Quality, flexibility and professionalism. These are the three most important characteristics of a good WordPress business, says Michelle Ratzlafffounder of HootProof. A successful WordPress entrepreneur about the eternal conflict between free and paid, pricing and scaling in WordPress business.
To WordPress a huge market has emerged in recent years. And not only in the USA. Development, support, hosting and shops are just some of the promising business areas. Michelle, founder of HootProof and successful WordPress entrepreneur, has found her niche and talks in her guest article about the importance of continuous education, quality of work and flexibility. We at RAIDBOXES have been working with Michelle, Niko and Kjell for a long time and recommend HootProof to customers with special support needs.
I'm Michelle, founder of HootProof. After my studies of computer science I worked as a software developer for several years before I started my own business in mid 2015. With my HootProof service I offer a WordPress support service for solo preneurs and small companies. My team and I solve problems WordPress and implement change requests. This means that we advise our customers, for example, in the selection and installation of Plugins and Themes, carry Themeout and plugin adaptations or set up member areas. In this post I describe my way from a free blog to a three-man team.
In the beginning was the blog: The start of HootProof
I started the blog in May 2015 and in September 2015 the WordPress support in its current form was added. Although I clearly founded HootProof as a WordPress business, the exact monetization strategy was not clear to me at the beginning. I started with a produced service experimented (performance optimization), started to develop a paid Plugin one and of course also thought of classic info products like e-books and online courses.
There are three areas that I would like to address in more detail, because I have learned a great deal from them:
- The eternal conflict between free and paid
- Pricing in WordPress business
- The scaling
- The HootProof Owl: Trademark of Michelle's blog.
Free of charge vs. chargeable
Especially with a new blog or a new WordPress business with little reach it is very difficult to get attention on the net. For me it took months until the blog traffic increased noticeably, readers commented and this finally had an effect on my service, i.e. the WordPress support. Direct advertising measures, such as Facebook Ads or Google Adsense, didn't work for me at all - probably because they were too directly aimed at sales.
In the spirit of the Thank You Economy I have tried to offer a lot of knowledge and even my service for free. There was always a mental limit: I didn't want to give away too much of my knowledge "for free" and possibly make my paid service redundant.
On the other hand, I absolutely wanted to give potential customers the opportunity to try out my service free of charge and without risk to convince themselves of its value. Therefore, in the beginning I worked with free "test tickets".
However, experience has shown that most interested parties fall into one of two categories: Either they try to use the test ticket as much as possible, but they are not really interested in becoming paying customers - e.g. because they only run their blog as a hobby or they prefer to work on it themselves. On the other site hand, there are interested parties who don't need any further conviction that our service is just right for them and are willing to pay for it accordingly. This group is ultimately made up of exactly those customers with whom I want to work and to whom I can actually offer the best possible service.
- Prices for one hour WordPress support with Hootproof. The hourly prices allow for a cost-based billing and offer advantages for customers and providers.
In terms of content, it is now also quite simple: most users find the magazine and in the Knowledge base many useful tips and concrete instructions to be able to solve typical problems yourself. At Online course is basically about similar topics, but much more profound and structured than detailed step-by-step instructions in blog form.
If you don't want to invest your own time, but prefer to leave the effort and risk entirely to me, you can then commission my team and me directly. There is therefore no direct competition between the different levels of help and self-help.
The most important insight for a WordPress business at this point is therefore: Design your offer in such a way that free and paid portions are not cannibalized. Sounds banal, but it requires a lot of thinking about what services and information you actually want to offer for free and how much money you want to charge for them.
The pricing model is a real challenge, especially for WordPress support
As far as service is concerned, the pricing model was a real problem in the beginning. For fear of the competition and the more or less prominent role models in the English and German-speaking world, I decided to start with a flat rate model. At that time, customers could therefore order an unlimited number of "tickets" for a fixed monthly amount.
