The True Cost of Building Your Own Client Portal

Ever tried building a client portal for your agency? If so, you know just how challenging it can be to bring all of those tools together.

For anyone else thinking about creating a client portal for a business, there’s more to it than tossing a bunch of tools together. The whole process can get rather time-consuming –– and expensive, as our customers have told us.

In this article, we’ll discuss the traditional tools you’ll need to build a client portal for an agency and how they compare to the built-in tools you’ll find with SPP.

A system to manage your content (CMS)

First, you’ll need a CMS to house your portal. The most popular CMS is WordPress, powering around 34% of the Internet.

WordPress is indeed fairly easy to set up, even if you hire a freelancer this isn’t going to cost you more than a few hundred dollars.

Then again, it’s notoriously hard to do any real customization outside of the available plugins or themes, and that’s where the real expenses start adding up, especially considering how WP developers charge anywhere from $30 to $150/hr.

Furthermore, after investing all that time and money to customize a theme or a plugin for your agency, expect things to break with updates.

And if you’re thinking “I’ll skip the updates then” – think again. Out of date software, plugins, and themes are among the most popular reasons for WP sites getting hacked.

Furthermore, if you need the reliability and scalability of a managed hosting like WP Engine or Kinsta it’ll run you another $30 – $100 per month with sacrifices on flexibility in some cases.

A membership plugin to control access

You’ll also need a membership management plugin to control how clients access pages of your portal.

Some of the popular plugins like MemberPress or WooCommerce Memberships charge anywhere from $150 to $300 per year.

If the plugin of your choice lets you sell services in a way that works for your agency – great! If not, you’ll need more plugins…

E-commerce software for sales

Most of these were made for, well, e-commerce but you can work around any limitations and set up your services as products in the system.

The cost ranges from free to a couple of hundred dollars a year, depending on themes and additional features you need.

Important features to consider include support for your payment gateway of choice, and any taxes you need to charge (like EU VAT, Canadian GST etc.), along with valid tax invoices, especially for your b2b clients.

Email tool for reducing checkout abandonment

If you do e-commerce it’s nice to be able to reduce checkout abandonment with targeted emails.

Of course, that isn’t required. But it can help you increase conversion rates.

While incredibly powerful, platforms like CartStack or Rejoiner start at $49/month for just a hundred contacts and go up from there.

A form builder for collecting project info

Most productized services require some details from the customer before your team can get started on their orders. You could, of course, ask for this info over email, but it’s a common practice to use an online form.

Your options include Typeform and Google Forms among others. Or you know, WordPress plugins. Costs start at free or around $30/month depending on the complexity of your forms.

Consider how many types of services you offer, how many different forms you’ll need, and how you’re going to show them to your buyers (before or after checkout).

Affiliate or referral software to spread the word

If you’re doing self-service sales you might as well offer some incentive for clients to send new business your way.

There are dedicated solutions, Post Affiliate Pro for example who can handle referral links for $97/month, and of course – plugins who can do some of the same things.

Consider if it’s possible to link your affiliate software to your e-commerce and membership databases because you don’t want clients to have to create new accounts in each of these tools.

Helpdesk software for communication

Any business is going to have support requests, whether it’s helping paying clients, or answering questions and inquiries pre-sale.

We’ve used HelpScout for $25/user/month in the past but it’s a crowded segment with quite a few options out there.

Consider how you’re going to be communicating with your clients about their projects, whether they need to fill out a form or email you, or if you’re creating a project in your tool of choice and inviting the client to contribute to it.

Either way, you and your team need to know which services they’ve purchased and confirm the client’s membership is active in case of subscription services.

So what’s the verdict?

The costs ramp up quickly as you go from a simple password-protected client portal to having the features I just described. Not just the tools themselves but building out integrations to sync them all together (and keeping those integrations up to date).

Think of your clients – how confusing and inconvenient it can be to have logins for multiple things and many ways of reaching you… but no one central way to check their projects, payments, invoices, support tickets or referrals.

Having a central source of truth in your agency means having all this information in one place, not spread across tools and plugins.

Imagine how unstable a house would be without the frame; this is what you get when you duct tape a bunch of plugins, scripts and custom code to create something that vaguely resembles the well-organized system you imagined at the start.

The reason for writing this post? To show you everything you get built-in, ready to use when you sign up for SPP.

Posted by Chris Willow
Founder at SPP