What to Do About Premium Plugin Licenses When You Unboard a Client

The support team at WPMU DEV recently received a question from a developer wondering how to properly unboard a client from their service. For simple web development jobs, this probably isn’t too big of a deal. You hand over all content and images, provide them with full access to WordPress, train them on it, and then wish them luck.

Larger websites that include advanced features, on the other hand, aren’t so easy to hand off to a client when it comes time to unboard (or completely release) them from your services.

Here was the question sent in:

“How do I ‘unboard’ clients when they leave? Should I remove all the WPMU DEV plugins that I have under my WPMU DEV license? On one hand, I hate to make their site less secure, etc., but this is my license and I don’t want anyone else making changes and then blaming me.”

This is a valid question and perhaps not one many developers consider before beginning new projects.

You, of course, want the best for your clients, which is why you use WPMU DEV plugins to fuel performance-boosting and conversion-generating features on WordPress sites. That said, how do you actually deal with this conundrum? You invest in high-quality premium plugins for a reason, but that doesn’t entitle clients to use them in perpetuity (or for free!) if you’re stuck with the costs and they reap all the benefits, right?

So, I’d like to more closely examine the following question today: “Should you or your client be responsible for buying plugins and themes used on their site?”

Convincing Clients to Use Premium WordPress Plugins

The work you do is never easy to describe to clients and it’s often a struggle deciding what you want to try to explain to them. However, without giving them some insights into what’s involved, it’s hard to justify why you charge what you charge–even if it’s for something as seemingly cut-and-dried as premium plugins.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to have this conversation with them during the proposal and contract phase of the project, before any work begins. It can go a little something like this:

“You’re going to want to have Feature A on your website. There are a number of options to consider:

  1. Use a free plugin that will give you limited control over how that feature functions or looks.
  2. Use a premium plugin for $XX a year that will give you total control over the feature or functionality.
  3. Allow me to code that same feature or functionality into your website, which will take XX additional hours, XX extra dollars, and make it impossible for you to tweak on your own in the future.
  4. Skip the feature for now.”

When you have this discussion, it’s important to stress why your clients even need a high-quality premium plugin in the first place:

  • Full access to functionality and features
  • Easier control
  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Developer support
  • Competitive edge

If you’re planning to use a collection of plugins that provide you with a robust website-enhancing solution, you should also explain how a membership is not only cost-effective but also leads to more flexibility in what they can do with their site now and in the future.

Your goal here is ultimately to convince clients that if they want a top-performing website that they need to use premium WordPress plugins. But now you have to broach the subject of cost, which is never a fun conversation to have.

Should You or Your Client Purchase Premium Plugin Licenses?

You know how paid plugins and themes work. If you want to unlock those premium features, then you have to pay to license them. This means it’s not just a one-and-done upfront cost that you can immediately bounce over to your client’s invoice.

But how do you explain that to clients or justify the additional costs? To them, web development and design are a complete mystery. Many of them probably assume you hit a button somewhere and the design falls into place, contact forms work perfectly, and animated popups fly in without any effort. Or, they recognize that there’s a lot of work involved (which is why they’re paying you to do this), so they assume that the cost of plugins or themes is part of what you offer.

There’s more to owning a WordPress license than that though. Consider the following pros and cons to you (the developer) licensing the plugins you use on your clients’ websites:


  • Clients will be happier as you’ll be relieving them of the pressure of having to research and buy yet something else for their website.
  • Some companies have too much red tape to go through or you may simply encounter a client who’s going to drag their feet on the extra expense. This will allow you to begin work more quickly as you won’t have to wait on clients to buy the plugins.
  • Your own experience in building sites will be vastly improved as you’re working with top-tier and well-supported plugins rather than free ones that might not completely get the job done.
  • You’ll build better-looking, faster-performing, and more effective websites that you can add to your portfolio.
  • It ends up being cheaper to buy plugins with multiple or unlimited licenses, especially when you get those awesome membership bundles. However, you can still charge clients full price for the standard individual plugin and turn a profit.
  • You won’t have to worry about clients’ lapsing on updating the plugins or renewing the license, only to have that feature eventually “break” on their site or compromise its security.
  • Owning the license also gives you a reason to stay in touch with the client. It could open you open to a new upsell opportunity or avenue for generating recurring revenue that you hadn’t considered before.


