Published on September 13th, 2018 | by Guest0
My experience running 5 different types of WordPress business
As the world’s biggest website building platform, WordPress has a huge user base. If you’re a technology enthusiast wanting to start a business online, then WordPress is an obvious candidate. Where else can you find such a wide range of areas to specialize, with an ever-growing target market? Where else can you learn a technology with so few barriers to entry?
However, WordPress is such a huge area that the phrase ‘WordPress business’ could mean many different things. As co-founder of UK WordPress company Barn2 Media, I’ve set up and run 5 different types of WordPress business. I’m going to share my experiences of each one, to help you decide what sort of WordPress business will work best for you.
#1 – WordPress Web Design Business
I started Barn2 Media back in 2009 with my husband Andy. We wanted to build a business in order to work for ourselves and find a more flexible lifestyle, escaping the dreaded 9-5 routine.
Neither of us had any experience of running a business, but we were determined to make it a success. So we sat down and thought about the types of work that would best combine our skills and experience. It was important to start a business that matched our skillset as well as meeting our lifestyle goals. That was the first challenge!
Andy is a software developer and I’m a project manager and marketer. We decided to start a web design business focussing on small local businesses who didn’t already have a website. (I know that’s rare now, but there were still lots of businesses without websites back in 2009!) Small business web design felt like a good match because Andy could do the technical development and I could focus on the copywriting and SEO for clients, as well as running and marketing our own business. It was also well suited to working from home.
While we didn’t initially plan to specialize in WordPress, we started using it for all our websites. In late 2010, I started promoting ourselves as WordPress specialists and that’s when the business really took off. It turned out that back then, there was a huge gap in the market for WordPress experts. We soon had more work than we wanted, and the web design projects formed the bulk of our WordPress business for the next 6 years.
Running a WordPress web design shop is an excellent way to immerse yourself in all things WordPress. It gives you fantastic insight into the industry as a whole.
In designing a website for a client, you learn about setting up a WordPress site from start to finish. Most clients will have some unique technical challenges that you have to solve, which brings you into contact with different WordPress plugins and development opportunities. This is an excellent springboard for opening up new opportunities and taking your WordPress business in different directions in future.
Lots of people who offer project-based WordPress services make the mistake of neglecting their ongoing revenue. Structure your WordPress web design business around recurring income, and productize your services where possible. For example, sign up with a good WordPress hosting company and offer hosting services to every client. Make sure your clients understand the benefits of signing up to an ongoing website maintenance plan. Upsell other ongoing services such as search engine optimization (SEO).
That way, you can learn from an endless stream of client projects, while also building a sustainable source of regular income.
The problem with selling services is that you’re essentially selling your time. This puts a limit on how much money you can make.
If you’re lucky enough to have more work than you can manage, then your options are either to start turning down work, increase your prices, or start building a team. We ended up using a combination of all these options.
Some people love becoming a manager, but I didn’t enjoy it as this wasn’t what had attracted me to WordPress. After a while, I became burned out with WordPress client work. Instead, I turned my attention to building other types of WordPress business.
#2 – WordPress Theme Shop
In 2013, Andy and I spent a year building a WordPress theme which we planned to sell on the ThemeForest marketplace. We wanted to sell it on a marketplace because the theme market is quite competitive and we thought it would get us more exposure. Unfortunately the theme was rejected and never made it to market. However, it gave me some valuable insights into running a theme business.
Unlike web design projects, a WordPress theme is a ‘product’. This means that you’re no longer selling your time. Instead, you’re selling a product that you build once and can sell many times. As a result, I was very attracted to this business model!
The other benefit to selling themes is that every WordPress website needs one. This makes the market absolutely huge. If you can find the right niche, then this can be a very lucrative type of WordPress business. The most popular theme has sold 447,476 copies since it was first launch. Admittedly, most themes will never see this level of success, but it’s a good way to show the size of the market.
The WordPress theme market has become incredibly competitive, especially if you’re selling a generic multipurpose theme. Some specific niches have also become over saturated, such as photography and magazine themes.
This means that if you’re just starting out and want to build a WordPress theme business, then you have to find the right niche. This either requires lot of research or existing knowledge of the WordPress industry. But the good news is that the WordPress market is so huge that even a niche can have lots of potential customers.
#3 – WordPress Plugin Shop
Plugins are the other type of WordPress software that you can develop and sell. A theme is the design or ‘skin’ that affects how a website looks; whereas plugins add extra features and functionality.
In 2016, we switched our focus to selling WordPress plugins. We used our experience of building websites for clients to get ideas of which plugins to develop.
One of our first plugins was Posts Table Pro, a WordPress table plugin that instantly lists blog posts in a table layout. One of our clients was the inspiration for this plugin, as they had requested a simplified version of it for their own blog.
