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How Can BuddyPress Developers Earn a Living?

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In the WordPress ecosystem, when it comes to getting paid for time spent, it seems that theme designers are far ahead of plugin developers. GPLed–premium themes are not only an accepted part of this ecosystem, but seem to thrive. Plugin developers, on the other hand, have been shunned in the past for offering premium plugins. I won’t go into the reasons for this, but there is a sordid history, to say the least. I also do not want to reopen the war wounds from previous debates on this topic.

UPDATE: January 19, 2011 A year after this post and here are the results. See my current thoughts on this issue in this article, BP Privacy: History and Lessons Learned from Developing a Major BuddyPress Component.

I think it is not only fair and appropriate, but also necessary for plugin developers to have the opportunity to make a living, or at least part of their living, writing great code that extends the base functionality of the BuddyPress platform.

To be clear, I am not an employee of Automattic. Like the vast majority of BuddyPress developers, I do not get paid a single cent for my contributions. In fact, as a salaried employee of Automattic, Andy Peatling, the lead developer of BuddyPress, is the only one who gets paid for his time working on this Open Source project (as far as I know).

Again, I am not looking to fan the embers of previous debates. I do not have any issue with how Automattic runs the WP plugin repository or care if they never list commercial plugins. That is not my point.

All I’m asking is how can plugin developers exist on an equal footing with theme designers when it comes to the issue of earning a living? Currently, the only three options that developers have, it seems, are to advertise a donate button for each plugin, accept consulting gigs, or accept advertising on their website. But donate buttons rarely provide much support and providing consulting services to clients is not for everyone. Furthermore, for me, I do not care to turn my personal website into a billboard.

The argument that plugin developers benefit by offering their work for free is flawed. It assumes that all developers are looking for consulting work, and two that all developers who offer their work for free will receive consulting work. Whereas it is certainly the case that some plugin developers have built a nice consulting business as a result of their donated work in the WordPress community, that does not mean that this route is for everyone.

What if a developer just wishes to code great-quality plugins like a theme designer designs high-quality themes? What if he or she does not want to provide any other service? How should this developer be compensated for their time?

But, since you asked, I do have a donate-like button for my BuddyPress Privacy Component. You can read more about my version of “donate” here.

I would like to hear some ideas on this topic as I have contributed much time to the BuddyPress community but have not earned a single penny. I am not looking to provide programming services or start a consulting company. I have a significant project that I’m working on so I don’t have time for much else.

Since I am not yet making an money on my project, I need a vehicle to earn some semblance of a respectable cash flow. Just as some theme designers earn a decent income from their premium themes, I would like to think that my income vehicle could be BuddyPress component development.

So, ideas and civil discussion, please!

Article Comments

  1. Paul Gibbs says:

    A good post around an important idea. I’m trying to figure out how to make this viable myself.

  2. Jeff Sayre says:

    Thanks, paul. It is a difficult topic to discuss. I think that developers need to educate the community on their needs. I also think that the concept of “free software” is misunderstood by many.

    My next post is an attempt at a possible approach. I don’t think I will receive as warm of a response with that approach.

  3. Boone Gorges says:

    Nice post, Jeff.

    On my more optimistic days, I think that the relatively small world of BuddyPress developers (aided by publication media like Twitter) make the idea of karma very tangible: the people who are out there providing code, answering questions in the forums, etc. are the ones who will be first contacted for speaking gigs, consulting work, and so on. But far too often this karma is accidental and uneven. And it’s hard to see how it cashes out if you’re not in the market for consulting and custom coding jobs.

    As much as I feel uncomfortable about the whole thing, I wonder how a model like http://wpplugins.com/ fits into the picture. Plugin authors can charge either a lump sum or an ongoing fee for support and updates. When the project was first announced, some of my friends raised some real fiery rhetoric regarding what it means for “community spirit” software like WordPress. I think that some of this rhetoric goes too far, and I disagree with a lot of the tactics that have been used by Farmer and the gang to capitalize on WP. But there might be something to the idea of putting a dollar amount on ongoing support, as it makes a direct connection (as you have on your Privacy Component support page) to the amount of time you’ll be spending on the project. This is NOT commodification, at least not in the way that a $1 fart app for the iPhone selling 500,000 copies is commodification.

  4. Jeff Sayre says:

    Thanks for your comments, Boone.

    If we each had thought about coding iFart first, then all problems would be solved! ;)

    I looked at wpplugins as a possibility but I thought I would just throw out another approach. I do think that their approach in this particular instance is acceptable and in the spirit of the GNU GPL.

    The real issue is how much time it takes to code something to begin with. Different plugins require differing levels of effort, of course. But I would love to see a BuddyPress (even WP) project support site, much like Kickstarter. The community would, in essence, vote for and fund their favorite plugins. The developers would get funding.

    The plugins would be released free of cost but perhaps another mechanism could then cover the developer’s continuing support and maintenance costs.

    • Jeff Ivany says:

      A Kickstarter-like site is interesting except I think it’s missing one big thing. It’s always a developer that comes up with the idea for a plugin. (Kickstarter appears to be people soliciting funding for their own project.)

