Find out how Kyle Van Deusen went from graphic designer to web designer and how he built the business of his dreams by leveraging website maintenance packages for recurring revenue in his web design business.
Disclaimer: The Website Owner’s Manual link is an affiliate link, and I’ll make a few bucks if you make a purchase after using it. It won’t cost you anything.
Born in California and raised in Texas, Kyle is a husband and proud father of three. After spending 15 years as a graphic designer and earning a business degree, he launched OGAL Web Design in 2017, The Admin Bar community with Matt Sebert in 2018, and Docket WP with Andre Gagnon in 2020.
Find Kyle at kylevandeusen.com or on Twitter.
Getting to Know Kyle Van Deusen
Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Kyle. It’s about time I had you on.
Kyle Van Deusen: Thank you so much. That sounds so official. I think that made me sound a lot better than I am.
I think we’ve already peaked. We’re only a couple of seconds into this. But we might have peaked. We might just want to call it a day here.
Colleen: All right! Awesome. Just wrap it up.
All right, I thought we’d start off with a fun question. That would be: would you rather be without internet for a week or be without your phone?
Kyle: Oh. It’d be the phone, no question. If I could ditch my phone, I would probably ditch my phone. It’s good for watching YouTube.
Other than that, it causes me nothing but problems. I’m sick of notifications. I’ve turned almost all of them off. I could definitely go without the phone.
Especially when the phone rings. The last thing I want to do on that device is actually talking to another human being. I rarely use it for an actual phone. I could definitely do that.
Without internet, I think I could go for a couple of hours, but I don’t think a whole week.
Colleen: I feel the same way. I just keep my phone off. I only use it when I’m leaving the house. I just keep it off, and I don’t pay any attention to it.
Kyle: I might have to try that.
I know that you’re a big fan of tacos. I did some research and saw that the largest flour taco in the world weighs 1,654 pounds. I believe it was from South America.
Kyle: When are we going? That sounds like a good snack.
Colleen: But what goes with it, which is funny, which I found out about this, in Texas, where you are, is that the frozen margarita machine was invented in Texas in 1971.
I think that’s a good complement to the tacos.
Kyle: That’s true. You cannot go very far without finding a frozen margarita machine here. Every restaurant’s got one.
Colleen: Oh. That’s funny.
Kyle: I didn’t realize that came from here. But yeah, we got a few good inventions under our belt here in Texas.
Colleen: Awesome. All right, so let’s dive in.
I wanted to ask, you went from being a graphic designer to more of a web designer and developer. When and how did you decide to do that?
Kyle: Yeah. I’m not really trained in either of them, other than just calling myself that, which is fairly easy to do.
But in high school, I always loved designing things on the computer. I was in bands and stuff. I was designing our band flyers and logos.
I had a buddy whose parents opened up a sign and graphics print shop. I was really intrigued by that because we could go in there and print stickers. I just thought it was awesome.
I started hanging out there all the time, sweeping the floor or doing whatever I could do to make myself useful. I wiggled my way into a job at that place.
I spent the next 15 years as a graphic designer in the print industry. I learned how to run all the printers. We always worked for small shops. So you had to know how to do a little bit of everything in there to get by. That’s what I kind of figured I would do forever.
But my wife at one point started her own business. I was really, really jealous of the lifestyle she was able to make for herself by having her own business.
I started looking at what would it take for me to go do this on my own?
Printers are very expensive—hundreds of thousands of dollars. So I thought it would be very difficult for me to go out and do on my own.
I didn’t know anybody who liked freelance graphic design. I didn’t know that world existed so it’s like, “How can I turn this into some kind of business?”
At that time, I was going back to school to study business. I know that I wanted to eventually have my own business one day. I had some customers that were kind of friends that I knew from a nonprofit who asked me about their website and if I could help them change a few things on it.
You know how people think if you work with computers, you can take them apart and do anything? I just said, “Sure. Let me see if I can help out.”
I got in there and started playing around and thought, “Hey, this isn’t too bad. I think I could figure this out.” I had played with websites a little bit but nothing professionally.
When I started to look into that, I’m like, “This is a definitely better business opportunity for me to be able to go out on my own and do this.”
I started doing that on the side in 2016 and started my business at the beginning of 2017. I quit my job about halfway through 2017 and haven’t looked back yet.
Colleen: Wow. I thought you’d actually been doing it longer—had your business a lot longer. That’s interesting.
Kyle: No. I’m a newbie.
Why Website Maintenance Plans Are Important
Colleen: Oh, wow. Cool. Well, you also offer what we call website care plans in your business. Let’s talk about that.
Let’s define what a website care plan is for people that may not know what that is.
Kyle: This is something that mainly exists in the WordPress world.
WordPress websites have a lot of different pieces of software plugged into them. A lot of different people make the software by doing updates for the software. It can be a house of cards sometimes.
Kyle: It can be a full-time job making sure that the website is always running optimally. One plugin doesn’t update, and that doesn’t jive well with another one and you have problems.
