How to Build a Web Hosting or Design Business with WordPress Multisite

Maybe you’ve had a talent for technology or design nearly all your life. Or maybe you just stumbled onto WordPress one day when looking to set up your own site. And then that one day led to another, and soon you were finding your way around the WordPress backend pretty well.

And then time and time again you started running into people who “wanted a website” but didn’t really have the first clue about how to build one. At some point it probably dawned you – Hey, I could make some money doing this.

But then you needed to actually get down into the weeds and figure out how you’d go about it.

This post hopes to help you with that “how to go about it” part — more specifically about how to run a business providing others with WordPress sites by using WordPress Multisite as your base.

Many others have done it. In fact, many are doing it right now. Why not you?

Web Host vs. Designer: Which is right for you?

The Structure of Your Business Model

First, there are two basic ways you might approach the services you offer. You can either be essentially a Web Host, as we’ll call it, or you can essentially be a Designer (while providing ongoing web hosting too).

We’ll use these terms “Web Host” and “Designer” loosely for convenience. In truth, to be an actual web host would be a little more involved than what we’re going to propose here (though you could still do it with WordPress with plugins like WHMCS MU Provisioning and WHMCS WP Integration). To be clear, however, those plugins are NOT necessary to do what’s outlined in this post. Also, we’ve chosen the term “Designer” here, but in reality, of course you’d be responsible for getting the whole site together, not just the design aspect of it.

Web Host

Web Hosts generally get more clients but at a lower price.

A Web Host (again, as we’re calling it here) lets anyone sign up to the Multisite installation. Maybe you’ll let them sign up for a free site and then charge for upgrades. Or maybe you’ll require payment even at the lowest level. While that might be a big marketing decision, as a technical decision, the two aren’t that different, thanks to the great plugins we’ll be talking about later.

Examples of the Web Host style would be WordPress.com and Edublogs.org. You can sign up for on those sites and then upgrade for more advanced features.

Markets for Web Hosts

There are different markets you might want to target, and so that’s a decision you’ll need to make. For example, you could go after only plumbers or roofers or lawyers. Or you could go after any type of business, of course. But specializing may help your marketing, and it would probably let you offer more complete solutions designed especially for that particular market.

The same is true if you went after bloggers instead of businesses. WordPress.com is going after the general blogger population. Edublogs.org is going after the education market.

Pros & Cons of Being a Web Host

Of course there are going to be pros and cons associated with anything you do. We’ll try to map out a few of main ones below. Considering these things may help you decide whether you’d rather go the “Web Host” route or the “Designer” route.

One other important consideration that we won’t really go into here is the type of marketing you would need to do for each. Going after many clients paying a small monthly fee is very different from going after a few clients paying a much larger initial fee.

Pros

  • No custom work required
  • Could charge extra for custom work if you liked
  • Inexpensive for clients, therefore possibly more clients (easier for your service to go viral)

Cons

  • Users must do some setting up themselves
  • Probably lots of support question (due to the D-I-Y nature of it)
  • Less money per customer – need lots

Designer (+ Host)

Designers provide custom solutions for a higher price, but usually have fewer clients.

As primarily a Designer, as we’ll call it (with ongoing hosting as well), your clients most likely will never even know that they are on a Multisite installation. The Multisite installation is for your sake much more than it is for theirs. The Multisite installation lets you easily access all your clients sites from one backend and keep them updated as well.

In addition, if using the right plugins, it allows you to easily use pre-made templates (not just themes) that you can then tweak and customize, cutting down your design time considerably. While pre-made templates can be used on the “Web Host” site too, again, that’s more for the convenience of the end user than it is for you. In this case, however, the templates are for your convenience as a designer. (We’ll talk about this in more detail later.)

Markets for Designers

Like a Web Host, the Designer primarily needs to decide if he/she will go after a niche market (only lawyers, for example) or whether the target market will be any type of business.

For Designers, however, there is typically another option that isn’t usually pursued by Web Hosts, and that’s defining your market by location. So, for example, you might sell yourself as a web designer for businesses in XYZ City. Because of the higher income earned initially on each site, you can afford to have fewer clients and give them more personalized service – such as showing up at their offices and teaching them face to face how to do something.

Pros & Cons of Being a Designer

Pros

  • More money per client
  • Once set up, work may be minimal
  • Fewer support questions because you do it for them

Cons

  • More time spent with customers initially
  • Customers may be harder to please due to higher expectations
  • Possibly harder to find clients due to the expense


Combination of the Two

Of course you could also structure your business to be combination of the two styles, letting customers do it themselves on the lower end or opting in to more custom designs and more hands-on attention on the upper end.  While that may sound like the best of both worlds, and it could be, there would be aspects about that to consider, such as how effectively you could market to such a wide range of client types.

Pros & Cons Recap

Just a quick recap of the pros and cons for each type of setup.

Differences for the Clients

In deciding which model to pursue, you should consider who your clients will be for each. While your communication with one type may be different from your communication with the other (email vs. phone, forums vs. face-to-face, etc.), you will still be dealing with clients no matter which you type you choose.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how these two systems differ for the clients. When you understand that, you’ll better understand what type of person is attracted to each system.

The Main Differences

There seem to be two main differences:

  1. A willingness to get your hands dirty
  2. Price


Web Host

Web Host clients are generally the DIY types.

With the Web Host set up, the client signs up and then must go about putting things into place – theme, menus, pages, widgets, plugins, etc. You can help them out a lot by setting up pre-made templates with many of these things already in place. (We’ll talk about this later.) But if they want something to be different from the template (as they probably will), they’ll need to do it themselves. This will most likely mean finding instruction for how to do it (best if provided by you) and then having the time and patience to follow those instructions.

In exchange for getting their hands dirty, they’re getting a high-quality site at a cheap price. They will also have more flexibility to change all those things they set up – themes, widgets, etc.

Pros for the Client

  • Cost less
  • More flexibility to change major parts of the site

Cons for the Client

  • Must do it themselves
  • No customized looks available beyond the themes’ default (i.e. they can change themes but not the looks of the themes)

Designer

Designer clients relax while you do all the work.

With the Designer setup, the client will talk to you directly about what they’re looking for. Perhaps they’ll choose a basic design from a set of choices, or maybe they’ll even point to certain site to use as a model. Or maybe you’ll even make suggestions to help them out.  It then becomes your job to build the site to their specifications, checking with them to make sure they’re happy.

In exchange for you doing the hands-on work in the beginning, they pay you for it. How much hands-on work you do after that is something you will need to work out. If you leave it open, you may have some clients requesting changes on a regular basis. And when we say “regular basis,” we mean very regular. If you attach a price to additional work, it will cut requests down, but it may leave some clients feeling somewhat handcuffed.

Pros for the Client

  • You do the work for them
  • More customization available outside of theme’s defaults

Cons for the Client

  • Cost more initially
  • Additional work costs more too

Setting Up Your System – Plugins for the Super Admin

One of the biggest pieces to the puzzle in setting up your system is to get the right plugins. As one of WPMU DEV’s specialties is Multisite plugins, we will be drawing on a lot of DEV plugins to get the system up and running. In some cases, such as with the Pro Sites plugin (which lets you easily charge for different levels), there are really no other options out there for WordPress.

