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Running a WordPress Business in 2017

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I was recently interviewed by IndieHackers about how I grew my side business from $0 to $5k per month (on average) and on the back of that I got asked (by a wannabe entrepreneur) a great question.

The question has prompted this post. While most blogs will focus on things that’ll draw in customers to their products, my blog here has tended to be about my transparency as well as blog posts like these. Mixed in with some of your standard ‘top 11 plugins to do [xyz]’.

While I still think of myself in the “Levelling Up” stage, I tend to forget that actually I’m in a very enviable position amongst people who want to do the same. People who have an idea, or want to start their own business.

So I wanted to chart back my revenues all the way back to 2012. Showing the monthly income, which sources and how I have pivoted and entered new markets to keep being able to operate my own business.

Back in 2012

I launched my first WordPress Plugin. In fact, it was a Joint Venture at the time, and not long after I launched my own plugins (under my own standalone CodeCanyon account). That’s why there’s two colours of bars in the first chart. The light green being my epicplugins account and the dark green being my mikemayhem3030 account.

For a new Author Envato take 50% (roughly) lowering to 30% once a certain threshold of sales have been made. This isn’t the easiest to calculate based on historic data (they didn’t split out the fees back then) so I’ve done it based on the original sliding scale of 50% kept to 70% kept (actually, nothing has really changed).

The chart below shows CodeCanyon sales back to July 2012 (so, just about 5 years ago, now)

What I’m planning on doing with these charts is “layering on” additional bars to show when additional revenues have come in (and describe any changes I’ve made along the way). Such as removing 9 plugins for sale from my mikemayhem3030 account and selling products direct through Epic Plugins and Epic Themes.

I suspect this will end up being a bit of a mammoth post, so buckle up, grab a coffee and a pad and paper and get ready to join me on the ride.

2013 and Selling Direct

As I covered in my Indie Hackers interview, I initially started selling WordPress Plugins exclusively on CodeCanyon. After a bit of time I started to sell direct through Epic Plugins.

I sold a couple of add ons for the CodeCanyon plugins, before launching my first WordPress Theme (http://wpeddit.com). The blue bars are direct sales of products.

So, selling through CodeCanyon has been complimented by selling other products direct. The fall in CodeCanyon revenue (from $3k to $300 (a 90% fall) has been propped up by Theme Sales.

From October 2016 I also moved to an annual subscription model for plugins and themes. I also segregated my Epic Plugins and Epic Themes into two different websites. Enter the third chart. This shows the same as above but the darker blue are Plugin Sales Direct (i.e. sales through this website).

The reason there’s no light blue ones is I was originally selling my themes through this website too, but it got confusing with people purchasing themes from a plugin website. I also wanted to build up Epic Themes (and https://epicthemes.com) over time too. This switch happened in December 2016.

It also helps me be able to track how each is performing (i.e. I can split between dark and light blue) and see if there’s a difference depending on where I’m putting my attention. So from the chart above I can see that Plugins are doing around $300 to $500 a month direct (excluding the Zero BS CRM extensions)

I’ve started a story about reviving a dying WordPress plugin here.  Through that 2 part blog post my aims are to get the plugins component of the chart above back up to levels they used to be (and themes will continue at the level they’re at (or even grow too!)) to put the revenues back in a comfortable position (of around $5k per month) meaning I can do less freelance to fill the gap.

Any higher than this puts me in a position where I can start to invest more in the business, start growing through additional help than just my own to drive the business forward.

2016 onwards

I’m all about transparency here on the blog, in 2016 I became co-founder of Zero BS CRM which is a WordPress plugin (free at the core) with extensions to power up the core system.

This simple free CRM (https://zerobscrm.com) has been taking a good chunk of my time recently and has added an additional layer again on top (with sales ramping up slightly in the past 3 months).

What does this all show?

What I thought was really interesting in the above charts is the average level of revenue over time.Maybe this is as far as one man band can take things on his own just through developing products and putting them up for sale. Whether there’s a natural cap for a single person run product business only time will tell.

It was growing nicely up until 2015, at which point (and as detailed in my reviving a dying WordPress plugin) is the 50%-70% reported drop in sales from CodeCanyon.

The above chart doesn’t show the impact of this, the one below does, this splits the fall of CodeCanyon revenues but also the growth of my direct revenues.

The green bars are CodeCanyon average monthly sales, and the other is direct sales. While CodeCanyon has been falling I’ve been able to protect the overall revenues by continuing to sell direct. As well as entering new markets (such as Zero BS CRM, using WordPress to develop the Ultimate Entrepreneur’s CRM).

