We live in a world with enormous gaps in power, influence, and impact. Even though the overall data shows us that things are looking better on multiple levels, there are still worrying unbalances out there. When it comes to WordPress, the ecosystem Pixelgrade’s been part of since 2011, things are still uncertain for small businesses servicing the community. Such as ours.
I write down these lines not as a business consultant, nor an entrepreneur who created a series of startups. I am far from both arenas. Instead, I’ve been doing marketing and storytelling for 10+ years, and the last four were inside the challenging WordPress world. My first-hand experience lies in a continuous effort of driving sales for a generous portfolio of premium themes.
I feel it’s crucial to highlight the fact that I do that on our terms aka aligned with our culture and values, not in absolute, at any cost. Maybe that’s why I still like it and find it meaningful.
Therefore, this article comes packed as a set of personal conclusions I reached after I’ve been pushing our products on multiple marketplaces. As in any bold endeavor, I am not alone. I’m doing it alongside the entire crew. However, together with Andrei, my marketing comrade, I’ve learned how to change the narrative, practice resilience, and keep moving the needle, even by just a little.
I’m saying this not because I want to shamelessly self-promo my team, even though I am beyond proud of the people we have on board, but mostly because I think it is relevant to point out that there’s still plenty of uncertainty in the playground we are part of.
Let me shed some light on that.
Today, too much belongs to a few — usually big companies with hundreds of employees, and too little is available for small enterprises where people work like hell to deliver outstanding products within the WordPress ecosystem.
Want to know what does that mean and why you should start caring about where you put your cash? Allow me to guide you through.
On a macro perspective
You are already aware that you no longer buy randomly or due to word-of-mouth. Of course, recommendations from friends, family, or other people you trust still matter a lot. They can either encourage you to push that purchase button or, on the contrary, to cancel and move on to another provider.
Yap, we are fragile, undecided, and have plenty of biases. That’s part of what makes us human beings after all.
The amount of information available out there makes you more proactive with your next shopping session. You read about the brand, their philosophy, their story, you skim through reviews, you do comparisons days on end, you are even keen to discover if the company damages the environment or not. All these details shape your understanding and thus the way you spend your money on the Internet.
Acting transactional is no longer an option. You aim to buy from someone you resonate with, whose values are similar, and who checks more boxes that you think are decisive.
These days, we are talking more about the experience we’re having with a www and less about the product itself, which makes perfect sense. Plenty of such products are quite similar in terms of features, so the buyer’s focus shifts from counting options to what’s the story behind the scene.
As creators of digital products, experience can be defined as the feeling someone has when interacting with the brand and the product. From the animations and transitions that welcome you when you land on their website to the micro-copy, from the way customer support offers assistance to how you can provide and share social reviews, all of them are taken into consideration.
To wisely pack them into a red thread requires far more than a marketing strategy with a list of bullet points to follow. It needs to come from a certain depth, one that shows that there’s consistency, transparency, and peace of mind.
Great experiences need creative fuel and cash
Even though we’ve been creating WordPress themes for more than nine years we still consider ourselves small players within WordPress, but also outside of its walls. In the end, we help you create a website. So does Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, GoDaddy, etc.
These companies have investments, are huge in terms of marketing budgets and people power, and, of course, they promise everything you could wish for, and then some.
We can’t do that.
Not only we are not interested in having investors and scale as fast as possible just for the sake of becoming a big organization — in case you didn’t figure it out, were not fans of the go big or go home! mantra — because our focus and ambitions are elsewhere.
One of our core values is care and we manifest it steadily across the board, including in the relationships we are nurturing with our customers. Therefore, we strive to offer a pleasant journey and treat you as a partner, not as a random buyer.
We don’t want your money no matter what. We want your attention, first, then your cash, but only if we overlap in terms of interests and goals. It’s the right approach to create solid bonds.
However, to be able to offer a flawless experience — amazing for you and sustainable for us — we need to keep several balls in the air at the same time. If we succeed and enough people believe in us, only good things happen, such as:
- We keep the current team size, which offers multiple advantages: on a human level, we get better relationships, more trust, more appetite to take risks since it’s a safe environment where differences are welcome. On a business level, we gain breathing room, keep the costs under control and focus more on delivering better products and experiences.
- We invest more resources in consolidating a growing community: more time in talking with you, in writing educational content on our blog to help you improve your digital presence, in running interviews on Skype call to get to meet you, in showcasing your website and spread the word, in listening to your needs and finding witty ways to solve them.
- We continue to do our job and experiment with complementary products which are aligned with the values we stand for and the way we see the world. You help us direct a piece of our mental space in areas that bring value for you directly, not in surviving or worrying about things that leave us drained of energy.
