You can't afford the WordPress plugin you want

Chris Lema

you can't afford the WordPress Plugin you want

Have you ever asked something like this?

If you spend time in the Orange County or Advanced WordPress Facebook groups – eventually you’ll see a post that reads something like this:

I have a question for you guys. I’m looking for a plugin that will let customers do custom quoting, based on several variables, which then translate to calculating a cost, which then needs to get put into a pretty nice looking invoice, which is sent to them, but has a time-sensitive component to it, such that the people have to sign and pay the deposit within 3 days, or the invoice/quote is no longer valid. 

Once they sign the quote, they need to be able to pay the deposit using my specific payment gateway that you’ve never heard of, and from there, get routed to a custom section of the website that only they can see, where they get access to a private repository of files, which are tracked to see if they’ve really downloaded them, and a private forum – which needs to notify me when someone posts.

I don’t want to string together a bunch of plugins. So I’m hoping you’ll know which one is right for me.

Heck, you don’t even have to spend time on those private Facebook groups – head over to some of my WordPress membership plugin posts and you can read comments that are three times the size, asking a similar question.

I don’t mind the question. If you don’t mind the answer.

Today I got on two planes to take me from San Diego to Miami for my last business trip with Emphasys Software. The planes I was on had DirecTV so I got to watch some TV. Make that a lot of TV – I was on planes for 5 hours.

Thankfully, HGTV was having a marathon of their show, Property Brothers. If you’ve never seen the show, let me explain how it works (and you’ll see why I’m bringing it up).

  • Brothers (a real estate agent and a general contractor) meet with a couple.
  • The couple tells the brothers what they want – describing their dream home.
  • Drew (the agent) then takes them to their dream home.
  • The couple loves it. Until they find out the price – which is more than their budget.
  • Drew uses this strategy to introduce Jonathan, who can fix up a fixer upper.
  • Drew shows them fixer uppers that they pick from.
  • Jonathan (contractor) goes to work and does tons of renovations.
  • The couple loves their final, dream home, which comes in under their budget.

The thing about the show – and it’s a great show to watch – is that the agent always shows the initial (perfect) home to their customer to highlight that what they want, and what their budget can afford, don’t match.

Drew says it in different ways, but he basically explains that their desires are unrealistic.

Which is why I normally let folks know that I don’t mind their question, if they don’t mind my answer.

You can’t afford the WordPress plugin you’re dreaming of

Here’s the truth.

That plugin that does everything you ever wanted? It doesn’t exist. And if it did, if someone built it, it would cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.

Because what you often describe isn’t a plugin. It’s a system.

And since you don’t want to connect several focused plugins, that each do the one thing they were made to do, you won’t really find the perfect plugin sitting there waiting for you.

Again, if it did exist, the people who created it would know exactly how valuable it is, and would likely charge you tons more than you want to pay.

See, the reality is that everyone walks around anchored on some ridiculously low pricing for plugins. They should all be $45 or $99 or something. Even if they’re single-handedly running your online business.

It’s a little like how people think about spending money on hosting.

So what should you do?

Well, you didn’t think I was going to write an entire post just to end with bad news, did you?

The answer for you lies in the same show and approach that you see on Property Brothers.

Instead of building a custom solution from scratch, sometimes the best approach is to grab a few key plugins, and then pay a developer a bit to connect some dots for you.

Take WooCommerce, for example, that is free. Add a couple of extensions that may cost you a couple hundred dollars, and then invite a developer to write a custom extension that would add your missing features.

You’ll likely get away with spending a lot less than if you get a quote for a custom plugin that does everything you want.

And if you go that route, you’ll likely want to know who is “Jonathan” for you? Who is the developer that can connect the dots for you?

Leave me a comment about what you’re up to, and I’ll give you some recommendations.

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  1. Bridie Amelia says:

    Really relevant post Chris, great read. I took the road of stringing plugins together for a client, after reading your great post about LMS ( For others about to go down a similar road, we’re tying together Learndash, BuddyPress and WPMU Membership (because of some auto signup options – previously we had chosen PMPro). Looking for a base theme to work with though – we then, after many hours upload of content to Learndash, came across the WPLMS. WPLMS is a theme – but with an LMS built into it. And it is Buddypress ready! Unfortunately for us, WPLMS’ recent Learndash integration isn’t smooth enough for us. But we just assumed there would be no out-of-the-box solution…and now halfway into the project…could have had one. Such is life.