One thing you have to be really careful of if you’re building a WordPress website is making sure you’re doing those updates properly. It’s kind of a self-hosted thing. You have to have hosting and all that. You have to manage those servers and all those kinds of things.
Most business owners—the kinds of people I’m doing websites for—don’t know the first thing about any of that. I can provide that to them as a service for a monthly fee.
That was something I heard about early in my career—a website maintenance plan or care plan. There are tons of words for it.
But it really transformed my business, as soon as I started picking some of these up. Knowing that I didn’t have to live on a complete roller coaster of it.
If there’s no project work, there’s no money coming in, right? Just having even the small amounts. I think my first ones were $30 or $50 a month.
But knowing that, I’m raising the floor of the minimum amount of money my business is going to bring in every month. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this is definitely the key to running this business without being completely stressed out and losing all my hair.
Colleen: Yeah. You’ve got that regular revenue coming in—that monthly revenue.
Colleen: It’s very different. Websites today are very different than what they used to be.
I learned HTML in 1995 when people were just building websites. They were just static websites that didn’t do much. Now, it’s a totally different thing where they have to be constantly updated.
It’s like an ongoing process at all times.
Creating Website Maintenance Packages
Kyle: Absolutely. Beyond that, you can package up care plans in all kinds of different ways. But a website shouldn’t be something you set and forget.
It’s not a printed brochure that once you print it, it’s done, and it’s out in the world. You don’t mess with it again until you have something new to add to it and do another print run.
You can constantly be evolving and growing and changing and improving your website. There are ways to kind of bake that into the care plan as well, as far as doing updates for a client—content updates, adding blog posts, those kinds of things.
I think that does encourage clients that are already paying for these care plans to know that they’re paying for some of that update time as well to go ahead and keep their website fresh.
You just go to many small business websites and you see they haven’t updated it in five years. Their information is completely out of date. That’s not going to do them much good.
Colleen: You don’t have any support, right? You’re doing all the support yourself. You don’t have someone else doing those admin tasks.
Kyle: Yeah, I do it. At this point, I’m still doing that all myself.
I have about 45 clients on care plans at this point. I’ve built the systems up around that side of my business that it’s having 20 of them or having 40 of them. There’s not much more work to do in between those two numbers.
I can add to my care plan roster without adding to my work dramatically. It’s small increments every time I add somebody new. So at this point, I’ve still been able to manage this all myself, which is nice, because you don’t have the extra expense of having to pay for some of those things.
A lot of clients don’t need updates or one-on-one attention every month. Those months that they don’t is definitely one of the higher profit margin things in my business, even though the cost of it isn’t huge.
It’s not a huge moneymaker individually. It’s the compounding effect of having tons of them.
The fact that they have a really high profit margin is what makes them so valuable.
Colleen: Yeah. I did them for a few years. At the time, I was doing everything myself. But I was doing all this other kind of work too. So I ended up ditching the care plans to focus on different work.
I started specializing in accessibility. So I ditched the care plans. I only had a few so it wasn’t like they were as valuable to me because I wasn’t continually trying to build that part of my business up.
I was building up a different part of my business, but I can see what you’re saying about that.
Managing WordPress Websites
Kyle: Yeah. Especially there are so many tools now that help you go in and update multiple sites at one time. A lot of the work.
The way I’ve structured some of these plans can really do the work for all the websites that it would take me to just do one of them.
There’s not a whole lot of that one on one. When you’re at a smaller number of care plans, you tend to do a lot more of it individually with each website one by one. That does take up a lot of time.
That’s definitely not something sustainable that I could do with the amount I have now. But with the software that’s available today, you can manage a lot of websites from one place which makes it a whole lot easier, a whole lot more feasible for one person to handle.
I’m probably getting too close to a point where I need some help with some of it. But I’m resistant to doing it. That greedy side of me doesn’t want to take out the expense of having to pay somebody else to do it.
Colleen: Yeah. But then you can free up your time to do other things and bring in more clients. So there’s always that.
Kyle: True. That’s true. I have to remember that.
Benefits of Website Care Plans
Colleen: Do you feel like having the care plans gets you in front of your clients every month? Like it keeps you top of mind with them?
Kyle: Yeah. The retention level on care plans is really good.
I’ve done some other recurring services, like SEO, for instance. SEO is a hard one to have client retention on because clients don’t fully understand SEO. They don’t always understand the long term nature of it and those kinds of things.
It can be kind of fickle at times. They want to pay you one month and see the results the next month. That’s not really how it works with SEO, right?
I’ve seen a lot of those have a lot lower retention. Where the website care is something that’s almost… it’s mandatory for the site.
It’s not mandatory they hire me to do it. But it’s mandatory that the maintenance gets done. Most of these people don’t have the technical expertise, or they don’t think they do and they don’t have the time, mainly.
It’s just one of those things that I can provide the service to my client every month, I can retain this extra invoice for. Some of them are going on since the beginning of my business—since 2017.
