Sidekick’s Pricing Experiment Reveals Valuable Lessons for WordPress Business Owners

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photo credit: Calamity Megcc

One of the most difficult parts of running a WordPress business is coming up with a revenue strategy. In a post on the official SIDEKICK blog, Ben Fox explains that in the past two weeks, customers went through a pricing experiment with an opportunity to provide feedback. The feedback to SIDEKICK highlighted areas ripe for improvement including pricing, the number of plans, and determining value.

One of the biggest lessons learned from the article is to base a price on value, not on cost.

Our biggest mistake when we started discussing price was trying to determine what it would cost us to support our platform and each customer, not what the value of our platform was to our customers. When you price based on cost, you leave money on the table. When you price based on value, everybody wins.

I’m happy to see SIDEKICK stick by its instincts after receiving the following feedback, “SaaS has no place in WordPress” and “I will only ever pay a flat fee for a plugin.” If SIDEKICK restructured its plans to cater to this mindset, they’ll almost certainly go out of business. Fox points out three things that would happen if SIDEKICK accepted a one-time flat fee and unlimited updates.

  1. We would never see a return on our investment and our customers would never see the value they’ve paid for
  2. The quality of our product would never really improve because we couldn’t afford to add new features or do much more than bug fix
  3. Our prices would go up exponentially because we would need to make sure we’re covering the lifetime COSTS of a customer. Not a smart way to do business.

It’s been said before and bears repeating, “the days of low-priced plugins and unlimited everything are going by the way side.” WordPress product businesses that operate with unlimited anything are almost certain to fail as it’s an unsustainable model. Customers need to realize this sooner rather than later.

If pricing is something you’re having trouble with in your business, Chris Lema has written a series of posts you can read for free on the topic of pricing. If you want something more in-depth, consider purchasing and reading The Price is Right by Chris Lema. Matt Medeiros of also has a lot of content on pricing and general business practices.

I appreciate the transparency Fox offered regarding SIDEKICK’s pricing structure and the reasons behind it. It would be nice to see more companies share the lessons they’ve learned in the pricing game. By sharing knowledge, everyone in the WordPress ecosystem wins.


17 responses to “Sidekick’s Pricing Experiment Reveals Valuable Lessons for WordPress Business Owners”

  1. “It’s been said before and bears repeating, “the days of low-priced plugins and unlimited everything are going by the way side.” WordPress product businesses that operate with unlimited anything are almost certain to fail as it’s an unsustainable model. Customers need to realize this sooner rather than later.”

    Actually, it gets no truer when it’s repeated than it was the first time someone said this. Since when has there only been one way to compete in a marketplace?

    Each plugin developer needs to work out for him- or herself how s/he plans to compete and be successful (including financially successful). Sometimes the apropriate model will involve charging recurring fees and providing long-term support. But by no means always: providing support can be very expensive, and it can also be difficult to ensure consistency and accuracy among support staff. Lack of consistency and accuracy can undermine the brand so badly that the whole thing unravels.

    There is another way to compete, which you seem to have overlooked. That is simply to sell more units. (Interestingly enough, the world’s biggest corporation essentially follows this model.) Unless the market in WordPress plugins is already saturated, which it clearly is not, this will also continue to be a perfectly viable business strategy for some.

    I don’t think either of us in a position to tell each plugin developer which model will suit them best. All we can say for sure is that it is a question they need to consider and make an informed decision on.

    • How many times have we seen theme or plugin companies find a way to get rid of offering unlimited updates, support, or anything else? The reason for the change has always come back to sustainability. I’ve been a long time advocate of unlimited anything is a recipe for disaster. Do you know of any WordPress product companies that are still doing unlimited updates? If so, how much time do you give them before they find a way to switch away from that model?

      I don’t have all the answers and as you say, business owners have to test the waters and find a recipe for success for their situation but I don’t understand how unlimited anything could be part of that equation.

      • “I don’t understand how unlimited anything could be part of that equation.”

        Really? I know you aren’t one for travelling outside the US but, in Europe, it’s common for insurers to offer unlimited liability insurance. In the US, I get unlimited calling to over 50 countries with Vonage. I could go on.

        It all depends who the target market is, what is being sold, and — let’s be honest — the personal preferences of the developer.

        I can guarantee that someone will be repeating your mantra in a few years time, and yet there will still, even then, be developers providing something unlimited and making a profit. (They will probably be grateful for people like you, though, who may have scared away their competition.)

        • Unlimited Liability insurance is a level of service that still requires a monthly or annual fee.

          Unlimited phone service is a level of pricing that still requires a monthly or annual fee.

          Unlimited Walkthroughs Plays on SIDEKICK is a level of pricing that requires an annual or monthly fee.

          Without MRR, all you have is a Ponzi scheme and/or a product that can’t be supported or improved upon while still turning a profit.

