WordPress Maintenance: Are You Worth Less Than a Cup of Starbucks?

WordPress Maintenance: Are You Worth Less Than a Cup of Starbucks Coffee?

Developer drinking a cup of Starbucks

– I feel that asking more than $40 per year for WordPress maintenance would be too much.

– How much is that per month?

– …Around $3.50.

– So, less than that cup of Starbucks you’re drinking. Is that the level of your WordPress skill?

– … I think I need to revise my pricing strategy.

I’ve had this conversation more times than I care to admit. Over the past year, in the process of developing a more efficient pricing model for ManageWP Orion, I’ve had hundreds of talks with WordPress professionals. Many of them viewed maintenance as a great source of passive income, but a fair number struggled to recognize it as the opportunity for profit that it clearly is.

Invariably, those who struggle place the blame at their clients’ feet at some point in the conversation: they don’t see the value, there is no budget for maintenance, the times are hard – I’ve heard them all. But here’s the hard truth:

It’s your own fault that your clients think you’re worth less than a cup of Starbucks.

Unlike car repair or hairdressing, web development as a profession has only been around for a few decades. There is no standard fee people can reference, and WordPress websites are being built by both top agencies for $10,000+ and high school students for $50. It’s up to you, the expert, to convince the client, a nonexpert, that you are the former. However, unlike web development, the art of negotiation has been around forever, and a lot of businesses are run by very good negotiators – who, in the process of negotiating a lower fee, just might kill your self-confidence.

You need to change the way you’re seeing yourself, because you’re worth much, much more. Here are a couple of things to help you with that.

Maintenance is About Availability, Not Actual Work

Let’s say you’re a WordPress rock star. You’re worried a local Drupal gang will make a move on you, so you hire a burly bodyguard to shadow you 24/7. A month goes by with no Drupal attacks, and now it’s payday for your bodyguard. What are you going to say to him? “Sorry, six-foot-five, ex-Navy-SEAL dude, no paycheck for you this month because you didn’t have to actually defend me against any attacks”? Not likely.

bodyguard

I’ll let you discuss terms with my right hand. Or, as I call it, “The Hostile Negotiator”

With website maintenance, you are pledging a month of your time to be your client’s website “bodyguard.” If anybody messes with their business, you’re going in there, guns blazing. Otherwise, you’ll sit quietly in the corner, keeping one eye shut and the other on the door. The clients I have worked for in the past knew that they could reach me at my number day and night, and they paid well for that privilege.

It’s About the Value of the Service, Not Cost Plus Profit Margin

Take a look at Starbucks: their coffee costs twenty times what it would cost you to brew it at home, and yet business is booming. When Starbucks opened its doors, the founders didn’t set the price by writing down the expense per cup and slapping a 30 percent margin on it. They used value-based pricing. They sat down and asked themselves, “What is an afternoon in a pleasant atmosphere, service with a smile, and a great cup of coffee worth to our customer?”

Remember the last time a client screamed at you about the damage they incur for every nanosecond their site is down? Turn that complaint into a question: how much damage could have been prevented with proper website maintenance? If that damage amounts to, say, $500 per day, then paying $100 per month for maintenance is a bargain.

Offer More for More

On a recent podcast, Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine, explained his stance on pricing:

  1. Increase your price tenfold
  2. Figure out how to increase the value to match the price

It’s the famous 10x rule-and it works. Take a look at your maintenance service package and figure out what you could introduce. You’re offering updates and backups? Cool. Now why not introduce a tier that costs five times as much and includes malware scan and cleanup? Or maybe for three times more they get uptime monitoring. You can always offer more and get more in return.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Cut

Let’s face it: your clients will not be happy when you tell them you’re raising your fees. But if you explain why you are doing it, at least they will understand. Sure, some of them will walk away, but think of it this way: Let’s say you raise your fee from $5 to $20. Even if half of your clients stop using your service, your income will double, while your workload will be cut in half. If that’s not a win-win situation, then I don’t know what is. Take that, you overpriced cup of hot water!

Photo credit: Sean Wandzilak / Shutterstock.com

Nemanja Aleksic

Head of Growth at ManageWP. Marketing Manager at GoDaddy. WordCamp Belgrade organizer. But first and foremost, a father, a husband and a puck stopper.

13 Comments

  1. Stephan

    Great article. We are a 100% WordPress agency and this is so recognizable. Thanks for your insight!

