Rob Cairns talks to Laura Elizabeth about client portals.
1. Why a client portal?
2. Features of a client portal.
3. Laura’s client portal product.
Everybody Rob here Again. I have my guest, Laura Elizabeth with me. How are you today, Laura?
Yeah, I’m very well, thank you. How are you?
Doing well, you know the the New Year has started at time of this record. We’re all good. So that’s. The important thing, right? Absolutely. So I thought today we talked about client portals and the value of them. But before we go there, how did you end up in the WordPress space or? Kind of in the client portal space.
Yeah. So I started out as a freelancer, so I was doing freelance web design and my website was on WordPress as it seemed everyone’s everyone elses was I moved. I created a portal for myself to use with my web design clients and at the time I was doing a lot of speaking at conferences. Broadcasts like this one. And I would mention you know something you can do as part of your onboarding is to give your clients a portal where they can access all their deliverables, people really. Liked it and. They wanted to buy it even though it wasn’t for sale, so I turned it into a product and I basically did a survey and. Asked what would you like this to be built on because it wasn’t anything at this point, it wasn’t on WordPress, it wasn’t a SAS, it wasn’t anything. And the overwhelming majority of people, I think almost everyone at the time this was in 2016, said WordPress. So I thought, alright, I’m gonna hire a WordPress developer, make a WordPress plugin and that’s. Yeah, that’s the simple way I got into the WordPress space.
Now that’s interesting. So your portal is based on a custom plugin, is what you’re saying. It’s not an out-of-the-box or off the shelf solution.
Yeah, it’s a WordPress plugin, so yeah, it’s not a. It’s not a SAS or anything like that. It’s. Just a WordPress plugin.
OK, dude, what’s the number? One request that you see out there having developed a portal and kind of working with portals that people have for portals like what’s the kind of biggest thing that people want?
I think it’s. Something that their clients will actually use that’s simple enough for their clients to use, because if you think about it, clients aren’t necessarily tech savvy. We might be, we might know how to use all these different tools, but clients aren’t and. What’s frustrating from both a if you’re freelance or an agency and a client is. You can use project management tools which are great especially if you have a big team. I’m actually a big fan of project management tools, but then when you add your clients to them they don’t want to use it. They don’t want to have to sign up to a new project management tool. They don’t want to have to learn how it all works because they can be quite complicated. Some of them have. Databases and certain ways you have to do things and their terminology is different. So their clients just don’t use it and they just resort back to e-mail and it it just gets really frustrating. So the big thing that people want is their. The sort of. Complexity of a project management tool to help them keep on track, but then they wanted something separate that they could give to their clients to keep them out of that project management tool that would give the clients the only thing that they need and nothing more. And so that would be things like. You know, if you have questionnaires, for example, that they need to access or deliverables or invoices or contracts, you know just all those bits that come from all these different places. If they can log in on your agency or your freelancer website, they just log in and they get a dashboard which just has everything related to the project. So from deliverables to discovery to assets and everything like that and and really that’s it like it does, it does a few, a few things more, but that’s basically what the product is. And the benefit there is that it keeps everything together, their clients as long as their clients can log into a form, they don’t have to do anything. They can just have it all there and then it keeps them out of the project management tool. If you need one. Some people don’t, some people do and and it just kind of separates that a lot.
Yeah, I I find truly that clients don’t like to go into their project management tools. So you can give them access all day long at the end of the day, all they care about is deadlines and deliverables. They really don’t care about all the stuff in between. And I found that and. I mean, I come from the PMI background and the corporate project management tool course is Microsoft Office. Unlike all US people live in the online world and I call Microsoft Office like the the Pig project management tools. It’s just awful and I’ll share a story. I worked with CTO back in the day. And he and. Listed that project plans were submitted in the way he liked to see them, so most of us PM’s kept two Tools, 2 project funds, one to be submitted that looked like the way the CTO like that, and one that was the Reapproaching plan.
That was the way.
It should be right? I mean this is. The game and clients just don’t like that stuff, clients. Don’t like going to a portal? They’d rather grab their phone. Send you a quick e-mail and say hey Laura, how do I do this and be done with it? Clients don’t like help desk systems. I’m in the middle of implementing one right now. Ohh is that another story and fun they they they resist and they fight it. And I you finally as a agency owner have to put your foot down and say. This is the way I do business here it is, and handhold them and. Make them follow the process.
Yeah, but you also don’t necessarily even have to do that. So if so, if you think about the good thing about what I do is that I’ve been on both sides of it. So I’ve been the freelancer. And then I I’m also the client a lot now as well. And I do really understand, like I don’t want to log in to somewhere to be able to send a message. I just I use e-mail constantly. My e-mail is great, I am a big fan of e-mail UM and yeah, and I just want to be able to send an e-mail and get a reply and I think that’s fine. I.
