Pay What You Can for WordPress Maintenance – A Discussion

The WP Butler

In a few weeks, my wife will be giving birth to our first daughter, which we’re both very excited about.

In an ideal world, we’d both be self-employed and be able to spend all day, every day with her. While that doesn’t seem feasible at the moment, my entrepreneurial side has come up with an idea that might help to make that happen.

As you may be aware, I already provide a service called The WP Butler, which provides maintenance, backups, updates and security for your WordPress site. It takes the burden of the routine maintenance that WordPress sites need out of your hands and into the hands of someone (me) capable who can do this for you regularly, and spot and fix problems while he’s at it.

As an idea of increasing membership, I’ve been toying with the idea of enacting a pay-what-you-can system. There’s a few reasons behind this:

  • While I obviously benefit financially from providing services like this (we all need to eat, right?), I genuinely love to help people, and to work with WordPress. This service brings those two items together.
  • People may see a price tag and instantly turn away at the thought of having to part with that money every month, without having experienced the service that it buys you.
  • From what I hear, enacting pay-what-you-can systems regularly results in earning more than you would have if you had a set price. I was actually watching a TED talk by Amanda Palmer on this very subject, just this morning.
  • It goes hand-in-hand with the WordPress community spirit: accessibility for all, regardless of your location or income. There should be no barrier to access.
  • I would do anything to help realise my dream of spending more time with my daughter, and I think that this is a market for which there is a big need: I just need help making people aware that it exists.

So, with that, I open it up for discussion. I’m not one to ever ask for help, but would you help spread the word on this and get a feel for if there are people that you know that would be interested in a service like this? Would you help support me as a partner in the WordPress community for two causes: to make WordPress sites more secure and reliable, and to help me and my wife spend more time with our daughter?

33 thoughts on “Pay What You Can for WordPress Maintenance – A Discussion”

  1. love that you’re looking for ways to maximize time with family. beautiful.

    i don’t have any experience with pay-what-you-can models so i’ll be interested to see what others have to say.

    1. I was sure that you of all people would have had experience with a pay-what-you-can model! I’m interested to see where this discussion goes and what those who have experience in this arena have to say.

  2. Pay-what-you-want is great but remember one crucial detail: the minimum price MUST be the minimum you want to get paid for the work because the vast majority of customers will pay the minimum.

    1. I had been deciding whether or not there should be a minimum price – I like the idea of making it em>truly pay-what-you-can, but I don’t whether that will just get taken advantage. I’d like to believe not, but having no experience with pay-what-you-can, I just don’t know what to expect.

      1. Chris says:

        I would do an invite only or limited number per day where people can do it. Like a trial run to see what people pay and gauge interest by having people sign up on a MailChimp list or something to know how many people are interested. What I would do is a Gravity form with Mailchimp addon. Just ask for name, email, what plan they want, and what they want to pay.

        Then slowly rollout. That way, you can easily minimize losses if you start getting lowballers

        Just a thought

        1. And I appreciate that thought. I’ve had lots of great ideas come in, most of which I hadn’t considered before, and that’s what the hope of this post is: to get ideas, explore interest and hear from those with experience in similar projects.

    2. spanishfly1844 says:

      I agree. If you set a minimum, you can gauge how much you will earn in the minimum. It will also show would be subscribers that you are not too good to be true.

  3. Cais says:

    The idea of being able to provide services to the WordPress community at large on a pay-what-you-can model (to the point of “free”) is very interesting … to be honest I had not even thought of doing something like this but now I am very interested in seeing where this conversation goes.

    1. Thanks Cais. I’m exploring options at the moment, but love hearing everyone’s experience and wisdom on the subject. I’d love to move forward with this.

  4. Mike says:

    I think that pay what you can works for 1 time purchases, like the Humble Bundle videogame bundle or a pay what you can e-book. There is no obligation from the game maker, the Humble Bundle folks, or the e-book author/publisher to be committed to work.

    With pay what you can as a subscription model, I think it could really be exposing you to a lot of work for very negligible pay. Those of us who follow WP Butler and who are contributing to this blog wouldn’t exploit the service, but there are millions of wordpress users who likely _would_ exploit the service.

