Zazzle Cyber Monday Free Ground Shipping

Posted by Mongo

To qualify for this free shipping offer, one or more Zazzle products must be purchased. Enter promo code FREESHIP2DAY at checkout to receive the free shipping. The free shipping offer is for ground shipping to U.S. addresses only. Shipping charges will apply to oversized orders and orders being shipped on an expedited basis or outside the U.S. Offer is valid from November 30, 2009 through November 30, 2009 at 11:59pm PT. This promotional offer may not combine with any other Zazzle promotional or volume discount offers. Offer valid on only.

See more deals here.

TIP 8. Be Social: Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy

Posted by Mongo

Besides having no business degree or experience, I also do not hold any marketing degrees, either. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this as it does nothing for my credibility. Take it as a bit of advice from someone who used to be in the same boat as you. When I first started selling POD products I had no clue what I was doing. Over time I have searched and read up on various techniques and tips on how to be successful.

Of course, every single tip I’m giving you is probably found elsewhere in sites offering tips for success. The 9000 paragraphs I use to explain each one was not. It’s practical knowledge that uses those tips. While I freely admit that I am winging it in terms of experience, I do, however, have a marketing model that possesses a truly dizzying intellect.

While I rely on CP and Zazzle to host all of my designs and drive a majority of sales, I don’t stop there. You are of course reading my blog…I hope. I use this blog to advertise my products from my store, tell semi-humorous stories surrounding the themes or show you tips on how to achieve certain effects. Everything here links back to my stores. It’s a small piece of that overall puzzle but it is a much needed cog in the marketing machine. The trick is, getting people to read it. As a great de-motivational poster reads, “BLOGGERS: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.” It’s true. Blogging is like talking out loud at a bus stop. People are all around to hear you but only pay attention if you sound crazy. Guilty. I often joke that I write the least read blog in the world. My original blog has had just over 8600 hits in almost two years. That’s pretty sad. Even worse when you consider how many times it ticks up because I’m on it, just checking the stats. However, if you can apply the SEO development and HTML skills, I referred to in the previous steps, and can generate good quality content, you can get your blog heard among the noisy voices of the Internet. Besides, for the most part, blog sites offer free accounts and you can’t beat what doesn’t affect your bottom line. If you don’t operate or own a domain, a free blog can be useful as a way to get your message out. Granted, you get what you pay for but that all depends on how you use the tools you are given. A hammer and chisel can carve out a simple bench or Michelangelo’s David.

So, as I hammer away at blog posts other applications pick up the message and run. Post your link on websites that index blogs, like Technorati, Ping-o-Matic!, or Pingoat, to name a few. Make sure you add it to Google’s Blog Search Ping Service. That way you can start driving Internet traffic outside of your main store and link directly into it. Another way I get traffic is by using social networks. Once I publish a post, my fan page on Facebook imports my post into my Notes. Then all of my fans who don’t already read my blog, which is about all of them, gets an update from my fan page with the same links back to my store. When my fan page gets updated, so does my twitter feed. This is all done automatically after one post is published.

That’s not to say I just set it and forget it. I regularly go into my Facebook page and update profile pics, change status updates, and upload design images to my photo albums with direct links to them in my store. You can also comment on other blogs and websites. Join other groups devoted to shop owners or graphic design. You may learn more tips on how to be more successful there.

If you’re really serious about driving traffic and gaining visibility, spend $25 on a Facebook ad. My fan base jumped considerably in one week from one ad. You can customize it to only charge you when someone clicks on your ad regardless of how many times it appears on the right hand side someone’s page. Do realize that just because you gain fans, you may not see a lot of sales. It’s all about the visibility and content. Don’t be a pest and over saturate your work with a lot of “crummy commercials.” Do remember to drink your Ovaltine, though.

Once you gain a following keep them updated on your work. Hold contests, offer freebies just for being part of your world. Ok, I admit, I have not done the previous two sentences yet, but for Christmas I will be holding a contest and I will give out something to someone, somewhere, somehow. Why? It builds a rapport. If you’ve already established sales on your sites you could have a little bit of extra money floating around in your account that hasn’t cleared the 30 day period before it converts to cash. You can usually use that as credit towards self purchases. $10 here or there isn’t going to kill you. It might get you more sales in the long run.

