Complete results of my 2015 WordPress maintenance survey

Results of my WordPress maintenance survey

In early May, I took a survey looking to get a better understanding of what’s being practiced in the WordPress community in terms of maintenance: services offered, tools used and pricing. While the survey was mostly to satisfy my own curiosity, it was also used to compliment a talk I gave at WordCamp Lyon on June 4.

The slides from my presentation are posted here (in French), and I’m pleased to now share the complete results of the survey with you below.

Survey - participants
I had a total of 126 replies in total, but had to exclude a couple for _ahem_ unhelpful remarks. But I was still overwhelming pleased at the turnout. I was hoping for at least 100 as a good base for analysis. Here we see nice repartition between freelancers and agencies.
Survey - international representation
Had a really nice international turnout as well. Leading countries being France (34), USA (21), UK (15) and Bulgaria (13).
Survey - do you offer maintenance?
The first important question was of course, do you offer maintenance services? Happily, the majority said, “Yes,” though the reasons behind all the “No’s” are just as interesting as you’ll see further below.
Survey - services
The list I compiled came from services that I currently offer to my clients in varying degrees depending on the website. One of the big challenges in any maintenance offer is of course defining what is included and what isn’t. Under “Other” I got several mentions of “consulting” and “site changes”, usually expressed in a set number of hours.
Survey - tools used
I’m very interested in streamlining the process of site maintenance, but currently am most comfortable doing the majority of tasks manually. This list was compiled from tools I’m aware of but don’t necessarily use, covering management, security and backups. Interesting to note very little return – clearly I’m not the only one who favors manual methods. Also note there is some ambiguity with Jetpack, since it provides solutions for both security and management.
Survey - other tools used
Quite a few people using command line and custom solutions, again, difficult to know to what degree, but interesting nonetheless. Maintenance needs to be about efficiency but also about quality. Had never never heard of MainWP or Wordfence, so potentially worth checking out.
Survey - type of offer
My next line of inquiry was about how people were presenting their offer: how the plans are priced and sold. Where a few people responded with an hourly wage, most fell into these three categories. Again: the survey was about long-terms plans, not punctual interventions.
Survey - fees, global
These results are probably not as surprising as one might think. Consider how much the cost of building a website varies. The level and quality of service are difficult to know and next to impossible to compare. It’s noteworthy that maintenance services are often part of a greater commercial effort than just selling one’s time. For many it’s a way to stay close to clients and keep the door open for providing other work.
Survey - fees France
I thought it was particularly interesting to note that the low end price for France was submitted by an agency, whereas the high price is that of a freelancer. The tiered offers were also on the higher end of the spectrum compared to single and case by case offers.
Survey - fees USA
Based on financial information from 14 sources. Prices converted at Bloomberg rate of 0.9159).
Survey - fees UK
Based on financial information from 11 sources. Prices converted at Bloomberg rate of 1.4111).
Survey - fees Bulgaria
Based on financial information from 9 sources. Clearly there was one company tipping the scales here, so I decided to present the high-lo in ranges.
Survey - the No's
Yeah, I can relate to that. Can you? These thoughts rattled around in my brain for a long time until the maintenance question finally became one I couldn’t ignore. Discussion below.

Maintenance has become a preoccupation of mine since the start of last year when I realized two simple things:

  1. Maintenance needs cannot be neglected when working with open source CMS like WordPress.
  2. I was doing a really poor job of communicating the value of maintenance to my clients.

Why did I finally start taking maintenance seriously?

  • More and more site owners (clients and others whose sites I hadn’t built) were coming to me with hacked sites, largely due to the fact that they hadn’t been updated.
  • For the first time I was being confronted with clients who had no concept of maintenance, and whose expectations I could not (and would not) meet. In other words, people who thought having a website built meant a lifetime guarantee.

So I had to tackle these NO myths and start figuring out a way to both remove my own fears and obstacles, and find a way to convincingly communicate the importance and value of maintenance to my clients.

