Ten questions to ask before building new plugins

Are you thinking of building a new plugin?

If you're part of the larger WordPress community, it's likely you've thought about building your own plugin. Then you might have thought – all the good ideas are gone. But I told you yesterday that I disagree.

Some of you asked, where is the space? What kind of plugin should I build?

And before I get into that, I want to highlight ten questions that I often ask folks who are thinking about building new plugins.

My Ten Questions

  1. Why Now? What about this time makes this the perfect moment to create this project? Would it be better in 6 months? I'm not suggesting you wait. I'm suggesting you know how to tell the compelling story about right now. What makes this the perfect time?
  2. Why you? Maybe this is the right time, but are you the right person? Do you have the credibility to do this? Again, it may sound negative but it's not. The point of the question is to help you explain why you are the perfect person for this product.
  3. Does your target market even exist? If you tell me you're going to build a theme framework that is drag and drop for developers to help them speed up their development, I'm going to go, huh? Because developers don't need drag and drop builders. They want APIs and quick ways to re-use code snippets. Make sure this isn't just a personal itch. Have you validated that a customer is out there? How did you validate it?
  4. How big is your attainable market? Are you seeing that word in the middle? “Attainable” isn't everyone. It's the realistic sense of how big your actual, addressable market is. Your product won't be for everyone. So who is it for? And how have you determined the count of that segment of the market?
  5. Who is your competition? Don't tell me you have none. People are solving this problem already – even if it's not with a technical product. So be clear on your direct and indirect competitors and make sure you have an angle on how you'll step into the market without getting crushed by your competition.
  6. Do you have what you need to start? These days it's a lot easier to get started than ever before. Even if you don't code. Have you seen Bubble.io?
  7. How will you make profit? Notice I'm not asking about revenue or sales. I'm talking about profit. That means understanding not just the upside but the cost of your business. If you don't have a model, you need to work on one.
  8. Do you understand your dependencies well? If you're building a solution on top of WordPress, do you understand how to interact with it well? There's a right way to integrate, so make sure you know how.
  9. How will you know it's working? If you're having success, do you know what signs you're looking for that will lead you to put more fuel on the fire? Do you have a clear sense of how to know that it's time to double down?
  10. How will you know it's not working? If you're not seeing success, do you know what signs you're looking for that will tell you it's time to stop? It's not a fun idea, but it's just as critical. Don't get stuck thinking that success is around the corner.

The story of building a new plugin

Imagine you were building websites for coaches and consultants. They regularly need five things:

  1. Protected area for content
  2. A way to pay – monthly, quarterly, annually
  3. Digital downloads
  4. Order bumps and post-purchase offers
  5. Waiting lists and timed/scheduled offers

So what do you do? You build one site after another. Maybe using WooCommerce. But the order bumps and post-purchase offers mean you need other solutions. And then there are little tweaks that you struggle to make perfect.

After all, it's not easy to swap offer pages pre-launch with the actual product landing page, and then to the waiting list when you sell out.

Nicole Evans knew this pain well. Not because she thought about it, or talked about it once. But because she built site after site. And eventually decided to turn it into a product.

Yes, even if WooCommerce already exists, she knew something that most of us forget. Sometimes the right product is less than what other products offer. Remember the framework from Blue Ocean Strategy in yesterday's post. “What will you do less of?”

In the case of eCommerce, what if you don't need a completely flexible solution that has 8 setting screens? What if you needed a scoped solution that was better simply because it was easier and faster to use?

That's what Nicole built and launched, called Studiocart.

Need ideas for building a new plugin?

A few years ago I told you that building a new plugin wasn't the hardest thing to do. And yes, coding a plugin is work, and so is marketing it. But what if you're stuck at the beginning – coming up with an idea for a new plugin?

I told you yesterday, there are three benefits from being a late entry into an existing market. Let's use that to come up with some new product ideas.

Here are a few spaces that are interesting to me.

In the first case, you have clear winners but they get more and more complex. Security is like caching. You want the benefits but aren't prepared to learn everything to do it yourself.

In the second case, you don't have clear winners – which opens everything up. So the work with media management is to see what these players are missing – not about the technology but about the customer. And use that to shape a new solutions.

The third case is an example of a lot of spaces in the WordPress ecosystem. Shrink the challenge. Instead of trying to solve the biggest problems with the most flexible solutions, look for smaller, more focused solutions that can help.

Security (Solve in a new way)
Today's leading plugins are often really large. Don't get me wrong, they're great. But is there room for a lighter weight solution that works differently? For example, Strattic solves the security dynamic by converting a dynamic site to a static site.

Media Management (Lots of options, no winner)
I know there are a lot of plugins in this space, but none that scream out to me as a market leader. That says there's still room to take the prize. Here's a list of players in the space. Do you know them? What can you learn from them and step further and past them?

eCommerce Discounts (narrow the eCommerce focus)
There are some great solutions out there for dynamic rules driving discounts. But if one player exists, more should. So what is possible out there that you could focus on, and drive value in a really focused way?

Building a new plugin? Let's chat.

If you're getting ready to build a new plugin, I have a ton of spreadsheets and tools to help you think about the space and your product definition. We should talk.