Client Portal Pricing: The True Cost of Building Your Own Portal
- The cost of building a custom client portal is often underestimated by agencies, resulting in them spending more money than if they’d chosen an existing solution.
- Building a client portal with existing solutions makes the result inflexible, because it’s constructed with different components, such as a CMS, membership plugin, and e-commerce software.
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, I’ll discuss the costs for building client portal solutions yourself, and how they compare to the built-in features of Service Provider Pro.
Why many people underestimate client portal pricing
It can’t be that expensive—a thought that runs through the heads of many agency owners when they want to build a custom solution. Convinced they’ll just have to hire a developer on UpWork who’ll get the job done in a few weeks for a low four-figure amount, they begin their custom software adventure.
The problem: after months of work, it’s not working nearly as expected. There are bugs, features are incomplete, and even worse—the developer has severely underestimated the client portal pricing. It takes them far longer than a few weeks, and in this time, you’re not getting to use the tool.
The 10 components of a custom client portal
To better understand the issues you might run into when building a custom portal for your agency and what the pricing for that might be, let’s look at the components you’ll need for a customizable software that streamlines your operations.
1) 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.
Also read: How to Onboard Freelancers & Independent Contractors as an Agency
Then again, it’s notoriously hard to do any real customization outside 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/hour.
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 to $100 per month with sacrifices on flexibility in some cases.
2) 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 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.
3) E-commerce software for sales
Most of these types of software 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.
4) 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.
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While incredibly powerful, platforms like CartStack or Rejoiner start at $49/month for just a hundred contacts and go up from there.
5) A form builder for collecting project info
Most productized services require 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).
6) Helpdesk software for communication
Any business is going to have support requests, whether it’s helping 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.
7) 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 $129/month, and of course plugins that 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.
Related: reseller vs. affiliate programs
8) A tool to notify clients about their orders
Most clients want to know what’s going on with their orders, and ideally receive email notifications. That means you need their email addresses, a way to send notifications, and something to turn off individual notifications if they don’t want to receive them. This adds extra costs as you’ll need a service such as Mailgun to handle the outgoing emails. This sets you back at least $35/month if you don’t send more than 50,000 emails per month.
A very tricky functionality is to allow clients to loop team members in. They might need to be cc’d on certain orders, and be able to reply to orders as well.
Also read: order management process steps
9) Storage to securely share files
As a service provider, changes are high you’ll need your clients to upload all kinds of files, ideally organize them in folders, handle access permissions, and more. Making sure that the files are safely stored is in itself a huge undertaking, but you also need to pay for storage. And depending on your type of service business, it can get really expensive.
Imagine how much storage a video editing service requires that deals with hundreds of megabytes per uploaded file. The easiest solution is to rely on a secure client portal that takes care of your files for you.
Further reading: finding a client portal for file sharing
10) A process for onboarding new customers
A lead makes a purchase, you send them a form to fill out project data, then what? The uncertainty of not knowing what to expect is what can cause a lot of confusion and frustration. Ideally, the client would have a dashboard where they can see the next steps. Here, you’ll let them know that they can book a discovery call, you need more information about their business, etc. Even better if the dashboard can be customized depending on the type of client or service purchased.
Client portal pricing FAQ
What should a client portal include?
A client portal should include a secure dashboard hidden behind a login, and allow clients to manage orders, download invoices, upgrade/downgrade subscriptions, and communicate with the service provider.
How do you build a client portal?
Building a client portal from scratch requires you to hire a developer with back and front-end knowledge. They should know modern programming languages to ensure that the client portal built can be maintained for years to come.
What makes a good portal?
A good client portal is easy to understand and doesn’t require a lengthy call to understand how to use it. It should also centralize all information, from invoices to orders and managing payment methods.
Custom client portal software isn’t cheap
The costs ramp up quickly as you go from a simple password-protected agency client portal to having the customer portal functionality 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.
If you’re not sure which software to go for, check out our blog post comparing the best client portal software.