      I don’t recall where I saw this before but some “free” webapp used to have a “feature bounty”. Community members could propose features they required and they would commit $x to the feature. Other community members could also sign-up for the finished product and commit their own $x. A developer could indicate at any point that they were willing to implement the feature and collect payment once delivered.

      There are many issues with that though – How do you collect the money up front (so no one backs out or doesn’t pay)? How do you ensure the final product is acceptable? Should the final product be publicly released or only to those who paid for it’s development? What about future support/bug fixes? etc. etc.

      Jeff – who is full of ideas but has no time to implement them. ;)

  5. A very good point raised.

    I have been developing plugins for wp/wpmu/buddypress for last one year.
    Now I have taken another approach, I have put a site which charges for membership(though, It’s minimal) and provides access to all the themes/plugin(premium one) and specifically the support forum.
    My free plugins are still free and I do come up with a combination of free+paid plugins. The hole Idea is not to hurt anyone’s sentiment while keep my self going on with the development

    Currently, It is just doing ok ok, I am not making something which is called money, but I hope it will help me to survive my development while providing plugins/themes/support for my beloved BuddyPress in future.

    I will love to hear about others and their strategy too.
    Thanks
    Brajesh

    • Paul Gibbs says:

      Good idea, Brajesh. I think a paid-for support forum is a good idea. My current plan for my future plugins will be a support forum and “plugin plugins” – i.e. basic plugin is £free but more features are available for £money.

      • Thanks Paul
        Yes, the plugin plugin idea is indeed good one. I do try to put up an alternative for my paid plugins as a plugin with basic features most of the time .
        Hope It goes well for you :)

  6. Jeff Sayre says:

    I personally have set a goal this year to invest upwards of $500 on providing funding to plugin developers. I may give out some large chucks, but most will be in the $25 to $50 range.

    For me, that is a reasonable number. For someone else, more or less might make sense.

  7. Ron says:

    We have been selling commercial plugins for almost a year and there have been no objections. We also have 5-10 plugins that subscription members of musupport.net can download from the forum.

    Generally, most people don’t mind paying a reasonable amount for plugins with functionality that they want as long as they live up to the marketing copy. I’m not sure whether or not there is room in the BP market to provide a reasonable sales volume.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Ron-

      Thanks for your comments.

      I guess I knew that you and Andrea had being doing that for awhile now. It seems that the practice is often frowned upon. I’m glad that you two have received no objections.

      I agree that the quality of premium plugin has to live up to, even exceed, expectations. I’m afraid that your point about the limited market size for BuddyPress Plugins is more than likely correct.

      • Andrea_r says:

        To be fair, the frowny part stars when people are selling things purely for monetary reasons. Ours have smaller price tags on things that clearly show they aren’t being sold to generate a huge income stream.

        Themes have quite a bit of creative deign in them, are more of a visual impact (and less code knowledge, really) and thus the community feels $70 for an average price is fair for a theme.

        But! What people fail to understand most of the time is that they are not paying for code – they are paying for ongoing development and support. Even if the code isn’t licensed GPL, you can expect to find free downloads of any commercial WP plugin or theme out there. So, to pin a price tag on code alone is not really a smart idea. Someone will get a copy somewhere.

        People *will* pay for support. Either support for themselves, or to support the dev.

        • Jeff Sayre says:

          Andrea-

          Thanks for your comments.

          I agree that people fail to comprehend the sheer amount of time a developer must commit to each of their plugins. The time to do the initial coding is just a start. Once the plugin is out in the wild, the amount of time required to maintain, update, augment, and support their work can be substantial. In many ways, it can require significantly more time than a theme designer is required to put into a single theme.

          I am obviously a fan of Open Source and GPL. I love the community that it comprises. My “please give me money now” post for the BuddyPress Privacy Component is basically a request for support so that I can continue to support the community and a site’s users through my code.

          I, like many other developers, wish to continue contributing to this community. But it cannot be done for free. We all have bills and other financial responsibilities. Consulting gigs may be the answer for some, but it should not be the only answer.

  8. Justin Parks says:

    Hi Jeff.

    I will be really interested to see what comes of this as the whole situation regarding the lack of financial support for developers disgusts me quite frankly. I think people should get paid for their time and effort and currently the donations system is a joke because every one loves to take but are not so inclined to give, evne when they are using something invaluable.

    The whole argument about community also annoys me. Community works together and at the moment its all very one sided. No one can tell me its asking to much to donate one euro or one dollar and if the community did we would have full time devs working on free, professional quality apps with no worries cause they would be loaded and the community would be better off a a whole. Such is human nature I guess.

    @Boone Georges , the post you quoted is an excellent read iand I think I will have to read it at least x3 before I can digest all those points of view!

    How to rectify the situation? Well, that is a tough one though recently I have seen more “premium” plugins appearing and worth every penny they are as well (at least the ones I have bought are), though that’s alot more cost than a donation would ever have been.

    I will be knocking about to see how this discussion progresses and if any ideas are bought up which have merit!

