Thoughts on Competition Among WordPress Developers

CompetitionOne of the observations I’ve made in the past 5 years as a WordPress developer is that there appears to be very little competition among those who directly interface with clients to provide services. Theme houses and plugins are in a very stiff and sometimes hostile battle for marketshare, in stark contrast to service providers.

This topic has been on my mind for a number of months as I’ve been consistently amazed and humbled by the openness of WordPress experts to freely help others on Twitter. We share code, jump in for a quick diagnostic, and even share pricing and work/life balance tips. At the forefront of the open model are Andrew Norcross (@norcross), Remkus de Vries (@DeFries), Brian Gardner (@bgardner), Nathan Rice (@nathanrice), Gil – Flashing Cursor (@flashingcursor), Bill Erickson (@billerickson), Jared Atchison (@jaredatch), and Carrie Dils (@cdils). More recently, Nick Croft (@Nick_theGeek), Brandon Kraft (@Kraft), and Robert Neu (@RealFATMedia) have made themselves into some of my newest besties – we’re even working on a new Genesis plugin for release soon.

WordPress community gone wrong

Just last week, one of my new friends mentioned above, Carrie Dils, wrote an article with a title that immediately made me wish I’d posted this when I put it in drafts as an idea. After reading it, we have differing angles and her situation is a real bummer for the WP community in her area. Go read it and we’ll continue the discussion: The Shocking Truth: I’m Not Your Competition.

We have a healthy WordPress community some places, most places

I also muse about it when I visit a developer site from the business card I’m handed at an event or social and I can’t help but think of the old HTML sites we used to make 8-10 years ago. It seems that there is a client for everyone, even those in the business who aren’t anywhere near current in their designs or premium themes and code (like a static site with a WP blog created in 2012 – because we all realized WordPress is a true CMS in 2007). I don’t needlessly have to link to them to shame them – we’ve all seen portfolios that make us wonder how they are feeding their families.

I think back to how I started without a portfolio and look at what crap I used to do compared to my current offerings and wonder how anyone hired me in 2009. Some peoples’ portfolios look like that today because they are just starting out as I did nearly 4 years ago. Conferences and Meetups bring on a combination of “you’re not my competition” and “wow, I’m not worthy to be called a WP dev.” I personally struggle between those two emotions – one is prideful and one isn’t valuing myself enough.

The worst thing you can do for your self-esteem is to compare yourself to others with more experience and talent.

My wife reminds me of this at least once per month when I show her a tweet, comment, or e-mail from someone I respect and admire where they give me kudos or validate something I’m doing. “That’s nice, but you know you worked hard to get to where you are and you know you deserve everything,” is her typical response to such petty notifications that “I’ve made it” because of a little validation.

Constantly improve, learn, and ask questions

We, as WordPress developers, and especially Genesis developers, are a community. I’ve never encountered a professional community so willing to help, give advice, give entire blueprints to their business, and more. Can you imagine a real estate agent telling someone all of their best hard-learned tips to a rookie who just hung out his shingle? If it happens, it’s not often.

Over the past year, I’ve tried more and more to learn the coding jobs that I had to hire @norcross to do for me. He’d do a job and I’d read the code.

I’d get another job, try his code, edit it around to suit the client’s wishes, and still hire him to fix my crap.

This happened job after job for the end of 2011 and the first 3 quarters of 2012. Then I figured out some major pieces of missing learning that prevented me from looking at code made in one instance an bending it to my will in another instance.

Be confident in your own abilities

I just outed myself as sucking at code. Not exactly – I suck at programming pure PHP and combining with jQuery and other extreme uses of CSS that I can try for 5 hours and not get the results an expert can in 20 minutes. Rather than beat myself up for a day (I’ll give it a good college try for 1-3 hours if it’s brand new or I think I should be able to make it work), I hire someone who will do a better, faster job than I can and still work on other stuff at the same time as that’s going on. I turned my 80% wasted work into only 20% wasted and eliminated 80% of my coding anxiety.

