I'm always impressed when people take their skills (in this case, design and development), see an emerging opportunity (WordPress), and merge the two to find success.
So with that thought in mind, today's interview is with Adriaan Pienaar (better known in the web community as Adii). He is a freelance web designer, specializing in designing for WordPress and selling unique, premium themes for the platform.
WordPress has really risen up as the dominant blogging platform. What makes it better than other platforms?
I guess that the whole WordPress community (bloggers, designers, and developers) makes the platform a special one to use -- with such a large community behind an open-source project, it just means that there are endless possibilities to what the platform can do (this is most evident in the recent shift to using WP as a complete CMS, not just a blog). A prime example of WP's capabilities lies in the tons of free themes and plugins that are available to basically tweak / customize your WP installation as you please.
Barring all the free stuff, I also think that the creators of WP are thought leaders within our field, while also being humble and sincere members of the community -- WP seems like a company grown from grassroots within the community and is now thriving on those principles.
How did you get started in creating WordPress themes?
In the second half of 2006, I decided that I wanted to get into this phenomenon called blogging. Not knowing much about blogging platforms, I stumbled upon WordPress and decided that this is the platform that I'll teach myself. Prior to getting into WP, I could do a bit of web designing and coding, but WP essentially propelled me into learning CSS and PHP.
So my first project was a "trends-following" blog (which I won't give the address for here) -- much like http://www.thecoolhunter.net -- and as an overall effort to get into blogging, I created my first WordPress theme. After the first one (which took me about two weeks), I really got to know the platform, and I started doing a few favours for friends and then I got into doing paid WP design gigs. The rest is history as they say...
When did you begin thinking, "Hey, I could sell these?"
Mmm...I think it was about June / July (a month or so after the great debate about sponsored themes came to an end -- and ultimate death for sponsored themes), when I started speaking to Nate Whitehill about his (then) new online venture called Unique Blog Designs (http://www.uniqueblogdesigns.com). So I started selling some more exclusive designs through UBD back then and now I've evolved my premium theme business to do really top-end themes under the Premium News umbrella -- http://www.premiumnewstheme.com.
How do you get people to pay hundreds of dollars for a premium theme, especially when there are many "free" ones out there?
This could turn into a lecture about the benefits of a premium theme over that of free ones, but I actually think there is a really simple reason for going the premium route. My premium themes are extremely well-coded and especially with my new releases, I try build extra features into the theme (easy social bookmarking integration and banner ad management, for example), which free themes don't offer you.
Another benefit of purchasing and using a premium theme is that less people will be using that same theme (simply due to the fact that most bloggers can't afford to invest that kind of money in their blog), which ultimately means that your blog will be more distinguishable from the clutter in the blogosphere.
How do you market your newly created themes?
Mostly through my own blog. I'm also a big believer in word of month -- i.e. people will end up buying my themes if they see it successfully implemented on other blogs. I have, however, recently (in a push to become known as the WordPress Rockstar), started advertising on various blogs around the blogosphere to promote my themes and work to audiences outside of my blog's reach.
How do you handle the inevitable support requests from people that use both your free and premium themes?
Tough question for a tough situation...I do pride myself on the support I give to clients of my premium themes (as that is part of my sales pitch for the theme -- top-notch support included), but for free themes, I'm slightly less-inclined to give the same kind of support due to the massive amount of support requests I receive daily. I recently wrote an article about this exact situation, that might answer this question in some more detail...
So what's the next level for your WordPress theme business?
My main aim is to establish myself as the WordPress Rockstar within the community, as well as a trendsetter in terms of designing for WP. I believe that I can achieve both of these goals through expanding and evolving my theme business...
I've already got a few ideas and plans in action to work towards this -- one of them is to continue to release work of only the absolute best quality and to continuously push the boundaries of the functionalities that can be included in WordPress themes. I'm also hoping to collaborate with some of the leading WordPress designers in the community to assist with innovation and fresh ideas. Plus, collaborating is obviously a lot of fun as well...