1. “I don’t have the time or the resources.” I started to wonder, how long could it really take? After calculating my time spent over the last 6 months, I’m averaging around 6 minutes per site per month. Even if that’s low, and it would take me 10 minutes per site, with 17 active maintenance contracts, I’m spending approximately 3 hours per month. I can afford that.

2. “It’s not interesting work. I hate doing it.” When it feels like a burden, like a task that isn’t appreciated by clients and one that you’re not being well remunerated for, then yes – it feels like a total drag. In the beginning, before I learned how to add value to the offer, clients were not excited about maintenance at all. Since, now that I’m talking about it in a way that they can relate to, in a way that gives them the satisfaction of knowing someone’s there looking after the health and well-being of their sites, I have a whole bunch of grateful people making it feel worth my while. Add to that the fun in tracking my time, working on improving my communications on the subject, testing out new tools, etc, it’s a fun new challenge for me as well. And as seen above, I’m not spending an overwhelming amount time on it. Frame it the right way, and anything drab can be fab!

3. “Client’s don’t see the value and don’t want to pay.” If we can’t show them the value, then no, of course not. Most people wait until something bad happens to them to take these issues seriously. So if we’re not being upfront about prevention, transparent about what kind of needs might arise and the responsibilities of working with an open source CMS, how are they to know? I wonder if the reticence to talk openly about this from the start doesn’t stem from the fear that it might make some people flee from WordPress as a solution. But, that should really be their choice, shouldn’t it? If they are not able and willing to assume the responsibility for the long-term maintenance of their site, then maybe they are in the wrong place. There are, for example, many SaaS solutions that might be better suited for them.

4. “It’s not a part of our job.” A lot of us, particularly freelancers, well, I think we get bored. One of the things we like both about working in the web and freelancing, is that each new project allows us to change things up a bit. We get to do a project and then move on and do another one. Maintenance is a long-term engagement. It means not moving on, but sticking around. It’s a commitment. So yes, this can be a turn off to some. Even if you don’t want to be doing the work, we still owe it to our clients to be open and honest about the need, and owe it to our profession to add value to the offer. Surely there is another freelancer or service provider we could recommend to that client to make sure they’re covered.

5. “I leave maintenance to the client.” I switched from building good old-fashioned html sites to working with content management systems because clients wanted autonomy over their websites. We were both tired of relying on me to update texts and swap out images, so it was win-win. And in the beginning it was easy to say, “yeah, just hit that update link,” or, “call me when you need something,” and that was that. In my experience, most site-owners do not update their sites, even if they know how. Furthermore, very few would be able to resolve any kind of conflict that might arise when, say, one plugin update doesn’t play nice with another. And let’s face it, updates are more frequent than they ever were before. We have to stay on top of them, and I believe that leaving this responsibility in the hands of a non-professional is, well, irresponsible.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! My next post on this topic will take a look at how I started to build my own maintenance offer, what it entails and how I manage it.

Jenny Beaumont

Jenny Beaumont is a multicultural, multidisciplinary maker and writer of things. She works as a Sr. Project Manager at Human Made, speaks at conferences in France and abroad, contributes to a number of blogs, and is a former organizer of WordCamp Paris and WordCamp Europe.

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19 thoughts on “Complete results of my 2015 WordPress maintenance survey

  1. Epic post! Very interesting insights. We got a lot of figures and numbers lately in the WordPress world and it is very useful.

    Beyond that, when reading your post, my surprise came from the fact that I use tools that are not listed here. I explain: whether in-house or working for an agency, I’ve used maintenance tools for years like BugZilla, Mantis and RedMine. I even use now fancy things like HelpScout or ZenDesk. And I am pretty sure that among people who have answered your survey, some of them use one of these. (Maybe they consider these tools as support tools and not maintenance tools?)

    Another thing to note is that no one delegates maintenance to specialized company such as WPCare.

    At last, if you do another survey, it would be interesting to know how many clients each participant has.

    Again thanks for this post.

