Self-employed people are a resourceful lot. Often, they don’t have big budgets so they’re tasked with making things work with what they have on hand.
When it comes to building a website or managing an online presence, self-employed folks don’t have the cash to spend on a big time developer. Often, they turn to friends and small biz acquaintances to get the job done. And if that fails, they open a few browser tabs with design tutorials in them and get to work.
Even if you can afford to hire help, you’re probably going to want to update your site yourself at least on occasion. WordPress is something that affords you that convenience. And that gets to the heart of the point I’m trying to make here: WordPress is a “for the people, by the people” platform and is perfect for the self-employed.
Don’t believe me? Check this out.
“Technology is best when it brings people together.” — WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg
A Man With an Open-Source Dream
So says the founder of Automattic, the company behind WordPress. But those are more than just words to Matt Mullenweg. It’s a philosophy reflected directly in how he does business and how he manages his company. WordPress is an open-source project, meaning anyone from anywhere can contribute to the WordPress core. And that isn’t just an interesting factoid from a company’s beginnings or something, much like the “I started my business in my garage,” stories so prevalent in the tech startup world.
No, in the case of WordPress, open-source is a way of life and continues to be so. And it’s a community-driven project that has worked in a big way. As of 2014, 22% of all websites are run on WordPress. And, according to a report completed by a web hosting company in the same year, over half of all small businesses in the UK are currently using WordPress as their content management system of choice.
Think about that. Even with all of its flaws, especially with regard to plugin-induced security holes, it’s still racking up new users every day. Not just everyday users, mind you, businesses who stand to lose a lot should the system fail in some way. Still, people flock to WordPress. And it sort of made me wonder why?
After some pondering I’ve found that WordPress is intrinsically beneficial to self-employed and small businesspeople because its creation was born in a from-the-ground-up, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps fashion.
“My management strategy is to find extremely self-motivated and talented people and then let them go,” Mullenweg famously said. See what I mean? Those behind WordPress work for themselves, are sole-proprietors, and all-around independent people. They are the self-employed. Who better to build a CMS that’s inherently useful to self-employed people than…get it now?
As I already mentioned, I did some pondering about what makes WordPress so useful for self-employed people. Origins and development team aside, it has several key characteristics that make it a valuable thing to have in your web development toolbox, of course, but also in your general “this is how I run my business” toolkit.
Setup is Easy
Sure, if you want a full custom installation, setting up WordPress can be a little bit more complicated.
But if you’re just looking for a simple site that does the job of promoting your business then yes, WordPress is super easy. In fact, many web hosts offer a one-click service that gets a WordPress installation on your site in five minutes or less. Services like GoDaddy and Page.ly give you the opportunity to buy hosting, install WordPress, and get your site live very quickly.
Now, this isn’t the solution for everyone. Some sole proprietors and other self-employed people might want to take a more hands-on approach and install WordPress manually. Even that is pretty darned easy. Sure, there’s some FTP and database stuff involved but it’s straightforward, and if you follow the directions right on the official WordPress site, you can’t mess it up.
Beyond the initial installation and registration process, the actual act of building a website is pretty easy, too. The selection of themes to choose from grows every day, both free and premium.
And they range in complexity. Some only require that you add your own text and pictures before publishing your new site, while others require a bit more from you by way of settings selections and even custom CSS.
The good thing here is you can get a website up in a hurry if you need to and take more time on it later if you want. It’s like using one of those quick pagebuilder services—think Wix or Squarespace—and like hiring a web developer all at once. WordPress offers the best of both worlds.
Create Any Site You Want
I know you’ve heard this before. Just about every site builder, CMS, or web design platform out there promises you can make any kind of site with its help. But with WordPress, I can make such a claim and actually mean it.
If you don’t believe me, all you need to do is go to the WordPress.org themes directory or a premium marketplace like ThemeForest to see what I mean. Search for any industry and nine times out of ten you’ll find a theme to match it. From real estate to photography, there’s a theme available already.
And that’s a really good thing, especially when you consider the barrier to entry on other platforms.
If you weren’t able to find a theme for your type of business or site right off the bat, it could pose a problem for getting your site launched in a timely fashion. After all, you’d essentially be starting from scratch design-wise, and that’s a daunting prospect, especially if you know squat about design.
