How I Got My New Theme for Free

October 28, 2007 Posted by Tyler Cruz

Now that I’ve announced my new blog design, I thought that it might be interesting to learn that I received my new custom theme absolutely free.

How did I manage this? Did I take my Art of Negotiation to a new level? Did I win a prize somewhere? Did I win a bet? Actually, it was a lot simpler than all that.

A couple months ago I was going through my millions of e-mails and happened across one written by a guy name Dave who had offered to design me a custom new blog design for free. Sensing that there was some sort of catch involved, I contacted Dave back asking for more information.

To make a long story short, I found that Dave and his offer were completely legit, and his portfolio was pretty good so I accepted his offer to design me a new custom theme for free.

[Note: I had my mascot/caricature designed separately by]

Now why on earth would Dave want to design me a custom theme for free, you ask? Well, in return for the free design, Dave would get a small link back to his site in the footer of my design, as seen in the image below:

RealityHosting Footer Link

What else did Dave get in return? Well, he also got… oh wait… that was all he got. Now, Dave is more than happy for this barter, for three main reasons:

SEO Benefits

First, there is obvious SEO benefits to having a sitewide text link on a popular and targeted blog. Even though my blog has dropped to a PR3 during the recent PageRank implosion, his link still appears on over 400 content-rich and relevant pages.

Exposure, Branding, and Awareness

Already since putting up my new theme there have been a number of people inquiring as to who did my design. Dave told me that he wasn’t expecting any leads from me, but if he did that it would be a bonus.

Even though the link back to his site is small and integrated well into the design, it is still prominent enough to be noticed. As time goes on, people are more likely to have seen or or be familiar with it. If, in the future, they wish to get a design, they may remember his site or at least remember that there is a link to it from my site.

Heck, the fact that you’re reading this very sentence shows part of the exposure Dave has received as a result of designing my skin.

Improved Portfolio

However, the main reason Dave volunteered to have my blog redesigned for free was to improve his portfolio.

I applaud him for putting the extra work on himself; not many people will design for free just to improve their portfolio for future work. But Dave understands that this will pay off in the long run.

He can now boast that his company was the one who designed And obviously now his portfolio will be even better.

So that’s the reason behind why Dave did it for free, and how I got my free new theme 🙂

Now, a note to those of you who are already halfway into e-mailing Dave at asking for a free design – while he is still open to providing some free themes, he is only interested in making the offer to big blogs. Right now he will only consider blogs with an RSS of 1,000 or greater. However, you can always buy one from him…

About is a web design company which in addition to designing custom blog themes, also does general web design as well.

While their main service is focused around web design, they also provide web hosting, blog content writing services, and even SEO optimization.

Web Design

When ordering a design, will both design it for you as well as code it to W3C standards in clean HTML and CSS.

Turnaround time depends on the client, but usually a fully completed design all coded and ready to use takes a few weeks.

You will also receive any source files such as fonts and PSD’s that were used in the creation of your design, should you want to make changes in the future.



Customer Support

The best part of dealing with RealityHosting for me was their level of support and professionalism. I received nicely written replies usually the same day, sometimes several e-mails bouncing back and forth in an afternoon.

I later conversed with Dave on MSN Messenger, where we continued to talk as it was much faster than sending e-mails back and forth.

Depending on what your needs are, Dave can set you up with an appropriate design package. Since mine was a special case, I was given unlimited revisions until I was happy. You can get a similar package too, but it will cost you a bit more. When asked how much my design package would have cost me, Dave answered “Yours would have been around $2,000 because of the unlimited revisions”.

Now, I’m a perfectionist. And when it comes to a web design, I can be extremely picky. I can spot an offset pixel immediately, point out a cross-browser issue, ask for an image to have a 10% less opacity, and request text moved 0.2 pixels to the left (Yes, I actually requested this!).

Most designers would entertain my insane attention to detail for a certain while, but then quickly grow tired of it and say no more revisions, but Dave just kept accepting my epically long lists of requested changes, and kindly told me they would get them done.

We went through over a dozen mockups and revisions (and then fixed probably 50 or so coding bugs afterwards; a couple which are still being worked on as we speak). Here are a couple of the earliest proofs:



As you can see, they are very different from what you see now, so it should give an idea as to just how hard RealityHosting (and me!) worked on perfecting the design.


Here’s what Dave had to say when I asked him what he normally charges for design work:

“It all depends on the job really. We try to work within the clients budget. Obviously if someone had a low budget, we wouldn’t be able to put in as much effort as we did with your blog… but we usually start prices around $1000.”

