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Adii Pienar, one of the founders of WooThemes posted an interesting post the other day, entitled WordPress + SAAS. He raises some great points about why we don’t see more companies working with WordPress in this way, he cites VaultPress as a successful example.

This is a model I have been thinking about a lot lately, I sell some commercial WordPress plugins and do very well with those but I’m reliant on gaining new customers all the time as they are sold on a one-off basis. If you run a service, you are guaranteed a level of income each month providing your customer retention is good (churn rate) and customer acquisition costs are not too high.

I also have experience building a service company around open source software, my first company was a forum hosting company based around phpBB – I grew it to one of the largest, eventually hosting over 250,000 forums on multiple servers, before the company was acquired. I worked using a freemium model, anyone could sign up for free and have their own forum – I made money from advertising on the forums and paid upgrades which removed the adverts and let people use their own domain names, essentially how WordPress.com works now.

I think the service model is ripe for WordPress at the moment, so in the post I’m going to take a look at some of the options at the moment.

Hosting

Not exactly revolutionary but companies like Page.ly are different by taking care of WordPress updates and plugin updates, as well as managing backups etc. Its a great idea which effectively turns self-hosted WordPress into a service similar to WordPress.com but with the benefits of adding any theme or plugin you like and customizing how you see fit.

Niche MultiSites

Using the new multi-site capability built into WordPress you could offer free hosted niche blogs with paid upgrades. Basically offer what WordPress.com do but by targeting at different niches you can offer more suitable themes and plugins as well as build a community around your hosted blogs. A site that does this well is Edublogs, they currently host over 900k blogs for students, teachers, schools and universities. Money is made via advertising and paid memberships.

Some niches I can think of this would work in : Hobbies (fishing, sports etc), Automobiles, Photography, Artists (offer a range of portfolio themes), MicroBlogging (like tumbler, offer Tumblog themes).

Backup Service

It’s going to be hard to compete with VaultPress in this area unless you go with price (VaultPress is $15 per month upwards) or you can offer something unique (smartphone app management?). $15 per month seems quite steep for most personal blog owners, especially when you can use a plugin like BackupBuddy with Amazon S3 storage which costs pennies per month. Many personal blog owners will not see the value as most hosting companies include backups by default.

Management Tools

Management tools allow people to control a large number of blogs from one place, Manage WP this week just crossed the 20k blog mark. Another service I was notified about this week is WebPub, here is a description of their offering :

WebPub is an intuitive web interface for installing, importing, managing and upgrading popular web applications. All you need is a browser: No command line, ftp software, config files, etc. Once you’ve installed or imported your sites, WebPub can upgrade them automatically, whenever new versions come out, for free.

Sounds good, as WordPress grows in popularity I can only see the demand for this sort of management services growing.

eCommerce

There are a huge number of eCommerce plugins and themes available for WordPress but as far as I know, no one yet has created a hosted eCommerce service similar to Shopify. I think this is a huge market for people wanting to sell a few items from their blog or website but dont want to tackle the technical challenge of running an eCommerce site themselves. By making the service easy to signup for and add items and then either taking a cut of each sale or a monthly fee for hosting the shop I think someone could build a viable SAAS business this way. The MarketPress plugin from WPMUDev allready provides most of this functionality.

Final Thoughts

Ive listed here some of the common ways that people can provide commercial services for WordPress – The WordPress market is so huge and will only get bigger that I think the market will support multiple companies in each area. There is always a first mover advantage though so if you have a unique idea that hasn’t been done I would get started on it right away. Some areas which haven’t been tried with WordPress yet – SEO / Social Media services, Analytics / Conversion Tracking, Client Management, Sales Automation, Help Desks, Document Management.

What do you think about this area of the market for WordPress ? Do you have any ideas of services which would work for WordPress ?


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links for which we will receive compensation if a purchase is made via the link.

Author:

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, a small internet company based in the UK. Kooc Media runs several high-profile websites including WPLift, ThemeFurnace and DesignersTalk.

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8 Comments

  1. This is a great post. I’m an independent web designer/developer, and my company uses WordPress for 90% of our projects. Right now, unless we get our clients signed up for a maintenance contract around the time we launch their site, we aren’t banking on any other monthly fees or services to our clients (like your plugins – our clients are typically one-off themselves, with their lower “start-up” budgets). So this post is great… thanks for the spark!

  2. Thanks for writing this.  I’ve been considering different business models like selling ads and e-books.  I’d forgotten about charging monthly fees.  If you do that is you really have to be ready to give great customer support.  This might mean hiring a dedicated person or two to do troubleshooting.  That’s the only reason I would be willing to pay a fee every month. 

    If done right, the membership model can work really well for both sellers and buyers.  The seller gets a recurring income and doesn’t have the stress of constantly chasing down new customers.  The buyer benefits because the seller has the incentive to serve existing customers better and retain them. 

  3. We need more posts ;) and especially how to increase the wordpress load spead :) I think you use maxcdn any other tips?

  4. Great Article. Actually building two Saas Solutions using wordpress at the moment. One is an internal project where i work where we are building for the Property Management and Real Estate Niche and the other is a personal project of mine where the main focus is Social Network integration and easy to use tools in the backend that a lot of small businesses need but have but currently use 5 or 6 things to get job done (project management, invoicing, simple crm, newsletters, analytics, simple ecommerce, ect). Great to see other people sharing the same idea i’ve had!

    Also a note on WordPress speed… I’ve got my multisite installations on a centos5 cloud server on Rackspace Cloud running Nginx. Nginx is soooo much faster than apache its crazy. My setup is lightning fast both front and backend and can handle 10,000+ sites before i have to really even “scale” anything. Check out the Multi-db, Domain Mapping, and other wpmudev.com plugins for a great head start.

  5. Jerry Lee

    I have been building most of my clients sites on WordPress, and do maintain monthly SEO accounts. WordPress by it’s nature is not that far from very SEO friendly, with that and my SEO knowledge, I am able to keep my clients ranking well. I figured out a long time ago, that monthly checks are easier to get than new website clients!
    thanks

  6. I’m developing an idea for selling WP sites on a SaaS model and have a practical question. Is there a plugin or other way to set up an automatic purchasing method? My goal is to have a subscription “product” (via WooCommerce or similar) and have WP automatically generate a multisite network instance for people who purchase that. I’m familiar with WP enough to sell a subscription product and to manually create the instance for new users, but I’d love a way to sell that site as hands-off as possible. Any suggestions?

  7. Great Article, Thanks for sharing it. I really understand SaaS model.

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