  2. Jack CK Tan says:

    Dear Chris, thank you being able to see things our way, the users’ way, and being able to articulate the challenges we face. I would really love your recommendation!

    In my case, we are looking to build a WordPress site. It has to do the following:

    A site that sells
    1) **online courses, with videos, audios, PDF.
    (Sell module by module)

    2) memberships
    (Login logout. Free members, paid members)

    3) digital downloads
    (Sell digital audio n video, (homework, ebooks)

    4) **physical products for sale
    (Videos, audios, home study course)

    5) **accept and receive payments

    6) blog

    7) capture email addresses

    8) **membership site for protected content – make certain material available to students who attend our physical classroom lessons (or is it protected areas for downloads)

    9) display of our work – files, pdf, audio, videos

    10) **affiliate or referral base. Past clients n students as affiliates, for them to share the site.

    11) membership sites to purchase a product. clients can purchase a book from site and then they get access to bonus content.

    Each visitor is given (at checkout) their own account to access additional info.

    12) purchase of books. -downloads of sample chapters. Can be physical and digital

    13) **can match tutors with students and parents for home tuition coaching (a database of tutors, with parents and students to select)

    14) perhaps can also integrate with infusion soft

    We are open to 2 websites, if one integrated site is not ideal.

    Thanks in advance

  3. bryceadams says:

    For sure.. a good ‘client site builder’ or even developer is not determined by if they can create the perfect one-stop plugin that will do everything and cost the world, but rather by how they leverage the existing tools already at their disposal to make something that’s flexible but works.

  4. Zack Ward says:

    Excellent post Chris! As an aspiring WordPress developer, I’m thinking that there could be a lot of value in being a “Jonathon”.

  5. I’ll play! I’d love some help connecting the dots.

    I originally built my membership site on s2member. I love the main functionality but was craving some additional features that I couldn’t find. I wanted to know what members were getting started with a course, and then stopped (for a myriad of reasons) and never came back, so that I could send them a gentle nudge along the way (by triggering an email sequence in mailchimp, ideally). I also wanted to know more management information. I wanted to know thing like lifetime customer value, who was on monthly, quarterly or annual subscriptions, and revenue projections for upcoming months.

    This seemed like information I could access in membermouse. But when I took it for a test drive, even their advanced membership ($99/mo) didn’t have reports turned on (I believe they were revising them, and they may be available now). Then I found the reporting in Pmpro. I had used it on a smaller membership site last year, so did a quick test run and it looked good. I switched to woocommerce and pmpro – but it’s turned into a huge mess. And, the reports don’t allow me to drill down to any kind of detail.

    I’ve been using mailchimp for 5 years, but just a few days ago broke some unspoken rule (I’m sure I’ll find out in a few days what it was), and my account is locked. So, it’s possible I’ll be looking at revamping everything. I also have an account with ActiveCampaign, and love their automation work flows. But, there are some dots missing in that piece as well (they can connect everything via zapier, but I worry it could get very unwieldy)

    So, that’s where I’m at now. I’d still love to know how I can better help my members stay on track with their courses. Send them appropriate emails specific to where they’re at today -not just receiving a 12 week autoresponder series that isn’t paying attention to their actual progress. And, I’d love to know that I’m on track to meet my financial targets, without having to export and massage data in an excel spreadsheet.

    In a really ideal world (the part where I can’t afford it?) I would log into wordpress and see a quick snapshot of where my members are in their current courses. I’d also see revenue from this month & projections for upcoming, with an option to click through and see more detail. And, I’d love to be able to click on a members name, and see what he/she has purchased, what courses they’ve enrolled in, what lesson they’re at today, and maybe even have a green/ yellow/ red flag for members who are on track, or falling behind.

    Big wish list, I know :) Thanks for reading.

    • What’s your budget Loralee? I’m sure that Chris has several hundred gifted WordPress experts who would love to jump on your project that are going to read his article. If your budget is realistic, which I believe is a part of the point of Chris’ post, then maybe you’ll find a fit.

      • Great question. I’m willing to invest a bit upfront, but I’d love to keep monthly costs for managing things to $100/mo (for this phase of my business). I realize that might mean a lot of extra leg work and creativity on my part, but that’s something I love doing. Oh, and I have a fairly large network who are looking for a similar solution – so maybe the creative element could be cost sharing any initial development costs?

        • Chris Lema says:

          The trick to demonstrating that your network is really looking to buy the same thing is to galvanize them to co-create a scope of work across everyone – in advance. If not, all you’re asking the developer to do is take a big risk on your word that everyone else wants it too. I’ve seen five clients get together and fund development before – and it’s very powerful.