Also, besides being visible to your customers, be visible to your fellow designers. Usually, the tips you get on being successful come from shopkeepers at no expense. Meaning, they have given you advice out of the kindness of their own heart. They gain no monetary payment for helping you out and are happy to pass on their success to other designers looking to get in the game. Join their ranks and become a social member of the design community. Share and trade tips with others. No one has all the answers and you may help someone with something that they’ve had trouble with which you figured out in one day. If you use Zazzle, congratulate someone on a “Today’s Best Award” by writing on their wall. Become fan and they might reciprocate. You cannot do business in a bubble. You rely on sales from customers. In most cases, if they don’t come to you for a shirt, someone out there will have something that will do just as well.

CafePress Free Shipping Weekend Ends 11/29 11:59PM

Posted by Mongo

This Weekend! Free shipping on orders of $75 or more** Free Economy or Standard shipping for orders of $75 or more, excluding shipping charges and applicable sales tax. Delivery address must be within the United States and cannot be a PO Box. All orders will be Economy shipping unless the order is not eligible for Economy shipping (e.g., order exceeds Economy weight restrictions). Coupon code 75WKND must be entered at check out. Promotion starts on November 28, 2009 at 12:00 a.m. (PST) and ends on November 29, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. (PST). Cannot be combined with any other coupons or promotions and this offer may change, be modified or cancelled at anytime without notice.

TIP 7. Research and Development : An Excuse To Be On the Internet

Posted by Mongo

You have it all figured it by now. Your shop is up and running. Your design machine is humming along at a good pace. Your store is filling up with great designs and product offerings. Your sales sheet is bare. What is going wrong? So far, you’ve done everything right. Right?

Just because you have great designs doesn’t mean anyone is looking at them. Realize that, while I know nothing about statistics because 42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot…actually, that number varied when I searched to find the original joke answer…a majority of people, nowadays, will buy something online that they found through using a search engine. It doesn’t matter if that engine is Google, Yahoo, Bing, or even the search engine on a Print On Demand site. What you need to do to be successful is to learn how search engines can drive traffic to your store. Without an existing website and good content driving customers to your store, you sometimes rely on the POD site to generate sales with their own methods. While some POD sites do their best to point customers in your direction, some don’t compensate the designer the same as sales generated directly in your store.* They use methods like SEO, adwords, and paid searches which helps them get on top of the lists but unless you want to spend money you may not have on advertising, you won't be able to compete without them pointing people to your designs, regardless of how much profit they are willing to give you from a sale.

SEO means Search Engine Optimization and it can be very important for someone who wants to gain traffic to their store. Do research on how to customize your store using HTML and keywords to guarantee high ranking in search engine results. Tag your designs appropriately and think like buyer. If you have a design that bridges several possible themes tag it so that more than one customer can look at your design to fit their taste.

For example, I have a design that is rather simple in nature. The entire thing is two words, “got” and “salt” with a question mark at the end. You don’t have to be a pop culture disciple to know it resembles the old “got milk?” ads. Where it gets interesting is that if you ask 10 different people what they immediately think of when they see that design, you could get multiple, unrelated answers. Some might say, “Oh, it’s a shirt for people who love margaritas.” One or two might look at it and say, “It’s a shirt for people who like food.” The others may give various answers but probably a majority of that remaining group will probably say, “That’s a shirt about the television show Supernatural. They use salt to protect against spirits.” Well, each one of these responses is right. Now, regardless of where I have that design put in my store, the search engines will find the design by keyword or tag. So, I tagged it with words like “supernatural, ghost, bartender, salt, food, margarita, etc.” I made sure I thought of what a buyer might be thinking when they see that design or what they may be looking for when they type in a search term. The last time I typed ”got salt shirt” in Google I was first in the search results. That’s not too bad. However, I realize it might be Google’s little slugs infiltrating my brain and pointing itself in the direction of my own stuff. Other search engines do not give me that same self gratifying ego stroking.

Megalomania aside, these are things to think about in planning designs and marketing them. Do some searching on SEO and how to incorporate it into your site. Read Squidoo lens on shopkeeper success. Scour the Internet for tips and tricks and be successful.

