There are many great reasons to develop a free-to-use plugin for WordPress. What may not be as obvious is the value a person or company can receive from the unpaid venture.
The benefits of this seemingly free work can provide positives such as exposure, cross-promotion, market testing, upselling opportunities, and adding to name recognition.
Giving Back to Community
Let’s start with the altruistic reason: giving back. We’ve all stood on the shoulders of a dedicated community for years. Most developers have a standard set of plugins they will always deploy with any given install. Those plugins didn’t happen by magic. Tons of time and energy continue to pour into development of free plugins for everyone’s benefit.
As developers, we’ve been saved from countless hours of development. So for all those hours saved, it’s up to us to use a fraction of those saved hours to develop something to keep the WordPress community thriving.
If there’s a gap in functionality you frequently find yourself fixing or tweeking, turn that into a plugin for all to use. Or maybe there’s a plugin for which you only use one bit of functionality, and the WordPress community would benefit from a lighter alternative to that plugin. Who better to fill this gap than you?
Learn and Improve
Putting your code out into the public can be daunting. Your code will be peer-reviewed. And that’s a good thing. This does three things.
First, it forces you to adhere to the “WordPress Way” of coding. You’ll likely pick up a bit of coding knowledge you didn’t know before. You’ll receive suggestions and improvements from fellow developers. This will make your coding more accessible to anyone who has to code after you, whether that coding is on an open-source plugin or a private project.
Second, if you find you disagree with coding the WordPress Way this exercise provides an avenue to join the discourse to modify our coding standards. The WordPress coding style was not developed in a vacuum. It is a living entity that is constantly debated, developed, updated. You absolutely have a voice and a vote if you want to join in.
Third, this will improve your code style, formatting, and commenting. You can no longer hide behind the “no one is ever going to see this” mantra. No more band-aid fixes. No more blocks of commented out code. And no more general sloppy writing. This new level of coding will likely bleed over into your personal projects as well. You will appreciate this even more when you have to dig back into an older project after the details have faded from your mind.
Now that the good feels are out of the way, here’s how creating a free plugin can actually benefit you directly. First, you can develop name recognition. Whenever we see a plugin developed by John James Jacoby, Natalie MacLees, or Bill Erickson, we all take notice. Each of those developers, and so many more, have made a mark in the WordPress world by developing great plugins, writing useful blogs, speaking at WordCamps, and otherwise giving back to the community. Such name recognition can provide opportunities and open doors that may not have otherwise been available.
Plus, as a WordPress developer, we have little in the way of proving our credentials to prospects. There’s no certificate or degree to point back to. Generally, all we have to stand on is our reputation. But having plugins in the WordPress repository, especially one that is in high use, is one concrete way to demonstrate that your coding meets a certain standard and that you can provide useful solutions and support.
Even if you have developed a few free plugins, that does not mean all your work is gratis. Likely you’ve loaded a plugin and seen a donation button, contact information, or promotion for premium plugins or themes upon activation. The welcome screen can be leveraged to promote the “pro” version of a “lite” plugin you’ve added for free on the repository.
Or maybe you have a theme or plugins that is a great complement to the free plugin you’ve developed. Your free WordPress plugin is a great space to promote your other offerings.
Have a great idea, but wonder if it’s worth bringing into the big wide world? Creating a free plugin for the WordPress repository is a great way to gauge interest and garner real-world feedback. If you are considering a freemium model for a plugin, this should be your first stop on the development path. You’ll receive some level of buy-in from the WordPress user base for the plugin. This can help you assess if it’s worthwhile to continue on to develop the pro-version and the infrastructure to support it.
And if you find the interest level is less than you’d like, you’ll be saved countless hours of developing the pro version. Instead, you can reinvest that time into the development of your next great idea! (We all have a post-it somewhere with half a dozen plugin ideas.)
Any time you come across a problem and wish there was a plugin to solve it, chances are you are not the only person to have had that need. The next time you are using WordPress and you say, “Ach!” out loud, take notice. If you have the know-how to create a fix, do it! We all benefit, but you benefit most of all.