Two Sides to the Story of Support

Side one, the Developer

To the question:

“Do the thanks and appreciation go anywhere near compensating the constant e-mail asking for support? What inspires your desire to give without return?”

Alex King responded, in part, with this paragraph:

“In talking with other plugin developers, it seems fairly universal that the reward for a successful plugin is a deluge of support email that includes the worst kind of sense of entitlement, rudeness and ignorance. The community as a whole seems to expect to be able to pay nothing, yet received expert and individual help and support for free.”

Every time I’ve thought of releasing a plugin for WordPress (or jQuery), I’ve had to think through this same issue. It hasn’t yet stopped me from releasing a plugin (I still have yet to release any, but they’re in the works), but it definitely stakes a claim in the “How” of the decision making process.

So far I have yet to find a bulletproof solution. The 3 best options I’ve observed are:

  1. Directing all support to the WordPress forums via tagging.
  2. Directing all support to Alex King’s WordPress Help Center.
  3. Create a subscription-based support structure as exemplified by Justin Tadlock’s ThemeHybrid and Ingenesis Limited’s Shopp Plugin.

Even with one (or all) of these strategies in place, there are still going to be issues. Mostly, that you’re not able to fully recoup your efforts managing support work (via payment and/or hours that could have been devoted to coding). Plus, it’s not really that enjoyable, for either party.

Side two, The User

As a WordPress user, relying on free plugins that provide little or no support can get frustrating very quickly. I started using WordPress in 2005 and later joined the community in 2006. Not long after, I realized that relying on the free, forum-based support model was unsustainable. As a result, I quickly began contracting developers to write plugins I needed.

Most users would be surprised to find that the cost of contracting a plugin is minimal, especially when compared against time spent in the forums asking and waiting for help. The range for a plugin (one that doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel) is around $100-$400. I realize this price range could be prohibitive depending on your financial status, but I wasn’t making much then (first job out of grad school and a heap of student loans).

To be sure, the forums are a great resource, staffed and frequented by a lot of excellent and helpful people. I owe them for a good bit of help and have contributed back over the years

Choosing a great developer is key. Their reputation and hourly rate isn’t necessarily indicative of your potential cost. Great developers work quickly and have a vault of stored solutions they’ve developed over the years that will directly benefit your project’s budget. An inexperienced developer charging half the hourly rate may take 4x as long to complete the job. Not to mention that the code quality may have you needing frequent fixes and upgrades as WordPress evolves.

A few points in support of my opinion:

  • They’re normally willing to give you a flat rate. This avoids any surprise overages.
  • They’ll usually provide free support, especially if they feel it was their mistake or that they could have written the code to be more forgiving of certain edge cases.
  • They tend quote lower if your idea presents good challenge. Developers love to be challenged.
  • They usually will not charge for time spent learning something needed to code your solution.

Regarding choosing a great developer, start by contacting the most prominent names in the plugin community. I’ve never had to go further than contacting 3 people for a given project. The best ones are always busy, but if your schedule is flexible you’ll have more luck.

Small disclaimer, I am currently using Alex King’s WordPress Help Center for 2 large pieces of client work.