*As a side rant, I shall dip back into a major point of contention among CafePress shopkeepers. Pre June 2009, all prices on CaféPress were established by the shopkeeper. Whether you bought a shirt through the shopkeeper’s store on the Marketplace (CP’s main site) the shopkeeper got a commission based on markup they added to the base price for a product. Post June 2009, CP changed their model and sent shopkeeper’s in a tizzy. Instead of the established price set by the shopkeeper, the Marketplace established a retail price which could be more or less than what a shopkeeper charges. All sales through the Marketplace gave shopkeepers 10% commission of the retail price instead of their established markup causing shopkeepers to lose money. Check out the pricing policy to see the changes. For their example, while a Men’s Organic Fitted shirt in a shopkeeper’s store might be $24.99, the retail price in the Marketplace is $26.99. The shopkeeper makes $5.00 in commission from his store but only $2.69 from the Marketplace. While that seems great because the shopkeeper’s price is cheaper, the bulk of all sales come from the Marketplace and now a shopkeeper sees a 46% decrease in profit. Zazzle allows you to set your own royalty based on percentage and all sales, whether generated through your shop link or through searching from their main site pays your preset royalty from that sale.

TIP 6. Stay Tuned: Veg Out

Posted by Mongo

As I said before a lot of times when I come up with an idea, I check the usual suspects in Zazzle and CaféPress to see if it’s been done before. If it hasn’t been done or hasn’t been done well, I jump on the opportunity to be first in line with a brand new design. But realize that POD sites are the second source for inspiration. Popular Culture is my first.

People always talk about having the next big thing in terms of toy or gadget or in this case, design. If you are an established artist you can skip this step and concentrate on being a success, already. If you are not an artist, like me, then you need to have an edge. You need to be a little clairvoyant and study the subject matter. You need to watch television. You need to keep an eye on upcoming trends. I try to make it a point to keep up on entertainment in general. If anything else, I can at least justify to my wife spending time in front of the television. “Honey, I’m doing market research.”

Here’s two examples of how being in tune with the world helped me to be successful.

Facebook is probably the biggest generator in a decline of office productivity since Fantasy Football. The fact that you can play games, chat, and post funny pictures of yourself online makes for hours of distraction. So much so that people have become addicted to farming games. As I, too, became addicted to farming I noticed that there were very little designs speaking to this addiction and thought, “Why not?” I created three or four different designs like, “I’m a big deal on…” and “Eat Sleep Internet Farming” and really managed to get in before a lot of other designers. Granted, the actual creators of the games have their own official gear and I’ve moved towards being a little generic in calling out a specific name of a game in recent designs.

Another popular entertainment item is Glee. I admit to being a fan of the show and quite frankly, I find myself cracking up over little things that most people would probably miss. What I didn’t miss was the bus, when it came to how much people would take to the show as well as myself. So, I cracked open the laptop and worked on a “Property Of” style of shirt just for fans. I tried to make it as generic as possible to not plagiarize the ideas and fonts while still maintaining that yes there other William McKinley High Schools out there and they probably do have a choir or glee club. It’s a consistent seller and other people may have designs that are just as good, if not better, but I was able to get in before the rush.

If you look at the Top 5 Sellers List on my front page you'll notice the two, above mentioned, ideas. Being successful is about being aware. Keep an eye on what could be popular and trendy and you might edge out competition with a better design.

Here's another way to keep up with what's going on in the world. Read up on blogs, look at gadget sites like and other techie stuff. Check out Entertainment Weekly and other entertainment publications. Depending on how you want to position your business in regards to customer base is very important. But if you want to be a success you better know what you are talking about.

Get in tune and be successful.

TIP 5. Spread Yourself Out: Right Click On Red

Posted by Mongo

Remember I said I have one design that sells real well and 15-20 others that don’t? Ok, well, if you have a killer idea for a design. One that you know will sell well on one site. Why not spread it around a bit? The one thing you have to realize is, this is your artwork, granted you are following the terms of service and usage policies. Do you think that Nike sells its shirt designs to just Foot Locker or Wal-Mart? No. They are all over the place. The same rules can apply to you.

There are several POD sites around the Internet. CaféPress is probably the biggest while Zazzle is following a very close second. Spreadshirt and Printfection are up and comers to name a few and Skreened is unique because of its stance on using only American and non sweatshop apparel. I could spend hours giving you the rundown on how each shop is similar or different but on the surface the biggest difference is price.