Again, mine would have cost around $2,000 for the level of design work and support I received.

You won’t have a backlink to their site on your design if you purchase a design from them. There is only one on mine because I got my custom theme for free.

Is pricey? Yes, they aren’t cheap, but they are quality and you should end up with something that you are both happy and proud with.

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Posted: October 28th, 2007 under Blog Related  

32 Responses to “How I Got My New Theme for Free”

  1. Put simply, you pay for quality. $2,000 for the design and coding of this blog isn’t bad at all in my opinion. Even better that you got it for free!

    – Martin Reed

  2. Martin says:

    I would have gladly paid $2000 for this design, especially all the extra work they did like the other proofs. It just looks like a professional web designer did the job.

    It sure beats the $700 you could have paid for the “unique” blog design from Unique Blog Designs, which would have not looked unique, nor professional.

  3. Dan says:

    At first I didn’t really like the design but it is actually quite nice.

    Well done overall. I do have one suggestion, at the bottom you have “… Journey To Wealth | Register Login” i think you should have a | between Register and login. Other than that its quite nice. I’m also glad I can comment again since I just hate having too many registrations.

  4. Lisa says:

    Congrats on the free blog theme – looks very modern. Looking at the prices of blog redesigns, I think I’m in the wrong line of work!

    • DaveRH says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Don’t forget, companies (such as mine) are not just a one man operation. That’s part of the reason the price is higher than hiring a one man operation like Unique Blog Designs.

      Nate does some great work, and he’s got a lot of big name clients who are extremely satisfied with his work, but all his themes look similar. When you hire a company that employs a design team (like mine), the costs will be higher because there are more people involved. I’m not taking the money you pay for your theme and pocketing it all myself. My team often makes more on a job than I will because you have to keep talented people happy or they will go elsewhere.

      At the end of the day…yes you are paying more money, but like a previous commenter said, the design you get will actually be unique.

      Thanks for the post Tyler! 🙂


  5. Nice job on getting the blog for free :)…Hopefully one day I can get it for free

  6. Armen says:

    Nice job Tyler, and a nice design to boot. No doubt he’ll reap the benefits in the future, for his generosity.

  7. Onias says:

    I love your new design and congrats on getting a free one! It’s really hard to do for someone that’s not in your position. 🙂

    Just was wondering, aren’t you concerned about Text Link Ads? People has been saying that due to the selling of text links brought Google to dropping PR’s and dropping websites in SERPs. Aren’t you worried about that? Just curious, you might not though.

    • Martin says:

      Tyler seems to be more concerned with money as opposed to PR. That is probably why he is keeping Text Link Ads. I bet if the money stops coming in as much as it did, he will probably drop them.

      I say if he is still making the same amount of money (or more now that less people will be using TLA) than who cares. He has to pay for the condo some way.

    • Tyler Cruz says:

      There’s no proof or even real true consensus that paid links explains the PR drop. In fact, almost every single one of my sites dropped in PR, even sites that have absolutely no paid links and are pretty much flawless in terms of SEO, such as

      So, I will be continuing to do what I always have… I’m usually not one to jump the gun or follow the bandwagon like a lemming. I prefer to wait to see what’s really going on.

      Another thing to point out is that it was what.. nearly half a year between PR updates, and waiting… hoping… to increase in PR just seems counterproductive when you can be monetizing your site.

      In the end, traffic reigns supreme.

  8. Sean Spurr says:

    Nice theme Tyler, and good job on getting in free of charge. If I was a designer (and had some free time!) I’d use the same strategy. I think its edged me further away from the pit of tyler-haters I was in dangers of falling into when I found out how little the rest of your sites make other than, and how you don’t seem to spend much time working on that compared with new projects (saying that I do the same).

    Only thing I’d suggest is moving the list of your sites down and making it more complete. Show off your babies!

  9. bloggernoob says:

    can you see the increase in traffic due to the new design?

  10. […] How I Got My New Theme for Free – Tyler Cruz explains how he got a $2,000 blog theme for free! […]

  11. Mani Karthik says:

    Interesting story there Tyler…

    The mascot is awesome!


  12. CompuWorld says:

    that is soo cool..

    a free custom redesign. Very true that it will add to there portfolio..lucky they and lucky you..

    even I am planning a custom redesign before new year..lets see..cannot afford much but I am offering ad spots on my blog for as long as SIX MONTHS 🙂

    I hope someone hits upon me!!

