So, you have a nice new theme with tons of features, but you want to make changes so it will be uniquely yours. You are at a crossroad. Do you hire a developer or do you become a developer? There are risks and benefits for both. A skilled developer will know how to accomplish things you never thought possible, they will transform your site into what you want it to be, and it will happen much faster than you could do it yourself. A skilled developer is also an expensive option. Developer rates generally start at $50/hour and run up to $200/hour for this type of development, though some can charge more or less.
This sends many into the “I can do this myself” camp. The most obvious benefit to developing the theme yourself is a potential savings of hundreds of dollars. This is certainly convincing, but be sure to consider the hidden costs. What is your time worth? If you plan on having a great looking and functioning site you will need to learn CSS, HTML, and enough PHP to understand how to alter the code you find. It is something you can learn, but jumping straight into the deep end isn’t advisable.
You will need to learn the basics of html or you won’t be able to follow the CSS tutorials or create links, insert images, or much else. We strongly recommend W3Schools.com as an incredible and free resource for learning HTML.
The most important concepts you will want to learn are:
- Anchors (links)
There are many other HTML elements, but if you can learn the ins and outs of these you will have a good foundation for moving forward.
Once you have a firm foundation in HTML you will want to understand how to make it look pretty. HTML without CSS is bland at best. CSS controls size, color, background, layout, and pretty much every visual component of your site. Again, we recommend W3Schools.com. Not only do they have a basic explanation of every aspect of CSS, including some non standard uses that you have to dig for, they include a “try it yourself” feature that lets you change the CSS properties/values to see how it works.
There is a LOT to learn about CSS before you are a black belt, but if you can get the basics down you can go back to W3Schools for additional details as you go. Be sure to learn:
- The Box Model
Again, there is a LOT more to CSS than that, but if you are proficient in these concepts, you can search for the rest of the answers pretty easily.
This is the single most difficult thing you will need to learn. PHP is about logic construction. It is unlikely you will need to learn enough PHP to actually create anything, but you will need to learn enough to alter the code you find in tutorials, and this means understanding what is happening. You can learn many of these skills at W3Schools.com (seriously this is a great site).
You will want to have a pretty good grasp of these concepts:
If you can learn this then you should be able follow most of what the code is doing and how to adapt it to your unique needs.
Developers all have their preferred tools. Many use very expensive software to make their jobs easier. If you are trying to save money, you probably want software in the inexpensive to free range. Fortunately there are a lot of great tools available for little to nothing. In fact, every tool I will recommend below is free.
You really need to learn how to access your site via FTP. Even if you do most of your editing in the WordPress editor, you will need FTP in case you break the theme and can no longer access your site. A few good FTP programs include:
- FileZilla: Available on all major OS including Linux
- Cyberduck: Mac specific
- WinSCP: Windows Specific
See our FTP Guide for details on how to connect to your site via FTP.
Code editors fall into a couple of categories. At the most basic you have plain text editors. Pretty much all operating systems come with some kind of plain text editor such as “Notepad” for Windows. You can open any web document in one of these editors, and this may be all you need. However, there are extended text editors available that will markup your text, set tabs, and even check for errors. Some will even connect via FTP to automatically update your files. A few include:
See our FTP Guide for details on how to edit child theme files in your favorite code editor and upload the changes via FTP.
Most folks are familiar with Adobe Photoshop. This is very expensive software, but you can get most of the features with Photoshop Elements. Still I said I would be recommending free programs, so if you are on a shoestring budget check out Gimp. This is a free image editor that can be extended via free scripts and plugins into a very powerful image editor to rival Photoshop. It can also open Photoshop (PSD) files. If you need to work with vector art you can use Inkscape which works with Illustrator files.
There are two other very important tools you need.
Browser Developer Tools are a developer’s best friend. They can help you identify which CSS definition is affecting a given element and lets you test changes to a live site, though you still need to add the changes to your stylesheet to make it a permanent change. They have a lot of built-in functions you are unlikely to need, but it’s great to have them if you ever need them.
Validator is an online web resource that will validate your website for proper HTML. Many errors between browsers are not actually CSS related, but improper validation. Run your site through this validator and then resolve the errors.
After reading this, you may decide that spending countless hours learning HTML, CSS and programming could be better spent creating your site’s content and that you would like to expedite your website’s launch. If so, it is worth the investment to hire a skilled developer from StudioPress’ Approved Designer list of great developers. You can find the list here.