WordPress Theme Developers: Six Benefits of Selling WordPress Themes Independently

Just last week, I wrote a post discussing the benefits of selling your themes via Envato’s leading WordPress theme marketplace, ThemeForest.

In today’s post, I’ll be looking at the other side of the equation: selling independently.

I know, I know; going it alone seems like a daunting task at first glance. You’re in good company, though, with multi-million dollar businesses like WooThemes, Elegant Themes, and ThemeIsle having walked that path before you.

If you’re looking for reasons to jump in and start selling your themes for yourself, you’re in luck. Today, I’ll be presenting you with not one, but six great reasons for selling WordPress themes independently.

And, as was the case last week, this post is equally applicable to plugin developers weighing up selling independently versus selling via CodeCanyon.


1. Build a Brand

Let’s start by doing a quick two-part experiment. These are ThemeForest’s three best-selling themes of all time:

The question: who developed them?

If you answered ThemeFusion, ThemeCo, and Kriesi, good for you. I’m willing to bet that many readers missed one answer, or possibly even all three.

Now let’s do the same for an independently sold theme, Divi.

Who sells Divi?

The answer is, of course, Elegant Themes. And I’m willing to wager a lot more of you got that one right.

This is a simple experiment – and admittedly, it isn’t conclusive – but it goes to show the greater potential for independent sellers to establish a recognizable brand. Contrast this to selling via a marketplace, where the themes are well-known, but the developers are largely anonymous.

Yes, developing your own brand is a long, hard slog. But it also allows you to reap the biggest rewards.

Once you’ve established a brand, people will immediately recognize you. This puts you in the best possible position going forward – if you release a new theme, plugin, or WordPress service, people are inclined to buy from you because of the goodwill you’ve already established.

2. Take Control of Your Destiny

By running your own website and developing your own brand, you take control of your destiny.

When you sell via third-party marketplaces like ThemeForest, you’re banking on another business – and remember: a business you have no control over – remaining a market leader for 12, 24, and 36 months’ time.

Is that something you want to gamble your livelihood on? Isn’t the better option to build a brand for yourself from the very beginning?

3. Earn 100%

This one is relatively self-explanatory: by selling independently, you get to keep 100% of your proceeds.

Contrast this to selling on ThemeForest, where Envato takes a cut of between 30% and 64%.

4. Versatile Marketing Opportunities

Last week, we established that one of the main benefits of selling on ThemeForest is their huge volumes of qualified buyers. In theory, this makes it easier to make your first sales.

Let’s for a moment consider that you don’t make those first sales, though. What then?

In an ideal world, you’d want to make your theme more visible by making it rank higher for common search phrases.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know the ins and outs of Envato’s ranking algorithm. Envato is a business, though, so it exists to make money. With this in mind, I’m sure the key ranking factor is sales – not good news if you aren’t selling many themes.

In other words, selling few themes is a predicament that’s very difficult to break out of.

If you sell independently, however, you have far more scope for promotional activities. Off the top of my head, this could include:

  • SEO – the search engines are a great source of traffic.
  • PPC – expensive, but probably the best way to guarantee eyeballs on your theme.
  • Free themes – remove some features then upload a free version of your theme to the WordPress repository.
  • Custom affiliate schemes – although marketplaces like Envato have affiliate schemes, you have no control over them. By starting your own, you have the potential to make your themes far more enticing to marketers.
  • Content marketing – maintain a blog to attract traffic and demonstrate your expertise at what you do.

If you sell via ThemeForest, are these promotional activities still available to you?

I suppose you could point an AdWords campaign at your ThemeForest product page, but why would you want to? If you’re the one paying to drive the traffic, Envato aren’t doing anything to earn their cut. In such a scenario, you’d be much better off cutting out the middleman and selling independently.

5. Flexible Pricing

Independent sellers retain complete control over their prices. ThemeForest sellers have a fixed price allocated for them.

Now in fairness, and as I pointed out last week, the pricing structures on ThemeForest are competitive. Most independent sellers won’t sell individual themes for substantially more/less.

