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An Interview with Brandon Jones

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Brandon Jones is an extraordinary web designer from California. He first appeared on ThemeForest in February of this year, and immediately soared to being one of our top selling authors, amassing over 5,000 sales.

His work is impeccable, and, more importantly, his work ethic is even more impressive. Today, we'll talk with him about his work-flow, strategies for selling templates, and what makes him stand out among the rest.

"From sunny Southern California, Brandon Jones has been designing, drawing, photographing, and coding the world around him for the past several years. Not content to pick one media and stick with it has left Brandon with a broad range of talents that have allowed him to work on projects ranging from grungy digital art kits to Fortune 500 software prototyping."

#1 - How long have you been in the web design business?

Over 7 years and counting. I've been designing as a freelancer working from my home in Southern California since 2002. I began by working on websites for local bands and musicians, then moved up to working with local businesses and small agencies in the Los Angeles area. In 2007, I jumped from working with Jetpack Studio (Los Angeles) to working with Shane&Peter Inc. (Santa Cruz) as my primary freelance team.

Shane&Peter Inc. is owned by two guys (named Shane and Peter, go figure), but the team is composed of over 50 designers, developers, projects managers, and other specialists from all around the world. I'm actually the designer with the most tenure at the moment, but we've got a number of great contractors that have been teaming up with us for years. We're all freelance contractors, so there are no employees here - we all work when we want to and where we want to, which is a huge perk. We call it "remote team contracting", which means that we more or less act as a team, but we're all working as individual contractors rather than as hired employees.

In 2007 we won a Webby award for work on Blip.tv, and since then we've worked on countless projects for everyone from surf magazines to tech startups to Fortune 500 companies. Aside from working on several large scale websites (that I can't mention because of non-disclosure agreements), I've also had the privilege to design a bunch of well known iPhone apps, software prototypes, and high intensity internal projects for some of the biggest companies in the world.

In 2009, I began contributing to Graphic River and Theme Forest as an adventurous little side project. 7 months later, I still freelance about 70% of the time, but I'm slowly allotting more and more time into ThemeForest. Right now I'm working on several major freelance projects in addition to planning on a few awesome new releases for ThemeForest over the next couple months.

#2 - When/How did you first come across the Envato marketplaces - specifically ThemeForest?

I first came across the Envato marketplaces in early 2009. I'd been a longtime fan of all of the Envato sites, but never really dug into the marketplaces until early this year when I started becoming more interested in using micro-stock and other stock templates in my own freelance work to save time. At the time, there were a number of sites out there releasing similar content, but none with the diversity and quality that Envato authors were publishing - the price points on the products were also ridiculously affordable to use on most of my freelance projects.

I released a few of my own web-related products to GraphicRiver in Feburary to test the waters and see what kind of reception I would get. Next, I released my first PSD template to ThemeForest in March, which is what really motivated me to begin releasing full website templates using the skills that I'd been honing over the past 7 years.

#3 - You have been particularly successful when it comes to WordPress theme sales. When developing a new item, do you try to plan for PSD, Site Template, and WordPress submissions? Or do you prefer to focus only on one category per design?

Yes and no. I definitely don't allow the traditional understanding of a WordPress theme to limit my goals for any design. That said, starting in 2007 I began producing most of my website designs with WordPress in mind because my clients loved the backend and there weren't many limitations on what you could in terms of design... so it only seemed natural to keep this mentality when I began releasing stock templates at ThemeForest.

That said, it usually takes more time to release a product to WordPress as it does to code into HTML. As you can see from my portfolio, most of my designs start as HTML, then move up to WordPress when I've had the time to code them properly.

There's a huge difference between releasing a WordPress theme to ThemeForest and building a WordPress theme for a client though. Because of the nature of an individual client, most solutions that you come up with only have to work for them specifically. When I release a theme at ThemeForest, I have to account for countless possible usage scenarios. One buyer might want to take my theme and create a photography portfolio, another might want to use it as a site for a charitable organization. This kind of diverse usage really forces me to think through as many different types of users as possible because I actually hit the submit button.

Lately, I've been trying to push the envelope for WordPress themes. This means incorporating more and more design elements that you normally wouldn't consider for a traditional blog theme. With the broad range of resources available for WordPress right now on the web, it's easy to get inspired and want to try out some of the new tricks that are out there. Having these resources available also means that I can really let loose during the design phase and trust that there'll be some way of making it work in WordPress.

