Doing business in WordPress: missed opportunities

If you’re new to WordPress-based business, welcome! There’s never been a better time to help people achieve their goals with WordPress. The ecosystem is vast, and we’re a welcoming community.

An image of three people smiling, with arms around each other, at a conference.
Don’t we look welcoming? Here I am at WordCamp US 2016, with fellow WordPress enthusiasts Cory Miller (left) and Bob Dunn (right). I’m can’t quite make out who’s photobombing us in the background there. This photo was swiped from Bob’s social media.

I’ve worked with WordPress contributors and business owners, full time, since 2011. Anytime I meet someone who’s decided to build a business that depends on open source, I find myself hoping they’ve researched open source and its complexities. If this is you, and you’re not sure you’ve done that research, I hope this article is helpful to you!

Here are some things I think WordPress-based businesses need to know:

WordPress is Free and Powerful

Sometimes I wonder if WordPress-based businesses understand the incredible advantage that WordPress’ (lack of) price and open source foundation bring. The fact that WordPress is low-risk to try, and practically limitless to build on, has directly contributed to its ubiquity on the web. WordPress is a stable platform that can be used for nearly every purpose, which means WordPress-based businesses have an enormous built-in market.

What people often miss:

I frequently see WordPress-based businesses limit their potential by restricting how people use their theme or plugin. This effort requires a lot of work for a mediocre net return, which directly conflicts with the things that make WordPress appeal to so many people. The GPL makes WordPress possible, and it makes WordPress successful. When you try to limit your users’ rights with a non-GPL license, you’re limiting your work’s ability to grow with WordPress. Don’t work against the “selling points” of WordPress; support them and build on them, just like you do WordPress itself.

WordPress Changes

The software available at WordPress.org is stable, but ever-changing. This is great because it means that a lot of people are working to keep WordPress relevant, secure, and easy to work with. Anyone whose product or business depends on WordPress needs to keep up with the 3 or so releases per year, to know how and whether they will affect your business. It’s smart to notify your customers about upcoming changes to Core WordPress that will affect them, as well. Since you’re not in control of the Core roadmap, then your smartest move is to stay informed about how it will affect you.

What people often miss:

Remember, the unique solution that your business brings to WordPress (if it’s code-based at least) could be added to Core WordPress and available to all WordPress users, at any time. For this reason, it’s particularly important that your business not monetize access to the software. To have a truly resilient and successful WordPress-based company, monetize something that makes the software more powerful for your customers. What you’re selling should be so valuable that your customers would still pay you for it, even if your plugin or theme were merged into Core.

WordPress is Growing

This diagram shows the percentages of websites using various content management systems.
A snapshot from today’s W3techs.com page on content management statistics.

As of February 2021, WordPress powers 40% of the web. I believe that this growth is rooted in the power of open source, and that the road that brought us here was paved by the work of thousands of global WordPress enthusiasts. The opportunity to help WordPress grow is open to all, regardless of experience or background. The work of helping WordPress grow — by translating, writing documentation, organizing events, helping in the support forums, publishing videos, creating great training content, and so much more — helps everyone who uses WordPress and whose livelihoods depend on WordPress. This results in a culture and a community that understands that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The WordPress financial ecosystem is one of the most friendly, collaborative, and welcoming that you’ll find.

What people often miss:

Companies that make brash, unsubstantiated business claims and regularly trash-talk competitors… do not flourish in WordPress. We don’t succeed here by trying to steal each other’s customers or features. We also help WordPress avoid the tragedy of the commons by giving back to the project. In WordPress, the most successful companies focus on growing the whole pie of the WordPress market (which then grows their slice as well).

Don’t miss your chance!

I firmly believe that WordPress is a great place to grow: as a person, as a leader, and as a business. If you haven’t considered getting involved in WordPress before, I encourage you to check out all the different ways to join us as a contributor. If you’re brand new to this WordPress thing, check out my list of resources for new and experienced WordPress enthusiasts. There’s lots to learn, but don’t worry, you’ve got time — we’re not going anywhere but up. 😉

What did I miss?

What other important things should businesses and people know about the WordPress ecosystem? Tell me about them in the comments!

Many thanks to Jonathan Wold for his feedback on this article!

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