Scribbling down these ideas reminds me of an episode from the Rework podcast from Basecamp, a company I’m looking up to for so many reasons. In that particular session, the dialogue was around how we can sustain small book shops survive and even thrive if we choose to buy from them instead of Amazon.
“The customer said,“I’m not going to buy this from you because it’s $15 on Amazon.” It was a $26.99 book.“I can find it for $15 online. I’m going to buy it there.” And it’s…this whole thing isn’t about her because she did buy another pile of books, but just thinking about that and the fact that $15 for a $26.99 book is basically whatit costs publishers.
And Amazon is selling this book not to make any money on it, which is something we can’t afford to do. I just kind of started typing and explaining that.(…)
If we sold every book at that margin, we would be able to stay open for six days. We’d sell 10,000 books and it would keep us open for six days. And just that thought with the numbers behind it maybe resonated with people.”
— From the transcript
On top of that, by sustaining a small bookshop, you not only impact directly the people working there, but you also reinforce a set of good behaviors. You literally invest in folks who are genuinely passionate about books, read a lot, are in touch with the industry, run dedicated events, promote the importance of reading.
On the other hand, Amazon is nothing less than a massive platform where the only thing that really matters is to sell more at the lowest price. That’s why you, an avid reader, in love with great, life changing stories, and eager to find the next best-selling book, do not matter to them. You are just one of many who decided to spend their cash there, and what’s important is how they can take more from you and increase that customer lifetime value. It sounds quite dehumanizing, isn’t it?
Stand-alone WordPress shops care about you
Vlad, our co-founder and CTO, knows best how much time, energy, and money we’ve been investing in creating and maintaining our shop. Since his standards are super high and he only aims for the best, there’s no wonder that managing pixelgrade.com swallows plenty of resources.
I am well aware that we could have chosen a different route. One focused on shouting about features and options, about discounts and deals, about pay-one-get-three, instead of smoothing our shop and delivering a beautiful experience. But that’s not who we are.
We’re not in the business of selling features the way car dealers pack them. If you want automatic seat heating, you need to bring some 💰. On the opposite, we’re in the field where we have a mission that stays at the core of everything we do — to help people have an impact within the communities they are part of, and guides our actions and decisions (from the little ones to the critical ones).
This means that we want to grab your attention only if you are up for building a website that you can be proud of, one that can help you achieve a set of goals.
There are a few straightforward ways you can support independent creators as we are. Some are monetary in their purest form, others are non-tangible, but also highly suitable and meaningful.
- Choose to buy a WordPress theme directly from an author’s shop rather than from a marketplace. This way, all the money comes into our bank account since we no longer pay the marketplace’s cut. Sometimes, that commission can go up to 70% of the product’s price. In other words, if you spend $95 for a product listed on such a platform, only $28,5 come to us. If you place the order on the author’s shop, $95 goes straight to them.
- Ask for a refund in the most straightforward way. You could ask for a chargeback, usually run via banks, but that adds commissions (we pay up to $30 in fees) and a bad rep with the payment provider. This means that we not only lose you as a client and give you the refund but also spend some extra money and priceless time and energy. Choose the easiest way and email us when something is not right and need a refund. You won’t have any problems getting your money back.
- Provide specific and honest feedback about why you asked for a refund. There are few things more frustrating than situations where people ask for their money back (which is their right) without providing context. Help us improve our work. As software creators, bugs and flaws are ubiquitous.
- Leave public reviews on our website and social media channels. Lend a helping hand by writing an honest opinion about your experience with the team and the product itself. You contribute to our own good mojo, and you facilitate expanding the circle and bringing other customers on board.
- Make time to have a Skype call with us or to answer a few questions via email. Taking a few minutes to be available for an online interview or completing a survey is a great chance to share your struggles, but also to tell us more about how you found out about our work, what made you choose us, what do you enjoy and hate most. It’s the closest we can get to in-person communication, which would be ideal.
These are all powerful levers you can pull starting today to help narrow those gaps I was mentioning at the beginning of this article. I’m not so naive to hope to live in an ideal world where there are no middlemen — it would be quite dull, and it would make us all lazy and disengaged, but I do believe in the power of bringing more balance and harmony. In the end, there’s nothing more profound and serene than knowing that your actions can make people’s lives (or the least days) better and sunnier.
I encourage you to choose to spend your money on products and services created by small players who give their best to make things happen. This way, you have a real impact by helping them improve what they are offering, and you contribute to a more reasonable world, where power is more evenly distributed.
This article arrives as a personal introspection on how small, yet consistent gestures can shape the world we live in. As a community builder myself, I noticed a bunch of times how such support fuels the people receiving it. On my end, I give my best to act accordingly on every aspect: buying specialty coffee from a local family business coffee shop, sustaining an NGO that fights for political transparency, or working with entrepreneurs to help them grow.
How about you?