I have been doing WordPress plugin development as a business for about two years now. When I first started, by releasing my very first plugin on Code Canyon, it was very much a side project that brought in a little side residual income. Today, I make 100% of my needed income and more off of plugin development.

The plugin development world is really just emerging and beginning to be taken seriously as a solid foundation for WordPress-based businesses. For the last few years, WordPress businesses were almost exclusively based around theme development and custom WordPress sites, but now we are beginning to see more and more individuals and teams focusing purely on WordPress plugin development for their businesses.

Members of the WordPress community, developers and users alike, are really starting to embrace and get behind plugin-based businesses, both large and small, and this backing is providing a strong backbone for WordPress businesses to lean on.

WordPress plugins are transitioning from simple plugins that perform very minor tasks on a WordPress site, to plugins that provide an entire suite of highly refined features, such as e-commerce or membership systems.

It used to be that when you wanted an “app” website powered by WordPress, you needed a specially-built theme, which meant you were confined to the styles and layout of that theme. Now that the truly powerful features are being built purely as plugins, users have a huge amount of flexibility and are able to pair their functionality plugins with their favorite (or custom built) themes.

There are still far more commercial theme developers than plugin developers, but there has not been a better time venture into business of plugin development, especially when we have systems like Easy Digital Downloads that make it exceptionally easy to sell and distribute your plugins.

If you are on the edge about entering the world of commercial plugin development, now is the time.

  1. Paul

    Totally true. Actually I think instead of “app themes”, there will be a bunch of solid plugins and themes will be built around them, a bit like themes for Easy Digital Downloads.

  2. Alex Denning

    I saw the headline and thought “oh god, people only right these when things are going badly”, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that was anything but the case for you; I’ve not used EDD yet, but that kind of “freemium” model seems to be one which is both helpful and profitable. Best of luck with it in 2013 🙂

    • Pippin

      Things are going quite well, thanks 🙂

      I’m convinced more every day that the freemium model is really the way to go.

  3. Krisargent

    As an amateur I could not make my site run the way I want it without several crucial plugins, including Pippin’s. Not only do I lack the ridiculous sums it would take to hire a clever telepathic genius to customize the theme I am using; I also lack the time or patience for delays on delivery and excuses about performance issues. I’d rather search, explore plugin feedback and developer credentials, download, install, activate, test, gauge results, and be done with it.
    Oh, and — I’m always careful to make sure I get my plugins from good guys like Pippin, always on their game, always ready to help and educate! Even on the free plugins.
    Thank you.

    • Pippin

      Thank you for the kind words!

  4. Noumaan

    What I like about this emerging trend is that these plugin developers offer premium level support with forums, comments, etc. One can even reach developers on twitter and sometimes they go out of their way to help people who purchase their plugins. On the other hand, some people just abandon their plugins on the free WordPress repository with lots of unanswered support requests.

    What I personally worry about is that this trend will reduce the number of free plugins or quality of these free plugins. So far it seems like free plugins are still thriving and I hope that they will continue to thrive so that we could have a balance of choices.

    • Pippin

      I can’t speak for others, but I personally try to release as many or more free plugins than I do paid. I also try to provide just as good support for the free ones, though that isn’t always possible.

  5. Dawson

    I initially thought things are going bad. But later came to know that you are giving a call to WP developers. More you guys develop, more I will promote. Lets balance it 🙂

  6. Daniel Espinoza

    I totally agree!

    I too marked the milestone this year of having all my “household bills” paid by sales of extensions I developed. It’s exciting to be able to venture out into other endeavors with this base of stability without having to do any project work.

    Now is a fantastic time to work hard building quality products, provide great support, and build a thriving business.

    • Pippin

      I still do occasional client projects, but more by choice than necessity.

  7. Jinson Abraham

    Great writeup Pippin. Being someone who is observing the growth of WordPress and related fields for few years, I can say that the WP plugin development field has come a long way. Earlier there was a time when the plugins development was considered a field with almost no potential to generate any sustainable income. They were something that was supposed to be given away for free while the theme industry enjoyed a glamorous customer base. These days the plugins enjoy a greater fanbase and it has become an integral part of theme industry. Plugins like EDD are great example for that. Its awesome to see that a plugin developer these days can earn more than enough to support his family by doing what he loves to do best, crunching codes.

    Cheers
    Jinson

  8. Rhys

    Great write up 🙂

    I’ve noticed myself that this year has been a lot more successful for me in terms of plugin sales, and doesn’t really show no sign of letting up, at least my end (famous last words!).

    I can’t see “free” plugins reducing in popularity, particularly as often free plugins are plugins developed during work hours or learning – lord knows I devved free plugins to help me learn PHP.

    I truly believe though that every decent WordPress coder should have in their arsenal at least one premium product, be it a theme or a plugin, as it can help cash flow to freelancers, (of course, plugins that are actually useful, rather than there to make money and be unsupported and rubbish).

