ThemeFurnace – Pending Relaunch

I have been busy coding the HTML for the new ThemeFurnace site this week, it struck me a little while ago just how dated the current site looks now. I launched the business back in 2011 and was happy with it at the time, but those 3 years are an age in internet years. The new design will start off a lot larger at 1200 pixels wide ( the current one is stuck at 990px ) and will also be responsive down to mobile devices.

Here is a preview of the new design that I posted on Instagram the other day :

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I’m hoping to finish up the HTML and WordPress integration next week so hopefully look at a launch sometime in April.

Is Facebook AOL?

We are on the anniversary of Facebook’s IPO which sees its stock sitting at 30% lower than when it floated – not a good position for investors and I’m sensing the current feeling is that people are starting to become bored with it and annoyed at the constant erosion of privacy. It happened before with the behemoth that was MySpace, even Murdoch is tolling the bell of doom, and he should know!

This reminds me of AOL, back in the day they were responsible for getting huge swathes of the population online and spoon feeding them a watered down Internet experience and I feel that’s whats happening to Facebook now. A lot of people new to the Internet have their first taste with Facebook because that’s where all their friends are , then they realise there is life outside the Facebook experience and start to venture out to other more niche destinations based around their interests.

So what does the future hold for Facebook?

As much as they have tried to integrate themselves into the wider web with Facebook login and commenting, I think it’s inevitable the site will fail. It has no product like Google, the product is it’s users and they are getting restless. The teens are moving on to mobile apps like WhatsApp and the tech people long ago abandoned it, the only group that is actually growing is the over 50s.

I will neither be happy or sad to see Facebook go – it was a “thing” for a bit just like Friends Reunited, Geocities and Myspace. Granted Facebook became bigger and dominated for longer but it’s time will still pass. Let’s look to the future and see who will be the next big thing.

“A Better Planet” is a Fresh WordPress News Widget for your Dashboard

While doing the news for WPLift this morning, I came across a post titled “The WordPress Planet is Pants – and here’s how to improve it” and while I don’t agree with everything in that article, I do agree that the current planet feed is broken. It features out of date blogs and posts which have nothing to do with WordPress. Considering this feed goes to the dashboard by default of every WordPress installation I thought we could do better. So I did. In a few hours today I created my own plugin which replicated the planet one but chose better and more up to date sources, check out the post on WPLift here.

The plugin creates a dashboard widget with 30 of my hand-picked sources and anyone can submit a source to me, at the start of each month I will hold a public vote on WPLift and the top 2 blogs will be added. You can check the master feed here or download the plugin here.

Why don’t companies treat affiliates fairly ?

I run the blog about WordPress WPLift and a large portion of it’s income is from affiliate programs whereby I link to many different theme and plugin companies and various services. I also operate a number if my own affiliate programs for my WordPress plugins and theme company so I would say I’m pretty well placed to comment on the state of the industry right now.

Just recently a number of WordPress companies have started closing their affiliate programs – Press75, WooThemes and 8Bit are a few of the higher profile closures. I also see a lot of companies changing the software which powers their affiliate programs without warning – just yesterday I went to get a link from a certain theme company who used to eJunkie and I find out they have created a new system and I had to apply to join again. An email letting me know would have been nice.

I have always liked WooTheme, being a designer myself, their well designed themes appealed to me and I was happy to promote them. Their affiliate program wasn’t the best – they always paid lower than most people with just a 20% cut compared to the standard 30% that most other companies offered and it didnt even convert very well. But despite that I always linked to their themes and plugins as they were quality products and I wanted to recommend them to my readers. The first blow was when they suffered a hacking which wiped a lot of their website data and also affiliate comissions that were owed. Despite the fact the one of the largest WordPress companies should have had off-site backups in place when dealing with people’s money, I persevered with the program as they changed it over to run on the zferral system.

“As things stand, we lost all transactional data for the date range 13 March to 25 April (as well as the time that our servers were down until about the 2nd of May when we restored some kind of “normality”). This means that we have no idea how much commission anybody earned during this period, nor do we have an avenue to recover any bit of information in this regard.”

I had to accept losing my owed commissions and then I had to go to the trouble of changing all my links over to the new format. Then the other day, they announced they were closing their affiliate program all together.

WooThemes didn’t even let their affiliates know it was closing untill I went on their site to get a link and saw a page saying it was closed – I tweeted them asking what was up and it was only then that an email went out telling everyone they had closed it. I have since had an email saying the balance that was in my account ( only around $29) they wont be paying me, but I can use it to as money off a Woo product.

Do you think that is anyway to treat the people that have helped build your business?

Affiliates help companies directly by referring paying customers at no risk to the company at all – they only pay out when they get paid. They also help develop the brand – by placing banners and writing reviews you are helping spread the word about a company.

I understand that you may need to make changes to an affiliate program, its understandable, people’s businesses grow and they need to adapt. It would be nice to see a little more consideration for the people helping build your business. Let affiliates know in plenty of time if you are changing the software so they have time to change their links over. If you want to close the program, again, let people know in plenty of time so they can make preparations.

I didn’t intend this post to be a rant against WooThemes – I just wanted to highlight a few problems and hope that companies can treat affiliates better in future.

Starting a Clothing Brand from Scratch – A Case Study

I’ve been spending a bit of time reading through a couple of UK business forums lately as I needed to get up to speed on a few new things (just boring tax & accounting stuff!). Forums have always been a bit of a pain to use on a phone untill I found the Tapatalk app which formats them nicely for a smartphone so you can read them more easily.

I was on a forum called “TheWholeSaleForums” when I came across this thread which is a pretty cool read. It spans the course of over a year in which one of the forum members documents his journey in starting up a new clothing brand completely from scratch.