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Justin-

      Thanks for your thoughts. Several months ago I had read the post and comments in the link that Boone provides above. But, rereading that post this evening in context with my post and everyone’s comments here, it is apparent that what I have sensed in the WordPress community is a shift beyond the spirit of the GPL and Open Source.

      As Jim Groom states:

      We can not live by the letter of a license, we must think through the implications of our actions for a community that has moved further and further away from the prevailing political logic of the open source movement…That said, I’m not a developer, I am a member of a community and a movement that sees the possibility of people openly sharing their ideas and work apart from some kind of monetary compensation of the fruits of their labor…

      I do understand Jim’s point of view. If the WP community at large is moving in that direction then so be it.

      Before people in that camp round up their horses and rally their troops, think about this. Many of us who develop and support plugins do more for the community than just code. For instance, I have spent hundreds of hours as a moderator on the BuddyPress forums. I enjoy volunteering my time to help others with their BP issues. I do not ask for nor expect compensation for this labor of love.

      However, as altruistic as I usually am, I cannot “openly [share all my] ideas and work apart from some kind of monetary compensation” without going broke. I do plenty of sharing in our community beyond coding. It is a simple fact that I just can’t share all of my efforts for free. Do I really have to become a consultant again if I am to make a living off of my WordPress work? I think that is a ridiculous expectation.

      Unless a person is comfortably retired, independently wealthy, or living off their parents (or spouse, or government), they need to earn a living. Without some form of earnings from my plugin development work, I will soon either have to stop moderating the BP forums, or stop writing plugins.

      I don’t think that Jim is asking all developers to forgo earning a living. But if he is, does he also think that theme designers should do they same? Does he also believe that Andy or Donncha should be asked to work on BuddyPress and WPMU for free?

      Personally, I’m very appreciative that Automattic has hired such talented and creative people. I’m glad that Automattic’s business model allows them to financially succeed and, as a result, offer their employees’ time toward maintaining and extending the “free” software that we all love to use.

      It will indeed be interesting to see how this discussion evolves. I’m a community-minded person, have always supported open standards and the free software movement. But I think we need to relearn what “free” actually means–and in a very real way–what it costs.

  9. I’ve give you support form the “other camp. I write plugins, as you know, but they are generally so custom that they are not really worth releasing and I am not in the position to provide support anyway. I have a similar amount set aside for plugin purchase/contribution. What ends up happening is that when you come across a plugin that is either absolutely necessary or pretty much unavailable elsewhere, you will pay for it if it costs money. The other case is if it just blows away the competition…and costs money.

    I have purchased membership on Brajesh’s site because his media plugin is that good and that necessary for me and he seems genuinely committed to ongoing development.

    You should charge. I’ll pay.

  10. Chris says:

    Thanks for this, it’s a discussion that definitely needs to take place. I write MU/BP plugins (though not to the standard of the people already participating here) and do so for one reason: to make a name for myself which may lead to consulting work, eventually. At the moment my day job covers my bills, so all WP development is done in my own time, which I really enjoy.

    But still, I find it hard to answer my wife when she asks what tangible benefit we are getting from my hours coding. The potential for some financial payback at some undefined point in the future seems to be a big investment of my time to make. If the community of WP users wants to continue to get great plugins then some of them at least need to pay in a currency other than support requests.

  11. I find it really sad that for certain professions nowadays you have to apologize for wanting to make some money for rent and food.

    Open source is an ideology. It has been pushed by people with political agendas, a lot of them tenured professors with comfy salaries like Lawrence Lessig.

    I’m a journalist. My profession is being pretty much destroyed by the “all content should be free” dogma, which has made Google billions.

    What is good about open source is nothing new to capitalism/free markets. People have always collaborated on common interests.

    Giving away stuff for free is not unprecedented either. It makes sense to give a product away if it is too much of a commodity or too easy to copy. You use the free stuff as samples to build a client base to sell other things to; services or other products.

    Andrea_r: “… the frowny part stars when people are selling things purely for monetary reasons.”

    What other reasons would you have for selling things?!

    The open source crowd seems to make a distinction between selling support/services (Linux, good) versus selling products (Microsoft, bad). This is sanctimonious BS.

    Companies make money with whatever their core business is. Whatever isn’t their core business they can use to win clients or take competitors the wind out of their sails. Oracle and IBM have figured out how to make open source work for them.

    These are timeless economic principles. There is nothing new here.

    My core business is supposed to be premium content, events and market research, so any time spent on Buddypress development is cost; losing money, getting further in debt. That is why I get pissy when I have to waste weeks getting the registration process a little closer to industry standards.

    But hey, the script is free! I’m just trying to get the best deal. It’s all supply and demand. If I had any money, I would pay for external developers. I have paid for a mailing list script (ListMessenger) and will probably pay for a solid paid membership plugin.

    There is real value in paid plugins. It is a very fair way for developers to make money. If I pay for a plugin, I expect it to be maintained and supported, unlike a lot of other WP plugins. That is work. You can charge for that.

    I’m also exploring how I can make the effort I put into my own sites pay for itself by building projects + consulting for clients. But I never wanted to be a web developer.

