If you had to start from scratch again how would you build a successful WordPress theme business?

(Elliott Davidson) #1

I’ve been doing my homework and reading as many threads and articles I can about creating a WordPress theme business.

Since a lot of this audience have already been through this and encountered lots of hurdles along the way I wondered if you’d mind sharing a few any words of wisdom you’ve picked up along the way?

If you were doing it over again and creating a new WordPress theme business would you take a different strategy to get to the current results you are having? Or would you stick with the strategy you used? If so would you mind sharing a few details of what you did?

I’m trying to decide whether to create my own theme business or not, I can develop WordPress themes that not the issue more wondering is it worth my time or not.

(Leland Fiegel) #2

Interesting question! Resonates especially with me since that’s basically what I’m doing with my new theme business, after running another theme site for 6 years.

Theme Focus

The way I see it, you can go two routes:

  • Focus on one flagship multi-purpose theme. You’ll notice almost every major theme company does this now. StudioPress and Genesis, Elegant Themes and Divi, The Theme Foundry and Make, WP Explorer and Total, Theme Fusion and Avada, Theme.co and X Theme, etc. Most have drag-and-drop builders baked in, but it’s not necessary. Genesis has done very well without one, for example.

  • Focus on multiple niche, single-purpose themes.

I’m going the “multiple, single-purpose themes” route myself. It’s a little too early on for me to say it’s “successful” yet. Sometimes I wonder if it would be more fruitful to focus on one flagship theme instead, but for now, I’m staying the course.


You can do forums or support tickets / email. Most recommend the latter.


One lesson I’ve learned pretty early on is your theme business will be dead on arrival without distribution, and distributing through your own website alone won’t be sufficient without some super creative marketing / advertising.

This means you’ll probably need to rely on marketplaces.

ThemeForest is the big kahuna, but they tend to favor flashy multi-purpose themes. If this is at odds with your “theme focus” this could be a problem. Also, their fees are rough to non-exclusive authors, taking as much as a 70% cut. You can think of it like a customer acquisition cost though, considering their wide reach.

While WordPress.com’s premium theme submission form has been closed down for a while now, according to this interview, they said “we do invite new shops to WordPress.com when we find themes we love.” They take a 50% cut across the board.

Creative Market is author-friendly. It’s non-exclusive, takes only a 30% cut across the board. The problem is they just don’t sell themes that often.

Through your own website, you can try driving traffic with paid ads and affiliates. I’ve experimented with Facebook Ads without much luck. I haven’t really made a push for affiliates yet either. I’d imagine most top theme affiliates would rather not promote brand new shops without some level of reputation behind them.

Wish I could offer some better insights, but I’m still figuring out a lot of this stuff myself too. Best of luck. :slight_smile:

(Ben) #3

It’s hard to stand out if you go for traditional blog/ magazine/ business themes so if I were starting now I would pick an underserved niche and target them.

I would:

  1. Find a niche that is really small, with an audience that is willing to spend money.
  2. Make a free plugin that anyone can install that solves a problem people in this niche are having. It should work with any theme.
  3. Make a theme that has the perfect plugin integration and does all sort of things that other themes wouldn’t (can’t) do out of the box.

(Elliott Davidson) #4

I find it all really interesting the options you can choose to take to create a theme company.

Thanks @leland & @BinaryMoon for your answers, this information does help.


This is something I have been thinking quite hard about as I’m undecided if I should do the conventional thing of creating multiple single purpose themes for different niches or looking to create just one flagship theme.

I feel I could stand out and be different with a flagship theme like Michael Hyatt has done or do I go down the route of creating what I’d call a standard WordPress theme company with as you said multiple niche themes.


One question I have and I’ve seen conflicting information on this is having a blog attached to your theme company worthwhile? Most of the smaller theme business said that it didn’t really account for any sales so they didn’t feel the need to do the blogging. I know blogging is more of a long-term game, what are your thoughts on this? As I feel this is the only real way to get decent levels of traffic to your site.