Think we should be? Able to e-mail but the the thing that I I think the client portal solves. That’s particularly useful is that. We wanna reduce the amount of unnecessary emails so things like ohh, could you send me that invoice from two years ago or could you send me? I I’m as a designer so I would get logo requests. I would get people from like five years ago asking me can you send the logo that you did for us? The source file. And I’m like. Yeah. Ohh, that sound like a different hard drive. I don’t even know if I’ve still got.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So having just somewhere that where they’re like. It’s there, it’s there for them. If they need it. If they don’t ever need to log into client portal, that’s fine, and they don’t. Have to use. It, but when they do inevitably need to find something, and presumably most I I always think that most clients aren’t particularly organized. I’m quite organized and keep everything in folder structures, but I know not everyone does that. And they’ll keep things in like e-mail attachments and stuff, which is a pain to find. So when they inevitably need something and it’s like the middle of the night. For you or whatever, and they need. They need it right now. They can just log in anytime and get it. You know, it’s kind of like, I really like it because it’s not forcing them into the way you work. Obviously, you know, if you’re talking about more kind of corporate enterprise type clients, so it it might, it wouldn’t, I don’t know if it would necessarily work with the type of clients you work with, but for the sort of smaller freelancers and agencies, I think it’s a really nice. Balance between those things.
Yeah, I’ll. I’ll show it to you. Another story that’s really interesting. When I when I venture down the route of a client portal and I’ve got one. I worked that way with my clients. You just have to train them and hang. Hold them a little bit and help them believe it or not. I took Google Classroom about five years ago and. I hacked it. To run as a client portal because I was too lazy to build my own at the time, so I actually set up each classroom. Quote as a client and I dumped all their stuff in Google Classroom and that was kinda how I ventured into the world of portals. And then I finally said forget this. I’m just gonna build one and be. Done with it so. But yeah, it was a it was an interim solution that for a while it worked, but then as your client base grows, it wasn’t going to work well. So you do what you gotta do did in terms of calling portal, do you have a lot of customers that are running your? OK, right now.
Yes. So we have quite a, a fair amount of customers. I think I I can’t remember. I think we’ve got about, I want to say 8000 customers I.
All right, that’s pretty good.
I might be right. It says on the website, so I might have got that number wrong, but I think it’s about that whether they’re all using it or not, I don’t know because I don’t have access to that kind of data. But yeah, it’s it’s quite a yeah, it’s become quite popular over the years, which is nice.
No, that’s a good thing. And what’s the number one feature request you have from your clients to change client portal these days?
To be honest, the number one feature request is, well, there’s sort of two that are tied. The 1st is to integrate it with page builders like ELEMENTA, which we’re not going to do as at this time we’ve got no plans to do that. Instead what we’re doing is we’re we we’ve redesigned the whole thing and we’re using. The Gutenberg’s blocks we’re using the block editor. Yeah, that’s going to be released this month. We’re just running the beta test right now with a few with a small group and then that’s going to be start to roll out slowly over the next month because it’s it’s honestly we’ve been working on it for about a year and a. Half I want. To say like it’s been a really big change. So we’re doing. That instead of page. Builders because it’s like a slippery slope when we get into page builders because there’s so many and I feel like that we’re a very small team. So the updates and the support, I think we couldn’t handle. So that’s a big request that we get, but hopefully this one will help solve. That and the second thing is a Zapier integration, which I’m really hoping in 2024. We can make that happen.
Yeah, I was.
Gonna ask about that. I was gonna go to world of automation. So you’re working on cause I think from my perspective, my rule is if I’m working on tasks and I have to do something three times in the day, if I’m gonna find a way, I’ll automate it. Like once we hit that three times point and Zapier or any other tool to automate it. I think it’s really important. Because what do you do with the invoice that comes out of your billing system and you’re dropping your client portal? What do you do with the logo that you drop on the Google Drive and you want it in your client portal? I mean, those are just two really easy examples, right? And we know what we do now is we move the files around manually and then we spend all this time. And I always look at stuff like that and say, how do I get? Myself out.
Of this? Yeah, exactly. It’s it’s going to be such a it’s going to be a real game changer. I think this is. I feel like we’ve had a lot of updates and features that we’ve really needed before this point, but this to me is just one of the biggest ones. After the new block editor. This is like one of the biggest ones and then I don’t actually know what we’ll end up doing next because there are other, you know, there are other features. There are other things we could do, but I need to. Have a think about it because I wanna protect the simplicity of the product. You know, I don’t want to add features just for the sake of it, but I obviously want to keep improving it so. But I think this. On our long road map for the last I don’t know how long, 20. 16 was were eight years. Is it? It’s a yeah. This is like the last big thing that I think is going to make it so useful to so many people.
