How to Become a WordPress Professional in Your Free Time
Getting established as a WordPress pro isn’t easy. If you want to freelance or set up a WordPress business, you’ll need to build up a list of clients and establish a reputation for yourself. And if you’re looking for a WordPress job, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve got experience with WordPress and can work with it at a professional level.
But all this takes time learning and preparing, which you won’t get paid for. Unless you’re lucky enough to have an employer who’ll pay for you to learn WordPress (and give you paid time to do it), or who’ll help you learn marketing and business skills (working for a startup can be helpful), you’ll need to do it in your own time.
If you’re anything like me, you can’t afford to take time off to develop your skills or your business. When I started my WordPress journey, I had a mortgage, a preschooler and a new baby, not to mention a husband who didn’t fancy being the only earner. So you’ll need to find a way to develop your WordPress career in your own time, while continuing with your day job, your college course, or whatever it is that’s taking up your time right now.
The good news is that this is possible. WordPress has a relatively shallow learning curve and there’s a vast community of experienced users and developers who you can learn and get support from, as well as a wealth of learning materials available including right here at the WPM DEV Academy. And lots of successful WordPress pros faced the same problem, and started out by working with WordPress in their spare time.
In this post I’m going to give you some tips, and call on the experience of people who’ve done it, so you can learn from their experience. I’ll also share my own experience of starting out with WordPress in my spare time.
So let’s start by looking sat some of the pros and cons.
Pros and Cons of Developing a WordPress Career in Your Spare Time
There are some benefits to keeping your job while you develop your WordPress career, but it’s not all plain sailing.
The big advantage is income. Having a day job while you develop your WordPress skills or get your business up and running means you’ll be able to pay your bills. For me, that was one of the driving forces behind choosing a career in web development, and with WordPress in particular. My job was threatened with redundancy and I was travelling a lot for work, which with a young family was far from ideal. I’d also been in my previous career for some years and was starting to feel stuck in a rut. Going back to college wasn’t an option as I didn’t have the time, so I needed to find something in which I could be self-taught, and where I could get work without having to gain a new qualification.
You’ll also have extra income, as anything you earn through your new career will be on top of your existing salary. You might decide to use this to reduce your employment hours, to invest in your new business or your personal development, or to put money away in case your new career doesn’t work out. The best thing I did was saving the equivalent of a couple of months’ salary before making the leap to self-employment, to avoid cashflow problems.
As well as an income, keeping on your day job gives you a fallback if things don’t go according to plan. If you’re not able to land that perfect WordPress job, your business fails to get off the ground, or you simply decide it isn’t for you, then you don’t have to go looking for another job – you’ve still got one.
If your day job has some crossover with your planned WordPress career, there may also be less tangible benefits. If you’re establishing your own business, you can seek out opportunities at work to develop your business and marketing skills. You may find that you have contacts at work who can help you get clients or find a job. And you may even be able to take on some projects (possibly unpaid) that directly let you develop the skills you need for your future WordPress career.
Learning in Your Own Time: Ahmed Khalifa Case Study
Ahmed Khalifa runs Ignite Rock, a digital marketing business. He was inspired by WordPress when he started to develop some personal projects, so started teaching himself in his spare time:
“When I got home from uni or work, I started to experiment with the WordPress backend. Categories, widgets, security, plugins, etc… they all took time to learn but that’s how it all started around 11-12 years ago, albeit on a part-time basis.”
When you get home at the end of a hard day, the last thing you want to do is start work all over again. You’ll have to be disciplined and self-motivated. I established a routine of starting work after my kids went to bed. I wouldn’t pause to boil the kettle or chat to my husband – as soon as I shut their bedroom doors, I would head straight for my desk. Some evenings I would do a couple of hours work, other times I’d be up till 1am meeting a client deadline. If I had to be on a train the next morning, that wasn’t fun. But at least my kids learned that when I was working, they were expected to sleep – something which has had a positive impact on their sleep patterns as they’ve grown up!
There may also be some professional conflicts. If you’ll be competing with your current employer in the future, be careful you don’t cross any ethical boundaries. Take care not to actively encourage your current employer’s clients to switch to your startup. If they actively seek you out and want to move that’s great, but tread carefully and don’t have any conversations until you’re about to leave your old job (or better, have already left it).
