integrated in the new system and all the “gotchas” that come from introducing the new features. As a website grows, the community experts make sure that they are aware of all potential security or performance bottlenecks and attend online and offline conferences in order to educate themselves and improve their skills.
We attend WordCamps, Contributor Days, meetups and share knowledge, work together on open source plugins and tools, and help each other with larger projects.
The 99% Paradox
WordPress is open source — WordCamps usually record the sessions and they’re available for everyone. Meetups are organized in hundreds of cities around the world, and expert are free to attend them and collaborate with other professionals.
And all of the official events and websites promote the annual survey, which counted less than 8 thousand experts. At the same time, over a million people out there offer WordPress services. Maybe 2M or 3M even.
Those 99% don’t invest in learning the ins and outs of WordPress. They don’t do development for a living, or build online solutions with dozens of different platforms. They are not interested in improving their skills, get better with the platform they get paid for working with, or make sure that their clients are safe, their websites are compatible and work properly.
But what are the odds for a client? Searching for experts in their area or online, they will contact 5 or 10 people asking for a web solution. And they will certainly reach out to those 99% — the people without that deep understanding of the platform or the technological stack.
All of a sudden the reality for a client is nowhere near the actual process of building an online solution. A large percentage of the 99% offer services for a small fraction of the cost of a real website. They order the cheapest and slowest hosting plan. They don’t invest in usability, or search engine optimization. They don’t care about the business model. And they don’t need to — because they’ve installed WordPress once, and their website is up. The worst part is that this is invisible to the customer, and effects take action as the website grows or the time goes by.
You can find that website in Google. If you type in the exact name of the site. It’s probably working. Somewhat. Unless you check the server logs where thousands of warnings and notices shout that the code is broken and it requires an expert’s attention. But our 99% experts silently pass through that and offer their services. Often they don’t even know what’s happening in the background.
Price vs. Value
I’ll quote Morten and his “WordPress is not easy — and that’s OK” article:
“What WordPress does is make people think they know what they are doing when they don’t. It’s too easy to create something and the power you feel from being able to do things you don’t really understand convinces you you actually know what you’re doing. So you get people with the ability to do things on the web that have no idea if what they are doing is right or wrong. And they start doing very dangerous things. They set up insecure sites. They write terrible code. They get hacked. And then to top it off they start selling their services!”
That’s what actually happens out there. And clients are not aware of the real danger, since 99% of their surrounding is working their own way, whatever worked for them in the first place, regardless of the best practices.
And after those clients get what they wanted — a website — they wait for the result. They expect for their $200 to start generating traffic and revenue out of nowhere — because it’s out there, and everyone can see it! They just need to type in the URL in their address bar and there we go.
A day passes, and nothing happens. Another week, another month. Three months later this website generated nothing. Fast-forward a year and a half, WordPress has released several major updates and the website has not been updated. An automated bot finds the website, exploits a vulnerability in a theme or a plugin, and brings down the server. Or even worse — starts sending spam on behalf of the hacked website.
The website is down, the domain is blacklisted as a being a spam engine. The business can no longer use that domain, and even the business email accounts hit the spam folders.
The Parallel Community Expert
In another world, a WordPress community rep — one of the 8 thousand people working closely with the community, quotes a site for a similar client. Their bid is $10,000, or $20,000 for the same service. Or more — depending on what’s needed.
There are two options. The first one is the one that we just reviewed, the $200 alternative.
What about the other alternative?
The WordPress community experts know how WordPress works. They build a custom solution tailored for the client. The code is clean and compatible. The website is fast and beautiful. The server is secure and reliable.
The real expert consults the client on inbound marketing and prepares a content marketing strategy, or puts them in touch with the right people. They both work together and bring the business to the real world, where traffic starts flowing — slowly, then more and more — and a new, viable business is born. Mobile users can surf freely and purchase securely through the payment gateways. Everyone is happy and the profit for the new business starts growing few months after.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Would you go to a surgeon without any solid background, nor a degree just because they charge close to nothing?
- Would you buy a house for a tenth of the standard cost of a warm and reliable home?
- Would you go to a Porsche or BMW dealer and ask them to get you the best model for $1000?
Ask yourself what is the difference between all of the alternatives above. With an average international rate of $50/hr (you know that the good consultants often charge $350 or more), do you really believe that your business will skyrocket after paying roughly 4 billable hours to a contractor?
Right. There are plenty of free alternatives for building a site online. But building a profitable solution around your business is a way different story. It requires attention to your goals, creative work and technical understanding of the challenges, marketing know-how for selling your online solutions and reaching out to your customers.
You can pay the same $200 expert $20,000 — but will that solve your problems? Would they undercharge non-realistic rates for a work that should take 100 times longer?
The WordPress Community is the home of all WordPress experts. They hang out together, work towards the future of WordPress, and build the ecosystem. Hiring a rocket engineer with a month of web experience to build your web solution is not the way to go.
Do your homework and decide what’s best for your business. But keep in mind the 99% — if you simply ask for “a website”, that’s what you’ll get.
Cover photo: by Margarit Ralev, Localancers.com