So with WordPress, you can build a site quickly with a theme that’s already been made that’s catered directly toward your industry, often with features that can serve your clients or customers specifically. Which actually leads me to my next point…
Include Custom Features
WordPress affords you the opportunity to include custom features that suit your industry and provide the tools your audience needs. How does it accomplish this? Why through plugins, of course.
We talk about plugins quite often around here, and while loading up your site with too many can cause issues—security holes, site speed slowdowns, etc—they do serve a vital purpose when used with care and moderation: to add features to your site that give your visitors something they need.
Really, when used correctly, plugins are all about making a better website. WordPress comes with a great amount of features already in Core, but if you need to offer something specific or want to make your site more custom, plugins are the way to go. Basically, WordPress + a great theme + plugins = a site that might as well have been custom designed for you, at nowhere near the expense and with nowhere near the hassle.
Note: I’m not intending to discount the hard work of WordPress developers, especially those who make sites from scratch for clients on the daily. But for one-man show businesses with limited budgets, you have to admit WordPress offers a DIY approach without the ramshackle look.
WordPress and its plugins offer a few distinct benefits I need to mention:
Add features without code: You (typically) don’t have to touch the PHP files in your WordPress installation to use a plugin. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, you just install it, activate it, and manage your settings through WordPress admin, no coding required.
Swap out features on the fly: You don’t have to commit to anything with WordPress, be it the theme design or the features you offer. If a particular newsletter signup form isn’t working for you, replace it or remove it altogether. If the standard gallery is too ho-hum, replace it with a lightbox solution.
Updates are often included: If the plugin is free, it definitely includes free updates but many premium plugins offer them as well. And you can opt to have your plugins update automatically if you’d like. The whole thing can be pretty hands-off, which is extremely helpful for self-employed people with limited time and resources.
Now, you might be curious as to the kinds of features plugins can bring to your site. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the most popular plugin categories people use to make their websites more awesome.
Plugins that add security features to your site protect you and your site visitors. Security is vital when running a business. Your customers need to feel like they can trust you before they give you their personal information.
And you can’t afford to have any of your personal data lost or stolen, as that could be your livelihood on the line. Popular security plugin choices include Wordfence, Bulletproof Security, iThemes, and Sucuri.
It’s rare that a self-employed person can afford to hire a full-fledged SEO firm to work on their site (at least not right away). That’s why SEO plugins are so invaluable. They help to automatically structure your content in such a way that is inherently viewable to search engines. And whatever they can’t do automatically, they walk you through in terms of on-page optimization. The two most popular choices are WordPress SEO by Yoast and All-In-One SEO Pack.
Though WordPress comes with a built-in commenting system, it’s a good idea to look into other options that expand on this core system or offer an alternative approach.
You need to have control over your site’s comments if you want to fully engage your visitors. These means having a way to manage on-going discussions and knocking down spam. A few plugins worthy of a mention here include Disqus, WordPress Comments Evolved, CommentLuv, and Akismet.
If you’re not making it easy for people to share your content on social media, you’re doing your small business a real disservice. You need to give people the ability to share your content with their followers, to like your content, and to follow your social accounts. You can even incentivize social sharing with discounts and other rewards. Again, you have a lot of options here but Social Media Feather, Share This, Tweetable Shortcode, and our own Social Marketing are personal favorites.
It’s not enough to upload images and insert them into your blog posts. They need to have some style. That’s why media plugins are so popular. They give you the opportunity to build an aesthetically pleasing presentation for your pictures and videos and offer a way to keep your media better organized on the backend. Plugins worth a mention here include Photo Gallery, NextGEN Gallery, JW Player, and HTML5 Video Player.
The ability to add a store to your website is often an essential part of web development for self-employed people. Running your own store allows for the ultimate in self-sufficiency. Numerous options exist for this as well but MarketPress is, of course, our favorite.
Incorporating RSS feeds into your site makes for a convenient way to add new content quickly. You can also offer your site’s RSS feed to your visitors so they can follow it in their feed readers of choice and you can modify how your posts appear within the RSS feed.
