So, you’ve finally decided to go ahead with designing and building a premium WordPress theme, but have you also thought about how you’re going to gain access to the website owners who need it? Let me try to make your life easier in this article as I explore the options that are available to you today.
With that in mind, let us not forget that a theme seller has a bunch of options to choose from when it comes to how they are going to monetize their themes. They have multiple marketplace options available to them, as well as additional, complementary spots to consider.
So, why sell your WordPress theme through one of the existing marketplaces?
There are actually a bunch of valuable reasons one can come up with:
Marketplaces have the ability to very quickly direct large amounts of traffic and help new products get many new eyeballs right out the gate. In many cases, those potential customers would not have come across that theme outside of that marketplace, and naturally, some of those visitors will convert into a sale.
In that aspect, marketplaces are similar to a large mall, in which many people prefer to do their shopping just because it centralizes many different shops within it. Inside a shopping mall, people don’t have to cover large distances when checking out different stores, just like a marketplace diminishes the need to explore various theme shop websites, offering everything under one roof.
Marketplaces really make a theme seller’s life easier as they will usually handle most of the “meta” in the business, leaving you able to focus on creating themes (the actual product). This means they will take care of receiving payments when someone wishes to buy one of your themes. They also handle the fulfillment of your digital files to those customers (including version updates). While this is all possible to do on your own, it is indeed a major time and effort saver, allowing you to step in the court and immediately start playing.
Setting up an attractive demo of your theme on a marketplace (with custom images and styles) can be very effective for sales because it obviously allows potential buyers to experience what your theme might look like on a live website. Unlike when showcasing your theme on the WordPress.org theme repository, not only are customized theme demos allowed on commercial marketplaces, but it is actually a best practice!
Every marketplace which “aims high” needs to be fully committed to quality coding standards (much like the official WordPress.org repository’s theme guidelines). Commercial marketplaces allocate expert reviewers who will inspect your theme’s code and make sure it is on par with those standards. It’s nice to have this reassurance about the technical level and the quality of your product.
Marketplaces can be a good way to ensure that you do not place all your eggs in one basket, as they mostly do not force you to sell your themes exclusively under their platform.
As an example, a template seller called MotoPress had started using marketplaces to the fullest pretty late (only about 2 years ago) but is selling on TemplateMonster, as well as on ThemeForest, CodeCanyon, CreativeMarket, and Mojo. Every marketplace obviously has its pros and cons, but it’s always better if you can enjoy more of them!
In fact, their WordPress themes are performing equally well on TemplateMonster and on ThemeForest:
According to MotoPress’ co-founder, Alexander Mat, TemplateMonster is putting a lot of effort into theme promotion and also charges a higher price from buyers, so you’ll be collecting a higher amount for each theme sale. If your theme is getting a lot of downloads and positive reviews on TemplateMonster they will actually take note of that and may give it an extra boost by means of their own:
“They created a promo video for 2 of our themes and it did not cost us a dime.”
Alexander also mentions that they always make sure to go with the freemium business model by maintaining a free version of all their WordPress themes on the official WordPress.org themes repository, because that allows them to enjoy another huge referral source to their premium versions on the commercial marketplaces:
If you sell themes on marketplaces you’ll quickly find that the pricing is pretty much standardized and monitored on most of them. How is that an advantage you ask? Well, in the past, you would have been able to join the notorious “race to the bottom” and sell your theme for a very low price (usually just to build your name and climb to the top). Sellers’ and buyers’ motivations were not aligned on this, as sellers don’t want price transparency because they don’t want to make it easy for buyers to compare prices, thus leading to a decrease in prices within their vertical market. Buyers, on the other hand, want exactly that.
It seems like ever since standardization knocked on the door things entered into a certain order, and they are now better aligned with marketplace reality and with the value that the theme is capable of providing for its potential target audience.
Selling your templates on a marketplace will, in some cases, mean you will gain access to a community of fellow template developers, much like yourself. You can learn from them, exchange thoughts and pick up some interesting ideas. It is naturally difficult to measure the contribution of such a community to the success of your templates business, but it is undoubtedly very important in such a saturated market, where you constantly need to keep up with new trends, technology, and customer desires.
I’m actually not going to go into an in-depth comparison of the pros and cons of each and every marketplace out there, because that is not the main focus of this piece. You can either Google for such a comparison, check out this one, or watch this short video.
