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.

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