It is, however, an important point, especially when you consider that online consumers are extremely sensitive to prices. In fact, price is the primary concern for many customers.

This means that being able to decrease your prices – either permanently or as part of a promotion – by just a few dollars could make your themes significantly more attractive to potential buyers. Unfortunately, this opportunity is taken out of your hands when you sell third-party.

Selling independently also opens up the possibility of completely different pricing models.

Take, for example, WordPress “clubs,” a business model that has been extremely popular in recent years. Rather than selling individual themes and plugins, WordPress clubs charge for access to the developer’s entire collection.

From the developer’s perspective, this means they can earn more per customer. From the customer’s perspective, they get an awful lot of value for their money. Everyone wins!

Independent sellers also have the opportunity to earn recurring revenues by offering ongoing aftersale support for a recurring yearly fee. This is another great way to improve the average value of each customer, in a way that can’t be achieved if you sell via ThemeForest.

6. Build Relationships with Customers

The money is in the email list – we’ve all heard that before, right?

Well, when you sell via ThemeForest, you are effectively growing ThemeForest’s list. They are the ones collecting the email addresses, and they’re the ones who can maintain a relationship with qualified buyers.

When you sell independently, it’s you who gets to nurture that relationship.

Final Thoughts

Although there’s a lot to like about selling independently, don’t be fooled: it’s an awful lot of hard work!

If you’re an ambitious theme developer looking to make a name for yourself, don’t let that dissuade you, though – nothing worth having comes easy, right?

Of course, selling independently isn’t without its drawbacks. You have to generate an audience from scratch, you’re responsible for the logistical side of selling, and you have to work doubly hard in the beginning to gain traction.

I think that anyone looking to make a career out of WordPress should go the independent route, though.

Selling independently gives you absolute control – over prices, products, marketing, and your long-term potential.

This gives you deep, real-world insight into managing and running your own business. This is exactly the sort of experience that your user base, WordPress users, are looking for themselves. Having been there yourself, you’ll be able to identify and understand common problems that your user base experience, which enables you to create products and market them in a way that resonates with your audience.

Best of all, though, it gives you the opportunity to build a name for yourself, and who knows what doors that could open.

Do you sell themes independently? What are your experiences so far? If you have any tips for new sellers, share them in the comments below!

AuthorShaun Quarton

Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.

2 replies to WordPress Theme Developers: Six Benefits of Selling WordPress Themes Independently

  1. Building a brand is one of the most important factors because when people know your name, that is huge. Taking control of your destiny is important because then you are not dependent on a third party that makes the decisions for you…you get full control on the choices you make and can better support your customers with a greater scope of flexibility.

    Is running your own theme site a challenge? As Shaun said, “it’s an awful lot of hard work!” Especially in a saturated market. You need to find that niche; what sets you apart from others.

  2. Good stuff again, Shaun.

    Build a brand. Yeah! When somebody buys my one church theme on ThemeForest, the next time they need a church theme, they are very likely to go where? ThemeForest’s church category, with 50 of my competitors! It’s very different selling on churchthemes.com. They are my customers, not shared with ThemeForest.

    Keeping 100%. I’m not sure about that because my expenses are about 20% (and I dare say I am quite frugal). ThemeForest takes 30%. But, I spend a lot more time marketing and dealing with store issues on my own shop. So, I’d say that it is at least as expensive to sell independently as it is on ThemeForest. It’s certainly more time-consuming.

    You point out that you have control over pricing though and that’s where you can make up the difference. Charging renewals for support and updates is something ThemeForest authors have missed out on. TF is going to charge for support renewal in September but the price is too low to cover costs because updates are not included. Charging for updates offsets the cost of support, because not everybody needs support.

    My feeling is you can also sell at a higher price independently than on ThemeForest, probably because ThemeForest customers are accustomed to lower pricing. They expect more for less. People who go directly to you don’t necessarily have that mindset. A difference of $30 for a theme is not much to a client when they’re spending hundreds or thousands on having the site built, hosting it, etc.

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