Hi there! I think you’re on a really exciting track here. Starting out with free themes is a great idea if you’re not yet confident in your abilities.
Starting out free helps you get the experience you need
If you’re not yet confident in your skills, charging for your work straight away isn’t a great idea. If you don’t feel like you’re delivering a quality product, then you shouldn’t charge people for it.
If you start out making free themes, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to practice and hone your skills. With each theme you make, you’ll get better and better. It’s very easy to see yourself improve!
Have you perfected your technique? It’s time to start charging!
You just need to figure out the difference between your old free themes and your new paid ones.
Here’s how you can make a distinction between free and paid products:
- Inexperience—maybe messier or less professional code
- May not be perfect
- May not be super complex
- Doesn’t have as many features or integrations (example: not responsive)
- No support/help
- Better/cleaner code that comes from more experience
- More interesting, dynamic, professional layouts/designs
- Has all the bells and whistles (responsive)
- You offer help/support/instructions with the purchase
You don’t have to check all the boxes—those are just some examples to get you started.
I think the #1 thing you need when you start charging is the ability to say that you’re confident in your product. You know your code is good, clean, and worth paying for. That in itself is enough of a reason to start charging for it. You can even be that open and up front about it when you tell your customers about your new paid themes later. You can say something like:
I’ve been releasing free themes over the past few months has a way of honing my skills. I’m super happy with the response I’ve gotten with these themes and I’ve learned more and more with each one I’ve created. I can look back and clearly see how much I’ve grown as a designer and developer.
I’m going to start using my skills to deliver higher quality, more professional paid themes. These themes will have a cleaner code base and some documentation on how to use them. My free themes will still be available to anyone who wants to use them, but I’m very happy to be able to offer higher quality themes that I can spend more time developing, updating, and supporting.
You don’t need to justify the change
You don’t even need to try to justify releasing premium themes instead of free ones. The only important factor is that your premium themes are in fact better than your free ones. Otherwise, why should people buy them over getting the free one? That’s why a premium theme typically has more features or promises than a free one.
You don’t need to explain WHY you’re switching from free to paid. You just need to convince people that the paid ones are worth it.
But keep your free themes too!
One of the best things you can do is have a low barrier of entry. That means free!
The idea is that someone will come along, it will be super easy for them to try one of your products (because it’s free!) then if they love that, they may turn their eye towards the “better” paid themes.
Free products like this ultimately convert into more paid customers down the road. That’s why the “freemium” model works so well. In WordPress, it typically works like this:
- Release a free plugin in the WordPress.org repository.
- Have optional paid add-ons for the product.
So ANYONE can take the free plugin for a spin. This will easily create thousands of users. Some of those will want more functionality and will look towards the paid upgrades. The point is that the low barrier to entry makes it very easy to get customers in the door. Then you just have to convert those into paid customers via add-ons.
It’s a different model than what you’re considering with your free/paid themes, but the low barrier to entry is the same idea. Keep your free products around to get more customers in the door. Then your later goal can be to convert those customers into paid ones.