  13. Skeptic says:

    Just wondering – and please be honest – are you getting commission as part of that price you quoted in your main post?

    If so, just say – I’d gladly pay that inflated price if I knew you were getting commission (it’s a great design plus you run a great little network of websites so I can’t fault you).

    But is that their regular price or the inflated-by-your-commission-price?

    • Tyler Cruz says:

      Hi Skeptic,

      It’s their price as told to me by Dave. Again though, he states

      “It all depends on the job really. We try to work within the clients budget. Obviously if someone had a low budget, we wouldn’t be able to put in as much effort as we did with your blog… but we usually start prices around $1000.”

      so you might be able to get a design for $800 or so but it would be fairly limited…

      Anyhow, talk to Dave at if you want a quote, but I’m not getting a cut here.

      But hey, if you want to give me a commission yourself…

      • Skeptic says:

        No, no…

        Honest, as I said before, I’d gladly have paid that price even if you were getting a cut – you are one of the most ‘honest’ (as can be) web dev people out there and it is an awesome design from the company.

        I wasn’t having an below-the-belt jab at you – I was just curious if you were pulling a similar ‘stunt’ as last time with the mascot, as you’ve been known to pull it before. To be honest, if I was in your position, I’d do the same thing too 😉 as Dave said below: commission and profit are what makes money, after all, not ‘take less than you give’ (that’s plain stupid), and you seem to understand that perfectly.

        You truly are a smart businessman and I didn’t mean to make my previous comment sound negative. Apologies if it seemed so.

  14. DaveRH says:

    Tyler isn’t getting a commission. The prices Tyler quoted are ball park figures I gave him over MSN. Really every project is different, so it’s very difficult to nail down an exact price, but I did my best to give a starting range.

    Re: The whole commission fiasco with John Cow. I don’t know what everyone thinks is happening when John Chow posts a monthly affiliate sales income of $7,244.94 (September)…(just about any blogger that makes money will fit in this category). They are promoting services and products to their reader at a monthly cost.

    Selling something at a higher value that it costs to acquire or produce is basically the building blocks of an economy. Do you cuss out your local supermarket every time you go buy a bag of chips because they are charging you more than it costs? They are just trying to make a living like the rest of us.

    The web development and blog themes we produce are developed by a team…am I bad person because I charge more than I pay the people that work for me?

    What Tyler did with the logo incident is basic business, and it happens everywhere around you every day. I don’t see what the big deal is. I’d say John Cow plagiarizing other people’s ideas and riding their success is worse than selling a service at a marked up rate like Tyler did. Not that I have a problem with the Cow, I think he’s leveraged himself well to become pretty popular in just a few months, I’m just sayin’ don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house.

    • Martin says:

      Dave, I think you and I would get along great. First we agree on Unique Blog Designs not being, well, unique. And now we agree on ol’ Mr. Cow. I never liked him from the beginning, and his little stunt where he said his site got shut down just made me stop caring all together.

      How old are you Dave, could you be my long lost twin brother?

      • DaveRH says:

        I dunno, I have a pretty convoluted background… so it’s unlikely!

        I found out since my previous comment that Nate is actually not a one man operation, so I’m going to have to rescind that part of my comment, but though Nate has marketed his company brilliantly…all their designs look the same to me, and I don’t see any uniqueness. Small Potato wrote an excellent article that basically summed up my feelings on the issue.

  15. Jason says:

    The theme is great, but a 2-column template would be much 1000x better.

    I´m viewing this on a 1024×768 layout and I only see half of the first ad banner (above the fold). And yet, you have useless stuff like RSS Feeds, Control Panel and Site search in your premium sections of the blog.

    We all know the top portion of the site is the most important, just check JC to see how much stuff he managed to put there.

    Also, by increasing the width of your sidebar, your Recents Posts wouldn’t span through 2-3 lines, which only makes the sidebar bigger.

  16. Derek says:

    Defiantly an amazing design that Dave made for you Tyler. Sometimes I miss important e-mails like that bet you are thankful that you caught it. It it working fine for me in Mozilla Firefox. Should pay dividends in the future for his exposure assuming this upward thread keeps up.

  17. Tyler I sent my check off to Reality for my new site. My negotiation was not nearly as successful as yours, perhaps Ill hire you the next time.

  18. […] a few of the more well known Blogger’s are getting there Blog’s madeover for nothing. Tyler Cruz and Caroline Middlebrook to name just […]

  19. Femin says:

    I dont have a free theme


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