Cover image for Do you need to know Wordpress as a freelance web developer?

Do you need to know Wordpress as a freelance web developer?

realtoughcandy profile image RealToughCandy.io ・3 min read

The following is an excerpt from my book Freelance Newbie available on Amazon on paperback and Kindle. Also available as a top-rated Udemy course!

WordPress now powers over 1/3rd of the top 10 million sites on the web.

From that statistic alone, it’s no wonder why so many creative agencies and freelancers offer it as their flagship service.

In addition, WordPress is:

  • Easy to deploy and maintain
  • Plugin-based: you don’t have to be a PHP whiz to integrate great features
  • End-user friendly
  • Open-source (free as in beer, free as in freedom)
  • Highly scalable

WordPress: User-Serviceable, Human-Readable

All of these benefits are nice, but does that mean you have to offer it? The short answer is no. However, it’s an excellent money maker. If you’re already familiar with WordPress, absolutely consider integrating it into your business plan.

If you’re not familiar with WordPress, I would suggest you at least become familiar with its basic usage. Work on setting up a local copy, experiment with features and plugins, and get familiar with the file structure.

While WordPress is powered by PHP and MySQL on the backend, you don’t need to know PHP or SQL in order to create websites for clients.

If you need to customize it and you can’t find a suitable plugin, you can always outsource the task if it’s beyond your current skill level.

As you find more clients, listen to their needs, and strategize on solving their business problems, you will find that WordPress is often an ideal fit.

The other reason I’m so enthusiastic about using WordPress is because of its straightforward admin panel.

This means you can confidently set up a user account for your client and they can take care of the rest, whether it’s updating plugins (one click), publishing a blog post, adding users, or whatever other common task that would be more of a time-sink than a money-maker if they had me do it.

This was true even as a total newbie: the ten minutes of billable time (or even a flat fee) for whatever menial task just wasn’t worth it to me. You also run the risk of clients calling you up every hour with another small issue, many of which will have you wondering if it’s even worth the hassle of sending an invoice.

It’s much more efficient to give them a tour of the user-serviceable parts, direct them to human-readable documentation for common and simple tasks and give them the freedom to do it on their own time.

Alt Text

Above: the admin panel of WordPress is easy to use for non-technical end users.

Random but important WordPress-y side note: Always maintain your own copy of any site you build for a client. You never know what they’ll do to change the look and functionality of your site once they have access to the code. Many times it’s for the worse and you won’t be able to exhibit this site in your portfolio or other promotional materials.

Bottom line, explore WordPress as a solution for your clients.

Even if you’ve never used it, you’ll be able to pick up the basics just fine. If you do decide to go full WordPress mode, you can either learn PHP and MySQL or hire somebody else to make plugins. I was building sites for profit before I even knew how to code, and it turned into a consistently ideal solution for my clients.

P.S. Follow me on YouTube where I talk a lot about cool web dev stuff:

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Owner/Founder of www.realtoughcandy.io. Real-world web development! 100% indie software dev; author; instructor; follow me on YouTube! youtube.com/realtoughcandy


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I'm not a fan of the default 'code soup' of wordpress templates and themes, which is why I tend to use timber to create a more MVC like structure to my code.

Despite its' peculiarity, however, I find wordpress to be a lovely, easily customisable CMS with a huge breadth of plugins out the to provide advanced functionality. If you can curate your plugins to only those that are essential and make sure your code is well tended it can be a lovely development experience.

I personally use my own starter theme, though I don't think that's particularly uncommon in the WP dev community.


You mean you don't want to just use bootstrap and jQuery?? 😉😉


Ugh, I'm still not quite able to remove jQuery from most of my builds yet just because of a couple of plugins that are reliant on it - so annoying!


