Do you need a web developer?

Is a web developer what you are looking for?

Do you even need a web developer at all?

If you represent an agency, then you’ve probably been through the process of selecting a web developer several times already.

This article is aimed at those just starting out, and will help you determine whether you need a web developer at all.

There are free website builders out there, and I encourage beginners to try them out. There are limitations, however, so read on to find out more.

Firstly, let’s make sure we’re aligned in our understanding of some terminology.

A WordPress Theme is a required add-on which governs the look and functionality of the website. Other platforms might refer to this as a “template” or “skin”.

A WordPress Template refers to the coded structural files for various types so we won’t use this word much.

Read more about WordPress, themes, plugins and page builders here.

Maybe you need me? Sometimes you don’t..

Perhaps you’ve tried free website builders like Wix or SquareSpace and you’d like something more powerful and / or individualised.

If not, then I recommend trying them out. They are free to use to a point, with limitations, and the options are good.

You can even try one of many excellent free themes from

Perhaps you’ve tried the free options, and now you are contemplating buying a pre-designed, pre-built WordPress theme from a theme developer’s online shop, or a marketplace like ThemeForest.

Purpose-designed, pre-built themes can be great if your requirements very closely match what you see in the online demo.


Although it potentially means I risk missing out on having you as a client (or seeing you again for some difficult work when something needs changing), in certain circumstances I actually encourage people to at least try a pre-built theme.

If it didn’t work out then at least it would only be a $50 mistake as opposed to forking out for a whole lot of custom development that you didn’t need.

Be aware of the limitations of pre-design, pre-built themes

Just be aware that the demo of whatever prebuilt theme you decide on should be as close to what you want as possible.

Modifying pre-built themes later is more costly because they are not usually coded to handle modifications.

They would be coded in one of an infinite number of ways that exist to code a website, which means more digging for devs to do if anything beyond what is handled by the theme’s control panel needs changing.

Theme control panels have options for, for example, the site logo, font family, sizes and colours etc.

salient options

The control panel generates CSS and JavaScript code which is universally understood by web browsers to implement styling.

But often as to what exactly can be changed by the control panel of any given theme is tricky to determine, even when building it, and even harder before purchasing it.


So if modification of something was needed, there might be a learning curve + coding time for a developer.

Firstly in simply finding the right control in the control panel, or widget, or customizer, or wherever they hid it this time.

And secondly – upon discovering that there wasn’t a control for it – there would be a need to override CSS and JavaScript code, which would in turn involve deciphering whatever unique coding style the developer of the theme used.

Hopefully the theme would be well-coded, but very often pre-built themes are not.

And hopefully the theme has been coded to be modified where you need it to be. Again, it’s often the case that pre-built themes are not.

As you can probably tell, that’s a whole stack of unpredictability.


A situation can happen where a developer finds that the theme needs more extensive custom coding, but they’ve only quoted for the other end of the range of possibilities, the case of what initially looked like a quick fix.

In order not to end up in this situation, developers have to account for contingencies when estimating and quoting. A normally-simple 1 hour tweak might take 1 hour or it might take 4 hours.

It’s problematic to ascertain difficulty beforehand because – in practical terms to some extent – analysing the theme is the job.

Therefore developers have to quote towards the higher end of the estimated range to modify a pre-built theme.

In cases like these I usually offer a pro-rata or staged billing model.

The Solution

Framework Themes

The solution developers end up opting-for is to pick a favourite framework theme.

Framework themes are generally well-coded, designed to be modified, and have very minimal default styling.

Developers often stick with this one blank theme for many years, and make it their business to know it inside-out.

It is important however for developers to keep their ear to the ground to listen for rumblings in the industry.

Times change, and in my case I used to be a Genesis Framework user, but since 2015 I’ve been using the truly excellent Beaver Builder suite of tools.

Building with a framework theme

A framework theme is a barebones, “blank canvas” with minimal styling on the front end, but powerful-yet-fast underneath.

Using the advanced functionality available to them, a developer will build onto the framework to achieve the design and functionality a client requires.


No limits

There are almost no limitations with a quality framework theme.

Agency web designers can design the website in Sketch or Adobe XD, then send me the designs.

I use a Chrome extension called PerfectPixel to overlay images of the designs on top of the site to achieve a pixel-perfect build. The image matches the end result exactly.

What to do? Go window-shopping!

For solo or small business clients – especially in the case where funds are limited – I sometimes suggest looking at those pre-designed, pre-built themes.

By “looking” I mean “not purchasing”, in other words window shopping to select favourite theme designs, ideas and features. This gives you the option of choosing only the parts you want or need.

Right, now let’s get started

Copy the theme URL, or all the URLs to the various parts, and then send them to me so I can quote on bringing them together.

Once agreed, then I build them into the site in a way that can be easily updated or modified by clients.

It will be a website that – should I not be available – will be appreciated by future developers, and in turn, you.

There is a higher initial outlay of course, but the result is a much sturdier, highly-versatile website that is easy for developers to modify, and easy for you to use.

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