WordPress Careers Masterclass: How to Forge a Successful Career

WordPress Careers Masterclass: How to Forge a Successful Career

Welcome to this new series on WordPress careers! In this six-week series, you’ll learn about the wide range of options available to you if you want to forge a career with WordPress.

This series will be useful for you if you can answer “yes” to any of the questions below:

  • Are you starting out with WordPress and want to develop your career?
  • Are you in a WordPress job right now and want to switch to something different?
  • Do you use WordPress in your spare time and want to move to making it your job?
  • Do you want to make money by establishing a WordPress business?
  • Would you love to work in a WordPress agency but don’t know where to start?
  • Or would you like to quit having a boss and learn how to use WordPress to launch a freelance career?

Whatever your circumstances, there will be something here to help you.

In this series, I’m going to guide you through a process of identifying your own career goals and provide information, tips and advice to help you formulate your own career plan and follow it through. Along the way you may find you change your plans or switch things around a bit – in such a fast-moving industry, being flexible is essential!

Missed a tutorial in our WordPress Careers Masterclass series? You can catch up on all six posts here:

WordPress website
WordPress isn’t just a web platform – it could be the platform for your career!

By the time you’ve reached the end of this series you’ll have four essentials:

  • You’ll know what your WordPress career goals are.
  • You’ll have learned what it’s like to have the career you’re aiming for.
  • You’ll know how to go about getting that career.
  • You’ll have some steps you’re going to put in motion to make it happen.

As you work through this series I encourage you to ask questions of yourself, make notes, do external research and think hard about what it is you want and why, as well as working out how you’re going to get it.

Think this is for you? Read on!

WordPress Career Options

My experience of attending WordCamps and WordPress meetups has shown that people are doing all sorts of things with WordPress. From the causal blogger through to the full-time WordPress developer, there are lots of things you can use WordPress for, and plenty of those will make money.

They come under four broad headings:

  • Selling your code:
    • Developing themes and plugins for sale
    • Selling direct to users
    • Selling via a third party theme shop.
  • Selling your time, either freelance or in employment:
    • Generalist WordPress development
    • Front-end development
    • PHP development
    • JavaScript or app development using the REST API
    • Website design
    • WordPress training or coaching
    • Writing about WordPress.
  • Selling a service:
    • Developing sites for clients
    • Managing and updating client websites
    • Content management
    • SEO
    • Online marketing
    • Running an agency.
  • Selling a product:
    • Using WordPress to power e-commerce
    • Using WordPress to power an online service or app
    • Running a paid-for WordPress Multisite network
    • Monetising your WordPress site or blog.

This list isn’t exhaustive. I’m sure there will be even more opportunities that arise time, and some of you probably do something that’s not in my list. But this gives you a good idea of the options available to you.

web marketing clinic home page
You don’t have to be a developer to build a WordPress career – companies like the Web Marketing Clinic offer marketing expertise to their clients

You don’t have to be a developer to forge a successful WordPress career. For example:

  • You could use your WordPress knowledge to provide training to other users.
  • You could use WordPress as a platform for your store or blog.
  • You could set up a marketing agency, employing developers to build WordPress sites that will help clients sell online.

But, of course, there are plenty of opportunities for people who do like to write code!

In this series I’m going to look at the four headings above in detail and pass on advice from people with relevant careers, so you’ll be getting it straight from the horse’s mouth.

The final part of the series will help you put it all together, identifying what your priorities are and how you’re going to meet your goals. We’ll also look at continuous learning, and identify how successful WordPress professionals keep developing their skills.

Identifying Your Own Career Goals

Before you start, it’s a good idea to take some time to identify what your own goals are and what sort of career might fit with those. Doing this might surprise you: you might have always wanted to launch an online store but find when you’ve done this that you’re better suited to being a freelance developer, for example.

I’m going to ask you to grab a piece of paper and a pen (old-fashioned I know, but then I’m a writer!) and make some notes around four key areas:

  • Your experience to date
  • Your skills
  • Your circumstances
  • Your personality

This is just for you to complete and will be private, so be honest with yourself!