    I’d suggest two methods:
    – Regular subscription method at a set monthly price that allows you to feed your family and be valuable
    – A one time, limited-use pay-what-you-can method. This could serve almost as a trial for WP Butler and your services, and those who really come to rely on it could end up picking up the subscription method.

    My biggest rule of freelance is to set the right value for you and your time. And, I don’t know if ‘pay-what-you-can’ is the right value for you or your time.

    1. You make a good point about the distinction between one-off products and ongoing services. With a one-time product, the effort has been expended and you’re just hoping to get back whatever you can, whereas in the recurring model, there’s the burden of continuing service and that can’t be ignored. Thanks for your thoughts – truly appreciated.

      1. Mike says:

        Totally think it’s an interesting and aggressive idea, though. Maybe propose a 1 time “Pay what you want” service upgrade, which includes 1 off-site backup, 1 security audit, and 1 round of plugin updates?

  5. Chris says:

    I agree with Mike, using a “pay what you can” model for subscriptions could open you up to a lot of work with no financial reward. One thought that came to mind was a quarterly plan at say $10 or $15 a month to give potential customers an introduction to your services.

    1. Yeah, it’s a good idea from a business standpoint, but I don’t feel that it incorporates the spirit of pay-what-you-can: it’s more of a trail period, rather than really opening up the service to everyone at their price point.

  6. I think this is a bad idea and your setting your self up for failure. Taking care of servers is not cheap. Keeping everything up to date takes a lot of time. Client support sucks up a lot of time. The only way I see this working is different levels of support and the base could be the “pay what you want”. I know that you have the best intentions, but it’s not sustainable when your hard cost will keep growing – no matter what ;c (

    But Congrats on the little Girl. Your going to love being a dad.

    1. Definitely appreciate the candid feedback James. As the opinions and advice is coming in, it’s becoming apparent that some sort of barrier is going to be needed to prevent everyone signing on at at $0.01 and me losing money from the outset.

    2. I have to agree with this and would add that the pay-what-you-can model restricts your target audience. Businesses, especially ones of any size at all, need to know what something costs and this is often seen as a surrogate for the value received. Nobody has been fired for hiring IBM.

      Crass business person about to speak, so if you are easily offended turn away; I figure if I’m not being turned down at least three times out of 10 because we’re too expensive, then I’m not charging enough. We have highly skilled team of developers with a lot of experience. This is worth something. You are worth something. Charge for it.

      Congrats on the baby :-)

  7. I think this is a really cool idea, Dave and I love your motivation – to spend more time with your family and help the WordPress community.

    Pushing Social (the blog by Stanford Smith) has a pay what you want gig going. He gives three payment options ($1, $5, $20). Maybe if you’re unsure of minimum pricing, you should try that and see what payment plan customers most frequently select.

    There’s also Akismet, too. They offer a pay what you want option for your personal website but for a business website, it’s a flat fee of $5 a month. So you could also change up the pricing based on the purpose of the website.

  8. Roney says:

    First and foremost, congrats on your new edition!

    I also want to chime in and echo some of the previous posters sentiments in that the “pay-what-you-can” (PWYC) model will more than likely set you up to do A LOT more work than you are truly being compensated for over time. You may end up being rich in “spirit,” “nobility” and “good feelings” but not necessarily in actual currency.

    And while I think its certainly a noble business plan, my gut tells me its just not necessarily a sustainable one for the long term. Ultimately, you should seek to be paid what your time, talent, products and services are truly worth. People may be hesitant to pay your rate at first, until they venture out and see what quality of work they can get for less buck or how much more they could be paying to say a medium to large firm. I have clients who are initially turned off by my prices at first because they want quality work dirt cheap, then go on to spend money on shoddy work and have to come back and pay me anyway…so they ended up spending more to learn the lesson “you get what you pay for.”

    Also, historically, people hate when prices are raised, so if you do find that the PWYC model isn’t working 6 months from now, you may have to then deal with the potential backlash or membership loss for switching to a different model. Precedent is Paramount.

