Seven years ago, I started my excursion into the WordPress product space by building and selling WordPress themes at ThemeBeans.
Since then, there have been many ups and downs, but through it all, I have learned countless valuable lessons, shaping who I’ve become as a person and an entrepreneur. Here are a few crucial lessons I’ve personally digested while running a successful WordPress product shop.
1. Put on your marketing hat
Marketing is essential to launching any new product out the door and into consumers’ hands. In today’s WordPress economy, marketing is most definitely a prevalent weakness among many WordPress shops, big and small. Gone are the days when developers were successful just because their products were well-made.
As the WordPress economy continues to mature and the barriers to entry proceed to lower, product shops simply cannot afford to release a product and hope for the best. Instead, building awareness for your new product needs to start before it launches.
Here are a few methods I’ve learned to grow WordPress themes, plugins, or services through marketing:
- Write about it: What are you building? Why are you building it? How is the product coming along? Have you run into any hurdles? If so, how did you overcome those? Be personal, be honest, and be human.
- Open a beta period: Ask folks if they’d be interested in testing the product. Incentivize them with product credits or discounts. Be creative! Don’t forget to gather feedback and get reviews.
- Incentivize subscribers: Grow your email subscriber pool by offering real value to them. For example, send them content relative to your product’s mission.
- Have a solid content marketing strategy: Write content aimed right at your target market. Do not waste your time writing fluff just to press that infamous “Publish” button weekly. Your goal should be to provide the best content available for your audience.
- Reach out to influencers: Make a list of professionals who may find your product interesting. Share your idea, send them a personalized demo, and ask for feedback. If you have a unique and high-quality product, they will have no problem spreading the word across their network.
Successful marketing campaigns effectively build credibility and grow sales. Strategic marketing is not to be overlooked in any capacity and should remain a top priority throughout your product’s life-cycle.
Let’s take a look at Freemius, which is consistently showing up when it comes to marketing. Vova Feldman and his team of gurus are frequently churning out highly polished content on their company’s blog.
Reading through the Freemius blog, you’ll find examples of business models, interviews with well-known talent within the WordPress space, and guides of all nature. Every article is specifically written for their target market. The content is not written to sell you on their own offerings, but to provide valuable tips to help build businesses. Quality content brings quality visitors, and some of those visitors will naturally investigate your offering.
2. Selling WordPress products is not passive
The idea of passively earning a substantial income from a WordPress theme or plugin is quite hollow. The overarching WordPress economy is quickly maturing and becoming very saturated on all accounts. The competition is tough and unquestionably not passive. Sure, most anyone can release a WordPress theme or plugin, upload, and move on. But they’ll likely net next to nothing in return. A significant aspect of releasing a WordPress product is customer support and maintenance.
Ensuring that your products remain operable is directly tied to the success of your shop, and more importantly, your reputation as a WordPress developer. And with the highly competitive nature of the WordPress economy, you simply cannot afford a hit to your professional capabilities. Real people are relying on you to ensure their websites are functioning properly. That’s not passive.
3. Support will make or break your business
As the WordPress economy continues to flood with new products and developers, consumers are gravitating toward products well-known for their high level of service and support. Use support as a differentiator and treat your customers with respect, even when they’re at their worst.
Be positive, welcoming, over-delivering, and most importantly, understanding. This is your single chance to change a tough situation into a good one simply by being there for them. I personally enjoy support. It’s an opportunity to get screen-to-screen with customers and really help someone. On the flip side, customer support will likely be your business’s highest operating cost. Price your products accordingly, or you will likely suffer the consequences.
Let’s take a quick look at a company that makes support look easy: Easy Digital Downloads. EDD is well-known for above and beyond to support their users, which is quite a feat for a primarily free digital eCommerce WordPress plugin. Pippin Williamson, the founder of EDD, wrote about increasing prices of his products by as much as 250% and how that action has brought sustainability to his team and product line.
4. Carve out your niche
Business owners often fear defining a niche because they view it as narrowing potential reach or cutting into sales. The truth is, carving out a niche for yourself can very well be what energizes a clear path to growing your business. Let’s take a quick look at my WordPress shop, and how going niche elevated the business in a very big way. I originally began the shop creating WordPress themes that I felt were needed in the industry. ThemeBeans grew quite well, but when I decided to hyper-focus on the creative professional market, the shop really began to skyrocket.
I had a clearer picture of the problems that needed solving, and I could better understand my target market, both of which gave me a unique advantage over “general” shops producing an occasional portfolio WordPress theme. Now, in today’s market, ThemeBeans is highly regarded for the shop’s incredibly beautiful and innovative WordPress themes, each built specifically for professional creatives.
By establishing a niche, you have a unique opportunity to become the leading product or service in your industry. You absolutely want to position your WordPress shop as the first stop when folks are looking for products in your niche. That’s much harder to accomplish by employing a standard “we do it all” business model. Do what you do best, and be the best while you’re at it.
5. Set yourself apart from the competition
Setting yourself apart from the competition is challenging. Competition is very real in the WordPress economy, and it’s growing at an enormous rate. Just a few years ago, there were half the number of WordPress shops aiming for a piece of the market.
Your ability to identify and exploit what makes your product or service better than any alternatives will provide you with a competitive edge, setting your shop apart from the masses.
Take a strategic look at how your business fits into the WordPress economy. Figure out how you can directly position yourself to stand out. Ask yourself: who is the competition? What makes you better than them? And how do you convince your audience to trust you?
Here are a few ways I’ve learned to build competitive edge:
- Put on your white gloves: Give your customers the “white glove treatment” when it comes to your product and the support you offer. The “white glove” model (priced accordingly) is a great way to build customer loyalty and position yourself as the top-tiered product, or service.
- Pricing & value: A competitive edge solely reliant on pricing is not an effective strategy, though it surely plays a role in establishing high-value — which is effective
- Become an authority: Write, share, and teach your way to establish yourself as the leading authority within your niche or market. You want potential customers to think of you first because you’re the “go-to” person or company.
6. Define obtainable goals and objectives
Well-defined goals and objectives are important to keeping you, and your WordPress shop, on the right track. Without any direction, your shop runs the risk of floating aimlessly from idea to idea, anchorless to a larger vision.
Defining goals, along with attainable objectives to achieve those goals, sets the stage for understanding the larger picture and achieving your vision.
For example, if your goal is to release a new WordPress plugin by the end of the year, then a few of its corresponding objectives may be to establish a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), contact folks about the beta release, build pre-launch momentum — you get the point.
I’ve personally excelled with monthly and annual goals, weekly objectives, and consistent reviews to measure my progress in achieving those goals. Continuously reviewing the state of your goals, and the progress you’ve made, is absolutely vital for avoiding the all too easy blunder of wandering aimlessly.
7. Every day is an opportunity to grow
The most powerful bit of advice I could share is to continuously invest in yourself. Lean into the work you’re doing and approach each day as an opportunity to grow.
As opportunities knock and challenges arise, do your best work and dive in to make yourself stronger. You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but pushing yourself to be the best version of you is paramount to growth.
Remember, your business can’t grow if you’re not growing.
Running a WordPress shop can be a very rewarding experience. In fact, 2017 went down in the books as the best year of my career.
Opportunity is plentiful and there’s lots of room for folks to really make a difference. Take these essential lessons on running a WordPress product shop and build something beautiful. And remember, with everything you do, do it with conviction and keep growing.