My strengths are in being utterly straightforward, no matter the cost to us (you’d be surprised how willing people are to work out a plan when you’re honest as early as possible), being admittedly too quick to respond to e-mails, and striving for complete trust in the process and and in my ability to get the job done, done right, on budget, and on time.

That’s all people want: a good product and good service. Give them anything excellent above that and just good across the board and you’ll have a client for life. More on that later…

What do you struggle with? How can I help you as I’ve been helped by so many to get me to where I am today?

Community contributions

Edward Caissie: I’m in … here’s a link:


  1. Brian Krogsgard says

    Great post, Jesse. The community is definitely strong, and there is certainly a lot going on, work-wise.

    Congratulations on your success! I can’t agree enough how nice it is that there are people we can lean on to help us figure out those things that we’re just not quite “there” on yet. It’s a huge help that people are so helpful. The WordPress community is special that way.

    • says

      Thanks for commenting Brian.

      I read last week that there are 4.9 jobs per programmer/geek type doing what we do. With that kind of market, why not share? In WP, it’s probably more like 49 clients per developer… per year, if not more than that.

  2. realFATmedia says

    Thanks for the link Jesse! The WordPress Community is seriously awesome. I’ve enjoyed using and developing sites on WordPress for quite a while, but I’ve only recently started interacting with the community. I gotta admit, I feel like a complete jackass for staying isolated for so long.

    If anyone out there is the lurking type like I was, STOP! Get involved! Go to a WordCamp or a Meetup group and start connecting with people. Contribute some code, start tweeting, help people in the support forums…there are countless ways to help out. It’s really rewarding and there’s no way in hell you’ll regret it.

    • says

      Bravo – I couldn’t say it better myself. It’s been a real pleasure to get to know you after WordCamp, so now I really wish we’d sat closer together during the advanced track.

  3. says

    This made me laugh: “I’d get another job, try his code, edit it around to suit the client’s wishes, and still hire him to fix my crap.”

    You’re right that it’s no use comparing. For instance, I feel like a blithering idiot asking questions of @realFATmedia or @norcross (and have to go Google their answers…), but after hanging around awhile, I’ve had people come out of the woodwork and start asking ME questions. It’s a great reminder that, regardless of where we are in our skill level, we’re always in a position be a mentor and be mentored.

    • says

      So true, Carrie. One good piece advice my dad gave me around 16 or 18 was: “no matter how much you know about something, someone will always know more than you.” Wozniak may be the only exception to that rule. 😉

  4. says

    Excellent post, Jesse. This has been something that’s been on my mind for a while now. I started doing WordPress sites in 2010. Shortly after I got into WordPress I started using Genesis exclusively. Aside from it simply being an excellent framework, one thing that has truly kept me around is the community. Even more, the diversity of the community. I can talk with devs that are far more advanced than myself, those newer and those on the same level all equally. I learn a ton from the WP and Genesis community. I’d much rather collaborate than compete. Competing is just too much work when I have the chance to just do what I love and make some great friends in the process.

    • says

      So true. It’s been a pleasure Getting to know you more on Twitter and it’s hard to believe it’s been less than a month.

  5. says

    I’m just a newbie to both WP and StudioPress, but I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve learned from hanging out on the boards, or following some of the devs. through Twitter and reading their sites. It’s great that the community gives back like it does!

  6. says

    There needs to be more articles like this and Carrie’s. I fully believe we should be helping each other out, especially those new to WordPress and the community. We were all “new” at one point; and, if no one helped us then where would we be now? Helping others in the community is simply giving back … and paying it forward for the day when you may need help yourself.

    • says

      Let’s all do an article on the topic, update our own to link to everyone else’s and make a big circle of lessons and advantages learned through community. I’m game – write, tell me about it, and I’ll append the post with links to new articles.

  7. says

    This is a great assessment of the WordPress community. I know that I have grown in my understanding from having the experts in the field help me and give me helpful tips.

  8. Jamie Mitchell says

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jesse. Yes it is very hard to be a one man studio and do it all yourself, i always believed that nobody should be a jack-of-all-trades, just do a few things and do them really well.

