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  1. I ended up giving my themes away for free because they weren’t selling. There could be a number of factors here (like maybe they just suck ;), but I think the largest reason was I couldn’t offer support. I didn’t think it was too big a deal if I sold them for ridiculously cheap, but maybe it was?

    • I think it depends on how you position the sale – maybe wording to the effect of these themes are super affordable, but they come as-is, with no future updates or support. Who knows. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Another thought might be to throw them up on Github and allow others to fix things or add to, etc. if you like the theme, but don’t have time to support it.

      • Wow, I read this post, and then saw that I had already commented on it a while ago. And then saw that you had replied! So sorry!!

        Anyway, in response to your response:

        I could probably offer support now-a-days, but I did end up throwing the themes up on GitHub and for free. They seemed to be more received, but I think in the end it was more a publicity issue and definitely an authority issue, since I’m relatively new to the whole Genesis community.

  2. Hey Carrie, thanks for sharing this. One thing that’s kind of kept me from doing very much with Genesis theme development is that the Genesis Framework itself is biased towards doing things the right way, which often means fewer options (no “Seven sliders, 86 fonts, 120 lightbox effects,” etc). A lot of the theme market, from what I’ve seen, is stuck on buying more features, not good code. Your Utility theme (in particular) and your real estate theme (to a lesser extent) still make a point of adding some specific, unique options. But they add them in a way that’s responsible and well-coded, not gimmicky. Have you had any pushback from folks who wanted to see more features, more bells and whistles? If so, what’s working well for you in terms of communicating why (for lack of a better way to put it) less is often much more, especially where themes are concerned?

    • Hi Evan,
      You bring up a great point. I addressed a similar question in this comment that sums up my thoughts.

      IMHO, if you want to be taken seriously in the developer community, then you develop toward best practices to the best of your ability. I don’t get much pushback regarding inclusion of “shiny” features in a theme, but when I do, I just try to educate about why there’s a better way. Usually when you tell people “You can never switch themes because you’ll lose half your content”, they get it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thanks for the insightful article. I’m in the process of designing my first theme and am still on the fence as to which way to go with development. I want to package it with plugins so I might have to not go with Genesis but everyone in the community talks to highly about it…. hmmmmmm… lots to think about!

    • Hi Melanie,
      I’ve been pondering the add-on plugins as well and frankly think it makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure the best approach in terms of pricing/distributing bundled plugins and themes, but I say go for it!

      Cheers,
      Carrie

  4. Howdy CDils ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love how this community is all intertwined. I just subscribed to Tom McFarlin’s blog after clicking a link t it from a recommended blog list from a ManageWP newsletter!

    I love the idea of a code audit, and that you shared that you did this. As a former everday-coder, but newbie to WordPress and Genesis this is more important to me than a widget – LOL. I think you should share it more. Themes are like wrapped presents, they can look really fancy, shiny and with wonderfully elaborate bows but what is inside? Many people might not be concerned with this and I get that. But I love knowing that I’m starting with great bones to build on. For many this is their livelihood, why would you risk it on code that might break with the next WP update? When I was a full time data/web service developer and was nearing the end of a task, I used to go to the top QA Engineer and ask him: “OK, what is the first thing you are going to test in my program to try and break it?” The other developers were shocked I would do this, they avoided QA like the plague, wouldn’t talk to them ๐Ÿ™‚ But in my case, 100% of the time the answer was something I never would have thought to unit test, and often it did break it. More *informed* eyes on it the better, they will always look in a different place !

      • Hi Carrie,

        I would really enjoy an article about how to develop and test a theme responsibly, not just for sale but for clients who are paying for a custom theme.

        I am specifically concerned about custom post types, I want to handle them responsibly, in such a way as to preserve the clients ability to choose a new theme. Not just for them, but for me. I love it when an exciting theme comes out and I can propose it as a quick and painless facelift for a client site that is just a few years old. It’s additional income for me and it boosts member interest in the client’s site. Happiness all around. But that can’t happen if I have riveted the client to their current theme. Or at least, not so painlessly.