    I do agree that a PWYC may be a great way to segue members into your other products and subscription services, but it probably shouldn’t be the core, driving model. it could almost be like a discount or trial/demo of your services and work to new members. That way they get more comfortable paying a fair rate for your other services.

    Lastly, as someone whose been self-employed for 7 years and has had a child for 2 of those last years, I can tell you that being self-employed does not allow you to spend all day with them…not every day anyway. Not without neglecting work at least. LOL. We tried skipping out on daycare to save money (quality daycare is $10-15K+ a year) and just watching our 2 year old since I was self employed and my wife works nights, but feeding, changing diapers, doctors appointments, constantly making sure they’re not sticking something in the electric socket or take off the protective cover, all break-up your work flow and a lot of times you feel like you’re not putting a dent in your work load at day’s end. So definitely expect to fork over some serious duckets for a quality part-time of full-time daycare. All the more reason to charge what your worth right? :)

    You’ll need that time for work and “you” time. Kids (even 1) are a lot of work. “Forreally.”

    Best of luck!

    1. Roney, you raise some excellent points, and I certainly appreciate the insight. I don’t imagine for a second that I’d be able to spend all-day every day with my children, but I’m quite wary of going anywhere near a daycare: I want me and my wife to raise our children, not a stranger, so even if just one of us was working and one was with the children, that’d suit me just fine.

      I suspect that you might be right about this being an unsustainable effort for the long-term: going to have to do some thinking on this one!

  9. BobWP says:

    Hey Dave, great conversation here….

    I just started something like this but I call it Ask BobWP A WordPress Question. I’ve just started it and have had a few bites, mostly choosing the $5 donation, as opposed to the $10 or filling in their own price. The answers I have given have only taken me a minute or two so it is working on this level.

    I also have my limits. I tell them up front if it’s a question that takes more than a simple emailed answer, they might want to look at my retainers. And if I don’t know the answer, I tell them that, as I am not going to spend my time researching it for them :)

    Also, my motives are a bit different then yours. 1). I did want to provide something to readers that would give them a chance to get access to an answer quickly at very little cost, and 2) It really weeds out the people who will take advantage of your kindness.

    Having done support in the past, I’m not sure if I would go this route. And as someone said, often this works best on a product rather than a service. Although mine is a service, I do make it clear on my limitations. With all the variables that can happen in your support services, I would be reluctant to give anyone the option to underpay you. Just my .02.

    1. Bob, thanks for your thoughts on the matter, from your own experience. I suspect that this service doesn’t lend itself well to a PWYC model, as several people have pointed out. All the best with your own service.

  10. Norcross says:

    I’ve always viewed the PWYC model working better for actual products, since the incremental cost per-product is minimal, if any. For WP Butler, your time is finite. Also, as a father of three, you’d be hard pressed to find time to deal with a surge of customers at *any* price.

    Have you thought about possibly offering a free month? If the issue is getting people to see the value, offering a free (or reduced) rate for the first month could serve the same purpose.

    1. Norcross, it wasn’t something I had considered, but from the comments here, I think I have to agree that because of the recurring nature of what I’m offering, PWYC doesn’t lend itself well. The free month route is a good idea worth exploring. On one hand, it gives me a chance to interact with the customers, but on the other, only those who are interested in keeping their site secure and backed up in the long run are going to be interested, and if that’s the case, then are they really going to be sold by the free month, or is it just that they realise they need the service and need to find someone (hopefully me) to do that?

  11. Hi Dave

    I´m sorry to be a bit negative about this, but my particular point of view is that these kinds of services won´t fit into the PWYC scheme (meaning they won´t fit for you, although they may perfectly fit from the client´s point of view). The reason for this is not only that more of your time will be involved with every new signup as others have already pointed out in the above comments, but also that maintenance services might be regarded by clients as some kind of “tax” they have to pay for using WordPress, so they might be tempted to pay the minimum.

    What I mean is that once people are convinced about WordPress being great and being exactly what they should use for their sites,it may be hard to convince them about spending a certain amount of money on a recurring basis to maintain, backup, update and keep their sites secure. Why? In the first place, because we just said that WordPress is great, so it should not need that much attention, or at least not that much money!.