In other cases, we may have a preference for our own plugins, of course, but we’ll also try to point you to plugins that aren’t ours as well in order to give you some other options.

Web Host vs Designer Plugins

Getting the right plugins are key to making your system work.

For the most part, many of the most important plugins you would use as a Super Admin would be the same whether you were running your business as a Web Host or a Designer.

The only exceptions to that are two plugins  that are critical for running a Web Host system – Pro Sites and Anti-Splog.

Pro Sites lets users choose from pre-determined packages, pay with a service like PayPal, and then get access to what they paid for immediately.  As a Designer, you will be talking to your clients one-on-one and discovering what their needs are. Therefore, the automated nature of Pro Sites isn’t needed.

Anti-Splog helps you protect your network from spam blogs. As a Designer, you won’t have your network open for just anyone to come along and set up a blog. Therefore, you aren’t going to be running into spam blogs.

Here’s a list of the main plugins you will likely need to set up your system. We will go over each in more detail below.

Pro Sites (Web Host) – DOWNLOAD HERE

If you’re running a Web Host setup, then the Pro Sites plugin is going to be THE key piece of the puzzle for you.

As mentioned above, this is the plugin that will allow you to set up different packages that users can subscribe to. For example, you can limit certain themes or plugins to certain levels. You can offer upgraded support for certain levels. Users can sign up to get more space, etc.

Take a look at the video below to get an overview of Pro Sites.

Putting Pro Sites to Work – Let’s say you’ve decided to run a Web Host system for interior decorators. Most would want to show a portfolio of their work. At one level, you could offer the default WordPress gallery. At a higher level, however, you could give them access to a premium gallery plugin that looks much nicer.

And of course it could work the same way with themes. Give them some nice themes at one level, but let them have access to even nicer themes at another level.

But Pro Sites gives you a lot more control than that. While  you can give a user free access and then let them upgrade, it isn’t required to have a free level. You can make even the lowest rung on the ladder a paid level.

Another very nice feature is that you can give access to any level you like for a limited amount of time. And of course it’s not required to have multiple levels, and so one strategy might be to only have one level packed with everything (all the best plugins, themes, etc.), but give users access to it for only three days. This way they could sign up, play around with things, get excited about building their site, but then they’d need to pay in order to actually continue.

Something else you can do with Pro Sites is to limit the number of Posts and/or Pages that can be created.

And there’s more on top of this. All the options it offers allows you to structure your offer most any way you’d like.

Anti-Splog (Web Host) – DOWNLOAD HERE

As mentioned, Anti-Splog helps you combat spam blogs. If you’re running an open network, it’s an absolute must. If you’re running a Designer type setup, then more than likely you’ll be adding new sites yourself, and you won’t have the need for an anti-splog tool.

Check out the video below to get an overview of Anti-Splog.


New Blog Templates –
DOWNLOAD HERE

New Blog Templates is one of my personal favorites. In my view, if used right, this is a plugin that can help set you apart from the crowd if you’re going in the Web Host direction, or it’s a plugin that will drastically cut down your workload if you’re going in the Designer direction.

First, a quick explanation. New Blog Templates lets you set up a blog any way your like – with Posts, Pages, widgets, the theme you want, menus, galleries, any plugin you can think of, etc. – and then it lets you turn that blog into a template.

So what does that mean in practical terms? Well, let’s look at an example. First from the Web Host point of view.

New Blog Templates for Web Hosts

Getting a menu to display correctly may be nothing for you, but it might be a chore for your clients.

Let’s say you’ve decided to target restaurants. You want to set up a site that lets restaurant owners sign up for $X-amount per month, and then they can build their own sites with the themes and plugins you offer. The problem, however, is that sometimes setting up something like a menu (either in a theme or with a plugin) can be a little overwhelming for someone not familiar with such things. Just reading the instructions gives them a headache, to say nothing of actually getting it to look the way it should.

With the New Blog Templates plugin, you can go in and set up a site for a sample restaurant and make it look just the way it should. And you could do that over and over again with a number of different “sample” restaurants. Maybe you have an Italian restaurant sample and a Chinese restaurant sample and a Sandwich Shop restaurant sample. Or maybe you only focus on sandwich shops, and you have ten different Sandwich Shop samples.

The client can then choose one of those samples and, in many cases, simply replace your sample content with their own content. They don’t have to learn, for example, that they need to create a “Menu” page and then place a special shortcode in it. They simply have to navigate to the premade menu and start substituting their items for your sample items.

Make the Simple Things Even Simpler

And the same is true for things that are even much simpler.

Even something as simple as getting a map to show can help your clients.

Many people have no clue how to do many things you take for granted, and they have no interest in learning. Even something as simple as installing a Google Map plugin and putting in a map to their place of business can be a chore. They don’t want to learn how to install plugins or even how to activate/deactivate them. They don’t want to go searching out what the right shortcode is for a particular plugin. They don’t even know what a shortcode is. All they want is a Google map on their site.

So in this case, for example, you could cut their learning curve down a ton by setting up a working example and having them simply replace the Google map URL. You set it up and then give them simple instructions (maybe even right on the page itself): “Go to Google Maps (link), put in your address, copy the URL, come back here and put it in the space where the sample URL is, and then delete these instructions and update the page.”

Set Up Themes and Make Them Templates

Many themes look great when you see the demo on the developer’s site, but then you install one on your own site, and you find there’s a lot of work to do to make it look as good as it did on the developer’s site.

You could do a lot of that work for your users by creating a sample site that just needs to have its “dummy content” replaced by the user’s content.

For example, if the theme you’re using has a featured spot on the home page for whichever category you’d like, go ahead and make up a category called Featured – Homepage, so it’s clear to the user that by putting a post in that category, it will show up on the homepage. In this way they don’t need to muck around in the settings of the theme to figure out how to get posts to go into the featured spot.

Set up a system, then let it work for you.

The more you dig into just about any theme these days, the more you’ll see little opportunities like this to make things easier for your users. And if you’re going after a certain niche, then you can set up special plugins just for them too, special Pages they may need, etc. Essentially, you’re building their site for them, but you only do it once. Then you just clone it and turn them loose with it.

This initial building will take some time, as will providing them with instructions. But keep in mind that you’re setting up a system here. Once it’s built, it will chug along more or less on its own.

*** IMPORTANT NOTES:

1. It should be noted that with this plugin you can only choose a template for NEW blogs – i.e. as the blog is being set up. (Hence the name: New Blog Templates.) Also, you cannot change templates once you’ve set the site up. In order to get a new/different template in place, you would need to create a new site on your network.

2. Of course users are not required to choose a template to start with. And even if they do, they will still have free reign to add and delete what they like as they would with any other site. As you might set up some templates to work with certain themes, however, this may cause some mismatching here and there if another theme is used. Users will need to be aware of that.

New Blog Templates for Designers

Designers can make their lives easier with New Blog Templates.