        – Sheryl

  5. Hi Carrie,

    Really nice insights on the marketing side of business. Recently, I have been working on building custom WP themes. I did a couple of themes and had no idea how to market those themes.
    It all feels like starting up with big ambitions and ending up with no business and revenues. Surely, there was a weak marketing end. I changed my plans and had a closer look at the market.
    This post from you comes at the right time, I will be implementing better strategies next time to start selling. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I’ve been pondering building a Genesis child theme for several months but haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to it yet. One thing that always stops me is the idea of supporting it – since I spend a lot of time answering questions in the SP support forums, I see all the nitpicky (and sometimes ridiculous) questions people ask and it makes my head spin. The idea of dealing with that on a targeted basis – I’m the dev so I have to answer ALL the questions – is a little much for me right now.

    I’m really grateful for these tips since I still haven’t ruled out a child theme as a possible future project. Right now I’m in a process of reviewing my business plan and deciding what works vs. what doesn’t, and it’s still amazing to me how often my business evolves. Things that were a great idea even 6 months ago may not be a smart thing now, and things I said I’d never do sometimes become the logical direction to take. I love the learning curve, though, so at least I’ve got that going for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Wow. I’m a little bummed–if not dismayed–to see a SP support person referring to the premium-paying customers who support the SP-enterprises in such a disrespectful, generalized manner, and tone. The same folks who ask those “nitpicky (and sometimes ridiculous) questions”…are the peeps who provide the revenue that funds your paycheck. Sure, we ask ridiculous (aka stupid?) questions, but we’re asking them–and that’s a sign that StudioPress premium themes are selling. Also, for everyone who asks, there are likely ten more temporarily-frustrated StudioPress customers who are reading the answers and finding a solution, because we’re too chicken to post a stupid question.

      Perhaps a self-attitude-check and some grace might be applied on your part towards all of us non-professionals and newbies who struggle to figure out what you WordPress pros can do in your sleep? The graceful examples of cheerful, friendly WordPress community-givers like Justin Tadlock and Bill Erickson come to mind. I’ve asked dumb questions and WordPress has made me feel like an idiot time and time again, but I keep plugging along.

      Perhaps you’re over-worked and could use some help? I’ve always felt that Brian & Brian’s support model for StudioPress premium products was weak at best, so maybe you’re frustrated or burned-out, and it’s showing…?

      But please, the customer is not the bad-guy. We’re always going to ask dumb/stupid/ridiculous questions…that’s what differentiates you and devs in general as “experts” and separates you from the sometimes clueless “n00bs” like me and others… So hang in there, and don’t let us bastards get you down!

      • “The same folks who ask those โ€œnitpicky (and sometimes ridiculous) questionsโ€โ€ฆare the peeps who provide the revenue that funds your paycheck.”

        Although this comment was not directed to me, I felt the need to clarify:

        The SP community forums are just that – community forums, manned by volunteers. It’s not SP “official” support, and the people who answer the questions on the community forums are not SP employees. We are volunteers.

  7. Thank you for posting this! Such perfect timing! I’m looking at making some Genesis themes with two other designers and opening a shop. I love the idea of a code audit–I hadn’t thought about that.

    I’d loooove to get access to the Matt Report Pro community! The biggest challenges with getting these themes rollin’ is deciding how best to set them up, offer support (we’re thinking a video vault!), and get us all to decide on what we’re doing! haha I think it’d be a big benefit to get feedback and ideas from people who have already been there and done that!

  8. This….
    “Consider the best support model for your theme before releasing it to the wild.”

    I have thought about working on developing on my own theme(s), but after a discussion with the amazing Brian Gardner, he made me realize – I should focus on what I do well.

    What do I do well? I support themes ๐Ÿ™‚

    Theme developers should focus on what they do best – develop themes. Leave the support and theme set-up to an expert, and concentrate on building your business that way – not trying to do it all yourself.

