An Easy Path to Your App

Jen is young veterinarian owning a small town, independent clinic in south Quebec.

She is passionate about offering her clients information on alternative pet foods and medications. She devours scientific literature and has gathered a lot of information on this. She has classified everything by breed, symptoms, etc.

She would love to offer all this knowledge online, to her clients. She fears building this as an app will cost too much. Building a web app from scratch will cost you anywhere between $5,000 – $20,000, depending on complexity.

Plus, she is weary of having to learn yet another tool to use: she just doesn’t have time for it.

Let’s think a bit about Jen’s options…

Add it to your WordPress site?

Jen already has a WordPress website for her business. Her first impulse is to put everything in WordPress, as posts or pages. Problem is, she’d like to restrict access to these premium articles. Only paying clients should be able to access them. The rest of the site, however, still needs to be accessible to everyone.

Adding these articles along with everything else on her site won’t allow her to easily restrict access. Or easily offer a specialized search only for that premium content.

Clearly just throwing these posts in WordPress won’t work very well…

Plug it in?

What about plugins? Could she do what she needs with WordPress plugins?

To build a custom post type for her premium articles, and custom categorizations, she could use a plugin like Easy Content TypesCustom Post Type UI or Types.

To restrict access to those posts only, maybe User Role Editor, Members or WordPress Access Areas.

As far as allowing people to only search premium content on her website, she could maybe use Super Search.

Yes, she probably could stitch together a bunch of off the shelf plugins, and get a decent application.


Some of those plugins need to be bought, or subscribed to, and that adds up. Of course, nothing comparable to getting your own app built from scratch, but still.

My experience with setups like this is that they tend to be brittle, and cumbersome.

For one thing, each plugin probably does a bit more than you need. You’re paying for extra features you don’t need or use. That’s extra code that needs to load and execute every time someone views a page on your site.

Secondly, you are limited by the features that others have deemed useful. You are at their mercy for new development and bug fixes.

And, finally, you’ve probably heard that it’s best to limit the number of plugins on your WordPress site. The more plugins you have, the higher the risks of conflicts between them. The riskier it is that one of them will break while upgrading. Or be discontinued. Stitching plugin functionalities like this is not a good way to minimize your plugins list.

So if you outgrow the plugin mishmash option, are you left with paying a developer to build your own app from scratch? Not necessarily…

Out of options?

As I said, Jen’s application and her data really match the WordPress model. I think it’s a perfect fit for a custom WordPress plugin. A custom WordPress plugin usually costs around $2,000 to $5,000, depending on it’s size and complexity. That’s a great deal less than the cost of a standalone web application!

By building her own custom plugin, she replaces 3 plugins with only one. She also makes sure that one plugin is strictly focused on what she needs. And she owns the plugin code: getting bugs fixed, or new features added, is just a matter of calling up her developer.

There are other things to consider too:

You don’t want to go down the custom WordPress plugin route for a database of hundreds of thousands of articles. WordPress is not optimized for this, especially if you are using custom fields in your searches.

You need to make sure your plugin is solid and won’t break. There’s unfortunately a lot of horror stories out there. Client gets a custom plugin made, at a really good price, in record time. Next WordPress upgrade (or worst, the next theme upgrade!) the whole site goes totally blank. Original coder can not be reached. I let you fill in the ending, depending on if you are a “half-full” or “half-empty” kind of person.

Your plugin needs to be well designed and coded. And although you are not a coder yourself, there are questions you can ask your developer to gauge if she will do a good job or not. (I plan to go through that topic in a future post.)

But for now, let’s just say that if your plugin is well designed, there is very little chance of it breaking your site. Ever. And just in case you are unlucky enough and it happens to you once in a blue moon, make sure your developer offers some kind of after sale service guarantee.

A custom WordPress plugin can really save you time and money. The platform comes with so much stuff “for free”. Think login and registration of users, user administration, setting-up of menus or widgets… A lot of stuff is already built and tested, as part of the WordPress core: our custom plugin can simply leverage all of that.

That’s time your developer spends on your specific application features.

To Appfinity – and beyond!

Even though a WordPress plugin was not on Jen’s radar, that option turned out to be the best for her. It allowed her to quickly get the information online, restrict it to her clients, and at the fraction of the cost of a standalone app.

And she now has a bunch of new ideas, in part from the feedback she got from users.

A custom plugin can be a quick experiment, a cheap MVP, (“Minimum Viable Product”) to help you test the waters. Confirm there is a need for your app.

Now she’s thinking about a true standalone app. She talked to her developer, and she knows some of those new ideas are going to stretch WordPress’ limits.

But it’s ok though.

It’s much less scary to think about building a new house when you’ve owned one before. You know what you like and dislike. Most importantly, you now know that there are buyers for the type of house you want to build.

That is one form of organic app growing. That is smart business growth.

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