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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...