  12. Great post Jeff, and an important topic.

    First of all there is nothing wrong with making money from open source tools, and there is nothing wrong with selling your work under the GPL license. I know you’re already aware of that, but it’s good to make that clear first of all, since many aren’t.

    However, the way you go about doing it is quite important for both you as a developer and the core project.

    What a lot of people miss is that open source projects can generally only survive when they have a strong community and solid development ecosystem around them.

    In a traditional model, software is developed, packaged and released for sale by a company. Other third parties might make add ons, training materials, offer support contracts for the product. All of these third parties will offer their software or service for a charge, building up their own subset of customers. You can be sure no information will be shared between third parties, or offered back to the core software since in this model it’s a scramble for the most paying customers.

    With the traditional software model this works well. The company building the core software doesn’t care that these third parties are developing their own walled communities around their software or service. They don’t care that they are not offering anything back to the core since they can afford to hire an entire team of developers who can build enough every year to release a new version. This company owns the IP of the software, they control what happens to it, and its entire direction. As far as they are concerned these third parties are just helping them sell more copies.

    In an open source software world these third parties are essential to the core project. In fact, they are not even “third parties” since there isn’t a “first party”. Everyone is part of the core of the project and has a chance to form the direction. There are core committers who have a final say, but they usually play the part of benevolent dictators. Those who develop plugins, provide support or any other service are actually building the project itself, even if they do not realize it. They may not be creating core code, but they are moving the software forward, pushing it in new directions, and contributing back. They are carving the future of the project.

    This is the development ecosystem. When developers build and release plugins that are freely available they are playing their role in this system. The cycle starts when an open source project is released. Other developers can download the software to try it out, perhaps find bugs and contribute fixes. They may really love the software and decide to start building plugins themselves. Other developers discover both the project and the developer’s work and love what they have done, they then start helping with bugs for both the developer’s plugins and the core of the project. They may become so influenced by other’s work that they start to build plugins of their own. These plugins may become so popular or are so well written that the code is considered for the core of the project, or the developer is given commit access to help out with the core. The cycle continues, each time increasing momentum and moving the project forward.

    What happens when a developer puts a pay wall around all of their work? Their part in the cycle is stopped dead. Developers are not going to pay to try out their plugins, they are not going to submit bug fixes, and they are certainly not going to be inspired to join in themselves. If many of the major developers of plugins for an open source project decide to put all of their work behind a pay wall, the development ecosystem will die and this will result in severe repercussions for the core project. Many projects will simply not survive.

    This is why it is vitally important for an open source project that developers provide at least some part of their work without charge. Think of this as your link in the project’s development ecosystem chain.

    I’m certainly a believer that for the system to work, developers have to see open source both as a way to give back, and make a good living. If developers are under the impression that they can’t make money and support their family with this system, then it will ultimately fail in the long run.

    So, to answer the question you’ve asked in the title of the post – charge for some of your work! However, it’s important not to forget and play a part in the bigger picture.

  13. Jeff Sayre says:

    Andy-

    Thanks for your detailed thoughts on this issue.

    What you say here is what concerns me the most with my approach in my other post:

    What happens when a developer puts a pay wall around all of their work? Their part in the cycle is stopped dead. Developers are not going to pay to try out their plugins, they are not going to submit bug fixes, and they are certainly not going to be inspired to join in themselves. If many of the major developers of plugins for an open source project decide to put all of their work behind a pay wall, the development ecosystem will die and this will result in severe repercussions for the core project.

    As I say in that post, I do not want to “hold the BuddyPress community hostage” nor even appear to be doing that. My ultimate goal is to find that happy medium for all developers, where they can, as you say, give back to the community and make a good living.

    As I am not looking to provide consulting services at this time, perhaps my only option is to go the two-tiered route, offering a basic and premium version of any of my plugins. I do wonder whether the premium versions would be quickly forked—which I do realize is acceptable under the GPL. But, if that were to happen, it would mean a potential loss of my revenue stream.

    • Jeff: I think a two tiered route is a good approach as long as the base tier is useful. There is always the potential of your code being forked or downloaded for free. This is the same for any industry. If you provide a better experience then you can keep this to a minimum. I think this is what the majority of premium GPL theme developers have found.

      • Jeff Sayre says:

        I agree. I’m thinking that at this point the basic plugin will be the current version (updated to work with BP v1.2, of course). The premium version will offer groups and blogs privacy filtering as well as a few additional, fine-grained settings for Site Admins.

        Now, if it comes to the point where you, and the community, feel that my plugin is ready for core, I would not have an issue with merging the premium version into core and discontinuing my premium site. By then, all major bugs should be worked out and it should be a relatively minor amount of work keeping it updated.

        • Jeff Ivany says:

          Maybe I’m going out on a limb here but if BP (or WP in general) chooses a plugin from the community to include in the core, why can’t BP (or WP) pay the developer some amount for that work?

          If I produced a plugin that was picked up in the core, I wouldn’t expect for every hour of my time to be paid at my current billable rate but a reasonable monetary “thanks” would be nice. Especially for something like Jeff’s privacy component which will definitely increase the BP user base.