    • Susan, you make a superb point about sticking to strengths and not trying to do everything yourself. You’re a great example of what top-notch support looks like and I’d love to see you paying your bills with that service. ๐Ÿ™‚

      So when are you going to start up your Support Firm?

    • Susan you made a great point. I am better with theme setup/customization, but that still requires a level of support needed once the setup is done. Great way to market other services though.I have tried to create some all-in-one type setups (theme, content, plugins) but that is more complicated to handle (delivery, theme updates, etc.).

      Regardless no matter what aspect we focus on with web development, support is needed. It is still amazing to see large companies like StudioPress have large support options, and other sites have no support options other than a contact us page. This is a great article Carrie, thanks. One step at a time, but developers have to think of the entire lifecycle in order to succeed.

  9. Great post, Carrie! I’ve been planning to create a Genesis child theme in the next few months based off a few recent custom designs.

    I’m not interested in support — at all. I’m planning to give away the theme for free in hopes up stirring up business by offering customization and web design packages.

    …it also wouldn’t hurt to get my name out there. ๐Ÿ™‚

    -David G.

    • Hey David,
      That sounds like a great plan. I mentioned it to Calvin in another comment here, but if you’re going the free route, you might consider putting your themes up on Github, where others can contribute to or learn from your code.

      Cheers,
      Carrie

  10. Great post. I did wonder why I hadn’t heard about Utility before it arrived and then stumbled across it in the BYLT marketplace and very happy using it on my site now ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have entertained the idea of creating themes, but I don’t think that is my forte. I think Susan is spot on about sticking with your strengths.

    So my biggest challenge in my WordPress business right now is finding where my place is and what my zone of genius is. I can continue creating websites for people in the interim, but I’d love another up to date post from some creative, out-of-the-box-thinking WordPress & Genesis people on options/ideas around building a business around WordPress & Genesis.

    • Helena, I love your site and the customization you did with Utility. It makes me happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

      “The Genius Zone” sounds like a great title for post. Wanna help me write it?

  11. I think I just found the answer I’ve been looking for in Susan’s and Helena’s question & your response. I’d like to take my business of working with Genesis and using Child themes for my client’s website – leaving the theme support to the experts. (Love this!)
    But what is the best practice to partner up with a theme expert for creative customization work, support and making sure the customized website is – “theme expert” approved before handing it to back to the client?

    {PS – I think there could be some creative & collaborative ideas with Susan, Helena and Carrie here….}

  12. I also encourage you to think about pulling together a series of workshops for genesis developers that people can pay for, if you have an interest in that. Just a suggestion. Not like you are not doing enough!!

    This week I paid 197 for an ithemes plugin workshop and it is really *fabulous* and worth every penny. (Benjamin Bradley is awesome), But every step of the way I have to watch out to see that it translates to genesis. Most of the time it does, but I would love to see a genesis-specific hands-on workshop from you (et al).

    You might say such workshops exist out there, but you have a gift in your ability to create an organized bridge for the newbie to a higher level of knowledge. If I send one of your articles to a friend or client I never get back a “huh????” that’s so helpful!

    [Oh yes, did I mention that I would benefit from the support of the Matt Report community.]

    No gimmicks. You hold yourself to high standards and encourage us to as well. I’d sign up for that.

  13. Great article Carrie! Every point you made was spot and I’ll be clipping this to Evernote for when I’m at that point in my business. One question that I have: where can a newbie WordPress Designer/future developer like myself learn about how to build a Genesis Theme from scratch? I know there are a ton of free tutorials on customizing Genesis themes but I would love to hear your opinion on this. Thanks!

  14. Great post! I’m pretty far from being ready from commercial theme development as I’m just getting my feet wet with custom theme development. Like Chrissy, I’ve clipped this to Evernote and will definitely revisit this post should I decide in the future to make a go at developing and selling themes. Thanks!

