Everyday it seems there are more and more theme and plugin companies popping up, yet it can be difficult to know what you can expect from running this type of business. The other day I was having lunch with Brian Krogsgard and Randy Anderson and we were talking about how tough it is to know what these companies experience. We’re all writing open-source software, but often times our own experiences aren’t shared.
To help with that, I’m reviving a series on running a theme shop to hopefully help people know what they’re getting into and what to expect. No I’m not going to share everything, but I do plan on giving everyone a good look behind the curtain to see what life on the other side has been like for me.
To kick that off, let’s look at several common myths or running a WordPress theme business.
It’s Passive Income
This is one I hear all the time. Posts written to help freelancers with income growth often say something like, “write a WordPress theme when things are slow and let income come it while your client work picks back up.” It sounds great, right? You’re short on client work with time on your hands. While your waiting, create a WordPress theme and release it. Then you’ll have easy income from the sales while you work on other projects.
The only way that’s passive is if no one buys your theme (and it’s also not income if that’s the case).
Your customers will have questions. Even if you provide the best documentation out there, some of them won’t read it. Others will have a conflict with this or want to integrate that. They’ll want to know why they can’t install the theme on WordPress.com–isn’t it all the same?
Support is the big cost of running a theme/plugin business. If you don’t like answering questions, do something else. If you don’t like having to answer client’s emails, you’re going to have far more from customers than you ever did from clients.
If you just ignore the emails, you’ll quickly be found out for offering poor support and that will greatly impact your reputation and sales. But if you’re attentive, cheerful and truly thankful for your customer’s business, they’ll let everyone know how much they do appreciate what you do for them.
I spend about thee to four hours every day answering support requests. It’s not all in one block because I try to answer them quickly throughout the day when they come it. While I do have set support hours of 8 to 6 Monday to Friday, the reality is I answer them pretty much anytime, except on Sundays which is the one day I really do take off. Yes I could probably group my support requests together into a few blocks of time, but this works for me.
Making and selling themes is great, but it’s not passive income.
If You Build It, They Will Buy It
It’s often implied that if you make a theme or plugin, people will buy it. There’s a Field of Dreams mentality out there that all you need to do is build it and people will come and happily give you their money.
That’s not going to happen.
You have to promote your work. It’s the only way people will find you and buy your product. If you have a high traffic site/blog already, then you could start selling there quickly. Think about Web Design Ledger starting Theme Trust. Their design blog receives 2.2 million page views a month. Choosing to sell themes to that many visitors is a no-brainer.
But how many visitors does your site currently have a month? If you converted 1% of that traffic into a theme sale, would it be worth the trouble?
You could always go with Theme Forest but you give up quite of bit of your money for that possible exposure. I’m not saying it’s unfair, Theme Forest deserves their cut, but you have to include that into your decision. Sure you could create your own store, but that’s going to take even more time that you’re not building a theme or making something for a client.
Regardless of how you go about getting your theme in front of potential customers, it’s going to take time, effort and money on your part.
You Can Stop Client Work
Some people get into selling themes or plugins because they really don’t like working with clients. It could be they don’t like taking direction for other people. Maybe they don’t like deadlines or the types of projects they receive.
Your theme or plugin business may take off and you’ll be able to stop taking client work. Personally, I never set out to stop working with clients when I started Organized Themes. For two and a half years I did both and enjoyed it. Selling themes evened out my income and working with clients helped give me fresh ideas.
Officially I stopped taking on client work about two years ago, but I’ve still do a bit of development work for an agency in Pennsylvania that doesn’t have an in-house developer. They’re nice people and I have a chronic problem saying “no.”
Your experience could be vastly different one way or another. With the right themes released at the right time with the right exposure, you may have no choice but to drop client work immediately.
Or you may find that your theme business is in a constant struggle with your clients for time and attention. It’s also hard to predict which way it’ll go too.
So those are some of the common myths I’ve encountered surrounding the theme business. If you’ve encountered any others, share them with us in the comments.