          If the component is valuable enough to be included in the core then obviously the work to produce it was also valuable.

  14. Andrea_r says:

    We’re still looking for that happy medium ourselves, yes. :) Our consulting & WP-related work is our primary income. But there are also so many hours available in the day, too.

  15. Erich73 says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I think there are MANY options to make good money from plug-in development.
    For example: a lot of people are looking for a correct working “Event Plugin for BuddyPress”.

    A few hobby-programmers have started to work on this, but seems to have struggled so far to come-up with something which works without bugs.

    Once BP-version 1.2 will be out and therefore kind of “stable” or lets say relatively solid in terms of many changes and updates, I think such a plugin would make a lot of money – providing it is working without any bugs.

    I would certainly pay USD 500 for such a plugin.
    Definitely do not like to pay a monthly or yearly fee, but I am willing to pay a one-time-fee.
    Probably I would also pay a certain fee for a major upgrade to such a plug-in.

    So the “Event-Plugin” is one example.
    I guess there are many other plug-ins which are in need of, but will never find the way into the BP-core-code. So for those kind of features, there IS a way to make money for plugin developers.

    What about a plug-in for EASY PayPal integration ?
    Many website-developers will look for something like this.

  16. Erich73 says:

    There is another idea of how to make money:

    I am sure there are many people which acutally do not want to upload their real photo-image onto a website being run on BuddyPress-software.
    So why not give those people the option of buying a nice avatar which they like ?

    If you go ahad and let create some beautiful avatar-graphics, then make a revenue-share-model with webmasters (so that webmasters can make some
    money as well and therefore promote your service), then this would be a great way for you to make some money with this.

    You might want to check out the following story:

    http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/137/boomtown.html?nav=inform-rl

  17. Jeff Ivany says:

    I understand what you’re saying and I agree – it’s going to be difficult to find a model where you can make money off of your work.

    Some background – creating a BP based site is currently a hobby of mine. I doubt it will ever make me rich from ad revenue (which is about the only way it’s going to make me money). That makes it difficult for me to justify to shelling out $50+ for a theme, plugin, etc. I’ll guess that there are a large number of users of BP and WP in the same boat (heck, it’s taken me almost 10 years of hobby blogging before I finally recouped my hosting costs through Google Ads!).

    I’m also not likely to join a paid plugin/theme “club” unless my input gets taken and implemented in a reasonable amount of time (and I’m not just talking about bug fixing).

    Here are some ideas though:

    * Provide plugins that provide the basic application then make it possible for users to purchase additional functionality for a small charge (Think about the $1 iFart app – people buy it because it’s “only” $1).

    * Provide extended support – check out Justin Tadlock’s Theme Hybrid site. He’s providing extra support/functionality to paid members yet still providing the basic theme/plugins to everyone.

    * Provide a custom, one-off plugin/theme creation service. This appears to be successful and I don’t see why it can’t be for BuddyPress specifically. The limitation is the size of teh user base.

    And finally, the one I think needs to be explored – look to get a minor percentage of ad revenue from sites using your “premium” plugins/themes. Google Adsense provides this ability. You don’t get paid up front but you do get a revenue stream that can grow if the sites grow. Of course, managing something like this is very difficult.

    As a hobbyist, I’d be more inclined to do this because it doesn’t cost me anything up front.

    Jeff

    PS If anyone successfully implements the Ad revenue sharing approach, feel free to send a percent my way too. ;)

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Jeff-

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your perspective as a hobby BuddyPress user. I agree that most current BP users probably fall into that category.

      Your idea about Google AdSense sharing is interesting. Do you have a link to a specific AdSense page that describes how this can be implemented?

      • Jeff Ivany says:

        I assume you’d have to do it through the AdSense API (http://code.google.com/apis/adsense/). It appears that there is some support for revenue sharing already (http://code.google.com/apis/adsense/revenuesharing.html). Unfortunately I’m not well versed on this as it’s not something I’ve needed to do.

        If you search, there are a number of WP plugins already implemented that allow a site to share revenue between multiple authors. This is sort of what you’d want to do but as a plugin provider, you’d need some sort of way to ensure that the plugin user isn’t just disabling your share of the revenue. Obviously, once a user has your plugin code, they can modify it to remove the revenue sharing aspect. That’s the part that is going to be difficult to implement.

        Of course, I’m assuming you want to force this revenue sharing model as opposed to allowing the user to donate a percentage. Any form of donation runs into the points you’ve already mentioned.

  18. Lisa says:

    Just from my perspective as a designer, I get loads of requests for custom BuddyPress development. And by ‘development’ – I mean custom plugins and functions that stray from the basic BP functions and already existing plugins. My clients get pretty creative with their requests on what they want their web sites to do, and how they’d like BP to function on their site and more often than not I’m saying things like “that will take some custom development to accomplish”.

    What would be nice is to have a directory of developers who are available on a ‘work-for-hire’ basis so that people like me know who I can potentially outsource some of the more advanced level development work to. For me, it’s nice to have 3-4 different names of people who are available, because not everyone is going to be available at the time I need them to be. I am more than happy to share the wealth when it comes to custom projects – particularly because my focus is mainly on design, rather than custom programming, and many of my clients are willing to pay good money for custom plugin development.

