WordPress Developers: How to Make More Money With Fewer Clients

Posted on June 11, 2015 by in Tips & Tricks | 24 comments

WordPress Developers: How to Make More Money With Fewer Clients

In this highly competitive world, WordPress developers will often take low paying projects as a means to kick-start their career and build a portfolio. Starting with a low cost gig is an oft-used method and scores of developers will attest to its effectiveness.

While this method does knock at the door of possibilities, it also opens the way to several problems. If they’re not careful, developers can find themselves trapped in low paying projects, with little to no job satisfaction and barely making ends meet.

In this post, we will discuss means and strategies a WordPress developer can employ to escape from the yoke of low budget projects and make more money while catering to fewer, higher paying clients.

Why Staying With Low-Paying Clients is a Bad Idea

So you started with low paying clients and things seem to be okay. Money trickles, but it is way better than the worry and uncertainty of having no clients at all.

This is a false comfort zone; it may seem to be working, but it is a bad idea. Let us review why.

The low paying concept is simple: a lot of work, a lot less money. Developers caught in this situation often find themselves burning the midnight oil in an attempt to make ends meet. It isn’t exactly rare to have several clients at once, and developers end up spending a lot of time managing clients rather than working on their projects and earning money.

The resulting low job satisfaction is always a problem. After all, it is tough to love a job that has you slugging through the field all day and offers little in terms of monetary compensation. Working at the bottom of the food chain is no one’s dream – certainly not that of a web developer with skills to do much better.

In a way, working for low prices sets off a vicious feedback loop. You’re spending so much time trapped in jobs that scrape the bottom of the barrel, there is no time to look for opportunities elsewhere. Your business growth has effectively been stunted.

The Superior Alternative: Have Fewer, Better Paying Clients

As a developer, do not aim to have a plethora of clients. Instead, you should be focusing on acquiring and retaining fewer, better paying clients. There are no economies of scale when you’re building custom sites. Each client has to add value to your business and portfolio.

It will always be easier to handle one $5,000 client, rather than dealing with ten $500 clients. But let’s be honest – even these hypothetical numbers are rarely achieved. Those of us who have seen the freelance market are rarely surprised to see people willing to build websites at a hundred dollars or less.

Usually such aggressive pricing will prompt developers to lower their rates to match, thereby perpetuating the barely sustainable circle of price cuts. When you find yourself in a situation like this, remember to play on your strengths. Waging a price war against freelancers from the developing world will not do you any good. Instead, choose to rely on quality and delivering a service that your competition may not be able to provide.

There’s more to handling better paying clients. You will have comparatively more time and resources to dedicate to your work. You won’t be in a hurry to complete the job and move on to the next one for the sake of paying your bills. These little things are what translate into job satisfaction, and you can start taking pride in doing the things you love.

Edge out your older, lower paying clients. Let them know you’re moving to a new pricing structure. If they’re willing to continue at the new prices, awesome, bring them onboard. Otherwise, meet your obligations, complete the job and end the project professionally. Never burn bridges, that achieves nothing in professional settings.

How to Find Better Clients

It is not too tough to establish that better paying clients are the way to go. The difficult part is finding such clients. Before you head out to find your dream client, position yourself in relation to niche and market demands. Here are a few things that should help:

1. Do a SWOT Analysis

A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is an excellent place to start. Know the talents you can capitalize on, the opportunities that can be exploited and find ways to deal with your weakness and outside threats.

SWOT analysis groups key pieces of information into two main categories:

  1. Internal factors – the strengths and weaknesses that you already possess
  2. External factors – the opportunities and threats presented by the environment

Once you have a clear SWOT analysis, position yourself in a niche that caters well to your strengths and has the opportunities you need. Weaknesses can be dealt with by more training or, if needed, by outsourcing.

2. Create an Awesome Portfolio to Showcase Your Work

A well executed website is an excellent testimonial to your work and capabilities. Show off some past projects that you are proud of or create display items to highlight your skill and capabilities.

Testimonials from previous clients greatly help in shaping the perception of prospective clients. Ask your clients for feedback and referrals.

3. Give Something for Nothing

So you’ve got your business website up and running. The next step of course is to let people know of your business. Offer something to the site visitors – newsletter subscriptions and free e-books related to your niche will have people taking notice of you.

You could also write tutorials and blog posts relating to your skills and strengths. You’re not giving away your secrets; you are teaching others who will see your website as a great resource and bring some much needed exposure to your business.

4. Contribute to the WordPress Community

The WordPress repository has thousands of free plugins and themes. Put your skills to use and code one that suits your work. Contributions like these showcase your skill, help you reach more clients and add vigor to the open source development community that WordPress is.

Several developers also leverage their free plugins as supplementary sources of income. A plugin or theme can have a pro version with added capabilities and options.

5. Get on Clients’ Radars by Networking

Networking is essential to every business. Meet prospective clients and have sales conversations with them. Pitch your ideas and make an offer. Don’t get disheartened if results don’t start pouring in – give yourself some time and don’t give up on the sales conversations.