I’ve probably quadrupled the amount of money I made on the actual building of the website back when I did it just through those care and maintenance services. A lot of people will send maintenance reports and stuff like that.
I actually don’t send any kind of reports, but I do a lot of email marketing with my client lists. I’m sending them emails and updates and giving them ideas on ways we can improve their site regularly.
When you send out those updates, and you stay in constant communication with your customers, they come back to you for a lot of other things.
It’s so much easier to sell things to existing clients than to new clients. We often forget that.
But because you’re in front of them every month, or at the minimum, you’re sending them a bill every month—which reminds them of you.
You’re in front of them so much when they have other things that need to get accomplished. You’re the first one they turn to.
Not only has it generated money in those invoices for the care plans, but also then coming back to me for other work that they might have taken somewhere else if I hadn’t been with them every month for so long.
Colleen: Right. It’s like there’s no lapse there with working with you. They’re less likely to go find some other web designer to work with.
But I imagine, do they ever say, “Hey, we have this print project. Can you work on this too?” Maybe you get some work that way too.
Kyle: Yeah. When I first started the business, I was taking any kind of work I could get. I’ve kind of phased out some of the print stuff over the last year or two, just because of time limitations.
The print world doesn’t seem to be as profitable. I don’t feel like I have as much passion for doing it. I have a few handful of clients that I still do print work for business cards and brochures.
But when I was first getting up and running, that was a huge part of it for me. If they came in through websites, we’d get that project done.
I talked to them about the other things I could do for their business. Or if they came in through print design stuff, I would talk to them about the websites and digital marketing and those kinds of things too.
The types of businesses that I’m working with needs both of those things. It was definitely convenient for them to be able to have one vendor that would be able to handle all that stuff.
It definitely helped get me to the place where I am now. It’s just now I’ve realized I need to narrow down my focus a little bit, and the print stuff’s kind of gone away for the most part.
Colleen: That makes sense. Well, one time I had David C. Baker on to talk about how recurring revenue can put you in the order taker position, rather than being the expert position.
I’m always talking on the podcast about being the expert versus the order taker. One of the things that he said, which is about monthly plans, is it kind of keeps you in that order taker position.
But it sounds like with the way that you’re handling it. You’re being proactive and you’re approaching them with, “Hey, we could do this or we could do that.”
It sounds like you’re going ahead and taking action with them to make sure that that doesn’t happen. That you’re still seen by them as the expert not just, “Hey, just go do this Cinderelly.”
Kyle: Right. It does. That does vary from customer to customer, I’d say.
I do have some customers that are very… they’re more on the side of, “Just send that to Kyle. He’ll do it.”
I feel like a little bit of an employee there. The way they handle those situations. But I think most of the customers stay on that service and use me because they know they can use me as a sounding board for ideas or “Kyle, what do you think about this? Let’s go over these things.”
I think part of that is how you position yourself, your relationship with those clients, and what you bring to the table.
I can definitely see the danger of that being there. I haven’t run into a ton of it. A few of the clients, but I find that those clients don’t usually stick around for quite as long.
Because they’re usually… if they’re just trying to get somebody to fill orders, to do these little tasks just to get them off their plate. Typically, they’re going to be looking for the lowest bidder and my services aren’t the lowest bidder.
They might go somewhere else if they’re just looking for something like that. That’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem with that at all.
What to Include in Website Maintenance Packages
Colleen: What types of tasks do you include in your website care plans? Do you have more than one plan? What do you include in those?
Kyle: They’ve evolved a ton over the amount of time I’ve been doing it. But where I’ve landed right now is the best I felt about it.
I have three plans, but there are really only two that I have 99% of clients on. The lowest plan is basically everything that I can do one to many. I can do it in one central location and it’s going to update all the sites at once.
Those things like doing plugin updates, security, hosting, those kinds of things, and I can manage one to many. That’s my cheapest offering. I don’t have to do a whole lot of one-on-one work with it.
A lot of the small businesses—little local restaurants, mom and pop stores, things like that, most of them—go for that. Because it’s the most affordable option for them.
Those probably have the biggest profit margin for me, even though the price is lower. Whether it’s one site or 50 sites, I can do all the work in the same amount of time.
Now that I’ve grown that list up quite a bit, the profit margin on each one of them with every new client I bring in. The profit margin just gets better.
From there, the next most common plan I have comes with some advanced hosting features. They get a little bit more bang for their buck.
But the biggest difference is they get what I call three 30-minute tasks per month. It’s anything having to do with their website that I can do in 30 minutes or less. It’s a little subjective but where the line is kind of drawn in the sand. They can’t ask me, “Let’s build a new page on the website,” because I probably can’t get that done in 30 minutes, unless we’re talking about something really, really simple.
It stops me from, “Let’s rewrite all the copy on this page.” Well, we’re not going to be able to plan that out in 30 minutes.
Colleen: Yeah. Heck no.
Kyle: Right. It limits it to the things that we can get done quickly: adding a blog post, changing photos out, updating links in the footer, or whatever it may be. These little things that they do need fairly regularly.