    Right now, I have a few names of folks that I contact regularly – but those contacts are people that I’ve connected with through networking, WordCamps, etc – - but like Automattic has a listing of consultants for WordPress, would it possibly be cool for BuddyPress.Org to maintain a listing of consultants who specialize in BuddyPress? Giving exposure to the talented devs who are willing to put themselves up for hire for custom client work is always a good way to help make some money on the side, while the free development work keeps their exposure up as a talented developer who is more than capable of creating new (plugin) features that users want.

    Great post, Jeff – - and good feedback so far. Happy new year!

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Lisa-

      Thanks for your thoughts. I believe Andy is already putting together a list just like your detail above. http://buddypress.org/forums/topic/if-you-offer-buddypress-services-read-this#post-32104 I fully support this concept and hope that it leads to sufficient paid work for those developers who wish to offer services.

      For me, this approach is not an option. I do not have the time to accept consulting gigs nor do I wish to build a consulting business. I’ve been there before, had good success, and sold out just before the Internet bubble.

      • Lisa made a really useful point about the difficulty in finding good BP developers – there is no list that I know of.

        We’re inundated with BP projects, and would love to increase our team (by hiring project freelancers) to cope with the workload.

        @jeff – you referred to a post of Andy’s on this matter, but that seems dead in the water

        • Jeff Sayre says:

          Roger, thanks for the post.

          The concept is still alive, but is taking longer than most would want. I realize that you are aware of the interim solution of the BuddyPress Job group. I suggest contacting Andy and also John James Jacoby to ask them the status of Andy’s original initiative.

  19. Tore says:

    I’ve been donating to a wpmu-dev but I’m sometimes lucky if he responds. So as a user I’d like to have ongoing support. I don’t know how many there are of me although.

  20. I agree 100% with what Andy’s said. (No surprise eh?) Lisa, Andrea, Ron, and Boone have great points also.

    Fact is that Joe Client probably doesn’t care what tools you use to do the job. They do care that you’re responsible and competent enough to pick those tools yourself and deliver to them what they asked you for when they asked for it.

    I think there’s a few different ways that developers can make money specifically using BuddyPress, and they’re probably not profound or new to anyone. There’s a little algebra between how much money you want to make, how much work you want to do, and how much exposure to clients that you want to have, and I think it’s up to each developer to fill in those variables and do that math for themselves. Algebra + Economics = Bleh in my opinion, but it helps to think about it in those terms to quantify a return on your time.

    If you want your exposure to clients to be minimal, but you want to maximize the value of your time, then you need to hit-up Advertising and P.R. agencies for social networking development work, and convince them you can complete the tasks using custom BuddyPress components that you create, hopefully still under the GPL so you can reuse the code later. This means you’ll probably be doing almost all the dev work, from installation to testing to deciding it’s time to roll out.

    If you don’t mind having clients and interacting with them, then you go the freelance route. You can make any amount of money this way, since you’re responsible for making sure your time is as valuable as you can make it. The way you make money this way is through exposure and building an online brand around yourself, your services, and your time. You do this through the support forums, the developer email lists, blogs, twitter, etc… Since BuddyPress is based on WordPress, involvement in the WordPress community is essential also. My opinion here is a little bias, but I think this is the most rewarding way to make money with BuddyPress. Clients come and go, and if you’re as good as you say and your clients are happy, then hopefully more clients will come and go at an exponential rate. Once you’ve got a good amount of clients, then you charge more since your available time is now more valuable. The rest is just boring ol’ economics.

    Lastly, if you don’t want to put in long hours, and you want your exposure to clients to be minimal, but still want to try and maximize the value of your work, then you need to produce code that is of some kind of epic value. I.E. make a complete shopping cart solution that works with BuddyPress, or make some kind of insane niche type component that maybe doesn’t fit for the inclusion into the core but still fills a need in the market place. People will be forced to buy your code and use it, because it’s just so darn awesome they want to pay you for it.

    If none of those sound like good ideas, and if you’re not prepared to bend WordPress and/or BuddyPress to fit those clients, then you’re probably going to miss out on the action.

    Andy said:

    I’m certainly a believer that for the system to work, developers have to see open source both as a way to give back, and make a good living.

    …and I think that’s really what I think about the most. You get what you give and you really have to believe in the system and embrace the culture around it. If you spend countless hours using and learning BuddyPress, then eventually that recognition can turn into client recommendations, and people will start wanting to pay you for your time.

    For me personally, I’m very blessed right now to have had super awesome clients, and because of them I’ve been able to work on the core of something that I really enjoy and believe to be revolutionary. It’s meant that some days I miss dinner with the family, and other days are 20 hour work days with a few cat naps waiting for files to transfer, but every career has give and take, and making a career out of WordPress/BuddyPress development is no different.

