It’s been over 2.5 years since I launched my little side project, ThemeJam, where I sell and support a few Premium WordPress Themes that I created.
I’m happy to see this little experiment live to see another productive year. Thanks to a long-overdue update I put in place over the weekend, the future of my one-man theme shop just got a little more secure. First, I’ll tell you about this update. Then a few thoughts on ThemeJam, 2.5 years in.
The wheels were rattling and getting pretty close to falling off. 2012 was the year that the ThemeJam systems I put in place started to break down. I had relied on a customized bbPress forum to handle support, integrated with E-Junkie to handle the shopping cart and digital product downloads. Customers had isssues accessing the forum due to bugs. The forum was getting littered with more and more spam. Managing products and Affiliates in E-Junkie has always been a pain.
So I finally decided to dedicate my weekend to closing up those old broken down systems, and replacing them with these:
Easy Digital Downloads for the purchasing / downloads system. This awesome plugin by my long-time collaborator, Pippin Williamson, makes it incredibly easy to offer digital download products, all within WordPress. This is an improvement because now customers have their own “Downloads” area where they can access the latest version of their theme anytime they want (before they had to email me to request it). The core EDD plugin is free, but there are a number of really useful (paid) add-ons, like various payment gateways, MailChimp integration, and one that I found use for…
Affiliates Pro is the new Affiliates system for ThemeJam. Again, all run within WordPress, no need for a 3rd party app to manage affiliates. Great plugin, well worth the one-time cost ($59). The website, which provides all of the information and docs for the plugin is pretty hard to read and navigate, but once you look past that, it really is a great solution for running an Affiliate program. ThemeJam affiliates continue to receive 30% commission, via PayPal, thanks to this plugin.
Email Support via Gravity Forms. Rather than clean up and de-bug the clunky old bbPress forum, I decided to move to Email Customer Support. This is much easier/faster for me to manage. The way I authenticate paid users is I require that they log into their account on themejam.com, and use the dedicated Email Support form, which only resides inside the account area.
NOTE: If you purchased from ThemeJam in the past, your new customer account will be created for you soon (we’ll send you an email). For now, if you have questions, email me at brian AT themejam DOT com.
ThemeJam, 2.5 years in…
When I first set out to create a WordPress Themes shop, while I did acknowledge it was somewhat of a learning project (my first attempt at selling and marketing my own products), I of course had hopes it would grow to be a big player in the WordPress Themes market. Clearly that hasn’t happened.
But I am happy to say that ThemeJam has been a productive side project, bringing in about 5-10% of my income steadily since it’s launch. Despite putting ThemeJam near the bottom of my priorities list, it does produce a handful of sales every month, with nearly zero promotion or marketing work done on my part today. I attribute this to two things:
- The products, particularly our two most popular, Clean Slate and WP Bids, do a good job of meeting customer’s needs. Clean Slate provides a well-coded, simple and clean base design for theme customizers, and WP Bids is a unique tool for creating client proposals using WordPress.
- Early promotion. During the first year or so, I did some promotion that has had lasting impact. Specifically, writing guest articles on popular blogs like Mashable and Six Revisions. Those produced high-traffic backlinks to ThemeJam, and also provided a place to gain exposure about my work. Organic promotion like guest writing articles serves as a great promotional tool, both short term and long-term.
Pursuing a product-based side business is something I think every freelancer should do. Even if it doesn’t blossom into something bigger than a side project, it’s well worth it. I love having my PayPal account automatically fill up just enough each month to pay for things like Mixergy Premium, a deal or two on AppSumo, and T-Shirts from Ugmonk and United Pixel Workers.
But even more important is the learning experience that working on a side business brings. Every single personal project I’ve pursued brings a few lessons learned by doing that I can bring with me into the next project. You learn what worked, and what hasn’t. You look back, assess, diagnose problems, experiment with solutions, and track the results. Side projects might be the best investment you can make in your business.