It’s a shame theme designers don’t have too many options in the WordPress world. Luckily, there is more than one business model. However, only one of them seems to be worthwhile and profitable, for now. Below are the models that I’m aware of.
Freelancing for Small Business Owners
Small business owners are trying to take their presence online and/or trying to establish a relationship with the clients. Targeting small business is the most profitable option for freelance WordPress designers. Small business owners are more willing to pay you what you deserve, usually upwards of $1,000.
If you’re not working for small business owners, you’re probably making anywhere from $200 to $800 per project. Regardless of how much clients would pay, generally, they’re annoying. (Web developers and customer service is a bad mix.) Why not get paid more for the same amount of annoyance?
Unless you’re under contract for big projects after big projects, targeting small businesses is the way to go. You can look to solostream.com for an example of a WordPress designer catering the small business niche.
Stock Theme Design / Pay Per Download
Basically, you create a theme and sell it multiple times, like $49.95 per download. This option is a bit risky because you have to sell a lot to profit and it’s kind of NOT worthwhile if you don’t get the full $49.95 back or can’t find great designers to outsource at a very low rate. Not to mention, you have to pay online transaction fees for the theme purchases and worry about restricting usage to only one theme per domain.
The good part is that once you’re done, you’re done; you can sell the same theme over and over again. On the other hand, let’s say every theme is worth a $1,000. You’d have to sell more than twenty copies per theme. Twenty seems like a low number, but not many people are willing to buy WordPress themes at $49.95 (stock themes range anywhere from $15 to $60). You’re lucky if you can sell ten copies, regardless of the quality.
Free Theme Sponsorship
You create a free WordPress theme. Look for sponsors to pay you to put text links (to the sponsors’ sites) in the footer of your theme. And then, you hope a lot of people download and use your theme.
This is the last option that I would wish any theme designer to resort to. Actually, I wouldn’t want anyone to follow this business model at all. You’re basically selling yourself short. It’s not even worthwhile as extra-income. Here’s Matt Coddington’s detailed break down of this business model.
If you’ve found another way to make money with WordPress themes or have an idea on how WordPress designers could make more money, be sure to let me know so I can add it to this list.