6 Tips to Successfully Scale Up as a WordPress Developer
There comes a point in the life of every new enterprise where one burning question occupies 90% of the owner’s time: how do I scale up my business?
This usually arises at the stage where you’ve got short-term survival for your business locked in, but are increasingly overwhelmed. It’s at this point you look to scaling your output while lessening the load on yourself and your team.
In this article we’ll look at a series of simple steps to take your WordPress-based development firm to the next level and navigate what can be a tricky – and often treacherous – transitional phase.
We’ll begin with what you need to do to prepare and then get into the nitty-gritty of the change itself. Let’s kick things off with a quick look at the tell-tale signs of when it’s time to up your game.
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Scale Up?
If you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ll be instinctively aware of when it’s time to scale up. However, those new to the game can easily be over-whelmed at this critical juncture and remain stuck where they are for far too long.
Be on the lookout for these three early-warning signals:
- You’re overworked in terms of time: Early-stage businesses naturally make extra demands on your time but there are limits. If you find yourself still struggling past the twelve month mark, it’s time to consider scaling up.
- You’re overworked in terms of roles: It’s all hands to the pumps at the outset but, as your company grows, you will need to break your business into meaningful areas of responsibility and assign roles. If you are struggling to do this, it’s a sign you need to grow.
- You’re turning down business: A combination of the first two items means that when new opportunities show up you find yourself unable to take advantage of them.
Scaling up your team is not without attendant risks. Manage the transition poorly and you risk increasing your outgoings by a significant amount without generating sufficient extra revenue to make the transition stick – a recipe for potential disaster.
With that in mind, the first three of our six points will be about preparing yourself for bringing extra people or resources on.
1. Get Your House in Order
Before starting to scale, you need to get your existing house in order. Fail to do this and you will merely be multiplying problems rather than scaling solutions.
Bite the bullet and get the following items squared away as quickly as possible:
- Review existing clients: You’re about to try and take on a significant amount of new work. Now is a wonderful time to go through your existing client base with a clinical eye to identify any problematic clients who might be candidates for the chop.
- Systematize and document your day-to-day admin: Basic office organization often goes out of the window when you’re in the throes of startup mode, but sooner or later that bill becomes due. Get your core systems organized and documented to clear the decks for what’s to come.
- Email management: If you’re a small WordPress dev shop, there’s an excellent chance that most of your daily workflow is running through individual email accounts. We’ll look at better ways of handling project communication in a second but start by getting your own inbox under control.
2. Nail Down Your Project Workflow
The purpose of scaling is to be able to handle more WordPress projects and make more money.
If you don’t have a defined way of structuring projects and organizing your WordPress workflow to begin with, you will be reinventing the wheel on every new job and waste an enormous amount of time inefficiently on-boarding new hires.
Get the following items under control before scaling up:
- Project communication: Email is not the way to manage projects. Pick a project management tool that suits your team’s workflow and enforce its use.
- Project templates: These can be as simple or as complicated as you like but you need some sort of project template to begin with, that you can iteratively improve over time. This should include defined phases, procedures and responsibilities.
- Version control and issue tracking: Any type of WordPress work involving more than one person is going to benefit from having version control and issue tracking in place. Stop cowboy coding and make sure that you’re using both of these.
- Standardized development/hosting environments and workflows: Documentation and checklists for all aspects of the installation, maintenance and use of your local and remote environments should be a given. Fail to do this and you will spend a terrifying proportion of your working week starting from scratch each time and inviting operator error.
3. Systematize Your Marketing
Our final preparatory point relates to efficiently acquiring customers – after all they are the reason you are hiring extra resources.
You need some level of marketing systematization in place to reliably generate prospects or this will inevitably chew up huge amounts of both you and your team’s time in terms of pitching and outreach.
Make sure you have at least the following in place:
- A defined sales funnel: It’s astonishing how any companies gloss over this. Without a sales funnel you have no real way of effectively measuring your marketing efforts. At least get the basics in place.
- A content creation strategy: Having a scalable content creation strategy in place is the best way to generate a reliable stream of prospects for your WordPress dev business over the long term. Start planning it as soon as possible.
4. Scale up by Outsourcing
With your various ducks in a row it is time to scale up in earnest by actually bringing new people on board.
The sensible way to do this is via outsourcing or sub-contracting. This frees you from obligations of being a full-time employer that you may not yet be in a position to fulfill.
What Should You Be Outsourcing?
