How to do SMALL WordPress projects profitably.

DATE: July 1 2016

Read time: 10 minutes



At WordCamp Europe 2016 in Vienna, the annual WordPress conference, I had the privilege to speak on one of the three stages. The subject of my talk was: “How to do SMALL WordPress projects profitably.” Here is the video and the the transcript of this talk. I believe it can be very helpful for WordPress freelancers and small agencies. 


Let me start with a story…


Please PLEASE hire a professional designer

Chris & Robert

Just two months ago, a friend asked me and my business partner Robert if he could come over to our office and discuss some ideas he had about switching from being an employee to being a self-employed freelance consultant. 


His name is Norbert. And he’s a really smart guy. He has been improving and tweaking production processes for big companies and factories. And though it was a well-paying job, he felt he could do better being self-employed. So others could hire him. 


Like I said. Smart guy :-)


So he came over and we talked for a few hours about his plans. He was very well prepared. He even created a logo and a mockup of a website in PowerPoint. And at the end of the day, the main takeaway tip we had for him was: 


“Please PLEASE hire a professional designer to create a logo, a business identity and a website for you.”

We even introduced him to another friend of ours who is a freelance designer.


So Norbert took our advice and got in touch with Bjorn – a brilliant freelance designer that does everything from Business Identity design to photography and web design. Of course, he uses WordPress. 


Now imagine for a moment being in Norbert’s shoes. He has a wife and 2 children. 2 cars and a mortgage and NOW he decides to give up his secure job and step into the unknown as a freelance consultant. Not knowing if and when he will be hired and start making money. 


AND now he is asked to take 2500 euro’s from his life savings – his security buffer – to invest in a logo, letterhead, business cards and a website. 


Can you imagine how that conversation went with his wife?


Anyway, Bjorn split the budget into 1500 for the logo, letterhead, and business card stuff. Including the printing costs by the way. And 1000 for the website. 


And that brings us nicely to the topic of my post: 


How can Bjorn do this small WordPress project for Norbert for 1000 euro and STILL make a PROFIT?!?


Well, I could talk all day about how you CAN do small WordPress projects profitably, but let me give you a few quick pointers and then I’ll be out of your way. 

The biggest problem ALL freelancers have regardless of their occupation: What happens before and after they do their thing.


Having a pipeline of new projects lined up to start working on and after the job is done, getting the money, doing the invoicing, taxes and accounting. 


Well, this could be a talk all on its own, but let me give you this piece of advice: HIRE someone who is good at accounting and have him or her do ALL of that stuff for you. It’ll probably take that person 1 or 2 hours a week tops but it will take you at least double AND it will take you out of your flow. 


And if you are just starting out, you could offer a satisfaction guarantee. Don’t be afraid to offer this. It will reduce the risk on the customer side and it will increase trust. And when a customer is not satisfied, you can then still decide to abandon the project and take your losses or make an attempt to make the customer happy. 


Be clear about the process


Be very clear to your prospects and explain on your own website exactly the way you work. Explain that there needs to be a certain way to do this project together. Manage the customers expectations. Position yourself as the expert. The project lead. 


Build in 1 or 2 review rounds where the customer can tell you what changes must be made. Then have the customer confirm that if you make these changes the customer will be satisfied. If you communicate this clearly up front, you avoid endless rounds of feedback and changes. 


Be clear on your pricing

You can make 3 offers, 3 packages the customer can choose from. With three different price points. Like does the customer write the copy for the site or do you introduce a copywriter you work with? Does the customer provide images or do you use stockphotos? Do you send over a photographer you work closely with?


Be extremely clear on what is included in your packages and what extra work will cost. 


Maybe you could have 3 different hourly rates: 
One for regular work that you can schedule in at your own discretion
One for drop-everything-and-do-this-now-this-is-an-emergency work
And you could offer a pre-paid block of 10 hours at a discount


Embrace the 80-20 rule


You know: get 80% of the result in 20% of the time?


I know, this is probably the hardest to do if you are a creative person. But you need to understand that when you might consider a mediocre design is still amazing in the eyes of your customer! Remember: you are the expert in the eyes of the amateur, your customer. 


Many designers fall into the trap to not be satisfied and wanting to keep making it juuuuuust a little better. That’s a sure way to spend way too many hours on a project. Focus on the end goal and be realistic about what end result can be expected for this budget. 


Embrace the  80-20 rule


Find tools that allow you to work FAST


One major problem is that the customer has seen some website that may have cost 10-15.000 euro and wants you to build a similar site for only 1.000 euros. For you to pull that off, you need to find themes and plugins that allow you to create a beautiful website fast. 


Save time on the setup


Without taking a cookie cutter approach, you need to find a base set of tools that you need that you can install with only a few clicks. If you want to do small WordPress projects, you need to look at it as an assembly line or as a process that you repeat over and over again, but every time with a unique outcome. But none the less the process is the same and can be optimized. 


