A Strategic Partnership Framework for WordPress Businesses

Illustration of a woman working on a laptop

A good strategic partnership can quickly surmount the challenges of distribution facing WordPress plugin authors and SaaS businesses.

A Strategic Partnership Framework for WordPress Businesses is part 1 of 1 in the series The Business of WordPress.

For a WordPress-based business owner, the launch of a successful strategic partnership can feel like the start of an overnight success. Your effort and energy has paid off. You now have access to the credibility of your strategic partner, new customers, resources, and revenue. Your opportunity for impact — and your profits — are growing.

For a product manager at a larger company, a successful strategic partnership gives them an opportunity to take a deep breath. Perhaps they’ve been able to hold off a competitor or increase the value they’re offering to the audience they serve. A strategic partnership lets them stay within their core focus and introduce the strengths of their partner to provide added value where it’s needed. 

Strategic partnerships offer business owners and product managers a high impact, fast track to growth. 

Growing in WordPress

If you’re building a business that serves the WordPress ecosystem, whether directly (e.g. native plugins, themes, blocks, etc.) or indirectly (e.g. a SaaS provider), you probably want to grow. Growing empowers you to serve your current customers better and reach new customers. 

Here are a few examples of partnerships geared toward growth:

  • A plugin author wants to increase their distribution, so they partner with hosting providers to introduce their offering to more potential customers. 
  • A SaaS provider wants to increase adoption, so they partner with plugin authors to create integrations. 

Obstacles to Growth

WordPress as an ecosystem enjoys the benefits and tradeoffs of decentralization. On the benefits side, the low barrier of entry, the clear sense of autonomy, and business model flexibility make WordPress a great environment for starting a business.

On the tradeoffs side, distribution is where things get difficult, and — for most business owners and product managers — distribution is the key obstacle to growth.

WordPress.org is a key point of distribution for most theme and plugin authors. You have limited control, however, and no guarantee of an audience. Marketplaces like Envato and WooCommerce.com offer clear paths to monetizable distribution, yet they have tradeoffs of their own and no guarantee of success.

While I’m optimistic that some of the overall distribution challenges in WordPress may be addressed as we grow in our thinking about WordPress as an App Store, strategic partnerships are how we can address the difficulties of distribution now. 

Value of Strategic Partnerships

For the business offering a product that extends WordPress, creating strategic partnerships provides value in three key ways:

  1. Distribution A partnership extends your reach and puts your product in front of the partner’s audience. This is your path to achieving scale in the WordPress ecosystem. 
  2. Growth – With your product in front of a partner’s audience, you now have the opportunity to grow sales, increase adoption, create new partnerships, etc.
  3. Collaboration – Partnerships provide opportunities for collaborating. A good partnership starts with aligned incentives and empowers both parties to create more value for the audience they serve. 

Stages of Strategic Partnerships

A strategic partnership between two aligned businesses serving the WordPress ecosystem includes five stages within the lifecycle of the partnership:

  • Opportunity — A problem to solve is identified for your mutual audiences. 
  • Design — A solution is designed and validated. 
  • Start — The partnership is launched. 
  • Grow — The solution is improved as needed and the partnership expanded. 
  • Support — The partnership is supported and maintained.

Opportunity

Start with the audience in mind. Find potential partners that serve the same audience and look for ways to create a win for the audience and the partners who work together to serve them. 

Focus on increasing value. How can you, by working together with a potential partner, create more value for the audience you serve?

📄 Recommendation: Create and fill out your own copy of the Partnership Impact Filter as a starting point for each opportunity that can serve as an outline for the partnership. 

Here are a few examples of opportunities:

  • A plugin that focuses on improving performance explores a partnership with a hosting provider to reduce infrastructure costs and encourage customers to upgrade to a higher valued plan. 
  • A SaaS focused on security explores a partnership with a WordPress plugin focused on ecommerce to increase the confidence of store owners.

Get your ideas on paper and, for now, stay focused on the high-level concept, including financials. Create a partnership agreement that communicates expectations, clarifies roles and responsibilities, and anticipates risks to the partnership. Then, sign the agreement and get started on design. 