  • The cost lies on your shoulders unless you remembered to factor in the cost of the plugin licenses into your client’s contract.
  • Unless explicitly explained upfront as well as at the close of the project, you may run into clients who expect you to maintain and support these plugins for free going forward.
  • Not every client relationship lasts long-term, which means you’ll eventually have to hand over the licenses. That will require some hand-holding from you (that you might not get paid for) as you help them acquire their own license and make the switch on their site.
  • Let’s say you purchase a single premium plugin for a client and you lose track of it. You forget to update it or decide not to renew the license because, well, it’s not your plugin. This could create tension with a former client where there may not have been any, and you know how quickly bad reviews can spread.
  • From the clients’ perspective, there’s the issue of support. The license holder is the only one entitled to developer support. If an issue should arise, your former clients won’t be able to seek out support on their own; you’ll have to manage those tickets for them.

As you can see, there’s good and bad to owning the plugin licenses for your clients’ WordPress sites. The ideal situation, though, is for your clients to always buy their own licenses before the close of a project. They own their own domain and hosting. They might even come to you with a premium theme they purchased. There’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t buy their own plugins too.

Just remember to be clear about this up front.

Of course, your goal in running a WordPress business is to keep clients around for the long-term. It’s a pain having to constantly find new clients when you’re trying to develop websites and run a business. So, the more you can do to work on retaining clients over the long-term, the less this question will even have to factor in as sending clients annual invoices for license renewal won’t be a big deal.

Wrapping Up

When it comes time to close a project and you find that your client hasn’t purchased their own plugin licenses yet, reiterate the terms of your agreement: you “purchased” the plugins during development in order to complete the project. They need to now get their own license. If they can secure the license within 30 days, you’ll help them make the switch. If they don’t, you’ll remove your licensed plugins from the site and they’ll have to start all over. This isn’t about relinquishing responsibility; this is about acting in everyone’s best interests.

For those of you using WPMU DEV plugins, there’s a simple way to handle this. Just send them the link to create their own account and encourage them to sign up. WPMU DEV support can then work with them to “release” their domain from your account and move it over to theirs. It’s as easy as that.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: What other steps do you typically include in your unboarding process with clients?

9 Responses

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    I always let clients choose wether to install free plugins or better plugins at a yearly cost.
    I use some of WPMU plugins in clients websites charging them nothing.
    But I am very transparent letting them know that the price they pay me for maintenance includes the use and updates for some plugins and that those will be “free” (or included inter maintenance plan) as long as they have the service with me. The updates are only guaranteed as long as they have the site managed by me, and if they wish to leave my services they will loose access to my license and updates.
    – I let them know they can buy a license of their own (I show them the site so they know what is is) and I will help them install their license also before letting the client go.
    To be honest, the clients I have with WPMU never left yet, but if it happens, they know what to count on.

  • The Exporter

    Hmm don’t agree at all!

    Of course it is difficult to get the customers and the plugins on the other hand site we are working with WordPress and if we work with WordPress and link to WordPress Libraries what actually all plugins all tools and all themes even do in WordPress it has to be GPL v.2!!!


    In other words you would even be able to copy, share, modify and do many other things incl. reselling all wordpress plugins and themes for money or free of charge.

    All those licenses with you are allowed to use it on one site are actually invalid! as GNU GPL does not allow another “license” or agreement beside it.

    This said it actually would be sufficient to buy the license for one site and using it on as many as you like.

    The people who know about the GNU GPL v.2 and that WordPress relies on it mostly have therefore very different subscriptions from what those providers in the WordPress universe have (most of them) which do nothing else than ripping off customers!!!

