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How to create and sell your own WordPress theme

So you want to make a theme, and maybe even sell it?

There’s no reason you shouldn’t, but if you are going to take the dive there’s several things you need to know.

I’ll talk about our experience after our first couple years of selling themes, and hopefully you can learn something and be on your way to creating and selling your own theme.

We started Press Coders about 2 years ago with our first theme, FitPro.

Since then we’ve learned quite a few things. We still have a ways to go, but here’s what we’ve learned so far…

Who is going to buy your theme?

Before you start designing or building, think about who is going to buy your theme, and how you are going to reach them.

Are you going to put your theme on themeforest or another marketplace? On the wordpress.org repo? Or are you going to use your own site and do the marketing yourself?

Theme marketplaces take a pretty large chunk of your profit, but they have a built in audience. Selling from your own site is harder, but you don’t give away as much.

Personally I’m not a fan of theme marketplaces, but some people have done very well with them. If you are going to get into bed with a marketplace, make sure you won’t regret it when you wake up in the morning!

Tips:

DON’T expect to put a theme on a marketplace and automatically get sales. You still need to have a strategy and differentiation even though you will get some eyeballs for free.

DON’T expect to put up a theme on your own site, send out a few emails and tweets, and get sales. You need a marketing strategy, it takes time.

DON’T make a theme for “general WordPress users.” Make a theme for designers, hotels, churches, underwater basket weavers, etc. Then find a way to market your theme specifically to that group of people.

When we created our first theme, (FitPro), we had a specific audience in mind (fitness professionals). We had a way to reach that audience (a good affiliate), so it was a success.

Since then we’ve created several more themes, and not all of them have been successes. We’ve found that niche themes seem to do better than general themes.

Pricing

Think hard about your pricing.

Pricing for themes ranges from free to $200, so let’s do some numbers to give you an idea of what it looks like.

Let’s say you sell your theme for $50, and you use themeforest. You get 50% of the sale to start out, which would be $25. Subtract taxes, and you’re putting about $23 in your pocket or less.

If you don’t have a big audience already, selling 2 themes per day would be pretty good. 60 x $23 = $1380 per month. If you sell on your own site through affiliates, you’ll get more like 70% of the profit, which would be more like $32 per theme. 60 x $32 = $1920 per month.

Selling 2 themes per day doesn’t sound like much, but it’s harder than you think in this theme-saturated world. $2K per month is not terrible to start, but keep in mind you will have to put in a lot of time developing the theme, supporting it, and keeping it updated.

If you sell a theme for $35, give away 30-50% to an affiliate or marketplace, have a partner to split it with, subtract taxes and expenses, and add in the hours for dev time and support, you might as well just go work at McDonald’s!

If you want to provide a high level of customer service, and you want your business to be around in a year, make sure you don’t underprice your product.

Support & Updates

So you made a few theme sales, woohoo!

Now the customer support emails start pouring in: “How do I setup the slider in your theme?”, “My homepage disappeared, what now?”, “How do I make a link to another site?”

You’ll get lots of questions, and not just those related to your theme, general WordPress questions too. Make sure you budget time to answer them, it can get overwhelming!

Using just email for support is OK at first, but after a while it gets too disorganized. We use Zendesk, which helps keep everything organized when you have multiple support agents.

Theme Updates

After catching up on your support emails, you finally have a chance to take a breath.

Wait a minute, a customer just emailed, he upgraded his site to the newest release of WordPress, version 900.2.1. After he upgraded, his slider stopped working! Crap, time to get on bug patrol, and release a fix ASAP.

It’s a good idea to use the beta tester plugin, and test all of your themes with new releases of WordPress BEFORE they are released. We usually don’t have problems with small releases (3.4 to 3.4.1), but be wary of major releases (2.9 to 3.0 was a big one).

Don’t reinvent the wheel

If you want to make a new theme, you need a starting point. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, you should learn from those who have come before you.

That could be an existing framework or theme, just make sure you choose wisely.

If you end up creating more themes, you’ll probably want them to have a consistent codebase so they are easier to update. So you wouldn’t for example make a theme based on Twenty Eleven, and a theme based on Hybrid. If you do that, prepare to rip all your hair out trying to keep your themes updated and bug free!

Most frameworks and parent themes work very differently, so just pick one you like and stick with it.