I will say that if you are selling WordPress themes and are looking for a proper marketplace for that purpose then probably the two most immediate options you should take into your considerations are:
The big marketplaces will not force you to sell exclusively on their platform, meaning you can go ahead and offer those same templates in other spots, at the same time. This is obviously a less-than-optimal situation for a marketplace that would like to offer unique templates, but they do realize that they cannot “imprison” their sellers because that will push them to leave at the first opportunity they get. Therefore, most marketplaces employ a policy that handles exclusive and non-exclusive sellers differently, usually placing the emphasis on the commission percentage the seller gets out of each template sale.
As you can see, TemplateMonster exercises a commission policy that allows you, the template vendor, to go ahead and offer your templates in other places as well, as long as you’re willing to absorb a 60% commission rate (keeping 40% of each sale in your pocket). Template vendors who sell templates exclusively on TemplateMonster however, get to keep a larger cut of each sale, depending on their sales volume. Naturally, choosing the non-exclusive option will render your commission from each sale significantly lower, but will allow you to offer them on supplementary online spots.
One such spot could naturally be your own website.
I’ve previously mentioned how marketplaces pretty much take care of everything (apart from the actual coding of your product) business-related for you. So... does selling outside of a marketplace, through a shop, mean you’ll be forced out of your comfort zone and have to start dealing with things like taxes, securely accepting payments, handling software licensing, managing subscriptions, transactional emails, automatic updates, and much much more?
While some of them will handle more aspects than others, these popular services can make your life much easier while running a shop.
Many template and theme sellers out there successfully operate independent theme shops in addition to selling on a marketplace: here’s an analysis of the leading shops’ numbers for 2018. Unquestionably, these shops constantly grow their product selection as well as their revenue, so selling through an independent theme shop can definitely be a viable addition to your bottom line at the end of each month. In fact, selling through your own store can unlock several new and refreshing possibilities, which are usually not available to you when you only sell via marketplaces.
Most template (or plugin) sellers have no idea about how well their products are going to sell during the next month or during the month after that. Sure, they can do some guesswork which will be based on previous month’s sales, or maybe even compare the next month with the same month from last year, but it would still be guesswork. As business owners, we heavily depend on being able to estimate our monthly revenue in advance, in order to plan our budget for growth: hiring, marketing, and more.
Here is the good news though - adopting the subscription-based business approach means you are actually going to be able to predict your cash flow. Simply take a look at the amount of subscriptions your product has through services like Freemius that let you get a panoramic view of your stream of recurring revenue.
With all of the crucial data available to you, it’s easy to see the growth/decline happen in real time, understand what’s driving it, and react accordingly.
If you do not have an automatic renewals mechanism in place you’re effectively shooting your business in the foot, because it means that customers are required to manually pay for a license extension each time their license for your product expires. This will increase your churn rate because some of those clients may simply forget to renew and others might simply be tempted to go with a competitor, just because it’s that easy.
Keep in mind that it’s way harder to get someone to enter their credit card details each time than it is to convince them once to agree to a routine of recurring payments with automatic renewals. It also costs a LOT more to earn a new customer than it does to get a repeating customer.
If you save your customers this trouble and run automatic renewals on their payments – it’s actually a win-win: they can continuously use your WordPress plugin or WordPress theme, get security and feature updates and support, and you get to have a stable recurring revenue stream, with a minimal churn rate.
If you’ve never considered offering your theme for free then now might be a good time to do so. To clarify - I’m not suggesting you stop selling it and offer it as a gift for everyone on the internet! Rather, I’m saying that you can create another version of it, which will serve as a means to lead more and more website owners into your sales funnel and help expose them to your finest products.
When people search their WordPress admin dashboard for a theme for their website - they can easily and quickly install your theme through the built-in official WordPress.org repository search:
Services like Freemius enable you to offer your free users to upgrade directly inside their admin dashboards, without even bothering them with downloading the premium version from elsewhere and going back to install it - it can all be done with just one click!Minus friction == More conversions
There are different ways for a template/theme seller to monetize his/her products and create a sustainable business out of it. If you have a high quality theme for sale the easiest thing would likely be to submit it to a marketplace and have them sell it, and send you your creator’s cut of each sale. With that in mind, we’ve seen that there are several manners that enable you to squeeze even more juice out of your products: offering them for sale via additional channels like your own website, and maybe even gain further exposure and brand-recognition by submitting them to the official WordPress.org repository. The trick here is to realize what is the best route for you to take, when you already have the type of business you’re looking to build in mind.
Whichever path you choose for your WordPress themes - may the force be with you!