How to turn a WordPress plugin into a business?


9

Over the past two years, I've developed a relatively successful WordPress plugin. It started out as a hobby project, but now I'd like to try and turn it into a business.

About the plugin

  • Checks the users' site for broken links, missing images, redirects.
  • Currently free, open source. There is a floundering premium version (more on this later).
  • Over 50 000 active users.
  • About 200 new users per day.
Things I've considered or tried
  • Offer a premium version with extra features. I actually tried this. The resulting conversion rate was an abysmal 0.22%. This is most likely because the free version already meets the needs of the vast majority of users. Well, there is of course always room for improvement, but the latest user survey hasn't revealed any low-hanging fruit in that area - in fact, at least 50% of respondents say the plugin is "good enough" or "perfect" as is.
  • Remove some features from the free version to make the premium version more attractive. This might work, but it would definitely generate a strong backlash from the user-base.
  • Drop the free version altogether and go 100% paid. The backlash problem applies here, too. It would also mean losing most of the word-of-mouth advertising the free version gets.
  • Offer a premium version with guaranteed support. Judging by the results of past user surveys, support is not a major problem/requirement for this plugin. It probably wouldn't be a good selling point for the premium version.
  • Turn it into a SaaS. Not sure about this one. On the one hand, it would yield better performance and less false positives (i.e. by optimizing the code to work great in a known environment instead of "good enough" on many different servers). On the other, users dislike giving up control.
  • Monetize with Flattr (or another micropayment service). The low adoption rate of Flattr and similar services makes this impractical.
  • Bundle some third-party tracker/adware with the plugin. Shady. I was was offered this some time ago, and rejected.

What's your take on these options? What avenues of monetization have I missed?

Monetization Open Source Wordpress

asked Dec 3 '10 at 04:03
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Janis Elsts
146 points
  • The first thing I would do is ask for donations or voluntary subscriptions. You might be able to get some revenue that way as a start. (Free software is great, until you want to start making a living from it...) Can you just offer the next versions/new features as paid? Less backlash, but probably still get backlash. – Tim J 7 years ago
  • I've had a "Donate" button/link up for ages. It generates less than $100/year, if that. Donations have been discussed at length in the WP community, and most plugin developers report similar results (or lack thereof). – Janis Elsts 7 years ago
  • "Pay for new features" is what I'm trying right now, and so far the results have been underwhelming (~10 sales/month at $5). As I mentioned above, most users are perfectly fine with the features already available. – Janis Elsts 7 years ago
  • I would charge for all new functionality. End of life what you have, but still support it. All new development should be for a different product. Since you're not seeing revenue then I guess you just have to chalk it up to experience and move on and come up with another idea/product. – Tim J 7 years ago
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7 Answers


6

To develop a business, you need to think about it as a business. Most businesses don't have only one product. What you DO have is a happy customer base who have a good relationship with your 'brand.' I would start with that.

You can look at your users. Can you segment them in any way. Are they in particular industries, companies or individuals, in certain geographic areas etc.? You can look for other problems your users have with Wordpress that need solving and that they would be willing to pay for.

Once you have identified this information, you have the basis to build a business. It probably means that you will have to develop other solutions (plugins or other) that people are happy to pay for but the work you have already done is not wasted since you have built a customer base that you can now leverage. This is actually the one of the hardest parts of starting a business so if you can now find a problem to solve for them, I think you will be up and away.

answered Dec 3 '10 at 09:35
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Susan Jones
4,123 points
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2

How about using these success stats as reputation. Could you write an eBook for other WordPress developers about developing a product of such quality and demand. I am sure you have some lessons learned and tips/tricks. An eBook version could even link to or include examples from your code, since it is already openly available.

answered Dec 7 '10 at 13:48
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2

You've identified the possible options very well. I would stay away from the shady stuff, life is short.

The challenge is that there is very little precedence for building significant revenues from a WordPress plugin.

If it were me, I'd try some sort of freemium offering. If you're getting 200 users a day, you might be able to convert 2% of them (4 people) to paying customers. Not a lot of money, but it's something. The hard part is going to be deciding which features should be in which edition.

answered Dec 3 '10 at 17:42
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Dharmesh Shah
2,860 points

1

Janrain (formerly RPX) somewhat built their business off their openid WP plugin. Take a look at how they did it.

answered Dec 7 '10 at 13:59
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Henry The Hengineer
4,316 points

1

Be active on forums such as the WordPress Meta and any and all Meetups about WordPress (network). Find out which sites/services are offering a similar type of service, and anaylize their backlinks for further leads.

You can always go more with a B2B model and focus more on marketing to medium/large companies and high-volume WP developers.

You must offer added value to your current users so they find a reason to continue using your service and paying for it. Make sure you keep up with them (wherever they are). I mean, focus on where you're customers are likely to hang out, and you'll find more.

Simultaneously, I'd be hitting any of the great, major WP plugins or tools with an offer to partner. While valuable, your tool seems to need little more oomph to go beyond freemium. You've got your work cut out for you.

answered Dec 3 '10 at 07:28
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Publicrelate
315 points

1

Few people make money off wordpress plugins. Instead find a way to get value that is worth money. How? Links. Links to your site are very valuable. If you have another product or service, or partner with someone who does. Then use these plugins to point back to your website.

answered Dec 3 '10 at 11:44
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Rp Joe
149 points
  • I've considered this, but the practice is strongly disliked in the community. Themes can sometimes get away with it (there are successful "sponsored themes" that include a partner's link in the footer). Plugins generally can't. – Janis Elsts 7 years ago
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0

You've made an awesome start, but turning the free plugin into a revenue strem may not work well. People get used to free. They don't want to start paying. And, most people are not willing to pay for WordPress plugins, even if they use and love the free ones.

So, it may be hard to monetize the plugin. Here are some ideas:

  1. Add more features to the paid version that make it more valuable
  2. Reduce the functionality of the free version. For example, it will only check 100 pages, and after that it asks them to buy the paid version.
  3. Frequently remind the users why the paid version is better. Put all the benefits in the settings page so they see it often.
  4. Create a trial period so that it would stop working after a certain period of time.

It would probably be easier to monetize something similar that the users would need. You could market it from within the existing plugin, for example on the admin page. You could develop other plugins, pay someone to develop them, or joint venture with other plugin developers that have great plugins.

Also, is it possible to collect email of the users? If so, you can email them about your other paid plugin(s). You could become an affiliate for other software and email them, if it is allowed in your and WordPress policies.

Regarding SaaS, that could be a good idea. But it would require a greater investment. Also, how would you market it? Would it just be for WordPress users or for anyone with a site?

answered Jun 23 '12 at 23:20
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B Seven
234 points

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