Recently, WordPress.com/Automattic “entered” the sub-$5,000 website market by announcing a new program, as reported by WordPress Tavern. Naturally, the reaction was mixed, but there seems to be a lot of anger that Automattic would do such a thing, which could potentially kill competition because it’s so big. Here’s the thing: If you think you’re competing with Automattic for sub-$5,000 websites, you need to change your approach.
There Will Always Be Competition
First of all, the website pond is a big one. We don’t need to worry about big fish eating up all the…whatever big fish eat. If that were the case, Bluehost, GoDaddy, and others (as well as competitors like Wix) would have sucked up all the business.
Not to mention there are a ton of other freelancers we actively compete with. There will always be competition, big and small. Apple sherlocks apps. Jetpack copies features. Social Media sites copy each other1.
You can’t prevent a company, big or small, from getting into your space. They are doing what’s best for their business. You should do what’s best for yours.
Automattic Isn’t Even Really Competing
Here’s the thing. Unless you make websites exclusively for WordPress.com customers, I don’t think Automattic is really competing with you or me.
By Automattic entering this space, they are another company offering an auxiliary service based on their main one: namely, people setting up WordPress.com websites.
To be fair, I’ve had a few people reach out to me about fixing their .com site – we’ve either had to make concessions in what they wanted due to platform limitations, or move to a different host and use Open Source WordPress. But by and large, people come to me and they need a specific type of website, not a specific platform.
So what can you do to ensure Automattic doesn’t eat your lunch2? There are a few things.
Don’t Sell “WordPress” Sites
One year when I was at CaboPress, Chris Lema gave me a fantastic piece of advice, in the form of a story (naturally): most people, when they go to a hardware store, don’t ask for a specific brand of tool. I’ve never gone to Home Depot saying, “I need a Black and Decker Masonry Hammer Drill.”
Instead, I say, “I need to drill holes into the brick facade of my house so I can mount my Ring doorbell.” Then the person at Home Depot tells me everything I need, including a Hammer Drill. That’s the solution to my problem3.
Similarly, you probably don’t need to sell “WordPress” sites to most of your clients. They may not even know what WordPress is. You need to sell a solutions to your clients’ problems. They don’t care if you use WordPress, Statamic, or something else.
Sometimes They DO Ask for Specific Tools
Now, you know as well as I do, that sometimes clients ask for specific tools. For me, it’s usually LearnDash or a podcasting tool.
In those cases, they likely aren’t recruiting Automattic to build their website. They’ve sought you out because you’re an expert, and the tool they want to use isn’t available on .com.
Specialize in Specific Types of Sites
Another avenue you can explore is specializing. Find some niche and become an expert in making those sites. You’ll come with the domain knowledge, and the authority.
Let’s look at podcasting sites again. I’m proficient at building them. I know how to use Seriously Simple Podcasting well, I know all the steps I need to take to create and publish a podcast, and I have a specific set of tools I like using, including Astra and Beaver Builder.
There are ways I can create blueprints for these sites so I can launch them quickly and customize as needed. If you need a podcast website, I’m your guy!
When you do this, you can take your pricing in one of two directions.
Productizing Website Creation
By productizing a service like this – essentially creating cookie cutter websites – you can undercut Automattic’s $4,900 price. Set your client up with hosting on a host you trust (maybe through an affiliate program), then use a blueprint to build their site. Maybe you can come in at $2,000 or $3,000 and they’re all set. You can always up-sell more services or features.
The beauty of this is you should know exactly how long setting up a site like this will take, and a good process means it gets easier over time. That will increase your profits without raising prices.
Create High-End Boutique Websites
You can also go in the total other direction and double or triple Automattic’s pricing. With a $10,000 or $15,000 site, you can sell a white-glove version of your service with a strong attention to detail and your client’s specific needs. After all, you make sites like this all the time, so you might know what your client needs before they do.
If I were creating a boutique podcast website instead of a cookie cutter, I might include things I know podcasters need: ways to manage sponsors and transcripts, a way to generate more leads and email signups, and perhaps even a membership or community component.
I can work with them on exactly what their offering can be, help plan their content and build a lead generator, and more. That’s not something Automattic can offer with their service.
Look into Partnerships
Something that’s unclear in the copy, but Matt Mullenweg said on Twitter was this program is built for referring business out:
It’s worth keeping an eye on that space to see if it actually pans out4, but even if it doesn’t, there are other partnerships available. You can look into preferred developer programs for tools you use, partner with another agency to provide services, and more.
I Wouldn’t Worry About This
Automattic generally works within the constructs of their .com platform, and most of the moves (including the Block Editor) have focused on acquiring new users. This is another step in that direction. They see potential customers have a hard time getting their business up and running on .com, and lose those customers to Wix and Squarespace.
What you should focus on is solving problems without being tied to a platform (as far as your marketing copy is concerned, at least). Speak their language, show them you understand them, and you will win their business.