If you follow the WordPress community you probably saw Katie Keith’s article on WordPress Tavern about how her company, Barn2 Media, has transitioned into a plugin selling business.
I continue to be obsessed with people who are building plugins that leverage products from a third-party and thankfully Katie was willing to answer some questions I had about Barn2 Media’s business and products. Her answers to my questions offer a lot of insight into what that life is like.
We talk about the difficulties working with WooCommerce, the danger of your product possibly becoming a standard feature, their marketing and support efforts and even what the WordPress Tavern post did to their sales.
What were some of the largest development challenges that come up when building plugins to work with WooCommerce?
When you’re building a plugin on top of an existing plugin, such as WooCommerce, there are definitely extra challenges. You need an incredibly detailed understanding of the plugin you’re integrating with, including the current version and any previous versions that you’ve decided to support. Ideally, you also need a crystal ball to predict future WooCommerce changes that might affect your plugin!
Every time WooCommerce releases a new version we have to test in the new version and release a new version that declares compatibility (otherwise WooCommerce will give your customers a scary warning when they try to update!). For example, WooCommerce 3.0 was a major update and we had to do a lot of work to bring our plugin in line with these changes.
Do you ever worry about waking up one day and discovering WooCommerce has implemented one of your plugins as a native feature? Does that possibility play any role in how you decide what to develop next?
Yes, this is a worry and definitely affects our business planning. For example, it’s tempting to put all our resources into continuing to improve WooCommerce Product Table as it’s our bestselling plugin. However, we know that it’s not sensible to have all our eggs in one basket. We minimize the risk by having more than one plugin as well as continuing to support our previous clients (these are people whose websites we designed before our transition to a plugin company).
I’m very curious about how you market to people who are customers of another product already such as WooCommerce. Is it difficult to reach such a targetted audience who might not even realize they need one of your plugins until they see it for the first time?
In my experience, most WooCommerce users know that they can extend WooCommerce by adding other plugins. That’s what makes WordPress so great! If they want to do something that isn’t available in the WooCommerce core, it’s common for people to search for a plugin.
Other people search for solutions rather than plugins. Our task is to identify what problems people are typing into Google (or Facebook, Reddit, or wherever else they hang out online) and make sure our plugin comes up as the best solution in the search results.
For example, we have two plugins that add privacy options to WooCommerce. These are WooCommerce Private Store (which makes your entire store private) and WooCommerce Password Protected Categories (which makes parts of your store private). A lot of people search for things like “Hide WooCommerce”. They don’t know that they need a plugin to solve this problem – but we’ve written articles about this topic, which appear in the search results for that keyword. Of course, the article recommends our plugins as the solution and they end up making a purchase as a result.
Your landing page for WooCommerce Product Table, and your other plugins for that matter, are some of the best I’ve come across. Are there any particular sections of them that you find help the best in converting visitors into buyers that others can emulate on their own plugin sites?
Thanks! A lot of people mention that the reviews convinced them to buy the plugin. This is important because while we’re a well-known WordPress agency in the UK, we’re not well-known globally as a plugin company. Our website needs to look professional to convince them to risk buying a plugin from a company they don’t know. Reviews help with this by providing “social proof.”
Most plugin sales pages display a few hand-picked testimonials, which could easily be faked. We let customers add reviews directly to our website, which I think adds transparency.
As a freelancer with clients on the platform, I know WooCommerce problems tend to generate a lot of support requests. How do you handle dealing with issues that are sometimes not your fault but are problems with templates or WooCommerce itself?
We have a clear support policy and only support problems that relate directly to our plugin. If a question obviously doesn’t relate to our plugin then it’s easy to politely point people in the right direction (without actually answering the question). This only takes a minute and they will appreciate your helpful response.
The biggest challenge is how to work out whether a problem relates to your plugin or something else. We often have to do quite a lot of work before we discover that the issue isn’t caused by our plugin, which is frustrating. To minimize this, it’s important to have a process for checking whether the problem is caused by your plugin or something else on the customer’s website. This might involve checking other parts of the site where your plugin isn’t used, or you might need to advise the customer to disable all their other plugins and switch to a default theme to see if the problem resolves itself.
Here’s an example: this morning, we received a support from someone who was using an ‘Add to Wishlist’ plugin with our WooCommerce Product Table plugin. This is a plugin that we recommend on our ‘Integrations’ page, so it does fall under our plugin support. The customer reported that the Add to Wishlist button in the product table didn’t work. I visited their website, clicked through to a single product page, and tried to add the product to the wishlist from there. Lo and behold, the wishlist button didn’t work on the single product page either. This showed that it’s a problem with the wishlist plugin rather than our plugin, so I sent a friendly reply advising them to contact the plugin author for support.
Your plugins come with three tiers of pricing: Personal, Business and Agency. How did you settle on that setup, and the specific prices, and is any one tier more popular than another?
The three tiers relate to the number of sites that you can use the plugin on. Most of our customers choose the Personal license because they only want to use the plugin on one site but we have agencies who choose the more expensive plans and use the plugin on multiple sites.
Different types of customer choose different plans. As well as web developers, the Agency license is popular with companies who help restaurants with their websites and marketing. This is because our WooCommerce Product Table is very popular for creating a restaurant ordering system and these companies use it on their own customers’ websites to save on development time. By offering a choice of packages you can cater for people wanting to use your plugins in different ways.
When we started selling plugins 18 months ago our prices were a lot cheaper. We gradually increased them and tested different price levels, monitoring sales each time. We settled on $75 for each plugin because it achieved the the highest total income.
It’s a complicated sum and takes lots of trial, error and analysis to get right. Bear in mind that each sale increases the amount of plugin support you have to provide. This means that it’s more profitable to sell 100 plugins per month at $100 each than to sell 200 plugins at $50 each. That’s why it’s not necessarily an advantage to sell on marketplaces such as CodeCanyon, where you get greater exposure but can’t control your pricing.
Don’t be afraid to increase your prices. Of course people would rather pay less. But if you offer a unique solution that is better than the competition then the price is justified.
We receive a lot of feedback that our plugins are too expensive. But we also receive a lot of feedback from people who originally found them expensive and then discovered that they’re worth the extra money!
A lot of people recently heard about your company’s transition to making and selling plugins through your post on WP Tavern. One of the most popular pages at The Plugin Economy is my list of WordPress websites for marketing outreach so I’m sure my visitors would love to know: what kind of impact did the WP Tavern post have on your business?
To be honest, the article didn’t bring an increase in sales at all!
However, it was interesting to see how it raised awareness of our work in the wider WordPress community. For example, when I contacted people with details of our Black Friday deal, several replied saying that they had read the article on WP Tavern and thought we were doing really good work. This will have some impact on the business – but an indirect, longer-term impact.
What do you wish someone had told you before you got into making and selling plugins for WooCommerce?
Do it earlier!
We developed WordPress plugins for clients for over 6 years before making the transition to selling plugins. As you might have read on my recent article for Torque Magazine, this allowed us to scale the business to some extent – but selling plugins has brought it to new levels.
I find selling plugins to be much more satisfying than building websites for other people (or indeed working a traditional job). I love the fact that if we work hard at the development and marketing, then we can reap the rewards of our hard work.
What does the future hold for Barn2 Media and your plugin business? Are there more WooCommerce related products coming?
We intend to launch more WooCommerce related plugins next year but don’t have any immediate plans to do so for the time being. The existing plugins are doing so well that we’re working hard to consolidate them, add new features and improve our marketing.
WooCommerce is a huge growth area and there are still plenty of gaps in the market for new plugins. We will definitely be part of this in the future.