Posts Table Pro was successful, but it paved the way for an even more successful plugin – WooCommerce Product Table. A lot of people were using Posts Table Pro to list e-commerce products in a table, and wanted specific features such as add to cart buttons. We decided to create a dedicated table plugin for listing WooCommerce products, and have never looked back.
Within 6 months, the plugin business was making more income than the client business and we decided to stop taking on web design projects. We now have 5 premium WordPress plugins and 3 free ones, and our plugins are used on over 3,000 websites in more than 75 countries worldwide.
The great thing about WordPress plugins is that they can be very simple or very complex. Due to our limited resources, we started by building relatively straightforward plugins that were realistic for a single developer to create and maintain. This allowed get our first plugins to market quite quickly. It was a fantastic way to test the waters, try different ideas and see which ones were successful. If a plugin was successful, then we would listen to customer feedback and add extra features to increase our sales.
Until recently, it was difficult to make a good income from WordPress plugins. (This applies to themes too.) Most plugins were sold on a one-off basis, so a customer would buy a plugin and could then continue using it forever. The plugin developer was expected to provide lifetime support and upgrades for a one-off price. Obviously that’s not a sustainable business model.
In the last few years, the plugin industry has started pushing back. More and more plugin companies are charging fair prices for their software, with annual renewal costs in return for ongoing support and updates. This makes it much easier to make a living from selling WordPress plugins. It’s also better for customers because you can afford to keep supporting them longer-term.
Most of our plugin customers appreciate the personal support we provide and understand that it’s reasonable to charge each year. However, we do receive occasional feedback from people who are used to the old model and resent the recurring fees. I look forward to seeing the plugin industry continue to mature in future.
#4 – WordPress Affiliate Programs
Since most WordPress products are sold online, it makes sense that there are a huge number of WordPress affiliate programs available. The way it works is that you join a company’s affiliate scheme, add referral links promoting their products to your website, and receive a percentage commission whenever someone makes a purchase after clicking these links. For example, our own affiliate program pays 30% commission for plugin sales.
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of affiliate commission, for obvious reasons. In 2012, I launched a WordPress affiliate website but it only receives a small trickle of commission because I never spent much time marketing it. Our biggest success as affiliate marketers has been via our own blog.
We use the Barn2 Media blog to publish general articles about WordPress, and specific tutorials about how to use our plugins. This often involves recommending other WordPress-related products and services, for example third party plugins that integrate with our own plugins. Since our blog has a captive audience (i.e. existing and potential customers) and our referral links provide genuine value to our readers, quite a few people click on them and make a purchase. We certainly couldn’t live on this income, but it’s a useful source of extra revenue.
Affiliate sales are essentially money for nothing. Sure, you have to spend time creating valuable content and promoting it, otherwise no one will click on your referral links. However, this is generally more straightforward than creating and selling WordPress products or services of your own.
To be a successful WordPress affiliate marketer, you need to be good at marketing. You also need to put a lot of time into it.
I’m not a brilliant online marketer and easily get distracted by other ventures, such as client projects and promoting our plugins. As a result, I haven’t seen much success from affiliate marketing. However, if you have the time and experience to put into this, then you could build a successful business marketing other WordPress affiliate products.
#5 – WordPress Online Course + Ebook
In 2016, I noticed that one of our blog posts was particularly popular. The article was about how to build an events booking website with WordPress. It wasn’t promoting our products or services and wasn’t generating revenue, so I wondered how we could use this as an opportunity. As a result, I built an online course about the same topic.
I launched the online course on the Udemy marketplace because I decided it would allow me to reach a wider audience. (This may or may not have been the right decision, because by then we already had a very well established blog.)
In the end, I didn’t spend much time promoting the course because our WordPress plugin business took off at exactly the same time the course was launched. I decided that my time would be best spent promoting and supporting our plugins rather than the course. However, the course has generated several thousand dollars and I believe this would have been higher if I had continued promoting it and creating more courses.
An online course is a product, so you produce it once and can sell it many times. Marketplaces such as Udemy publish details of the number of students on each course, so you can easily research what is already available and find lucrative gaps in the market.
I receive some questions from students, but these feel very manageable compared to the support needs of other types of WordPress business I have run.
You need to be confident speaking to the camera, so this may not suit everyone. I found that there was a very steep learning curve in working out how to get the right equipment and produce professional video and sound – this took up a lot of time.
What Sort of WordPress Business Will You Build?
As you can see, there are all sorts of WordPress business that you could run if you’re interested in technology.
These are examples of five types of WordPress business that I have experience of, but there are many others that I haven’t talked about. For example, you could start a WordPress hosting business, a maintenance business or an SEO agency. You could sell specific services such as performance tune-ups or a website repair service.
Think about your own skillset, your resources and the rewards that each option will bring if it is successful. Armed with this knowledge, you can create a WordPress business that perfectly suits your skills, your goals and your lifestyle. Now how much better is that than working 9 to 5?!