As we said the Pro Sites plugin would be THE key piece of the puzzle for Web Hosts, the New Blog Templates plugin is the THE key piece of the puzzle for Designers – assuming you’d like to drastically cut down your design time by automating large chunks of it.

One way to go about it would be to begin from scratch by working with some clients and building the exact sites that they want. This will be a lot of work, of course. But when the first few sites are done, you can turn them into templates that you can then use for future clients. Of course you won’t want all your sites to look the same, so you can make changes here and there – sometimes large and sometimes small.

The big advantage here is that you may find a nice combination of features that work well for most businesses you deal with. You can then set about including that feature set into a wide array of different themes. From that point you can make smaller tweaks to customize each site as the client likes. If you need to do any editing of the theme itself, you can use child themes.

An Example – Sites for Lawyers

Find the common features for a niche like lawyers.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re working with lawyers. After working in the industry for a while, you start to notice that a lot of the underlying structure of lawyer sites is similar. While the designs may be very different, the types of content is similar.

Let’s say they all pretty much have the following sections:

  • Areas of Practice
  • Location
  • Contact Us
  • About Us / Staff
  • Blog
  • FAQs
  • Disclaimer Page
  • Testimonials / Awards
  • Widget for badges, etc.

And so you can make up a basic starting point template for law firms. From there you can customize and design on top of that structure.

And of course you might even start to specialize for different types of lawyers. When you do, you begin to notice that on top of the basic structure above, they also have sections related to their specialty. For example, let’s say you begin catering to real estate attorneys. You notice many have the following sections, each with some general information and links pointing out to places of authority, such as government statutes.

  • Real Estate Closings
  • Real Estate Contract Negotiation
  • Title Insurance
  • Short Sales
  • Foreclosure Services and Representation
  • Loan Modifications and Restructuring
  • Distressed Property Workouts
  • Commercial Leasing

With this in mind, you can create a special Real Estate Law template.

Domain Mapping DOWNLOAD HERE

The Domain Mapping plugin is going to be another must for most people. This plugin maps the user’s site on your network (e.g. xyzplumbing.mywebhost.com) to their own domain (e.g. xyzplumbing.com).

Although it’s possible to set up a site like WordPress.com or Edublogs.org and have people be willing to pay for upgrades without having their own domain, in most cases money will be made with clients that want their own domain. This, of course, applies to both the Web Host and the Designer model.

Another domain mapping plugin option is the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin found in the WP Plugin Directory.

Ultimate Branding  DOWNLOAD HERE

Your client may or may not know that they are working on the WordPress platform. You may want to use that as a selling point. Or you may want to leave that fact out of the conversation altogether. That’s up to you and how you think it might affect your marketing efforts.

Either way, the Ultimate Branding plugin will let you easily wipe traces of WordPress’ branding from your system. Replace all WordPress logos with your own. Customize the Admin area. Use your own favicons. Write your own help content. Set up the dashboard the you like. And more.

Take a look at the video below for an overview of Ultimate Branding.

And here’s a look at some of the settings to give you a more complete idea about what you’ll be able to change with this plugin.

A quick look at all the things you can change with the Ultimate Branding plugin.

Easy Blogging DOWNLOAD HERE

The Easy Blogging plugin takes rebranding to another level. Easy Blogging changes the look in the backend completely, making it both more attractive and much much simpler.

Have a look at the following video for an overview of the Easy Blogging plugin.

The Easy Blogging plugin is also flexible. At the “highest” level, you can let users choose to turn the Easy Blogging mode on or off. Or you can make it mandatory, thereby making sure you can control the complexity of the backend. You can also use it in conjunction with the Pro Sites plugin and make it mandatory only for free users, for example.

Know what your clients need ahead of time, and do it for them.

In addition to making things simpler, Easy Blogging also makes it easier to point users toward the things that will be most important to them.

For example, let’s say you have an “Announcements” section on the homepage of one of the Blog Templates you created. In order for the user to change the message in the Announcements area, they will need to go to a page which you conveniently created for them called Announcements.

Instead of making the user dig into the Pages section and find the page for Announcements, you could put a button right on the sidebar that goes directly to the edit screen for that page.

Quick technical note: You would do this by building the page, and then copying the last part of the URL and putting that into the URL box. For example, if the page you built for Announcements in your template had an ID number of 43, then the URL you would put in the box would look like this: post.php?post=43&action=edit.

This way, no matter what the user’s domain, that menu button would always go to the edit screen for the Announcement page (providing they’ve started with the template you built). For example, the same menu item would go to these edit screens on these three example sites:

  • siteabc.com/ wp-admin/post.php?post=43&action=edit
  • sitexyz.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=43&action=edit
  • site123.com/ wp-admin/post.php?post=43&action=edit

To give you a better idea of how the Easy Blogging plugin changes the appearance of things, take a look at the edit screen under Easy Blogging.

Easy Blogging – the new post screen in the editor.

And here’s a look at the dashboard with a custom widget put in place. I’ve added a bit of HTML to show you a little of what it can do.

A look at the Easy Blogging dashboard with a custom widget.

In addition to the above, another very nice feature of Easy Blogging (especially if you have clients that aren’t technically savvy) is the Wizard. This feature lets you create a step-by-step wizard guide for your users, taking them through whichever pages/screens you assign to your home-made guide.

This is especially useful if you have set up a custom-made site – whether you’re using it for an individual client or as a template.

Users can easily switch back and forth between Wizard mode and regular mode with the click of a button.

Create guides and take your clients by the hand. Show them exactly what they need to do and where they need to go.

Video Tutorials DOWNLOAD HERE

And finally we come to the last plugin we’ll recommend as a “must have” – Video Tutorials.

Whether you’re setting up as a Web Host or a Designer, you’re likely to be dealing with a number of clients who aren’t familiar with WordPress at all. These white label video tutorials will be a lifesaver for both you and your clients. They integrate right into your backend, providing on-the-spot support that will show your users exactly what they need to do.

Take a look at the video below for an overview.

Other Plugins to Consider

The plugins mentioned above are recommended as “must haves,” but there are lots of other great plugins you’ll find at WPMU DEV to help you do exactly what you want to do. We’ll give a short rundown here of some others that may serve you well.

Support System – Set up a comprehensive support system with an FAQ and Support Ticket systems available to all your users via the WordPress Admin.

Admin Help Content – WordPress default help may overwhelm your users. Create your own. WP Help will also allow you to make up your own support documents.

Terms of Service – Places a Terms of Service box on the signup form. Especially good for Web Host setups. Multisite TOS is another option for you.

Default Theme – Allows you to easily select a new default theme for new blogs.

(Note: if you put in a default  theme and you also choose a template, the template will override the default theme)

Multisite Analytics – Offer users individual stats for their sites through Google Analytics. At the same time, get site-wide stats for yourself.

Affiliates -  Allow your users to become affiliates, send you referrals, track their clicks and sales, and get paid.

Custom Press – Especially useful if going after a certain niche and making special post types for them. Custom Post Type UI is another easy-to-use option for you. And Types is yet another.


