Are you looking to start your own WordPress theme shop? Or maybe you already have your products listed on Envato, but want to move out for one reason or the other?
If that’s the case, you’re probably wondering about things like pricing and other exciting money-related stuff.
So in this post (my first here) I’m going to talk about just that.
Let’s dive into the topic of different pricing strategies that tend to work well in the WordPress world. And I promise this won’t be your regular chit-chat. The advice here is based on the experience we’ve gained while marketing our own themes (at ThemeIsle) and the biggest mistakes we’ve made with our flagship theme – Zerif Pro.
The 3 main pricing models to choose from
There’s obviously more stuff out there, but the 3 main options I want to focus on here are:
- The freemium model. It’s where you have a lite and a pro version of your theme.
- The standard model, affiliate-driven. This time, you only have the pro version of the theme and you’re marketing it to affiliates, who will then promote it for you.
- The standard model, end-user-driven. Also pro version only, but this time you’re the one promoting to the end users directly ( can be both designers or customers ).
Looking back at our story with ThemeIsle and the different marketing methods we’ve used, I can honestly say that if I were to start from scratch, I would pick just one of the above models for the entire shop, instead of mixing them all together (this also mixes the audience and the goals that you’re setting for the whole operation).
I now find it much easier to just be able to focus on one model, one approach, one type of marketing, and effectively dominating it.
Before discussing each model one by one I think is important to get a little bit of understanding of the audience in order to understand it and market your theme properly.
The space is very segmented, you can target both the resellers (designers and developers) as well as the end users.
The intuitive thing to do is to just try approaching both worlds and market to them simultaneously, but I wouldn’t actually advise it. Again, you’re reaching out to two very different audiences and making your product compatible with both can dilute it significantly.
So don’t be afraid to pick your side. From my experience, there’s about the same amount of money to be made on either end (marketing to designers vs. marketing to end users). That being said, you can expect to have more clients if you just market to end users, but at the same time, the lifetime value of the customer is a bit lower too.
1. The freemium model
The freemium model is perhaps the biggest one out there on the WordPress theme market. There are multiple themes and theme shops that try marketing their products first as free offerings, and then attempt to promote the pro version by adding more functionality or some other perks.
We mentioned before the possible audience, so for now, let’s stick with designers as the target market.
What will convince a designer to pay for a pro version of your theme?
The million dollar question, isn’t it?
Okay, it may not be that complicated actually.
There are specific traits that a theme needs to have to be considered a good buy by a designer working on a client project:
- Support for the end client. Designers don’t want to have to deal with any trouble that might come later on, long after they’ve finished up the project. So offer them a special reseller license where they buy the theme, but the end-user gets the support. This helps them solve any difficulties they might have with the theme. Keep in mind, however, that you need to be very specific about what you offer exactly (e.g. video documentation, WordPress tutorials or videos for the client, maximum number of support tickets allowed, restrictions on any custom code or CSS work, etc.). Depending on what you offer, you can charge $199/year for this or more while offering 50% commission for the designer to be a win-win-win situation.
- A customization add-on. Basically, this sort of module can speed up the designer’s work process. Instead of them having to modify the theme by hand, they can get the add-on and do their work through the customizer. The add-on can be priced at around $99 for unlimited sites.
- Child themes. The key to selling to designers and developers is offering a number of child themes that can be used for different purposes / niches / end clients. Therefore, offering 5-10 child themes can be a great idea. Focus on style rather than functionality. You can price each child theme at around $49 (unlimited sites license) while offering a $99 – $199 all license.
In every case, the designer – your actual client – gets support too. Limiting it in any way would make things complicated and hard to explain.
If you’d prefer targeting your themes to end clients directly then you can use the same pricing models and principles as above, but you need to also change the wording of your offer quite significantly. The end client needs to see right away what’s in it for them, and what makes your offer better than the next guy’s.
Going in this direction doesn’t even require you to have any affiliate program at all. Personally, I’d just stick to marketing the free versions of the themes and let the paid ones take care of themselves (of course, I would promote them to whoever downloaded the free versions).
2. The standard model, affiliate-driven
The main difference compared with the freemium model is that there is competition for the money, while in the first case there is only your customization add-on or child themes, in this case you will directly compete with all the themes in the same niche, which means that your pricing need to be competitive as well.
If you want to rely on affiliates/partners to promote your products then there’s a number of important things to consider:
- You need to provide tools (sub-affiliate ids, campaigns). Ideally, each affiliate should be able to check which visitor they sent / converted.
- You need sample promotional materials (sample emails, landing pages, widgets, banners).
- You need good affiliate management. This means remaining in touch with your affiliates, following up with them to see how you can help and what you can do to make their work easier, help them grow and optimize their efforts.
- You need good sales pages that convert like crazy. There are a couple of elements at play here. First, you need a good price point ($49 for simple themes, I would say, with basic support or even almost no support). Then, there’s copywriting, demos, optimized sales process (landing pages, checkout pages), upsells, retargeting and email marketing. Basically, you need to be a marketing machine. The goal is to get around $199 lifetime value per user.
- Offer crazy commissions. If you rely on after-sale revenues, you can offer something like a 70% commission on the initial sale.
- You need lots of themes targeting lots of niches or a single theme targeting a wide audience. This is the only way to create a big enough environment for your affiliates to generate income in.
- Good examples here are : TemplateMonster.com , Elegantthemes.com and ThemeForest .
3. The standard model, end-user-driven
Lastly, in this variation of the standard model, you basically have to compete with web development agencies, designers, and lone developers for the end users, however you can as well target them as partners and work a revenue share deal. The goal is to cater to a client who would otherwise get someone else to do the site building for them.
The good news is that you can start with just one theme meant to serve a single niche. The price tag can be higher too. Even as much as $399, but there are also a couple of things you need to take care of in order to convince people to pay you that much.
Consider the following:
- Your sales materials and your whole marketing approach needs to be optimized to go after those clients willing to pay for a premium theme and have things handled for them. This will be very different than selling $49 themes.
- You need to be able to offer a package of hosting + domain + theme installation that’s stress-free on the client. Even if you don’t actually host the site yourself, you need to either pass this onto another company or find a different solution, but the idea is to make the process easy on the client.
- You need good video documentation for the theme. Again, making things easy on the client.
- You will only be successful with this approach if working with your theme is truly hassle-free. The client should be able to just choose a skin, add their content, go through a couple of simple steps, and have their site fully launched as a result.
- The default WordPress on-boarding process is not your friend, so it might make sense to build a MU plugin which create a simpler initial process ( see JetPack start ) while offering options for un-cluttered wp-admin
- This may hurt, but if you choose this route you might need to have a split GPL license to better protect your work
In the end, either of the 3 approaches can work great and be profitable for you. The only catch is that there are no shortcuts here, and neither path is the “easiest” one.
The thing I can say from my personal experience – what we’ve been doing with ThemeIsle – is that not making our offer laser-focused is the main mistake we’ve made. I’ve quickly found out that trying to market to the target group of “everyone” isn’t the easiest thing.
So my advice is: Specialize. Choose one path. Dominate it.