Many plugins can add shortcodes to your site to allow for easier insertion of specific features. Often, shortcodes are just a nice tacked on feature. However, there are a few plugins that revolve around optimization through shortcodes. These include Shortcodes Ultimate, Custom Content Shortcode, and WP Shortcode.
A great way to add complementary content to your site—that is, content that lies outside of your pages and posts—is with widgets. Widgets offer specific features or information, without distracting from your main content.
Having a fast site can make or break you, especially as a small business. Sites that take longer than X seconds to load have an X drop in conversion rate. It would behoove you then to prioritize site speed.
To get your site running faster, you can use plugins that optimize your images, minify your code, and eliminate redundancies overall. A few examples include our WP Smush Pro, W3 Total Cache, and Revision Control.
One thing you might want to do on your site is white label it. That is, add custom touches through the admin side of things. This can create a more professional appearance, especially should you decide to hire employees, work with contractors, or provide clients with backend access to your site.
With these plugins, you can add your company’s logo, change what appears in the dashboard, and even offer instructions for users about how to post. A few plugins to check out include our Ultimate Branding and White Label CMS.
I realize that’s not very specific but there are way too many types of plugins to name here, especially when you consider those that target specific niche industries and their needs.
Beyond that even, there are plugins that simply add character to your site—like a plugin that swaps out your theme automatically on major holidays for a bit of festive fun (WP Scheduled Themes) and a plugin that creates a custom 404 page (Custom 404 Error Page).
These broad categories serve to act as multiple examples of how WordPress can directly effect the professional lives of the self-employed for the better. But what about when the demands of your clients, customers, or target audience get more specific. Can WordPress live up to the challenge?
Serve Your Audience Directly
To answer the above question, yes. WordPress can absolutely live up to the challenge of meeting your client’s, customer’s, or audience’s demands. This is largely due to the platform’s flexibility once again. You can make it do whatever you want it to do thanks to plugins, themes, and general coding know-how. But instead of talking in the abstract, let’s look at a real-life example.
Ginger Gillenwater is a professional developer with CAM Interactive, who uses WordPress to build websites for her clients. “The plugins give me everything I need,” she says.
With plugins, she’s been able to serve the needs of her audience and clients without any outside help. “I have integrated a real-time chat box into my site so I can answer customer questions right then and there,” she says, adding that such a tool allows her to appeal to her clients’ “need for instant information.”
Plugins have also allowed her to “fine tune” her SEO efforts, allowing her to do keyword research, a major time saver.
It also provides her a major way to appeal to her audience directly by means of anticipating what they will search for using a search engine. “The right keywords help pull in the right audience,” she adds.
And since her target demo is other businesses, she has to make sure the designs she creates are, “professional, fast loading, and easy-to-navigate,” she says. “WordPress does all of that for me.”
It’s all about providing the features your target audience needs the most. So a real estate site might need an embedded widget that allows people to search MLS listings. A travel site would need reviews of hotels and restaurants. A content marketing firm might need featured testimonials from previous clients. And a spa and salon might need a calendar tool that allows customers to book a session right on the site.
There’s No Middle Man
Any way to reduce costs without sacrificing quality is something any self-employed person is going to want to know about. Using WordPress offers a massive price reduction on web development in several ways:
1. Eliminates the need for an initial site developer.
“Being a front end designer has proved to be challenging, but with WordPress and the various plugins and themes that can be used, I’ve been able to build websites without needing the constant help of a developer,” says Krystal Meñez, owner of freshnsteezy. And without a middle man blocking the gateway to publishing a site, expenditures go down.
“[WordPress has] saved [me] a drastic amount of money from having to hire an outside developer…It’s also saved me a ton of time on design with all the themes,” Meñez adds.
2. Eliminates the need for help with updates.
It used to be that you’d need to consult with a web developer every time you wanted to add a new page to your site. But with a CMS, you can easily add new pages and posts on your own, without any assistance. The DIY attitude extends beyond just simple blogging, however.
With WordPress, you can install system updates, plugin and theme updates, and add whole new sections to your site on your own, without any help from anyone else. Necessity often rules that to be self-employed is to be self-sufficient. And this platform lets you trek out on your own without complication.