You can reach out to prospective clients at developer events and WordPress meetups. Online networks can make it way easier to reach out to prospective clients, so harness the power of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to Bring in the Money

Once you have the clients and connections, it is time to capitalize on the opportunities you have created. Here are some ideas and tips to help you along the way:

1. Resist the Temptation of Overworking

Having better paying clients is excellent and you may feel inclined to accept quite a few projects, but never accept more clients than what you can comfortably handle.

Rather than having a jam-packed schedule where you hop from one project to the next, consider being generous with your attention to each project. This will leave some empty spaces on your timetable, and that’s a good thing.

Working through the day and night is not the goal here. The goal is optimization and sustainability.

2. Run a Tight Ship

You want your business to be a well-oiled, professional machine that handles issues without a hitch. A big part of that is being clear on services, deliverables, deadlines and payment:

  • Deadlines are sacred. Make it a point to reach them. In fact, your aim should be to beat them.
  • Have a clear idea of what the client expects and what you are supposed to deliver. Leaving a communication gap gives rise to unwelcome notions and cause problems.
  • Don’t promise what you cannot deliver and don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to things that are beyond your contract.

3. Create a Clean Pricing Structure

Perception plays an important role in pricing. Do not offer services for too little, but if you’re charging a higher price the client should not feel that you have overcharged and under delivered.

Market ideas at a value and price that is amiable to perception. Ironic as that is, offering services at super low costs will generally not create a favorable impression. Unnaturally low prices will be perceived as low quality or suspicious, insinuating that corners have been cut.

Focus on delivering a premium service that has value for the client. For example, offer websites that are future-proof for up to a year. Offer greater options with added value to make sure the client sees an ROI in your work.

Nathan wrote a very good article about what Web Designers should expect for their salary. While there are variables that a developer may need to change, the constants remain more or less the same. At the very least, you have a roadmap to build your pricing structure. In a similar vein, this analysis can help you place yourself competitively in the market while catering to perception and average rates.

Wrapping Up

WordPress developers often find themselves in a place where they have several low-paying clients to handle. A better and more sustainable approach is to have fewer clients who pay more. To recap, here are your first steps:

  1. Do a SWOT analysis
  2. Create an awesome portfolio
  3. Offer something for free on your site
  4. Contribute to WordPress
  5. Network with clients

Then bring in the money by:

  1. Working reasonable hours
  2. Running a tight ship
  3. Creating a clean pricing structure

Once you’ve achieved the above, you should be less stressed, more satisfied in your work, and better off for your efforts!

How do you find and retain high paying clients? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: Vector Goddess / Shutterstock, Kapix / Shutterstock

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  1. I have had issue of setting my clients up with their WordPress site and one its up and running they dump me

  2. Great post – I am one of those people working long hours for not enough money, yet still obsessed with providing my client with exactly what they want. My problem is that I attract creative individuals, usually starting out, and with little cash. If I raise my prices, then they won’t be able to pay, and I’ll HAVE no clients. With wife, kids and the rest of it I don’t have time for networking and the rest of it!

    • I heard that. One of the best and hardest things I’ve learned is to price out of my comfort zone. My experience is that raising the price is worth the risk most of the time because it has a tendency to weed out the horribly picky clients who just want to micro-manage and it attracts (although not as often) those clients with the sense and willingness to pay for quality.

      • I only work with non-profit organisations. They’re great clients because not only does their website perform a socially valuable purpose; they also have funds set aside, and don’t have the cash flow issues that small businesses often have.

        In previous years I worked on too many small projects and got overwhelmed. When you’ve built 50+ websites it’s difficult to remember how they all worked, or who all the clients are, and they will come back to haunt you at some point!

        Now I won’t take on a new website project under £2,000 and this year’s projects have been anywhere between £2,000 and £6,500. Also, I won’t start work without seeing a detailed project brief because that demonstrates that the organisation is serious and knows what it wants.

        Plus I always offer an annual support and maintenance arrangement, costed at one sixth of the original website cost. Only one client has declined this.

        On the whole, when you charge more for what you do, you get better clients, better projects, shorter working hours and less hassle.

        Not there yet though – my aim is to create a single WordPress theme that can be resold within a network of community groups. So I’ll have one theme but multiple users of it and will support and improve a single product instead of building anew each time.

  3. Sir Tom, you are my favorite on Elegant Blogs, always something to learn from. hats off!

  4. Good article- I’ll also add that one way to downprice without keeping yourself there is to offer discounts, and make sure the clients know about the value. I invoice the clients for the full amount, and then apply the discount- so they can see the deep discount that I’m giving for this particular project. That helps to generate word of mouth and to let the client see your quality. In more cases than not, I’ve received other work from referrals and repeat work that has been at full price after excelling on the initial discounted project.

    • That’s a good angle – thanks for the tip!

    • Thanks for this tip. Seems very useful for me.