Even More Plugins & a Technical Note

We’ll stop here with the plugins, but you should know that WPMU DEV’s Multisite plugins don’t stop here. You can find plenty more by searching the Multisite plugin directory.

Also, if you need to deal with bringing already existing WordPress sites into your Multisite Network, this post on importing to and exporting from Multisite should help.

Thoughts? … Comments? … Ideas?

As mentioned, this idea of running a business based around WordPress Multisite is not new. Many have done it. Maybe you have too. If so, we’d like to hear about your experiences.

If you’re thinking about doing this but haven’t done so yet, maybe you have questions that you’d like to put out there. Please do so in the comments.

Or maybe you just have a good idea you’d like to share. Let us hear it.

The post above is by no means a be-all and end-all. If anything, it’s only a possible beginning.

Photos: Embedment, Blue Strips, and Gears from BigStock. Photocredit: server.

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Comments (95)

  1. Good grief. What I thought would be a light-hearted blog (and it was) turned into a full on webinar …. that I will steal … er … pass on, of course. Excellent job Joe, thanks.

  2. Hi Joe and thank you for this article.

    I actually came to WordPress 1 year ago, specifically for that multisite functionality, and the mentioned WPMU plugins are exactly the ones I’m using on my multisite hosting product (beta test phase at time of writing).

    Funny you are posting that just now ;)

    All the Best
    Patricia

  3. Excellent article! I have been wrestling with hosting and setup questions over the past months, and have recently begun considering a multisite setup. I think you may have just sold me. :) Looking forward to trying it out!

    • Hi – WHMCS is not necessary to do what’s outlined here. WHMCS is for those who want to be more like a traditional web host with the ability to do things like register domains, etc.

  4. Great tutorial! I have one question regarding: “As you might set up some templates to work with certain themes, however, this may cause some mismatching here and there if another theme is used. Users will need to be aware of that.”

    Is there a way to disable the users from being able to change themes to avoid this?

    • Hi Tim – Yeah. You can control which themes they have access to. If you wanted, you could make it so the only theme they had was the one you assigned them in the template. Of course that would limit them, but it may be what you’re looking for in your particular case.

  5. Excellent post. I’ve literally spent the last few commutes pondering the possibilities of how a multi-site setup could support multiple websites. And here are the answers.

  6. AWESOME post Joe. I’ve got most of those plugins running on my multi-site at http://www.OrgSpring.org, which is setup exactly like you mention in this post and it works great. You guys make it easy to setup a mini-hosting company, and even easier to let clients get exactly what they want on the web, and do it in just a few minutes.

    Prosites makes the premium sites functionality really easy to use, but more importantly, easy for my clients to add functionality to their sites with very little hassle.

    WHMCS is not easy to use, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get used to it, it is a very powerful system – one of the best I’ve used for provisioning sites quickly. The best part is, it takes complete control of recurring billing.

    I wish this post existed before I got my setup running. It would’ve saved me hours.

      • We have WHMCS installed as a subdirectory on the site, with the WHMCS integration and provisioning plugins under the wordpress installation.

        We used the integration plugin to make the WHMCS templates play nice under WordPress. It displays the member account info, invoices, payments, etc.

        The knowledge base and ticketing system of WHMCS is weak, at best. We use desk.com, and are able to map a domain for that to the site as well. We lose the login/support control, but we only give out the address to registered users that come through the prosites process, so it’s a wash mostly.

        hands down, the best features of WHMCS are billing and invoicing system, and ability to provision the server with the new site info.

  7. Excellent post, Joe! You’ve opened up a number of possibilities for my business in my brain that I hadn’t given much thought before. And the fact that you’ve taken it beyond theory into step-by-step execution really helps me wrap my head around it.

    Thanks for the great info!

  8. OK stop it right now, you are telling everyone how to do it!

    It took me a year to work that all out!

    Although I slightly disagree with the Video Tutorials, as they are all recorded in American :)

    At http://llocally.com we position ourselves some where between web host & web designer. Its difficult to explain, so we call it website building.

    What we did was write an awesomely flexible theme for ourselves, that makes it very easy to build a site within parameters very quickly. Of course there is a bit of design, but not mock ups / wireframes / reviews etc.

    There are also quite a few ‘custom’ plugins I had to write to get everything just the way it should be. But the plugins listed are the core.

    I published my initial list of plugins on my protype here 10 months ago
    http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/topic/showcase-of-a-simple-network :)

    • LOL! Knowing how to do it and doing it are two very different things. … I wouldn’t worry so much. :)

      Thanks for your list of plugins. That helps a lot.

  9. Great article!!! But… what about when the site goes down? I can’t tell you how many times a simple site has crashed. I can’t imagine what it would be like when a multisite goes down with multiple users!! HELLO!!!

    • True, sites can go down. However, there are a number of people running successful sites built on Multisite. WP.com and Edublogs.org are but two. They have millions of users. You may say they are big companies and tech guys on hand all the time, but I know of single individuals running Multisite installs (Craig Grella, who commented above, is one).

      Also, this is only one option. There are others out there if this one doesn’t suit you.

    • All sites will only go down if there is a techinical problem with the server, or you release some bad code.

      If you release bad code, you should have a process where you can back it out in seconds.

      By default, multi-site shares on database, but guess what there is a plugin that allows you to distribute blogs across multiple databases.

      If the server goes down, thats really the same level of issue if you have multiple sites on one server, or one multi-site on one server.

      By the way, what do you do with your sites? I can’t recall having a site crash in WordPress ever, things has not worked after a bad software release but thats the worst I have had.

  10. Joe, great article, I’m currently running a web host combined with a design. I target my local market. I’m currently all over the place I use WordPress but not multi site, I use client exec for billing and domain registration. My question is how to I build a template from theme? Also would I set up multi site on my domain.

  11. Joe,

    Thanks for the great resources my plan is to go ahead and do a multi site install. Then transfer my other sites into the multi site system. Would my website become the multi site admin?

    • Yes, it would become the main site if that’s what you wanted. You would just import it into the main site area. For other sites, you’d import them into the new sites you made on the Multisite Network. That post I linked to should show you how to do it.

  12. Joe, this was a pleasure to read. I am wondering how well Multisite and Buddy Press integrate. I’m curious how to create a ‘closed’ network where members can participate in different community silo’s, and interact (messaging etc) through one centralize account in all communities. Possible?

  13. Hi Joe,

    What would you recommend for pursuing two or more niches? (For example florists and mechanics.) I was planning on using the Networks for WordPress plugin to allow me to support different niches with different templates but still have a single codebase.

    The main idea was that I could hopefully continue to expand into more niches as things progressed.

    Thoughts?

    Korak

    • Korak,

      If you’re using domain mapping, then no one except you will ever know that you’re using Multisite in the backend. So if Multisite looks like it would be a good option for you, then I don’t see why not. If you ever decided to split one site off, you could.

      Good luck with it.

      • “If you’re using domain mapping, then no one except you will ever know that you’re using Multisite in the backend.”

        This is not accurate.