    Specifically, something that’s worked really well for me is when I’m contacted by a potential client, I always offer them free support in the buddypress.org forums first. If they’re okay asking questions publicly and letting me answer those questions when I’ve got a free moment, or letting other people potentially help them and waiting for me to chime in, that’s great because it will potentially help other people with the same issue, and it’s impossible to put a price on real education. But, if they want my dedicated time and attention, we’ll talk about pricing privately, because it takes me away from helping others and ultimately they’re paying me for their comfort and the reliability of having that open channel of communication whenever they need it.

    Now, I may have totally missed the point of this discussion, so kick me if I’m off track, but I think this post comes from the direction that there’s a few dedicated developers that are asking themselves “what do I do next” or “how do I monetize this special skill.” Without too much philosophy involved, I think the answer really is just a life lesson… The only really things stopping anyone from mastering something are time, timing, and practice, and having the correct balance of those is critical. John Lennon wasn’t born with the ability to play the guitar, and he wasn’t the best at it either, but time, timing, and honing his skills helped the Beatles become one of (if not the most) influential and most recognized bands in history. Comedians sometimes practice their skits hundreds of times so they can get the timing of their jokes perfect, but hopefully when they’re on stage it doesn’t sound scripted at all… and no one starts out by juggling chainsaws. Maybe lumberjack-jugglers do? No idea…

    Thoughts?

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      JJJ-

      Thanks for your thoughts. Welcome back from the snowy midwest!

      I think what you and a few others have outlined here is the most practical, and already practiced, route to earning a living (or part of it) via WordPress / BuddyPress. The two-tiered, basic and premium plugin path is also an option with which only a few developers have had success. Although, that may be starting to change.

      Although the ultimate goal of this exercise is to find that happy medium where BuddyPress developers can make a good living while give back to the community, my personal goal is different. I already give quite a bit back to the community. I’m looking for ways to earn a decent cash flow without having to resort to consulting.

      As I’ve said in a few places in this post. My primary focus is on a big project. Building the technology platform for my new company takes a lot of time. I do not have any spare time left in the day.

      Unfortunately, startups do not throw off cash to their owners—at least initially. Since my startup is self-funded at this stage, that means I’m burning up cash, not making it. I’m trying to see if there’s a way that BuddyPress can give my a reasonable cash flow. If not, then either my donated time in the BuddyPress forums will have to go, or my plugin development work will have to cease.

      I’m sure my situation is rather unique. I posed this question above:

      Do I really have to become a consultant again if I am to make a living off of my WordPress work? I think that is a ridiculous expectation.

      I do plan to try the two-tiered plugin path. Perhaps the results will be pleasantly surprising. But it also could be that the answer to my question is that developers in my situation are not likely to find a career (or even part of their career) within the WordPress ecosystem. I should simply look at my time as a donation and not expect anything more.

  21. Mike says:

    I’m right there with Mike Pratt. I don’t think there’ll be a huge difference in downloads between releasing your Privacy Plugin (with all the bells and whistles) for free vs. putting it behind a paywall for a small amount + support, while simultaneously releasing a “basic” version of it for the general public. If there’s a need for a plugin hasn’t been offered by anybody else, I think the vast majority will reach for their wallets and pay that premium. I mean, look at wp-ecommerce or the Thesis/Headway Framework. As long as you keep it GPL, I think everybody will be happy =)

  22. Chris says:

    The “two-tier” plugin option for me throws up some new problems. Apologies if I’m getting a little bit too deep with this.

    Let’s say you have an excellent plugin, like Jeffs privacy plugin. Creating two versions requires quite a lot more development time, and also could introduce more bugs. That to me seems like a slippery slope to having to work on code even more, even if it is balanced by some level of income. Plus, for some of my plugins at least, it’s actually quite hard to separate the core idea of the code from the extra features that would appear in a premium version. It’s not impossible, and as I’ve said before I’m not at the level of the JJJ’s, Andy P’s and Jeff S’s of this world.

    I’ve been blessed by some donations from the WordPress community, but nowhere near enough to even make a dent in any of the bills that keep coming through the door. As I hinted at before, I’m reliant on my day job to keep my head above water. And I’m indebted to my long-suffering wife who allows me many hours of WordPress hacking, without too many complaints. But to be honest I can’t maintain this for ever.

    The best solution I’ve found personally was mentioned by someone above, and that’s to do freelance consulting work with a great client who then allows the work (or at least part of it) to be released to the community. But, as everyone knows, those clients are hard to come across.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Chris-

      One possibility to seamlessly, and hopefully painlessly, add premium features to a plugin is via a separate file. Just set a constant based on the existence of that file. If a user has that file, that means they purchased the premium version. Premium functions will only fire if the constant is true.

      Of course, as the plugin must be GPLed, other users could legally make that premium file available to others for free. But, as Mike states just below, the real differentiating factor could be the level and type of support offered to basic versus premium users.

      It would be simple enough to keep a list of registered premium plugin users—those who directly paid for your premium plugin. Then, whenever a support issue pops up pertaining to the premium features, you check to see if that person actually paid for your premium plugin.

  23. Mike says:

    True. How about a two-tier approach in that you have two levels of support — basic and premium. Say you pay $35 for support with a 3-5 day response time and, like, a gazillion dollars for a 4-hour response and feature requests. Hell, even MT does that with Zeldman.

