When someone wants to launch a new WordPress website and have a small budget for it, they usually follow this path:
- They buy the domain name
- They jump on a cheap hosting provider
- They buy a premium theme off a marketplace (pre-built WordPress theme)
- They play around with the new theme settings a) to make it work like the demo version or b) to realize they need custom functionality
- Whether a) or b) happens, they start to despair and can't stick to their plans for launching the new website
- They keep despairing and start looking for help
As simple as it might look, this common approach to buying a WordPress theme hides a lot of aspects which might become showstoppers if not correctly addressed up front. And, it's worth mentioning, I'm talking lots of bad and unnecessary feelings.
When working on a new WordPress website, the theme shouldn't be the first aspect to start from, whereas business goals and how to reach them should be what dictates your next steps.
Still, buying a pre-built WordPress theme and then experiencing the "Now what?" feeling is something as common as drinking espressos for Italians. That's why I'd like to provide you with an easy process to follow right after you've purchased a WordPress theme and need help with it.
First of all, find a place to put the theme
Assuming you just bought a pre-built theme off the internet without having a website to use that theme on, the first step would be to find a "place" for the theme, i.e. getting a domain name, a clean WordPress install, and a hosting service where you'll host your soon-to-be fully-fledged WordPress website. WordPress developer and Codeable expert Daniel Stanojevic elaborates:
When it comes to picking your hosting provider, a WordPress-managed provider like Kinsta, WP Engine, and Flywheel for example, is usually going to be the best path for you where everything is just 'clicky-clicky' on the dashboard and there's not much worrying about manually installing and configuring WordPress. On top of that, you usually get automated backups and some good level of security already in place for your website.
Opting for these types of hosting service providers is an extremely easy solution for people with little or no technical knowledge at all, as most of them provide you with dashboards and good customer support.
Now that you have a good "place" hosting your soon-to-be WordPress website, it's time to step back and start thinking about business goals.
So, what type of website do you have in mind?
Think of this process as if you were to build your own house. Once there is a place - you don't own your space, you're renting it - it's time to ascertain what type of house (website) you need to build on it.
And to have it as you've planned, you'll need to hire someone who's capable of taking care of your requests and deliver on time. Explains Daniel:
At this point, what a developer would need to get started is knowing what you want to do with your website. Specifically, we need to know what type of site you need to build: would that be a business site? A blog with lots of dynamic content? An eCommerce store? A portfolio-type of site?
Once you know what type of WordPress website your business needs, it's time to think about how customized you want/need it.
Think of theme demo vs theme customizations
Now that's clear what type of house you need to be built, it's time to make a decision on how you want your house to look like. I'll condense it all into one key question:
Do you like your theme as is - as the demo shows - or would you like to have it somewhat customized?
This simple question will have an impact on turn around time (how long the developer will need to deliver it), the end price, and your business goals eventually.
There are Pros and Cons to both options, let's see the main ones:
If you opt for having a WordPress website like the demo version...
- You won't need a big budget to invest
- You'll get your WordPress theme ready in less time
- You'll save money
- Your website will look like thousands and thousands of other websites
- If you picked the wrong theme, it might be harder to achieve your business goals
- Your brand and online presence will be negatively affected
If you opt for having a WordPress website with some level of customizations...
- You'll be able to build those features your business needs to grow (or even run)
- You'll set your website apart from thousands of others using the same WordPress theme
- You'll get higher conversions because of specific custom functionality, templates, and/or modules such theme wasn't featuring in the first place
- You'll need a bigger budget than having just a demo version setup
- It might take a bit longer, depending on the numbers and types of customizations you're requesting
So, back to the main story here...
Once you’ve decided the type of house that has to be built, the next step is to consider its "look" or, if we continue with this analogy, the paint, material for the doors and windows and other details.
To do that, you'll need to provide all the relevant info about how you want to set up and/or customize your pre-built theme and hand the door keys - WordPress admin and FTP logins - to your developer. Daniel highlights this step as follows:
What I would ask for is information on what exactly it is you want me to change on that WordPress theme. Do you want me to just make the site look exactly the same as it is on the theme demo and then you can change the content? Or, on the other hand, do you want me to do some specific customizations like changing the header and the footer, adding a template for landing pages and so on? As the developer who'll be working on your theme, I'd need to know all these details.