    Long time admirer of your work from a far, best of luck for 2013 🙂

  9. Michael Martin

    Awesome to hear it’s going so well Pippin. I think you’re totally right there, and it’s great to see you giving the sector a shoutout. Hopefully it will encourage even more people to get involved!

  10. corsonr

    Thanks Pippin, once again a good post on something that is changing: in the past we used to work with templates including specific features, and now, we’re looking for general themes to use specific plugins. That’s also true that now theme developers can create themes for the plugins, such as WooCommerce or EDD, that’s really great. WordPress, since version 3.0 is sooooooooo nice! And developers like you and some others are, for me, a real source of motivation!

  11. drewmcmanus

    Kudos Pippin, you deserve all the success and more. You’re a top notch provider and one of the increasingly few professionals that understand the delicate balance between offering solid products and equally solid ongoing support and updating.

  12. ed

    Congrats on the great year and I look forward to all your 2013 work!

  13. Kathy

    Congrats Pippin! I got my first premium product out into the wild last year and I feel like I’m right on the tipping point crossing over into full-time premium plugins (while maintaining a handful of freebies). There’s a lot of potential for solving problems in different niches with plugins! I think of something new all the time! Possibly even more than with themes, and as @corsonr said these advanced plugins open the door for even neater themes.

  14. johnlanglois

    Just curious. Since you have a good following, why do you continue to market your plug-ins at Code Canyon. They take a healthy cut of the sale. Does the traffic they send you make up for it?

    Thanks.

    • Pippin

      Part of it is simply because I haven’t taken the time to move them off. It also has to do with that I have a really good relationship with Envato and they deliver a large amount of traffic to my items and my site.

      Would they do better through just my site? I don’t know, though I am planning to do a test pretty soon by pulling one or two of them off and moving them to just my site.

  15. Ciaran Whelan

    Pippin, if I had your coding skills and my ideas mixed together, I would build out an incredible suite that I have floating in this noggin… Some serious coin to be made from the ideas… grrr… Time to start learning more I guess.

    • Thomas

      May I ask how you’re learning? I do best with ‘game’ type learning, things like Codecademy, I’m a tad embarrassed to say. 🙂 I am signing up for college classes though and want to choose the right language to learn. I barely know HTML but persistent in working my creation until it looks or works how I want. Up to this point it has all been theme customization and modification though.

    • Pippin

      I’ve learned by looking at other peoples work and constantly reading tutorials. Just getting your hands dirty, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, will also help you learn very quickly.

  16. Ray Flores

    Pippin – the funny thing about this ‘side’ business is that some developers get made because you there is money left on the table that is now happening to be gathered up by the ‘little’ guys… Like myself, where as I could sell a module that get’s placed into a popular theme, but my module may cost $25, and it sells like hotcakes…why is that… why not have a open mind (there is aplenty of business to go around)… stay true to what you do best, if that means you make ‘enhancements’ to an already great theme or plugin, do what you can with that, be great at making enhancements (of value of course).
    That is always why I enjoy your business model… it’s not about the ‘big dollar’,but rather, all those little dollars that add up in the end. “it’s about the meter drop…”

    • Pippin

      Absolutely agree with you Ray. I know quite a few developers that do little more than build extensions for other plugins (primarily ecommerce plugins) and they do very well for themselves.

  17. Randy Sandberg

    Agreed! My buddy and I started our web development business at the beginning of 2010. At that time we were basically PHP developers for hire. Work was there, but it was slow. The idea of adding “apps” to websites was still very much in its infancy. And since we were not web designers, adding new features and functionality to websites was all we could do. Nowadays, especially since we focused our efforts exclusively on building custom WordPress Plugins, we can hardly keep up with the demand. This year in particular has already began with a boom! Thanks for such an up-to-the-moment post. 😀

  18. Thomas

    Fascinating post, will tweet soon as I reply!

    I think it’s interesting, plugins versus themes, as it’s really two ways of approaching the same solution. So which is more time/cost effective for the developer to create? Suppose they both share a lot of answers too – depends on the functionality being written in.

    Re: earlier comment about themes being built around awesome plugins. I’m NOT affiliated, but check out Gameleon, new on theme forest, built around that arcade pro plugin.

    Sir, I’m curious, what programming language would you recommend someone learns to write plugins? I have a lot of projects like NE1UP.com and so many viable, non-existent plugin ideas.

    Any suggestions for someone serious about learning would be really appreciated! I will reach out on twitter!

    Thomas @NE1UP

    • Pippin

      In general there should actually be very little overlap in functionality between plugins and themes. Plugins should provide the features and themes should provide the visual styling. Here’s an article I wrote on the subject: http://wp.tutsplus.com/articles/general/functionality-plugins-vs-themes/

      Plugins are always written primarily in PHP but also may contain javascript, CSS, HTML, and other similar languages.

  19. Mero Nepal

    I am WordPress developer, especially i develop plugins for wordpress
    let me know if any one need help form me.
    I am search of work on wordpress or php,

    Thanks!
    Nice article.

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