in Editorial, Open-Source, WooCommerce

Building a Freemium Plugin

Over the past few years, the concept of Freemium Software seems to have been given a lot more attention than it has in the past. Sure, the phrase was only coined 8 years ago (yeah, I looked it up), but it has existed for decades.

However, with the emergence of free web software and libraries like WordPress & jQuery, freemium software has recently found a place in developers’ hearts.

Especially in the world of gaming, both online (Facebook) and mobile (iPhone / Android), freemium software has started to become the norm, with content producers finding that it’s more profitable to give a little bit for free and charge a lot for the extras.

South Park even just made an entire episode about it, Freemium Isn’t Free.

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“With mobile apps, we now can make games that are boring and stupid, but if you pay for incentives, you’re rewarded.” Canadian Minister of Mobile Games

So, it’s clearly the right approach when it comes to creating a WordPress plugin, right? Well, people do have a lot to say about the topic. I found Chris Lema’s post The Unintended Consequences of Freemium to be pretty insightful. I’m not the kinda guy to tell you what to do though, so I’d rather just provide some advice if you are going to take the Freemium route.

Build a Community

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This is crucial. You need people to believe in what you’re doing, to support you every step of the way and to help when help is needed (it’s always needed). If you’re working with WordPress, your free product is almost certainly open-source too, which is a step in the right direction.

The community you build will end up doing the work for you. When they love the product you love, they actually become marketers for you. They’ll fix bugs for you, tell others to use it and write posts/guides about it.

Make it Extendable

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This one’s for both you and the users. Your revenue is often going to be reliant on either Extensions / Add-ons and/or Premium Support, so your product should be easily extendable. When it’s a WordPress plugin, this means plenty of hooks and a flexible templating engine.

Add-ons? Give Them Value

A product isn’t really freemium if it doesn’t have extensions or add-ons that can be purchased. Regardless of whether your free product is good or not, you’re going to find a lot of users saying “you can’t do anything unless you pay extra”. Ignore them. If you’ve followed the rules above and built an extendable product that does exactly what it’s advertised to do, then they’re just mad that they have to pay a little bit extra for the specific premium feature they want.

But don’t just make add-ons for the sake of it. Give them value. The user has already trusted you with the free product and they’re now ready to pay for a little bit extra, so make sure you provide them with the value they deserve. More than anything, that value should come in support. People often expect to get ‘premium support’ when they pay for an add-on. Where you draw the line in support is up to you, but it provides a lot of value to customers – so try and dedicate some time to it.

The Next Level: SaaS

I’m not going to get into this too much as it really deserves a post or 10 of its own, but Freemium doesn’t just have to about ‘extensions’ – it could also be a premium service along with a free one.

Or if you’re building a freemium WordPress plugin, you could even consider offering a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform that provides users with a hosted version of your product, extra features and loving support.

How about using WordPress Network / Multisite to do it? Well, I’ll tell you all about that in the coming weeks.

For now – go build your awesome freemium product!

I’m working on my own personal freemium product, Recipe Hero. Version 1.0.0 is on its way – so keep an eye on it! 🙂

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