In the Tavern forum, I recently started a discussion thread around the topic of paid support models. The question I had on my mind was this, if you’re selling support packages for your themes, where does one draw the line in terms of giving away the whole thing or keeping certain things limited? On one hand, if you offer everything away for free and make the product easy to use and understand, you cut into your profit margins. On the other, is there a fine line that has to be walked between the two? Or does no such line exist? Here are what some of the community members had to say.
PaulCunningham – My feeling is if you’re giving away something for free and want to make some money offering support you should be making it easy enough that say 9/10 people could do it unassisted.
andrea_r – What Paul said. If someone has no trouble installing and using themes (for example) then you shouldn’t *need* to support them. The people you should be paid to help are the ones who have trouble installing themes, or wind up with weird errors.
itsananderson – Well, you have to walk a fine line there. On the one side you can provide something that only WordPress gurus can use in the hopes that others will come to you for support, or you can make your product so great that nobody ever needs help. I’d say in general you’re better off getting as many people using your plugin/theme etc. as possible. If a WP newby can’t get your plugin to work, they’ll probably just find another plugin. But if they can get it to work, but want some part of it customized, they’re more likely to hire you to do so. In the end, a happy user base is good for business!
JellyBeen – I feel if you are releasing a product it should be released in as complete a manner as possible, as well as not being hindered, crippled, or any form of reduced functionality. Whether a product is free or paid it should still be of quality, and part of the quality of a product is its inherent completeness.
Given the above point, the costs associated with additional services, support or customizations would be at the discretion of the author. The premise being: the product would inspire additional paid services, not demand them with inadequacies.
hallsofmontezuma – Releasing a product that is crippled to increase the number of people coming to you for support is extremely unethical, and likely won’t get you significantly more business anyway (re Anderson: they’ll probably just find another plugin).
You can charge for the product and/or for the support, but both the product and support should be good quality. That doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way to make absolutely certain nobody will ever need support, but you shouldn’t cripple the product. If one were to cripple their product so that they could generate more revenue from support, what’s stopping them from providing sub-par support that requires the customer to pay for even more support?
You always win out by providing a good product and good support. There will always be people who, as Anderson says, can’t even find the wp-content directory, but you shouldn’t have experts coming to you with questions about the basic functionality of your theme, plugin, etc.
Look at Windows, OS X, etc… your average to expert computer user can generally get along just fine with little or no support, yet there are still those who need (paid) assistance with even the most basic tasks. However, as a technical user, if I weren’t able to use an operating system I paid for, I wouldn’t pay for support, I would use a better operating system.
I think JellyBeen says it best, “the product would inspire additional paid services, not demand them with inadequacies”.
I encourage you to check out the forum thread and provide your own take on the matter. Be sure to read Justin Tadlock’s recent post on the subject considering he runs a business based on a paid support model.