  24. Eric Marden says:

    In the 12+ years I’ve been a developer one of the hardest things to unlearn is that my time has value. Yep, you read that right. My time has no value. And hence I don’t bill for my time.

    I bill for my experience. I bill for my ideas. I bill for the strategy I bring to the table, and the solid track record I’ve built up. In other words, I get paid for being awesome.

    All blustering aside… I blogged about this recently (http://j.mp/2S3ObS) and the main point is this: Don’t trade your time for money. That’s what *employees* do.

    Do what you love. Care about your craft. Make cool things. But above all, create value. The rest is easy.

    So instead of worrying about how to spin up a business model around writing open source code, just write some! (Or don’t). But if it has become tedious and the only way to temper that feeling is with some hard cash your going about it the wrong way and will end up unhappy. Creating value however, has both tangible and non-tangible rewards. After that its just process management and living a kick ass life following your bliss from project to project.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      In other words, I get paid for being awesome.

      Lol! That is good stuff!

      I appreciate, and agree, with your assessment. My main, full-time focus is on building out a new web-based platform which will create value. I’ll be creating value for others through the service, and creating value for myself through the company that I’m building. But, while I’m working on that, I need a trickle of cash flow to help pay the bills as I burn through cash in my self-funded startup.

      The 20% of my time that I’ve donated to the BuddyPress community this past year was worthwhile. I did it for no other reason than what you suggest: to “just write some code; have fun; and meet some interesting people.

      But, as I focus more on my startup, it occurred to me that it would be nice if some of the effort I put into the BP community could actually help underwrite my efforts. We can’t all work for free. I have no interest nor intention to build a career out of WordPress consulting.

  25. Premium themes and plugins eventually get copied and whored out by someone else. scratch that… I didn’t say that and excuse my ramblings here :) My two cents worth from my experience, having previously having been involved with a corporate publisher and the Drupal push, I found that we were returning very little of the work back to the Drupal community. I think most companies and certainly any client or agency I’ve ever worked with I will gladly allow the work returned to the community, but the effort isn’t often made by the developers who are on tight salaries and deadlines. And what happens is that those companies that fly through developers with high turnover and end up with products that are hacked to death with custom work that isn’t maintained by a community end up quickly outdated where they’ll have to pay another round of developers to upgrade or fix it in a year. (repeat bloated expensive cycle that is currently breaking the bank on some publishers) I’m with Chris, the ideal situation is that of a client who understands this and I find the support more rewarding for an existing client than custom php or theme work for a new client. Those of us who scrape by find the time precious and the payback on the glory of releasing custom work as plugins unrewarding. Jeff, I feel you on the time issue. If only the folks that pay top dollar to glamorous agencies understood that under the hood of their high dollar websites are the workings of numerous talented folks who do it for free. I think folks are beginning to understand this as the agency model is being undermined by smaller, more nimble and talented teams whom, I hope respect the open community, more than their predecessors. I’ve worked for both. My personal belief is that I want very few clients whom i provide with top notch timely service. I believe that service/support should be the basis of premium themes and plugins. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a shallow world were ‘looks’ (theme) is taking the cake vs plugins developers. That’ll come around though.. there’s a whole fresh crop of ‘web developers’ out there who couldn’t configure a server or code they’re way out of a paper bag and agencies who now are beginning understand the importance of maintaining a good solid community supported code base. There is also now a bleeding edge of agencies and publishers whom firmly understand the power of open source CMS’s. All who will eventually become savvy enough to come straight to you for help. May you Charge them dearly for your services and your premium plugins. Keep up the good work, and I’ll make sure and bill for your plugin, and pass that along when I get a chance to use it. chow.

  26. Jeff Sayre says:

    David-

    Thanks for your comments!

  27. Rahul Dewan says:

    Jeff,

    I’m probably the most inexperienced writer posting comments on this post; garnering courage to write my views on your dilemma and see if things i have to say makes any sense. :)

    Why can WordPress and other open source projects not form “for-profit” Foundations, and pay their developers. They could start ranking – perhaps through community feedback covering various objective parameters – on who are the most important set of contributors for the project.

    People like you would, and should, easily make it to the A-list.

    I cannot understand why you should not make “significant” money with only 20% of your time in the community, through the payments made by the Foundation.

    The Foundation itself could be funded through:
    - large/enterprise consulting gigs
    - community donations
    - some sort of commercial model
    - adsense, corporate advertisement and sponsorships (i think it is important to make money; associating open source freedom, with not making money from montizeable sources, is an issue of the relationship our scientists/social workers/thinkers (and in general the best people in our society) have with ‘money’.

    This rather poor relationship with money and monetizing – needs to change. While i am preaching, i am struggling with these issues myself a bit too; but i’m working on myself consciously.

    Regards,
    Rahul

    http://www.srijan.in

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Rahul -

      Thank you for your comments. Your idea of a community cooperative that would pool funds to support WordPress plugin development is interesting. Perhaps a few entrepreneurial-minded people will make that a reality.

  28. Is there a site where I can search and talk to and find a WP/BuddyPress developer who is interested in contract work?

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