I can put some kind of cap on saying okay, “Well, this is outside of the scope of the care plan, but I could quote out doing this work.”
That happens quite a bit to where they’ll come and say, “Hey, we’re doing this new service. We need a new page for it and a new form and all these kinds of things.”
I’d say, “Okay, well, that’s not going to be included in the care plan. But I can give you a quote on all that.”
That plan is fairly popular with the clients who are actively investing in marketing and trying to improve their website. I do have a third plan that’s more hours, better hosting, and all those kinds of things.
But to be honest, it’s really more of like a price anchor than anything. It’s a higher cost. I do have a couple of clients on it because of the types of e-commerce stores and stuff they have.
They need a little bit more attention than the others. But the majority of the clients are on those first two plans.
Colleen: What kind of expenses do you include? Because some plugins are free, and then you’ve got some that cost a lot. How do you manage that or distinguish what kind of paid things you’re going to include?
Kyle: I have a stack of plugins that I use on the vast majority of my websites. I also have this core group that I’m going to use on every single project. Then I have some that I use pretty frequently. I have some that I use every now and then. Then there are some plugins that are one-off for this specific project.
Anything that’s kind of in my stable of plugins. All the ones I’m using every time or pretty frequently, or use several times. I just include all the costs of all that software in the care plan.
Most of the time, I’m buying a developer license that allows me unlimited sites, or 100 sites, or whatever that was inside. I’m able to spread out those costs, and it’s pretty affordable per client for me to just include that in there.
Now if they do have something—you get into this with WooCommerce stores—where you get to buy a specific add-on for this. They want to name your price or something you have to buy a $200 add-on because that’s how Woo works.
I don’t include those in the care plans. Some of my clients have me buy it and they reimburse me or some of them just buy it themselves. I would say 99 out of 100 of the plugins that I have in there are things that are just included with the website.
They don’t really have to fool with all the license updates. If you broke out the typical website, they probably save money buying all those plugins on their own. It doesn’t justify the cost of a care plan, just the plugin license alone.
But it definitely helps that they don’t have to fool with all those things as well. Remember to update things, and put license numbers in all those kinds of things.
What to Consider Before Offering Website Maintenance Plans
Colleen: Right. What should somebody think about before they start offering care plans? Are there certain things?
Kyle: I would definitely say you don’t want to do this without any kind of process. If you’re the kind of person—the real free spirit/creative type that just wants to be doing something new and challenging all the time—care plans probably aren’t the best thing for that.
It’s often routine, mundane, boring work most of the time. But if you put the right processes in place, if you’re going to do it yourself, it’s a fairly easy task to do during the week.
I do updates a couple of times a week. It takes me 30 or 40 minutes. It’s just become part of my routine. I don’t even really think about it anymore.
It’s also something that you can outsource really easily. There are tons of companies: GoWP, Maintain Press. There are several of them that just do those kinds of services for you.
You could outsource to a company like that or even if you hired a VA putting together the processes of doing all that, giving them the step-by-step workflow of everything that needs to be done, is something that could be handled by anybody with minor technical skills, I would say.
I would definitely say you need to be more process driven, focused and not scared of doing routine, mundane work. If you get bored easily, that might not be the best thing for you.
The other thing is when you start bundling in things like hosting, if you’re managing their DNS, if for whatever reason you’re purchasing domains, and you’re responsible for renewing the domain… All these things are adding some liability to your business.
I tell my clients straight up, “If I’m hosting your website, I’ll handle any hosting issues that come up or whatever. If there’s a problem with the server, I’ll take care of it.”
But they know I’m a solo business owner. I’m not available 24/7. If their server goes down at one o’clock at night, there’s no way to get a hold of me. My phone’s on silent. I’m not checking my email at one o’clock in the morning. It’s just going to wait till I get up in the morning.
There have been some clients… I have a couple of clients that are in the SaaS industry. They have clients all over the globe. If the site goes down at one o’clock, that’s a problem because it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?
For those people, we’ll put them on their own hosting where they can have access to the hosting companies’ technical support staff 24/7. But there is just more liability that comes with it. You’re responsible for their website being taken care of.
I’ve lost plenty of time to hosting issues and security issues. I’ve lost time to plugin update issues that I have to go back and fix.
It’s almost kind of like an insurance plan for the customer. They’re paying this money to make sure the websites are working. So when things don’t go right and if you pick some kind of software, you realize later down the road—[cough] Elementor—that doesn’t always update and work really nicely with others.
You might think a lot of time going back and fixing some of those problems that you’re not really getting paid extra for. You’ve been getting paid all the care plan money this whole time.
But you might end up having to eat up some hours or days fixing problems that weren’t on your to-do list. Those are definitely some things I would need to think about before you jump into doing something like that.
Colleen: You were saying about the hours that you’re available… I remember I had a client, a care plan client, who was like, “Oh, well, so what happens if something does happen after hours?” I had put this in my FAQs on the website when I had the care plans.
At some point, I thought about maybe hiring somebody in a different timezone who could then address support issues when I’m not able to.