          • Ha, ha!

            I was giving examples of where “unlimited anything” is sold. Those markets happen to be saturated, so some sort of recurrent fee is, of course, required. In a market where there is still a huge untapped pool of potential customers, just focusing on selling more units is, in some circumstances, a perfectly viable business strategy.

            And selling more units is not a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi requires new money to finance old. Selling more units doesn’t require that at all. Enabling previous purchasers to upgrade to the latest version actually costs nothing, so there’s nothing to finance there. The cost is in creating the new version, which is financed by new purchasers.

            So it’s nothing like a Ponzi, and your hyperbole isn’t going to change that.

          • Semantically, “lifetime” and “unlimited” are different, that’s true. But not in the practical world of WordPress plugins.

            There is a plugin — I won’t name it, because this dicussion is not about it or its developers — whose free version is currently downloaded on average over 400 times a day (around 12000 a month). Its Pro version costs an average of about $100 for unlimited use and updates.

            I don’t know the developers’ financials, but if just 100 of those users upgrade to the Pro version each month, that’s $10,000 per month or $120,000 per year.

            The plugin has been around for years, and has always been sold by the same model. Updates are produced every few weeks. Every so often, someone tells them they should move to a different pricing model involving recurring charges. They clearly have no interest in doing so. Isn’t it possible that they actually know what they are doing?

          • Ok then, they offer “unlimited” support, and you can use their themes on an “unlimited” number of sites. This is taken from –


            You can use any theme package you purchase as many times as you’d like, on as many websites as you desire. The purchase of theme packages allows you unlimited use of the themes, as well as unlimited support.

            In other words, we do not restrict your use to a specific number of sites, or a specific period of time in which they can be used. ”

            Jeff, you stated that “WordPress product businesses that operate with unlimited anything are almost certain to fail as it’s an unsustainable model”

            Do you think StudioPress are almost certain to fail? How much time do you think it will take them to switch from an unsustainable business model?

            I think subscription models are the most viable method for most WordPress businesses, but you can’t ignore the elephant in the room – one of the biggest theme vendors does use an “unlimited”, non-subscription based model.

  2. I would imagine that revenue for this sort of product would be hard. It’s new for WordPress, but we have had software and technology to do with already for at least the last 14 years.. With sites like that already cover WordPress and creating training tutorials.. If you know where to look, you can even get software to do it for free.

    • You make a fair point. Educating an eco-system on why a new method of support, training and learning is better is never easy but I know we’re up for the challenge.

      There will always be a place for videos in the education system but only as a supplement to a fully guided and interactive Walkthrough library.

      We’re excited to see how we can disrupt and improve and look forward to your feedback.

  3. Of course, every business has to find the model that works for them and I think it is totally cool that you share Sidekick’s experiment and their thinking and process. However, suggesting that there is only one sustainable model seems silly and is not responsive to the market.

    Here are two other options that might work, responding to the market and being sustainable:

    1) You can always decouple the price of support and the price of the plugin or theme. Provide the plugin or theme with a lifetime of updates but sell support separately.

    “Our prices would go up exponentially because we would need to make sure we’re covering the lifetime COSTS of a customer. Not a smart way to do business.”

    I find that 90% of my questions are answered in the product support forums by responses to other people with similar questions. I’m looking for support during the first few months while I’m learning to use the plugin or theme. Build up a knowledge base and make the forums open for customers but restrict posting to those with current support. Then charge for support separately after the first year. There is no reason that I should pay for the unending questions of people who cannot or will not use Google first.

    2) Price the lifetime version of the product separately. I imagine that over time you build up data that shows an average of how many years a customer will renew and maybe another number for your top 25%. Say an average is two years and the top 25% is 3.5, so you price the lifetime subscription at 3.5 times the annual cost. This drives sales towards the top tier level and grows your business, while providing a reasonable option for those who want a lifetime subscription.

    Do you really think there are no other viable options?

  4. Obviously; one payment for unlimited updates offers are not for everyone. In some cases it’s a very bad decision, this goes for both the seller and the buyer.

    When I priced my first WordPress product I didn’t know what to do, so I just picked a number!

    Seriously; I just picked $67 with no legit reason! And it was selling “very good”, mostly for its value.

    I don’t believe in competitive pricing, I will try hard to make my product/service the best and provide the max level of support I can. I prefer to value my work, charge what I think I deserve and work with less number of clients to maintain that high level of support.

    I think that no one has to offer unlimited updated unless they get at least 2 years of support cost upfront, means I will set my price, then add to that two years of support cost, and every one should be happy.

  5. I just wanted to say thanks for highlighting this article by Sidekick. I would say I am on the waiting list to see this go live and I missed that article. Ben has raised some key points that I am bookmarking my future SAAS projects.

    I think the article should be rewritten to help persons with pricing strategies. I would love to read more.

    Good luck Ben.



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