If you’ve been building and designing sites for a while, you’ve probably noticed that after some time, it’s easy to settle into a routine. You might find yourself turning to the same themes or plugins, sticking to similar layouts, and just generally repeating the same formula for every site you build. That’s not always a bad thing – establishing a workflow is essential for managing lots of WordPress sites.
But the web doesn’t wait for you to catch up. To stay a competitive web designer, you have to keep up with changing practices and technologies. You have to keep your WordPress skills fresh.
I know that might sound like one of those things that’s easier said than done, but in reality, it can be easy to keep your WordPress skills fresh. Plus, side projects are one of the best things you can do for your business. Combine the two ideas and start a side project that’ll boost your web design skills. It’s a win-win!
If you’re ready, try one of these eight simple projects – you’ll keep your WordPress skills fresh and start a stellar side project in no time!
Follow popular blogs (and then start your own)
You’re on your computer all the time, right? One of the easiest ways to learn about the latest industry news is to follow a few blogs. Take a little time out of your day to find a few that you like, and then decide how you’d like to follow them. You could actually visit their sites every day, add them to a tool like Feedly, or if you really like the content, you could subscribe to their newsletters.
Not sure where to start? Check out our list of email newsletters every web designer should follow.
Reading and following along with blogs is great, but the real secret to keeping your WordPress skills fresh is to get involved. Be active in the online communities you follow and leave a comment here and there. Getting involved will help you flush out your own opinions, and if you ask questions, you’ll learn even more about a subject.
Even if you’re not much of a writer, you might want to consider creating your own WordPress blog. Don’t stress about people reading it. Think of it as a place you can experiment; a place where you can track the different ways that you’re keeping your WordPress skills fresh and where you can share your experience along the way.
Take a break from the screen and read a book
Tired of staring at screens all day? Take a break from the monitor and grab a good old-fashioned book to read. This is a great opportunity to revisit some old design theories or read up on some technical aspects of WordPress. Plus, these books will look stellar on your desk or coffee table. Who doesn’t love an inspiring workspace, right?
The only caveat is to make sure you choose books that sound interesting to you, and that you’ll actually absorb the contents of. Sure, it may sound ambitious to tackle that 300 page technical WordPress guide, but if it all goes in one eye and out the other, it won’t do you much good. To keep your WordPress skills fresh, make sure you’re actually learning the new information and not just skimming it for the sake of saying you did it.
We’ve got the ultimate list of web design books – they’ll keep your skills fresh and look great on your bookshelf. Check ’em out!
Master the design trends of the year
As you follow along with blogs and add new books to your collection, you’ll definitely learn some new tips, tricks, and trends from other designers. Every year, make it a point to learn (and master) your favorite trends that you discover. You could try them out on your own site, a client’s site (if you have the time and budget), or simply just for kicks on a rainy Saturday. Even if the trend never leaves a demo site or a Photoshop file, you’re already a leg up on the competition by experimenting with something new.
You probably already have a few ideas of trends to try, but if you need a little inspiration, here are 10 trends we think you should know this year.
Find a new freelance client, even if it’s just your mom
One way to keep your WordPress skills fresh is, you guessed it, to simply create more WordPress sites. If you have the bandwidth to onboard more clients, do what you can to find some new favorites. If your day time hours are booked, consider building sites in your off-time. That could mean freelance work, helping a relative out, or even pro-bono work for a non-profit.
Now remember – if a job isn’t worth it (especially if you’re not getting paid for it), don’t sell yourself short for the sake of “experience.” As with any job that comes your way, weigh the pros and cons to find a deal that’s valuable for both you and the client.
Try teaching someone else about WordPress
Do you have any clients or friends that want to learn more about WordPress? Try your hand at teaching – you’ll help further someone else’s WordPress knowledge while also solidifying your own WordPress skills. Plus, by going back to the basics, you might surprise yourself and find a better way of accomplishing something.
The best part about teaching WordPress is that your lessons don’t necessarily have to take place in person. You could also offer online emails courses, create educational ebooks, or write how-to guides for your blog.
Want to give it a shot? We’ve got 20 easy ways to help your clients understand WordPress.
Optimize your personal site
Take a look at your own WordPress site – is it performing as well as you’d want a client’s site to? Or has it gotten a little run down since you last gave it an update?
Whether it’s the design, performance, or simply the content that needs an update, take some time to optimize your own site. If the design is a little lackluster, try experimenting with those design trends from above. If the performance is slow (or worse) not working correctly, dive into the code and see where you can make improvements. And if the content is outdated, update it with your latest and greatest projects, including any of these side projects if they turned out well.
Your own website should be a shining example of your greatest WordPress skills. By taking the time to make it shine, you’re demonstrating to clients exactly what you’re capable of.
Make a fancy new shortcode
If you’re looking for an easy way to keep your WordPress skills fresh that could take a little less time, consider creating a simple, but super cool shortcode for your own site. It’ll keep your development knowledge up to speed and your site visitors engaged on your posts and pages. Shortcodes are a great way to add functionality to your site, and a great way to practice some WordPress skills.
Plus, depending on the shortcode you create, you might be able to use it on a future client’s site or sell it as a plugin. Which leads us to…
Publish your very own plugin
Last, but certainly not least, is the adventure of creating a plugin. This could go one of two directions – you could either create it for your personal site and keep it all to yourself, or you could create it, publish it in the WordPress Plugin Directory, and possibly even sell it.
Either option will be incredibly beneficial and vastly improve your WordPress development skills, but if you’re up for it, I’d highly recommend trying to publish your plugin. Having a plugin listed in the WordPress Plugin Directory will help you establish yourself as an expert in the field, and even if you just do it once, it’s sure to be a great experience.
The web won’t wait for you while you try to catch up on the latest trends, but if you do just even one of these practices, you’ll stay a relevant designer and keep your WordPress skills fresh.
What else do you do to stay on top of the trends?