But first I’m going to let you identify your dream lifestyle.

Your Dream Lifestyle

Let’s start by doing some dreaming. Imagine it’s five years from now. You’re living the dream, doing the things you’ve always wanted to do. Money is no object, nor are skills or any other obstacles.

Think about what you’re doing. It needn’t be job related: it could be lounging on a Caribbean island. And you may be thinking, “how can this be relevant to career planning?” But bear with me.

Now write down whatever you’ve identified as your dream.

Take a look at what you’ve written, and identify what that means in terms of your day-to-day life. In your dream world, do you have a job? If so, what hours are you working? Are you doing something that stimulates your brain? Just being lazy??(!)

wordcamp central website
If your dream lifestyle involves travelling around WordCamps, then WordPress can make it happen!

Identifying your dream lifestyle can help you identify your priorities. For example:

  • If you dream of being a rock star, then you probably want to do something creative that surrounds you with other people (including adoring fans).
  • If you dreamed of being alone on a desert island then you might suit a career where you spend time alone.
  • If your family are important to your dream, then you’ll need to ensure your career plans incorporate them. Maybe setting up a business with your partner?
  • If your dream involves travel, then maybe a flexible job that lets you move around would suite you.

Take some time to identify what you think your dream says about you, your priorities, and how these might translate to your career goals.

Now let’s come down to earth and look at the practicalities.

Your Experience

It’s easy to assume you should look for a job doing something you can already do.

WordPress, and web development in general, is such a fast moving field that very few people have got years’ and years’ experience doing what they do right now. When I launched my own WordPress agency in 2010 I had no experience developing websites for clients, so I decided to specialize in responsive design, something that was new to everyone. I had no disadvantage and was quickly able to learn and establish a reputation.

Think about the experience you have that might be relevant to a WordPress career. Don’t confine this to job experience. Think about:

  • Volunteering
  • Helping people with their websites or online marketing
  • Hobbies
  • And yes, the jobs you’ve had and the skills you’ve learned

Think broadly: if you’ve got experience coding in one language, you could learn another one. And if you’re great at social media marketing you might be able to translate this to conversion optimization.

Now make a list of your experience. Once you’ve done that, we’ll move on to identify your skills.

Your Skills

All jobs and careers require some skills. But it’s tempting to focus on technical skills, which are easily learned, instead of interpersonal, management and marketing skills, which are much harder to learn.

Looking at your list of experience, identify the skills these experiences have given you. Don’t limit yourself to skills you’ve used at work. For example, if you’ve done volunteer work you may have learned useful skills you can use in your career.

Think about three categories:

  • Technical skills: Coding, design, web development, writing, SEO, marketing etc. Remember that skills like coding are easily transferred, so if you’ve learned one language chances are you can learn another. Marketing skills will be important if you want to set up a business, even if it’s not a marketing business.
  • Management skills: Managing a business, financial management, people management, project management and more. If you want to establish a self-employed or freelance career these will be essential. But many of them can be learned and whether you’ll be able to do that may be more about your personality than your skills, as we’ll see shortly.
  • Interpersonal skills: Are you good at dealing with people? Pacifying disgruntled clients? Managing and motivating staff? Collaborating own projects? Persuading people to buy something or agree to something? Do you shy away from these situations an prefer to sit behind a desk building websites? Identify the situations in which you do your best work: it’s likely your career will thrive if you find work that places you in those situations.
If you've got marketing skills, a plugin like MarketPress could help you sell online
If you’ve got marketing skills, a plugin like MarketPress could help you sell online

Now add a list of your skills to your notes. You may find that what you’ve written down so far reinforces the priorities you identified when thinking about your dream lifestyle, or you might be getting a few surprises. Try to keep an open mind at this stage. And add the skills you think you could learn.

Your Circumstances

When you were identifying your dream lifestyle earlier, I asked you to imagine that circumstances were no object: you had plenty of money, could live wherever you want and your family and/or partner came along with you without the slightest grumble.