Start with non-core elements of your business. As a WordPress developer, this means everything you’re currently doing that does not involve WordPress. Accountancy, bookkeeping and general admin are all excellent places to start. Something as simple as hiring a VA could be the first step that enables you to scale up to the next level.
As you identify targets for outsourcing, be sure to check whether a task could simply be automated rather than outsourced. A small amount of extra effort upfront here could pay dividends in terms of time and money down the line.
The next step is looking at lower value WordPress-related tasks that are easily defined and whose reassignment would enable you to take on more projects. Any discrete workflow stages that can be checklisted and handed off to someone else is a candidate, and your earlier work in this regard in step two should be of enormous help here.
Be careful as you make your selections not to outsource elements that constitute your core value proposition. You are looking to farm out the busywork and stay in charge of overall delivery.
How Do You Hire Quality Freelancers?
As with any type of hiring, there will always be an element of risk when taking on an outsourcer or contractor, but this can be substantially mitigated by paying attention to the following basic items:
- Portfolio: This is absolutely non-negotiable. The prospective hire needs a provable track-record of providing exactly what you’re looking for to a series of verifiable commercial clients. You want to see live examples of completed work along with, ideally, testimonials or reviews. They should also be able to convincingly walk you through work on previous projects and explain their approach.
- Communication style: People’s behavior tends to revert to a mean over time. If initial communication on any aspect of the project feels off, things are unlikely to improve in the future. Trust your gut on this one.
- Test projects: If at all possible, get the potential hire to complete a relevant micro-project before making any longer term arrangements. It will surface potential red flags quickly and efficiently.
- Contracts: When you reach the time to hire, you want a clearly written contract of some sort in place that outlines both parties’ obligations and covers worst-case scenarios such as non-delivery.
Where Can You Find Quality Freelancers?
The good news is that it’s never been easier to find high-quality contractors at reasonable rates – particularly for WordPress work. Here’s where to focus your efforts:
- Networking/referrals: A classic for a reason – nothing beats word of mouth and your own business network for identifying reliable people who can hit the ground running.
- Upwork: Outsourcing giants Elance and oDesk have recently combined forces and rebranded as Upwork and WordPress is one of the biggest categories on the platform. Quality will naturally vary but if you are prepared to pay reasonable rates you will find quality.
- WordPress specific sources: There’s been a recent rise in the number of dedicated WordPress job resources such as WP Hired, Envato Studio and WPMU DEV Jobs, all of which are worth exploring.
5. Build an Empire with Strategic Partnerships
Once you’ve started to scale by selectively outsourcing, the next logical step is to begin looking at the area of strategic partnerships or joint ventures. This may sound the stuff of science fiction when you’re starting off but it’s an option available to every size of business.
Analyze the nature of your WordPress business and start thinking about what types of products or services could be complementary to your core offering.
If you’re a small dev shop producing brochure sites for example, it might make sense to partner up with a local SEO or marketing agency to offer package solutions to your clients. Or it might be in your mutual interests to join forces with a local design firm.
If you’re a theme developer, it might make sense to canvas larger digital agencies and see if they have any interest in licensing specific versions of your themes for high-value clients.
The list of opportunities available in this sphere depends only on your creativity and resourcefulness. Get that thinking cap on!
6. Constantly Consider Alternative Revenue Streams
As you scale up, you’ll naturally be presented with an entirely new set of revenue possibilities at every level of your growth. Keep your eyes peeled along the way for additional income streams that could scale your WordPress dev business in entirely new directions.
This could be a question of moving up the value chain from offering one-off solutions to branching out into consulting for example.
Or you might want to look at scaling out your efforts by pursuing the productized services model we’ve previously discussed on the site.
The opportunities will come, it’s just a question of being prepared to act on them.
The truth is that you will constantly be called upon to scale up your operations over the lifetime of your business.
Just like that first sale though, the first leap is the hardest. Get the process right early in the game and you will have a repeatable framework that can be scaled to match your future success.
Here’s a quick recap of the steps involved:
- Get your house in order.
- Nail down your project workflow.
- Systematize your marketing.
- Scale up by outsourcing.
- Build an empire with strategic partnerships.
- Constantly consider alternative revenue streams.
We’re curious to hear what scaling challenges you’ve faced in your own WordPress dev business and how you managed to rise to the occasion in order to resolve them. Get in touch in the comments below and share your story!Liked the article? You should follow me on Twitter