Brian Casel is a web designer and business owner who works with WordPress every day. He’s the co-host of Freelance Jam, a live web show for freelance web designers. Connect with Brian on Twitter @CasJam.
It’s no secret that WordPress is the fastest growing content management system (CMS) platform on the web. As of this writing, WordPress has a 54% market share of all websites that use a CMS. As users continue to flock to WordPress, we in turn see massive demand for WordPress’ products and services.
If you’re a WordPress expert, your products and/or services are part of a rapidly growing market. In fact, over the past few years, we’ve seen the launch and success of businesses that are built entirely around WordPress.
In this article, we’ll look at various business models that have proved successful in the ever expanding WordPress arena. We’ll look at the mechanics of each model and how they differ in terms of craft, operation, benefits and downsides. If you’re a designer or developer looking to leverage your expertise in WordPress to build a business, let’s just say you have quite a few options to consider.
1. WordPress Design/Development Consultancy
The most common way for a web designer/developer to build a business around WordPress is to offer web design services specializing in WordPress CMS sites. Your client base would be businesses, organizations and individuals looking to establish a web presence with a user-friendly way to update and manage their site content.
Like any consultancy, this business model is time-based. Either you charge an hourly rate or quote flat project fees that are derived by estimating the amount of time a project will take. While a time-based model may be more difficult to scale, there are two factors that allow you to gradually raise your rates: your skill level and the demand for your services. Both should improve naturally as your consultancy progresses.
Plus, the fact that you use WordPress speeds up your development process by providing amazing base functionality, a strong community to support your craft, and a user-friendly platform to build on top of. Using WordPress is a highly efficient way to capitalize on your time-based business model.
WordPress Theme Customization
WordPress themes have become wildly popular among both users and web developers. One of the most common requests from clients is to have their WordPress theme customized to fully suit their needs. Freelance web designers who are just starting out may find this to be a great market to serve.
You might specialize in customizing themes from one particular theme provider. For example, WooThemes has a listing of “Affiliated Woo Workers.” Or theme customizations may fall into the general mix of WordPress services you offer. We’ve also seen specialized shops like TweakMyTheme that exclusively offer theme customization services.
If your skills are more specialized, you may find steady work as a subcontractor for agencies and other consultants. For example, if you’re a WordPress plugin developer who lacks design skills, you can offer your PHP expertise to designers or agencies looking for specific functionality built into a larger WordPress site.
One benefit of subcontracting is that all of your jobs are collaborations with design/dev professionals rather than the end client. There tends to be less stress and easier communication when the people you work with “speak the language.” You can generally expect more professionalism this way as well.
2. Web Design/Development Agency
After working for several years as a freelance consultant, you may reach a point when you want to grow your business beyond just raising your rates. The logical next step is to hire full-time employees or subcontractors and transition to an agency operation.
WordPress can play a central role at the agency level. Not only can it serve as your primary web development platform, but you can look to the vast WordPress community to find new hires and collaborators.
Having a team allows you to multiply your earnings per hour or take on more projects simultaneously. You can also deliver a better final product since it was built by a team of specialists.
If you’re making the transition from being a solo consultant to agency, your personal job description will change quite a bit. Expect to spend less time in Photoshop and code and more time in calls, meetings, reviewing portfolios and juggling the many responsibilities of a business owner. Some find this transition exciting while others prefer to focus on their craft. That’s something you need to consider before growing your operation.
3. WordPress Themes Sales
Among the most prominent business models in the world of WordPress is theme sales. Today’s market is flooded with WordPress theme shops and the competition is fierce. The massive growth of the WordPress user-base means thousands of new users are entering the market every month.
Selling WordPress themes is a product business, which offers the benefit of being detached from time-based revenue. But don’t think that running a themes shop doesn’t require tons of time and work. You’ll be busy creating and maintaining themes as well as handling ongoing customer support.
In the world of WordPress themes, there are quite a few options to consider as you plan your business:
Independent Theme Shops
One way to enter the themes business is to start up your own independent ecommerce website to sell your themes. There is a lot to consider before diving in. First, building an effective ecommerce site is a tough task in and of itself. You’re also responsible for all of the marketing costs and customer database infrastructure. Of course, the benefit is you get to keep 100% of the revenue from your themes.
Another benefit to selling WordPress themes independently is the freedom to try out various pricing models, such as simple one-time theme sales, membership to access all themes (a recurring revenue model), or free themes with premium support.
