WordPress  Support

HootProof: WordPress support as a business model

Quality, flexibility and professionalism. These are the three most important qualities of a good WordPress business, says Michelle Ratzlaff, founder of HootProof. A successful WordPress entrepreneur on the eternal conflict between free and paid, pricing and scaling options in WordPress business.

A huge market has emerged around WordPress in recent years. And not only in the USA. Development, support, hosting and stores 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 training, quality of work and flexibility. We at Raidboxes have been working with Michelle, Niko and Kjell for quite some time and recommend customers with specific support concerns to HootProof.

I'm Michelle, founder of HootProof. After studying computer science, I worked as a software developer for a few years before starting my own business in mid-2015. With my HootProof service, I offer a WordPress support service for solopreneurs and small businesses. My team and I solve problems with WordPress and implement change requests. That means, for example, we advise on the selection and setup of plugins and themes, perform theme- and plugin customizations or set up members areas. In this post I describe my journey from free blog to three-man team.

In the beginning was the blog: the start of HootProof

I started the blog in Mai 2015 and in September 2015 I added WordPress support in its current form. While I clearly started HootProof as a WordPress business, the exact monetization strategy was not clear to me at the beginning. I experimented with a productized service (performance optimization), started to develop a paid plugin and of course thought about classic info products like e-books and online courses.

I would like to talk more specifically about three areas, because I have learnt a lot from these in particular:

  • The eternal conflict between free and chargeable
  • Pricing in the WordPress Business
  • The scaling

Free 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, comments were created on the blog and this finally also affected my service, i.e. the WordPress support. Direct advertising measures, like Facebook Ads or Google Adsense, didn't work for me at all - probably because they were too directly designed to sell.

In the spirit of the Thank You Economy, I 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 superfluous.

On the other hand, I really wanted to offer the possibility to try out my service for free and without risk to convince myself of its value. At the beginning, I therefore worked with free "test tickets".

However, experience has shown that most fall into one of two categories: Either they try to use the test ticket as much as possible, but are not really interested in becoming paying customers - e.g. because they only run their blog as a hobby or prefer to work on it themselves. On the other site stand prospective customers, who need no further convincing in addition that our service is exactly correct for it and are ready to pay accordingly for it. 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.

In terms of content, it is now also quite simple: Most users will find many useful tips and concrete instructions on the blog and in the knowledge database to be able to solve typical problems themselves. The online course is basically about similar topics, but much more in-depth and structured than detailed step-by-step instructions in blog form.

Those who do not want to invest time themselves, but prefer to hand over the effort and risk altogether, can then commission my team and me directly. So there is no direct competition between the different levels of help and self-help.

So the most important insight for a WordPress business at this point is: design your offer in such a way that free and paid portions do not cannibalize each other. Sounds banal, but requires a lot of thought about what services and information you really want to give away for free and for what you charge how much money.

Especially with WordPress support, the pricing model is a real challenge

As far as the service is concerned, the pricing model was a real problem at the beginning. Fearing the competition and the more or less prominent role models in English- and German-speaking countries, I opted for a flat rate model at the beginning. At that time, customers could order an unlimited number of "tickets" for a fixed monthly amount.

However, even after adjusting the prices and the maximum number of tickets several times, this led to various problems. For one thing, this model is inherently unfair: some customers paid the same for one or two small things a month as others paid for many, much larger tasks. Where do you draw the line between a "ticket" and a larger job? On the other hand, the fixed price is a clear entry threshold for a potential new customer, who asks "Is this even worth it for me? Can I even take advantage of this?". And last but not least, I didn't see a solution to pay my team members fairly and according to effort on this basis.

After a few months, I switched to hourly billing for WordPress support. Thus, each customer pays for exactly the effort that his tasks require. I was initially very afraid of the reactions to this step - but it was definitely right. Our customers have full cost control. For example, they can set limits and view the recorded effort at any time. And we are no longer limited to "small things", but can accept orders of any size - from backup setup to plugin customization. This is fair and goal-oriented for all parties involved.

From Solopreneur to Scaling the WordPress Buisness

Like most solopreneurs, I did everything completely on my own in the beginning. It wasn't until Mai 2016 that I brought Niko on board as my first team member and a little later Kjell joined me. This gave me the space I needed to work on the online course and other WordPress projects. In addition, we can exchange ideas on tricky tasks and take turns with vacations. So I no longer have to be available alone every day.

In order to organise ourselves in the team, I have been looking for a suitable software for a long time. Until today, I haven't found one that meets all the requirements. Therefore, we use a number of more or less well-integrated tools:

  • HelpScout for receiving and processing support tickets
  • Harvest for time tracking 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 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 experiences. And this is exactly the key insight for scaling: find people with whom you can work well together and (perhaps even more important) who complement your own skills. This way, you create a more powerful team and potentiate the capabilities of your business.

Where does the business stand today?

I'm going to be honest and upfront about the numbers here. However, since June 2016, I have neglected the growth of HootProof, hardly produced any content and did not pursue any other marketing strategies. As a result, the support service is slowly growing through referrals and current online presence. I'm 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 WordPress support has brought in about 3000€ monthly (net) on average. A large part of the revenue I spend again for my team and about 100€ monthly for the tools mentioned above.

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 and the landscape around it is developing at breakneck speed - further training and continuous, intensive work with WordPress are essential.

The opportunity here, in my opinion, is to find a well-defined niche and become an unbeatable expert in it. How about, for example, a Productized Service for WooCommerce setup. Because WooCommerce is a comprehensive topic with many pitfalls and possibilities. With a wealth of experience and deep knowledge, you can create a lot of value here for a target group that is willing to pay.

In addition, I would always focus on quality over price. Our hourly rate is deliberately set high, because we want customers who approach their WordPress project professionally and value our work.

In summary:

  • Quality comes first - differentiating on price is not a good strategy in this market (actually in any digital market) in my opinion.
  • Professionalism - clear, goal-oriented communication with your clients, professional working methods with high quality standards.
  • You need to stay up to date in this fast-changing world. This happens almost automatically when you work continuously with WordPress.

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 look forward to your comments!

Did you like the article?

With your rating you help us to improve our content even further.

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *