I’ve been a freelance web developer for over 25 years now, and I’ve both tried and observed a number of billing practices. Hourly, by the job, half up front, all up front, all at the end. You name it, I’ve seen it all. The truth is there’s not one model that works will for every person. There isn’t even a single model that works every time for one person.
Knowing how much to charge as a freelancer is a crucial aspect of your business. The first step is understanding what your client wants, so you can determine what (and how) you should charge. As a freelancer, you also know what you bring to the table and where you can add value to a project. It is important to know your specialties and understand what is in your wheelhouse that you can do well.
In my experience, I’ve seen first-hand how building an ecommerce site on WordPress can have complex requirements and be a significant development undertaking. This level of complexity can make it even more difficult for a freelance developer to know what rates to charge and what billing model to use.
In this post, we’ll specifically be exploring what it takes to build (and charge for) an ecommerce site on WordPress. Together, we’ll take a look at what WordPress web development tasks you should take on and how to determine what you should be paid.
Ecommerce developers enter the picture when a merchant has unique business needs that go beyond what an ecommerce platform offers out-of-the-box. This may involve styling templates to match the look and feel of a merchant’s specific brand, or building apps and integrations that provide custom functionality or hook into a third party system. Although most of the core ecommerce functionality will be built into the platform you choose — things like catalog management, processing transactions, and managing customer records — there will always be business needs and use cases that require custom work.
Ecommerce does require a skill set outside of what you might use when building static or brochure websites, because you really need to understand the merchant’s business and their workflows. Because of this, your freelance WordPress developer rate might be different from your ecommerce site building rate.
There are many elements and services associated with adding ecommerce to a website, and some of them should be done by you, and some by the client. But which are which? Let’s go through them together.
It is important to remember the planning and requirements gathering stage in any project. Don’t underestimate this step and invest enough of your time here before getting started.
Before you begin work, make sure that both you and your client have clarity on what features are being requested and what their expectations are. Deeply understand their needs, deeply understand the options for ecommerce, and find a solution that fits them best.
Often times, the discovery phase is an opportunity to discuss with the client both what they know they need — and what they don’t know that they need. This is where your expertise can really shine. At the end of discovery, as a service, you can provide your client with a report including a statement of work, deliverables, timelines, and pricing. With this information in hand, they can decide to continue the relationship with you and begin the work or take the report and use it to inform future decisions with other vendors.
Note that discovery and planning should take the most time of the entire project. Once this is complete the rest is relatively simple implementation and SHOULD be fully understood by both you and the client.
The first service that you can offer your client is a strong recommendation for what ecommerce platform to use. Understanding their business needs will be a critical component to making the best recommendation for their situation.
One option is using an open source platform like WooCommerce. When using an off-the-shelf open source platform like WooCommerce, the set up involves installing it, buying and installing all the needed ecommerce add-ons, making sure there are no conflicts, and then configuring everything.
Alternatively, merchants already working on WordPress can also use a SaaS model plugin like BigCommerce for WordPress. With this option, setup is more straightforward. All you have to do is sign up and install the one connecting plugin. Beyond the shorter set up time, the upside here is the robust feature set offered through the BigCommerce platform.
Once you’ve consulted and recommended an ecommerce platform, the next step is to migrate products and data into the store.
How this is done can vary. If your client has a small number of products (less than 20 or 30) it can be worthwhile to have them enter them by hand. They know the products best and will make the fewest mistakes. You could also bill for an hour or two of training.
If they have more products and can get them to you in some sort of spreadsheet or database then you can usually use an import tool. It’s rare that the client data is organized exactly the way your ecommerce platform needs it, so you can bill for the time to get that in order. Clients who are migrating from one ecommerce platform to another may need some additional assistance to transform their data into the new format, and there are platform-specific services that you can tap into for more complex migrations.
I’d like to stress that having the client involved as close to 100% as possible (and within reason) is tremendously valuable to all parties involved. They should deeply understand the platform they’re using. That said, you will certainly find clients who prefer not to invest their own hours in data migration, and this is definitely a place where you can add value for those clients.
Settings include payment gateways, tax configuration and all the other things that are inherent in ecommerce, regardless of platform. Although it’s not difficult to set these things up, you do want to be careful. If transactions don’t get processed, or customers don’t get their deliveries on time, there will be serious consequences for the business.