While all mentioned businesses offer free accounts to sell designs, CaféPress has two models, basic and premium. Basic shops are free but very limited in terms of design and visibility, while premium shops offer more features and possibilities for around $60 a year. Here is the comparison between basic and premium shops. Zazzle, being the other major player, gives you the same options as a CaféPress Premium Shop at no charge. The biggest difference, other than the price, is the layout and controls. Zazzle has a little more complex organizational model and I’m still coming to terms with how to optimize my store. However, while CaféPress operates to have you be in control of your design and what you offer it on, Zazzle gives you the option to let the buyer customize their product around your design. In essence you can sell the design and let the buyer pick what they want it to be printed on when they shop. Still, having everything pre-made in your store allows you to kind of point the buyer towards a good marriage of product and design. I’m still learning about Spreadshirt and Printfection so I apologize for not having much information. However, since both of these sites offer free accounts to host your designs, why not do a little research and multiply your sales potential with having a killer design on different sites.

Each one is different and has its own TOS and Content Policies. I’ve found that certain designs on one site are ok, but on another site they are bad. Granted, I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I am parodying a popular theme and one legal team draws a thicker line over “fair use” versus another. That doesn’t mean you can’t try. Just be careful in how you go about doing business or you could find yourself having bigger issues.

I really have two reasons for why I started branching out into other POD sites for business. The first is that while I really don’t have the additional time to run four or five stores, I can at least put my best sellers out in all directions and maximize profits. When I get time, I can begin to start posting my previous work on the other sites. As of now, I have yet to see the same volume of sales as I did with my original store on CaféPress, but Zazzle is slowly picking up.

The second reason, which I will rant about later on, is because not all POD sites pay equally. CaféPress really toned back their generosity towards shopkeepers and designers this summer when they changed their business model. Premium Shopkeepers pay to use their site and CP pretty much reduced a majority of shopkeeper’s profits by almost half. Now, you can still make the same amount of profit as you did before the change but you have to really market your store as a separate entity from the normal process of customers going to Café and just searching from there.

Now, a lot of shopkeepers got extremely pissed at the change, pulled up stakes and just left, closing their store at CP for good. While I commend them for sticking to their principles and telling CP where to shove it, they need to realize something essential in business. CP makes money off the designers, not the product. Designers make money off the shoppers, not CP. You need to go where the shoppers are and by the looks of my sales reports, the shoppers are at CP more than Zazzle. Do I see a better profit margin at Zazzle? You betcha. And you can argue semantics all you want, “I lost half my profit due to the restructuring of the business model” but I, for one, cannot argue that if I were to follow suit and close my CP store, shoppers would just keep going to CP and buying some other design instead of mine. 10% profit is 10% more than zero.

I may only see 10% of all sales from CP, but considering that 90% of all my sales come from CP I’d be cutting off my nose to spite my face. Unless you can convince shoppers to go elsewhere, you are just losing money, plain and simple. That’s why Walmart is still in business. Bitch all you want about Chinese imports, employee healthcare and the fleecing of American small businesses, they are still opening a new store roughly every three days from what I’ve read.

That being said, divide and conquer the Print On Demand business. You own the work, why not showcase it? If you took 100 cola drinkers and 50% drank Coke and 50% drank Pepsi, you could still say that 100% drank cola. Be the cola and be successful.

TIP 4. Play To Your Strengths: Exploit Your Weaknesses

Posted by Mongo

For a self proclaimed graphic designer, which I use that term loosely I am a horrible artist. I cannot draw to save my life and using a computer to do it is even worse. Because I haven’t spent an exorbitant amount of time or money on products and training to hone these skills I have mainly stuck to faking it. I use tricks and effects built into paint programs or grab an image from the Internet for reference and then use the line tools and paint buckets to try and recreate it from scratch. My biggest friend is the curved line tool in Paint.Net. It allows me to draw a line and then curve it at certain points to mimic the curves on what I am recreating.

However, Print On Demand sites aren’t just about funny shirts and drawings. Let’s say you are a good photographer. You probably don’t want to focus on creating a lot of shirts in your store. You probably want to focus on prints, cards, posters, and other paper or home products. On CaféPress you could even publish your own book of Photography or Art CD-Rom for companies to use in their marketing. Are you a fledgling writer or musician. You can publish your own books and Music CDs with CaféPress. Explore how you can take your skills and turn them into profit.

