Potential changes to the free plan

Hey everyone. I’m considering making some changes to the way our Free plan works, for a variety of reasons. I’d like to share what I’m thinking here, to loop everyone in and give you a chance to share any thoughts you have on these potential plans.

As you might know, we have a couple big developments planned for the rest of this year, from Remark.as to collaborative blogging on Write.as. I’m very excited to release these new features, along with many other long-delayed improvements.

But some recurring issues have been coming up for me over the past few months. I’ve honestly been stretched pretty thin, making it hard to support everyone in a timely manner (as we’ve grown to over 300,000 users). The popularity is great of course, but as with everything, we need to keep sustainability in mind – not just in a financial sense (as we are), but in a personal sense.

Looking to the next few months, with all my ambitions for our products, I’ve realized I need a bit of space to get the important work done. So I’m considering two changes to the Free plan, to happen in different phases:

  • Phase 1: changing our posts per day limit to a limit on total posts for Free users.
    Once the change is made, this would allow 95-98% of Free users to keep using the platform without any trouble. For the top 2-5% of existing users, they’d be grandfathered in, with a soft limit and a prompt to upgrade if they hit that limit. For new users who hit the limit after this change is made, they would actually need to upgrade to continue posting.

  • Phase 2: closing Free account registration for a few months.
    I’ve been thinking this over for a while. It’d be a huge change, but would help me enormously. As always, existing Free users would keep their forever-free access, but anyone new to Write.as simply wouldn’t be able to create an account without paying (or doing a free Pro trial).
    I would plan for this to be temporary, e.g. 3-6 months, just so I can focus on our paying customers and product development. Beyond that, we’d either open it right back up, or add things like localized pricing, more affordable plans, etc.

Phase 2 in particular is pretty open-ended right now. Again, my main concern is getting some breathing room to develop the product and better support everyone. But if you would be impacted by this, e.g. because you use this as a free tool in your writing group or classroom, please let me know. There are many ways we might keep the platform available to you all, e.g. by giving out special invite links to these groups. There are also open WriteFreely communities we can point you to.

Otherwise, I’d love to hear any thoughts, questions, or concerns you all have!

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Should Phase 2 be temporary? Giving a free Pro trial seems like a good permanent change. The biggest question may be how long to make the trial: 2 weeks, a month?

Customers on free plans don’t pay the bills, so you have to ask how much you can afford to give for the hope of converting someone to a paying customer. When will you have reached a point that your paying users become part of your marketing?

You’re already giving away a free platform in WriteFreely. I don’t think you’re obligated to give too many freebies on write.as.

Also, putting more time into further developing your platform will hopefully lead to more paying customers. At some point, you will likely need to hire more help, or you will always be stretched thin. So again, can Phase 2 be a permanent change?

I understand that you don’t want to fall into the trap of chasing more dollars wherever you can find them–and I respect you for that–but I think focusing on improving your product is a better strategy, for what it’s worth.

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I guess you’re more interested in feedback from users who will be affected, which isn’t my case (I’m on a Pro plan), but I can’t resist to offer my thoughts.

Are most new paid users being converted from the free plan? Is most of the support overload coming from new users (i.e. in their 1st week of life or so…)? If the answers are no and yes, then killing the free plan is a no brainer, IMHO. In that case, I would extend the trial for paid plans to one month, but require a credit card for it, and send a friendly reminder about the trial expiring 2-3 days before the card is charged for the 1st time.

That way you focus more of your time on the users who are willing to pay for it. More technical users have the option to self host. Here you can step up by writing a fool-proof tutorial on how to install writefreely on your favourite hosting provider (and/or enabling sth like one click install on Digital Ocean for example).

If a significant % of support overload comes from new users, I’d implement Phase 2 asap, which should be easier than Phase 1: you don’t risk upsetting existing users and all you have to do is remove that option from the home/pricing page.

Again, I am very ignorant on the details of write.as as a business, but couldn’t resist :slight_smile:

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Hey Matt - firstly, I applaud your taking stock in order to make changes that will, ultimately, benefit you & the platform. Sustainability - in every sense - is so important (as a full-time creator, I know that all too well).

