February 2017 is the two year anniversary of launching Shop Plugins, and I’m taking a moment to reflect on why we started this journey, what worked, what we’d do differently, and what the future holds.
Why I started
My main source of income is doing client work through Grow Development, so Shop Plugins started as a part-time project.
I started working on Shop Plugins in the Fall of 2014 with the help of Jeroen Sormani and inspiration from Chris Lema. I had been a 3rd party developer selling through a few marketplaces since 2011. I knew how marketplaces worked from a developer perspective.
Selling through a marketplace was good exposure at first and revenue was growing month over month. However, I want my plugins to be a sustainable business. With respect to this goal, selling through a marketplace has more drawbacks than benefits.
Benefits of selling through a marketplace:
- 3rd party developers are only responsible for 2nd level support
- Marketing is handled by marketplace
- Some exposure from being listed on an ‘official’ plugin site
Drawbacks of selling through a marketplace
- No control over the release process or listing of competing products
- Prices are set by marketplace
- No control over sales or discounts
- No metrics of install base or versions
- No market to sell plugins to a new owner unless the marketplace approves
- All plugin concepts have to be approved by gatekeeper
- Customer has a relationship with marketplace not the developer
It was my independent streak and those last two drawbacks that made me disinterested in having a long-term business selling through a marketplace. The only customer communication I had was via support tickets, and most of those started off on the wrong foot of a perceived problem with the plugin.
I want to develop positive relationships with my customers, which isn’t possible without having a way to know who they are and communicate with them.
You might be reading this and thinking about selling your own premium plugins, and if so, I hope this is helpful to you.
Where we’re at today
As of February there are 16 premium plugins listed on the site. There are also 6 free plugins listed on WordPress.org connected with Shop Plugins. There are two plugin authors, myself and Jeroen, and we handle all development and support.
My first revenue goal after launch was to get the site to $1,000 per month in revenue for three consecutive months. We reached that goal in November of 2015. After two years in business the site passed $50,000 in total revenue right around the two year anniversary. The site’s on track to surpass that amount in year 3 alone.
The earnings may not seem impressive, but we are excited about the site’s potential and performance, given the amount of time invested.
What has worked
The first thing that worked was the choice to build plugins for the WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads ecosystems. Both of those plugins have growing install bases and are under active development.
I originally had the thought to list plugins by other developers. After thinking over the amount of management that would entail, I decided against it. When you’re small there’s enough work in managing your own code, so you don’t need to add managing someone else’s code.
Although most of the plugins sold on the site are for WooCommerce, we use Easy Digital Downloads to handle sales and plugin updates. This has worked out great, and I am looking forward to adding recurring subscriptions with the Recurring Payments plugin.
What I would do differently
If I was talking to myself two years ago I’d tell him to focus on releasing new plugins, new content, and to stop procrastinating! Seriously, procrastination is the enemy of so many things.
I’d also say to not bother with paid ads. The paid ads we tried didn’t increase sales very much, but our docs and content receive more and more traffic as time goes on. The traffic from docs and content can be tied directly to completed purchases.
What Does the Future Hold
We will continue to develop and support our plugins for our customers. We have some updates ready to release, and I have several plugins that are complete or near complete that I’m looking forward to releasing this year.
I’m excited to see what year three brings!
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