Starting from Scratch: Considerations When Starting Your WordPress Business


So you’ve decided that you want to sell WordPress themes. You’re a great designer, you produce some lovely themes, but now you want to turn your hobby into a business.

You could just throw some themes up on a marketplace like ThemeForest or Mojo Themes, and watch the cash start coming in.

However, if you want your business to be long-lasting and filled with as few headaches as possible, you should put thought into the type of business you want to run and how you are going to run it. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the main considerations.

Theme Shop or Theme Marketplace

You need to decide whether you want to sell your themes through a marketplace or through your own theme shop. If you sell through a marketplace you’ll be giving up a portion of your revenue, but you’ll have a ready-made e-commerce platform and market. If you set up your own theme shop you’ll keep all of the revenue yourself and you’ll have greater control over your branding, but you’re on your own and you need to create a market for your product. For some people a theme shop works, others prefer the support that a marketplace provides. You can read our detailed article looking at the pros and cons of each to help you make your decision.

Verticals and Niches

Targeting verticals has been the tactic of a number of WordPress businesses over the past year. A vertical market is a market in which you can develop a similar set of products and services targeted towards a certain type of business. Examples are restaurants, real estate, sports clubs, insurance, and medical.

By targeting a vertical you can focus on providing the best functionality and design specifically for your market. This can be an excellent tactic, especially since only a few WordPress businesses are currently targeting verticals. However, this is changing, and Automattic recently launched for restaurants, cities, and music. There is still plenty of room within the verticals market, but it means that you need to do considerable market research to make sure you are actually fulfilling a need within that market.

As well as targeting verticals, you could target specific niches. This is a particularly good idea if you have expertise in an area – if you’ve already worked in e-commerce you may want to develop themes specifically for e-commerce. This will put to work the skills you already have. You could also focus your efforts on developing your business around another theme shop or framework. For example, you could build child themes for Genesis, or themes for WooCommerce. By positioning yourself in a niche you can become the go-to place for that market. Check out our in depth article on finding your niche and owning it.

Find Collaborators

Collaboration is a big deal in the WordPress community. People from all over the world work together to build software and support the community. Open source is, by its very nature, collaborative. People are also collaborating in business. It takes around two years for a startup to get off the ground, so don’t be afraid to share your ideas with other people. They’re very unlikely to be able to steal your idea and execute them in the same way as you. By sharing your ideas you’re opening yourself up to different perspectives. People will suggest different and better ways to achieve your goals.

If you’re starting out by yourself, keep an eye out for a business partner. Figure out what you need in your business and see if you can find the right person. WordCamps are always a great place to be on the lookout for a collaborator. At these, WordPress users gather together, share knowledge and find ways they can work together.

Find a Mentor

A mentor is someone who you can ask for advice, who’ll warn you of pitfalls, and generally help you out as you go through the process of launching your business. Finding a mentor that is a good fit for you isn’t as easy as it might sound. For one thing, WordPress is a pretty specific niche. While there is advice that will transfer from one business to another, working in open source has its own set of problems which not everyone will understand. The best way to find a mentor is to start networking and, as the point above suggests, start talking to people about your ideas.

You may find yourself in a conversation with the founder of an established theme shop, or someone who knows the WordPress business, who’ll be able to offer you advice. Once that initial connection is made, ask if you can email them some questions, or if you could have a chat on Skype. Pressnomics is a great event to attend if you’re looking for a mentor. It provides a very open platform where WordPress business leaders can gather to collaborate and share ideas.

Think About Support

If you’re launching any theme business you’re going to have to think about support. Even if you sell your product through a theme marketplace that doesn’t have a support mechanism, remember that the most successful marketplace authors provide support via their website. You’ll have to make a decision about whether you’ll use a forum plugin like bbPress, or a theme like SupportPress. Perhaps you want to provide ticketing support via ZenDesk or User Voice. The choice you make will affect your user’s experience of your product. For example, if you go with an open forum, users can search for their answer before they make a request. Some users love to do this. If you go with a ticketing system, users can’t see other people’s responses, but it does mean that you can tailor every support response to each customer. Remember that users may not be aware that the forum response that they read from 2009 isn’t relevant to the current version of the theme they are using.

Reduce Your Support Load

You should also plan from the beginning to reduce your support load. This means creating a user experience and relevant documentation that limits support requests. Remember if your product is easy to set up and bug free, you will automatically reduce your support load. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Create an intuitive, easy-to-follow UI
  • Create secure, reliable, well-documented code
  • Validate your code
  • Follow WordPress best practices and coding standards
  • Be aware of functions that are deprecated in WordPress
  • Iterate on feature requests
  • Have an FAQ that addresses common problems

Keep these things in mind and you’ll be on your way to creating themes that provide a wonderful experience for your user.


If you keep these recommendations in mind when you’re coming up your WordPress business plan, you’re already thinking the right way. Running a business is more than throwing together a few themes. To be successful, you should always be thinking about how you can improve your business and how you can provide a better experience for your customers: ultimately it’s how you will stay ahead of the competition.

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Author: Holly Bentley

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