  15. This is amazing. Your article has inspired me to rethink my decision about getting into creating themes again. My hang up in the past was, I’ve hacked themes for so long I’m not sure I can code from scratch to be able to build the theme worth selling.

    What was encouraging about your article is the idea of collaboration and the code audit. I never really gave that much thought. Gives me some confidence to proceed and know I have resources to make sure things are good.

    I’d love to hear how you go through your process of developing new themes!!

  16. Ohhh Carrie, great subject. When I did that one in February. It never crossed my mind to sell it. I thought I was gonna pull my hair out. I have another free one on the burner. But I have a HUGE amount of respect for advanced theme developers. I am a noobie and I learned so much during that process. I may not create anymore themes, but at least my technical support skills have gotten 100% better.

  17. One more point I’d like to make is that I used to provide theme support for one of the theme developers and her support was no joke. Some people don’t realize how many customers will email the developers for all sorts of things… two, three, times a day. And, if you didn’t respond fast enough – they put you on blast on Twitter or Facebook. You really have to plan this out and know how to address those before their posts go viral!

  18. Carrie,

    This is a wonderful article with great insights applicable not only to themes but also other aspects of business success. I am constantly impressed by your commitment to give back to the WordPress community through your MeetUps, Genesis Office Hours, Blog, participation in Google Hangouts, etc. As a software development manager for 6+ years, and a developer for more than 33, I coach and counsel others to share their knowledge and mentor their peers.

    Far too many people see sharing what they know, and lifting up others, as a threat to their own opportunity / success / status. I believe that it conveys great maturity and confidence and recognition that you must differentiate yourself and demonstrate your value in other ways than just coding or having a viable business plan. Demonstrating leadership, expertise, and the courage to embrace public criticism

    As you already know, your personal brand and reputation are bolstered by being active in your professional community, and that may be the deciding factor in whether a client or employer chooses you over someone else for a project or promotion. Also, you almost always strengthen your own understanding of something by teaching it to others and we all build upon knowledge gained from someone else’s efforts and their willingness to share what they learned.

    The biggest challenge in my WordPress business is determining the best balance of efforts that generate residual income versus occasional one-time projects that generate lump sums of revenue. I’ve been in the corporate world for 26+ years and I’m used to a steady paycheck. I am certain I can learn many things from those who have already made a similar transition and have suffered through the learning curve.

    The Matt Report Pro community would be an essential source for helping me be prepared to launch, sustain, and grow my business. It would also deepen my understanding of the needs of the WordPress community and connect me with fellow entrepreneurs. I would also look forward to giving back by asking questions, sharing my experience, and the development of services, products, and techniques to satisfy unmet needs. I am excited about listening to Matt’s past podcasts to learn from the many successful leaders who shared their experience as well.

    Thanks again, Carrie, for your many contributions!

  19. Great post. As a UX designer I’m all for crowdsourcing, especially with Github, but then again, I’m a UX designer, the research is my friend. I would say this is the key take-away and I really like that you point to lots of examples. Very helpful. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I found your article because I’m working on my first theme and find it really hard to cut through all the noise about themes and frameworks to evaluate them properly. I just want to code up my designs! I guess I’m afraid to get started… sorry, rambling.

    Thank you for your honesty! (And if you have any child theme resources you love, I’m all ears!)

  20. As a perspective from a potential buyer, and after installing over 30 themes today, I’ll share my thought process and what I’ve learned to look for in a theme, and which theme I settled on today.

    My first theme after buying Genesis was the free theme, Terragon, from Derek Rippe. He has a wonderful support forum where he answers questions within 2-3 days, most times within 24 hours or faster. I only had to ask a few questions as I was able to read answers given to others before me and usually adapt the solutions to my issues. I loved that theme and really felt customization was fairly easy with a small learning curve.

    Time to begin my next project, and of course, I started looking at the free themes, then I moved to the affordable themes. I really liked a non-Genesis theme I found but it was $80. If I wasn’t so in love with Genesis, I might have considered it, but the price tag…..that is just too much for a non-Genesis theme….even a Genesis theme. I’ve purchased 3 Genesis themes..each was around $30, which I find really reasonable.

