Pressbit 008: Thinking out loud about WordPress business models


Pressbit 008 is ready for your listening ears. In this Pressbit I talk about WordPress business models, giving a proof of concept that (I hope) helps get across the point that there are a lot of business models in our industry that are still untapped.

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There are lots of untapped ideas – here’s one

Oli Dale, of wplift, wrote a nice post a while back about existing WordPress business models. It was an interesting post, but I think there is still a lot of potential to do new things. So, in this Pressbit, I go over one idea.

Let’s say you know how to make WordPress themes – either for clients or for public distribution – then this idea could apply to you.

Instead making a theme and trying to sell it in your own shop or on a marketplace for $35, what if you developed a much more niche theme, and targeted a select type of customer.

Let’s think in numbers. I’ll assume your end goal is to make $10,000. Not a bad number, right? Well, instead of having to sell this theme more than 400 times (after the marketplace thakes their share) for $35 each, you’re going to sell this theme ten times for $1,000 each.

What!? I can’t sell a theme for $1,000 a pop!

Sure you can. Because you are only going to sell it ten times. After all, your goal is $10,000, right? So now you’re not selling a template that can be used all over the web – but a design you can be specific with and target just the right customer, but it’s guaranteed to only show up in the world ten times. All of a sudden, your customer has a well-developed, nearly entirely custom design for a grand. They just got a steal.

On top of your $1,000 price tag, you’ll also give each customer five development hours to help them get set up, do slight customizations, or whatever they choose. I’ll assume developing your theme will take a month (that’s a generous amount of time). So now you’ve invested one month of development and another week of customizations for this theme. And you made $10,000 in less than 40 days.

So, you’re still selling WordPress themes, but you’re also giving a custom experience to each of these buyers and helping their businesses stand out for a price previously not possible. Not bad!

So what are some of your ideas?

17 thoughts on “Pressbit 008: Thinking out loud about WordPress business models

  1. Since there’s such a gold rush in the community right now, I’d be surprised to see anyone sharing their golden egg or their idea of it!

    Regarding the business models described above, it’s similar to the “PSD to WordPress” offers we see everywhere now.

    Except, we haven’t seen it from devs at a fixed price. Why?

    1. Simply because dev time is very hard to estimate. The simplest functionality can take hours for a coder. Clients have a huge problem understanding that and need to be explained.

    2. Good devs like long term commitments… without handling clients. Who can blame them?

    • Hey Kim,

      I actually think what I described is quite different from a PSD to WP service. Those are usually one-off, and have issues:

      1) They’re typically done poorly and don’t include necessary companion styling for the functionality for the website.
      2) They’re priced way too cheap, because most base prices for PSD to WP are just a single content page and archive page with some base content styles accounted for.

      Doing a PSD to WP for just the base page and simple archive page is usually only the first few hours in my projects. Far more time is spent properly coding the home page and any custom landing pages, and building companion plugins for the site to meet the needed functionality.

      The idea above would be highly niche and have all the extra goodies for the niche – and in the end the developer gets $10,000, not the $500-$1000 EA pay you often see in the cutthroat race to the bottom PSD to WP markets.

  2. Hi Brian,

    I’ve been planning to blog on almost exactly this topic, once I can find the time to relaunch my blog. 🙂

    The upshot is that all the theme vendors are battling for the same space by each trying to build tens of themes, all with a low level of functionality that is specific to any specific user. Instead theme vendors should look for vertical markets and “go deep.” Look for customers in a space that is underserved and then start building themes and plugins to meet their specific vertical market needs. Noel Tock is IMO the one who “gets” this as he rebranded from ThemeForce to HappyTables. GREAT move on his part.

    This idea is as old as business itself, but for graphic designers who are mainly focused on design, maybe it wasn’t obvious?


    P.S. This idea begs the incorporation of Sunrise into those vertical market themes, once Sunrise is publicly available, of course. 🙂

  3. Nice concept but I am wondering how you could penetrate the market since there’s a lot of noise around WordPress themes at the moment.

    I think another good idea is to develop themes that are only available with a hosting package and also, provide service for them. This will increase your revenue per client and also would generate more leads from word to mouth.

    • I agree with you on this. Maybe this can be implemented as a “premium” above the 5 hours of development. The same can be done with maintenance and so on. There are people who wheteher are busy or don’t have the “luxury” of hiring a developer.

  4. I really think if someone buys a theme from you they are going to backtrack to see what else you have to offer, and it would be a good idea to not only brand oneself but keep them motivated to purchase more of your products.

    This is most earnestly felt when you have a one on one conversation with them.

    • Different markets. If you are selling to website who will build sites for most any business that pays them, maybe. But if you define the customer as the end-user restaurant owner, as Happy Tables does, the end-user doesn’t want breadth (more themes), they want depth (more functionality for marketing their restaurant.)

      If that argument doesn’t resonate with you, this little book (first published in 1993) should shed light on the reason that focusing on a market makes so much sense.

  5. Thanks Brian,

    It’s a great idea but im wondering how someone could limit the number of themes sold and still stay GPL compliant.

    For example, whats to stop a developer from buying 1 of those 10 themes and then using the same theme over and over for multiple clients.

    I do like your idea of trying to break away from the current business models out there.

    • I find it highly unlikely that the type of folks that would redistribute a theme would buy this for $1000. Plus, a developer that sells this to a client is also probably convincing their client that it’s pretty custom, and wouldn’t risk that – if they want to keep any customers, anyways.

      • $1000? Just a single data point of course, but one of our main clients sells to a vertical market where their customers pay over $50k, per install. No lie.

        • No, I think $1000 is dirt cheap. But I’ve seen a lot of people take $35 themes and turn them into “custom” projects and charge a couple thousand dollars. Those type of people will just keep doing so with $35 themes. To me, the $1000 price takes those type of folks out of the argument.

  6. I think you are right, it is highly unlikely. (At least I would hope so), however if I was the person selling a theme that was limited to 10 sales and that was my selling point, i would like some way to guarantee it to my customers. Having said that, I guess the bonus value for the customer is the extra 5 hours of development time per purchased. That way you can monitor the number of themes sold without imposing a software limit.

  7. The niche market concept is good but not great. All the hardware stores might want access to the same paint databases from the paint manufacturers, but that only goes so far. But all the architectural firms want to look different from one another, and they want you to call, not to log in.

    For actual blogs, not a lot of deep variety or specialization is needed, text and pictures, layout, archives, by date… Blogger is heavily used, despite the similarities of the “Themes”.

    Gizmodo, Engadget, Ars Technica, and Wired, for example, are similar in that they compete in the area of “Technology news”. All might easily be on WordPress. But their look, feel, and organization want to be different, to stand out. Conceivably, though, Wired might use the same theme as, say, a group of Civil War re-enactors; stories, images, et cetera. Helpfully, the overlap in readership is probably small.

    Sometimes form follows function, but on the web, sometimes it doesn’t.

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