The Growth of direct revenues

2015 was a particularly good year since it was the launch of the Plugin Hunt Theme as well as Landrr these really helped boost up the average per month in the first half of the year. The trend is still rising and my aim is to continue to send the revenues chart upwards (of course, I don’t want them going downwards!).

So for me, CodeCanyon falling could be the fact I’ve not released a new plugin for a while on there (preferring to release direct) but other Authors have reported that while this worked for them in the past (Hi Primoz), it hasn’t been working as such and they’ve seen similar declines in revenues to the green bars that I’m showing above.

So it’s a time to pivot yet again, which is where the new bundles pricing is coming into force. This is another move and giving a new option to buyers of the plugins. This innovative approach to pricing is a path that Proteus Themes first treaded, while plugins are used differently than themes I do think there’s scope in this model for plugins as well as themes.

The plugins on this site all retail at around $20 to $30 annual renewal, but in customer terminology they’re $20 or $30 initial outlay. I want to give customers the option to use the plugins for a low monthly price and continue paying if they’re continuing to use the plugin.

It also gives me a way to sell more of what I’m trying to do long term here. Build a customer base of loyal fans. People who love the plugins that we produce and want to continue to receive updates, new plugins and our top notch support.

Hey wait, that’s not $5k a month?

You’re right, it’s not. So why in the Indie Hackers interview did I say that I’d grown my theme business from $0 to $5k a month. That’s because in all the charts above I’ve excluded the freelance income that I’ve generated from customisations to themes or stand alone plugin builds for clients.

I try to limit that side of the work so I can focus on growing what I’d call “passive” income here, income generated from digital products rather than from me swapping my time for freelance income.

Can you weather the storm

If I was selling just WordPress plugins through CodeCanyon then mid way through 2015 and into 2016 I’d be getting pretty darn scared. Revenues dropping from an average of $3k down to just over $1k and further into 2017.

In 2017 however, I moved to being a Non-Exclusive Author. I wanted to take charge and move things forward myself. The revenues I was getting from direct sales (i.e. sales through my website direct to customers) helped me to be able to keep going.

Is it still worthwhile entering the WordPress market?

I’ve been doing this for 5 years now, and as mentioned, on the back of my indie hackers interview I was asked whether it’s still a market worth entering. Surely by now all the pain points have been solved by plugins so there’s no point (and no reason) why you’d want to try entering this market.

WordPress is evolving

Not only is it evolving in the technology used (such as Gutenberg editor) and the tech going into the WordPress Core, it’s also become used to build ‘SaaS competing’ technologies.

That’s what the latest joint venture I’ve been building does. It gives you a ‘WordPress run’ CRM. The model is an extensions model which leverages WordPress at it’s core to help run the data and user aspects. With the introduction of the REST API in the Core there’s much more than can be done here too.

I expect more innovative plugins in the future. I think there will be lots of other opportunities as WordPress evolve, from themes to plugins. There’ll be plugins which leverage the new editor (if and when it makes it into Core), themes which utilise the REST API in unique ways and much more.

A role for standard plugins?

Like the WordPress plugins available from Epic Plugins, I think there’s still a role for “standard” plugins which enhance the features of a website. For example, there’s always going to be opportunity gaps in themes (for example, improving the WooCommerce My Account Page with the WooCommerce “My Account” plugin)

Pricing is evolving

There’s more and more websites moving their pricing to a recurring subscription model. There’s even more that are moving to “bundled” offerings. Further to that, a large proportion of these are moving to ‘bundle only’ and removing the ability to purchase a plugin (or theme) individually.

So rather than $29 a year (or $29 one off) for each plugin, you can grab all the plugins for $29.99 a month. This move helps plugin developers continue to provide support and continue building products for their favourite eco-system.

It also gives rise to additional opportunities for wannabe entrepreneur’s who are looking to enter the market, and new opportunities for customers (who can pick up some cool plugins for a simple pricing structure).

The WordPress market is moving to SaaS type payment solutions. Want all the plugins from a particular seller, fine, only $29.99 a month can get you that.

Want to cancel, fine, you lose access to the support from the developers, and you lose access to future features (i.e. new plugins) and lose access to updates to the existing plugins 🙂

What about other services?

Like Wix, or other Platforms. Are they stealing the market from WordPress? I still maintain that there’s so much invested in WordPress that the team developing the core won’t let it simply die out overnight.

