Sometimes content marketers forget that content isn’t only a game for wordsmiths.
In fact, there’s a thriving community of visual content creators who have built robust businesses around what they do. And one of the most scaleable ways to do that is to craft high-quality premium WordPress themes.
But there’s a lot more to it than “build something beautiful and the customers will show up.”
In this post, I want to talk about what it takes to succeed as a WordPress theme designer in today’s environment.
Once upon a time, all WordPress themes were free. The robust open-source CMS (content management system) attracted enthusiasts of all kinds, who made themes that looked good and suited different tastes.
Today, WordPress has grown to power a quarter of the world’s websites — and premium (paid) themes are the norm for professionals, businesses, serious bloggers, and even passionate hobbyists.
That wealth of premium themes poses a new challenge for designers: the sheer number of great-looking themes out there. There’s more competition than ever, and a lot of them are gorgeous
But : there’s still room for someone with solid design skills to make a name (and a great business) as a theme designer. And it starts by thinking as a business owner first.
Here are five points of focus on your path to building your premium theme empire …
#1: Business know-how
No matter what kind of digital business you might want to build — and WordPress themes fall squarely into this category — you can’t ignore the business part.
You may think of yourself as a design professional who “isn’t into the whole business thing.” But business is just a set of skills that can be learned — and upgrading those skills can open the door to making a great living doing what you love.
Sites like Digital Commerce Institute and podcasts like Unemployable and Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer can help you pick up the core business skills you need — without compromising your integrity or making you feel like a creep.
In my experience, 90% of business ability is mindset. Once you get your head in the right space, you’ll be able to readily pick up the skills you need to make your business a success. You might also choose to partner with smart people who will complement your strengths.
#2: A targeted audience
Because it’s beautiful is no longer enough to find an audience for your WordPress theme.
Themes today need to solve specific problems for well-defined groups of people.
In other words, it’s not only about design — it’s about design thinking.
Virtually any type of business you can think of needs beautiful, thoughtfully designed themes.
- Real estate professionals
- Law offices
- Medical offices
- Artisans and “small batch” producers
- Coffee shops
- Online publishers
- … you name it!
Successful theme designers today know precisely who will be using their themes. And they use smart design thinking to solve real-world problems with those themes.
If you build themes for a particular group, decide how you’ll uncover that group’s needs and desires. If you’re not a member of that community yourself, work closely with the types of folks who will be using your theme, so you can come up with innovative and elegant solutions to their needs.
“Niching” down your offer this way might seem like it would narrow your audience of buyers — but in fact, it opens all kinds of doors to reach the right buyers.
#3: A way to reach that audience
It’s not enough to build a gorgeous solution to the needs of a well-defined audience — you have to be able to get the word out!
The web today provides incredibly focused tools for targeted advertising to precisely the kinds of buyers you’re looking for.
You can also partner with well-known experts in that space. For example, you might work with a popular blogger who has the audience you’re trying to reach.
And if you build your frame within an established “ecosystem” (like Genesis, which we’ll talk a bit more about in the next point), you get the benefit of a community looking for the solutions you have to offer.
#4: A commitment to security and clean code
WordPress sites are astonishingly common. MarketingLand reports that WordPress powers about 25% of all of the sites published on the web around the globe.
In fact, its next two closest competitors (Drupal and Joomla) power fewer than 5% of the planet’s websites — combined.
WordPress is robust, it’s amazingly flexible, and it’s everywhere.
And because it’s so popular, a WordPress theme that ignores security best practices can find itself vulnerable to hackers. Which is no fun at all for your buyers, or your reputation.
Fortunately, there are excellent tools available to manage security and protect the themes you create.
If you don’t want to become a full-time security expert, one simple way to address the problem is to design themes on a framework that’s doing the performance and security heavy lifting for you.
Our company builds one of the best-regarded frameworks in the WordPress community (if we do say so ourselves …), Genesis.
The “back end” (that means all of those behind-the-scenes technical elements) of the Genesis framework is reviewed thoroughly and frequently by security and performance experts. We make sure that all of the code is keeping up with best practices … and with updates in WordPress itself.
Security is just one benefit of building your theme on a reliable framework — but that’s a topic for another article.
#5: An eye for trends and beautiful design
You might have thought this one would come first! And of course, no one wants a premium theme that doesn’t look great and feel fresh and current.
Great designers know that beauty matters — but it’s only one element of great design.
In addition to your great eye for gorgeous site design, make sure you’re incorporating:
- A solid business mindset
- Theme design that solves meaningful problems for a well-defined market
- Effective communication with the audience you’re serving
- Serious security to keep your customers’ sites safe from the bad guys
Pull these elements together, and you might find that designing WordPress themes becomes the foundation of an amazing business.
Want to know more about the life of a premium theme designer?
The founder of StudioPress and creator of Genesis, Brian Gardner, was the subject of a webinar inside of Digital Commerce Academy on December 2, 2015 where he shared his insights on how he built his WordPress-based business.
Brian wasn’t a technical guy — he has no formal education in programming or computers. In fact, when he started playing with WordPress themes, he was a project manager for an architectural firm.
He calls himself an “accidental entrepreneur,” following his interests where they led. And where they led was a genuinely disruptive innovation — the creation of the premium WordPress theme market. That’s because Brian was the first person to actually offer a WordPress theme and take money for it.
Check out this conversation with Brian. We talked about:
- How the premium WordPress theme market has changed over the last half-decade
- Expert tips for anyone who wants to create a theme
- How to know what will sell (without guessing)
- The biggest mistakes Brian made, and how he overcame them
- The invaluable lesson about relationship-building that Brian learned by working at a convenience store
Plus, much more.
This webinar is an exclusive offering for Digital Commerce Academy (DCA) members
DCA is currently closed to new members, but you can be the first to find out when it reopens by activating your free membership.
Here is what you’ll get instant access to with your free registration:
- 4 free lessons from the paid course “Build Your Online Training Business the Smarter Way”
- 3 free lessons from the paid course “How to Create Automated Marketing Funnels that Work”
- 2 Case Study webinars on building a digital business
- 1 “Cutting Edge” webinar on using Periscope for content marketing
- Plus, new episodes of The Digital Entrepreneur — our podcast about building a business around digital products and services
In addition, you’ll get valuable “how to” articles and case studies of successful digital entrepreneurs. All you have to do is click here, enter your first name and email address, and you’ll have instant access to your free Digital Commerce Institute membership.