WordPress Theme Marketplaces
For those interested in designing and selling WordPress themes, but aren’t ready to build and market your own independent ecommerce website, joining a popular marketplace could be the way to go.
The benefits of selling on a marketplace is that you get to focus on designing and supporting themes while the marketplace handles the bulk of your marketing and traffic generation. The downside is most marketplaces take a significant commission on sales and usually don’t give you control over theme pricing. Another potential downside is your themes are listed right alongside many competitors so it can be easy to get lost in the mix. But with great products shown on a high-traffic stage, the pros can certainly outweigh the cons.
4. Plugin Development & Support
Premium plugins may offer more of an opportunity for newcomers than theme sales. While they are very popular with users, there are simply less plugin developers in the space. But the market is growing rapidly.
If you or your team have the development chops to create awesome functionality built on top of WordPress, plugins could be the business to look at. Like WordPress themes, one route is to independently sell your plugin through your own ecommerce site. Gravity Forms, Plugin Buddy, and Cart66 have shown that this business model can be successful. You can also release your plugins on marketplaces such as CodeCanyon, WP Plugins, and Mojo Themes (they also have plugins).
One potential challenge in a plugins business might be customer support. This can prove to be even more difficult than supporting themes since there are so many compatibility variables. But with the right support team in place and a great, carefully developed product, the customer support challenge can be overcome.
5. WordPress Web Hosting
These days, recurring revenue is among the most sought after pricing models for new startups. The power of a recurring revenue stream is tremendous when you think of the growing potential lifetime value of each of your customers. Looking for a recurring revenue model in the WordPress space? WordPress hosting may be worth consideration.
Every user on a self-hosted WordPress site needs some kind of web hosting. Popular and low-cost web hosts like Godaddy, Dreamhost, MediaTemple and others all offer WordPress compatability and one-click installation. But this seems to be the extent to which their services go in respect to WordPress.
Other hosting companies have positioned themselves as WordPress hosting specialists, with an extended set of WordPress services attached to their hosting, like theme installation and WordPress support and optimization. A few examples include Page.ly, WP Engine, and ZippyKid.
Getting into the hosting business is no easy task. You’d better have an intimate knowledge of server technology and scaling issues. It also requires a significant investment in infrastructure, customer support staff, and marketing. And don’t forget the potential firestorms that will arise when your servers inevitably go down and every one of your customers flames you on Twitter. That said, the recurring revenue is a powerful benefit not to be understated. If you make it work, it can be a very lucrative business model.
6. WordPress Community Content
Creating valuable WordPress-related content is a great way to build a long-term brand and audience, which in turn can be leveraged to build a strong business. The WordPress community provides an abundance of helpful information. With just a few Google searches, you can find anything you want to know from a WordPress user.
You can start a blog with focused content in a sub-niche within the WordPress world. WPCandy covers all news related to WordPress. WP Beginner provides helpful tutorials to developers starting out with WordPress. WP Engineer tackles more advanced topics for developers. There are also podcasts like WordPress Weekly. The possibilities are endless.
The primary revenue source for content-driven models is advertising. However, building a strong readership can also be a great launching pad for a products and/or services business.
The challenge with a content-driven approach is the lengthy period of time and unwavering effort required before you start to see results. It can take months of posting several blog posts per week before you build enough traffic to attract advertisers. And don’t forget about the time involved in creating all of that content, or the cost of hiring writers.
7. Premium WordPress Support
This is an interesting and innovative business model that has popped up in recent years. Since WordPress is an open source community-driven project, there really isn’t a centralized location where you can get instant and reliable general customer support. That’s not to say there aren’t amazingly supportive community forums like those on WordPress.org. But sometimes people or companies seek more substantial support options.
One company that comes to mind is WP Help Center, which offers monthly subscriptions to on-call WordPress customer support and development. Another innovative startup is WP Questions, where anyone can ask or answer questions related to WordPress. Those who offer the best answer win a monetary prize paid by the asker, with a portion going to WP Questions.
The Possibilities Are Endless
These business models are just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of innovative approaches popping up all around the WordPress platform. It’s truly an exciting time for WordPress and the larger community of those who build the web.
Are there any other WordPress focused business models worth noting? Untapped opportunities in the WordPress space? Let us know in the comments.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Titanas
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