I read a great article by Bill Robbins this morning via Poststatus who shared a few common myths when running and creating a successful WordPress Theme business. In his myth-busting blog post he shared these three myths:
- It’s Passive Income – Obviously there’s nothing passive about building a business. I have no idea how this myth even exists.
- If You Build It They Will Buy It – Again, debunked. There is no guarantee that anyone will want to buy your theme or your product.
- Kiss Client Work Goodbye – A personal choice but just because you have a theme business doesn’t mean that you can (or want) to quit doing client project work.
I love Bill’s honest perspective of how he’s grown his theme company and the challenges that he’s come across. You see, the stark reality is that a theme business (or a plugin business) is still just that – a business and it has all the challenges that come with running a legit company.
Here are a few more myths that exist to help provide a healthy dose of reality for those that might want to jump into these very rewarding waters (if you can survive):
1. Overnight Success
This one needs to die immediately. You see, growing a business takes time. Yes, you’ve probably heard of some developers who have “struck gold” very quickly and that’s always a possibility, but these are the vast exception to the general rule and the general experience of most software developers and companies.
Most theme companies take time to grow, pivot, change, and evolve. It takes time to find a footing within any marketplace, not just WordPress, and build sustainable systems that work and that are profitable.
8BIT, the parent company of this blog WP Daily, has been working on Standard Theme for years – in fact, as a company, we’re coming into our 4th year. 4 years of building one single WordPress theme. It took that long to find our footing, cultivate a workable brand, and to gain marketplace acceptance.
This was not overnight success by any stretch of the imagination. And for many theme developers it might take some time to grow that business into a real and sustainable one.
2. All or Nothing
One of the neat things about growing an online business is the fact that you can do it with very little energy, at least at first. The idea of starting a business historically was that you had to go “all in” or you wouldn’t succeed. To be honest, you can launch a successful theme company business part-time if you wanted.
The caveat is that you need to make sure that you can be successful part-time with the right systems, support, and help along the way. Using myself and my team as an example again, we were all part-time for a good portion of our development of our core product in the very beginning and we still all have some side projects and contract work, for personal fun or to fill in a few financial gaps as they exist.
You don’t have to go all-in and hope for the best – it’s quite possible to make it a part of your much larger portfolio of work or even, again with the right systems and tools, do it on the side. What you need to make sure is that you have the right expectations of your “success” – in other words, if you do the project and business part-time then you should expect nothing more than “part-time success.”
Sure, it could blow up and you go full-time eventually but starting with the right expectations is key because it may not happen that way.
3. Nothing But Gold Jimmy!
Something that I overheard at our recent WordCamp here in Atlanta is something I’ve heard many times over – that the WordPress theming business and industry is paved with liquid gold.
That all you have to do is create it and people will buy it and the margins are “ridiculous.” This couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Very closely tied with the myth of overnight success and being a “passive” income, the margins of building a theme business can be very small, especially in the beginning, and even as you scale it’ll be hard to pinch pennies out of sales.
To be a success in the theme market you need to be great with money – you need to live small and budget closely and tightly, literally count pennies, and do your research on making the most of what you’ve got. We all have mouths to feed and time, especially in a startup, is almost the same as money.
You’ll need a good business model, a plan of action, and financial measures that make sense. If there’s “gold” in this business its the type that you mint yourself, after having been to the local quarry, digging it out yourself, refining it in your own refinery, transporting it to your local storefront, and then standing there waiting for a sale so that you can cobble it together behind your desk.
It’s work, plain and simple.