How to make money with Shopify as a designer

Categories Freelancing101, Web Design
make money with shopify

Today over 130,000 ecommerce stores are powered by Shopify. Along with the increase in the number of stores the demand for knowledgable designers and developers has sky rocketed. That means you can make money with Shopify as a designer as well.

Today there are thousands of freelancers and agencies specialising in, and generating revenue from, their work with the Shopify platform. Many are helping clients build their businesses on Shopify whilst others are focusing on designing themes and third party apps that expand the functionality of the platform. In this article we’ll examine a number of ways in which you too can start making money with Shopify.

What is Shopify?

Shopify is a theme based hosted (SaaS – Software as a Service) commerce platform. Put simply Shopify handles all the “back end” features of a store whilst leaving the design and user experience in the hands of designers and developers. The “front-end” is created using a simple and flexible theme based structure which makes use of a very readable template language called Liquid.

Liquid allows you to pull data from a store and have it displayed in the template when rendered in the browser. There are plenty of great resources online to help you get up to speed with Shopify themes — if you’ve hand coded a HTML page you are 75% of the way to creating your first Shopify theme.

The Shopify Economy

Many designers have seized upon the growth rate of Shopify as an opportunity to specialise and now bill themselves as “ecommerce designers”. Given that most people opening up a store won’t be designers themselves it’s inevitable that they will be in need of knowledgable web designers and developers to help them modify and customise their stores.

Shopify Partners and Experts

The Shopify Partner program was created to help designers and developers who work with the platform. As well as giving members a unique referral code (more on that shortly) it also allows the creation of unlimited fully functional, zero time limited, “dev shops“.

There are two main differences between a “dev shop” and a live store. Firstly is that they are free to use, however the second is that they aren’t able to take “real” payments. You can however take “dummy” payments to allow the full order process to be tested before launch. This works really well for client demos as you are able to show the full flow of a product order. Once you or your client is ready to “go live” you simply subscribe to the most appropriate plan.

The Shopify Partner Site

A superset of the Partner Program is Shopify Experts – a curated directory of proven Shopify designers and developers. It allows members to list their rates, work examples and also features the ability for clients to leave reviews. Experts is free to join and has proven a profitable lead generation tool for those listed.

Show me the Money

Regardless of how work requests appear in your inbox there are a number of different services you might wish to offer if you decide to add Shopify to your client services list. Let’s have a look at six different approaches and assess typical revenue for each.

Store Setup

One thing Shopify found out pretty quickly is that some store owners just need a helping hand to get started. They might be unfamiliar with the admin interface and need guidance in picking a theme, adding their initial products, applying some colour treatments and adding in a logo to the site.

Listed “setup experts” charge a starting rate of $500. Typically this represents a few hours work. This may of course lead onto further customisations which can leverage a higher rate.

Theme Customisation

One step beyond setup is what is known as “customisation”. This involves taking a pre-existing theme (possibly from the theme store) and adding in new custom templates, potentially some further JavaScript interactions and modifications to existing pages and templates. This is a profitable area for Shopify theme specialists with rates starting at $1000 and up depending on requirements.

Theme Design and Build (AKA Client Services)

The final progression for direct client facing work is to undertake the design and build of a bespoke theme. Rates here are naturally more subjective but generally start from $2500 and up.

If you are designing a custom theme you might be interested in learning more about the numerous “starter kits” available. For example Shopify provide a fully tested open source theme framework called Timber .

The Shopify Timber Framework

Timber includes all required templates, a CSS grid framework, CSS helper classes, Sass integration and a number of reusable code snippets that you’ll find yourself using across multiple projects. These include pagination blocks, newsletter sign up forms and breadcrumb trails. All ready and waiting to be styled.

Theme Store

Another way of putting your theme knowledge to good use is to build a commercial theme and sell it via the Shopify Theme Store. There’s a full checklist of the requirements for a commercial theme available in the Shopify documentation which is worth reading prior to starting out with a design. The Theme team will also provide valuable upfront feedback to help you on your way. In particular it’s worth asking for guidance on the types of themes being asked for.

For example over the last couple of years many successfully funded KickStarter projects have taken to Shopify to sell their products. As a result the need for single product themes grew. This niche has been filled by a number of themes now – all of which are performing well.

Themes are a very lucrative market. If your theme is flexible and easy to customise it’s potentially applicable to hundreds, even thousands, of new and existing merchants.

If your theme is accepted there are two revenue routes:

  • 70/30 split with Shopify — This assumes that the theme designer handles all support requests relating to the theme
  • 50/50 split with Shopify — This assumes that any support is handled by the Shopify Guru team

With many themes retailing for $180 a single sale a week (based on the 70/30 split) would generate circa $6.5k a year. Most themes will of course sell more than one per week so marketed well that figure will double, if not treble in a year.

To inspire you take the situation of the first theme designer to release a fully responsive Shopify theme via the theme store. In the first three months the theme grossed over $80K for the designer.

App Store

As well as the theme store Shopify also runs it’s own App Store. This is a curated showcase of third party apps that integrate with Shopify. These include shipping and fulfilment apps, digital delivery systems, reporting systems and social media integrations.

Apps are a huge market for developers and the recent introduction of the Embedded App SDK has made the integration of third party apps into the main Shopify admin interface much simpler and less jarring for users. In most cases you now don’t even know you are working with an app outside of the Shopify network.

The app store has a 80/20 revenue share in favour of the developer.

Partners Revenue Share

Finally it’s worth mentioning the revenue share offered to all Shopify Partners. For each and every client a Partner brings onto a paid Shopify plan they will receive 20% of the clients monthly Shopify invoice.

For example if you brought 10 clients onto the $79 p/m plan you would receive $158 per month. 10 clients brought onto the Unlimited plan ($179 p/m) would yield recurring revenue of $358 per month. That would be well over $4,000 per year.

Advertise your Specialty

As well as Shopify Experts generating leads it’s important to advertise your Shopify skills via your own channels too. May Partners are making exceptional use of bespoke landing pages that showcase their recent work, processes and ways to get in touch for more information. These can of course be directly linked to from an Expert profile page.

We Make Websites Landing page

Here are a few examples to inspire you:


As online sales, especially via mobile devices, continue to grow more and more merchants are going to require knowledgable designers and developers who have a deep understanding of platforms such as Shopify. There’s never been a better time to put your core skills of HTML, CSS and JavaScript to good use and take your first steps into the world of building for ecommerce.

Author bio

Keir Whitaker works at Shopify & co-hosts The Back to Front Show podcast. He regulary writes about, and shares links on, ecommerce, the web industry & podcasting.

Catalin is the founder of Mostash - a social marketing boutique - and he's always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.