As well as running the web design forum designerstalk.com and WordPress blog wplift.com, Oliver Dale recently created his own WordPress theme store themefurnace.com. We were intrigued about the challenges he faced entering such a competitive market, so we got in touch to ask him some questions. Thankfully, he was kind enough to answer them!
The WordPress theme business is very competitive right now, why did you decide to start your own WordPress theme store rather than sell through an established market place?
I like to have complete control over my business – I can set my own prices and policies rather than having to follow someone else’s rules.
I do like the theme marketplaces though, there’s some amazing companies that sell on them – I just finished a theme and submitted it to ThemeForest today so I will be selling on there as well to complement my main site.
What do you think sets Theme Furnace apart from other WordPress theme stores?
A theme store lives or dies by its product; the themes. I’m trying to make ours the highest possible quality, design and code-wise, that I can. I have been a web designer for many years, so hopefully by now I know what looks good and functions well!
What have been the biggest lessons you have learned from setting up and launching ThemeFurnace?
If you build it, they won’t come! Marketing is a huge part of making your site successful. Luckily I have experience gaining traffic for many other sites but it’s still a difficult and sometimes boring job, but essential if you want to make your site a success. Building ThemeFurnace and the launch themes took me around 7 months, it’s going to take me another year or so before the site starts hitting targets I’ve set for it.
How have you gone about raising awareness of Theme Furnace within the market place?
Firstly I started collecting emails long before I launched on a holding page to build up a bit of a newsletter audience which I email about new theme releases and special offers. I have also been running competitions on various design and WordPress blogs, giving away free memberships to help spread the word about us.
I run my own blog WPLift.com and have been using that to advertise and promote new themes.
The marketplace is so well served at the moment that it’s been quite difficult to break into it, I do have a few other tricks up my sleeve though, which I’m working on.
Can you talk us through launching a new theme, from idea conception to launch?
I’m just starting a new theme at the moment so my process goes like this :
1. Sketching ideas out on a pad with colour pens
2. Playing about in Photoshop creating a Wireframe and the final mock-ups
3. Using my blank theme framework to build the HTML and CSS and then onto the Theme, testing as I go. All my themes will be responsive from now and I found this brilliant & free tool to simultaneously test on your desktop, iPad and iPhone by Adobe called Shadow – http://success.adobe.com/en/na/sem/products/shadow.html
4. After I’ve built the theme, if it needs extra functionality I hand off to my developer with a brief and he will code that
5. I will then do lots of testing, putting WordPress into debug mode and using the theme check plugin -http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/theme-check/ and Theme Unit Test http://codex.wordpress.org/Theme_Unit_Test
6. Finally, I will write up a couple of launch blog posts and create the graphics to add it to the website to launch it.
I went in to my process in more detail in this post : http://wplift.com/designing-building-a-wordpress-theme-my-step-by-step-process
Customer support is always a big investment for any business, be it time or money, what have your experiences been here?
I think the best way to cut down on customer support is provide really in depth documentation which I have done for each theme. I just bought a microphone today and I’m going to be recording some video tutorials next on how to setup the themes and customise them.
Customer support is handled by me at the moment via our forums and that’s working fine, as our customer base grows I have some applicants who I will employ to take over from me and possibly look at adding some sort of ticketing system.
What advice would you give to a developer/ designer looking at making money from creating resources for WordPress (themes, plug-ins, management services etc.)?
Just get started! I put off ThemeFurnace for ages because of doubts and procrastination.
The sooner you get started the sooner you start building your business and income. If you are employed full-time or on a freelance basis you can start to think about doing this full time, if not, then it’s still a great extra income.
Things are so much easier now with places like the envato marketplaces, you don’t have to worry about marketing, ecommerce or any other considerations apart from building and supporting great products.
How do you see Theme Furnace developing in the next 12 months?
I would like to release some more niche themes – all our themes are very general at the moment so I want to start creating themes for more specialised industries. I also want to release some free themes which will help spread the word a bit and also give back to the WordPress community – I’d like to get a theme on WordPress.com as well.
What are your essential WordPress plug-ins?
Some plug-ins I like to use are :