        I think what was meant is closer to:

        If you’re using domain mapping, then very few of your visitors will ever know that you’re using Multisite in the backend.

        Even just running a webpagetest . org test on a website which is mapped to a site on a Multisite can reveal the link between the two sites through the resource location/transfer info… I’m sure that there’s a plethora of other ways that any interested and knowledgeable party can detect that you’re using a WordPress Multisite setup, or at least to reasonably deduce such.

        Anyways… Multisite sure is great, huh?

        So is this article. Cheers ;)

  14. Joe,

    I’ve set up multi site, and installed needed plugins for designer type of business. Several questions I have are…

    1. Are the any examples of what the front end might look like?

    2. I’m thinking on the front end for a designer there wouldn’t really need to be options to purchase packages… How do you feel about this?

    3. As far as payment processing how would this be accomplished, for me I deal with mostly local clients. However if by chance I get an online purchase what’s the best way to process payments? Would you recommend Just to to use Client Exec as it provisions the hosting accounts automatically?

    • Taylor,

      You can make your front end look like anything you want it to. It’s just a regular WP site when you get down to it (with the power of the network behind it). I would just search around for other designer businesses and see what you like. Then take ideas from the best.

      In terms of purchasing, you could use the Pro Sites plugin if you wanted to, but you could also just set things up manually with PayPal if you wanted to go the simple route.

      PayPal seems to be the easiest route, and you can easily set up recurring payments, but you could get other solutions involved, like Client Exec, if you felt that was better for you. But PayPal is super simple — whether you’re sending the client a link through email or you have a pricing table linked up to PP.

  15. Great article! What are your experiences when it comes to email? Many clients will want to use user@domain but this is not possible if im right?

    I considered Google Apps and that is my backup but I was wondering if there was another option (saving me £33 per year per client).

    Also, does SEO get impacted at all? This article has largely resolved my dilema as to whether I should use WPMS for clients – I now believe I should!

    • Hi – Thanks for the feedback.

      About the SEO, that shouldn’t matter (as long as you aren’t trying to gain SEO juice from other sites in the network, I guess I should say).

      About the email question — I asked our developers and support team here about that. Aaron (http://premium.wpmudev.org/profile/prayhumbly/public/) and Joe (http://premium.wpmudev.org/profile/aecnu/public/) answered. I’ll copy and paste what they said:

      As they are only changing their A record, their MX mail records can still point to any email service. Most registrars like godaddy will have that setup by default to point to theirs.

      (And then this …)

      This is totally dependent on how they choose to implement the mapped domain.

      Normally if the domain is mapped the end user is sending a “A” record to the IP of the MultiSite install which WordPress/Domain Mapping resolves ~or~ a CName record pointed at the sub site URL and the email stays right where it is already, if any or perhaps setup at GMail with their MX records etc.

      Optionally, one could set the name servers of the domain to the host with the MultiSite and the host then “parks” the domain which indeed creates MX records and the mail account can be served from that very host.

      So now they are hosting both the MultiSite sub site which has the domain resolving to it and the email.

      The disadvantage to this is the fact that the host will indeed need to, in most cases, manually add the email address to the server and manage said email addresses as applicable i.e. add/remove.

      ************

      Also, remember, you can get help in the Support Community when you need to deal with this issue. Good luck with it.

      • If i can chime in here on Joe’s reply…

        I thought alot about how I wanted this to work before I setup my site. Using WHMCS you can get alot of automation, and with some custom scripts you can even have customers order domains through you and auto-provision them to work with mapping – which I’ve done on my multisite.

        But, if you’re offering sites to people who might already have a TLD that they’d need to switch over, there is no automation for this. That means it will likely one of the options joe mentions…

        Option 1 – where you have the client messing with A and C records,
        Option 2 – where you just have them set custom DNS and you maintain the email.

        For me, I knew my customers were not going to be super tech savvy, which meant I needed to make it as easy as possible. I offered to go into their registrar and change the DNS for them and then I park the subdomain on my multisite, and make the appropriate changes with mapping.

        I knew there was no way they were going to mess with all those other records themselves. If they need email at that TLD I take care of that too. That way worked for me, because I turned it into a monthly service and charged for it.

        In the beginning, it was extra work and I thought many times of just making it more simple and letting people sign up for free and forget mapping altogether, but once you have a few paying customers it makes it worthwhile.

  16. Finally getting around to saying THANK YOU for an awesome post. This is definitely the “bees knees.” I have been working on my new “project” since I first read this blog post. It is no easy undertaking, but the end result will be well worth it. Thanks again!

  17. I have got my installation set up and thanks to your advice in our discussion above, am directing my clients’ emails elsewhere to a hosted inbox provided by Go Daddy.

    New question:

    Lets say client A, (whilst being logged in to wordpress) somehow manages to visit client B’s website (a mapped domain on the same WordPress MS installation).

    Is there a way to stop Client A being logged in as a User and seeing the top WP bar on Client B’s website?

    All the best,

    Ben

    • Ben – Are you sure you aren’t logged in as the Super Admin when you visit those other sites? Or do you have more than one site assigned to that same user?

      When I log into a site as one user, and then I go to a different user’s site, I am not logged in on that second site — i.e. I don’t see the WordPress bar at the top.

  18. This is about the eighth time I’ve contemplated and reread this thread.

    I do promotion, I design, I market, I watch ad performance, website statistics, I’ve made several dozen sites w/ WordPress, and it’s past time for me to ‘Go Big’. So…

    I’ve got a $420 investment to WPMU – ok, sounds decent, I would need to buy the extended license for a couple of themes which might set me back a few grand – that will hurt a bit, but it’s the ‘cost of doing business’, and I’ll need a decent amount of time – ok, no problem; Let’s do this. Wait…

    How do I know if my current hosting – WestHost – will work with this?

    How easy is this to ‘automate’? In other words, I’m a bit leery of getting a few hundred people signed up…. Will I have to log into the hosting account and make changes for each account? ….or as mentioned above, when someone wants email?

    From what I understand, someone can make a ‘demo’ account – let’s say at the subdomain:
    mydemo.inspirethemes.com
    Now, once they get all their pages, images, and site looking the way they want, then they are ready to put this site on their own url. Ok, now is that automated as well, or will I have to manually do something to ‘move’ their site? (I’m not too swift with the whole ‘moving sites’, or doing anything deeper than changing MX records)

    Lastly, “For the love of all that’s good and Holy”, who wants to submit a bid to actually get this D-O-N-E and help me with set up? (speaking “Texan” is a plus)

  19. Brad,
    If the client / blog creator uses a subdomain on your account there is no need to move anything.

    If he or she wants to use a custom top level domain that points to the blog they created on your site mapping would need to be involved, which means that person will have to point their domain to your server/IP address. Unfortunately, there is no practical way to automate that.

    The easiest way I’ve found to handle that process is in using email templates within WHMCS. When a new user creates a blog they are sent a welcome email from wordpress, but I set WHMCS to also send a welcome email that says if you’re using a custom domain the last step in the process is to change your dns. I then give them directions on how to do that, and mention that if they do not know how to do it I will do it for them if they log a support ticket.