    However, the support that I got from Derek for his free theme was better than I got from the ones I paid for. I realized today, I want a help forum where I can read questions from others and the safety net of being able to ask questions if I need to….and know I’m going to get a response. I would pay for something like that!

    So, after 30+ themes today, I ended up back at Derek Rippe’s MediaCairn site and downloaded his free theme Simplux. I will have to make extensive changes, but I like the way he designs his themes and I know I have his forum as back up if I need to ask questions.

    So, the issue I came to realize as the most important to me as an end user is the availability of support.

    • You make a great point about continuing to go back to Derek’s themes due to the familiar build and the available support – even if you know it’s something you’ll have to heavily modify.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  21. Planning to launch my upcoming Genesis child theme: Membership Site Theme for free with a backend strategy in place. Going test out the PaidMembershipsPro business model. Should be interesting.

  22. Ah, good point Susan. Me thinks I misinterpreted Andrea’s statement: “Iโ€™m the dev so I have to answer ALL the questions…”

    Sorry about that, Andrea–I was incorrectly reading your comment as “I’m a DEV with StudioPress, and I have to answer ALL those posts.” Which of course, is not what you wrote. My apologies.

    I would still be inclined to reply with a similar comment, but referring to a StudioPress forum volunteer. If somebody is going to publicly disparage users of a forum, they might just find that a user of that same forum calls them on their comment. That was the intent of my reply.

    Volunteers ARE awesome. There was nothing personal intended by my comments. I was responding to a ‘statement’ by a volunteer.

    Thanks Susan, for reminding us that the volunteers keep the forums going. Certainly they do. Which is kind of what I was alluding to with my statement above, “…support model for StudioPress premium products was weak at best.”

    As to StudioPress profiting from volunteers (who man their “unofficial” support forum), it seems to me that the larger premium WordPress companies cherry-pick the elements of the “freemium” model and the whole WordPress GPL eco-system to their profitiable benefit…but that’s a different blog post and debate.

    Thanks again for the post, Carrie. You’ve certainly sparked some commentary–keep ’em coming, we’re reading! Cheers

    • You are not the first person to think it was manned by staff. Understandable.

      The official studiopress.com copyblogger support is great. I haven’t contacted them for much, but they were great. Mostly in the context of synthesis hosting, but relating to themes nevertheless.

      I would answer more Genesis support questions myself, but I have only owned the pro pack since 2013 so I’m worried about that blind leading the blind thing. When I am working on my own sites I can try things and test them to make sure I’m right, but via forum posts, not so easy to be sure I understand the problem.

      • Sheryl – as a regular volunteer (and moderator) on the forums, I encourage you to answer questions. I don’t know all the answers, but there are questions in there that someone who has only been using Genesis for a month or so will know the answers to.

        My take on it is that if I answer the questions I know, then I make it easier for other, more experienced volunteers, to find the harder questions.

        There’s something for everyone in there!

        • +1 for Susan’s comment – Sheryl, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn from answering other people’s questions. Plus, it a great way to get your name out into the WP/Genesis community. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • If the answers are helpful, that’s true. In any case, I am on it. I do appreciate all the support and tips I received from this generous community, including you both.

  23. Hello,

    Thank you for your excellent article. Is there a model where I can provide the html/js/css3 and some one out there has the system for hooking it in to the Genesis framework & supporting it?

    Best,
    Christina

  24. Carrie, I thought your write up was awesome and what I needed to hear so I’m bookmarking it for future reference. Anyhow, I just wanted to say and you probably know this, often we succeed from our failures though your first theme wasn’t a failure it was a learning curve. I’m glad you wrote about it many thx. Sharon

    • Thank you for the good words, Sharon. You’re spot on – for 99.999999% of us, wins don’t happen without some losses to teach us how to do better. ๐Ÿ™‚

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