Developer Derek Ashauer was kind enough to take time to talk to me about his WordPress plugin called Sunshine Photo Cart. With Sunshine Photo Cart, professional photographers can easily add client proofing galleries and photo cart options on their websites.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you became involved with WordPress?
I am a mostly self taught web developer. I have my own web design and development business that is my primary income. Early in my career I found several clients needing a simple to manage news section to their site so I developed my own open source PHP news script. I found WordPress as an alternate that already existed (and was way better than what I had created) and I never looked back.
What were some challenges you experienced building the plugin that might be interesting to other WordPress plugin developers?
I severely underestimated how large of a project I had taken on. I didn’t organize my code all that well because I honestly didn’t plan on doing too much with it except sell it to a small number of people… maybe. I just wanted to see if I could do it and if I made just several hundred dollars a month off it I would be happy.
I really wish I would have started off with much more thought out, organized code base to build on. At the same time, I may not have been able to even get to a point where I could release something if I hadn’t just dove right in and went for it using the initial excitement after making the mental decision to go for it.
What have been some of your most successful marketing efforts to reach your audience? Are photographers a tough segment to reach or promote to?
I frankly don’t have an answer to this. After almost 6 years I only recently hired someone to help me organize my marketing efforts and she is still putting a lot of the data and plan together at this time. My niche is rather specific in the grand WordPress scheme of things so getting decent search engine rankings wasn’t too hard, I did some basic Facebook ads and just let it grow on it’s own naturally.
I know that email marketing and discount codes seem to be very helpful in converting. When I did some diving into my past sales I found that almost 2/3 of purchases of my Pro bundle used a discount code. This may be a photographer thing, or maybe a consumer thing in general, but seems pretty clear people want to feel like they are getting a deal in order to make a purchase.
You have add-ons as well as a “buy it all” Pro option. How did you settle on this pricing structure for Sunshine Photo Cart and how has it gone so far?
I started with two versions of Sunshine, $39 Standard version and $249 Pro version without doing the add-ons. I purposefully wanted it to grow slow. Sunshine, to this day, is still not my primary business and so I couldn’t focus on development and support with a large customer base yet. I wanted time to be able to flush out features and functionality before getting more people on board to make sure it was a refined product and people would like it when it did become more well known.
Eventually I would get a request every month from someone wanting just one specific feature and couldn’t justify paying the full price just to get it. My bug reports were becoming much fewer and further between so it finally felt stable enough to be released to more people. WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and many other popular plugins at the time were doing the freemium model and it seemed like a good way to get Sunshine into more users’ hands. So I switched to the freemium and add-on model with the release of 2.0 several years ago.
So far it seems to work. Users can install just the add-ons they want. 90% of purchases are for the Pro bundle.
I think the best change was to default to automatically processing recurring renewal payments. There is no way I would still be working on Sunshine if I was relying solely on new sales profits and did not do any renewal payments. When customers had to manually renew their license the rate was incredibly low. While I do process a couple refunds each month for the occasional “I didn’t know it automatically renewed,” the increased recurring revenue made a dramatic impact and will allow me to grow.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
I don’t think there is anything I wish someone had told me beforehand. I am glad I was a bit naive about how much work it can be to develop and support something as complex as a full e-commerce WordPress plugin for photographers. If I had known how many hours I would have to put in to get to this point I doubt I would have ever started.
What does the future hold for yourself and Sunshine Photo Cart?
My goal is to make Sunshine into my primary business and focus. I have learned through the years of working on Sunshine that I really am happier working on this than just about any of my client-based website project work. While Sunshine already has 21 add-ons, the moment I can make that big shift to the project being my main focus I have so many great ideas to make it even better.