Over the last couple of years the WordPress platform has really matured. Now, premium (commercial) plugins aren't just for developers they're used by developers and users a like. It isn't uncommon at all to see lite versions of plugins in the WordPress repository with a pro version available on the developer's site. So if you have an idea for a plugin how do you capitalize on this? How can you build a valuable product and market it to users?
Five Ways to Monetize Your Plugin
The first method to monetize your plugin is the easiest – you just sell it. You can use something like WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads and sell the plugin via your own website. If you're selling it on your own website you keep 100% of the income which you can use to fund future development of the plugin.
Freemius can also help you monetize your plugins. Especially helping users upgrade from a free plugin to a premium version.
You can also use a marketplace to sell your plugin for you. The upside is that the marketplaces already have a large number of users already using the site, and you don't have to worry about accepting payments. The downside of a marketplace is that they usually take a commission. If the extra exposure creates enough sales to make up for the commission then it's wise to put it on a marketplace and on your own site.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Another great way to sell your plugin is to sell a service and integrate the plugin with the service. The upside of services like these is that you can rely on your recurring revenue. When you sell premium plugins you don't know how much you're going to make in a month; whereas with a monthly recurring service you can much more easily estimate your monthly income using your existing users and applying your churn rate.
A good example of this is something like VaultPress which automatically backs up your website offsite each time you make a new post.
This is perhaps my favorite model because the freemium model allows your users to interact with the plugin and get an idea of how it works without them having to buy anything. With the freemium model you allow certain pieces of the plugin to be used completely for free. To monetize it you have extensions, other plugins, or a pro version of the plugin which gives the user access to other features.
Different plugins do this in different ways. Max Buttons has a pro version with all of the included features where as something like Ninja Forms or WooCommerce have extensions each of which can be purchased separately.
One of the very best advantages of the freemium model is that you can use the WordPress.org plugin repository to store, market, and manage the plugin for you. This will allow your users to download it and keep it up to date just by pressing a button.
There is a downside to using WordPress.org – you can't track any of your users. There is actually a really useful service out there that helps you learn more about your users so you can see things like what version of PHP are they using, what version of WordPress, what language, etc. If you want to learn more about your users definitely check out Freemius.
Support, Installation, & Customizations
There are some plugins that are free but are very complex to setup. Especially things that involve custom data inputs. For these types of plugins it may be a good idea to release the plugin for free and then charge users for your time setting it up.
A good example of this is IgnitionDeck which is a WordPress crowd funding plugin (think KickStarter) which has a lot of front end hooks which need to be placed in the right spot for the site to look really nice.
Affiliate Links & Commissions
This is one of the less talked about options but it is an option. There are various services out there that will give you a commission for each API call. For example something like a payment gateway might be able to give you a percentage of each transaction. This will allow you to sell your plugin for free and allow the commissions to pay for the future development.
The biggest downside of this method is that you have to have a large user base to be able to work with some of these large services.
So Which One Should You Choose?
Each of these methods has their own uses. None of these are better than any other. You'll have to look at your circumstances and evaluate which one is best for you. Try a business model and if it doesn't work for you then don't be afraid to pivot and change it.