It starts off with his saying how he’s selling clothes on eBay to build up some capital, through the process of hiring designers for the clothes, labels and website  to gettting the clothes manufactured in china and approaching celebrities for endorsements (in the end he gets Ex-England cricketer Matthew Hoggard to wear a jumper on TV show A question of Sport”).

It’s a really interesting read and he ends up with a good product and website.

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Read the full thread here.

A few thoughts on the Latest WordPress GPL Argument

Every now and again, something kicks off in the WordPress community about the GPL – usually sparked by the foundation moving against someone not fully in compliance. This time, the WordPress foundation has banned any theme or plugin authors who sell on the ThemeForest marketplace from speaking, organizing or sponsoring WordCamps. Envato, the parent company of ThemeForest have been banned all along since 2011 when a new set of guidelines from the foundation came out – the reason? Because they force authors to sell under a split license, all PHP code is GPL and all graphics are under a different, more restricting license. Envato made a response to this on the WPDaily blog, stating their reasons for the split license – mostly seems to protect authors from hosting companies from selling on their themes.

When it comes to WordPress themes, I feel we have a license that is both respectful and 100% GPL compliant, while protecting the rights and freedoms of creators. To give an example, we are consistently approached by hosting companies ranging up to some of the largest in the world, looking to license WordPress themes and site templates to make available to their client bases, sometimes numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands. To my mind, it doesn’t make sense that a regular license sold on ThemeForest should give such a buyer the right to on-sell a creator’s work at that volume – if only for the simple reason that volume reselling can significantly reduce demand for the original work.

Collis Ta’eed

 

Have a read of the comments here, Matt makes an appearance also with some good points.

So what to make of all this ?

Firstly, I think the foundation is out of order throwing their weight around and taking this out on good members of the community. Themeforest is the largest marketplace and a lot of these authors make their living from selling on there, punishing them for the restrictions put in place by Envato is not good. Most of the people caught in the cross fire at the moment would happily license their themes 100% GPL given the choice. But given the choice between feeding their family or being 100% GPL, you can’t blame them for choosing the money.

The foundation are not happy with Envato, that’s fine – offer a competing marketplace which is 100% GPL and can offer the same amount of sales and Im sure it would be a huge success.

Secondly, Envato, I don’t know why they don’t just move to 100% GPL – My belief is that if you create things for WordPress and release them publicly they are GPL. WordPress is GPL and so is everything released for it – simple enough ?

It hasn’t affected any of the big theme companies – WooThemes, StudioPress etc all are 100% compliant and business is booming for them. There is always that thought in the back of your head “What if someone else sells my products” – but you have to not worry about this, you are not just selling the digital files which comprise a WordPress theme, customers are paying for support, updates and the reassurance that your company will be there when they need it. Some operator who sells or gives away old copies of themes is not going to make any sort of dent in your business.

Envato do a lot for the WordPress community and that should also be recognised, they have millions of customers – how many new people have they introduced to WordPress? How many members of our community earn a living via them? It seems to me if they went 100% GPL they could fully participate by supporting WordCamps instead of being ostracised by the foundation.

How to Automatically Convert PayPal Buyers into Regular Customers with Aweber

As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of setting up automated systems which take care of mundane tasks and also generate passive income. In setting up our new business, FormatGames, we are currently selling exclusively on eBay for the moment – in a couple of months we have become a power seller and a top-rated seller so we are doing really well so far. The plan is to expand onto the Amazon Marketplace next and then finally launch our own ecommerce store.

What was bothering me was that we are dealing with all these customers but had no way to retain them – we have a Facebook page which is gathering a few likes and we put a compliments slip into the items we ship which directs people to our site (holding page at the moment). Thinking about this problem was when I found out that Aweber has a PayPal plugin which works with the PayPal API so that when a customer places an order, they are sent out an email asking them to confirm their email, at which point they are added to your list.

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I have been using this and it has been great so far – Im now building a list of paying customers which I can then email any special offers and also direct them to my ecommerce site when it goes live. If you want to get even more advanced, you can create different lists for different products and Aweber also allows you to set up a series of autoresponders, so you can auto-send emails at specified intervals. I would be careful with this functionality though as it can become a little spammy and “Internet Marketer“. For now, I just send them a welcome email and thank them for being a customer and joining the list.

If you are selling any sort of product online, you would be foolish to not at least try and add new customers to your mailing list – these are the most valuable leads you can get.

Kashflow – SAAS Accounting Software For People Who Hate Book-Keeping

I absoultely hate book-keeping & anything to do with accounting (maths was also my worst subject at school!), for my company Kooc Media – I print out CSV files of my business bank account once a year and hand them to my accountant who handles everything else for me – I don’t have to get involved. I’m currently in the process of setting up a new company with my partner and for this we required some accounting software – I looked at a few options and the one that stood out for me is called “Kashflow“.

Our business will just be trading online at the moment and all transactions are handled via PayPal so I wanted a solution that could communicate with our PayPal account to save me the hassle of manually entering anything. This was one of the main draws, for me, to use Kashflow – within a few minutes of allowing the app API access to our PayPal account it had downloaded the month’s sales, fees, postage costs and stock purchases, giving us some nice stats and graphs. All customers are added to the system, as are any suppliers etc.

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Another nice feature of Kashflow is the fact is can back up to Dropbox so all your records are available from any computer or mobile device. I love Dropbox so anything that integrates with it is a big plus for me.

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Automating as much of your business as possible is essential and frees you up for more important, money-making tasks. I definately recommend Kashflow if you’re looking for some modern accounting software which is ready for the cloud-based era we are in now.