I have to say I second everything @jakelacaze has said - now could be a good time to shift to a different model now that you’ve reached this point. I think it’s completely reasonable to offer paid-only plans, with a free trial.

ps. Any chance you can give yourself a week(end) off to get some space and lean into a decision(s)? I find the most clarity comes when I am feeling still and rested. Take a breather, catch some air.

pps. you sound flat-out, but I’d really appreciate a response on my latest couple of emails when you get a chance. I just released my book and I think my audience/subscriber list is about to get a little bigger this month (:slight_smile:

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Hi, Matt,

I agree with the comments above.

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I think pausing or throttling the free service makes a lot of sense. When I checked in this morning, there were a number of support requests for accounts that have been silenced. That’s the kind of support grind that can suck up all your development time, which is not a good way forward.

Personally, getting comments is my top priority as a customer, so it’s good to hear that’s near the top of your list as well. I’ve been pondering whether to create a new blog for my woodworking projects, with an eventual aim of selling some things, but that’s a “next year” thing if only because I don’t want to screw up my taxes for this year. :-/

Best of luck with the growth, @matt - it sounds like a challenging time.

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Thanks for the input, everyone! It’s good to hear this kind of response for a change I’ve been pretty apprehensive to make.

I do agree that we’ll probably be fine to close Free registrations for a longer / indefinite period of time. So I think we’ll just say that we’re closing them, without any promise of re-opening in the future (and not explicitly ruling it out either).

Since I think we’ve mostly heard from paying users here, I do think there’s a chance some free users could still be blindsided. So I’m still thinking of ways we can help these people out. Here’s where I’m at:

  • Write.as will remain the “gateway” into the ecosystem, whether that’s the paid platform / tools here, or the community of WriteFreely hosters. So we’ll put together the resources to point anyone who wants a blog to the best place.
  • We’ll start requiring a credit card for the free Pro trial, and possibly extend it to 30 days
  • We’ll probably skip Phase 1 and just focus on closing Free registrations, otherwise leaving the Free plan alone
  • We might let trusted users invite people to Write.as for free, to continue supporting communities who rely on it (still thinking about how this will work)

To answer some individual questions:

Right now, I’d estimate that most Pro users are going straight to Pro, instead of starting on the Free plan. Then most Pro support comes during their early days (setting up a domain, etc.), and most Free support comes later in the life of the account.

I think the takeaway is that the product separates the two groups from the start: people looking for a quick place to publish go straight to Free and tend to stay there, and those who want the full tool go straight to Pro. So I agree it makes a lot of sense to just focus on the latter group.

I’ve actually been doing exactly this all week :slight_smile: I took a trip to the mountains and gave myself a little room to think, which has helped a lot. Won’t be rushing into this at all, but it feels like the right direction to go in.

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I started with free, but only for a few posts to see if write.as worked for me. It did, so I farted around for a while and then eventually paid up. But I also got flagged as a spammer for making one of those test posts a list of links. I think that happened while I was still free.

A side comment, something has changed in the editor which makes it drop characters more frequently than before, but I also upgraded to iOS 15 and added an extension which has its fingers in the JavaScript engine now (1Blocker). Looks like I’m going to need to experiment with that some more and see what’s what.

I feel creating a really simple, easy, frictionless place from the very start (which Write.As is already doing), is the ideal way for Write.As to be that ‘gateway’ if you like. The content/guides you’re producing are solid, so simply pointing folks to the right place sounds like a good plan to me.

30 days sounds like a really reasonable timeframe to let folks give it a try, and then commit either way - whether it’s an “i’m out / not right now” or whatever, or a “yes - I’m in!” - for those committed writers and bloggers, whether their use case is fun, business, or both (they’re not mutually exclusive :upside_down_face:)

In short, this all sounds good to me and like it’s coming together. Glad to hear you got to spend some time in the mountains, too!

Hi Matt,
I started on a pro plan end of last year right away, taking advantage of the year-end sale. And while I haven‘t done anything since, due to health reasons, I am now ready to cycle back to this. And I think with WriteFreely being available for anyone to download and install, and other hosting providers also being available, closing the free plan and offering a 14 or 30 day trial period instead is a great way to go. I myself would have gone for the pro plan even if it hadn‘t been for the sale, since the free plan is too limited for my taste. It also makes things simpler, since you then only need to distinguish between the pro and team plans.
Just my 2 Cents.

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