So I’ve been very quiet over the last month because I’ve been working on updating my blog theme. Sure, sounds simple enough right? Nope. I’m going to share with you my process, what I went through to hopefully help you if and when you decide to change your blog theme. It’s probably just a matter of time before you feel you will need to do the same.
I’ve had a blog since 2010. Then, in 2011 switched over to WordPress because the company who I was using for hosting, and for my theme was horrible. I was with GoDaddy, and they basically shut down my site from too much traffic on the day my Food Photography Workshop was featured on Tasting Table.
Anyway, I switched over to WP and decided I wanted help to do this. I got quotes back then for $3000 to $5000 to set up my blog for me, AND it would take 3 to 4 weeks. I didn’t want to spend the money, or the time, so I figured I’d just do it myself.
How many of you remember seeing the back end of The WordPress for the first time? I freaked out. Good lord, what was all that stuff? OMG, what did I just take on? Here I go again, creating a huge project for myself while I’m shooting food full time. Google, here I come.
I started with one of those free WP themes and didn’t do any modifications to my theme, then I moved over to a paid theme that was very popular on StudioPress. That transition was fine because I hadn’t done any modifications and my site was only a blog.
THE EASY WAY TO CHANGE THEMES
So, if you have a traditional blog theme, and you aren’t using any page builders or other plugins made for your theme, you could have a pretty smooth transition to your new theme.
If you are just doing blog posts and don’t have any special bells and whistles on your site, your new theme shouldn’t be too hard to install. You’ll just have to tweak your colors in the customizer, add some new plugins for things you need, that sort of thing.
THE CHALLENGING WAY
Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t really able to do the easy way. First of all, I’d done several theme modification where I actually got crazy and edited theme code to change stuff. A new theme would wipe out all my modifications.
About editing theme code yourself – do you know what “white paging” your blog means? Yeah, that means you crashed the whole site, it can’t even load, and you just see a white page. I’m a professional at white paging my site. It’s a verb now. I’ve made it so.
The other issue I had was the 9 million plug ins (actually 54) I’m now using. Ok people, can I have a show of hands of anyone else who is also a plugin addict? These weren’t for fun plugins, these were plugins that I was now needing for functionality that didn’t exist when my theme was first built. So I had to keep adding plugins to make things work the way I wanted.
We need to make a support group for plugin conflicts that consists of a bar with great beer, wine, and food so we can just bitch about what our day was like trying to figure out which plugin is now conflicting with the new one we just installed. Jeez, what a time waster! I know you know what I’m talking about. It really makes you regret having a blog in the first place.
This is why it took me years to update my theme. I was totally afraid I was going to destroy it beyond recovery. Being I’m a professional white pager and all, the chances of doing some serious damage was pretty high, I thought.
THE STAGING PLAN
Because of everything I just mentioned, I needed to create a staging environment to test my new theme. This was suggested to me by my good friend, and blog security tech guru Andrew Wilder of Nerdpress.
A staging site is a separate website just for testing. You clone your blog onto a different server, and then put your new theme on that. Your staging site is a different site altogether so you can take your time customizing your theme the way you want, and fix issues that WILL come up with the new theme. You don’t have to put it on a new server, but it is suggested to do so to eliminate any possible issues.
Here was my plan:
- Find a theme that was close to what I wanted (this was the hardest part actually).
- Find someone to set up the staging site for me, and put the new theme on the cloned blog (second hardest part).
- Then I go in and do all my customizing to how I want everything, and figure out what issues there are.
- Have the person who is helping me, help me out when I get stuck customizing my site if code changes were needed.
- Then have that person make my site go live with the new theme.
Sounds simple, but I’ll tell you where I had issues.
HIRING A WEB DEVELOPER FOR HELP
I knew I wasn’t able to figure out how to do all this on my own. I started researching web developers. O – M – G. Friends, the estimates I got were unbelievable. Here’s the range – $5000 (this was the most common price actually), $8000, $10,000 $12,000, $18,000, and finally $20,000. I spent several weeks trying to find a web developer.
Here’s where the issue was – most developers do NOT want to do small projects, and they especially don’t want to do theme changes because they are working with someone else’s code.
I talked to about 15 developers over the course of a month. There were more than that but many of them NEVER responded to several emails I sent telling them what I wanted to do. Rude!
Many of those developers who gave me those quotes said that doing a theme change is the worst thing I could do and that I must start from scratch. That’s what those quotes are – a totally new site.