You also need to check whether you’re restricted from working at another job. If all you’re doing in your spare time is developing your WordPress skills (maybe with some side projects) that’s fine, but if you’re working freelance or taking on clients, check that you can.
Another potential problem is availability. I ran my agency for a year while still working part time, and it meant I wasn’t as available for my clients as I would have liked. I had to time meetings to coincide with days off, or book a day off, and I had to be careful about taking calls during work hours. I worked from home for some of the week, which made things a bit easier. But it made it harder to present a professional face to my new clients.
And don’t use equipment provided by your employer for work relating to your new career. I bought myself a second phone, and also invested in a laptop. This cost money but meant I didn’t risk breaking any of my employer’s contractual or security rules, and also meant that I still had all my files, call records and contact details when I left. If you use a computer that belongs to your employer to do client or freelance work, then that data belongs to your employer – not something your clients will be happy about!
But if you can cope with the fatigue, the feeling of being torn in two and the juggling act of managing two careers, then it can be a great way to get started.
It Takes Time: Michael Oglesby Case Study
Michael Oglesby is a freelance front-end developer who is entirely self-taught. When he quit his civil service career for WordPress freelancing, he had a lot to learn:
“I have to admit, it was a massive learning curve; it was very frustrating at times as well, but I enjoyed it. I eventually installed my own instance of WordPress on my hosting server, but it took me a lot longer to install than the claimed ‘5 mins‘! WordPress’s main programming languages are PHP and MySQL and these were totally new coding languages to me, so I had to learn on the go as well.”
Making it Work as a WordPress Professional
So, becoming a WordPress pro in your spare time isn’t easy. But there are things you can do to make it easier:
- Establish a routine. It will be all too easy to procrastinate in the evenings or weekends instead of working. Establish a clear routine and let the people around you know that you’re not available during those times.
- Get support. Find people who can help you learn, take on responsibilities for you, and give you moral support. For me it was my dad – he spent most of his working life running a business and was an invaluable source of advice, information and support.
- Carve out a working space. If you can, set up a desk at home or hire one in a co-working space. This will help you concentrate and be more productive.
- Set yourself clear goals. Have a plan self-developments and self development, with clear timescales, goals and costs.
- Have a deadline. Decide when you want to be ready to switch to full time. You may not meet this deadline (or you may beat it), but it helps you focus.
- If you’re starting a business, set it up formally. Register a company if that’s your plan. Set up a business bank account. This will help you manage your accounts and your finances.
- Decide what you’ll do with extra income. Set up a business bank account if you’re establishing a business. Resist the temptation to spend your extra income – invest it in yourself and/or your business.
- Present a professional face. Tell people what you’re doing, create a professional website and join LinkedIn. Present yourself to the world as a WordPress professional.
- Be flexible. Possibly the most important tip of all. Things won’t go as you expect, so be ready to adapt. Be prepared to change your goals, your working practices or anything else. Read James Farmer’s posts on starting your own business for a dose of reality.
Getting Support: Ana Segota Case Study
When Ana Segota moved to Germany to be with her husband, Marko, she faced the prospect of learning a new language and deciding on a career. She took whatever work she could find: working in restaurants, hotels and “even giving dancing lessons.” She had a degree in Civil Engineering but knew that wasn’t the career she wanted:
“Instead of being eager to finally put the acquired knowledge into practice, I somehow felt like I’ve just spent the last 6 years of my life for nothing.”
So with Marko refusing to let her give up when things were tough, she set out on a WordPress career, selling themes and learning in her spare time, and now she sells themes through WordPress.com as well as theme forest.
“Moving to Germany to live with Marko changed my views and I started to open myself to new opportunities… He inspired me to rethink my options and supported me from the day one no matter what choice I make.”
You can read more about Ana’s experiences in her post for Heropress on her career journey.
Starting a WordPress Career in Your Own Time is Challenging… but Rewarding!
Starting out with WordPress is never easy. You have to learn new skills, decide on your career course, and find opportunities. And doing it in your spare time adds to the challenges. But if you follow the tips above, you can make it work, like so many others have done.