But even after several adjustments of the prices and the maximum number of tickets this led to various problems. For one thing, this model is unfair by nature: some customers pay the same for one or two small things a month, while others pay for many, much more extensive tasks. Where do you draw the line between a "ticket" and a larger order? On the other hand, the fixed price is a clear entry threshold for a potential new customer who asks himself "Is this even worth it for me? Can I even take advantage of that?" And last but not least, I saw no solution to pay my team members fairly and in accordance with their expenses on this basis.
So after a few months of WordPress support, I switched to hourly billing. This means that every customer pays for exactly the effort required for his tasks. I was initially very afraid of the reactions to this step - but it was definitely the right one. Our customers have full cost control. For example, they can set limits and view the recorded expenses at any time. And we are no longer limited to "trivialities", but can accept jobs of any size - from backup setup to plug-in customization. This is fair and goal-oriented for all parties involved.
From solo preneur to scaling of the WordPress business
Like most solo preneurs I did everything completely on my own at the beginning. It was not until May 2016 that I brought Niko on board as the first team member and a little later Kjell joined me. This gave me the necessary space to work on the online course and other WordPress projects. It also gives us the chance to exchange ideas on tricky tasks and alternate with holidays. So I don't have to be available every day by myself.
- The HootProof team today. Only one year ago Michelle was doing the WordPress support on her own.
In order to organize us as a team, I have been looking for a suitable software for a long time. To date, I have not found one that meets all requirements. Therefore we use a number of more or less well integrated tools:
- HelpScout for the receipt and processing of support tickets
- Harvest for time recording in the team and display via API in WordPress
- The WordPress Plugin User Frontend Pro for registration and user profile
- The WordPress Plugin Sprout Help Desk for integration with HelpScout
- a small self-written Plugin one to improve the integration with HelpScout and display the recorded time in the customer profile
Overall, the scaling has worked very well so far - my team is doing a great job and we complement each other well with our different skills and experience. And this is exactly the central insight for scaling: Find people with whom you can work well together on the one hand and (perhaps even more important) and who complement your own skills on the other hand. This way you create a more powerful team and increase the capabilities of your business.
Where is the business today?
I'm going to lay the numbers out on the table here, honestly and openly. Since June 2016, however, I have neglected the growth of HootProof, produced very little content, and pursued no other marketing strategies. As a result, the support service is slowly growing through recommendations and the current online presence. I am convinced that it could grow much faster if I paid more attention to social media, new blog articles and targeted advertising.
In the last 6 months the WordPress support has brought in an average of about 3000€ per month (net). I spend a large part of this revenue on my team and about 100€ per month for the above mentioned tools.
So what makes a successful WordPress business?
The market around WordPress is huge, but increasingly competitive, now also in German-speaking countries. Unfortunately, half-knowledge is also widespread and many freelancers still offer their services at dumping prices. In addition WordPress to this, the landscape around it is developing rapidly - further training and continuous, intensive work with WordPress is essential.
In my opinion, the opportunity here lies in finding a well-defined niche and becoming an unbeatable expert in it. For example, how about a Productized Service for WooCommerce-establishment. Because WooCommerce is a comprehensive topic with many pitfalls and possibilities. With a wealth of experience and in-depth knowledge, you can create a great deal of value for a target group that is ready to pay.
In addition, I would always focus on quality instead of price. Our hourly rate is deliberately set high, because we want customers who approach their WordPress project professionally and value our work.
- Quality comes first - in my opinion, differentiating oneself through price is not a good strategy in this market (actually not in any digital market).
- Professionalism - clear, goal-oriented communication with your customers, professional working methods with high quality standards.
- You need to stay up to date in this fast changing world. This happens almost automatically if you work with WordPress continuously.
Conclusion: A WordPress business can be started very quickly and with little effort. But scaling is naturally a much more difficult issue. Quality standards and team organization must be considered.
You have questions about your own WordPress business? We are looking forward to your comments!