Then I could raise my price and say, maybe not necessarily 24 hours a day, but a longer extended period of time that they would be able to get support.
Kyle: Yeah. I think that’s definitely a possibility. I’m me all the time, 24/7. What you see is what you get. I’m very open and honest with my clients.
If I’m finishing up dinner with the kids and I see that a website’s down, I’ll walk in here to my office and fix it.
But if I’m out at the baseball field with the kids, I’m not going to come to fix it. That’s just the way it’s going to work. If your website’s mission critical and that’s not okay with you, then let’s just make other arrangements. For the clients that I have on my care plan list, they’re okay with that.
I’ve probably lost clients that needed more than that. I couldn’t offer it and that’s okay too.
Here’s the thing with owning your own business: you realize at some point that you can design the business that you want that fits your lifestyle.
That’s one thing I really liked about staying solo. I can just design all this to work the way I need it to work. Maybe I lose some customers because of that. But that’s okay, because I can keep doing the work I continue to enjoy doing.
I can keep the schedule I want. I can take the time off I want and all those kinds of things.
It’s been more about just putting everything in place, take it or leave it. This is how it is. If that doesn’t work for you, we’ll find other arrangements.
I had a longtime client, I was working with them for 16 years or 13 years, I think. It was a very, very long time. I did mostly print work for them.
I went to get them on a care plan. This was years ago. I had said to them, “I just made your site accessible. I just redesigned it, rebuilt it. I went through all 80 pages and reformatted the copy of everything to make it accessible.”
I’m like, “You need to be on a care plan because you can’t just be going in there, messing with things and undoing what I did.”
They were balking at my care plan contract. I told them we need to part ways because this is “take it or leave it,” like you said, take it or leave it.
This is what I’m offering.
They had an attorney who was offering pro bono services to them constantly. I’m like, that’s great. But I would have to pay an attorney. I’m not willing to do that for $100-a-month care plan. That was ridiculous.
Kyle: I caution when I say these things out loud. I think, well, I’m definitely coming from a place of privilege. I don’t have to take on any new clients. If somebody wants to go somewhere else, it’s no sweat off my back.
How Website Maintenance Plans Help a Web Business
Kyle: That’s because of the business I’ve built. I’m lucky to be in that position. I know not everybody’s in that position. They have to take on more than they probably wish they had to take on to pay the bills or whatever it may be.
But it’s definitely a place worth striving to get to. It’s always been the recurring revenue part of the business and the majority of that being through care plans.
It’s always been, how do I get this to a point where I could pay my family’s bills just off the recurring revenue? If I didn’t take on any projects this month, maybe I wouldn’t be getting that dessert at the restaurant, but I would at least be able to pay all the bills we need to pay.
That’s always been my goal. How do I build this business that would meet my family’s needs for our bills, reduce that risk of entrepreneurship, which can be a roller coaster at times and still is.
But for the most part, it’s, “how do I get to that point?”
Once you get to that point, you get to the place where you get to be a lot more picky about the customers you take on and the crap you’ll put up with from customers.
Kyle: I ended up firing my biggest client earlier this year, biggest client by far, because of those exact situations. It just wasn’t a good fit between us. Luckily, I was in a position where I could just tell him, “Let’s move you on to something else.“
That’s definitely a place where I hope every business can get themselves to. It’s very liberating.
How to Price a WordPress Maintenance Plan
Colleen: It is.
When we’re talking about care plans, what do you have to have set up? How did you approach how you were going to price your care plans?
Kyle: I just copied off everybody else, basically. Everybody offers… Google “care and WordPress care plans.” You’ll find 5,000 sites with plans on them.
I’ve spent more time on it than that. The prices are fairly similar for everyone. I looked at my own cost. I upgraded the software I use. I use BlogVault to manage all the plugin updates and security and stuff.
Those costs were higher than what I was using before, which was MainWP, which was pretty much free. I factor all those costs into it and what the market will bear, what my customers are willing to pay.
I’ve played with those rates and I’ve raised the rates. I want to make sure I’m giving whatever the value is.
My cheapest one is $75 a month. For $75 a month, they never have to worry about their website having a problem. I’m not going to do proactive stuff on it. But I think $75 is a pretty good price point for that complete peace of mind that their websites are being taken care of.
They couldn’t hire somebody on their staff to go do it for that price. There’s plenty of value there. I’m able to spread out a lot of my costs through the roster of care planning clients I have. It’s still very profitable at that price.
You got to start somewhere. For me, it was, “I’ll just copy what everybody else does and then figure it out from there.” That’s essentially what I’ve done. I figured out my sweet spot where I feel really comfortable in the sales process. Clients can always smell when you’re not confident.
Now, I feel really confident saying, “Hey, this lowest price point is $75. Here’s what you get.” I feel 100% confident that it’s worth that.
I think they can feel that in the way I’m talking. I think finding that place where you feel comfortable saying that price, is really important as well. If you are just copying somebody else, you’ll hesitate to say that price out loud. If you don’t feel comfortable with it.
