There has never been a better time to be a WordPress developer. The platform is under active development, the community is growing, the marketplace for both free and premium projects has exploded, and more and more people are making a successful living by providing projects and services specifically targeting WordPress.
There are a number of small to medium businesses that develop solely for the WordPress platform and have the team and marketing budgets to boot.
But what about those of us who are looking to begin building products for WordPress? Specifically, how do those of us with little-to-no-budget go about researching, developing, and maintaining premium WordPress themes and/or plugins?
Throughout the next series of posts, we'll take a look at a number of practices that can help provide some guidelines on how to begin researching, building, releasing, and maintaining premium WordPress projects on the cheap.
Determining What To Build
As developers, we have no shortage of ideas for projects. Be it a theme or a plugin, it's likely that we can list off any number of projects that we'd like to build; however, the challenge often lies not in actually implementing said project, but in knowing if there are any potential customers.
The truth is, developers like to create things for fun - we get a kick out of coming up with an idea and then proving to ourselves that we're actually capable of completing the task.
Unfortunately, this doesn't always pay the bills. Ideally, we should come up with an idea that not only seems like it would be a challenge to implement but would provide a useful service to others. So useful, in fact, that they'd be willing to pay for it.
Researching the Market (Know Your Competition!)
Although sometimes we get lucky and come up with a fun, marketable, and successful idea on our own, that's not the norm. It's much easier said that done.
On top of that, it's quite impractical to email a bunch of bloggers to find out what they'd like to see in a theme or plugin.
Instead, doing some cursory research using Google, the WordPress Forums, and existing projects to provide some insight on what people are currently interested in running on their site.
For example, browsing the WordPress Plugins Repository will show what the most active plugins are, how many times they've been downloaded, and how often they are updated.
Alternatively, the WordPress Forums are littered with people who are complaining about a certain feature of WordPress that could be improved, or who are asking how to achieve a certain task in WordPress.
Complaints are fuel for innovation on the platform. Making note of them and then attempting to provide solutions can help provide a marketable product for users.
Occasionally, I'll hear of developers who lose motivation to work on a project because there is already a similar product available. Simply put, this is an irrational excuse for canceling a product.
Take a look at any brick and mortar establishment and there are many different types of the same product each of which are differentiated by the smallest of features. Case in point: how many different types of bread can you buy at the market? Sometimes, there's almost no difference in two given products other than the price.
All that to say: Don't let competition kill your motivation. Offer a different feature set, alternative design, or a lower price. Be creative with your work.
First To Market
On the other hand, what happens if you're the first one to market for a given theme or plugin? Does this guarantee success? Certainly not!
In fact, too many times developers will let the novelty of their idea generate complacency and arrogance in releasing a product, but having no competition is no reason for doing sloppy work.
Instead, I think that a case can be made that you have a significantly greater responsibility as you'll be the one for setting the bar for when competition eventually comes (and it will come!).
In whatever case, treat your project with just as much care and precision as you would regardless of if there's zero competition or you're attempting to break into a saturated market.
Planning the Branding
Once you've landed on your idea, it's important to think strategically about the name. After all, the website, marketing effort, and any other documentation centered around the project will be referring to it as such. You want the project name to be clear and memorable.
That said, there are a still a few other strategic things to put in place when planning your project.
What's In a Name?
When it comes to naming our projects, it's a lot of fun to think of something cool. After all, having a project available in the wild for others to use and refer to by some novel name seems like something aim to for, right?
The thing is, the Internet's user interface is search. That is, people are used to searching for everything. As such, if you're working on a plugin that will showcase your latest tweet, then it doesn't make sense to call the plugin "Acme Awesome App."
Instead, you want to name it something that clearly identifies what the project does and is likely to show up in search results. As such, naming the plugin something like "Recent Tweets For WordPress" is more effective.
On top of that, when people refer to your project in writing or by word of mouth, it will be much easier to remember because the name provides a clear relationship between what the project is called and what the project does.
Once you've landed on a clear naming strategy for your project, it's important to pull this through the entire branding effort. Though SEO is beyond the scope of this series, your domain should ideally include, if not match one-to-one, the name of your project. Additionally, the landing page or website should include the project's name in the title tag as well as strategic points throughout the copy for keyword weight (which is great for SEO).
At this point, we've covered the key components in planning your project. From market research to strategic branding, we're positioned to actually begin working on our project.
In the next post, we'll take a look at strategies for building our project. This will include scoping features, planning the a roadmap for future versions, release dates, and how to get some press all on the cheap.