Save time during the delivery of the site


When you hand over the site to the customer, you not only hand over the end result, you also hand over the tools you have created the site with. WordPress, the admin area, the theme, and the plugins. 
A lot of time can go into explaining the WP-admin area and the plugins. So look for tools that your customer will understand. And make a non-admin user account for your customer that limits what your customer can do in the admin. It also limits the things the customer can break. 


Upsell a maintenance plan

Sell either a prepaid pack of 10 hours at a discount that the customer can use to let you do extra work on the site. Offer 3 different maintenance plans at three price levels. For instance 


29,- a month for backups and updates. 
49,- a month for backups, updates and being available for questions and 
89,- per month for backups, updates and on average 1-hour work on the site. 


Offer all 3 at a monthly plan and all three at a discount when paid in advance for 1 year. 


This gives you more continuity in your cash flow, allows you to plan maintenance for multiple customers more efficiently and it allows you to maintain the relationship with the customer over a longer period of time which allows you to upsell even more services. Be them your own or the services of other freelancers you work with where you can take a cut. 


Let me wrap this up with a few closing remarks.


SwiftySite helps you with a lot of the stuff we talked about in this post.

SwiftySite is a free plugin, available in the repository, that can help you, as a freelance WordPress designer or developer, to create beautiful and unique websites for your clients fast, easy and profitably


Setup is fast. 

Designing and filling a site is fast and easy. 

And handing over the site to the customer is fast, because you can completely hide the WP admin for the client. 


You can read all about SwiftySite here  :-)


Oh! One more thing!


Wanna see how the 1000 euro website that Bjorn created for Norbert using SwiftySite turned out? Check this out:


July 1, 2016
Chris Vermeulen
General, Small WP Projects, Stories, WordPress, Freelance, Talks, WCEU, WordCamp

SwiftySite Product Launch: Bridging the gap between the WordPress professional and the end-user.


May 27, 2016

Read time: 3 minutes





About a year ago, my heart did a little joy-dance :-)


Matt Mullenweg, the founding father of WordPress, was on stage at WordCamp Europe in Sevilla – Spain. He did a Q&A with the audience and towards the end, he said something that almost made me cry.


But in a good way.




Here’s what he said:


We have to show empathy to the user and try to bridge the gap between where we are and where they are.

“We have to show empathy to the user and try to bridge the gap between where we are and where they are. And that’s where the next 24% of our growth will come from.”


He was of course talking to a room filled with about a thousand WordPress professionals. And all of them intuitively understood what he meant by “the gap”.


The huge disconnect between the world of the WordPress developer or designer on the one hand. And their customers, the end-users, on the other. Plus the even bigger gap between the skill sets of both.


And therein lies a problem.


Because when WordPress pros deliver a website, they also hand over the same tools the site is built with. And the customer is not trained to use those tools.


To them, these tools, and the whole wp-admin for that matter, are like a TV remote control with 40 buttons: you can do everything with it!


But they don’t know how.


Sure. You can spend an hour or two with each client trying to explain to them how the wp-admin works. But when you see them writing everything down on a notepad. You know you’re in trouble.


And so this gap causes all kinds of collateral damage.


Because the customer needs to go through the wp-admin to reach the posts, pages and other tools to make adjustments or additions to their site. They often break stuff. Accidentally of course.


And that’s when you get “The Call”


“My website is broken. And you need to fix it!”




Yeah. We need to show empathy to the user. For sure.


I mean for real! Because if you think of it, it’s not really their fault. Is it? They just aren’t trained to use the tools that come with their website. And they probably can’t be trained either.


We are called pros for a reason. Right?

We’re good at this WordPress stuff.

They’re good at other stuff.


Well. Here’s the reason my heart jumped for joy:

For the last 3 years our team has been secretly working on 1 tool that effectively IS the bridge between your world and that of your customers.


It’s called SwiftySite.


And it has already been called: “Wix for WordPress” because it has that ease of use for the end-user. AND it has the full, unlimited power of WordPress as it’s engine. Which is why developers and designers love this tool as well.


SwiftySite is a tool that you as a WordPress professional can use to build entry-level WordPress sites with in Advanced User Mode. Then lock some (or all) of the content and hide wp-admin. And then hand over the site, with tool and all, to your customer who can seamlessly take over and work on the site in Easy User Mode.


It’s free.


It’s available in the repository.


And here’s where you can find out more about it.




Oh yeah, wanna know what part of Matt’s statement almost made me cry?


And that’s where the next 24% of our growth will come from.


I looked over across the room to Robert, my friend and business partner for the last 15 years and the brains behind our products.