(Ben) #5

I removed the blog from my site. I found having a blog caused more stress than traffic, and having a blog that’s not updated looks bad.

(Leland Fiegel) #6

So far, not really. Not saying a nice blog can’t be a valuable asset, but I’d prioritize product development and documentation above it. Like you said, it’s a long-term game…so I do try to keep it regularly updated regardless.

But like Ben said, it can be stressful to juggle keeping a blog up-to-date while managing the rest of your business. I have to admit, I haven’t been doing the best job keeping my blog up-to-date lately.

I don’t think I’d go so far to remove it at this point, but going back to the original topic: if I could start from scratch, I might use a Twitter feed to show that I’m “active” instead of blogging regularly, so I could devote more time to product-related activities.

(Zackary Allnutt) #7

Honestly, probably not do it! It’s a hell of a lot more difficult then I had imaged. The most difficult aspect I’ve found is expectations. My experience is selling on Themeforest so those not selling on there will have different experience than me.

I caveat everything I’m about to say in that many of my customers are lovely respectful people. But, there is a general problem with customer expectations and the marketplace in general.

Your part of a global market so you’re competing with those who’s cost of living is low so they can afford a lower ROR.

You’re also going up against those who have spent years developing their framework and have teams of people developing it and teams of people offing support.

Customers expectations have been shaped by these things so support becomes much more costly then you may think. Customers will come to you expecting free customization, help with things that have nothing to do with your theme, and to be hand held developing a website when they have 0 experience using WordPress.

But the problem is other authors are offering these things so if you don’t - you don’t look good, if you do, you’ll find all your profits are being eaten by support time.

The thing is with expectations is that if what you give is under there expectations they will be unhappy, they will rate you badly, ask for refunds and generally be miffed. The problem is the expectations have been set high by others trying to compete in a over saturated market.

Generally customers want all purpose themes, those are the ones that sell. But, because of how other themes have been packed to breaking point with features made over years, made by teams and make by those with a lower wage ( so can put more time in ) it’s pretty difficult to meet the expectations that they will want from a all purpose theme. And the risk is that you won’t be able to sell it enough times to get even close to the time you put into it.

On top of that, Themeforest do not listen to their authors they make things much harder then it should be. Like the fact they introduced 6 month support and a renewal. Problem is, that doesn’t work. Because this support is optional and is not a subscription, customers will only renewal when they have a “problem”. So what happens is your being paid peanuts work.

They also allow customers to rate even after the support has expired so you end up with customers using the rating system as a way of blackmailing for support for free. Or they rate you one star because, why should they pay for support? The expectation has been set that themes should be $49 dollars and come with unlimited support forever more no matter how many sites you use it on or wether it’s 2 years later and you’re doing a re-design.

You wouldn’t install Photoshop and expect adobe to teach you how to use it, how to design and to add features just for you. But in the theme world that’s a common expectation.

I’m considering releasing themes myself but many people have tried this and ended up on Themeforest in end because that’s the place people go when they want a theme. It’s disappointing as I don’t want all my efforts to go to waste but I’m also not keen to throw good money after bad.

(Nate Wright) #8

Some good advice here. I’ll add a few more strategies on top of those already offered.

  1. Don’t limit yourself to themes. Pick a niche, learn the problems they face, then provide an integrated solution of functionality and design that solves those problems. Then keep re-investing in those problems as you build out your product offering.

  2. Look around for popular plugins that could benefit from well-integrated themes. If you look past the obvious candidates that every TF theme supports now (WooCommerce, BuddyPress, Events Calendar), you’ll find lots of popular plugins with a lot of front-end output that have ready audiences you might be able to tap into. Off the top of my head: EDD, Give, Membership plugins, Event Organiser, LMS plugins, etc.

At the risk of contradicting @leland and @BinaryMoon, I would actually be very nervous starting a theme-only business that served a bunch of different niches (ie - one theme for this niche, another theme for that niche, etc). This is very speculative, but my sense is that the marketplace is going to further consolidate around platforms that can serve specific use-cases. If that happens, I think theme-only shops that don’t have good relationships with a platform are going to get squeezed out.