    For me i guess it is coding i do really well, not full on php, just turning designs into working sites and making the site come to life, adding content, images etc in the right place, and polishing the whole thing off. This seems to work really well for me and i’v done dozens of projects like this.

    My downfall is “designing”, i’m graphically challenged. I’v designed some great sites, but it took me 10 times longer to get to the final design than an “expert” would have. the worst thing is i have great taste and insite into web design, so i found it better to work with other designers, and i seem to bring out the best in them.

    Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts too.

    • says

      Any time! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you and I are very similar in respect to preferences and talents. My most profitable projects are when someone gives me a PSD that was specifically designed around the Genesis elements and I “make it happen.”

      You’ve given me a referral when I’m backed up too far and someone wants to bail – I can send them your way if they already have a design.

  9. hazel05 says

    Hi Jesse! I’m actually thinking the same thing! I both (custom) design and code. Recently, I discovered the Genesis Framework and am now building client sites using it. The clients love it! I have a couple of designers and developers helping me out but most of the time, it’s just me.

    What I love about WordPress is the community — very active, open, and always ready to help. Yesterday, I got an email from a fellow WordPress developer who is marketing his services. I never really thought of him as competition. I visited his site and thought I’d connect.

    We skyped. It turned out that he is a WordPress newbie but a seasoned SEO specialist. Cool, right? We decided to meet up and see how we can both profit from our skills and experience. I hope we can continue this openness and sharing, and establish a strong community of WordPress developers that help one another.

    • says

      Yup, that’s the cool thing about it. It’s hard to see others as competition when there is so much work. As soon as you’re booked solid and paying your bills, there’s more time to expand or improve your skills and contribute to the community.

      I just joined GitHub (actively) last week and plan on helping where I can, but I have a feeling I’ll be mostly learning for at least 6 months.

  10. says

    Hi, i just this post retweeted by Tom McFarlin, and what a coincidence. I was thinking, more or less, the same thing and i juste a small post about it. I love WordPress and i think that most part of WP developers are working in the same direction, but that’s true sometimes things go wrong and it’s our job to fix that.

    • says

      I could be wrong, but I don’t see Joomla, Drupal, or Expression Engine folks being very open with source code on Twitter. On second thought, I only know one EE guy and none of either other platform.

      People who claim to know all of the above on their services page clearly aren’t going to be very good at any one of them, or at least not more than one of them.

  11. Motivated1ru2 says

    Inspirational article and I was able to relate at every level. I am my own harshest critic about my sites but at same time I got 5 live my first year learning, 3 of those paid by clients other two are portfolio sites for my industries… Oh, and I work full-time :)

    However, had I joined the Genesis community and not skimped on my hosting my first 9 months I would be a lot further.

    Thank you to all in the Genesis community, I learn something new or get inspired from you every day. You guys rock!

    • says

      Glad to have you. I’ve considered how much money I could be pulling in if I had my old job with my $120/mo health insurance and did this at night… then I remember how tired I used to be after work. 😉

  12. says

    it actually wasn’t until i started working with genesis that i found all of you guys. it’s amazing how much people are willing to help and i’m amazed everyday!

    • says

      I’m glad you did find us, because you’re pretty cool to get to know. It’s hard to remember already that it has only been a few weeks since we “met” on Twitter.

  13. Bruce Munson says

    As I read this article, I found myself saying over and over “that’s me!”. I read the section about confidence in your abilities twice, because I’m there…

    I develop with Genesis, and love it. I love the community, but up until now have reached out nearly as much as I should.

    Great post and you have significant talent as a writer!

    • says

      Thanks for commenting, Bruce. I’m so glad it resonated with you and that you’ve found community amongst us Genesis geeks.

  14. says

    Thanks for writing this–I think this is something a lot of people need to read, myself included. I actually have a similar process in learning (background in design more than dev): hire someone to help me with bits and pieces, study his work, attempt it myself next time, hire him to fix my work, on repeat. I’m glad I work in a community where that’s an option, because I think it’s such an honest, authentic way to truly master a craft. I have a ways to go, always will!, and your path is a true inspiration, so thanks for taking the time to contribute this article!