11 Lessons Learned from Browsing ThemeForest

by Steven Snell

on May 12, 2010

in Business/Freelance

If you’re a web designer, chances are you are familiar with ThemeForest. For those who have not visited ThemeForest before, it is a theme and template marketplace owned by Envato that allows designers to sell their work to a very large audience of potential buyers. Designers can submit their themes and templates to be approved into the marketplace, and once approved the designer will earn between 40% – 70% of sales if the items are available exclusively at ThemeForest. The designers then do not have to deal with transactions, and any additional marketing is optional.

ThemeForest

ThemeForest has grown very quickly to become the leading source for buying templates, and this growth has led to increased sales and payouts for designers. While the prices of themes and templates seem low to many designers (myself included), Envato’s business plan seems to be working out beautifully as a the volume of sales has many designers earning a substantial amount of money.

If you have considered designing themes or templates to sell on your own or through a marketplace like ThemeForest, it can be interesting to browse through the site and see what you can learn. This post will discuss my observations, and hopefully the information will be helpful to designers who have considered selling items. If you’re a freelancer and you have some time to spare, creating templates or themes could prove to be an excellent supplemental income aside from your client work.

For disclosure purposes, this post is not supported or endorsed by Envato in any way. I like to observe what other designers are doing to earn a living and I thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look at a marketplace that is quickly becoming a part-time or full-time career for a number of designers.

1. It is Possible to Make a Very Good Income Selling Themes/Templates at ThemeForest

You may have seen ThemeForest banner ads that say “When did web designers start earning $25k a month?” That’s a really great way for ThemeForest to get the word out that top sellers at their marketplace are making a substantial amount of money. The top selling contributor, Kreisi, has sold over 12,000 items at ThemeForest, most of which are WordPress themes priced at $30 – $40 each.

Aside from the top sellers, a very large number of designers are making enough sales to produce a significant part-time income. With ThemeForest’s growth over the past year, the opportunity should continue to increase for designers who want to sell their products.

2. Presentation Counts

If you browse through the most popular items overall, or the most popular items in any of the more competitive categories, you’ll see the products that are selling very well all are presented in an appealing manner. The ThemeForest marketplace includes a small thumbnail for each item, and then a larger image on the page for that specific item. The top-selling authors clearly have placed an emphasis on not only creating a quality theme or template, but also on designing attractive images that will draw interest from browsers.

ThemeForest

Because the ThemeForest marketplace includes a few thousand items for purchase, in order for an item to stand out to browsers it must be presented effectively. Themes and templates may be very well designed and coded, but if the thumbnail doesn’t capture the interest of visitors, it will have a much harder time selling.

3. Options are Desired

By looking at the items that are generating the most sales you can clearly see that buyers like options. It could be multiple color schemes, layout choices, various page templates for WordPress themes, added options for the WordPress dashboard, or any other type of option that is given to the user. Of course, all of these things make it more time consuming for the designer, but they also make the item more customizable and allow it to be usable for a greater number of purposes, which leads to more sales.

ThemeForest

4. WordPress Themes Sell

ThemeForest includes HTML/CSS templates as well as many themes, templates, and skins for various content management systems and shopping carts. Of all the different types of items that are available, WordPress themes sell the best and offer the highest potential for designers. In contrast, at this point themes and templates for Drupal, Joomla, Magento, Shopify and others do not sell nearly as well.

5. Portfolio Themes are in Demand

The “portfolio” category for HTML/CSS templates as well as for WordPress themes is as popular as any category (in terms of number of items for sale). Also, if you look at the top selling items you’ll notice a considerable percentage that are for portfolio sites. “Business” is also a popular category. Most of the top-selling authors have most of their items in these categories.

6. Support is Still Important

Although selling themes at ThemeForest may not require the same type of support that would be necessary with running your own theme/template business, support is still needed to keep buyers happy. If you look at the pages of any top selling items you’ll see that ThemeForest authors get plenty of questions and support requests. Each author has a rating, and without sufficient support the rating could fall, which may impact future sales. Providing quality support will encourage users to give a higher rating and may also encourage some users to buy more items from the author.

ThemeForest

7. There are Advantages to Being a Top Seller

ThemeForest users that are logged in can choose to follow a particular designer. Top sellers tend to have a high number of followers, so any new items that they release will be likely to get some attention right away. Top sellers are also displayed on the top authors page, which means even more sales for those who are doing well. Becoming a top seller is not easy, but I’m sure those who are already at the top will say that it has some significant benefits for making new sales.

8. Quality New Items Can Rack Up Sales Quickly

Theme and template development is sometimes considered to earn passive income (although I would disagree because of the support that’s involved), but that doesn’t mean that money cannot be earned quickly. At the time of writing, the Synthetik WordPress Theme has made 81 sales in 4 days, and has even made 4 of those sales since I started writing this article. At a commission of 40%, 81 sales of a $37 item would equal just under $1,200 in its first 4 days. Of course, most new items do not sell that quickly, but this example shows that designers will not always have to wait months before items are earning a significant amount of money.

ThemeForest

9. Going the Extra Distance is Worth it

As you look at the top-selling items you’ll notice that the designers have not cut corners. This may be evident in terms of the design and appearance of the template, or it could be in terms of the added options, or maybe even bonuses that the designer has included. For example, WPA Storefront, an ecommerce theme for WordPress, has made over 800 sales. The designer has created a video tutorial that shows the capability of the theme, and a separate support forum is also available on the site of the designer.

ThemeForest

10. Some Categories Still Have Little Interest and Competition

Despite the fact that ThemeForest has grown rapidly to become the leading marketplace, there are still a number of categories that have only a few items for sale. Generally, items in these categories have a much lower income potential than successful items in other categories, but it’s also easier for new items to stand out. After browsing through ThemeForest, if I were to start designing themes for the marketplace I would probably start with a few in some of these categories with lesser competition to get a good feel for things before moving into the more competitive categories.

The “churches” category for WordPress themes has only one item, but it has made over 300 sales. Likewise, the “churches” category for HTML/CSS templates has only two items, both with around 100 sales. The “marketing” category for WordPress themes only has three items, but one has over 500 sales. A number of categories have no items at this point. While items in these types of categories are unlikely to become top sellers in the marketplace, opportunities are available to make some money with a quality item and relatively little competition.

11. Selling Multiple Versions of One Item is Possible and Profitable

There are a number of items that are available in multiple forms. Many of the leading items are available as an HTML/CSS template or as a WordPress theme. Selling the PSD file separately is also a possibility. Many WordPress developers will chose to code an item in HTML/CSS before converting it into a WordPress theme, and selling it in both formats brings added income potential and makes it more versatile for buyers. Also, if you’re looking to test an item’s interest, it could be offered as an HTML/CSS template to see how well it sells before creating a WordPress theme.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you sold items on ThemeForest or on your own? If so, what advice do you have for others? What things have you observed by browsing through ThemeForest?

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About Steven Snell

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design. Connect with Stephen on google+