Join Lauren Bacon for an in-depth discussion in this video Q&A: Become a WordPress theme developer, part of Web Career Clinic Weekly.
- [Narrator] Hi, I'm Lauren Bacon and this is the Web Career Clinic, where I explore how to build a career you love making good stuff on the web. This week in Web Career Clinic we're answering a question from one of our members. It comes from Elroy on Twitter and his question is, how can I start selling my WordPress themes? Thanks for the question, Elroy. Since I haven't personally sold any premium WordPress themes, I decided to call on an expert to help me answer this one. So a lot of what follows comes courtesy of Carrie Dils.
She's a WordPress developer, consultant, and teacher, as well as the cohost of officehours.fm, a show about the business of WordPress. When I put this question to Carrie, the first thing she told me is that the key to success in selling premium themes is to set your developer hat to one side and focus on how you're going to tackle marketing, sales, and support. These are all business considerations that will affect the choices you make in terms of where and how to sell your theme, how to price it, and ultimately, how profitable it's going to be, because no matter how perfect and amazing your theme is, that won't matter if no one can find it, buy it, or implement it.
So, let's look at each of these considerations in turn in a little more depth, starting with sales, because your choices here will affect how you approach marketing and support. On the sales side, the key decision you need to make is whether you're going to sell through a marketplace such as ThemeForest, Creative Market, or MOJO Themes. There are other options, but we'll stop there for now. Or if you want to sell through your own website and email list. There are pros and cons to both and they're similar to what you'll find any time that you compare selling in an established marketplace versus becoming your own independent seller.
The biggest argument for selling through a marketplace is that they get huge amounts of traffic compared to independent sellers. So, a lot of theme developers find that they make way more sales through ThemeForest, for example, than they can make through their own sites. And since they have their own ecommerce infrastructure, selling through a marketplace saves you the trouble of having to set up your own. But there are trade-offs too. You may have less control over your relationship with your customers and less flexibility around things like your terms of service.
And of course, marketplaces take a cut of your price and because many of themes they sell are low cost, there may be a limit to how high you can price your theme, which can cut into your profits. Now, when you sell independently, you keep every penny, but then you're on the hook for all of the costs and time investments that go along with selling things yourself, marketing, setting up ecommerce, and handling customer support requests. But if those things don't phase you, then you may find that independent sales are a better fit for you because you'll also have much more flexibility in setting your prices as well as your terms of sale.
Now, let's take a moment to talk about maintenance and technical support. If you work with WordPress, you know that new versions are released pretty often, and your theme will need to be compatible with these new versions in order to continue being useful to the people who buy it. It will also need to be backwards compatible to some degree for people running older versions of the software, so bear in mind that you'll need to be tweaking your theme regularly in order to keep your customers. They want to know that you're going to be around for the long haul so that if they have questions six months from now, they know they can count on you to answer them.
There's also the matter of customer support. When you're selling premium themes, people expect some degree of support in exchange for the money that they're spending. You should expect to receive questions, bug reports, and so on, which you might choose to respond to through email, chat, or forms. Bottom line, you need to have a plan as to how you intend to handle support requests. In part, this is a pricing question, but it's also a question of how much time you're willing to invest in your theme on an ongoing basis.
Your work doesn't end when you upload the theme files and set a price. In some ways, that's just the beginning. Now, when I say that this is partially a pricing issue, here's why. If you choose to sell your themes for a fixed price, say $50 or $99 per license, your customers are paying a one-time price for two things bundled together, the theme and ongoing support. In other words, you're essentially making an unspoken promise to every customer that they'll get unlimited support included in that price.
When I spoke with Carrie, she told me that it's hard to turn a profit on fixed-price themes, because the support time can add to your costs so substantially. For this reason, a lot of premium theme developers use an annual subscription model for their themes. You might buy the theme for the same price, but if customers want to receive ongoing support after the first year, they have to pay a renewal fee or they can let the subscription lapse and continue to use the theme without access to support and theme updates.
This allows you to set some boundaries on the support that you provide so that you're not continually pouring more time into customers who gave you $50 a long time ago and might never give you another dollar. Okay, we've talked about sales and support, now let's talk marketing. As I mentioned, if you sell through a marketplace, one of the major upsides is that you can count on a certain amount of traffic and marketing from the site that you choose to sell through. However, a lot of the most popular themers on those sites do a fair bit of marketing on their own through social media and other avenues.
So, while you can make some sales without doing any marketing, your premium themes will always sell better if you can dedicate some energy to marketing them yourself. And of course, if you choose to sell independently, you'll have to develop your own marketing strategy. If you've already got an email list and a social media following that are relevant to the theme you've developed, those are great places to start. But if not, then count on spending a fair amount of time cultivating a community of potential buyers and putting together a sales and marketing strategy that will attract and convince them to buy.
I hope I've provided you with enough information to guide you in making the right choices for you as you make the shift to premium WordPress theme development. It can be a lucrative and rewarding path, especially if you stick with it, because then you'll be able to build on what you learned the first time around and capitalize on the brand and marketing assets you've developed. I want to thank Carrie Dils again for her expertise on this subject. You can find her at carriedils.com or subscribe to her podcast, officehours.fm.
That's it for this week's Web Career Clinic. If you have questions about your web career, I want to hear them. Drop me a line on Twitter at @laurenbacon using the hashtag #ProWebClinic. Tune in next time as I explore another topic for web professionals. See ya next week.
Tune in every Wednesday for a weekly "small dose" of advice, an explanation, or an interview with a web veteran. Lauren Bacon has mentored and coached many web professionals as they were starting out and loves sharing all that she's learned from her 15-year career as a designer, front-end developer, and agency principal.