All modern ecommerce platforms have good documentation, and SaaS platforms like BigCommerce have 24/7 phone, live chat, and community support, so while there’s good learning to be done, the resources are readily available to anyone who wants them.
Most platforms will come with a selection of themes that make it easy to apply a professional design to the storefront, but many businesses will need some custom work to adapt an off-the-shelf theme to fit the business’s brand.
You’ll want to charge to apply CSS to things like product archives, single products, etc., and any elements that require custom styling.
It’s not unusual for businesses to need to connect their ecommerce store with a range of backend integrations and apps. These can include ERPs, order management and fulfillment applications, CRMs, and marketing software.
An ecommerce platform like BigCommerce will have a marketplace of pre-built connectors that you can configure for clients, and in other cases, depending on your area of expertise, you may offer services building custom API integrations. Your client will be looking to you to connect the tools they rely on to run their business.
Search Engine Optimization for products can have a direct impact on sales. Google is very plain about the fact that well-structured data can have a huge influence on people finding your items for sale. One the one hand this is easier than other kinds of SEO because the instructions are pretty clear. On the other hand, if your ecommerce platform doesn’t support it for you it can be pretty tedious to implement.
You should bill for whatever time is needed to make this work well.
Now that we’ve explored what services you can offer when building an ecommerce site on WordPress, let’s talk money.
Putting a dollar amount, a “worth” on your time, on you, can be an incredibly difficult thing to do. After some research, you have to pick something to start with, but as long as you’re comfortable running some tests fairly early and making adjustments you can figure out your freelance WordPress developer rate fairly quickly.
If you’re just starting out with no frame of reference I’d suggest $35/hr. For a professional web developer in the U.S., that’s on the low end, but it’s a starting point. Keep in mind that you can always adjust your rate as you figure out the market in your area.
The “No” test states that if no-one ever tells you no, you’re charging too little. Especially if they don’t even think about it. If the client is a good friend, and you can trust them after the project is over you could ask them how high they might have gone.
If you find that you have more work than you know what to do with, you’re charging too little. Raise your rates about $20/hr and see what happens. What you want to happen is for more people to start turning you down. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the real end goal is to have only several clients that pay well and respect you and your time, rather than dozens of clients that treat you like a code vending machine.
This one is really counter intuitive, but it has proven to work again and again for many people. If you find you’re short on work, raise your rates. I don’t know the science behind this one, but it works. If nothing else, the work you have brings you more money.
The time will come when someone says you’re too expensive. That’s great! That means you now have a better handle on where the ceiling is. But now what?
Don’t lower your rate to fit them. If you’re willing to charge less then why didn’t you say so in the first place? There are two options here.
An Hourly Rate model means you tell the client that you charge a certain amount per hour, and then estimate how many hours it may take you to complete the work. If you finish the job early you don’t make as much money, but the client is happy. If you go over you make a little more money until the client starts asking pointed questions about how much longer this is going to take.
A Flat Rate model means you simply quote the client X dollars to complete the project. If you finish ahead of schedule, you get to keep some cash. If you go long then you’re losing money.
You’ll find proponents of both models. Hourly keeps you out of the trouble of feature creep, but flat rate keeps you from sweating the clock and allows you to vary your worth.
Personally, I like using a hybrid model. I have an hourly rate and I use that to estimate how much I would charge at a flat rate, by multiplying the hourly rate by how long I estimate it will take me to complete the project. Then, I quote that but ALSO make it clear that I have an hourly rate and any additions or changes will be charged at that rate. That tips your hand on what your hourly rate is, but it’s worked best for me.
The long and short of it is that it’s impossible to tell you how much to charge for a given ecommerce build. That total is specific to the client’s needs, your experience, and the communication with the client.
But let’s summarize how the process works.
Pricing projects properly is an art that can take years to perfect. Don’t get down on yourself if you underbid occasionally. Use those moments an opportunity to fine tune how you build your estimates during the discovery process. If you overbid you’re in the delightful position of either keeping the money or telling the client they get some back. Either way, everyone’s happy.
One last thing to remember. Your client is not buying your time, they’re buying your knowledge. Knowledge that may have taken years to accumulate. You are special and valuable because of what you know, not how long it takes you to do something. In fact, the less time it takes you to do something difficult, the more you should be charging.
Be bold, you can do this.