How to make WordPress bulletproof for clients

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This is my talk at WordCon / WordCamp Asia 2011. Here are the notes from my presentation – for my reference and yours. If you enjoyed my ideas here, please Like or tweet this post. Thanks!

I’ve had the privilege of working on many WordPress projects big and small throughout my career. However in many situations I’ve realized that creating a great design and then turning it into a high-quality WordPress theme is not enough to make the project a success. WordPress developers can find themselves in this situation when

  • the client has different expectations – the developer delivers a theme, but the client is left scratching their heads wondering, “How does this WordPress thing and a zip file going to become my website?”
  • there is little or no documentation – the developer assumes that the client can just figure it out because hey, WordPress is a piece of cake!
  • there is little or no support – what happens when the client needs help? Most freelance developers do not specify a support process for clients, which leads to frustrations on both ends.

I have identified 4 approaches for developers to prevent unnecessary stress between the client and developer:

  1. Don’t use WordPress, just because you’re familiar with it and especially if the client doesn’t need a CMS.
  2. Provide website updates and support as monthly subscription
  3. Simplify WordPress by removing menus and unnecessary features. I’m against this because it makes WordPress into something it’s not.
  4. Bulletproof WordPress (and the client-developer relationship) by implementing the strategies below.

Educate clients about WordPress and set expectations. Make it clear to the client that running a website is like driving a car so that they are prepared for the commitment in owning one. If they aren’t prepared, you the developer are available to provide assistance. Just like how they might send their car for a professional wash and wax, your professional help costs money too.

Pre-empt potential problems. Anticipate stumbling blocks and nip them in the bud, e.g. feature overwhelm and auto-updates not working. Take the extra time to do these before handing over the site and developers will save time in providing support.

Proper documentation. Again, taking the time to create the documentation for the site will save time later. Instructions hurriedly sent over via email does not constitute proper documentation. There are lots of options to create manuals, user guides and tutorials for the client. My favorite technique is to record a screencast for the client.

Provide inline / contextual hints. Similar to the above, this strategy advocates creating documentation for the client but breaking it up  smaller pieces and displaying them only where necessary.

Provide shortcuts for more complex functions. Finally, shortcuts are stuff that makes it easier for the client to perform a particular task, e.g. formatting text and adding images into the sidebar – difficult with the text widget, easy with the Rich Text Widget. I also like to make use of custom shortcodes in my themes.

In conclusion, some clients really are idiots but most aren’t but will still need hand-holding, support and education. Despite needing extra time and effort to bulletproof your work, it’s worth it because happier clients will lead to more business for you

P.S. Dear clients who are reading this post, ‘idiot’ is just a moniker. I don’t mean you. Really

If you enjoyed my presentation, please support me by purchasing the following products with my affiliate links:

  1. Headway WordPress Theme Framework
  2. WooThemes Premium WordPress Themes
  3. Bluehost web hosting
  4. Site5 web hosting

4 Comments on "How to make WordPress bulletproof for clients"

  • Michael says

    Great presentation! Look forward to hear from you #wcasia

  • Troy Dean says

    Hi David,

    Great presentation. I learnt a lot from this. I’m curious as to the feedback you’ve had about our Video User Manuals plugin and particularly the pricing.

    Given that all the content is accessible from the dashboard and for US$24 per month, developers can install it on all their client sites (that’s NOT US$24 per client, by the way), I’m always interested to hear the argument as to why that is expensive. None of out paying customers think it’s expensive in fact they often tell us how much time it saves them and how great value it is for the low price.

    Keep up the great work.

    • blogjunkie says

      Hey Troy, thanks for stopping by! Yes I’m aware that your pricing is $24/month for unlimited sites

      I also agree it’s not expensive for developers who have 30+ clients, but for someone like me who has <10 clients it becomes a different story. I think you've got a great product but personally I think I would need to produce my own screencasts that highlight my specific customizations for each client. For other freelancers though, perhaps you could introduce a freelancer plan that costs 1/3 the price and limits it to 10 sites?

      Finally, I really appreciate you engaging in conversation with the community about your product. Keep up the great work

  • Hi David,

    Yes you are right about having to produce your own videos for specific features. We took that feedback on board early on and allowed developers to add their own videos to our plugin for that reason.

    I’m still unconvinced that our product is expensive though, even for small freelancers. We have over 30 videos in our plugin that show clients how to use every button on the toolbar, upload and edit images, format text, how to paste content in from Word so that it formats correctly, use the featured image section, moderate comments, assign a post to a category and so on. Everything an “Editor” role can do in a standard install of WordPress. If you have to explain all of this to a client it will take you at least 2 hours. If you don’t explain it all, they will eventually ring you and interrupt you from your next project to ask you the questions. So at $24 per month for unlimited clients, unless you charge less than $12 an hour and build less than one new site a month, you’re in front.

    I agree, if you’re not building at least one new site a month then our product is probably not right.

    I’d also be interested to hear from other freelancers. Perhaps we should run a poll. If our product was $8 per month and limited to 10 domains, who would sign up?

    Appreciate the open forum to have healthy debate too. It’s what helps us all contribute to the community and make more useful products.

    Keep up the great work yourself.

    Cheers,
    Troy.