Colleen: 100%. That’s a great point.
WordPress Maintenance Terms
Colleen: When you take on new care plan clients, do you have a minimum number of months that they have to commit to?
Kyle: I don’t and I use that as part of my sales processes basically. This is month to month. You can cancel at any time.
If you just decide you don’t like the way I look next month, that’s fine. You can cancel. We’ll get you off-boarded. You’re fine.
Our industry has the reputation of a used car salesman. Many web developers have been hired and disappeared. They work from their basement. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do. They take people’s money and leave.
I know clients when they come to me—if I don’t already have a relationship with them—they’re very skeptical of me. So for me saying, “You don’t have to lock into a year of this, it’s month to month, next month you can decide to leave,” that puts them at ease.
I feel confident that once they get into this care plan, they’re going to stay. I don’t feel like I’m really putting out any risk there.
If they do leave after a month, I’ll definitely be less profitable than I wanted to be and probably underwater a little bit on getting all those systems set up. But it’s been so rarely a problem that it’s too good of a marketing tool to say it’s month to month then, so I would never consider not saying that.
Colleen: Yeah. I agree with that.
Talking About WordPress Maintenance Plans With Clients
Colleen: Well, when in your process, do you bring up the care plan? If you’re redesigning a site for a client, for instance, or you’re building a site from scratch? At what point in the process do you bring that up?
Kyle: I bring it up immediately on the first call. When we start talking about what kind of website they need, this and that.
I’m going to ask them:
- Do you already have hosting?
- Who’s going to take care of the website?
- Who’s going to do updates going forward?
All of those things are going to really help spec out the project. Do I need to build something different? Is somebody else is going to be taking care of it? I also don’t want it to be a surprise to anybody.
When I first started doing this I needed to get the job secured. I did the job then we got to launch and then I brought up care plans. I know that wasn’t a good look on my business, them feeling, like, “Oh. You didn’t tell me from the beginning that I was going to have to continue paying you into perpetuity for this website to keep running,”
That definitely wasn’t a good thing to do to my clients. I feel the earlier you can bring it up, the better chance you are of converting them, eventually.
Planting the seed in their mind that their website isn’t a one-off expense. It’s going to be an ongoing investment into their marketing online. It’s during the first conversation with them I bring up the care plans.
Colleen: Do you require that all new clients be on a care plan?
Kyle: I don’t. I know a lot of agencies that do that. I don’t have any issue with doing that. But I think that kind of goes back to requiring a commitment for a year, whatever it may be.
I feel like telling them they have to marry me for me to be able to do their website project is a little bit too much. I wouldn’t want to do that. That’s kind of how I judge it if I was hiring somebody new.
I don’t require it. But I think part of it is just like I have a process, I have sales tools to help sell the care plan, I know that this is going to be beneficial to them and if they don’t want it, that’s fine.
They can go handle it on their own. They’ll be back. I know. They always come back. I just have enough confidence in it, I guess, at this point.
I’ve done it enough times that I don’t feel like I have any need to pressure them into doing it. The clients that feel that they’re obligated to work with you are usually the worst clients you can have.
I want clients to pay that invoice every month because they want to pay it, because they know they’re getting value out of it. I feel like if I force them into it or coerce them into it or anything like that, they would feel pressured to do it, obligated to do it. That just doesn’t set up a good relationship for us.
It’s all voluntary. I definitely recommend it. But I recommend it 100% honest. I do have some clients that are more technically inclined and can handle these things.
What I explain to them is I know you can do all this. But you need to get this on your calendar. You need to set up reminders because you have to do this every week and that’s not an option.
For some of them, it’s more like, “I can’t be bothered with having to do this every week or every month,” or whatever those updates may be. For me it’s just really being honest about it. I think that’s the best way to go.
Dealing With Additional Website Requests
Colleen: How do you handle the one-off requests from the clients that don’t go on a care plan? Do you just give them an estimate?
Kyle: This has changed some over my career too. It’s just, in the beginning, I had the free time so I would just quote those things out and do them for them.
Right now where I’m at, those care plan clients obviously get priority. If somebody comes back and needs changes and I’m busy with care plan stuff, I just have to tell them they’re going to have to wait in line.
But right now, I’m busy enough that I’m probably just not available to do those kinds of things right now. I would tell them, “Hey, if you wanted to jump on a care plan you can do that. I can get these things taken care of. They’d be part of the care plan. That’s totally fine. If not, I’d have to recommend you somebody else because I don’t have the capacity for that right now.”
I have told clients before they sign up for a care plan for a month, we’ll get these things done. If you decide you don’t want it, cancel it. One month on, one month off.
I know they’re thinking, “I could probably just sign up for a month and then quit.” I might as well point out the elephant in the room, right? I have some clients now that kind of came in that way and have just stayed on.
It’s a roll of the dice sometimes. It’s so much that just depends on your workload. If they need the help and I have the capacity then I would just quote that out.