If available at this stage, you could be sharing your preferred color palette, style guide, and any other resource that might set precise design criteria.
Then, think about content assets and imagery
If we continue with the house analogy, once you've shared what type of house you need and how it looks, it's time to focus on what's going "inside" the house, which is content assets and imagery.
"Content" is a broad term that accounts for almost anything that's shown to your users and usually is a combination of written words (copy), images, and multimedia formats like videos, audio files, presentations. Your homepage, your blog posts, your contact form page, etc. and all images and videos on them, are "Content".
Why is it important to share information about your content assets with the developer?
The main reason is that you don't want your developer to be unaware of something that might delay your projects drastically. Daniel highlights:
After we know what type of website you're building, we need to know about your content assets: do you already have content to feature on your site? If you do, will you be adding the content yourself or would you want me to do that for you? If you don't, would you be able to provide it before the project starts? The same story applies to all your imagery.
Preparing such information before engaging with a developer is a great way to save time, hence money, when outsourcing theme development.
While these are the main considerations you should take into account when you want to build a website from a pre-built WordPress theme you just bought, there are two more to keep in mind.
A theme and its quality make a world of difference
Themes can make or break your website in terms of functionality, therefore directly affect your business. Daniel highlights:
A theme is very important in WordPress. Choosing the wrong one can leave you open to all kinds of issues because a theme is ultimately what controls how your site looks. So, if the theme you have is prone to issues, prone to breaking, anytime you update it you're going to be worried about: 'Will my site look the same after the theme update or will it be broken?'
That's why picking the right WordPress theme for your business is not just a matter of aesthetics, but a key business decision. If you lack technical skills or just want to have a better-informed decision process, you should defer to a developer for recommendations on what should be used for your new site.
Never forget maintenance, even when you're focused on theme development (like now)
Bringing back the house analogy here. You don't have to follow tutorials and take courses about house maintenance to acknowledge one trivial truth: things break eventually. And that law applies to websites as well. More: if you're piling up plugins, themes, and code snippets to build your WordPress website on your own, you're going to run into issues sooner or later.
This is mainly due because there are so many elements that need to fit in as smoothly as possible you can't be aware of them all unless you're a developer yourself. As Daniel stresses this point even further:
If you plan to have something like a small personal blog or maybe a static business site, it's not that critical tackling an issue as soon as it presents, unless you live off of your website. That's a scenario you don't want to have. For sites like eCommerce stores - but not exclusively for them - I would never recommend a client to manage it on their own. For example: when WooCommerce went from version 2.x to version 3.0 there were major changes and things just fell apart. Business owners were left with websites that people could not purchase from and that's just not acceptable.
Even though you're in the I-want-a-new-website mood, don't draw a blank on how you'll be taking care of and maintaining your future website. Especially, if you're trying to make a living off that where your site would need to function 100% of the time.
Having an experienced developer do that for you enables you to address this concern in a cost-effective manner and makes the whole process less painful.
Buying a pre-built WordPress theme from a marketplace is one of the most common approaches to kickstart a new website project development. And there's some reason behind that: there's plenty of themes available, prices aren't scary-high, and it gives you the idea of having reached an enormous step ahead towards that desired new WordPress website your business long needed.
But then reality steps in and shows us another picture. One where the most effective first step to a new fully-fledged WordPress website wouldn't be picking a theme. It is rather knowing what you want to achieve through your website, what business goals should lead your requests, what you already have that you want to keep or what you'll need to create from scratch. And once you have figured all that out, you'd engage with a developer.
That doesn't mean your pre-built theme is useless, or that you took a wrong path. It means that just having a pre-built WordPress theme in your hands didn't make you walk such a big step forward as you thought it would. Sure, you can mark it off your to-do list but there's much more you'll need to discuss, analyze, and work on now because a pre-built theme alone isn't a business asset. Unlike your new WordPress website.
This blog post features Daniel Stanojevic, who is the co-founder of pixelDuo, a small development agency focusing on quality over quantity and long-term client relationships. With over a decade of WordPress experience they have created countless solutions helping businesses all over the world thrive. Since 2013, they also build web applications with the Laravel framework.