3. Allows for flexibility in redesign
Since you’re not shelling out a ton of cash on an initial site design—at most you’ll buy a premium theme for under $100—you have more wiggle room in terms of changing things up. So if you wake up one day and aren’t digging how your site looks, no problem. Just find a new theme that works with your subject matter and feature requirements and you’re good to go.
4. Your site is your own
Ultimately, one of the best parts of not having to deal with an outside developer is that your site is 100% your own to change, modify, and tweak as you see fit. And really, as a business owner, isn’t that your prerogative?
Expansion is Simple
Not to mention, quick. We’ve already talked about how easy it is to add new features to WordPress via plugins. But it also affords you the opportunity to expand your business. “The vast number of plugins allows me to build sites that meet client requirements, which increases customer satisfaction and it is that satisfaction that drives my business,” says Gillenwater.
Meeting client requirements is just part of the picture, however. “The streamlined design process allows me to create more sites in less time, increasing my revenues,” she says. Though she admits there is a learning curve on the backend for new users, everything about WordPress is straightforward. “…Even keeping sites updated is much easier than on any other platform I’ve used,” she says.
With all of this in mind, you can feasibly create new websites for different aspects of your business, update your current sites, add new features, change the design, and even create websites for a living with WordPress. And the process will be faster, cheaper, and less time-intensive than some of the other options out there.
“Automattic’s mission has always been very aligned with WordPress itself, which is to democratize publishing.” — Matt Mullenweg
Tons of Resources to Tap Into
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of using WordPress when you’re self-employed is that you don’t have to look far to find other people just like you using it and thriving. Or struggling. Or asking questions. My point is, odds are good someone out there has encountered a similar problem as you and has received help with it on a public forum somewhere. When it comes to WordPress, Google is your friend.
Beyond just Googling for answers to your development problems, however, you can also make use of the dedicated WordPress resources out there that are often created and managed by people just like you. Here are a few of my favorite go-to sites when I run into an issue or just want to see what other developers are up to:
You can’t get much better support than what’s available from the horse’s mouth, right? The official WordPress support forums are always bustling and busy with discussion from people troubleshooting their own sites, testing out plugins, developing themes, and everything in between.
Another official source that offers a one-stop shop of everything you need to know to get a WordPress site up and running plus how to navigate some of the more fiddly bits regarding code and customization.
These resources offer a collection of all the best WordPress-related news and articles sent directly to your inbox, making it easy to keep abreast of the latest developments and the best new tutorials and advice without having to manually hunt it all down.
The WordPress category is updated every couple of days and offers insightful, informative posts that either provide valuable how-to information or commentary on the latest news regarding the CMS. You can always count on something useful here.
Tom’s blog is from the developer’s perspective but it’s still valuable to WordPress newbies. If you’re itching to jump right into building your site and taking control of its development, his blog might be worth checking out. Recent posts have covered topics like product diversity and Postmatic.
The WordPress section at Smashing Magazine offers a slightly more in-depth look at the CMS than some of the other resources listed here. It’s catered to an intermediate audience, which means it might not be something you’ll need to check out right away but once your site is up and running and you’re comfortable with WordPress basics, you might want to take a look at it.
Bob is a dedicated WordPress teacher and it shows in the informative and easy-to-follow tutorials he often posts on his blog. He also teaches workshops and online courses, so checking out what he has to say can be a quick (and free) way to improve your skills.
Okay, this one is totally obligatory but how can I not include it? Our blog is a killer resource with new tutorials, walk-throughs, reviews, and opinion pieces, daily. It’s a site you should have bookmarked if you’re serious about building a WordPress site. End of story.
What you might notice is that many of the people managing these resources are self-employed themselves. Yes, their businesses are centered around WordPress, but it serves as an excellent example of how WordPress can be used to support any business, in any field.
When you’re self-employed, you have make every effort to get the word out about your business. This, along with actually running your business is a time-consuming effort. It would make sense then to try to save as much time (and money) as possible, at least on the web development front, by using a platform that caters to your needs. I believe WordPress is that platform. And hopefully after reading this article, you think so, too.
Are you self-employed? Use WordPress? What about it has made your life easier? Did I miss a major point here? I’d love to hear about it and your overall experiences in the comments below.