The popularity of WordPress and themes are still on the rise, and we can see that selling premium themes seems to be a business model that is not going away anytime soon. With its gain in popularity, many web designers are looking into creating premium themes as either a complete stream of income, or a supplement to their current freelancing income.
Whatever your reason to begin creating premium themes, this guide can help. In this post we'll cover design styles that sell well, must-have development features, some tips on selling your first themes, and even a few business models for how to get started.
Why Sell WordPress Themes?
We all know it's popular, but why? In what ways are selling WordPress themes a better choice than, let's say, specializing in Joomla! themes? In contrast, what makes it a worse choice? Below are some of the pros and cons of creating premium WordPress themes to sell, over other types of income for designers.
Image credit: Taragana
- WordPress is a flexible, powerful, and open-source CMS
- Because of WordPress's popularity (for some of the reasons above), the demand is high for themes that can easily meet the needs of a website.
- Overhead costs are low for creating themes — WordPress is free, many resources are free, and many premium frameworks or resources are low-cost.
- Premium themes are a repeat good: they can be sold repeatedly at a lower cost, or with an original license at a higher cost.
- Because there's a lot of demand, there is already a lot of competition. It can be difficult to get new themes noticed.
- There is a learning curve to creating themes. If not for the technical reasons, then for the design standards.
- Creating premium themes that will sell takes time, and then no sales are ever guaranteed.
- It takes a lot of marketing to sell a theme for what it's worth, and this may even mean giving away free themes.
Overall, the decision to start selling premium WordPress themes comes down to two things: it takes a lot of time and dedication. If one is willing to put that time and dedication into learning the art and science behind making truly quality themes, and to marketing them, then selling themes can be a very rewarding and profitable business.
From Plain to Premium
Before one can begin making premium themes to sell, they must first determine what makes a theme premium in the first place. Why are some themes just WordPress Themes and others Premium WordPress themes? Well, when it comes down to it, it's all just a matter of putting a price on them. Generally, any WordPress theme that has a price is named 'premium,' while their counterparts are somehow lesser and not-as-respected free themes.
Image credit: nineteenmedia
However, anyone can put a price on a theme, but that doesn't mean it will sell. So let's re-define what a premium theme is. The word premium means special — of high standards. So isn't that what a premium WordPress theme should be as well? A premium theme in the end should contain the following features:
- High quality, organized, and standards-compliant design.
- Widget ready and easy to use.
- Premium themes should have an options panel for easy further customization.
- Ad-free. This means no Adsense linking back to your own account, or even a "Designed by..." in the footer. If they paid for it, and it's premium, it's theirs.
While it isn't essential to sell a theme with all the features above, it sure will help with your reputation as a designer or as a business. It can also help to sell more themes, giving each theme a higher rating from its users. Remember, anyone can call a theme 'premium,' but it takes true quality themes to create a business selling them.
Let's now look into each of these features a bit closer.
High Quality Design
When a potential buyer browses for a premium theme, the design is obviously the first and main thing they're looking at. They're looking to see if it's functional, if it can be customized to their needs, and if it gives off the right impression for their business. As a designer, you have to implement that.
Creating premium themes is different than designing for a client. This time around, you won't know what the client needs. It's really a guessing game, and the best guesses come from a simplified and general approach. Take a look at some of the best-selling WordPress themes on Themeforest, and one can see that the designs are not too artsy, but instead focus on the general functionality of the niche their trying to represent. By doing so, buyers can begin to see how their own customization can be put into place.
Does this mean that every premium theme must be sleek and minimalistic? Of course not. Even though it does seem to be the best-selling option, the premium-themes community could still use some variety. The important thing to keep in mind is that the theme is still beautiful and versatile. Always keep in mind that it should be able to be used easily by a wide variety of business types.
Widgets have been around for a while in WordPress, and are still as popular as ever. Widget-ready is essential for almost any theme - premium or not. This is because almost every WordPress-run site uses them to some extent, whether to add some side content or for use with a special plugin. Chances are your customers are already using them in their old theme, and will want that content easily transferred over.
Fortunately, making a theme widget-ready is also one of the easiest things to do in terms of it's back-end development. Check out this quick tutorial for a reference: See How Easy it is to Widgetize WordPress Themes.
Some of the most popular and functional areas to include widgets are in the sidebar and footer of a theme.
Our third essential feature has only gained in popularity within the last couple of years. However, it has made a significant impact on the WordPress community. Custom option panels are great for both free and premium themes, as it provides easier and guided customization for the buyer of the theme, as well as increased marketing opportunities for the designer.
Image credit: icreatuvelabs
In all honesty, while this is one of the most desired things a WordPress theme needs, it can also be more difficult to implement. This is where the true learning curve is for the development side of WordPress themes. There are, however, still plenty of tutorials for creating custom panels:
- Create Custom WordPress Panels with WordPress 2.9
- Making a Custom Theme Panel - WordPress Options Page
- Tutorial: Creating Custom Write Panels in WordPress
- Create an Awesome WordPress Theme Options Page
- The State of WordPress "Theme Options" Pages
In the above examples one can also see some of the best things to put in options pages. Otherwise, start taking a look at some free or cheap premium themes and check out how their options pages are set up. Through this kind of research, one can see what is most useful or popular when it comes to this feature.
The Business Side
Once a designer gets started with creating premium themes, it's onto the business side of things. This includes putting themes up for sale, pricing, marketing, copyrighting, and so much more. Check out this awesome post on some related business models: WordPress Designer Business Models.
For a quick start guide to getting your themes sold, follow the steps below:
1. Create One (or a Few) Premium Themes, Plus Some Free Themes
Use your expertise to start creating some themes. For true beginners, start out with one and see how it sells. Or, create some free themes and see how popular they become. By doing so one can see where they need improvement. Even for advanced theme-makers, create some free themes now for marketing purposes later.
Every business needs stock, and this is what the stock is. Get the themes ready ahead of time so you can focus your time and energy on marketing later.
2. Set Up a Selling Space
This may be a section on your portfolio, or a website dedicated to selling themes, such as WooThemes. Whatever it is, it is essential that you have your own space for buyers to check out your brand exclusively. While many WordPress designers don't end up selling the majority of their work directly from their own website, it is still your online place of business. It will also be what you'll always want to link back to from an options page, or from other websites.
Set up a way to sell themes directly from this site. It may be as simple as a merchant PayPal button, or a complex shopping cart system customized to your website. This all depends on your business model and goals.
3. Get on ThemeForest
Get a few themes accepted and uploaded onto ThemeForest. This is where your marketing can truly begin, and also where you can begin selling themes. On top of selling a first few copies of your themes, take the ratings and advice you get from the community to build upon any existing theme you have, or keep the advice in mind for future work.
You won't make a lot on ThemeForest at first, but with the large marketplace and audience, it's a smart way to get into the community.
4. Create a Brand and Market!
Create a respectable and formal brand for your themes, and market that brand like crazy. Put the free themes you've created up on the WordPress.org site, give away the themes on your own website, and try to get featured or give away the themes on blogs. It may also help to start your own blog to gain some attention.
The market for WordPress themes and custom development is ever-growing, and selling premium themes can be a great income opportunity if done right. It can be difficult, though, to make one's own designs stand out with all the competition, but as long as a premium theme is truly premium and of high quality, the competition shouldn't be too hard to overcome.
The great thing about starting to create themes is that the business opportunities as a designer are endless. Some of the best WordPress designers started out giving away a few free themes, and now own large WordPress theme membership sites that generate thousands a month. WordPress can truly be a great means of both passive and active income, and can also create a fun and ever-inspiring career for a designer.