I first heard from Brian Hogg earlier this year when he contacted me with some questions about Wisdom, my plugin that tracks data for plugin developers. I already knew of Brian through his newsletter for developers and I felt that he would be the ideal choice for the first in a new series of interviews that I’d like to run on this blog, focusing on individuals in the WordPress community who are involved in plugin development.
Brian kindly took time to answer some questions about his online courses for plugin developers and his thoughts on the plugin economy as a whole.
Can you tell us a little about your background and history with WordPress?
Even after meeting Mike Little years ago when I was living in England, I still didn’t make the jump to using WordPress. My first project was taking a Joomla! extension and converting it into a WordPress plugin, then attending a local WordCamp shortly after that. I then attended more WordCamps, became a bigger part of the WordPress community, and the rest is history.
You provide a number of courses on WordPress development. Can you give some information about what each includes?
Plugins for Beginners lets you quickly get up to speed with creating a WordPress plugin, including using the core building blocks of WordPress (actions and filters), creating an admin settings page, security, and more. While it does go through some of the PHP syntax for those coming from another language, it does assume some basic knowledge of HTML/CSS and programming concepts.
Finally Making Pro Plugins is for those that have a plugin or plugin idea, and know they would like to release it for public use. It goes through ways to structure and easily manage releases of free and pro/premium versions all the way to setting up the sales platform (including marketing and pricing). It’s the least code heavy of the three but definitely goes through some scripts, automation and plugin structure bits to make maintaining a public plugin over time as easy as possible.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone about to start developing their first WordPress plugin?
Keep things as small as possible for the first version of your plugin, whether it’s for public release or something you’re creating as part of a freelance/client project. You want to get feedback early on before you start adding a ton of features right away. While you can certainly describe what the plugin will do before you code it, nothing beats getting it into the hands of a user, having them try it out, and giving you first-hand feedback.
What tips do you have for encouraging users of free plugins to upgrade to the pro equivalents?
I have three main calls-to-action in all my plugins: in the plugins listing, in a right-hand column in my plugin settings page, and then sprinkled around the interface where it makes sense (ie. they try to use a feature, but they get a message saying they’d need to upgrade first).
You don’t want to make them super annoying though and you’ll need to make sure they can get some kind of decent value out of the free version if they don’t upgrade. You also never, ever want to remove a feature you have in the free version and make it pro-only – once it’s in the free version, it should stay there forever.Never, ever remove a feature you have in the free version and make it pro-only - once it's in the free version, it should stay there forever @brianhogg Click To Tweet
Do you have any thoughts on the future of WordPress? How do you see the plugin market developing over the next couple of years?
We’re at an interesting time where WordPress is becoming more main stream, but there’s still a pretty steep learning curve to be able to get an actual WordPress site launched that isn’t just a blog. Hopefully over the next couple years that curve can become less steep.
The plugin market is already getting to the point where you can’t just put a plugin out there (free or pro) and expect a lot of traction in any reasonable amount of time. You do need to do some marketing whether it be useful blog articles, screencasts showing people how to use your plugin, or other ways to educate and provide value to users even if they never buy anything.
I think forming partnerships with existing audiences who will get the most value out of your plugin will be the best bet to cut through all the noise for the next couple years and beyond. You might be able to negotiate that for free, but likely you’ll want to set up an affiliate program to encourage that partner to promote your plugin as much as possible over time.
You can find Brian in the following places:
Here’s a video of Brian’s WordCamp Buffalo talk from 2016 on things he learned creating a premium plugin.
Thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer these questions.