Decision: Purchase A WordPress Theme Or Hire A Developer?

Decision: Purchase A WordPress Theme Or Hire A Developer?

I might be breaking some web designer guild rules by saying this, BUT you do not necessarily need to hire a web designer to create your website. There are tens of thousands of supported WordPress themes out there that can be had for around $50 through sites like and These themes are generally designed for maximum accessibility without the need for extensive coding and design skills/expertise.

With a little bit of tinkering, the average computer user can have an attractive, fully functioning web site ready to go without having to learn much if any code.

The million-dollar-question then becomes; when to pick an “out-of-the-box theme” and when to shell out to have a developer create something from scratch. What follows are some general guidelines that might help you with that decision.

Go for the out-of-the-box theme when:

  1. You have the time and patience to devote to conquering the learning curve. Before you even get started with your site, you’ll need to spend a good deal of time researching different themes, reading reviews, and finding the best match (stay tuned for our article about how to choose the right theme). Once you’ve chosen a theme, that theme is likely to have its own theme options. This means that while the general framework of WordPress stays the same, you’re likely to see some interfaces that you’re not familiar with in the theme options. This can often translate to a lot of time spent guessing and testing and even spending time on the theme’s forum asking questions. If you are the type who gets easily frustrated, tread lightly here.
  2. You’re flexible with layout. Maybe you have an idea about how your site should look. If you opt to purchase a theme, chances are you’ll find several that are really close, but not exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re committed to the purchased theme, you’ll need to let some of that go. Modifying a theme that someone else has  designed can be tricky, even for an experienced developer.
  3. Your site is simple. Purchased themes are great for so called “brochure sites,” or sites that are little more than a few pages of text and place to blog.
  4. You don’t have the budget for a custom-designed site. Maybe you answered no to all of the above and deep down, you know that you need a custom developed WordPress site. If you don’t have that kind of budget, it’s far better to get a $50 theme and do the best that you can than to have no site at all. You can always hire someone to custom develop your site down the road, or you can get some help modifying the theme you’ve chosen.
  5. You’re okay with a website that looks like other sites. If you purchase a theme, it’s a sage bet that you’re not the only to purchase it. Thus, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually stumble upon someone else using the same theme for his/her site. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Some people are really miffed at the idea that their site looks like a bunch of others out there and some people are not bothered by it at all.

Go for a custom-designed site when:

  1. You have rigid branding guidelines in place. This is often the case for more established companies. They have branding and style guides that they are using elsewhere and need a website that falls in line with brand continuity. In other words, the website needs to have the same fonts, colors and general aesthetics as the summer catalog or the latest ebook. Working from the ground-up, a designer/developer can take style guidelines into consideration and make sure those rules are adhered to from the beginning.
  2. Your site is complicated. If the functionality of your site needs to go beyond a few pages and blog, you should really consider a custom site. Advanced functionality such as special user login privileges and searchable databases often require extra coding that may or may not be compatible with a purchased theme. A good developer can take this kind of functionality into consideration from the get-go.
  3. You’re expecting a lot of traffic. Purchased themes are built to essentially be Swiss army knives, meaning they are built with a wide variety of functionality that may or may not ever come into play. This can often translate to a lot of extraneous code that can bog down a site’s performance. A custom designed site can be stripped down to only the necessary code, leaving the site lean and quick in the face of heavy traffic.

If you’re unsure of which route is best for your site, send us an email. We’re happy to walk you through the process. If you go the route of the purchased theme, we offer WordPress training sessions, evaluations, and day and half-day rates if you need customization or set-up assistance.

If you decide that you need to go beyond what a purchased theme has to offer, ask us about about the successes we’ve had in custom designing and developing sites for a variety of companies.

5 replies
  1. Susan Newman
    Susan Newman says:

    I totally agree but would like to add one more factor. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers and other industry types will want to spend more time each week building their business, bringing in clients and doing their professional work… not be learning, coding and playing designer. They should always focus on what brings in money and let us do what our skillset is.

    • Mallie Hart
      Mallie Hart says:

      Great addition to the topic, Susan. We couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for chiming in.

    • Mallie Hart
      Mallie Hart says:


      We do believe that if it’s in your budget, you should seek professional help. A good web designer can make setting up an out of the box theme easier and can help you make customizations that don’t leave your site looking like it was developed in a cookie-cutter fashion. There’s plenty of gray area between the black and white of straight out of the box and completely custom design.

      • Cassandra Wiley
        Cassandra Wiley says:

        Yes. I have sought professional help; however, their pricing was not in my budget. Others have recommended websites that can help. Perhaps I’ll keep searching until I find a compatible web designer.

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