          • In a situation like that, would you get an initial estimate of the entire project before scoping out a group? Or find a group & then scope out the right development team? I would be inclined to do the first. Find an initial estimate, so that I can pitch the idea to the right people.

          • Gabriel Reguly says:

            Raise the money to build a product and let other be co-owners. 😉

          • Gabriel Reguly says:

            This is a place full of people that can help you to develop the plugin:


            Disclaimer: I am a WordPress/WooCommerce expert working there 😉

  6. Thanks for covering that topic, Chris. I’ve recently blogged about a client who has requested a bunch of serious plugin changes in a large plugin and his budget was $15 (since the original plugin was $25).

    Our local WordPress Facebook groups regularly get spammed by people looking for a very custom plugin doing a hundred specific things like the one that you’ve described, and on the top of that they’re looking for a free solution.

    Which is one of the reasons I get pissed given the fact that the plugin/theme prices are so low that people not only don’t appreciate that, but try to find solutions pro bono instead and neglect the work of authors who have provided 90% of whatever they need.

    As for the plugin customization, while I agree that this is often a more cost-effective solution, I’m very sensitive when it comes to customizing a project that is “almost ready”. 99% of those cases are quite dangerous: tons of random plugins bundled into a WordPress install, existing content and unclear requirements as well. It requires a lot of research upfront about what has been done so far, what is possible, what needs to be added based on he current life cycle etc. Most clients expect that this is a “quick job” and since 90% of the work is already there for free, it doesn’t make sense for the other 10 to be expensive at all. And most freelancers and agencies naturally turn down most of those requests for statistical reasons.

  7. Take WooCommerce, for example, that is free. Add a couple of extensions that may cost you a couple hundred dollars, and then invite a developer to write a custom extension that would add your missing features.

    This. Maybe even hire a developer first (ideally make sure they already have some WooCommerce expertise), sketch out your use case and let them pick the extensions they’re going to connect for you.

    In that context, your earlier distinction between a plugin and a system makes even greater sense to me. My challenge always was bringing that distinction across to product customers. Now I’m just going to pass your post forward. :)

  8. raisononline says:

    Great post Chris. We get this a lot.

    When we estimate for WooCommerce jobs we show side by side an estimate between a fully custom plugin and a solution using available extensions. The amount of time is significantly less.

    The other hidden cost is the on-going maintenance of custom work. We had WooCommerce 2.1 not so long ago and WooCommerce 2.2 is just around the corner. WordPress is in constant development and any custom work needs updating.

    We’ve built custom solutions and will continue to, but it’s important not to go in without taking these costs into account.

  9. Just to expand on my tweet a bit, with some background. In the 90s I used ot have a craft supply store. IT was in my house, but still. I had inventory, we allocated space, etc.

    In comparison to this, starting up an internet business is DEAD CHEAP. The trap people get in to is just because the start up costs are less than a traditional business does not mean every cost related to it will be cheap.

    Maybe the people on the show above couldn’t afford their dream home at 350K, but they did spend 250k in the end. Which is still a lot of money.

  10. Not only can they not afford the solution, most cannot afford to ask the question.

    We get questions like that quite often, and while we do our best to make recommendations, the reality is that a proper answer requires a significant amount of time, and our time is not free. This is why we’ve gone to charging a discovery fee prior to offering recommendations or budgets. It has worked quite well for us, and for our clients/customers.

  11. Hi Chris

    Thanks for all of your great posts, they’re so useful. Quick question (maybe there’s a post on this?) max number of plugins?

    I’m using a studiopress theme and have ended up with a lot of plugins because I don’t code. Better to contact someone to have things coded then have more plugins? (many of them are genesis plugins and relate to alignment, call to action, columns, sidebars, seo, ithemes membership and other addons for exchange)

    Also – I’ve done tons of hunting to find out ‘how to’ for things a plugin can’t do and i need to modify code. Any good link you can send a beginner on how to modify code (when you find snippits online.. a gir’s gotta start somewhere and though i’ll never be building complicated websites i’d love to learn to insert shortcode)

    thanks a bunch

  12. Frederick says:

    Excellent article !!!!- It gets old receiving daily requests for something that dont exist – but they truly want to give you the business except they want you do it for $100 – when it would take a full week or more to do the project.

  13. I am also interested in something like what Loralee was asking for. Any updates on that?

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