  5. I am very glad I read this article about taking the next step in your business as a web developer. I have recently been invited to attend and speak for a regional conference for a particular niche market with over 400 businesses in attendance in mid July. I have been scratching my head to come up with a competitive, yet reasonable price for my services apart from my standard pricing for one-offs. I currently work as the only web developer and have no team as of yet. After reading this article I believe that I have been struggling for some years now with many clients and barely making ends meat. Its good to know that I am not the only one and that the potential is out there for me to exceed beyond my own expectations.

    I just want to say thank you Elegant Themes for being a huge part of my business and I really enjoy many of the articles over the past few months. Keep them coming!

  6. Tom,

    Great article! You gave us some substance and not just generalities. Networking can not be overemphasized, especially for a small business just starting out with limited funds. I have found great value in the local Chamber of Commerce. The work I get from networking with the chamber plus contacts from my website, keeps me busy.

    I have also found value in networking with other web shops. We bounce ideas off one another as well as provide referrals for someone that does not exactly fit our target market. I also provide programming services for some of the local web shops.

    The only thing I would add is that there is a need to balance out our clients. You don’t want too many low paying clients but you also don’t want one big client that you depend on too heavily. The old adage of, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is important advice to heed for the web developer.

  7. so where is DIVI?

  8. Hi, In April I purchased Elegant Theme Divi. My Chrome Notebook would not download it. The it was hacked. A string of horrible things similar to this..So I may have purchased Divi going by Becky Beckam. I had an account
    [email protected] and I upgraded as well. My husband talked me into going by Rebecca so my email and account is [email protected]. I have sent many 10 or so email’s for this upgrade to transfer to my new email address. I have not heard back in regards to any of the emails I have sent. I would really like to recieve my upgrade. And the second I have made the money I am buying a computer that really works and of course accepts my Divi Elegant Theme. Oh, I love it so much.Would you please help me retrieve my upgrade and the very second I can get a new laptop I will be designing my Divi Elegant Theme.
    Thank You so very much. And I am so excited to have both.
    Have a Blessed Day and Evening
    Rebecca Beard Beckam
    [email protected]
    Bless You So Much for helping me.
    I Love WordPress So Much.

    • Please send us an email using the Contact Form here: http://www.elegantthemes.com/contact.html

      We respond to all emails within 1 business day.

      We have not received any of your other emails, unless they were sent using a different email address?

  9. Love this!!! I was just talking to a close friend of mine yesterday about this same topic. Thank you for posting about this and for providing great resources. I really like how you included a recap at the end summing everything up. Definitely going to bookmark this one! Thanks!

  10. One way i found out to keep my customers happy and so they don’t go out to another developer is to provide them with my own webhosting.

    I give them fair prices on hosting, comparable to all the major hosting companies but with dedicated resources plus tech support if they need it.

    I offer also a plus usd100 per month for complete administration / webmaster of the site.

    Upgrading wordpress, fixing incompatibilities, changing plugins that don’t work and fixing things the clients messed up.

    So far i have few customers, but they stay, that’s what counts.

  11. I’ve got to say as I read through this great article how many of these points are true for myself… Although I have made strides since the start of my venture, it is very nice to read that I wasn’t alone out there.

    Thank you again for a great blog!

  12. This article is very informative.previously I think working with low paying clients will strong my position in market place.But not I get the idea to get full value from fewar clients.Thanks for sharing

  13. Good write up. This is what WPElevation.com is all about!

  14. Give something for nothing is my strategy at the initial time when i started building my clients.
    Another Good useful article.

  15. Great article. In my experience, nearly everybody starting out in business prices too low and then risks getting trapped there. This problem isn’t unique to freelance web designers!

  16. I tried going by my own once and failed because I didn’t networked with clients very often.. Sometimes we get stuck developing the current projects and forget to look for new ones.

    Finding this balance is important and would had saved me lots of problems and frustrations in the past.

  17. Super article with some very good pointers.

    I have to admit that we’ve been pushing up our prices over the last 18 months and our level/volume of business has actually increased.

    Interestingly, some of the people we quoted a while back who went to a ‘cheap’ developer are now coming back to us asking us to do a ‘proper job’.

    Pricing should be a fluid thing and I can’t recommend highly enough the importance of charging a decent amount of money.

  18. Great article.

    My first 3 years I had this problem. I simply couldn’t turn away work in order to keep the wolf from the door. Once I learned to price out of my comfort zone, things changed. You get a better standard of client that doesn’t need to micro manage, bleed you dry for time (often outside office hours) and shrugs when you go above-and-beyond.

    After 3 years of networking and doing a good job, regular referrals and repeat business meant I could gradually charge more, meaning I was still winning the work but I would need half the clients. Also seems the bigger the client, the less stress and a bigger respect for 9 to 5 boundaries!

    Now, being able to pass on work is an amazing feeling. Whenever all a potential lead wants to talk about is price or they seem like they’d be too hard work I politely turn them down.

  19. Very Useful Post !
    I think that every new business starts with low prices at the beginning and then they should gradually set a higher price

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