He was smiling too. :-)







May 27, 2016
Chris Vermeulen
News, Stories, WordPress

Why we are on a mission to help small businesses succeed



May 27, 2016

Read time: 3 minutes





When I close my eyes I can still see him. My grandfather. With his wrinkly face and big cigars. The stale smell in the house as a result of not ventilating enough, trying to keep the heat inside. Frugal. As always. And his hands. His big, strong hands that used to pinch me in the knee. Those hands that were aged, and showed a life of working hard. It was only after he passed away and I got a little older that I started wondering where those hands had been. What he had done with his hands. What he had built.



At the age 72, when my grandfather passed away, he was a millionaire by today’s standards.


Tini Vermeulen - My grandfather
Tini Vermeulen - My grandfather

As a father of eight boys and 2 girls, he was very much the patriarch of the family. He had been able to provide for his family and he had been able to improve the lives of thousands of his customers.


You see a year and a half into World War 2, he started his own business. He was 23 years old at the time and already married to my grandmother.


Back then the Germans were rounding up Dutch men all around the country.


Not to send them off to the infamous concentration camps, but to put them to work at German arms factories, to repair and build infrastructure and to build defense structures in the front lines of war all over Europe. But not grandpa. He became a carpenter. And a very good one at that.


Entrepreneurs and self-employed people were considered the backbone of the country.

The Germans didn’t take those men to work in their factories. There wouldn’t be much of country left to occupy and raise taxes from if they did. So in the converted shed in the back yard, that previously served as a hen house, my grandfather started hand crafting furniture, build to order. Chairs and tables and cabinets.

There was this post-war energy.
This profound feeling of having gotten a second chance.


With his bare hands and nearly no tools to speak of, he made the best of a bad situation and in the process avoided being drafted to be put to work somewhere else in Europe.


After the war, he had three choices. He could either grow his business into a factory and keep creating his own furniture, or he could morph into a retail store, selling other people’s furniture, or he could go work somewhere as an employee.


He chose retail and grew into an all-round interior decoration store. 


It was hard work and the days were long. But there was this post-war energy. This profound feeling of having gotten a second chance. A positive outlook on life.

My grandfather's furniture store - 1954
My grandfather's furniture store - 1954

My dad was one of the oldest sons and he took over the family business. He made a deal with the bank to pay part to my grandparents immediately and the rest over time.


During my childhood, I lived next door to my grandparents, so I got to know them pretty well. And what was surreal to me, especially in retrospect, is that, having gone through extreme poverty and hard times, always putting their family before themselves,


They were unable to enjoy their new wealth.


Their interior was old.


In perfect shape, but old. It never occurred to them that they could pimp it or renew it. As long as it wasn’t broken, it was not going to be replaced. My grandmother wore dresses she had made herself from old curtain samples that were no longer used in the store. Potatoes were not peeled but scraped.


If you have to feed 10 kids of which 8 were boys, that makes a difference. But when they are all out of the house, and you’re just with the two of them, not so much.


I distinctly remember a Christmas one time, where all of the extended family was gathered. Can you imagine 10 children, all with their spouses AND their children? It was what we in the Netherlands call: very gezellig.


In the Christmas tree is saw 10 ordinary white envelopes. Just hanging there. My dad later told me that in each envelope, my grandparents had put 10 grand.


At 72, when my grandfather passed away, he was a millionaire by today’s standards. My aunts and uncles were able to buy or build their dream homes with only a tenth of the total inheritance as a down payment. My mom and dad expanded and upgraded the business several times until it became one of the Netherlands most prestigious, high end furniture stores.

When I was only 24 years old, my parents trusted the family business in the hands of my wife and I.


The family business by the time I got to run it
The family business by the time I got to run it

For four years we worked that business and created the most amazing interiors for our customers. We worked for famous soccer players, successful entrepreneurs, factory CEO’s and also for, what you’d call ‘regular’ locals that appreciated quality and service.


After 4 years I decided to go do something with that new thing called the internet.


Well that was back in 2001 and the rest is history. My sister and her husband now run the family furniture store. So after almost 75 years, it is still in business and still in the family.

Now why am I telling you all this?

I just want you to know how deep and emotional our connection is to the small business owner.


We’ve been there.


We know what a successful small business can do for an entire family. How it can provide food, shelter, an education, opportunities. Life! And that is why we have a deep rooted passion. A drive. An inner motivation to help, not the big companies, not the enterprises, not the factories, but the small, local, self-employed people. The men and women that work hard every day to provide for their families and that add value in their marketplace.


And if we can help them do better. Be better. Get more business. Than that will make the world a better place. At least their world. And that of their families and customers.


We know it will.


When I look at my own hands now, they are just as big as my grandfather’s. And I too pinch my sons knee from time to time. Only my hands are soft. And my tool is a keyboard. But I will never forget his big rugged hands – nor where I came from…


October 28, 2015
Chris Vermeulen
Stories, core values, story