The entire WordPress ecosystem is built around using 3rd party provider software in the form of plugins and themes. While there are thousands of free pieces of software, much of the really powerful tools (that serious agencies/freelancers use) come with a recurring cost.
The majority of these "premium" themes and plugins require you to prove your purchase in the form of a unique license code that you enter into your WordPress install.
While most plugins and themes sell a single-site license, most developers take advantage of bulk licenses that allow you to use the software on multiple websites (the number of website depends on the license you buy). Some even offer "unlimited site" licenses that allow you to use your license on as many websites as you want.
A question that often comes up around this is "Can I let my clients use my license?".
With time, most of us develop a "stack" of software we use to build websites. Page builders, themes, and plugins that we prefer and make our life easier. We tend to buy these in bulk because we use them so often.
But what do you do after you finish building a website and hand it over to a client? Do they get to keep your license code? Or should they buy their own?
There are two popular ways agencies go about handling premium licenses.
In a recent post inside our community, I polled people to see how they handle software licenses for their customers after the project is over. Two common themes came up time and time again— both depending on one simple question:
Is the client on a care/maintenance plan with you?
If your client signs up for a care plan
If you are selling WordPress websites, you've likely heard of care plans (also referred to as "maintenance plans"). These are ongoing contracts with customers where they pay a monthly fee for you to keep their website software up-to-date, monitor uptime, monitor security, and perform backups. Some care plans offer more benefits like updating website content.
When it comes to software licenses, most agencies will extend their license to their clients so long as they are on a care plan.
This adds another benefit to the agency's care plan, as the client doesn't have to go out and source and renew these licenses themselves— it's all included.
And since agencies can buy multiple-site licenses at a discount— it's a win-win for everyone.
If your client does not sign up for a care plan
If a client does not sign up for a care plan, the general consensus is that the client is responsible for acquiring all the licenses themselves. You can provide them with a list of plugins/themes they will need, along with links where they can purchase them.
This keeps all the software in your client's name where they can request support directly from the software developer.
Why you shouldn't "throw in" software licenses without a care plan.
If your client decides they are going to maintain their website themselves, you might be tempted to just "throw in" your software licenses to be nice. While your intentions might be good, this can result in several bad outcomes.
What if you stop using that software?
The truth is, the software "stack" you are using today, might not be what you are using in 6-months or a year. If a new plugin comes out, or you end up having trouble with what you were using, you're going to end up in a sticky situation where you either have to:
a. Keep renewing the license because you already gave it to past customers.
b. Inform your customers that the software you included is being taken away from them.
Neither one of these scenarios will do you any favors with your clients.
What if your client needs support?
If you client runs into a problem with the software, then they may need technical support. Without a care plan, you're not there to handle it for them and they will need to go directly to the developer of the software.
Unfortunately, since the software is licensed under your name, your client won't be able to get direct support from the developer.
Do you really want to provide free support?
The best way to handle plugin / theme licenses
The most important lesson I've learned when dealing with clients and software licenses is to be upfront.
Explain to your customer from the outset how WordPress works, and that even though WordPress itself is "free", there are other costs associated for some of the software you use. In your proposal you can outline the necessary premium software and it's ongoing costs. You're much better off having this conversation early on, than having to trip over yourself and justify why you didn't tell them this in the beginning.
This is also your opportunity to show your client how much value is packed into your maintenance plan. You can total up all the costs of the premium software that's included with your monthly plan and give them some black-and-white numbers on their savings.
Sometimes the software costs alone make a care plan a no-brainer for clients.
Use The Website Owner's Manual to reinforce your care plan's value
The Website Owner's Manual (often called 'The WOM') is a handy document and strategy we at The Admin Bar came up with in 2019. Since then it's sold nearly 2,000 copies and helped agencies all over the globe sell more care plans.
The idea of The WOM is to soft-sell your care plan to clients by showing them all the responsibilities they will have to take on in order to effectively maintain their website. Because it's all spelled out for them in a way they can see and understand immediately, many clients will opt for your care services so they don't have to do all the work themselves.
The subject of software licenses is thoroughly addressed in The WOM too.
The WOM includes a section for you document all the premium licenses that are required to keep their website functioning, and comes with email scripts that explain to clients that without a care plan, they will need to obtain all these licenses for themselves.
Check with your plugin/theme license
Keep in mind that all the advice shared in this article is not legal advice. Each plugin or theme developer has their own licensing, which can vary widely. It's wise to check with the developer's license to make sure you can share your license with clients before offering to do so. This will help keep you out of hot water by breaking any licensing agreements you made when you purchased your software.