How To Make A Digital Living
First you learn, then you apply what you have learned
Although I am providing this guide at no charge, it does contain affiliate links. See my “Heads up” disclosure at the bottom of this page for more information.
Short Summary of this type of work
These three services are in demand, reasonably profitable, and compliment each other. Each of these services can be done with a little bit of knowledge and some time and effort on your part. There are several different ways to accomplish what I will be showing you, but I will focus on a simple way that has proven to work with quicker results, fewer hassles, and saving you a lot of time and money. What follows is enough knowledge to get you started, some important services that will help you get going, and several resources to learn more and get you started on the right track.
This page has a few affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you will not pay a cent more, but I will get a small commission, which helps me afford my daily coffee habit. Thanks for your support.
Is this type of work right for you?
You will need to determine on your own if this type of web development work is a good fit for you. So here are some important things to consider before diving headfirst into this type of work.
1. Don’t buy into Get Rich Schemes. Many people are in the business of selling you dream jobs or “passive income strategies” with promises of riches and making money doing next to nothing. If you don’t already know — I am here to tell you — that’s just a pipe dream. Searching Google for “earning an income online” will present you with 1,000,000 empty promises that are filled with costly pitfalls, bullshit sales funnels, and a deep bitterness for get-rich schemes. Don’t go to the Dark Side! If you are the type that falls for hoaxes and schemes easily, then this type of work isn’t for you.
2. There’s going to be actual work involved. Anybody who says you can make a lot of money by doing next to nothing is selling you something you don’t need. How much you make from self-employment is largely dependent upon your efforts (how much work you can accomplish, and how efficient you are at getting things done).
3. It’s not going to be free to get started. You can learn everything there is to know about web development without spending a dime. There are numerous resources available online to help you gain everything you need to know. I will provide some links to useful (and free) information towards the end of this article. But be prepared to pay some money to get going when you are ready to make the leap to working for yourself.
4. You are going to need some basic tools. You probably already have most of the tools you need, but here’s the short list of tools you should consider: a computer (laptop), smartphone, a credit card, internet access, a bank account, a secure way to backup your computer, an online payment gateway or service provider, and other useful online tools that I will describe in the coming paragraphs. I will not go into every aspect of the above-mentioned tools but suffice it to say that you need to have the right tools for the job for you. The more proficient and experienced you are with these tools the better. You will need to maintain them and make sure they are always working for you by monitoring and making sure they are secure. Your tools are the means to your livelihood.
5. This is just one way of many. You can find your own path if what you learn here isn’t your speed. What follows is a few carefully curated ways to make some money with as much freedom from hassles, hurdles, and headaches as possible. I’ve found over the years that the web development world is made up of many wildly diverse opportunities, amazingly fun communities, and many different styles. There are many ‘schools of thought’ that will tell you the best way of doing web development is the raw code approach to building from scratch. While others profess that building upon what others have already done is more efficient and less time-consuming.
Ultimately, you will find your own niche style. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes it’s best to simplify and work with proven services to provide the best value for your clients.
Tools and Web Services
Let me introduce you to the primary tools, services, and resources you will need to get started with all three services. You may already know of and understand what these are, or even have used them before. But this combination has proven to work reliably and efficiently for years.
Websites need a place to hold all the content (files, scripts, database, and images) so I recommend Flywheel. If you are just starting out, and you aren’t ready to create your own hosting agency, then you can simply sign your client up with their own hosting service. I am a proponent of listening to experts and not trying to duplicate their work. So to get started using Flywheel I recommend you download and read their ebook on the subject. Once you set up your first Flywheel hosting account, you will have the option of either creating a new website with a fresh install of WordPress or migrating an existing WordPress website for free. Gone are the days when we used to have to upload all the WordPress files and edit the database by hand. All of that stuff is done automatically now. Once WordPress is installed, the next step is to install and activate a theme.
*Insider tip using Flywheel: If you set up Gravity forms with PayPal and Stripe, then you don’t need what Flywheel calls, “White Label”. White Label is an add-on service that is currently priced at about $149 per month that Flywheel offers so you can bill your customers seamlessly from your Flywheel dashboard. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great service if you can afford it and you don’t want to set up Gravity forms with PayPal and Stripe. You can get all the features of White-Label by using the methods and tools described herein.
** Hosting note: there are hundreds of other hosting and managed hosting companies that you could look into. But I have already done that and I have already weighed in on the arguments for and against each hosting option. The result of my 10-years of different hosting companies is that the pros for most is hype, and the cons for many are true. The tried and true winner is Flywheel.
