Alexander Clarke is a fellow WordPress blogger who created the popular WPExplorer website. He creates loads of great free WordPress themes and sells Premium WordPress themes on ThemeForest. I caught up with him to ask a few questions about his business ...
What's your background with WordPress, How long have you been using it?
I've been using WordPress for only a few years. I started building and maintaining websites as a part of an internship during college where I learned about WordPress and immediately fell in-love. After working for about a year I decided I could do much better on my own so I started WPExplorer and began working full-time from home.
Do you design and code all the themes yourself or collaborate?
All my premium themes on ThemeForest under WPExplorer I created myself with a little code advice every now and then from friends (Pippin, Syamil & Authentic). I do collaborate with Authentic Themes from time to time and we have small but hopefully growing portfolio on Themeforest. I am looking forward to work more with Authentic in the upcoming months to release a couple new websites we’ve started developing.
What's your process for creating a theme from start to finish?
I always have a general idea of what type of theme I’d like to make before I start. Then I use my basic framework and build up the theme from there, adding features and styling options as I see fit. Then I do a test run of the site on the computer, iPad, and iPhone. I fix any bugs I find, and submit. I try not to spend more than a couple weeks on any one theme, although I’ve been working on my upcoming theme for 3 weeks now because I’ve been updating my framework significantly and I really hope to make it a top seller.
What's a typical day look like for you?
I wake up and immediately start in on support questions while I eat breakfast. Then I work on any pending projects and might start new ones (you all know how that works…always wanting to start new projects before other ones are finished). From around noon-4pm I usually work on the premium theme I’m currently developing. I then head to the gym for a weight –lifting session, have dinner, sneak in some more work, maybe get an hour or so of Diablo 3 or BattleField 3 and then go to bed.
WPExplorer gives away a lot of free themes; do you think that helped build an audience for your premium ones?
People love free stuff – so having free themes definitely helped me build a following. I really didn’t begin giving away free themes with this in mind though. I actually made my first free theme as a practice while I was learning how to code (Yes, I learned CSS/HTML/PHP/WordPress all at the same time and taught myself). So I started creating some themes for practice and figured I might as well do something with them, so I decided to give them away if anyone wanted to mess with them, make them better, sell them… I really enjoy making the free themes because they are a perfect testing ground and of course they do really help with exposure/traffic.
One thing people do forget is that even though free themes can generate some nice traffic, only a small percentage of people using free themes are willing to spend money on a premium theme. Ultimately if you are looking to sell premium themes you really need to provide much more than just some free themes.
Through my experience with ThemeForest I have gained a lot more exposure simply via word of mouth. People whom have switched from my free to premium themes have been really impressed with how much better they are and also with the quality of my support so they like to tell their friends and encourage them to buy from me.
I saw you were planning on launching a PSD site, how’s that going?
It’s going well. I’ve partnered up with my buddy Matt from Authentic Themes and we’re both excited to see how it goes. We’ve built several nice freebies already made but aren’t going to launch until we feel that we have enough resources. There are just too many PSD freebie sites out there, we want to make sure we “do it right” so we don’t blend into the crowd.
What do you think of the current state of the WordPress theme market?
I think it’s still growing. WordPress is getting more and more popular, so I think there is definitely a bright future for WordPress. Most of my work revolves around it so I hope it’s around for a long time!
How do you see it evolving in future?
Unfortunately I have seen a huge switch in the theme market towards super complex and feature-packed themes. I personally would love to see people using more plugins and using themes with a lot less functions, but better design. There are a lot of poorly designed themes that sell very well due to all built-in options (most of which can be better added using a plugin). Unfortunately if you want to make money you need to follow the market, so I have been updating my premium framework to include some more features, however, I still try and keep the options to just the bare necessities (for example: built-in SEO options is a big no-no) and I’ve been spending more time on the design aspect of my upcoming themes.
Do you have any advice for someone wishing to sell premium themes?
Stay on top of new trends in both functionality and design. Also make sure to treat your customers with respect and provide them with the necessary theme support they deserve. And of course don’t go around taking and re-selling other people’s frameworks. Branding is also really important, so make sure it’s a key focus. The market is just way over-saturated, but if you have a powerful brand image you will succeed.