    That has worked out ok.

    • Well… “Hola Craig” I hugely appreciate the feedback! Ok, so when you say “That has worked out ok” can I assume that means it hasn’t bogged down your time-vs-margin too much?

      Dang Craig, after checking out the site… I really, Really, REALLY appreciate the feedback even more now that I see what you’ve got going on!
      UDesign+NPO’s+WordPress = Instant Admiration!!

      Ok, so let’s run down a typical scenario real quick using “Awesome Church” as an example. They already have a site up (and just to make this a REALLY pragmatic example, let’s say that they’re using Cloversites.com) They don’t quite like it, it’s expensive, and still doesn’t really look too good, BUT…. They don’t want to take it down while they learn a ‘new’ system. They sign up, pick one of the NPO themes that I’ve bought the extended license from Themeforest. Following all the video tutorials from WPMU, and some custom tutorials made for each theme they make their new site, copy paste some of their content, follow all the pop-up help bubbles, learn how to upload / embed sermons, and things like that….

      Now, all this has been done on the hypothetical subdomain awesomechurch.inspirethems.com and now they are ready to take down the other [blatant cough - CloverSites.com] website and put up their new one that they just finished.

      A.) All the links, all the images, all of the ‘everything’ can simply be moved over to their new domain? …and it can be automated? …and still function correctly?

      B.) And if I charge some insanely low price like $25/month, does the support-vs-margin become null b/c I’ve priced myself too low? I seriously want to make this platform available for everyone, but I’m trying to iron out the costs ahead of time.

      Basically, what this comes down to is that a lot of folks are sick of cloversites, they call me, I get paid to redo their site, and another pastor or business owner sees it, and I get another call. Great right? Eh… it’s ok, but their has got to be a way to automate as much as possible, and make it affordable for both my family and the NPO as well.

  20. I’ve never used cloversites, so can’t talk to that system, but the general idea would be to create a site on your network at somesite.yournetwork.com. All the while, the existing site http://www.awesomechurch.org stays put.

    THat person would use your templates or customize his or her new site until it looked the way they wanted, including all the posts, text, content, imagery, etc. he or she currently uses or has on their existing site exported out and imported into the new site.

    When the customizing of the new site on your network is done, that person changes their dns to your ip address and as soon as dns propagates, anyone who types in awesomechurch.org comes to the new site on your network.

    You remind the person to get rid of their old site, or back it up, and then cancel their account so they’re not paying double. If they used paypal on a subscription, remind them to cancel the subscription in paypal too, since not every processor will do that automatically.

    As far as time and energy, I can’t put a value on it for you, but as you do a few of them it gets much easier to repeat the process. As you do a bunch, you’ll probably start creating tutorial videos that help people with their own dns.

    In my experience, the people who care about their sites and are willing to pay $25-150 a month to make them look nice aren’t going to be dissuaded by a little domain work.

  21. Hello everyone!

    Thanks for a great article Joe.

    My biggest questions come from determining the costs involved with setting up the “hosting” type of business.

    I believe I read somewhere that edublogs pays around $10k/month for hosting their network.

    When I see hosting options (like edublogs) that give away free sites/blogs I wonder how much each site ultimately costs them.

    I alos wonder about the best hosting service to use when you start your “hosting” business.

    Someone above mentioned using a Hostgator reseller account.

    Is this the best option when you start?

    If so how you determine your costs for hosting, especially if/when the business scales up.

    Thanks in advance for any input!

  22. Drew, I started with hostgator reseller. That will run you about $ 25 a month to start. If you use enom for domain names they require a deposit of something like $100 to an account from which domain name purchases are charged. Dedicated Ip address for running ssl costs $2 per month per site that needs it and the ssl costs $50 per year per site that needs it. White labeling whmcs runs $5 per month.

    The problem is that at some point your database will get big enough that hoatgator reseller accounts can’t really handle the computing power you’re going to need for things like backups, and they limit your bandwidth to the point where it is no longer cost efficient. The first site on my network that went over 50 k hits a month started giving my server issues.

    Ive used every backup program out there and there are issues with all of them, but most do a decent job. The only one I would stay away from is xmarkpro. Littered with bugs, support is non existent. Its a flaming terd of a program.

    From there youx can move up to a vps or dedicated server, which is what I use now and its fully managed, and I love it. You have so much more granular control of your server. You can expect to pay at least $50 per month for a good vps, and dedicated server will be twice that.

    In general, the idea is to work out your incremental site cost, then add in a margin f profit you can live with and make sure your site cost to your client is bigger than that number.

    Unfortunately, its hard to pin down that number until you get rolling and see what your audience is doing.

    Good luck.

  23. Ok, earlier I mentioned that I had read this article about 8 times… The number of times I’ve read this has since WAY surpassed 8!!
    So…
    Where do I go for ‘pre-sale’ questions? I don’t mind dropping some money to outright buy a full on membership to WPMU, but…

    Is anyone else using Westhost? For testing purposes, I installed multisite on http://bradgriffin.me Ok, so far so good. Then I used the domain mapping plugin (not the one from WPMU, the ‘other one’ mentioned in the article that is on WordPress.org) Now, I’ve got a few test subdomains up and running http://smart.bradgriffin.me Looks good so far… WAIT:

    In order for me to have that subdomain, I had to
    1.) Log into Westhost’s cPanel and manually create / add the subdomain “smart” to my original url. Additionally, I had to manually point the folder to /public_html/bradgriffin.me So, am I to understand that the paid plugin from WPMU does this automatically? It’s kinda hard for me to really understand how the plugin will log into my hosting account and “automate” those steps that – from what I can tell – have to be done manually.
    …. Please help me understand this. Or is there another hosting that does this automatically?

    2.) Quoted from Craig “When the customizing of the new site on your network is done, that person changes their dns to your ip address and as soon as dns propagates, anyone who types in awesomechurch.org comes to the new site on your network.” Ok, so (forgive me here, but I’m more into landing pages, Google Analytics, and marketing) when someone goes to share a url – let’s say http://myawesomechurch.org/my-cool-community-event – will the url display correctly or will it display the subdomain http://awesomechurch.echosites.com/my-cool-community-event ?

    Ugh… Anyone want to give me a bid on doing this for me? I’m a bit worried that I’m about to make an investment on something that either a.) I can’t figure out; or b.) doesn’t work correctly for the ‘end-user’; or c.) requires much more time per account than I can handle.

    If done correctly, I know that within a few emails, I’d get a few dozen folks on board. Now if I ramp up the ads, SEO, and promotions, let’s say I get around 100 folks within a month or two.

    How much “automation” will these plugins actually do? And (while I really do love the comments section) who can I ask to get some solid answers about these plugins and what I need to do from the word ‘Go’ to make all this work without any major issues?

    Thanks for ready what has got to be my longest comment in my life :-) !!

  24. Once you map that domain, it will link up perfectly to the pretty url with the custom TLD, not your subdomain. so yes, it will do what you’re asking.