    You can very easily find those two kind of Providers:
    Those who offer lifetime access and support and most of all use on unlimited sites are the ones which know that their complere stuff can actually be copied, modified, resold etc. according the GNU GPL v.2

    The other group are those who let customers think their product is only for one specific domain and not for unlimited use or that they can use the theme or plugin for 1 client and with a higher price for 2-5 clients and again higher for 6-10 clients and again higher for unlimited clients as an example. You will see this very very often – This is nothing else than a ripoff! but unfortunately the usual case in the WP universe.

    Take as an example Themeforest!
    Have a look to their licenses and you will very soon realize that you can use any template of Themeforest more or less on unlimited sites – the same applies actually to all other WordPress Theme and Plugin Providers.
    This theme or plugin is comprised of two parts.

    (1) the PHP code and integrated HTML are licensed under the General Public
    License (GPL). You will find a copy of the GPL in the same directory as this
    text file.
    (2) All other parts, but not limited to the CSS code, images, and design are
    licensed according to the terms of your purchased license.
    Read more about licensing here: http://themeforest.net/licenses

    If you look furthermore to the CSS you will realize that WordPress links its CSS to WordPress – style.css is actually one of the most essential files ;-) – so that question is already solved it has to be GNU GPL v.2 – no court would say that it is NOT GNU GPL v.2

    Like it is mentioned above all PHP and HTML code is 100% GNU GPL v.2 in WordPress – has too if it gets delivered to your customer as one work and not as a separate part of it which then the customer has to put together again on his site.

    Images and even text demos are a valid part and they don’t fall under GNU GPL v.2. So you do very good to replace all of them – what you usually do anyway when setting up a project for your customers.

    “Design” – sounds nice but as the design is actually depending on PHP, HTML and CSS in most cases it has to be actually GNU GPL v.2 (seeing the code part of design) and as GNU GPL does not allow another site agreement also the images and texts actually used to have this look and feel design have to be GNU GPL v.2.

    Some providers already know that when standing trial at court they would loose their money and probably even their customers which still exist.

    ThemeForest has for sure realised that and offers now a membership similar to what WPMUDEV has but much cheaper for thousands of templates, plugins etc.

    ET knows about it too for sure as they include all their templates for unlimited sites and offer a lifetime membership which as a plus will give lifetime support access too.

    WPML is doing something similar with their plugin and provide different versions with different features. This is legit, but as soon as someone – and there are already lots of clubs doing that – offer their plugins for free or a charge or as part of a package they can do that and WPML has no way to stop them. So why wasting money in such juristical trials which only would harm them. Lifetime unlimited access is actually the best deal they can give and it is sad that such a thing is not existing at WPMUDEV (concerning the plugins and themes)

    I would say WPMUDEV is actually in the same boat like WPML or ET with one tiny difference. They throw the members overboard when they don’t renew their membership annually and immediately all customers of their members would also have no more access to updates etc unless they would have an own membership which is usually not the case as the WPMUDEV members resell that service to their customers ;-)

    The only chance to actually ensure that your customers would be able to have also a save and secure site after you have left WPMUDEV is to further develop and maintain their plugins yourself – which means building up a fork.

    The FORKING problem – let’s name it like that – gets meanwhile targeted by WPMUDEV but also by other companies who started to offer API services. Which means they give you a plugin which contains about 20 – 80% of functionality but it would only work really good with the missing part to 100% which gets stored and processed on their servers.

    This means the plugin which you have installed on your site i.e. the Dashboard, Hummingbird, Defender, Smush, Anti-Splog, Smart Crawl, Snapshot are the ones which would limit your WPMUDEV experience without those missing part from their servers (HUB etc.). As this missing part gets hosted on their own servers you won’t have access to the code – well to the css or images but it won’t help you much.

    So if i.e. you stop your WPMUDEV membership you would only need to replace those missing parts with other parts or parts by your own, which means you could create your own service, what some companies already did!

    or you would need to replace those parts with plugins which don’t rely on information from other (the plugin providers) servers. But nevertheless, you actually could take all those plugins and copy, modify, resell etc according to theGNU GPL v.2 which uses WordPress.

    For sure only people who have either own know how or enoug workforce would do so! But GNU GPL v.2 makes this legal and possible.