When we started, we looked at the available frameworks, and decided to create our own. You don’t necessarily have to do it that way, it’s certainly a lot more work up front. The reason we did this was:

  • We didn’t want to base a commercial business 100% on someone else’s free work. Although you can do that within the rights of the GPL license, it just didn’t feel right.
  • We needed to know our framework inside and out, so that when we had to do bug fixes or theme updates, we would be in a better spot.

If you are looking for a place to start, I would recommend taking a look at Underscores.

If you don’t want to dive into frameworks just yet, you could start by creating a child theme.

Creating your theme

If you’ve thought through all of the issues above, it’s time to start designing and creating your theme!

If you know who you are going to sell to, it’s easier to figure out what design elements and features to put in your theme. Real Estate agents need different things than Churches, so design accordingly.

I could go into a lot more about creating themes, marketing/selling them, etc. but I think I’ll stop here. This article is a little different than the ones I normally write, so if you are interested in seeing more like this, let me know in the comments.

Cheers!

41 Responses to How to create and sell your own WordPress theme

  1. Great article, Scott. You bring up some strong, thought provoking points and I’d love to see a series of posts about your process and tips. I’m particularly interested in learning more about your support strategy (what kinds of people do you hire and what kind of budget do you need to anticipate) as well as your approach to marketing. For example, how do you decide your niche (e.g. fitness) and what marketing works best for you?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Lauren! Those are some good questions. In general you just do support yourself as much as you can, then if it becomes overwhelming you can think about hiring someone. I don’t believe in hiring in advance, only when there’s a need.

      Marketing is another beast altogether, I think everything from your product design to your USP can be marketing. I also love content marketing, I’m not a fan of old school methods like hard-selling. Maybe I’ll write a post about it :)

  2. Vivek R says:

    Great info there,I just launched my new Genesis Child theme for General audience (news and Tech blogs) now after reading this post I sense something wrong with my strategy..Thanks for this article,

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  4. Agnel Waghela(@agnel_waghela) says:

    Hey Scott, Thanks for the Post! Its a very good guide to get started.

  5. I think staying on top of WP revision’s, rolling out updates for new builds is a great aspect for theme dev’s.

  6. Great post Scott. Am in the start of thinking about taking the plunge myself as I have designed up some ideas. Hoping to get into theme building with drag and drop support for iPad designers.

  7. Yuri Romanov says:

    I thank the author for an interesting publication! Good luck and success to you!
    Best regards from Russia

  8. Ipsita Sahoo says:

    Since last 4 months, I’m developing a theme for my wordpress site codenx.com . Should i put it on sale?

  9. Thanks for share. Creating theme is the most important

  10. Pingback: Wordpress Theme development | Hellbach blog

  11. David T. says:

    Some really interesting points to think about. Your point about targeting a specific niche makes total sense as there will be more demand.

    I am thinking of starting my own theme development company. Your advice in this article was greatly appreciated.

  12. Oz says:

    NIce article – more and more people seem to be building wp themes now and the standards are rising daily. Definitely a time to find a good niche.

  13. manoj says:

    u forgot to mention one thing….
    How to notify users about your theme upgrade

  14. Alicia says:

    I stumbled across your site and want to say thanks. It’s great to read super-easy WordPress tutorials. I put your site in Pocket.

  15. Teeboy says:

    How to create a theme and site

  16. Dean Lambros says:

    This is exactly what I needed to know to get started. Great post man, seriously helpful.

    -Dean

  17. Ansh says:

    Very useful Guide for any new theme developer… Thanks

  18. emeka says:

    Thanks Scott. Nice one. I wanna ask, please when is the right time to employ people to work with you in theme development. I am trying to develop my first theme for themeforest and its time consuming.

    Secondly, what is the best way to know the best concept to use for a certain project so as to build unique themes

    Can I use css frameworks like zurb or bootstrap for a commercial theme?

    I will be grateful if u answer my question. Thanks in advance.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Emeka, I wouldn’t employ anyone until you have enough revenue to more than cover your own salary and costs. If you have money left over and you want to employ someone so you can focus on revenue generating tasks, that’s the time to hire.

      You can use frameworks in commercial themes, just use them wisely. Anyone can put bootstrap in a theme, it’s how you use it that’s important.

  19. Marcel says:

    Good article. I plan on starting a series of themes dedicated for offline businesses.

  20. shezad azam says:

    Thanks for the wonderful opportunity to build a WordPress theme and earn money..i m glad to visit this site..