There’ll be new opportunities for plugin and theme developers, the trick is to keep smart when it comes to the business side of things.

I wrote recently about my plans to revive a dying WordPress plugin, and the innovative pricing planned. This has expanded to cover our new Epic Plugins Bundles options with a low monthly pricing option.

There’s also plenty of WordPress Plugins out there that could be done better, even if they solve a particular pain, they may do it badly and things can be improved and you win over their customers (just like Danny did with his Mailchimp plugin here).

 

P.S My first eBook is now available. It’s about how I got started, and how you can too. Find out more here.

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5 thoughts on “Running a WordPress Business in 2017

  1. Hey Michael,

    Could use any insight that you have to offer on the subject of a truly passive WordPress business?

    The only way I see, is to build themes / plugins (preferably a plugin ecosystem) like you have done with epicthemes / epicplugins / zerobscrm, and then eventually have a team manage it so the business is not relying on you, to be actually considered a passive source of income. And business growth potential is high, I will agree.

    However, I don’t wish for a lot of money. I will be happy with $5-10K a month, but I do wish for working alone or with a couple of people to truly have a passive source of income. If I want to take off for a month, I want to be able to do that. So, you see, I have a certain need with the ability to compromise on what could have contradicted my goals (i.e. tons of money).

    I started building a plugin ecosystem a few months back but as I finished v0.1 of the core, I realized I am really building an avenue through which I can keep getting clients, essentially supporting the “you are selling updates & support, not the code” aspect of the argument. Hence, I stopped. Its far easier to just do consulting whenever I want, not do work when I want rather than taking the trouble to create a plugin ecosystem, but that’s active source of income.

    I already have what I want by consulting work (active source). I just want the same thing with a passive source of income. Looking forward to your thoughts.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts. You’re correct about it not being 100% passive due to support & updates. It’s the next step of the growth though, once it gets to a level that can support training up a support team then you’d do that.

      Then think of support costs like a marginal cost of your revenues. As for future updates, again you’d have a development team which would also eat into the marginal costs of running the business.

      Zero BS CRM is a little bit like what you describe with your v0.1 of your system, sure it might seem like selling updates and support but eventually the product will stabilise at a level which is comfortable for you (or it won’t, in which case move onto the next).

      Consulting work cannot give you the following benefits compared to selling products:-

      • In 5 years time you might want to sell the product to someone else (i.e. they buy the present value of your future expected sales)
      • You can put the plugin into maintenance mode where you say it’s not supported, the release is stable, and future updates aren’t included

      Consulting, I doubt you’d be able to sell your clients to someone else, if you stopped consulting your revenue stops. You might be able to sell someone the lead, but if your consulting client is bringing in $5k a month, then you wouldn’t be able to sell it for $5k x 12 x 3 = $180k whereas selling revenue generating products you could

      You can see examples of this on places like flippa, e.g. this plugin: https://flippa.com/6410433-getawesomesupport-com was sold for c$40k and was making c$1k a month net revenue.

      If you can develop products as well as consult for the difference then I would do that (it’s effectively what I’m doing)

      1. Thanks for replying back! I totally hear you but my question is a little after-thought on learning what you just stated.

        What could truly be a passive source of income in WordPress realm? If nothing could be totally 100% passive then let’s try getting close to that number as much as possible.

        An offering which doesn’t require much support apart from docs? Plugin conflicts & incompatibilities do happen & burden up support. Being the only dev since I am working alone I will be pulled into it, which just makes it worse & the only solution is for me to hire someone, which goes against my idea of building a passive source of income I.e. Without having to manage a team.

        Nowadays, I am working on a bunch of tools, for which I can sell API access or white label access to freelancers / agencies who develop sites for clients (B2B). That would fit the bill, if it sells.

        So trying to gather insights in the same direction 🙂

        Hope I was able to put my thoughts forward in a better manner this time.

        1. API access and white label still will need dev time and support.

          Future-thinking, automations or manchine learning type solutions.

          Truely passive bonuses could be ads / affiliate content alongside your products.

          100% passive i dont think youll get short of investing your revenues into passive investments

          My point above was try and get as close to 100% passive. build a team to help you.

          70% of $10k (after expenses) is better than 100% of $5k.

          The aim is youll recruit help to move yourself away from the key man risk.

          😎😎

  2. […] wrote recently about running a WordPress business in 2017. This looked at all manner of charts showing the revenues over time. It also ended looking at the […]

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