How Not to Sell Genesis Themes

How Not to Sell Genesis Themes

Here’s the good news: Anyone can create, release, and sell Genesis Themes.

Here’s the bad news: Anyone can create, release, and sell Genesis Themes.

What makes the difference between a successful theme and a total waste of server space? Well, let’s talk about it.

Setting the Stage

In September 2013 I quietly released my first Genesis child theme, Utility. While it was well-received (i.e. “hey! great theme!”), sales were pretty dismal. My second theme, Winning Agent Pro, hit the streets in February 2014 and has sold better.

I’d like to share some things I’ve learned on my journey of creating and selling child themes for the Genesis Framework, things you can learn, too.

5 Things You Can Do To Ensure Your Theme Sales Suck

1. Don’t tell anybody you’re working on a theme.

This may sound silly, but it’s true. When I was working on Utility, I kept it a secret. Not on purpose — it just didn’t occur to me to talk about it. If you’re working on a theme (or any product for that matter), talk about it with your target audience. You’ll gain early on feedback that could make your theme better and, most importantly, you’ll build anticipation.

Brian Gardner does an amazing job of this, regularly showing sneak peeks for upcoming themes. Adam Clark, a newer member of the Genesis community, recently did the same:


The lesson: Create anticipation with your audience before your product hits the market. It’s smart business.

2. Don’t build with a specific audience in mind.

Stage Your ThemeIf you’ve ever bought or sold a home, you’re familiar with the idea of staging. When you want a home to look attractive to a buyer, you strategically arrange the furniture to maximize the space, you light a candle to make the house smell good, and maybe even play some subtle music. When buyers walk in the door, you want them to imagine living there and being happy.

A theme is not really any different. While it’s great to have a multi-purpose, utilitarian theme like Utility (hello, that’s where the name came from), it’s harder for a buyer to imagine moving their content in to such a generic space.

With Winning Agent Pro, I created for a specific audience — realtors –and staged the demo to look like a working real estate site. There’s no mystery about how things will look once their content is moved in.

The lesson? Build for a target audience and show them what their content will look like in your theme.

3. Don’t ask for feedback.

You know what happens when you hang out in your own mind too long with no outside interaction? Your thoughts go haywire. That’s right. Haywire.

I know it’s exciting to get an idea for a theme, fire up the code editor, and start typing away, but sometimes you need to sit back, take a breath, and let some other humans speak into your ideas.

Utility was a theme I wanted to build – a WordPress Mt. Everest of sorts, created just for the achievement of it. I didn’t seek design input and built what I wanted to build. While I’m proud of it, I know it would’ve been better with design input.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22

Winning Agent was a collaborative effort from the start. I partnered with a real-estate industry expert and received feedback from other realtors (my target audience) along the way.

The lesson? Get feedback from your target audience early on. Solve their problems. The result will be a product people want to buy.

4. Don’t use beta testers or get a code audit.

At some point during theme development, you’ll be so sick of staring at your code your eyes will cross. Involve other WordPress users and get them to break your theme, then fix it. Rinse and repeat until the bugs disappear.

Tom McFarlin did an impressive job of this while developing his Mayer theme – his call for beta testers accomplished a dual goal of improving his product and building anticipation with his audience.

When you think you’ve got your theme 99% done, pay someone like Gary Jones or Travis Smith for a code audit. Regardless of where you are with your development skills,  it’s smart to seek the counsel of a more advanced developer. They’ll point out other improvements that will make your product that much better.

The lesson? In a crowded theme marketplace, let your work stand out as tested and approved by others in the WordPress community.

 5. Don’t think about support.

I’ll let you in on a secret: Supporting a product is harder than building it. If all you want to do is create and sell Genesis themes, but you have no interest in supporting your product, stop. You’d be better off releasing your themes for free “as-is”, or selling your theme for a sum to someone willing to invest the time and cost of supporting it.

I won’t go into detail here about the best way to price products and provide support. Plenty of more experienced people have written those articles, like Chris Lema’s Sustainability for WordPress Themes and Thomas Griffin’s Making Amends for Business Decisions. But just know before you open up Photoshop or the code editor, you need to work out a plan for how you’ll offer support.

The lesson? Consider the best support model for your theme before releasing it to the wild.

57 thoughts on “How Not to Sell Genesis Themes”

  1. Ah, good point Susan. Me thinks I misinterpreted Andrea’s statement: “I’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

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

      The official 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.

      1. 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. +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. 🙂

          1. 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.

  2. 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?


  3. Pingback: Freelance WordPress Developer Carrie Dils: Finding Balance, Best Practices & More | iThemes

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  5. 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

    1. 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. 🙂

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