If somebody’s on my care plan and they need something—they need work done above what’s included in the care plan—I do give them a discounted rate on those kinds of things. They get better pricing from me and people that aren’t care planned are going to pay full price. So there is that too.
I can make a little bit more money off those one-off things for the people that aren’t on the care plan.
Colleen: I used to do that too.
What objections do you normally hear about why somebody doesn’t want to go on a care plan?
Kyle: Obviously, an extra bill every month. I think we’re all Netflixed-to-death that we have all these subscriptions. Everything’s a subscription now.
Colleen: Or Adobed-to-death.
Kyle: Right. No doubt. But I think that the biggest one is just the cost objection. The other part, I think all the other objections just have to do with client education.
I think the average person doesn’t understand how WordPress works. They don’t understand how the software works, how the updates work and the fragility of the system.
A lot of that is just client education and helping them understand. That’s why I always try to tell them that hiring me for the care plan is not mandatory. Doing all the tasks for the care plan is mandatory.
Otherwise, whatever you pay me to build this website, you’re throwing in the trash. It’s going to be ruined a few months down the line if you don’t take care of it. I think when you can explain it that way, that’s helpful.
I’ve put together a blog post that it’s like a DIY care plan. I walk them through everything you need to do every day, every week, every month, every year. Here’s everything I do to take care of your website, step by step.
I’ll hand that to them. Some people are afraid to do that, thinking if you give them all the keys to do it, then wouldn’t they just do it and not hire you?
I find that’s the opposite. I find that they look at that list and go, “Oh yeah. I don’t want to do all that. So yeah, Kyle, why don’t you just do that for me.?”
I think the biggest objections have to do with the client education side of it—not understanding how it works. You can always use metaphors like, if you go out and buy your car and you don’t change the tires and change the oil and those kinds of things, you’re going to ruin your car.
Same thing with your website. If you don’t do the routine maintenance that needs to be done on it, you’re going to ruin your website. There’s no use throwing thousands of dollars down the drain because you don’t want to spend $75 a month. I think most people—most rational business people—can handle that conversation.
What to Do When a Client Wants to Cancel a Care Plan
The Website Owner’s Manual (WOM)
Colleen: Right. What do you do then when they want to cancel a care plan?
Kyle: I have a small off-boarding process. I send them a copy of a document that I have called the Website Owner’s Manual.
I would say, “Here’s where all your licenses are. Here’s everything you need to go purchase for those licenses—to get all those licenses under your name. Here’s what we need to do to transfer you to your own hosting account. Let me know when you have that set up and we can do all that.”
I typically give them 30 days. They’re going to have to continue paying their plan until they’re off of it. We try to expedite that process to 30 days so we can get them off of there. Then I send them the list of the DIY care plan stuff and wish them well.
I don’t really hold any animosity. They’re usually going to cancel because they can’t afford to do it anymore, or they found somebody else to do it. If they simply can’t afford to do it anymore, what am I supposed to do?
I’m not going to do it for free. I understand they have to cut costs somewhere. I’m not going to hold any grudge against them on that. They found somebody else to do it cheaper? Kind of the same way on that.
If you’re willing to roll those dice, then that’s totally fine with me. I just take them through that process and get them off boarded. I have some email scripts and things that I send that are persuasive.
From a marketing lens, that helps them understand the decision they’re making—not because I’m trying to hard pressure sales them back into my system, but because I want them to understand what they’re saying no to. “You won’t get this bill anymore. But you’re also saying yes to all these other things. Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes. Here’s everything you’re going to have to do.”
Just to make sure they understand that, not only because I’d like to keep them, but I don’t want them to leave and then realize down the road that they screwed up. Or that their website’s screwed up and they have to come back. I just want to make sure that they understand the decision they’re making completely.
That’s a big part of it. Still going on with the client education part of it.
Colleen: I know tons of people in The Admin Bar have bought the Website Owner’s Manual. They have said how well it works to keep the care plan client.
The big thing is that once a client sees that huge list of tasks and all these things that they have to do, I guess, they turn around and they say, “Well, nope. I don’t want to do that. I don’t have time for that. That’s too much.”
Kyle: Yeah. We include what’s called a retention email script. What it does is it just explains to them, “Okay, no problem. If you want to quit. That’s totally fine. Here’s what you’re going to need to do. You’re going to have to go buy hosting. You’re going to have to buy all these plugin licenses. You’re going to have to do all these updates. Here’s a list of how you do all the maintenance.”
It is persuasive in the fact that they go, “Holy crap. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t realize was going on.”
Oftentimes, they might be a year or two removed from your sales process when they purchase the care plan and they don’t remember all that goes into it.
I think that’s definitely the case sometimes. But, yeah, that email has saved a lot of care plans for me just because clients went, “Oh, you know what? I’m going to cut costs somewhere else. I really don’t want to do all that.”
Colleen: They can get it by going to creative-boost.com/wom.
How much does that go for? You said they get some scripts with it. Is it just a PDF guide and some scripts? What’s included in that?