    “The reasons for WordPress releasing under the GPL are both practical and idealistic. WordPress was born of the very freedom mentioned earlier. The predecessor to the WordPress project, b2/cafelog, was also an open source project.”

    “Embrace the WordPress license. If distributing WordPress-derivative works (themes, plugins, WP distros), any person or business should give their users the same freedoms that WordPress itself provides. Note: this is one step above simple compliance, which requires PHP code to be GPL/compatible but allows proprietary licenses for JavaScript, CSS, and images. 100% GPL or compatible is required for promotion at WordCamps when WordPress-derivative works are involved, the same guidelines we follow on WordPress.org.”


    So I would suggest using WordPress and also ENFORCING the 4 Freedoms for your customers. Read the licenses before using it and DON’T get irritated by those saying for 1 domain 5 domains etc. Ask for having a look at the code or check out if they provide a money back guarantee – then check the code for encrypted parts or parts which link to their servers. If you find some – like we found many in WPMUDEV you actually can get in huge trouble especially in Germany if you sell that to customers and you don’t know what data gets send or received. Stay away if you are in doubt!

    If a customer finds out that the site is sending data or receiving data which hasn’t been requested, and you don’t know about it the shit can start cooking which can cause much more problems than having a GNU GPL v.2 fight about WordPress Plugins or Themes.

    I would suggest looking out for
    1. Lifetime access to updates
    2. Be willing to pay for support! if the support is worth it and qualified.
    3. Don’t worry to much about using your plugins and themes on more than one site, even the provider tries to make you believe that his plugin will only work on 1 or 5 or unlimited sites depending on how much you pay. If they don’t provide you a special service for all those sites on their own servers it will be most likely only a short call to their server which checks your license and this can be deactivated as you are allowed to modify a GNU Plugin or you could. (Programming Knowledge needed)

    WordPress is GNU GPL v.2 and should stay at this as long as WordPress exists and if companies want to charge they are free to charge for their services and also for stuff they provide from their servers – that’s it! Everyone shoudl actuallyhelp that it stays like this and fighting the WordPress ripoffs!

    Kind regards

    • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

      Sorry Andy but I do not agree with most of this.
      You pay for anual updates and support, because the work they do in updating plugins is WORK, and needs to be payed for. So you do need to pay to get anual updates and not just support. Otherwise the plugins might stop working.

      Either you pay for them to do it and keep plugins updated, or you do it yourself after you decide to stop paying. The plugins do not get updated by themselves.
      As for licenses, I agree. You can use in unlimited sites always. You just do not get the updates automatically in Admin panel, and you do not get support.

      I can give you a practical example:
      Imagine you develop a custom made Theme for a client’s site. It might even include some extra functionalities (Plugins) developed by you.
      Then, the client does not want to pay you for anual maintenance of the site.
      Are you going to keep the theme and functionalities code updated for them forever? Even if he does not pay you?
      Are you that dumb?
      That is why you need to pay for anual support. Support also means updating the code so it works fine with new WordPress updates.
      Just Because WordPress itself is forever free license, people developing for WordPress are not obliged to have the same license for what they develop themselves to make WordPress even a better tool to create websites.

      This is my way of seeing things.

  • The Incredible Code Injector

    My current approach to this is to use my own licences as much as possible and charge a client a fee for using them. I also tie this in quite closely with hosting and / or support, and as this article suggests, if they want to go elsewhere that’s fine, but they will need to purchase their own licences.

    Don’t agree that it’s suggested that I might have to do some hand holding that I won’t get paid for! No thanks. I’ve had this before where a client declines ongoing support / maintenance, but ho what’s this? Emails asking for help. Not being tight, but if you’re attempting to live off your work you need to be paid for your time. As a small business o have the same options available, pay someone for help or find out how to do it myself. Not sure why people think it’s different for website services.

  • WPMU DEV Initiate

    If the service being sold was just for website design I don’t think a client would be very happy to find that they will need to pay $50 a month (or whatever) for the life of their new site. Someone in the website designing business would probably need to use free plugins or ones that come with a lifetime license if they want to avoid bad feelings down the line and so have the chance to keep growing their business through the recommendations of their past clients.

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