In the real world, your circumstances will be a factor you need to consider when planning your career. Think about:

  • People: Do you want or need to work in the same place as other people (partner, friends or family)? Could they move? Are you free as a bird and can work wherever you want? Or do you have a wide circle of friends or extended family you don’t want to move away from? Are there people around you who can support you and help you with your career? You might find it useful to talk to the people close to you about this: they may not feel the way you expect them to.
  • Location: Do you love where you live? Would you rather move? Or are you happy to live wherever your career takes you? Do you prefer to live in a big city, the suburbs or somewhere more rural? Do you ache to move to another country?
  • Money: Can you afford to take time out for training, or a financial hit while you start a new career or launch a business? Do you have the money you need to start up a business? Can you carry on in your current job at the same time? This is what I did: during my agency’s first year, I also had a job. I couldn’t have paid the bills and invested in my new business otherwise. If changing careers will mean a financial hit, think about how you’ll manage that. Cut down on expenses? Move to a cheaper apartment? A smaller city?

Again, make some notes. And don’t assume you know the answers. The people around you might be more flexible than you expect, and you may find ways of making or saving the cash you need to make a career change.

Your Personality

Finally, we come to you. It’s important to think about what suits your personality and fulfills you.

Think about what makes you happiest at work. Is it working in a team? Inventing new things? Creating a product? Making a sale? Or maybe finding time to work alone and get things done?

Identify the situations in which you’ve felt most comfortable and been most productive. Chances are you’ll have a mix: very few people need to be either alone or with other people all of the time, for example. I’m like a lot of writers and developers: I work well alone. But I’d go crazy if I worked in a vacuum so I’ve found opportunities to work with other people too, including running my local WordPress group and being part of a writers’ group.

Make more notes. Now look over everything you’ve written and review what it says about your goals, priorities and what career options might suit you and be available to you.

What do you need to learn? Where do you need to live? Do you need to talk to the people around you? Do you need to save some money? Identify the changes you need to make in order to succeed.

Formulating Your Career Plan

Now you’ve spent some time looking at yourself and identifying what motivates you and what you’re good at, it’s time to translate that into a career plan.

But stop.

Before you can put together a useful plan, you need to know more about the options available to you. This will help you check if you really want to follow the career you’ve got in mind. It will also help you to understand what you need to do to make a success of that career, or at least to get started with it.

That’s where the next four parts of this series come in. In the next four weeks you’ll learn all about four different career options with WordPress, and all the variants of them:

  • Selling your code: theme, plugin and app development.
  • Selling your time: freelancing and employment.
  • Selling a service: client work, marketing, SEO, content management.
  • Selling a product: monetizing WordPress.

It’s likely that these will overlap. For example, you might want to specialize in SEO but need to think about whether you’ll do that as a freelancer, by setting up an agency or for an employer. So reading all the parts of this series will help you.

Never Stop Learning

Once we’ve looked at those four career areas, we’ll come back to your career plan. You’ll take some time putting together the work you’ve done today with what you learn about specific careers, and use that to build a plan you can follow. One which will adapt as time moves on and things inevitably change.

We’ll also look at continuous development, and identify ways you can keep developing your skills as you pursue your new career.

A Great WordPress Career Starts With a Plan

I’ve written plenty of posts about careers in the past – many of them are listed in the resources below. But this series will help you go into detail and identify what you need from your career, inform yourself about the options, and plan for success.

If you take the time to identify your goals and priorities, as well as the arsenal of skills and experience you’ve got at your disposal, you’re much more likely to succeed.

I look forward to working through your career plan with you – good luck!

Resources for Further Reading

What is your dream lifestyle? Tell us in the comments below what you want to achieve with your career in WordPress.
Rachel McCollin
Rachel McCollin Rachel is a freelance web designer and writer specializing in mobile and responsive WordPress development. She's the author of four WordPress books including WordPress Pushing the Limits, published by Wiley.