Kyle: We actually came up with this me and my partner in The Admin Bar, Matt. We came up with this idea, trying to solve this problem ourselves, especially the side of client education—them understanding what all goes into website maintenance and care.
The idea of the WOM is a fairly simple PDF you send out to clients. What we actually give you as the deliverable is a Google Slides document just to make it easy for you to edit.
We wanted to put it in a format everybody could access and be able to edit. You can throw it into InDesign or whatever you use.
It goes over the technical details of the website where the DNS is, where the domains are registered, where the hosting is, all the plugins that are being used, some frequently asked questions and things like that.
It comes with that document that you can use. The heart of it is the system of using it. We explain in there when you want to talk about the Website Owner’s Manual and when you want to give them a copy.
There are six or seven email scripts in there. A pre-sell script is a script that you can put inside of your proposals.
If they reject a care plan, there’s a script for that.
If they accept, there’s a script for that.
If they come back later and say, “Hey. I want to cancel my care plan,” there’s a script for that as well.
We’ve just thought through all these scenarios and tested them with our own clients and things like how to get clients onto care plans.
The biggest thing with the WOM is it helps show them what all goes into maintaining a website. It lists them through all the things they’ll need to know, where everything’s at, how they can access the website, all those things.
It’s an eye-opener for them. It gives them a peek behind the curtains of what all goes into managing their website. A lot of times when clients see that, they’d rather just have somebody else do it, which is what we agree on as well.
We think probably a professional should be handling this. But they might just think you’re trying to get money from them. So what the WOM does really well is it just helps show them all that goes into managing a website. A lot of times they’ll just decide to hire you for it.
It is at the link you said. I’m sure there’ll be links everywhere. It goes for $37 but there are always coupons. Look on the website. There will be a coupon listed. Use the coupons.
I think we’re nearing about 4,000 agencies using it at this point, which is pretty awesome. It’s been really, really successful. It’s just so awesome getting the posts in the group to say, “Man, I bought the WOM yesterday and it already paid for itself. I just landed a client or I got a client to come back. It’s just cool.”
If you use it and sell one care plan, it pays for itself. It’s not something we’re trying to get rich off of. But I do think it’s definitely a huge part of my sales process, as far as letting clients know early and up front what goes into website maintenance.
If you’ve done websites for any amount of time, you’ve come across the client that comes to you and says, “I don’t know where my domain is. I don’t know where my DNS is. I don’t know where the website’s hosted.”
Well, what’s nice about the WOM is all that stuff is documented in there. So if every web developer was using this, we would always know these things.
We actually had a client of a Website Owner’s Manual client in the group. He had a new customer come in and ask them about those things and they provided him a copy of the WOM they got from somebody else, which I thought was really cool. It kind of came full circle.
Colleen: Oh. that’s great.
Kyle: Yeah. He said it was awesome. He got the new client, and he knew where the domain was and the hosting and all that kind of thing. It was really handy. It works in that way as well too.
Colleen: That’s really cool.
There’s a great point there too—that a lot of designers and developers always push back and say, “Well, if clients can just Google it, then why would they hire me?”
It’s because they don’t necessarily want to do that. They don’t have the time or the interest. They need the expertise.
Kyle: I could go out and mow my lawn but I don’t. I just hire somebody to do it because I don’t want to mow my lawn.
It’s just one of those things that you rather pay somebody to do than do it yourself even if you could do it.
I think that’s the way clients probably look at care plans for the most part. They want to protect that investment. I feel like care plans do a good job of protecting that investment for them.
I think websites tend to last a lot longer. I know that they’re going to last a whole longer if you’re keeping tabs on the plugin updates and all those kinds of things.
They’re going to get more mileage out of their website if it’s well taken care of. It’s really, in all honesty… I do feel confident telling my clients, “This is the better route to go for the longevity of your website.”
Colleen: Well, that’s awesome. I see people all the time talking about it. I didn’t realize it actually had scripts in there too. That sounds really cool.
I think you need to raise the price on that though.
Kyle: I would just like to get it in every agency’s hands. I know that it will help them sell care plans. I know that it makes other people’s lives easier if all this is documented.
I think it’s really good for clients to say like, “Okay, if your web developer does get hit by a bus, at least you have this document that tells you how to get into your website and where everything is and all that.”
I think it’s a win for everyone all around. If it was just in everybody’s hands I would be happy about that.
Colleen: Yeah. It gives you the confidence to know what to say and deal with the objections.
Kyle: That’s so hard for people starting out too. You have to do so much trial and error with how you propose things, how you talk about things and how you handle objections.
Luckily, we’ve already been through all that. You don’t have to copy and paste them using verbatim. You can season them to taste if you will.
It gives you a starting point. It’s for every scenario that can come up with in any kind of client objection to the care plans.
Colleen: Again, that link is creative-boost.com/wom.
Well, thanks for coming on, Kyle. This has been really great.
Kyle: I appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to finally hop on here and get to chat with you. Anytime to get to chat with you is a good time for me.
Colleen: Oh. Thanks. I appreciate that.