Mike Eppel owns and operates Small Fish Analytics. He builds and supports a handful of WooCommerce plugins that help store operators analyze their abandoned carts and handle several common problems related to shipping. Mike was nice enough to take some time and answer my questions about how he got started and the process behind developing and selling WooCommerce plugins.
Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself and how you got started working with WordPress?
My name is Mike and I’ve been building software professionally for just over 10 years. Since before 2015 I was always interested in and followed the whole bootstrapped movement where single founders were building small companies and succeeding at it.
After many failed attempts at launching my own products I decided to try and bite off something easier to chew. Building and launching a WordPress plugin seemed like something really achievable so without much more thought I decided to give it a go.
You are developing and selling three WooCommerce-specific plugins. What was process for developing each plugin like? Where did the idea come from and what kind of challenges did you see developing each that other WordPress developers might find interesting?
My first plugin was a WooCommerce plugin for getting live shipping rates from the Canada Post API and displaying them on the checkout. I did basically zero product research but I knew there was a competitor on the WordPress plugin repository as well as on Code Canyon. The free version started picking up downloads right away and I think within about two months I had released a premium version and received my first sale. Today this plugin is installed on over 1,000 sites.
Next I built out a second plugin for tracking abandoned carts. Again I saw a competing plugin so I set out to build my own version that I thought would be useful. Using the exposure of the WordPress plugin repository again was a great way to get initial traction. Today this plugin is installed on over 3,000 sites and growing.
Finally, the last plugin I released was a dead simple plugin for controlling the order that shipping quotes show on the checkout. This is my only plugin that isn’t listed in the WordPress plugin repository and is for sale on my site without a free version. The whole point of this plugin was to challenge myself to see if I could sell a plugin without the repository. Sure enough within about two weeks of launching I was able to pick up some organic search traffic and started making sales!
The biggest thing I learned that others might find interesting is that if your plugins are solving enough pain even a small plugin with only 1,000+ installs can actually be quite lucrative in terms of sales. Before starting I always thought you’d need tens of thousands of installs to make any money, but that’s not the case at all.
WooCommerce plugins seems to be a lucrative, but ultra competitive niche, in the plugin space. How are you going about growing your user and customer base in such a crowded field?
The most important thing I do is give REALLY good and fast support even with the free versions of my plugins. People are often shocked at how quickly I respond if I’m around. What I’ve found is that that awesome support often leads people to upgrade to premium at best but also they tend to leave really good reviews at worst. I’ve even been sent free products like hot sauce from peoples online store as a thank you for the support I give!
I like to ask people about pricing because it’s something everyone appears to struggle with. How did you settle on your current pricing structure for your plugins and did it take any trial and error to get to this point?
My pricing structure on all three plugins started out as a flat price for each plugin. The Canada Post plugin costs $27, the abandoned cart plugin costs $15 and the shipping method ordering plugin costs $9. Even though I’m in Canada all of those prices are in USD as that seems to be the standard way of doing things.
In 2018 I noticed a lot of my customers were actually design/website firms and not individuals. In order to try capturing more revenue I introduced tiered pricing of 1 site, 3 site and 10 site licenses. This was a win for me as people did start buying multi site licenses pretty quickly. Most sales are single site but it all helps!
The other thing I’ve been considering trying is introducing automatic yearly renewals. I know other plugin developers have done this and report good things but I’m still a bit nervous to give it a try just due to how often I get asked if it’s a one time fee or annual. I think it might actually hurt sales.
What I am planning to do to test annual renewals is actually to offer annual renewals at say $27 a year or also let customers pick more expensive lifetime license at a cost of say $57. I think in this way might be the best of both worlds.
Do you have any new plugins, related to WooCommerce or otherwise, that are coming soon that you would like to tell everyone about?
I do have one more plugin coming out soon that allows customers to add shipping and handling fees to single products. It’s another small plugin like the one that orders shipping methods and I’m planning to use it to see how I can grow the organic search side of the business.
Other than that plugin though I’m always listening to customers, following WooCommerce groups and keeping my eyes open for new plugin ideas. Even though WooCommerce is really competitive as a niche with over 1 million installs there is a lot of room in the market for everyone to take a small slice.