learn to design wordpress themes

First Year as a WordPress Designer



I dabbled as a hobby designer {designing logos & graphics, styled photography and websites for family, friends and personal referrals} for two years while working full-time in the field of commercial Project Management.  I had a degree, a PMP® certification and was making a comfortable $50K a year plus benefits and the occasional bonus. BUT, I was MISERABLE.  I literally hated the work I did, there was so much dishonesty and unethical behavior in my industry.  I was becoming physically and spiritually ill and I felt powerless to do anything about it.  You see, I was the sole wage earner at the time.  We had 4 children still living at home {we are down to 2 now} and my husband had just been diagnosed with a serious, debilitating illness.  Our expenses were truly frightening to think about trying to cover on my own without a salary.

On one of my lowest days I “happened” {thank you God!} upon a brochure for a coaching class for creative entrepreneurs.  The class was several hundred dollars that I didn’t have to spare, so I sent off an email to the coach and asked if she was up for a trade.  I would build a coaching website for her in exchange for being able to participate in her class.  She accepted my proposal within hours!

The class changed everything for me.

I learned that I was the only one who could create the life I wanted.  I was the only one who could respond with a YES! to the call the Universe had placed upon my heart.  I wanted to design, teach, write and share myself with the world.

November 2013 marked the launch of my new life’s work.  I was a dedicated full-time, creative solopreneur with no other income than what I could generate on my own.  For the first time in my life I felt grown-up and self-responsible.  It was an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and T-E-R-R-I-F-Y-I-N-G feeling!

I also learned in class that I needed to have multiple streams of income.  Putting your eggs all in one basket is a dangerous proposition in this finicky age where everything moves and changes at the speed of a mouse click.  {for info on how things can change in an instant, please read this and this.}

Here is the business plan I developed that helped bring in over $60,000 in income that first full time year.

Income Stream #1: Etsy

I opened my Etsy shop while I was still working at my full time job.  At first I did it just to put some feelers out there and see what happened.  I had a sale here and a sale there, great for fun money, not so much for supporting my family.  In 2013 when I decided to go at it full-time with both barrels blazing, I made some serious changes to my shop.

  • I increased the number of products from 3 (I offered shop banner design, WordPress theme customizations and logo design) to over 2 dozen items (I started creating stock designs I could sell over and over again and I began offering custom WordPress theme designs)
  • I began treating my shop as a business.  I participated in forum discussions, diligently followed complimentary shops, listed something every day, responded to convos immediately by putting the Etsy seller’s app on my phone and offered the best customer service I could possibly provide.
  • I reached out to fellow designers for friendship and collaboration (I formed a friendship with a graphic designer and built matching sites for her clients under a white label arrangement, this yielded over $10,000 in additional income that first year.)
  • Below is a statement of sales for that year, I grossed over $40,000 from Etsy alone!  You can see the trend in my busy/slow times of year…summer is the slowest and Jan-April are slamming.  My highest grossing month was just shy of $5000 in sales.

Etsy Earning my first full-time year


Income Stream #2: Creative Market

Creative Market invited me to participate in their marketplace when they launched.  I found it to be a very different atmosphere than Etsy with a completely unique demographic of shoppers.  Creative Market is more of a marketplace by designers for designers and I have probably spent more money than I have made (actually, I’m pretty certain of this!)  I am so addicted to all the fonts!  The only products I offer on Creative Market are my digital downloads of premade feminine WordPress themes.  I don’t earn as much from Creative Market as I do on Etsy, but, it is a further avenue of having my name out there as a reputable designer that serves the female entrepreneur market.  My total earnings from CM was just under $1000 for that first year, it increased significantly in my second year.

thememaiden creative market

Income Stream #3: My Website

I have a confession to make…. I put way more time into Etsy than I did my own site during my first couple of years.  I didn’t blog really at all and clients found me quite by chance and on word-of-mouth recommendations.  All of my product listings were exactly the same as Etsy, there was no difference between shopping there or shopping here (this is in the process of changing in a BIG way…more details later.)  I got a decent amount of traffic (about 200 uniques a day) for not having an active blog which translated into an average of 1-2 sales per week.  I also managed to rank on page 2 of Google for “feminine WordPress themes”, with absolutely no effort (again, in the process of changing & lots of details to come.)  This all added up to gross sales of $25K for the year.  {This dollar amount also includes the next income stream as it runs through the same account.}  My best advice is to put your website first above all other marketplaces.  It is slower to grow but YOU have complete control.  Etsy and other marketplaces change their search functions constantly, which results in both drastic increases AND decreases in the number of shoppers coming to your store.  I prefer to have control of my own SEO, my own length of descriptions and the number/type of media I can use to showcase my work.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 10.12.43 AM

Income Stream #4: Local Clients

Of all my streams of income, this is hands-down my favorite.  I’m a people-person and I really get off on seeing a client’s face light up when they see their site for the first time.  I worked my local market with 3 primary strategies:

  1. Craigslist:  I kept a CL ad up at all times my first year, I’ve stopped this as my online workflow increased.  Make sure your ad has both an image and text written in the CL ad.  Don’t just use an image that has text on it.  Do not put your contact info in the ad, use the anonymizing email feature that CL offers or you will be spammed to infinity.  Be very careful meeting clients off CL, only meet in a very public location (Starbucks or other coffee shop is ideal.)  Bring your portfolio and any written marketing material (I use a business card and a brochure for local meetings) with you to leave with your prospect.  Research your local market to find what the average price for your style of design (web, graphic, presentations, apps, etc) and price your services accordingly.
  2. Events:  Attending a trade show, fair, craft show or meet up can be a great method of making contact with qualified potential clients.  I’ve met some amazing people at places that I thought would be insignificant at best and a total, complete waste of time/money.  For instance, the elementary school craft fair yielded a local client that netted a $450 profit after paying for the booth at the fair.
  3. Barter:  Do not be afraid to trade.  I’ve attended classes, gone on weekend-long retreats, stayed in beautiful B&Bs for the weekend with my hubby, took an entire week’s vacation to Charleston, SC and even received spa & health care all in trade for my services.  It’s not always about making cash, bartering is fun and good for both parties.  It is also a strong reminder that we as individuals can rise above the negative newscycle of doom & gloom economics.  {Important note:  make sure you declare your barters on your taxes, all barters are subject to IRS rules and guidelines.  Consult with your tax advisor for more info.}

I did not and do not cold call anyone.  Introvert is my middle name and I just can’t do it.  I have done a few other things with very marginal success:  postcard mailer (huge disappointment, not one call and hundreds of $$ spent,) and a local email distribution (a local company did email blast ads to area businesses and bloggers) campaign (this was marginally worth it, it yielded one sale and I netted a few hundred after costs.)

Total for the Year: $67,943.70 gross

Which after Etsy fees, merchant payment processing fees, web hosting, ads on Etsy and general office expenses netted me: $60,106

It was a wild ride, but worth every minute!  I worked a lot of hours, cried my eyes out on a number of occasions and even considered quitting a time or two…but I hung in there.  YOU can do this too.








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