    • Thank you, Ben! And totally agree about support tools. For example, one person had added MailChimp under “Other” as well. Because having a maintenance offer is still relatively new to me, and because I’m managing a relatively small number of site at the moment, I’m not personally using many tools right now. I will be doing a follow up post to talk about my process (including adding MailChimp for follow up communications, which I think is brilliant), as well as how maintenance, pretty much like any service, has different components, and therefore different tools for the job: backups, management, security, communication, support/ticketing, etc.

      There are loads of tools out there, some better adapted to certain client pools than others. Learning curve, cost, and volume all being factors in setting up one’s particular toolset.

      Services like WPCare are perfect for those who fall under #4, not my job, don’t wanna do it. The more we talk about it—the need and value—the more it will become part of the norm. Maintenance has to become, for all “levels” of clients, part of the regular service, not an option or a luxury.

      (thanks too for pointing out those typos, got’em fixed ;))

      • Jenny – this is such a terrific post. Thank you so much. I am in the process of setting up a range of maintenance packages for long term existing clients, and considering offering these services to the world or at least more widely.

        I think a lot of us, can be such people pleasers that we want to say yes to things that we should actually be charging for. And you are so right about needing to educate the client about their options, while not scaring them.

        So many get bogged down in this stuff, when they could be focused on marketing effectively or really engaging in their communities more.

        This is so helpful. I’d love to see the survey repeat yearly. How do we help with that?

        And yes, my expertise is worth more than a cup of coffee…a 12 year old scotch at the very least!

        ***gratitude***

  2. wow! c’etait genial! That was an awesome write up! I am impressed! Sad to see Australia wasn’t represented :P I especially loved your write up at the end that drew some great conclusions and recommendations for us. Merci beaucoup!

  3. Awesome post Jenny!

    It’s always interesting to read about other WordPress dudes and their way of doing and selling maintenance for clients. I do that myself but I’m about to reframe the way I do it – especially in what kind of services I offer and pricing.

    At the moment I have had a more technical focus with backup, updates and security, but in the near future I will add services like small tasks (max ½ hour), monthly reports, strategy sessions and so on. I do that because I would like to deliver more value to the client and because I think it will be more fun not just doing the cold techy things (+ I believe I can make more money!).

    It could be interesting to hear more about how people package the maintenance plans though. Usually people offer 3 different plans but I think it’s difficult to figure how to make the best “cut” between the plans and set the best price for each. How do you do it?

    Do you attend WordCamp Europe in Seville this month? I do :-)

    • Hi Makis,

      In my case, it mostly falls under “code review”, since I build custom themes. I do maintain a few sites that run premium themes, though I’m wary to do so. I make sure and tell those clients that I cannot be responsible for that code base, and that although I’ll do the updates, fixing any wonkiness created from that theme author not properly maintaining their code will cost extra (or I’ll highly suggesting changing themes).

      • I asked because for me the most intriguing maintenance service is theme updates. Most of the times my clients don’t know if the theme they are using has been customized or not so an update could break everything.

        I’m working with a client right now that he updated his theme(Montezuma) and all of his thousand blog posts and any news ones are missing key post elements.

        • This opens up a whole other can of worms indeed. People use premium themes, but don’t understand the concept of updates or of child themes. Many premium themes just—I’m gonna say it—they suck. I tend to stay away, and only make exceptions for people I know and themes from trusted sources.

          • That leads me to a unwritten service I’m sure most of us provide; education.
            While working with our clients we educate them in which are the best ways to set up and progress a WP site.

            Its not only about maintaining but educating as well.

      • Is there perhaps a reasonable boilerplate of disclaimers for the things we should exclude? I currently only do this for my current clients – but, I could see wanting to upfront exclude a long list of things for new maintenance clients.

        Also – do folks have a code review or set up fee for new maintenance clients? I can see there being substantial time needed to get a site dialed in properly.

        Curious how others are handling this….

  4. @Makis, couldn’t agree more. Education isn’t only formal training, which is a separate service I provide, but also in the very way we communicate with clients. Definitely the basis for any good working relationship, as well as adding value to what we do. Spot on.

  5. Great article. Perhaps not your intention, but this is something that I could show to clients because in a round about way it educates them on what other clients do, options, price ranges, and why it is something that their site builder is thinking about.

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