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Build a WordPress business (no marketplace required)

By Drew Strojny on February 5, 2013

There has been some talk the past few weeks in the WordPress world about the GPL and marketplaces. I’d like to share some lessons on building a profitable WordPress business without a marketplace.

What about marketplaces?

Marketplaces seem perfect on the surface for a few reasons:

  • Free marketing and awareness for your product.
  • Built in tools to sell your product.
  • Minimal friction getting to market.

These are good reasons to use a marketplace, but consider some caveats:

  • Subject to the whims (and terms) of the marketplace.
  • Lock in factor. How can you leave?
  • A (usually) hefty fee structure.
  • Brand dilution and customer loyalty.

Notice anything about these caveats? They are easy to dismiss when you start, but they become increasingly unwieldy as you grow. Think of it like bringing home a cute cuddly bear cub. He’s great until one day you look up and realize he could tear your head off. These caveats get scary quickly and can start effecting your life, business, and livelihood.

Own your distribution channel (or sell through an authority)

If you’re selling a product you should be the sole distribution channel for that product or you should try to partner with the authority brand for that market. For example, if you’re selling Mac software, you should be selling it on your website and through the Mac App store. If you’re selling WordPress themes you should be selling them through your website or an authority like WordPress.com.

I’ve been approached countless times about selling through different channels. The answer is always no. We’re a small company and we want to use that to our advantage. We want to build a single distribution point for our product, control the experience, and create a community around it. Customers could never connect with us in the same way through a generic third-party marketplace. I’d also argue some of the best WordPress themes are sold and or made avaialble through a single distribution channel.

How could I possibly build my own channel?

I know what you’re thinking: Easy for you to say as you’ve already built a channel and were lucky enough to be invited to sell themes on WordPress.com.

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You also might be thinking:

  1. I can’t make money distributing on my own. I’ll never get enough interest.
  2. I’ll never be accepted to sell with an authority brand like WordPress.com.

I’d argue you’re suffering from:

  • Short term thinking (I just want to make a quick buck).
  • Lack of confidence (I could never do that).
  • Laziness (sounds like a lot of work).

Let’s address some of these concerns.

Short term thinking isn’t worth it

If you’re serious about selling a product, you should care about that product. You should care about the experience your customers or users have with that product. If you just want to make money quickly, you’re in it for the wrong reason. Stop now. You’re never going to be happy selling a product you don’t care about (even if you do make a few bucks).

Free marketing with WordPress

If you’re building your product around WordPress you already have a free robust ecosystem ready and waiting for you. Here’s just a few things you can do:

  • Start teaching through your blog. Talk about the lessons you’re learning while building your product. It will help others and they’ll respect you and your brand.
  • Contribute to WordPress. Start taking time out of your schedule to jump in to community activities in your area of expertise. Are you developer? Jump into Trac or IRC and start trying to help. Designer? Head over to the Make WordPress UI blog and offer to lend a hand.
  • Engage the community. Start interacting and engaging with the WordPress community. Almost everyone is friendly and willing to chat or exchange an email if you’re genuine. Attend WordCamps or better yet speak at one. Start or join a WordPress meetup in your city.

It’s a simple formula that requires some work: build a great product and start getting involved and contributing to the community around that product. If you follow this formula and you happen to be selling WordPress themes, before you know it these guys and gals might be contacting you.

It’s never been easier to start selling

Five years ago a strong argument against selling on your own website was infrastructure. It would be expensive, time consuming, and potentially scary to try and sell downloads on your own website. Not true today. There are quite a few easy options to help you get up and selling quickly with WordPress.

On that note, we’ve been busy building a robust software service to sell our WordPress themes for the past 18 months. It’s already processed thousands of transactions and we depend on it everyday to run our business.

The service is called Memberful, and last week we opened it up for beta testers. Memberful makes it easy for you to securely sell your downloads (themes, plugins, eBooks, music, etc.) or monetize your content (with monthly or yearly subscription access). This isn’t a marketplace, it’s a tool for selling your creative work.

Want to try Memberful?

We’d love to have you as a customer. Leverage our service and start selling today. Send us an email and let us know what you’re selling. You can be up, running, and connected with your WordPress website in 5 minutes. Simple and flat pricing. No gotchas. No lock in.

What are you waiting for?

Whether you use Memberful or something else doesn’t matter. The opportunity to start selling your creative work on the web has never been easier. Start owning your brand, start thinking long term, and start selling your stuff.

Enjoy this post? Read more like it in Business.

5 Comments

  1. John Saddington

    Speaking from experience it’s quite possible. we did it with Standard Theme… one theme with excellence and then became a partner with WordPress.com early in 2012.

    DEFINITELY can be done.

  2. Drew Strojny

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing that John. Great example!

  3. Terry Griffin

    I’ve been on the fence for a long time about this exact same issue. Friends will say “start selling on Envato…it’s easy.” I love Envato, but I notice that even with all that infrastructure, the money doesn’t come pouring in for sellers. You still gotta work at promoting your stuff, so people know you’re there…and it will take time. Might as well be directing those people to your own site, where you have all the control.

    This post was just the push I needed to get off the fence. Thanks!

    Terry

  4. rakesh kumar

    right now developing some niche based wordpress themes and i am quite happy to say that i am able to make some decent money through them. Though it would take time to make proper links and draw traffic to your site. But the same hardwork you have to do to become more visible on that marketplace also.
    Blogging is a very good way to connect like minded people and placing your link at the right place will also help you to grow in your business. Thanks for posting this wonderful article for us,

    Keep in touch my dear friend.

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