Agencies : WordPress Developer costs and rates in 2016

Being transparent.

Back in 2014 we published our first “Agencies: Costs, rates and ….” article. It’s now two years old, so time to take an updated look at the WordPress marketplace in the UK.

It’s fair to say that our original article generated a fair amount of discussion, and even two years later it’s still generating polarised opinions. I expect that this time around it will be no less contentious. (Note: even as recently as November last year, we had an agency boss suggest that WordPress developers cost less than £25k in London!)

This year, we’re going to take a look at WordPress-specific skills, rather than the whole spectrum of agency costs – we’re also going to restrict the review to London and the South East. Costs and charges outside the London area are anywhere from 25 to 50% lower, and are dominated by smaller local digital agencies working on local projects.

WordPress development skills are getting scarce

After 5 years of broadly flat costs, we’re seeing double-digit rises in salaries and rate cards. And this trend is expected to accelerate as the scarcity model starts to bite.

Data has come from a number of web sources, job boards and a good dose of first-hand experience. Looking back now to 2014, rates had been slowly falling as a result of increases in development efficiency and the economic squeeze of 2008.

However, WordPress now really does rule the world and skills are getting in short-supply. This has driven demand and costs up. The top WordPress agencies in the UK are struggling to hire and/or retain top-calibre WordPress staffers.

In 2014, the average salary of a WordPress Developer was £38k and by 2015 it had climbed to around £42.5k. This was a modest (but out of trend) rise. By the end of 2016, it is expected to climb past the magic £50k for the first time, a rather more dramatic 20% salary growth. It’s clear the lack of supply of good WordPressers with solid experience is driving the numbers sky-high, at least until 2018.

(In fact, there is a WordPress agency I know of outside London who is offering £50k pa for Lead WordPress Developers.)

Interestingly, average contract rates have stayed flat in 2015 at around £300 per day (£40 ph) and there is no large predicted rise in using freelancers during 2016. For reference, our standard contract/freelance rate in 2015 was £50ph and we were regarded as “toppy” as we sought to acquire and retain the best 20%.

The current demand-squeeze for permanent WordPress devs is partially from end-clients (not digital agencies) and this is a new job market for WordPressers. It does seem to be attracting developers re-skilling from other fields such as Ruby and flavours of JS.

£50k may be just enough to attract a freelancer into full-time work so to keep the freelance/permanent community in balance it’s likely that London contract rates will climb to £375 per day (£50 ph). Although, I have already seen rates as high as £60ph.

So after 5 years of flat costs for developers, we’re expecting a big spike in costs, both in absolute costs per hour and acquisition/retention. We’ve adjusted our rates accordingly for freelance and contract WordPress developers to ensure we get the very best in the industry.

Average billing rates for WordPress developers has remained static at around £100 per hour, and maybe up to £150 for top-end skills. This may climb during 2016, but we expect a slight lag as much of this resource is still internalised at 2014/5 cost levels; introducing the possibility of a price shock at the start of 2017 as agencies rush to rebalance their margins.

(Note: What about us? We have a revised ratecard here.)

And what about WordPress and Javascript?
WordPress is heading (there is a pun there somewhere) towards being a Javascript-based framework. Typical London salaries for good Javascript developers broke the £50k barrier 5 years ago and with the combination of demand for mobile it’s possible that good top-end Javascript developers will be knocking on the door of £75k by 2017 – contract rates are already starting to break the £500 a day mark.

However, the jury is still deliberating on this. The drive to being a Javascript-based framework needs widescale adoption of the WordPress REST API – which is not happening yet. To be perfectly frank, there are very few strong business drivers for the vast majority of WordPress users to move over to using REST API and there is also the question of long term support.

I fully expect this article to be contentious (again), and welcome all and every comment – good or bad. There was some talk 2 years ago of me “talking up the market” but I don’t believe this to be true. We operate in a competitive space but also a close community – close enough that I know the other top agencies and understand their costs and charges.

Finally, this is my opinion and based on what I’ve read, seen and experienced so please take it at face value. //MD

Martin Dower, CEO & Founder