(Leland Fiegel) #9

It’s fine, and definitely a valid concern. In any case, a business should be a solution provider. With Theme of the Crop, for example, solutions are provided to restaurant owners seeking to build an online presence.

With a “theme-only business,” the overarching solution and target market isn’t always clear. Who are you providing themes for? An end user in whatever niche you decided to make a theme for? An agency, who will be the intermediary for you and those end users?

In most cases, the answer is “both” …but I sometimes wonder if my energy would be better focused on a more specifically defined problem rather than kinda throwing themes at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Just thinking out loud here, not recommending one path over the other. :slight_smile:

(Elliott Davidson) #10

@leland, @BinaryMoon, @NateWr & @ZorbixThemes would you mind if I use your comments on this thread as part of a blog post I’m creating called “Guide to creating a WordPress theme business”? I think it would provide great insight for other people to read these comments made above?

(Leland Fiegel) #11

@ElliottDavidson Okay to use my comments. Thanks for asking!

(Ben) #12

No problem - happy for you to do that. Post the article in here once done so we can have a read :slight_smile:

(Zackary Allnutt) #13

If you do go ahead with starting a theme busines mt advise would be to not use themeforest. You end up building hundreds of links to themeforest instead of your own site. You would also never be able to sell your business. You also dont have control over your oen business decisons. A decision they make could kill your business that you’ve worked hard to build.

Try to keep the number of hours down per theme. Dont get too adventurous. I built loads of neat features but this makes it much harder to nake back your investment of time. Also the more features the harder support will be.

(Nate Wright) #14

@ElliottDavidson Sure go ahead!

(Jesse) #15

IMO the world of themes is much like the “page builder” niche currently, or perhaps Shopify. In other words, its targeting the inner-ego of newbies who are SO EXCITED to build their business and want to feel in control and nerdy and cozy and look-what-I-can-do-at-Starbucks mentality.

They say more than 90% of people who try to make an online business fail rapidly, and that is exactly what happens with most of these DIY products (same crowd).

So, do you want to make quick cash, or add value to the world and earn respect? If it’s all about money than the multi-purpose themes and flashy marketing is pretty darn effective.

I’ve never had a true theme business but I did launch a free “tube” theme years ago. It got so popular, especially among adult sites, that our homepage took a huge SEO hit from all the backlinks.

From that free theme, I sold tons and tons of an “add-on” plugin that scraped videos… zero marketing, it was all from a few discussion forum links and the footer links embedded in the theme (the irony here is that indeed it targeted a niche, but the focus was on money rather than value).

Anyway, money and sales is one thing, but I think @leland hints at the fact that adding value is much different than quick cash. Niche themes that have a specific purpose are not only more stable but also can be much better optimized for speed, security, and SEO, and are not nearly as susceptible to falling behind re: whatever trendy bullshit (i.e. page builders) is cool at the moment.


I have my own themeshop and these are from my personal experiences -

  1. Theme business have become tougher than before
  2. If you’re not willing to invest any money on advertising, blogging is your only option. If you have been following codewp.in transparency report. Advertisement doesn’t covert neither helps with downloads, So I’d rather stay with blogging rather than wasting money.
  3. Having a free version of your theme in w.org helps download and convert
  4. Theme styles should be top class. Medicore template doesn’t sell
  5. Support converts free users to premium, so treat your free users like GOD
  6. It’s better to focus all your energy on one theme rather than 20 different themes

Hope that helps :slight_smile:

(Elliott Davidson) #17

It’s only a mere 6k word blog post as requested to be share with you guys https://despreneur.com/wordpress-theme-business/

Please let me know your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

(Mahdi Yazdani) #18

I wish I could like this quote ten times :smile:
Having plugin and theme in WordPress repository will boost your sales effectively, Try to publish something unique and well designed.
Nowadays selling WordPress themes is all about the design.