Once you decide to start running your Theme Shop, you’re going to have to make some decisions about how you want to build your themes.
There are plenty of different options available including,
- Building your own themes from scratch
- Using a starter theme, such as underscores
- Creating your own theme framework
- Designing for another developer’s framework
This isn’t a throwaway decision. Making the right choice when you start out is important as it’s hard to change further down the line. Say, for example, you build your themes using a starter theme, and then decide to move to a framework further down the line, then you have to update all of your themes to work with that framework.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at how you can build your business around a pre-existing theme framework.
What’s a Theme Framework?
A theme framework is a set of conventions to use for developing WordPress [parent] themes.
It’s a repository with all sorts of functionality that a theme can take advantage of. Once you have a framework, all of the functionality is in place and you can start to create designs for it without having to worry so much about hardcore coding.
Theme Frameworks also solve the problem of users making changes to CSS and code which are then overwritten by updates, as they’ll usually include a parent theme. From which you can create a child theme, or may choose to create a parent theme with your chosen framework. By separating functionality and design, the theme framework, parent theme, and child theme setup enables you to push out updates to the framework that won’t overwrite any changes the user has made.
There are lots of different types of theme frameworks around: there are frameworks like Genesis, which was created specifically for developers to get a head-start on their development. A framework like Headway that is drag and drop, makes it easy for non-developers to build their own themes. And other frameworks are like Catalyst which come packed full of options. Just looking for WordPress Theme Frameworks will reveal a wealth of them.
Who’s doing it?
Already, there are Theme Shops out there that are focussed specifically on one or two frameworks. The best way to come across them is to do a search for “premium child themes” on Google and check out the vendors. You’ll see plenty of people selling child themes, particularly for Genesis and Thesis.
I spoke to Mark Hodder, from Themedy, a theme shop specialising in child themes for Thesis and Genesis. Mark and his partner were using Thesis already for custom built websites and early-on they saw a demand for themes. “People loved Thesis,” says Mark, “but didn’t have the time or money to put together the design they wanted – providing pre-made themes for the framework filled that need.” They started out building premium theme for Thesis before launching Themedy, which provides themes for both Thesis and Genesis.
I asked Mark what the advantage is to using a framework over building his own:
The framework is being constantly improved and in most cases you can take advantage of those improvements without losing the changes you’ve done to your site/design. You also get the expertise of a whole team & the built in community with varied and extensive knowledge – something that is hard to replicate on your own.
This is important. You are giving up a certain amount of control because the functionality is determined by the original developers, but the pay-off is that there is a top team of developers working on the framework, something that would cost resources that you may not have access to.
Another advantage is that you are creating designs for a pre-existing community. If the framework already has a large community then you already know that there will be a desire for themes. At Themedy, they do find that most of their business comes from users who are already using Thesis or Genesis. This means that they are successfully tapping into the need of that market.
If you’re good at what you do, you may also find that the company behind the theme framework gets behind you and promotes you to its customers. After all, it benefits them if there are other people building their community.
How to Get Started
First of all, find the theme framework that’s right for you. There are certain things that you need to consider:
- Do you have experience writing PHP? Are you comfortable extending a theme using hooks? A framework like Genesis makes serious use of hooks which you will need to familiarize yourself with to get the most out of it.
- Do you go crazy for theme options? Would you rather point and click to control your own website? Something like Catalyst might suit you better as it has an abundance of theme options.
- Or perhaps you want to be able to drag and drop everything into the right place, then Headway could be the theme for you.
Do your research to make sure that you’re making the right decision. Check to see whether the framework has a large community behind it that will be interested in your themes. There are loads of articles out there with information about the different types of theme frameworks available. These should get you started:
- Frameworks? Parent, child, and grandchild themes?
- The WordPress Theme Frameworks Starter Guide
- A Comparison of Leading WordPress Theme Frameworks
- A Comparison of Twelve WordPress Theme Frameworks
- Learn more about WordPress Theme Frameworks on WP Beginner.