What to Do About Premium Plugin Licenses When You Unboard a Client

The support team at WPMU DEV recently received a question from a developer wondering how to properly unboard a client from their service. For simple web development jobs, this probably isn’t too big of a deal. You hand over all content and images, provide them with full access to WordPress, train them on it, and then wish them luck.

Larger websites that include advanced features, on the other hand, aren’t so easy to hand off to a client when it comes time to unboard (or completely release) them from your services.

Here was the question sent in:

“How do I ‘unboard’ clients when they leave? Should I remove all the WPMU DEV plugins that I have under my WPMU DEV license? On one hand, I hate to make their site less secure, etc., but this is my license and I don’t want anyone else making changes and then blaming me.”

This is a valid question and perhaps not one many developers consider before beginning new projects.

You, of course, want the best for your clients, which is why you use WPMU DEV plugins to fuel performance-boosting and conversion-generating features on WordPress sites. That said, how do you actually deal with this conundrum? You invest in high-quality premium plugins for a reason, but that doesn’t entitle clients to use them in perpetuity (or for free!) if you’re stuck with the costs and they reap all the benefits, right?

So, I’d like to more closely examine the following question today: “Should you or your client be responsible for buying plugins and themes used on their site?”

Convincing Clients to Use Premium WordPress Plugins

The work you do is never easy to describe to clients and it’s often a struggle deciding what you want to try to explain to them. However, without giving them some insights into what’s involved, it’s hard to justify why you charge what you charge–even if it’s for something as seemingly cut-and-dried as premium plugins.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to have this conversation with them during the proposal and contract phase of the project, before any work begins. It can go a little something like this:

“You’re going to want to have Feature A on your website. There are a number of options to consider:

  1. Use a free plugin that will give you limited control over how that feature functions or looks.
  2. Use a premium plugin for $XX a year that will give you total control over the feature or functionality.
  3. Allow me to code that same feature or functionality into your website, which will take XX additional hours, XX extra dollars, and make it impossible for you to tweak on your own in the future.
  4. Skip the feature for now.”

When you have this discussion, it’s important to stress why your clients even need a high-quality premium plugin in the first place:

  • Full access to functionality and features
  • Easier control
  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Developer support
  • Competitive edge

If you’re planning to use a collection of plugins that provide you with a robust website-enhancing solution, you should also explain how a membership is not only cost-effective but also leads to more flexibility in what they can do with their site now and in the future.

Your goal here is ultimately to convince clients that if they want a top-performing website that they need to use premium WordPress plugins. But now you have to broach the subject of cost, which is never a fun conversation to have.

Should You or Your Client Purchase Premium Plugin Licenses?

You know how paid plugins and themes work. If you want to unlock those premium features, then you have to pay to license them. This means it’s not just a one-and-done upfront cost that you can immediately bounce over to your client’s invoice.

But how do you explain that to clients or justify the additional costs? To them, web development and design are a complete mystery. Many of them probably assume you hit a button somewhere and the design falls into place, contact forms work perfectly, and animated popups fly in without any effort. Or, they recognize that there’s a lot of work involved (which is why they’re paying you to do this), so they assume that the cost of plugins or themes is part of what you offer.

There’s more to owning a WordPress license than that though. Consider the following pros and cons to you (the developer) licensing the plugins you use on your clients’ websites:

Pros

  • Clients will be happier as you’ll be relieving them of the pressure of having to research and buy yet something else for their website.
  • Some companies have too much red tape to go through or you may simply encounter a client who’s going to drag their feet on the extra expense. This will allow you to begin work more quickly as you won’t have to wait on clients to buy the plugins.
  • Your own experience in building sites will be vastly improved as you’re working with top-tier and well-supported plugins rather than free ones that might not completely get the job done.
  • You’ll build better-looking, faster-performing, and more effective websites that you can add to your portfolio.
  • It ends up being cheaper to buy plugins with multiple or unlimited licenses, especially when you get those awesome membership bundles. However, you can still charge clients full price for the standard individual plugin and turn a profit.
  • You won’t have to worry about clients’ lapsing on updating the plugins or renewing the license, only to have that feature eventually “break” on their site or compromise its security.
  • Owning the license also gives you a reason to stay in touch with the client. It could open you open to a new upsell opportunity or avenue for generating recurring revenue that you hadn’t considered before.

Cons

  • The cost lies on your shoulders unless you remembered to factor in the cost of the plugin licenses into your client’s contract.
  • Unless explicitly explained upfront as well as at the close of the project, you may run into clients who expect you to maintain and support these plugins for free going forward.
  • Not every client relationship lasts long-term, which means you’ll eventually have to hand over the licenses. That will require some hand-holding from you (that you might not get paid for) as you help them acquire their own license and make the switch on their site.
  • Let’s say you purchase a single premium plugin for a client and you lose track of it. You forget to update it or decide not to renew the license because, well, it’s not your plugin. This could create tension with a former client where there may not have been any, and you know how quickly bad reviews can spread.
  • From the clients’ perspective, there’s the issue of support. The license holder is the only one entitled to developer support. If an issue should arise, your former clients won’t be able to seek out support on their own; you’ll have to manage those tickets for them.

As you can see, there’s good and bad to owning the plugin licenses for your clients’ WordPress sites. The ideal situation, though, is for your clients to always buy their own licenses before the close of a project. They own their own domain and hosting. They might even come to you with a premium theme they purchased. There’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t buy their own plugins too.

Just remember to be clear about this up front.

Of course, your goal in running a WordPress business is to keep clients around for the long-term. It’s a pain having to constantly find new clients when you’re trying to develop websites and run a business. So, the more you can do to work on retaining clients over the long-term, the less this question will even have to factor in as sending clients annual invoices for license renewal won’t be a big deal.

Wrapping Up

When it comes time to close a project and you find that your client hasn’t purchased their own plugin licenses yet, reiterate the terms of your agreement: you “purchased” the plugins during development in order to complete the project. They need to now get their own license. If they can secure the license within 30 days, you’ll help them make the switch. If they don’t, you’ll remove your licensed plugins from the site and they’ll have to start all over. This isn’t about relinquishing responsibility; this is about acting in everyone’s best interests.

For those of you using WPMU DEV plugins, there’s a simple way to handle this. Just send them the link to create their own account and encourage them to sign up. WPMU DEV support can then work with them to “release” their domain from your account and move it over to theirs. It’s as easy as that.

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