With WordPress, you will always use a ‘theme’ and perhaps a page builder. I recommend Divi Theme by Elegant Themes because it will save you a lot of time and money. Divi is a robust theme and page builder that is well documented, highly flexible with a stunning array of options, features, functions, and support. Since I started working with Divi many years ago my work has become more productive, less stressful, and the end results are higher client satisfaction, improved website performance, and higher earnings for my business. With Divi, you also get a giant repository of pre-made layouts that you can use to quickly develop websites for clients. Divi comes with many options and features that are fully explained in videos. Take a peek at all the videos on the Elegant Themes channel. You have several options with Divi, including a backend Divi Building Experience, creating new pages from existing layouts or pages you have already created as a template, or using the visual builder on the front end of the website.
Once you have your theme and layout selected and activated, you will begin building pages by inserting content, images and text copy. This process is where most of your time will be spent. So my advice is to make sure you have a clear understanding of the content your client can provide, and the design elements of the website’s features and functions.
Here’s a great video on how to create a website using the Divi Theme I recommend – video link The video is very long, but it is very detailed.
And here’s another video showing you how to create a website using a Divi layout – video link .
** Theme note: there are thousands of other themes, but for someone that doesn’t want to spend the next 2–3 years learning all the basics of WordPress and CSS, you can get started quickly and create amazing custom websites in half the time with Divi from Elegant Themes. If you want to avoid a “page builder” then I recommend OrganicThemes.com. They have the best quality themes, solidly clean code, and no page builder hangups.
A domain name is what establishes the web address (url) of a specific website (ie. google.com). If your client already has a domain name, then you need to determine if that domain name is tied to a hosting account. If so, you may want to discuss transferring the domain name to a new Google Domains account. Each domain has an annual registration fee ($12/year or more). Google Domains does a fantastic job handling domains and makes it a lot easier to set up domain email for your clients.
To set up the Domain Name Servers so that they point to the web hosting, you should read this detailed tutorial. You will need the logins for your client’s Google Domain account (or the domain name registrar that the client’s domain name is registered with). To make the website live, follow the tutorial and set the nameservers to the Flywheel IP address on the client’s hosting account (or your hosting account if you have set up your agency account).
** Domain Name note: I believe in having the domain name registration separate from the hosting company for many reasons. That philosophy also rings true with email. To me, email and domain names seem to work well under a registrar, but hosting a website does not. This is just my professional opinion.
If you have registered a Google Domain for your client, then this next step is easy. You will need to set up a GSuite account for your client that is assigned to their domain name (ie. firstname.lastname@example.org). Here’s a Google tutorial on how that’s done. Make sure that you are in the client’s Google account when registering their domain name or setting up their GSuite Email. GSuite is about $6 per month per email. Here’s a video on how to set up GSuite, but remember, you will be setting up the client’s email on their Google Account – video link.
There are other ways to handle email, but the combination of having the domain name registered with Google Domains, and set up using GSuite Email has eliminated all the headaches I have ever had from other services. Since I started convincing all my clients to go with GSuite email, I have had no email problems or support issues.
You will need some way to collect money from your clients online. There are countless reasons why you should not accept checks, not to mention the fact that it takes a lot of time to wait for the mail and to deposit that check in your bank. The two payment gateways that I recommend are, PayPal and Stripe. I use both every week for invoices and recurring subscriptions, and to provide payment options for my clients.
Most websites have some kind of contact form where visitors can reach the business to ask questions about products or services. Over the years I have dealt with many different ways to handle contact forms and in the end, after years of trial and error, I must recommend Gravity Forms for all your web forms. One of the many features of Gravity Forms is the ability to set up recurring subscriptions using PayPal and/or Stripe. I offer my clients both payment options. With Gravity Forms, you can also get a bunch of other useful Add-on extensions that can help your client’s website do a lot of advanced things.
Managing Updates & Services
Once you have multiple client websites on your Hosting account, you will want to manage and monitor them effectively. You will also want to improve the value of your services to them, increase your productivity, and save time. That’s where ManageWP comes into the picture. I’ve used them for years with great success. ManageWP helps you manage your websites via a plugin you add to each of your client websites called, “worker”. Another option I use is JetPack Premium. I use it for clients that have their own hosting or are not on my bulk hosting account. The client has many options for different levels of site monitoring and security. However, for all my clients with websites on my bulk agency account, I use ManageWP. That way I can update all their plugins with one-click and handle spam or junk comments on their websites with one-click. ManageWP also monitors the uptime for all my client websites and alerts me if any of them are down.
