The latest WordPress pricing discussions went viral and it’s apparently an important subject that should be discussed broadly at WordCamps. The large number of implementers out there are affecting the number of technical experts, and the competitive prices of other platforms lead us to the question: Why are the WordPress budgets underpriced?
I’ll share my experience so far as a single consultant and an agency owner.
Costs of WordPress Development
As a European WordPress developer I get occasional requests for WordPress development, and the budgets are often hilarious. At DevriX we get various requests where the budgets for the WordPress-based sites are often significantly lower than the ones for other projects (custom PHP/framework or Java development most of the time).
One of the reasons we’ve identified is apparently the low entry for new WordPress developers. People start customizing themes and get into the: “Hey, look what I’ve done, I’m a developer!”. That leads to “my son built my website” attitude and experience with building blocks together, and overall disrespect to the overall community in the sense of: “It’s so easy that my kid can do it in a week”.
Which is fine as long as customers don’t call a web agency and request their work to be done “pro bono” because WordPress is Open Source and there are “freelancers” out there who probably work for free (name association).
However, there is a huge gap between “building a site with whatever is available” for two hours and expecting custom features in a complete technical solution. And that’s where most arguments are born: the fact that a free plugin does 90% of what you need doesn’t necessarily mean that the other 10% of the work would happen in a few minutes.
But let’s not get into that dilemma and see where does WordPress shine.
WordPress for MVP
When Adii started Public Beta he had tested his idea through WordPress because it’s fairly straight forward to build MVPs. Then he went on with Rails (IIRC) which was arguably the right choice, but still the idea could have been easily validated at first without a large initial investment. The bright business minds out there know that building fairly straight-forward websites with WordPress is doable, and there are enough plugins out there to use for starters.
Exactly the thing that we’ve discussed earlier: you could do A LOT with default plugin setup as long as you don’t need too many customizations that weren’t meant to be done within the plugin options set. Therefore launching an MVP with a small set of changes and focusing on the business model is a great and affordable thing to expect from WordPress.
I have been able to validate several business ideas myself once I’ve started using WordPress. It was time consuming before that, and now it’s a matter of purchasing a domain name, setting up WordPress, installing a few plugins and seeing how it goes. If the idea is good and people are interested, then I plan a completely brand new development process that includes new features, rebuilding some of the plugins, new design, different APIs integration and so forth. Which is a long, expensive process – just as with any other technical platform and a custom solution.
WordPress is an established CMS with a very flexible structure due to the Custom Post Types API and the foundations on the database level. Over a dozen plugins on WordPress.org or premium ones make it possible to build virtually any type of data entry that has: title, content, publish date, author and an infinite (so to speak) number of custom properties.
This is perfect for any sort of business. You could easily create a technical backbone with WordPress for: products, air conditioners, cars, real estates, or whatever you want that falls into that pattern. Thanks to the Custom Taxonomy API you could group all of these in a hierarchical or flat model (categories vs. tags) which works for the majority of the projects.
There are a few types of projects that wouldn’t be a good fit for the current infrastructure. They are usually related to huge amounts of data that lack part of the required things in the posts table, or wherever a SQL join would be a heavy operation – yet these are more of exception cases. Especially with the JSON REST API that’s about to get in the core soon most of the API-related requests would be possible with WordPress and we will cover more and more project types.
The main problem again is that requiring a good amount of customization for the existing CPT capabilities might require a lot of work, especially when it comes to complex filtering, searches, multilingual websites, ecommerce, payment integration, AJAX manipulation, various templates, and others. The fact that “it’s almost there” doesn’t mean that the rest can be built in an instant.
When I was preparing my slides for WordCamp The Netherlands, I’ve researched the multisite capabilities of other platforms – both in PHP, and in other languages too. None of the options that I was able to find was as flexible, automated and powerful as the WordPress Multisite feature. Plugins like Pro Sites makes it possible to create membership websites with subsites for each member, integrate different payment processors, track plans, and build on the top of that.
It’s a very powerful solution really. There are numerous plugins that leverage that properly, and the WordPress API is quite flexible when it comes to multisite installs. Certainly, there are some bugs here and there that require workarounds (such as getting the post types of a site after switch_to_blog() ) but it’s all possible.
However, if you expect specific changes in the plans model, exotic payment gateways, automated lifetime registration support, more fine-grained plugins control you might be stuck with weeks of changes and an actual fork of the real plugin, or end up with building a custom multisite management plugin as we did in DevriX.
WordPress Marketing Platforms
If you’re following people like Syed from WPBeginner or follow marketers who are into platform building, you will find out that the majority of the plugins or platforms out there are WordPress based. Why is that?
- integration with lots of autoresponders
- several different eCommerce solutions
- stats features
- decent integration with most if not all Google services
- brilliant SEO plugins
- all those powerful CMS thing that we’ve discussed above
- the incredibly usable WordPress admin panel
- a bunch of plugins for customizing the overall user experience
- tons of themes and other goodies
The marketing niche is one of the places where people invest a lot because they know how powerful it is, how much they could squeeze out of WordPress and extend it at the same time.
The interesting thing is that, since marketers aren’t tech-savvy and they communicate with numerous fields and also technical companies out there, even though they’re not techies – they know how expensive it is to build a system on the top of another platform, and they know that they could earn a lot (and normally are willing to invest a lot).
Full disclosure: over the past 2 years at DevriX almost all of our clients are in the marketing, sales, SEO or event management world, and we’ve closed two $50K+ projects with few more that would cross the line (which is why we’ve separated them into WP Commit). It’s all about perspective, and since marketers and sales people can sell outside of the WordPress world, they’re inclined to invest in a growing infrastructure as the main tool for their sales.
Automattic and it’s direction
I’m mentioning Automattic here although I actually mean all of the large product companies including WebDevStudios. Don’t forget that you could also leverage the WordPress.com Stats and the entire Jetpack stack, and also add a lot of gamification with BadgeOS. AppPresser makes it possible to build a mobile application based on WordPress which is definitely revolutionary.
Being able to see where the big companies are headed is a smart move to see what’s possible, and checking the WordPress.com VIP list with agencies and large sites is a proof that smart corporations invest in WordPress as a reliable platform with stable backbone that could be extended further.
Complete WordPress Solutions
Back to the implementers subject and the small websites: most of the cost complains for WordPress come from the fact that many clients really don’t require much. “Just a simple website” is totally something that you could do for $200 even, if you just need to install WordPress, a free theme and a SEO plugin. It would take you 20 minutes and no one that I know of would complain about that $600/h rate. Even though it’s probably something that you’d rather not do, because the site would be neither functional, nor outstanding UI-wise.
What we do ourselves is the following: we always ask for budgets. There are too many requests for fixing a small bug in a large site or customizing a huge premium plugin for less than $100.
But the other thing that we do is offer solutions. Complete solutions may include, for example:
- design + development + SEO
- consulting + online training + code reviews
- development + system architecture and administration
- development + SMM + copywriting
Big clients are not interested in small chunks and they’re usually looking for complete solutions. Most of them have entire departments in-house that would handle part of the work, or they could prefer a specific hosting company for their dedicated servers. But being able to provide a complete solution is far more valuable and attracting to larger clients than just offering small website packages.
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