Interview With Paul Mycroft On The Erosion Of His Web Design Business

During an email conversation one day, Paul Mycroft who operates his own web design firm told me something that I thought was interesting. In fact, he’s been the first one to say such a thing and that is that the commercial themes being produced in the WordPress community are eroding his web design business. When I asked on Twitter whether or not anyone else had experience such a problem, I received a few replies that agreed with Paul but they also stated that they evolved their business to take advantage of these new themes. Here is the interview with Paul and I look forward to your responses in the comments.

Who are you and what do you do for a living?

I am a 1-man web design shop who has been designing and building web standards websites from scratch for over 10 years. I have been working with WordPress for 2 or 3 years now, as well as a recent project or two using ExpressionEngine. I also offer SEO services, web traffic analysis and an email marketing tool. These services combine to not only help my clients get decent search engine traffic but develop and market their sites using email newsletters and blogs. I have been supporting 40-50 clients for over 10 years for one or more of these services.

In your line of work, has the evolution of commercial themes as they’ve become easier and easier for clients to use without the middle man harmed, or benefited your business?

I would say that it has harmed the design and maintenance aspects of my business. I used to update many sites for up to an hour a month, which provided regular income and a chance for me to constantly improve those sites. I have offered WordPress as a cheap solution for many clients with small budgets. However, the WP3 (as a CMS and blog) commercial theme industry is opening up new avenues for both clients and me, which I need to develop and become proficient in.

How much of your work these days is web design versus working with established products such as commercial WordPress themes?

Web design takes up 30% where before it was 50-60%.

You mentioned to me that the commercial theme business is starting to erode your core business, in what ways?

My core business is web design and web standards build. I work with clients and another designer to establish a specific “look and feel” then build the site to web standards, sometimes integrating a blog (if the client requested it).

WP3 as a CMS is allowing clients to have a website that doesn’t look like a blog and have a blog built-in.

With the world entering into a recession, people do not seem to have the budget they used to so are looking for cheaper ways to get what they need. They come to me with small budgets but still need websites so the premium theme market provides me with a way to still earn money (on install and adjustment of theme to match brand) and a provide a solution for my clients.

How are you changing the way in which you do business to compensate for the erosion?

For every potential new project and budget, I will now use WP3 as a base. I will offer either a custom-built solution (higher budgets) or a premium theme (lower budgets). For the premium themes, I can still earn money by spending a day or so installing and adapting it for the client’s brand then act as support when needed.

For those higher budgets, I may have someone who can take my designs and convert them into WP3-driven sites. We’ll see how it works out with a test design. I also have a business partner who may go in with me to start selling themes on Theme Forest. But that will take time and testing.

Final thoughts on the entire situation in general?

I feel that in the next few years more and more web hosting companies are going to offer “one-click-install websites” driven by WordPress, much like does. It will get easier and easier to have a website up and running in minutes from more and more companies.

We are rapidly turning into a “one-click” society as we get information in an easier and quicker way (e.g. Google, Apple software, iPhone apps, iPad, BlackBerry). Off-the-shelf software empowers people and turns them into “professionals” in their heads even though they aren’t. It’s dumbing down technology, which is actually a good thing.

In 10-20 years, essential business tools such as website, CRM, email will all be easier to set up online. Web design will be in the theme industry.


4 responses to “Interview With Paul Mycroft On The Erosion Of His Web Design Business”

  1. I don’t think it’s that easy to just predict the next 10-20 years of web design. The information technology industry overall is capable of changing it’s direction overnight, and has done so on numerous occasions.

    It actually doesn’t worry me one bit, I’ve been able to benefit from the commercial themes offerings on numerous occasions; as a small firm (my wife and I) we are only capable of taking on so many projects at any given time. The ability to spin out a solution using premium themes and other similar resources has quite often allowed us to take on additional projects (extra income) where we couldn’t have before. That has been a huge benefit to our growth.

    The problem with premium themes is that for every theme out there, there could be anywhere from 1 to 1,000+ sites already using it. People who want to get online quick are loving that. People who want to take the online side of their business a little more seriously don’t want that. There will always be a market demand for custom design and development so long as there is a world wide web.

  2. This article is well written and Paul provides more than accurate responses. Well done!

    The fact is simple: There will always be a demand for “One Click” solutions:, GraphPaperPress Pro, Weebly, Intuit, Tumblr, SquareSpace…they all make it easier than ever to get a presentable and equally powerful small business website up and running, and their success further proves that the demand for “One Click” solutions exists!

    The secret sauce to “One Click” success lies somewhere between customer service and powerful technology to back it up, further matched with a price that will either make or break the deal. How far you’re willing to go to learn these technologies will define your budget (and overall stress levels for the newb’s looking to learn).

    The future of web-design will be a mix of Themes and Customizations, but the need for innovators will never go away. There will always be a higher level of demand for something beyond the “Template”. Companies with budgets to be innovators will keep the industry alive and there’s no denying that.

    I have to reiterate just how great this article is and I look forward to watching the internet grow and witness the continued exponential growth of small business websites. What will separate one from another? Well, I may have the answer, but that’s an entirely different article all together. WordPress Tavern…feel free to hit me up ;) Until then, keep putting out great work!

  3. I’ve seen my custom client business literally disappear as well. Even those that do attempt to contact stop once they’ve searched around a bit more. Getting clients used to be easier around 12 months ago, but now the industry has literally shifted to the theme marketplaces and there is no end in sight.

    This just means that we, as an industry, need to adapt to the local mom and pop setups that would not mind spending $1k – $5k+ back then but now think $50 is what web design costs.

    The downside is that some people contact you and actually expect $50 – $100 prices for custom jobs!?! Seriously.

    The upside is that you get to build once and re-sell many times more. Which has proved to be quite profitable for a lot of people.

    I still miss the days of creating unique designs for clients though, it used to be quite the rush!

  4. Getting clients used to be easier? On the contrary…it’s easier than ever now with custom templates. You can confidently provide customers with exactly what they want to hear: “Affordable, Efficient and Timely”!

    For the average SMB, you can now create a starting budget of $600 for a powerful solution that takes only 8 hours of work, vs having to spend more time and money going back and forth trying to decide on wire-frames…color pallets…slider options…navigation effects. A theme is the ability to already have a mock-up while still on your 1st sales call. I’m happy to say that if you’re market is individuals and small businesses, you’re going to be making a lot more money, shedding stress with a turn around time that is impossible to compete with for what they’re getting in return.

    I’m done commenting. It’s time to customize template and make yet another customer happy with their ‘investment’ :)


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