Have you thought? About doing any. Integration with an e-mail marketing package like convert KIT or MailChimp or anything like that to help streamline that side of it. Or is that kind of just not underrated?
Do you mean for the product itself? Like to get that to integrate with it? And to be honest, I haven’t. I haven’t. Yeah, I haven’t thought about that.
That first. It was just an interesting thought because I know the way I work is I send out emails, I have clients tagged in my e-mail list, so I’ve got clients that. They’re are tagged as non clients and clients are tagged as clients in the. It might. There might be some value there, just you know if you can just go into the portal and say send and then. You’re done, right? So.
Yeah, that’s true.
What’s the what’s the?
Current pricing of client portal do you? Want to talk about that a little bit?
Yeah. So the pricing is changing as well, but as of right now, it’s $199 a year for the single site license. And then we’ve got a multi site license for $399. A year. But we’re changing the pricing. It’s gonna. It’s gonna be in 2024. I don’t know exactly when. And we’re changing it. To be more. Of a instead of just separating from single site to multi site. We’re going to have, you know, the core client portal and then we’re going to have another tier with things like we have a WooCommerce integration and you know, things like the zappia thing that we were talking about and all that kind of thing for the higher tiers, which I think, which just makes a lot more sense in terms of features and pricing and separating it out that way. But it does involve some changes to the. Code base that we need. To figure out so yeah.
I do I. Do hear one thing out of you is you do not have a lifetime pricing. If I’m reading you right and that’s probably a good thing because I think a lot of WordPress devs go down that route and say, ohh, we’ll just offer a lifetime pricing or we’ll just let the community dictate a lifetime pricing. But I think that type of a model. Is really bad for support costs and a multitude of other costs. I don’t think it works as well.
Yeah, it’s really difficult. So I did a lifetime deal back when quite portal first started and it was really useful to get it on the map. You know, it got a. Lot of. The initial customers and it was really, really useful, but I think in terms of what I made versus how much it’s cost. To support to continue to support the customers now like it’s, I didn’t make enough at the time, it was great, but I didn’t like at this point. You know, it’s 2024 and I did that in 20/16/2017 and I still get emails. I still don’t support. Emails on a weekly basis from people who got the lifetime deal a long time ago, which of course we still honour, but I, since I’m not a developer, you know the the support costs are quite high. So I I it’s hard to say whether I regret doing that or not though, because I don’t know. I don’t have an alternative universe. Or if I didn’t do that, would it ended up? Would it have ended up being as successful without those early customers because? You know, they did talk about it a lot and you know, a lot of them absolutely love it. So, you know, there was. There was obviously a benefit there. And so I’m, I’m I try not to think about the question too much because I can’t. I’ve got no idea whether I would say it was worth it or not, but it is a. Big drain, so I wouldn’t do another one.
Yeah, it’s. It’s funny because I looked at what’s kind of happened in the WordPress space and there was a company back in the day called Headway themes. Don’t know if you remember them or don’t remember. Them and they got into that mess where they offered headway in verses 2 and version three as unlimited updates and a lifetime deal. Well, unfortunately, they had cash flow problems and they they did that. And then I’ve had just talks with one of my good friends is Mark Westgard. For WS forms, if you know Mark and he has no intention on his form product of offering a lifetime deal deal because the support costs reason. So it’s interesting when you talk to different people how. They break it up, kind of. And by the way, Mark, you end up in another podcast. I don’t. I don’t know how that keeps happening, but that’s that’s another story.
Yeah, well, one thing I’ve seen. People doing a lot in the word. Well, I don’t say a lot, but in the word press space now is that they’re offering a lifetime deal. But so they kind of work out how much, how much a typical customers lifetime value is and then they offer a lifetime deal. That’s just a little bit more than that. With the idea that they would have, you know, cancelled their subscription. Before, but what they do is that they offer lifetime updates and they offer maybe like three years of support or something, or a limited amount of time for the support. So it’s kind of like a hybrid lifetime deal, which I thought was quite interesting.
Yeah. And the other and the other problem too is, is it’s, it’s a whole thing around how you want to market the plug in right? I mean that’s the biggest thing and. And and I think the hybrids are a good idea. I, as I say, I I’m not a big fan of Ltd, per say even buying them because I kind of look at it and say it’s the support gonna be there in two years if I buy it it I’d rather buy something that’s sustainable from an agency perspective for me. So I look at things. Differently than a lot of people, other agencies are trying to cut dollars. So I kind of look and say are they gonna be a partner in my business? Are they gonna be around in two years and how do I? Make them a partner in my business.