    If you use WHMCS, it does, in fact, run scripts that log into your server and create domains and accounts on your server under those domains, then, combined with the other plugins, it will provision those domains to work with your WP mutlisite.

    The only area where you will need to do any manual work is for people who have existing domains that want to either transfer a domain to you as a host, or who want to use that existing TLD under your multisite banner. That will involve that person (or you doing it for them) logging into their registrar and changing DNS.

  25. Brad,

    You can go here to access the support community: http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/

    1. Your question about subdomain — the domain-mapping plugin from WPMU DEV works a little differently that the other domain-mapping plugin. Once you get it set up, you will enter your IP address (remember it MUST be a dedicated IP) in the admin settings. That address will then show up for your users. It’s then your user’s responsibility to put that into their A Record. (This is where some users may get lost, and each registrar has a different menu system, of course. So you’ll just want to be prepared for that. Do it yourself a number of time, and they try to give users instructions. (Again, you can’t give them all exact instructions because many will have different registrars. But tell them to search for their A Records settings.) … Once they put your IP into their A Records, it will do everything automatically. (Again, this is the WPMU DEV plugin we’re talking about, not the one on wordpress.org.)

    2. About URLs. As long as you have everything set up, their URL will look like their URL no matter where they are. In fact, when they log in to do admin stuff, even their admin stuff will be on their URL (theirsite.com/wp-admin). If everything is set up, no one will know that their site is actually a subsite of your main site.

    How much automation it does depends on exactly what you’re looking for. If you’ve read the post — and you seemed to have :) — I tried to give an idea about what it will actually do. As I mentioned, if you set it up with pre-made templates, it can automate A LOT. Essentially, it can automatically create an entire site for somebody. (It just clones what you’ve done.) Most people will want to put their own touches on it, of course. And when they start doing that, they will have a lot of questions.

    But that’s a different story really. You can’t know exactly what they’ll want. You can, however, set up a system that will allow people to join, pay, and get a site up and running in a matter of minutes “while you sleep,” as they say. Expect a number of questions after that, however.

    If you want to give this a go, you can join WPMU DEV for a month and see how it all goes. The support team is excellent, and they take a lot of pride in helping people get their issues solved. I’m not going to lie to you, if you’re aren’t super familiar with WP, you probably have some work ahead of you, but that work will also make you more familiar with WP. And as I mentioned, you’re probably going to have questions from your users, so the more you know, the better.

    Good luck with it. Let us know how it goes.

  26. Ok folks. I did it! Check out my site: http://inspirethemes.com
    It points to… Nothing! :-(
    But it only took me 4 bottles of tylenol to set up! :-)
    Ok, so I’m about to take the $210 plunge. But first….

    Do I need to go ahead and set up at least one instance of WP MultiSite to get started, or should I leave this [insert Naval terminology] thing alone?

    … and if I do, where the fooey do I set it up at? public_html folder? www folder?

  27. Ok, I’m not even remotely sure I set up WHMCS correctly. But I bought the license from a reseller who does hosting so WHMCS is “installed” but…. There’s a lot of configurations that I’m pretty sure are not even close to set up right.

    I understand there are forums over on the paid portion, but from what I’ve read, each one is kinda specific to that plugin or theme. Let’s back up a few steps though. I still don’t think WHMCS is set up correctly.

    I can make WordPress dance a jig, make me toast, capture leads, bust out multisite, and I even made a WordPress site that picks up my 3 year olds crayolas and french fries out of the Suburban.

    I guess I’m looking for a forum, getting started guide, or something else that helps me understand in plain english (preferably TEXAN) what needs to be done between the initial WHMCS installation and this article.

    Any thoughts would be great! Thanks -Brad

    • Brad, WHMCS is notoriously tough to work with. You can submit support requests via email. If you can get them on the phone, I’d be surprised. The best documentation you’ll find is in their support/doc forums, but if you’re going to address auto setup and linking with your host/server, it might help to have a developer work with you on that.

      Second to that, WPMUDevs docs on WHMCS integration and Domain Mapping are very good. The support forum questions on Dev also dive into specific snags that a few clients hit when doing this implementation. Follow the instruction there and it will bring you home.

      Craig

    • Brad – I would agree with Craig. Moving onto WPMU DEV docs and support would be your best option at this point. And we happen to have a number of citizens from the Republic of Texas on our staff for some odd reason, including our lead developer. :)

  28. I’ve been reading some of the comments and I not sure if it’s because I’m too green to know this is complicated or what. I started really using WordPress in February after giving up few attempts at blogging with “.com” over the past couple of years. I found WPMU Dev while looking for a membership plugin in February and I never left.

    So, when I saw this post in my email I got uber excited because I wanted everybody to love WP like I do now. I followed along as written and had my multisite/pro site setup in a matter of days (as green as I am). Any “issues” I had after that would be expected with any WP install.

    I signed up for a reseller account but dealing with that was complex, mostly because of the service provider. I didn’t spend anymore than $30, if that, on this whole project. When I am ready for WHMCS and have the revenue to justify it, I will hire someone to help. For now, I am focusing on getting users to sign up on my awesome new website.

    My advice to anyone who was fascinated by this post…Keep calm and follow the instructions exactly. In time, it will pay for anything else you think you need. :-)

  29. Joe, Craig, and everyone else deserves my utmost thanks! That little detail of where to put the initial WP MultiSite install might seem obvious to the professionals, but now, I’m only one or two bottles of asprin away from getting this up and running!

    Now that WHMCS is up and running, initial install of WP MultiSite points to http://inspirethemes.com, it’s time to head over to the Big Boys forum and get this business setup! (…and get the wife off my -eh nevermind!)

    MUCH THANKS AGAIN!!!

  30. Craig, Joe, anyone….

    How, in the name of all that’s good and Holy, am I supposed to figure out all these settings and what each setting needs to be in order for all these to work correctly cooperate with each other?

    The support forums are… well, first off, it seems like they are almost all WAY beyond the initial setup, and a bit too cumbersome to filter so that I can find a simple and straightforward answer to a simple and straightforward question.

    Feel free to chime in on my fun over at http://wpmu.bradgriffin.me

    I swear, the second I get all this set up, I’m going to submit a simple ‘if/then’ user manual like I get everytime I download something over at that other place.

    This is about as crazy as trying to baptize a cat!

  31. Question regarding Hosting? You have unlimited space and bandwidth on a business shared and limited space and bandwidth on a reseller which one should you be using?

    • Unlimited bandwidth on shared hosting isn’t actually unlimited, it is un-metered. There is a limit to the bandwidth coming in and out off server, both at burst & average rates and this bandwidth is shared across hundreds of site per user.

      Shared hosting is OK to get up and tested, but as soon as your business model permits you really need to get on your own (VPS) server or you will never be happy with end user site performance.

  32. I started a with a shared hosting account, which worked fine. But after you get 10 or so sites it starts getting harder to backup without being able to raise your memory and execution times. Shred hosting usually doesn’t allow that.

    Searching a large database can get server intensive too.

    You can move up to a vps or dedicated server for better performance.

