The work of any WordPress agency consists of a mix of one-off project work and ongoing support for existing clients. Ongoing support might include content changes, adding new blog posts, adding new features, providing training and answering questions.
Project work - i.e. designing and developing new WordPress websites - is fairly self-explanatory and easy to plan. As a WordPress website design agency, we have found that ongoing support is a harder service to get right.
Here's what I have learned.
It's hard for us to support websites in an ad hoc way
Every day we receive many requests for one-off support from existing clients who aren't on an ongoing support plan. (We don't provide ad hoc support for websites we didn't design ourselves - I recommend posting your job on Codeable if that's what you're looking for.)
Providing unplanned, ad hoc support is expensive because it doesn't allow us to plan our workload around other projects and there are also increased admin costs.
3 reasons why we provide so much ad hoc support
There are several reasons why people invest in a WordPress website but don't want an ongoing support plan after it goes live.
WordPress is a content management system, after all
Most people are attracted to WordPress because it's a content management system. By definition, this means that website owners can make content changes themselves.
This is correct, but I think it creates an impression that you can do this without any support. As a result, a lot of people invest in a professional WordPress website while intending to manage all the content changes themselves after it goes live.
If you have a blog or a very simple website then you can probably take care of the content yourself with little or no support. It's not difficult to make text changes, add an image or add a new blog post.
The problem is that most WordPress business websites are more complex than this. They tend to have more complex page layouts (often designed using the sophisticated but difficult-to-use Visual Composer plugin or similar), plugins that add extra functionality, custom post types etc. With these websites, clients can still update their own websites - but there's a steeper learning curve and a greater need for support. You can't have it both ways - you can either have a very simple website that is easy to edit yourself, or a more fancy-looking website where you're likely to need more support.
Some examples of our WordPress support
To give you a quick snapshot, here are some examples of support requests we have received in the last week:
- The Yoast SEO plugin has released a major update and it's no longer obvious how to edit SEO titles and descriptions
- Why are customers in my online shop being added as users in WordPress? (answer: because an account is created for them allowing them view their order history etc.)
- Why aren't the footnotes in my latest blog post working properly? (answer: because you copied the text from another program such as MS Word into WordPress and it added some dodgy formatting code which messed up the footnotes. Use the Paste as Text option in future)
- Why is code appearing on my blog page? (answer: because the blog page automatically displays the first X characters from your post, which contain shortcodes which can't be rendered on the blog page. You can get around this by adding a custom excerpt for each post)
- Why has my Twitter feed stopped working? (answer: because Twitter changed its API and the Twitter feed needs to be re-done using the new API)
- Where can I edit the testimonials on my website? (answer: your theme has a 'Testimonials' custom post type which can be edited globally via the 'Testimonials' section of the WordPress admin. Not on each individual page where the testimonials appear)
As you can see, if you have a WordPress website then you're likely to have questions that you couldn't possibly have anticipated.
You may feel that you know your way around WordPress and can manage your own content changes. In my experience, nearly everyone has semi-regular queries. It's simply not efficient to provide this type of support in an ad hoc way. It makes it impossible for WordPress website design agencies to plan their workload.
Barn2 Media provide such great support, I don't need an ongoing support plan!
I'm well aware that we create a rod for our own back. By providing fast and helpful support to all our clients - regardless of whether they're on an ongoing support plan - we're not really encouraging people to sign up to an ongoing service. This hurts us, but not them.
I'll just pay for support as and when I need it
A lot of clients say this to me. It's fair enough from their perspective. But it oesn't make it easy for us as a WordPress website design agency. It's not the client's fault. We need to provide better incentives so that clients benefit from an ongoing plan as much as we do.
How to provide ongoing support that works for WordPress agencies and clients
Don't throttle your clients (never a good thing!)
I have previously sought advice on this issue from other experts in the WordPress community. They advised offering fast response times to clients who are on a support plan, and making other clients wait - perhaps 1 or 2 days. I think this is a terrible idea!
Fast response times are fundamental to our company ethos. We simply don't believe in keeping people waiting unnecessarily. We respond promptly to all our clients, regardless of whether they're on a guaranteed support plan - I would feel very uncomfortable doing anything else.
Different pricing for regular and ad hoc support
Instead of offering different response times, we have changed our pricing. This ensures that every client benefits equally from having an ongoing support plan. To reflect the increased cost of providing unplanned support, our rate for one-off support has increased to £75 + VAT per hour.
Barn2 clients can get big discounts off this hourly rate for all regular support plans. This ranges from £30 for half an hour to £45 per hour for larger plans. The smallest support plan is just half an hour per month. Even clients on a low budget can save money by having an ongoing plan.
The increase only applies to people who continue to request ad hoc support. The aim is not to increase revenue. It lets us predict more accurately how much support we will be providing and to plan our work accordingly.
Our clients can select their support using our new online tool to build a personalised support plan. So far the tool is proving effective. It has opened up discussions with a number of clients about the best way to support them and their website in future. We think that other WordPress website design agencies should have something similar in place. This helps clients know the options so they can make informed decisions.