Logos and Graphics
If your client is a new startup they might not have a logo yet. One place I have found a lot of great talent is 99designs. I also use UpWork and Freelancer to find graphic artists to handle logos, icons or illustrations for the web. I have had a lot of success using 99designs, UpWork, and Freelancer for all my graphics needs.
Finding good images have always been a problem. The trick is to always use images that are licensed for free reuse (royalty-free). There are many sites that offer royalty-free images that you can use for commercial or non-commercial websites. I use Pexels.com often.
Ecommerce and Web Stores
You will one day be asked to create a web store or to add a Shop to an existing website. For that I recommend WooCommerce.
In order for you to start hosting client websites, you are going to need an agency account with Flywheel. You can get started with a “freelance” account which gives you space for 10 client websites (for about $115/month). That account is easily scaled up as you continue to grow, so no need to pay for a full agency account ($290/month or more) until you need the extra room.
Once you have a few clients on your hosting server, you will be receiving monthly recurring subscription payments and it will feel good knowing you can grow your business one website at a time. The key features that you will offer your clients will be Fast Hosting (high-speed page loading), nightly backups, Free SSL certificate, and your support as needed. Flywheel handles almost everything for you. You simply set up the client’s website on your server, make sure the domain name is pointed correctly, configure the SSL certificate from Flywheel’s simple set up page, and then test. It’s really easy. Flywheel handles the nightly backups, the auto-renewal of the SSL certificate, and the fast page loading is automatic.
Websites, Hosting, and Services
Once you’ve gained a solid understanding of the three basic services that are in-demand, and you have thoroughly studied the different tools you can use to get started, then you are ready to dive into your first project — your own website.
Many of you already have a lot of experience creating your own website, or you may have a lot of experience with the tools and perhaps even this kind of work. For you, the important take away is that you can simplify your services by using Flywheel for hosting, Google for domain name registration, GSuite for email, Divi for WordPress, Gravity Forms for Forms and Payment Gateways (PayPal & Stripe). These are sometimes referred to as, “outsourced services”. I’ve found that these service providers help bring a lot of value to my clients, and save me time and money in the long run, as well as improve reliability and security for both my clients and my own business.
As you know, there are hundreds of other options out there and a thousand different ways to accomplish the same goals, but I hope you discover a whole new sense of freedom and peace of mind using these services to help you consolidate your current or future offerings.
For those that are brand new to this kind of work I hope you’ve been inspired to learn more and to get started with your own web development business.
Tools and Web Services
** Solid Web Support Article:
How to sell website maintenance services — Everything you need to know
Elegant Themes provides the Divi Theme, but they also have a fantastic blog and video series. If you read their blog posts daily and watch the videos in those blog posts, you will be way ahead of the competition.
The Process of Building a WordPress website, step-by-step. Once you’ve grasped the steps you need to take to build a website, host it, maintain it, improve it, and protect it, then you will have earned the title of ‘web developer’.
Gravity Forms plugin and add-on extensions. You can find a ton of information about the various plugins and how they can help you or your client’s websites.
Google Domains and GSuite Email for Domains. Once you learn how to set up your clients with GSuite and Google Domains (starting with your own business domain name and email) you will have a huge leg up on the competition.
WooCommerce website ecommerce solutions to create online stores and website shops. Creating stores is a profitable specialty.
ManageWP to manage multiple client websites.
Local by Flywheel is a free but powerful local WordPress development tool.
Testing SSL Performance (shows what files are insecure).
Ultra simple image optimization tool (cropping and quality reduction for those without Photoshop).
WordPress Meetup Groups worldwide * this is a great opportunity to meet awesome people!
I am certain to have missed something, so if you know of something valuable to add to this article, please leave it in the comments section.
*Heads up: full disclosure — This website has a few affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you will not pay a cent more, but I will get a small commission, which helps me afford my daily coffee habit. Once you get started in the world of remote working, you will likely be asked for help and you will find yourself offering advice and help to others regularly. Sometimes that advice is to use services or products that you trust and that have worked for you. Those companies often offer a small commission for sharing their brand with others who might also benefit from their services or products. My advice is to never offer links to companies you have no experience with or just for the sake of gaining an affiliate commission. Share what you know will help others. Thanks for your support.