  2. Sean

    I think a lot of the heartache can be avoided when screening the prospect to become a client. If they are penny pincher then it is bes to avoid such clients. Clients who have a problem with cash flow need to cough up the extra cash to pay for such services, this is mandatory if they are to run a serious business, they need to treat it seriously and invest in their website.

    1. Nemanja Aleksic

      That would be great if you’re in a position to choose your projects, but not everyone has that luxury, especially the people who are struggling with the challenges discussed in this article. Personally, I don’t mind penny pinchers; as long as the scope of service is clearly defined, they are manageable.

  3. marcel

    I’m curious what others charge for WP Maintenance and Support. I charge $50/month and other web professionals say that my prices are very reasonable (i.e. I’m charging too little). Of course, with ManageWP, the automation makes things a lot easier, so I think $50/month is very fair pricing.

    1. Nemanja Aleksic

      Jenny Beaumont did a survey a few months back. It was a pretty small sample (a grand total of 124 participants), but the US segment (14 participants) charged roughly from $50 up to $450. Here’s the whole survey:

      http://www.jennybeaumont.com/results-2015-wordpress-maintenance-survey/

  4. Luke Boobyer

    Great article. Any idiot can update their plugins, but it takes years of WordPress experience to know when an update is likely to break something. Then you need to know how to fix the site if things go wrong. A lot of clients don’t really understand this and end up breaking their own sites.

    1. Nemanja Aleksic

      I’ve seen some developers offer their clients a month of free maintenance after they build their website. I’d be very much interested in measuring the effectiveness of this offer, but on paper it seems great: clients are encouraged to mess around with their website, knowing that they have a WordPress developer in their corner. And if they do break something, it gives the dev the opportunity to demonstrate his value.

      1. Katie Keith

        Great article. As the owner of a WordPress web design agency, this is the single most difficult area of our business to get right. Clients are prepared to pay for a professional website but it’s a bigger challenge to convince them of our value in ongoing support and maintenance. The hardest part for us is that if a client declines an ongoing support package, they end up getting the same service for free because as a company, we always reply helpfully and promptly to queries and help clients with their problems! Yes, they pay a higher hourly rate for ad hoc support where there’s no ongoing agreement in place – however many types of support can’t reasonably be billed for, such as “quick questions” (all of which take time). I’d love to hear what solutions other WordPress companies have found.

        1. Nemanja Aleksic

          Thanks, Katie!

          Regarding the non billable support hassle: have you considered throttling the replies? It’s a great approach when you don’t want to turn away your free clients – if you state that your free support policy is to reply in 1 or 2 business days, while the paid clients get a 1 to 2 hours response time or automatically get ahead of the queue, you’re setting clear expectations for them, and they will not hold a grudge. This probably won’t have any noticeable effect on its own, but if you introduce it as a part of a larger package (e.g. chat support), it might have a positive effect.

          1. Katie Keith

            Thanks for the suggestion. Good idea, although it fundamentally goes against my personality as I instinctively help everyone as quickly as possible! I need to be strict with myself and look at implementing something like this…

            By the way I have just linked to your article in the maintenance section of my latest blog post: http://barn2.co.uk/wordpress-child-themes-hidden-cost/

  5. Andrew Lopez

    Excellent article Nemanja!

    I would struggle with this same question in determining how much I should charge customers for monthly management services. The value based approach you mentioned Starbucks took is an aspect lots of WordPress managers, developers, etc can use for their own pricing model. It may take seconds to update WordPress themes, plugins, or core, but what were to happen if the site were to go down during an update? How much money would the customer pay to get the site up post haste? Another question, how much would the customer pay daily for the site not to go down? These are questions you can ask when negotiating the monthly support plan.

    As you mentioned, the more services you offer, the higher the cost should be for the customer. Plain and simple.

    Great article and looking forward to more content from you.

    Cheers!

    1. Nemanja Aleksic

      Thanks, Andrew!

      The plugin and theme update you mentioned is a great example of percieved value – as far as the client is concerned, it’s only one click, there’s nothing to go wrong. Developers, on the other hand, know (and probably experienced) all the ways things can go wrong during updates.
      That’s why you need to inform your client why your updates are better left to the professionals.

  6. bodhi

    I love this article. We have been struggling with many of the issues outlined in this post so its great to hear some positive thoughts and insights. I sent this to the rest of the team to chew on. Thanks again! Bodhi McGee from Total WP Supportort

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Over 27,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

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Over 27,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!