WordPress is a very powerful system having just come into 3.x release. Most blogs are powered under WP these days and include a handful of amazing plugins that push its usefulness even further. As web designers, it’s not uncommon to fully customize both plugins and themes within a fresh WordPress install.
Freelancers are also facing similar challenges. Working as a freelance designer, all too often projects require backend administration. Instead of coding your own application, it’s much easier to use an open source solution. These days WordPress can fit into almost any mold, and will shave off hours in your development time.
Design on Free Templates
If you know anything about WordPress, you know that its template system is very detailed. For simpler business websites, which only plan on utilizing static pages, your job becomes much easier. However, when you must include articles and archives there are many template files to consider.
I recommend downloading any of the newest WordPress themes and building around their wireframes. If you can find a layout which matches your needs (2-columns, 3-columns, parallax, etc) the amount of time saved coding HTML/CSS may come to you as a fantastic surprise. If you feel more comfortable building your own template this works fine as well.
The development community is often very active and filled with hot topics each day. Never shy away from asking important questions which can help you complete a project sooner. Developers are even likely to share bits of PHP code to simplify the process.
Create a functions.php File
Inside almost every template folder should rest a
functions.php file. This is included on every page within the header as WordPress is loading your template. This custom script was built into WordPress back in version 2 for developer’s convenience.
It’s simple to create your own hooks and functions which will affect pages in your layout. There are countless WordPress code snippets and hacks to get you started on building a customized functions template file.
Of course, your usage of the file will greatly vary depending on your client’s needs. As an example, you may be able to manipulate custom post data for a portfolio design. Website designers and illustrators love WordPress as a portfolio tool. And with the endless supply of portfolio themes it’s easier than ever to release a customized template.
Provide Custom Analytics
WordPress hosts many of their free plugins as downloads directly from their website. One of the best Analytics plugins titled Google Analytics for WordPress allows the inclusion of analytics tags without any template edits. The core functions track visitor data and retrieve information directly from your analytics account.
The installation is performed by simply uploading and activating the plugin inside the WordPress admin panel. In the settings menu, you’ll need to provide the client’s Analytics ID, but you do not need to include their script tags. The plugin will automatically include this data within any template’s footer.
Setup Demo Installs
Personally, as a web developer it’s a great feeling once a project is completed. However it can take days, weeks, or even months to reach this stage. One of the simplest actions you can perform is installing a demo version of WordPress on your own local server.
This provides you with a platform to practice and build template files without needing to access the client’s live website. You also have full control over your server access and may manipulate files at will. The secondary benefit is to have a complete structure formed and able to be shared out digitally. This means you may contact your clients with demo links live before even touching their web hosting.
Granted, this step isn’t a necessity for every project. If you do end up building on WordPress frequently it helps to have your own demo space. You may install multiple themes and easily switch between the files for simultaneous project work.
Sharing Within the Community
Possibly, the greatest aspect of developing over WordPress comes with such an active and helpful support community. There are literally thousands of other developers around the world working with the exact same code you are.
This means there are plenty of free code bits and helpful plugins everywhere. Bloggers and developers over Twitter will release bits of their code into public domain. For this reason alone you should consider starting a Twitter following and keeping tabs on great WP developers.
Similarly, there are tons of great ideas out there for adding functionality into your blogs. Working freelance means you aren’t able to always control the project direction. However you can add in your own professional two cents every now and again. For blog layouts social media badges are the best way to gain attention onto a new launch.
This brief collection of ideas should get your mind geared towards growth and development. When building as a freelancer, the end result is financial stability and control over your free time. This means working with open source projects is possibly the best solution for almost any client requirement.
As WordPress continues to grow we’ll seen an enormous explosion of complex functionality and tutorials move into mainstream media. Developers are always hard at work to add their contributions into the WP codebase. If you have knowledge of similar projects please share your experiences in the comments section.