My theme company ThemeFurnace turns one in a couple of weeks and inspired by this post I thought I would take some time out to talk about our first year in the WordPress theme business. Everyone will define success differently but for me, in year one of running ThemeFurnace I have achieved the goals I set myself so I can say the site is successful? I planned to build up a solid base of themes which I have done ( we now have 12 themes available), I wanted to establish the brand which I also think I have done – we have over 5000 registered customers and hundreds of affiliates promoting us now.

Growth is Slow

It is only in the last couple of months that I have started to hit income targets – growth has been pretty slow, with the site earning just hundreds of dollars in the first few months. I expected this so wasn’t worried – I also run WPLift and many other sites so I haven’t dedicated 100% of my time to growing ThemeFurnace – I was happy with slower growth as this lowers the pressure and lets me scale the site more easily.

I have done certain things to grow it like running competitions and releasing free themes – other theme companies will often have a person dedicated to just this – handling social media and marketing but I’ve taken care of everything on my own. Luckily I have had a lot of experience building sites so I generally know what works and what doesn’t.

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If I had to single out the one thing that has worked the best, it was releasing a free theme – people love a freebie and other websites love linking to freebies ( I also love creating them! ) so this is something I intend to focus more on in the next 12 months – you will see a lot more free items from ThemeFurnace.

It is Fun

I love designing – I have been a professional web designer for over 15 years and started creating sites long before that. I have a passion for web design and coding so this doesn’t even feel like a job for me – I would be doing it in my spare time if it wasn’t my job. I also love the process of building an audience for a site and establishing a brand. The part that is great about running a theme company is that you have no specific client to bare in mind – I am free to design anything I like and see if it sells; if it flops I only have myself to blame.

If you enjoy creating themes and currently do client work – why not try creating one as a test and release on a marketplace like ThemeForest or MojoThemes?

Customer Support

You will need to provide awesome customer support as a lot of customers will not have had a huge amount of experience with WordPress so you will need to guide them a little at the start. I handle everything via our support forums and for the moment it is just me providing the support which is fine for the moment but I do have plans in place to start employing staff once required. It is important to establish what is and isn’t covered by your support – for me I will help with minor customisations if its a line or two of CSS but anything beyond that, I direct people to Tweaky.

One thing that will greatly help cut down on customer support is good documentation – I had loads of experience of this because of all the product reviews I have done here on WPLift so I treat writing the documentation like I would doing a blog post – writing clearly and concisely and documenting each step with screen shots is essential.

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Staying Current

Obviously if you are releasing themes, either free or paid – you need to stay 100% in top of of the latest developments within the WordPress community. You need to follow the coding standards and be aware of any deprecated functions etc so you are not putting bad code out there. Luckily its pretty easy to stay up to date – just make sure you follow news sources like WPDaily, WPCandy and yes our weekly news post! Twitter is probably where I get most of my WP news from currently – I even have one screen in the office dedicated to it.

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Looking to the Future

At the moment, ThemeFurnace is just me and a freelance programmer – in future I will be looking to take him on full time so we can build new themes quicker and release updates for older themes quicker. I have some big plans for the site – I’ve already started thinking about a redesign of  the actual site so that will happen this year. I’m also planning some niche specific themes – at the moment all our themes are general business / portfolio style themes which was planned as these are the best sellers and I wanted a solid base of these before I started branching out.

So all in all, I have enjoyed my first year in the theme business and look forward to another 12 months …


Author:

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, An Internet Company based in Manchester, UK. I founded WPLift and ThemeFurnace, find out more on my Personal Blog. Thanks!

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10 Comments

  1. Marcus Graf

    Thanks for sharing! I love wordpress too, but as a new wordpress theme developer i have to say, that the market is sated.

    • It’s true to say it is currently dominated by a few of the larger theme companies and marketplaces like ThemeForest but I think there is always room for new companies or individuals who produce quality work.

      The market is growing all the time as more and more people make the switch – like I said in the post, growth is slow but you will get there with consistency.

  2. Kenth Hagström

    I find this post interesting as I’m just about to do just the same thing, start a theme business. But I can not say your story it is any different from what I am expecting (maybe I’ve researched well…). Thanks for a good post!

  3. Shine

    Hi,

    Thanks for the valuable information,

    I really appreciate your work and keep it up your quality work.

    Thanks Regards

  4. I tried selling themes, but I just couldn’t’ get anyone to buy them. In the end, I made a more basic version of the themes, and offered them free. I added a option to update theme. That worked out for me. I have a few thousand paid theme users now.

    • Good job – Seems a free component is a must.
      I am just experimenting with that with my latest theme – I have added a basic free version to the respository so Ill see if that refers any paying customers back.

  5. Rebecca Gill

    Stay strong and don’t let the slow sales start distract you. We started small last year and our Genesis theme store is now selling WAY more than I ever thought possible. You will get there too. It just takes a good six months to take off.

    Like you, I love building the new themes and running the store. Seeing oodles of money come in makes me love it even more. ;)

    Success is not over night but it does come and it can be much greater than you might imagine.

  6. Mircea

    Good job ! Good luck !

  7. Nice post,

    I think that the WP theme market, like lots have already said is a tough one, lots of developers are coming out with new themes all the time and it’s hard to stand out.

    I think that if you concentrate on developing a good library of them to sell, like you said, it will be slow to start with but there are people that are successful theme developers, so why can’t you be?

    I’m concentrating on plugin development at the moment, but I can see several problems in theme development, the biggest being code protection. Almost every theme has been ripped off so people are enjoying them without paying, which is killing lots of start up developers.

    For plugins this is a little easier to combat with code protection systems like Ioncube, but this doesn’t stop everyone.

    Sam

  8. Sure there are lots of theme shops out there but if you create high quality themes (which I think you do) and have a good business sense you should be able to make it. Congrats of the one year anniversary and best of luck in the future.

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