I'm going to be honest I don't know what it is about WordPress but I kinda don't like it, however!!
When I'm looking through freelance sites me seeing WordPress and saying go away go away go AWAAAAAAAY !!!! isn't going to help me and I'm well aware I have to learn it properly soon 😂😂


I only find that it is smaller sites/jobs that want WordPress, but even then I get them to understand WordPress is chunky and slow. We have static site/blog generators like Gatsby that are friendly can use a content API like Contently for web masters to manage the content, and loads super quick and easy.

If they needed more then an editable static site/blog with contact form, then WordPress isn't a viable option anyway.


You sir have convinced me, I've been looking at gatsby on and off for a while as well, think I'm going in that direction instead,
Cheers bud.


If you live in the real world, then you'll probably end up with some WordPress clients. It works great for small business with great e-commerce integration.
Of course a Gatsby JS site will blow the doors off a WP site. But some people already have WP sites. And they still need help. 👍
Plus WordPress has some great local communities


If the client is using the site as a blog or just for public content (like a restaurant), Gatsby is great!

I had a client who needed a membership area, with progression-based content release, and a shopping cart to gain access. I rolled up a WordPress site + LMS + shopping cart plugin in a few hours.

Overall, it really depends and learning about the tradeoffs is valuable as a freelancer


And how do your clients edit the contents of their Gatsby web site? By writing Markdown files, listing them in a JS file and committing everything to Git?

If it's a simple site like a restaurant within gatsby, they won't be making design modifications.

If they want blog/edit pages, Gatsby's CMS has that feature without having to dig into the code.

Gatsby has a CMS? Or you have to make it get data from a third party CMS?

You use a third party CMS. There are lots of free ones, like netlify-cms or even WordPress. Also you can use Sanity.io or Contentful there's great integration with those


Wordpress is a great backend/dashboard management boilerplate, I love to design custom websites and use wordpress as a "admin dashboard" to let my customers handle their website data independently.

Wordpress is a great tool, if you know how it works and how to extend it without destroying everything ^


WordPress is limiting indeed but when it comes to having an out of the box, easy to use, fast enough website, with a lot of theming and extendibility options platform, WordPress is probably the best at this.

We as developers cant judge everyone by our own standards. Example, how much an end-user really cares about a website that does not load inside 1s but loads in 2s? Not much, to a normal end-user, he wont even notice this.

Also how can an end-user switch the theme on his gatsby based website?

Now i am biased since i have a lot of experience with WP but the thing is, lets be realistic about what the end-user really needs.


I agree with your point, but the example is not the best choice imho. Sure, if you ask them they’re not gonna tell you they prefer a lightweight website over a customizable one.

Yet, a website that takes 1s more to load under normal conditions will take 5s more on an entry level smartphone and/or poor access to the network, which is not uncommon. And studies tend to show that it’s damaging the bounce rate of a website, and therefore its turnover.

It’s part of our job to educate customers about what really matters, and on the long run performance is often more critical for their business than the ability to tweak the design.


I agree and i went a bit offtopic. Noticed it when i re-read later on my comment and the topic.

I go with the principle, use the right tool for the right thing. Dont try to fit or adapt something into doing something else.

And i know WP is not well suited for large projects, but for 90% of the real world websites (which are mostly presentational websites), WP can do the job very well.

It requires to be configured well, when it comes to security, performance and stuff like that.

It requires to be maintained, updates for example but the rest is mostly easy enough for an end-user to take care on himself.

With this, going back on topic, i would say we as developers should know, IMO at least, the tools and should know the capabilities of each tool and should have the skills to present correctly to the client their options so the best choice can be made.


I've had this conversation. And my clients would prefer to do things like add their own modal pop-up on specific pages when they want to, rather than hire me to make every little change.


I am not a WordPress fan mostly because I find it limiting and everything seems unnecessarily difficult to really customize outside of just building a child theme. That being said I have been working with the WordPress API so that I can build a react front end for my client that uses WordPress as a backend so you get all the ease of adding content with the freedom of not being restricted on the front end.


I would say that while you don't need to know it, being able to handle it will significantly widen your pool of jobs.