    Of course, WordPress users already know that they need to either pay for this or do it for themselves, and they know it can be boring and time consuming. But they might also tend to think that you have not only skills but also automated procedures and tools to do it for clients, meaning that if you let them value your work, they might tend to minimize the price they should pay for your services (plus don´t forget about the psychological “tax” effect I mentioned before).

    Nevertheless, there could be some ways around it. As you know, I´m considering to offer this kind of service for the Spanish-speaking market. One aspect I gave some thoughts is making the client more or less constantly aware of your work. Now this may be tricky, since a good balance would be needed between your “behind the scene” work without the client noticing it and excessive communications to clients, which may tire or overwhelm them. For example, an email could be sent to the client whenever a new operation (backup, update, etc) has been carried out, but all this should be done on a quite-automated-but-manual-looking fashion. I haven´t reached any final conclusions about this subject yet, but I feel it should definitely be considered.

    I hope my insights are of any help to you.

    1. Hi Luis, I think that making my clients aware of what I’ve been doing to their site is something that needs some thought. Right now, I just go behind the scenes and make these updates and backups, but the client doesn’t really see that. Maybe a good idea would be to create a dashboard widget, where you can update when you last performed a backup, and performed updates.

      I appreciate your thoughts on the matter and wish you all the best in your own venture.

      1. That dashboard widget is a great idea, Dave. I was actually thinking about a custom plugin to handle the automatic notification side of the job, and a widget in the client´s dashboard seems to be the perfect destination. It would clearly show that the job has been done without disturbing too much.

  12. Hollis says:

    Hey Dave! I’m interested in talking to you. Happy with my hosting and security but having trouble getting my provider to make timely updates and modifications. Not looking for “cheap work,” but need to find an affordable way to partner with a new provider for the services I’m dissatisfied with now. Contact me!

  13. Garth says:

    Nice discussion here. I had a couple thoughts:

    1) This sounds more like a marketing tactic than a real business model. As has been suggested, this might work best as a first-time service pricing strategy. Business models try to decrease uncertainty and risk, but this actually makes it worse.
    2) If you are going to proceed with this idea I’d suggest anchoring your clients toward a price. Tell them what the going rate is for someone with your experience or your normal rate. That should keep them from offering $1/hr. You might give people a calculator to estimate a fair price (based on the size of their business, number of websites, etc.). That way you are more likely to charge higher rates to those with more complex situations (and perhaps a higher willingness to pay).
    3) Do you want to price your service on an hourly basis or a per project basis? That will make a big difference too.
    4) Are you going to have help with these requests or contract out some of the work?
    5) What about auctioning off your working time each day? Put your schedule up for a week and tell people that the highest bidder will win x amount of time. That way you can get an idea for how much your time is worth. If you finish with one client then you can tell the 2nd place winner that you’ll help them now (for the rate they offered).

    Anyway, let us know how this goes.

    1. Garth,

      Some very valid and appreciated points here. For consulting, I usually price my time by the project (based on anticipated effort) and for The WP Butler, I priced services in anticipation of expected effort as well as my costs for providing the services.

      You make a valid point (as many others have) that this is perhaps not sustainable moving forward, but may be a good way to get “feet in the door”.


  14. I think using the ‘pay what you can’ model is a great idea, if a service is worth paying for and you have budget to I cant see why people wouldn’t contribute something. I would hope it would increase the amount of users if previous fixed pricing put people off and it will generate more than if it was free.

  15. Patty says:

    I love WordPress too, but not enough to work on other peoples’ sites for hours for less than good pay, while my family’s and my own needs have to wait.

    If you do end up with the low end of the pay scale on the average, wouldn’t that time be better actually spent with your daughter?

    Here’s the flexible plan that I like: I charge everybody the same, but the really nice people, and the projects that are fun or meaningful, get a lot of extra work out of me. :-)

    1. Patty, thanks for your wisdom. I suppose it’s asking for trouble in a sense. I think that more of the success stories come when people care about the person providing the service, but to most people, I’m just the WordPress guy, not someone they necessarily know.

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