I thought that was ridiculous, and most of them put the fear of God in me about how badly I’m going to destroy my blog by doing this theme change. How was that possible if I was doing a staging site??? Made no sense.
A few developers where totally willing to work with me but they had hourly minimum requirements that would end up being $1500 – $2000. I didn’t want to do that either. I just refused to believe it was going to be that hard.
YOUR NEW THEME
(This section has an affiliate link with the designer I ended up using for my new blog theme – should you choose to buy one of her themes I will make a small commission at no cost to you)
I found a theme that I loved. I had been looking for a new theme on and off for over a year. I was trying to find a theme that would help showcase all that the Food Photography Blog has become. It’s not just a blog anymore. I do workshops, I have eBooks, I have all kinds of resources and my current blog didn’t make it easy to find these things.
I wanted to emulate what Jenna Kutcher did with her website. Everything she has to offer you is super easy to find from the home page. Jenna used a talented design team, but her website is not a WP based site. It was custom designed by Tonic and the platform is called Showit. Then the blog portion is WP based, but you have to use their WP Engine hosting. I didn’t want to do this set up at all.
Then I found another website that was using a very similar design concept – the designer calls them an “Everything” theme. The company is Hello You Designs. I fell in love with so many of her themes.
The designer AND web developer is Jennifer Johnson. Ah ha! That was the key – I should have been looking for a designer / web developer. Bingo! Jennifer has several packages to choose from, for the level of support you need.
She was totally up for doing the staging site with me, and we staged the site on her servers because she also offers hosting as well. So it was a perfect fit.
Jennifer helped me every step of the way, and I finally have a blog that I’m proud of, instead of being embarrassed by it. My theme is called Hello Sassafras and Jennifer helped to customize it further.
Now, I do have to say that I did find one developer who was willing to work with me and just charge me hourly, but by that time, I had already heard back from Jennifer, and how she could help me.
The last theme I had on the blog had support, but NOT like this. Jennifer is totally fine if you want to customize your theme. Most theme designers will not help you with customizing and tell you, “that involves a code change and we don’t support that”. Jennifer totally gets it, and helped me every step of the way.
I’ve asked Jennifer if I can interview her, and I’m waiting to hear back. She is a mother of 5 and extremely busy for obvious reasons, so hopefully she can make some time for us here and give us some good pointers for how to work with a designer.
If you want to change your theme – here are my tips:
- Most developers are NOT talented designers. There, I said it. I was shocked at how ugly many of the developers sites were. There was no way they would understand what I was looking for, and their testimonials showed sites they’d done that also just didn’t look that nice at all, in my opinion.
- Spend time finding your theme, and research who designed it. Be very careful buying a theme on a place like Creative Market, if the seller has only sold a few copies, and read the comments. You will see people say things like, “ no support – theme doesn’t work and the designer is MIA”. Stuff like that – watch out for it.
- Ask the theme designer if they support customization. If they don’t, you are on your own if you need to change anything. So then, you will need a developer to help you with the customization – more money. But, this is very common and standard. It would just be an awesome bonus.
- If you are working with a developer – make sure their site, and their client’s sites work. I was shocked at how many web developer’s websites were broken, had pages of actual code showing on their home page, or things just didn’t work. REALLY???? If they are calling themselves a developer, their sites better work.
- If you don’t like the designs of the developer/designer’s sites, and they claim they do design, don’t use them. They don’t have your aesthetic.
- If you want a custom home page like I have, this will take some time for both you, and your designer to get things right. This is a process.
- When picking a new theme – you are looking at design first, then functionality – to a point. I wanted a theme with a home page that I could customize. That’s what Jennifer specializes in. I had a hard time finding that on WP. Jennifer uses extra widgets that she codes into the theme to do the customizing. So, once that widget is there, I can go to town with it and she doesn’t have to do any more work on it. I can change it every day if I wanted to.
- If they are a designer – ask them if they make their own themes, or do they use themes of other designers. I was really surprised at how many “designers” where actually using themes from other designers for the client’s websites. I know this because I’d been researching this for a year, and had a lot of websites bookmarked, and started seeing the same designs on various sites.
- Spend a lot of time looking at sites that you love, and see if they give any design or site credit. That is how I found Jennifer.
I hope you like the new look of the blog – please let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and if you liked this post, please share it on Facebook and Pinterest.
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