#4 - Though encouraged, we do not require that authors provide support for their items. Do you? Considering how well your items sell, how do you manage to provide quality support to so many different buyers? Any tricks/short-cuts?

Yes, absolutely! Answering custom support emails is the easiest way to learn how to release better products and documentation in the future. Hearing what roadblocks users run into, what requests they have for customizations, and what they like best about my themes gives me an inside track to understanding how buyers are putting my products to use. This kind of information is like gold if you ask me, as it grants you a continuing education on the do's and don'ts of stock templates.

As far as the practicality of responding to every user question goes: I used to answer all emails within 24 hours like clockwork... lately though, I've been doing my best to answer everyone within a week at the most simply because my current freelance work keeps me busy during most days of the week. It takes time to give every email a genuine response, but it ultimately pays off with happy buyers and lessons learned. Without tapping into the kind of feedback that comes from buyer-questions, I'd have a difficult time improving the quality of work as I've been doing over the past 6 months.

As far as shortcuts go - there's no magic formula. However, proper documenting your product will significantly cut down on the number of questions that buyers have. After that, maintaining a FAQ page on your products that answers the most commonly asked questions will help out a lot as well.

#5 - Do you, or have you considered selling on the different Envato marketplaces as well?

Yep - I've worked in Flash for several years as well, and I'm hoping to begin releasing Flash templates in early 2010. I also release products now and then at GraphicRiver.

#6 - Many successful authors have noted that the biggest advantage to selling their designs through us is that it takes the client completely out of the design process, and, instead, allows the author full control. Would you agree? Any other advantages?

I totally agree! Not having to cater a design concept to one particular customer is incredibly liberating. If a user doesn't like what I've done with a design, they can keep browsing until they find what's right for them... but for those users who do like what I'm doing - they get an entire website for under $30! That's not bad for either side of the transaction if you ask me.

The other major advantage that I've seen with releasing work at ThemeForest is the lack of deadlines. I live and die by deadlines in my freelance work. At ThemeForest, you can take as long as you want to get a product "just right", and there's no client breathing down your neck waiting to see the final product. I have a number of people that follow my work now and always want to see the latest work that I'm releasing, but it's a totally different phenomena from "needing" to hit a deadline or risk getting into trouble with a client.

#7 - Do you take advantage of our referral program, or promote your items in any additional ways to increase sales?

I use as many ways to promote my products and I can think of. I release blog posts whenever I release a new product. I try to write for Envato as often as I can. I make twitter posts. I let people know on Facebook (politely, I hate spammers). I also join contests on other sites to garner extra exposure. I don't really focus on getting a referral cut for any of those links, but it definitely doesn't hurt when it happens.

#8 - Without giving away any of your key techniques, if you could only make one choice, what would be the most important thing to keep in mind when selling with us?

Think of the end-user! This is my mantra. It doesn't matter how gorgeous your design is if a buyer can't use the final product. Organize your files and coding as if your grandmother were going to have to use it. Document it as thoroughly and simply as you possibly can. Include images, instructions, links, FAQ's, and any other sort of resource that might help out a buyer in the end. Good design is only one piece of a complex mechanism that creates a truly great stock product. Keep this in mind and you'll do just fine.

I usually have my fiance' read my documentation and instructions before I release a file. She has almost no experience at all with coding or web design, so it gives me a totally different response than when I read it. Things that make sense to me won't to her - so it allows me the unique opportunity to re-write certain aspects of my documentation to help the most users possible. It helps that she has a degree in publicity and marketing though ;)

#9 - A new member signs up with ThemeForest, and is hoping to upload his or her first item. Any advice?

Do your homework! Look around to see what's selling the best. Follow your favorite authors to see what they do and how they work. Read the forums and product threads to see how authors and buyers interact. Read the blogs to see what's new at the marketplace. All of these are crucial to really diving in and understanding what it takes to become successful at ThemeForest.

#10 - Final question. What's next for you? Any special items planned before the end of the year?

I actually have a batch of new products coming out in November and December, including at least 4 new WordPress themes, a handful of new HTML templates, even more PSD templates, and a few other surprises up my sleeve.

Here's a sneak peek of my upcoming Reverb theme:

Thanks for reading!

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