  33. This sounds flipping awesome… I’m somewhat of a novice to WP Dev but not afraid to monkey with code, my question is how long does this development take with say 5 templates in the web host example?

    Many thanks for the great article!

    • Dean – It all depends on what you put in your templates. Making a template from scratch is exactly the same at making a site from scratch. Then you just push a button, and it’s turned into a template.

  34. Hello everyone.

    I am wondering if you can offer some clarification.

    Using the web hosting model where would you get themes to offer your users?

    I know we have some here at WPMU (single themes and the farms 133 pack) but what are some other options?

    Can you get a developers license for some of the other popular themes (Woo, Elegant, Etc) and offer those to your users?

    Any help or other ideas are appreciated!

    • You have hit an important point. Not all themes are licensed for unlimited site usage.

      You need to check the licenses of the themes you want to use carefully. You will find that some themes are published unlimited (like all the free wordpress themes & the farms pack) , others have ‘developer’ options.

      You can of course write your own themes (or commission them to be written) too, that way you own the license so you know you are safe.

  35. Is there any way to tweak, configure, or modify one of these plugins so that email creation (and / or deletion) can be automated for the clients?

    In other words, between all the functions and moving parts of WHMCS, these plugins, and all that they do… Let’s say the client wants to add an email for a new person, or delete an email for someone who’s no longer there; can’t this be automated?

  36. Great article! I have a quick question. In the note below in the new blogs section you indicate that the template cant be changed after the fact.

    To clarify does this mean a user of a new site would not be able to swap out their theme (regular theme or other created template) using the normal wordpress backend?

    *** IMPORTANT NOTES:
    1. It should be noted that with this plugin you can only choose a template for NEW blogs – i.e. as the blog is being set up. (Hence the name: New Blog Templates.) Also, you cannot change templates once you’ve set the site up. In order to get a new/different template in place, you would need to create a new site on your network.

    Mark

    • Mark – You can change the theme at any time, but not the template. So that’s only really an issue if you have different content in different templates. Or it might be an issue if some content goes well with one theme that’s you’ve set up as part of a template, and then you switch to a different theme and that original content then looks a little bit off.

      Of course it might not be an issue at all.

  37. Even with twenty thirteen theme deactivated on network, always when someone subscribe on free trial it is being activated, this is normal? have a way to fix this without the new blog template plugin? tks!

    • There may be some other control that you need to turn off. If not, I’m not sure what the issue is. Also, if you update WordPress itself, it might somehow make it available again.

      If none of those things above applies, then maybe ask in the WPMU DEV support community. There are people there with lots of Multisite experience. They may have come across your problem before.

    • The default theme is picked up automatically, whether network activated or not, and WordPress sets this to twentythirteen in the current version.

      If you want a different theme as defualt simply put a line in your wp-config.php

      `define(‘WP_DEFAULT_THEME’, ‘mydefaulttheme’);`

      where of course mydefaultthem is a proper theme directory name

  38. For those who have done this, what are you using for DNS settings?

    If you start with one webhost and move up to a server, you’re going to have to change your DNS/IP Address settings. How are your customers effected by these changes?
    Is there a way to prevent this so you can have 1 set of IP addresses to point to and keep whatever host you’re with?

    Joe, in one of the above comments you mentioned it requires a dedicated IP address. From my experience, the IP address is issued by the hosting company. Can we buy an IP address somewhere that’s always pointed where we want? Like an EasyDNS or Cloudflare type option?

  39. I stumbled upon this article while looking for a way to manage the dozen or so clients I have set-up hosting & website design & management for.
    I have a WHM reseller account, and create new cPanel accounts for each new site. I like the power of cPanel for backing-up, because I can back-up the entire site with one click, including databases, email accounts and forwarders.

    The prospect of multisite scares me, though I am not an expert at all on the subject. I just have an intuition that keeping the accounts separate with their own FTP accounts gives me slightly more security. If one site happens to go down, it won’t affect the others. I don’t know if this is correct, it’s just a hunch as I learn more about web dev.

    It could be I have unfounded fears and could benefit from more time-saving practices, I would like to learn more.

    • Hi – I guess there’s a possibility that there might be slightly more security, but it would depend on how they were able to get into the site in the first place. If they can get into one individual site, they may be able to get into all of them. But by the same token, if they get into one network site, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can get into the other sites on the network. Again, it all depends on how they’re able to get in.

      Also, if you have a good backup system in place, that could alleviate some of your worries. If you get hacked, you can patch things up and rolls back. Another thing to look into is a security monitoring/fixing service like Sucuri. I’m not sure where they stand on this now, but I have personally asked them in the past if a Multisite install counted as “one” site in the plans they offered, and they said it did.

  40. I’m about to embark on this very topic and make it my business model as well. I’ve built about 300 WordPress sites since 2010 and had to dive into hosting and the “techy” side of it all so I’m comfortable doing this. My question is what is the best way to offer both the Multisite/WordPress feauture using ProSites and even a mix of WHMC with the other scenario where a customer wants a site that isn’t a WordPress site and maybe something like Drupal with cpanel access. Is it possible to offer everything this post talks about but also combine other services like Fantastico which does cpanel automation? Thanks for this post by the way. Amazing and full of great advice. It was the final reason i just bought a membership. That and Craig’s feedback above also. Thanks Craig.

    • Sorry had to double post this to get email notices since I forgot to check the boxes.

      I’m about to embark on this very topic and make it my business model as well. I’ve built about 300 WordPress sites since 2010 and had to dive into hosting and the “techy” side of it all so I’m comfortable doing this. My question is what is the best way to offer both the Multisite/WordPress feauture using ProSites and even a mix of WHMC with the other scenario where a customer wants a site that isn’t a WordPress site and maybe something like Drupal with cpanel access. Is it possible to offer everything this post talks about but also combine other services like Fantastico which does cpanel automation? Thanks for this post by the way. Amazing and full of great advice. It was the final reason i just bought a membership. That and Craig’s feedback above also. Thanks Craig.

    • Thanks. I’m not a Drupal user so I can’t really comment there, but I can say that whmcs is powerful, even if it’s ux is a little outdated. I obtuse recommend partnering up with a smart developer who can write some server scripts. If you can do that, whmcs can really be harnessed to do just about anything you need in relation to domain creation item creations, etc.

  41. Hey there,
    great post Joe! Helped me a lot. Thanks.

    I have two questions concerning automated emails and theme frameworks.

    1.) Automated eMail provisioning:
    I am using WHMCS MU Provisioning and would like to give users the ability to manage their own email accounts.
    My current domain registrar (hexonet) doesn´t support email inboxes. Any ideas of how I could let the user automatically set up their own email? My Webhost is KnownHost and I am using cPanel. Would I need to create a cPanel account for each new user and then manage eMails myself? Maybe there is a mail service that does exactly what I need? (Something like google apps for agencies)

    2.) Which theme club/frameworks are you all using regarding usability for the end users? I am fairly good in WP, but not all my clients will be. Can anyone recommend a premium theme club that also offers good usability for the end user in terms of customizing their sites?

    Regards,
    Andy

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