🤝 Partnership Agreement — Would you be interested in a basic template for a partnership agreement? While each partnership will be unique, I’ve found it helpful to start from a template. If you’re interested, let me know in the #partnerships channel on Post Status Slack

Design

Once you’ve identified an opportunity and have a clear idea of success, design a solution. Make sure the right folks are involved at this stage. Product managers, UI/UX specialists, developers, etc., keep the conversations focused on the outcome you’re after and allow for enough detail to identify as many of the obstacles and potential challenges you can, ahead of launch.

Stay focused on the problem you’re solving. One of the risks you run during the design phase is getting off course with a solution that seems like a fit, yet doesn’t quite solve the original problem. 

Here are examples of the types of questions you want answered during the design stage:

  • What is our solution to the problem?
  • How will our solution work in practice? 
  • What is the user journey our audience will go through?
  • How do we want the audience to feel when they interact with what we create?
  • How do we know our hypothesized solution solves the problem for our audience?

💡 Tip: Once you have a solution in mind, invest an appropriate amount of effort testing and validating the solution, before you create it. Looking for folks to test your ideas on? Try the #marketing channel on Post Status Slack.

Start

Once you’ve designed and tested a solution, it’s time to bring it to life. Take the details you worked out during the design phase and organize priorities and efforts between partners. Create your timelines and checklists. 

Stay focused on the audience experience and solving their problems. If the amount of work to be done is getting overwhelming or threatening the launch, refocus on the problem you’re working to solve and look for ways to start smaller or simplify what you deliver first. 

🚀 Launch Checklist —  Would you be interested in a “Strategic Partnerships Launch Checklist?” I’ve got an outline in mind and would be happy to put one together. Let me know in the #partnerships channel on Post Status Slack

Grow

A successful launch is just the beginning. If you want to maximize the value of a strategic partnership for all involved, keep growing. The idea here is to take the energy from the launch and build on it to create momentum over time. 

Focus on the ideal outcome for a longer period of time. If the partnership goes well, what will you have accomplished together after a year? How about 2 years? 3 years? 

Here are a few examples of ways you might collaborate to build momentum beyond the launch:

  • Audience Education – Create a content calendar and work together to educate the audiences you’re serving around the problem you’re focused on solving. Collaborate on blog posts, tutorials, webinars, live streams, video series, special events, etc. 
  • Roadmap Alignment – Connect the product teams across both partners and schedule regular connection points to stay aligned on product roadmaps. This can help prevent unexpected overlaps / conflict and can spark new opportunities. 
  • Feedback Exchanges – Create regular cadences to share feedback, positive and negative, from customers on both sides of the partnership. 
  • Partner Education – Don’t assume that team members on either side of the partnerships know how to “sell” the partnership. Schedule ongoing internal education for current team members and make sure that the partnership is part of onboarding for new team members. 
  • Expanding Partnerships – Look for new partners to bring into the mix to benefit from the momentum you’ve built and add in their own. 

Support

Eventually, most partnerships reach a peak and growth slows down. The partnership is still valuable, though, and the customers who rely on the partnership may need to be supported. 

Focus on establishing regular cadences where the relevant maintenance and support work just gets done. Make sure that the solution continues to solve the problem you set out to solve.

A few ideas and suggestions to keep in mind as you navigate the support stage:

  • Watch for New Opportunities — Product improvements or new product ideas can come out of maintenance and support work. Create processes to both seek out and gather ideas and get them in front of the right people.
  • Align Team Interests — Some folks enjoy building new things and others enjoy maintaining and improving what’s there. Try to get folks involved who enjoy the maintenance process.
  • Plan a Sunset — On a regular basis (e.g. yearly), re-evaluate the partnership and consider when it might be time to wind it down. The idea here is that by looking ahead, you’ll be more likely to recognize growth opportunities or recognize the right time to end the partnership.

Getting Started

  1. Use the five stages as a basis for designing your own process for strategic partnerships.
  2. Create a list of potential partners and start reaching out to explore opportunities.

Have questions or ideas to contribute? Join us in the Post Status Slack #partnerships channel. 

Interested in getting help creating strategic partnerships for your WordPress business? Cory and I offer consulting services, and we’d love to work with you. Send me an email or ping me on Slack and let me know you’re interested.

Special thanks to Joshua Wold for his fantastic illustrations.

  • A Strategic Partnership Framework for WordPress Businesses