  21. Arbaz says:

    Developing and selling a theme might turn out to be profitable but at the same time it is a lot stressful work if you can’t manage it properly. Dealing with clients, customer supports, working on regular updates and everything just doesn’t suit an average user.
    However a really nice post for budding designers and developers :)

  22. lebcit says:

    Hello Scott,

    THANKS A MILLION time for those GREAT advice’s, i’m planning on creating my first theme to sell it.
    I just want your personal advice, from your experience, on this one :
    Since i’m not ready yet to create my own framework, should i go with a starter theme (e.g. underscores) or a framework (e.g. Reverie)???

    Thanks a lot in advance for your advice ;-)

  23. Ian Chapman says:

    I continue to play with the idea of releasing some WordPress themes to the public, however, I still can’t wrap my head around how much of a hassle it would be to support the users. The typical buyers of these themes are do-it-yourselfers truing to put together their own website for less than $100 and they generally have little experience and lots of (basic) questions. I still think its not worth the hassle, but obviously lots of others make a living doing it, so I must be wrong. ;)

  24. Valerios says:

    You Said some Good Staff Thanks .

  25. diwaker says:

    hi scott,

    Great post in very simple language. I am searching for this kind of information from long time. i like your point Don’t reinvent the wheel .

    thanks for sharing scott

  26. Hira Kumar says:

    hi Scott,
    It makes pleasure me to read your article and I am also one of the designer and good wordpress theme. Currently, I was ideal how to start my personal theme business. Your article gives my some power to start. First of all I need to make free theme to publicity . How you think about making free themes for specific category (programmer/designer) and publish for free of cost ?

    At last thanks you again your brilliant post. :)

  27. Hiral says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful article. You really mentioned some strong points to take into considering before starting to design theme. Nice stuff.

  28. vishal says:

    Hello i have couple of questions
    if i am selling theme is there any criteria for coding structure?
    If i want use any jquery slider for example bxslider or nivoslider,do i need to purchase license or i can put it for free?
    Should i put images that are created by my own or i can use it from web?
    Should i go via themeforest or sell it via my own domain as a beginner?

  29. Nate says:

    Hi Scott,

    I watched the highlight video on Fitpro, and noticed you have loads of customization options on the backend for your clients, such as header color, background color, etc.

    I’m working on my own theme, and was wondering how you set this up? Is it a plugin?

    Thanks man!

  30. Daniel says:

    Very good article, gave me some insights. Im also wondering, is it possible to market your theme in a few theme marketplaces and market yourself through your own website at one time? If possible so why many people dont say that it is a good idea, because I think it is?

  31. Syed Shahid Gillani says:

    Hi scott, you are simply awesome, thanks for this wonderful info, and i liked the way you shared all of your experiences. And you know what all of them make sense. I am totally new in wordress but i am looking forward to take theme development and selling as my career. And this article of yours was pretty useful for me. Thanks again

  32. Deepak says:

    Hi There,

    I am Deepak Uniyal, A Website Developer, what my aim is to develop wordpress themes and sale into your site themeforest.net. So I want to know the whole process what should i do for, to sale WordPress theme in your site.

    Should I have to develop theme from the start, and all have to coding or can i develop theme without coding also or can i use various software to develop wordpress theme.
    What Images, videos , pictures should i use, can i take it from Google. Plz help me to understand the whole process.

    I hope to be hear a better solution from you.

    Thanks n Best Regards
    Deepak Uniyal

  33. Siddique says:

    I am not a theme developer but i can edit any theme and make it as per my requirement. As i got expert in editing and learned many coding, so i was thinking i should build my own theme. And your article give me initial boost. Thanks for sharing such a amazing article.

  34. Sachin Karpe says:

    Great stuff Scott, I just started working on wordpress blogs and your points are really helpful for me. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful blog. Keep sharing useful tips like this.

  35. James says:

    Hi Scott great article right on the dot.I enjoyed every aspect of your article especially the thought provoking part that talked about customer support and quick bug fixes on product updates.

    This simply means wordpress theme business is not all about building a great looking theme but also involves a lot about offering support for the use.

    Thats really a lot of work and a very challenging one.one question though, is this support set for a life time? Or is there a specified time limit

  36. Thank you so Scott, you have provided very useful information to us how to get started the right way .

    You will always be challenges of any business , but at least we are a little more prepared with this knowledge

    thank kasih Scott.

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