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Should You Add Development To Your WordPress Services?

June 4, 2014

If you make your living from developing WordPress sites, odds are good you have at least a cursory familiarity with PHP and most likely quite a bit more.

Maybe you can customize themes – or even build one from scratch – and act as a proper admin for your clients. Even so, you’re likely to run into an occasion where your skill set doesn’t match what the client wants. And that can be a real bummer. You’re either forced to outsource part of your project or turn it down altogether. Neither scenario is ideal.

If you run into this issue more and more often, it might be time to consider adding back-end development to your list of offerings. There are a few things you should consider before jumping into back-end development, however.

Developing Outside of WordPress

Back-end development means you’ll be venturing outside of the WordPress development territory you’re most familiar with. This can be scary, as venturing into anything new is scary. What I’m trying to say is that not everything is going to look like functions.php. And that’s perfectly okay so long as you know that going into it.

One of the biggest things you’ll encounter is called Object Oriented Programming (or OOP for short). WordPress doesn’t use it but you might wish to add it to your service list because of its flexibility. Plus, it’s utilized by a lot of other frameworks out there (more on that later).

So, for the uninitiated, OOP uses classes to group together functions. These functions may be referenced later to be put into action. Instead of writing out a series of functions as you do in PHP (an immediate cause and effect approach) with OOP you have to sit back and think about how your code will be structured before you write a single line. That might sound daunting, but if you have a penchant for organization, you might really excel here.

A really great example of this kind of development is offered up by Jay Hoffman of Torque. It’s the WordPress Plugin Boilerplate by Tom McFarlin, which offers a wide-angle view of how OOP can be used. It’s all about creating structure first then creating whatever it is you want to make.

When you build with WordPress, it’s easy to take a lot of things for granted. It comes equipped to do a lot of things without you having to lift a finger. Which I’m definitely not going to complain about. If you venture outside of WordPress, however, you’ll quickly notice that other frameworks don’t have everything built-in, which means you’ll need to build them yourself. What you create will be less bloated than WordPress but it will take a lot more work. That’s just a realistic fair warning and not meant to discourage you from giving it a try. I’m just a big believer in approaching things with eyes wide open.

Front-End Development Carry-Overs

As a front-end developer, you likely have plenty of experience working with PHP and just generally digging around in the code in WordPress theme files. And while that will certainly help you make the leap into back-end development, it’s not the be all and end all of preparation, I’m sad to say.

Sure, you’ll be bringing a solid understanding of HTML and PHP to the table. Hopefully some Javascript, too. You’ll know all about how all the important bits of code go together to make a website. And you’ll probably be able to look at the code on most sites and understand what the developer was doing, even if you can’t write that particular bit of code yourself at the moment.

And since we’re talking about server side stuff here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that all the time you’ve spent fixing WordPress sites will come in handy. If you’ve ever dealt with a broken site – who hasn’t? – you know the order of operations to take to fix it. This step-by-step process is something that applies directly to back-end development and that you’ll likely use on a regular basis.

Learn Something New

While there’s absolutely no reason why you have to get into back-end development, it can be a smart move for many WordPress developers. Why? It comes down to one key term: diversification.

The more areas of development you’re familiar with, the more jobs you’ll get. You can think of it as added tools in your toolbox. All of these skills you amass translate directly into dollars and cents in terms of what you can create for your clients. And the fewer times you need to outsource aspects of a project or even turn down projects, the better off you’ll be.

Of course, there is something to be said for being a specialist. That certainly has it’s advantages, too, especially if you come to be known as the very best in the game. But since that title is reserved for a limited few, it might be a better option to diversify your portfolio and offer a wider variety of services so you can serve a wider range of customers.

So, where should you begin? What aspect of back-end development should you dive into first? Well, it’s up to you. There are a lot of options available, which can feel a bit daunting. Too many options can be a burden sometimes. Try to think about what aspects of development you’re currently comfortable with and what you’d like to explore further. If you’re pretty good with PHP already, you might want to try out Laravel. If you’re good with Javascript, Express might be a good option for you to pursue.

If you like to live dangerously, dive into Ruby on Rails. And that’s just scratching the surface. There are way too many frameworks out there for me to name here. Just know that there’s no law saying you need to be proficient at everything. But if you want to become more proficient with back-end development, your options are wide open. And each has ample support documentation and community involvement to help you out every step of the way. And the more you learn, the more you’ll discover how all of these frameworks can work together with one goal in mind: to create better websites.


It’s normal to be hesitant at the prospect of pursuing back-end development when you’ve been working as a front-end WordPress developer for some time. But just because something may be perceived to be a challenge doesn’t mean you should avoid it. In fact, learning new skills can bolster your service offerings and make you a more in-demand, vital developer to a wider range of clients.

And at the very least, you should see your front-end development skills improve. The better you understand how things work on the back-end, the more adept you’ll be at writing clean code and anticipating potential problems. Basically what I’m saying is this: Even if you decide not to offer this service to clients, it still won’t hurt to learn it.

Do you offer back-end development along with front-end work? Thinking about expanding your skill set? Or are you content with where you’re at. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Article by Tom Ewer guest author
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  1. emily

    This is an interesting point.

  2. Pam

    I believe I am your intended audience here. I know enough PHP to be dangerous, and I can add snippets and tweak code here and there, but I don’t have a strong enough foundation to add new functionality from scratch, and I have almost zero javascript skills.

    I know that if I invest some time in myself learning the skills you point out, I’d be able to bring more value to the table, and bottom line get more business and make more money. Thanks for the resources.

    Now I just have to schedule some quality education time with myself. That seems to be more difficult than learning any programming language.

  3. deepak

    I am a font-end developer and sometimes boast as a UI Developer but still sticking to customizing themes rather than diving into the back-end stuff…initially knowing how the PHP works with MySQL and how important it is to know it even as a designer as the clients demand….i made it a point to explore the back-end….and now still swimming in the sea..there are more frameworks like angular js which made the client side stuffs like java script, jquery etc. a mandatory to learn….good article…and is a must to read for all designers who are contented with front end…

  4. Bryan

    I think that focusing on one of the main areas (front-end or back-end) is a good way to specialize yourself, however, nova days everybody wants to have an all-around dev, so I think that the article is spot on in pointing out how we should all try and explore both areas.

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