Yeah, I agree. I think because the other problem with lifetime deals is, as you say, there’s a, there’s a certain type of. Customer that that buys lifetime deals and they tend to be, I would say earlier on in their journey as you get later on, you realise because you’ve had bad experiences, right. So you have an experience where. You’ll get a. Great deal on something and then it’s gone or it changes or something happens and then you have the headache of having to migrate. And migrating anything is just the worst thing that you could do. You know, if you want to change your e-mail platform or anything that you want to do like that, it’s just not a great thing to do. So you end up. You end up saying, OK, I’m gonna go for the more sustainable company rather than this lifetime deal and. You know, as you probably know the it’s almost like the less that a customer spends and it’s as true in client terms as well, at least in my experience, the less that a client spends is the more. They want from you, so it’s like.
Yes, they want they want. They want to spend the cheap price and.
The the more.
Get the Ferrari on the road, right? It’s.
Yeah, exactly. And it’s like it’s so you sort of you don’t not say you don’t want those, but you also don’t. Yeah, you wanna try to target the people who are gonna pay a fair price to, you know, invest in the development and the support of the product that understands that this is has ongoing costs and it isn’t going to sort of overuse. Your support for every little you know, a tiny question that’s like barely relevant, and they would want. A 60 minute call or something, for example.
Yeah, I I look. At that type of pricing and those type of clients and we’re talking before we went there is they’re not my client and they’re not the ones I want to work with. So I I kind of you gotta throw your pricing kind of accordingly and say, OK, what’s the kind of client I’m trying to attract and what spectrum and what price range and what thing. And then you can go.
Yeah, exactly right. Yeah.
It’s hard pricing. Pricing is the bane of all of our marketing existence as far as I’m concerned. I mean, it’s the hardest thing to nail down and they think you just gotta test and retest and retest kind of kind of deal. Just kind of moving forward, but if you’ve got a potential person who’s looking at a portal, what would be your three quick takeaways that you would give them why they should buy client product?
I think it would just be, you know if you want something that’s really client friendly that your clients are going. Be able to use and use if they want to on their own terms. If you want something that’s branded to you as well, so you know a portal would be branded to your company if you use lots of different things like Google Docs or whatever random tools that you use that are great that work for you. If you want to, kind of. Keep the links to those in one place that’s branded to you. Makes you look a bit more professional. There’s that as well. And then yeah, just basically having just a central place on your website where your clients can go to see exactly what they need. And actually one interesting thing is that you’ll find that. As even you know your clients find it useful to find everything you as the agency, owner or freelancer will often log in to your clients portal to find the thing that you’ve lost as well. So it’s kind of useful for everyone. So I think those are the three main things I’d say.
Yeah, I and you mentioned there’s a freelancer logging and I have done that where I’ve logged in and said where did I put this graphic? Where did I put this note? Where did I put this piece? And I’ve actually logged in myself and. And dealt with it that way so that that is a benefit. It helps you organizing and and frankly this would be a really good time for an agency to jump on this at the time of this record. It’s early in the year, so start your year off right, get organized, make your life easy and maybe it will free up your time not answering those quick emails. Where do I find my invoice? Where do I find my local?
Yeah, exactly. And we’re about to do the biggest update we’ve ever done. So it’s it obviously couldn’t be better.
Yeah. And what’s your time frame? For that update again or I’m sorry.
End of this month, we want it to be released to new customers and then we’re gonna drip, release it to existing customers as well.
And and do yourself a favor if you’re doing an update, make sure you back up your WordPress site before you do the update. Please and thank you and save Laura and their team a pile of issues and people like me. A pile of issues. Because too many people like to do updates and just push that update now button and the we all know in the world of WordPress will plug in conflicts, it becomes a bit of an issue sometimes so so take take the steps.
That’s a good point. I’ll make sure I reiterate that as well.
Yeah. So is there anything else you’d like to mention on the road map or?
Or with the product.
No, I think that’s basically that’s really what we’ve got going on, to be honest, it’s such a busy, it’s such a busy time at the minute and you know as you say start of the years always quite. A good time for us because people are looking for a new solution to help. Them with their you know. Projects and manage their client workload and all that kind of thing. So I always really like January, but yeah, we’re pretty, we’re pretty busy. We’ve got pretty much the whole of 24/20/24 mapped out already. So yeah.
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Or I wish you good luck with the product. If somebody wants to get a hold of you to talk about the product, to have any questions, how’s the best luck?
Yeah. So if you just. E-mail hello at client hyphen portal dot IO that’s the website as well client hyphen portal dot IO which is a quick tip. Don’t put a hyphen in a domain name because it’s really annoying to have to say the. Hyphen every time. Yeah, you can also find me on Twitter. So it’s at Laura and Liz with the Z done. And chat to me that way. So yeah.
Yeah. Thank you very much Lori, you. Have an amazing day.
Thank you. You too.