My Mother-In-Law has a few paintings up in her home that I absolutely love. I tell my wife that I want them when they get rid of them. What I didn’t know is that her mom actually painted them. Now, this year hasn’t been the best for my in-laws. Besides being a 12 year survivor of Stage IV renal cell cancer, my Mother-in-Law ended up having to have a tumor removed from her brain this Spring and another from her abdomen this Summer. She’s been undergoing chemo the past 18 weeks and on top of all this, she lost her job due redundancy in the workplace and her home was flooded during the heavy rains we had in June. They’ve had to dip into their savings, post retirement, to replace her car and do reclamation on areas of their house as well as pay for treatments and medicines.

I put forth this proposition to her. I can take and convert her artwork into digital format and by using Zazzle and CaféPress, I can turn them into stamps or greeting cards or whatever. I offered her the opportunity to have all profit derived from sales of her work. Instead of creating a whole new site on CaféPress and having to charge another $60 for it I can just carve out a section on my site and host her designs. If there is a huge response maybe she can take up painting again in her retirement and make some extra income. That’s playing to her strengths.

Me, I have a lot of weaknesses, like I said. I can’t draw. But I’ve learned to do a lot of cool things by looking up tips and tricks on the Internet and reading up on how to create effects like gradients and feathering. The more you learn, the better a designer you can be and the more successful your shop can be. And don’t pigeonhole yourself into one program. I know I am a die hard Paint.Net disciple but I only use it for the images and graphics. Nine times out of ten I use good old Microsoft Word for text. Word Art is my favorite go to place in order to create shadow effects, shapes with words, and 3D renderings of words. Using these two programs together has had a definite impact in my sales as my top two selling designs would not have been possible without using Word Art in Microsoft Word.

In summary, start looking at the world around you and see how you can use your Print On Demand business to make money not just with funny shirts. Don’t think you can’t learn new tricks and technology. Go out and be successful.

Zazzle Stamps Sale: $5 OFF Until Thanksgiving

Posted by Mongo

If you are looking to snazzle up your Christmas Cards or postcards with some custom artwork this year, buy some stamps at Zazzle and get $5 off your order until Thursday November 26th 2009. Just use Coupon Code ZAZZLESTAMPS when you check out.

details below

$5 discount applies to any number of sheets of twenty Zazzle Custom Stamps with a denomination of 44 cents. Enter promo code ZAZZLESTAMPS at checkout to receive discount. Offer is valid from November 23, 2009 through November 26, 2009 at 11:59pm PT. Your order must be placed during that time to qualify for this special offer. This promotional offer may not be combined with any other Zazzle promotional or volume discount offers. Offer valid on only.

TIP 3. Think Globally, Act Locally: Paint Brush, Corner, Doh!

Posted by Mongo

I need to buy a new computer but hate the prospect. After all, anything I buy will end up being obsolete in a couple of years and the software I want to run will require higher specifications than what I will have available. I would have to shell out a lot of money for something that has maybe three or four more features than the system I have now. The same goes for being a successful shopkeeper. Plan for the future while acting in the present.

You have to realize that you cannot operate in a vacuum. If you plan on designing for those trendy fads and current events then you need to develop some turnover in order to quickly keep up with the times. If you were to look at my entire catalogue of designs you will see that I often use the same elements in each one. It might be an image of a person or an animal. It might some sort of box around text or some other graphical representation but each one started out as a separate image that was then merged with the overall design.

As a rule, I work in layers. That means that for every element of a design, whether it be an image or text, it exists on a different plane on the canvas. If you’ve ever seen how animators used to do the old Disney movies they used layers which were called cells. The background is on the lowest cell, the characters are on another cell on top of that, and so on. Each one of those cells is then laid on top of each other like a sandwich. I save the overall design as a format inherent to the program I am working in so that the cells stay separate. When I finish the design it gets flattened into a .png format for publishing. I use this method because then I can easily grab those different layers and use them somewhere else for another design.

Here’s a more in depth explanation as to why I work like this. Let’s say you are creating a design for a dog lover. In the design you have a dog, a person, and some text tying the two images together. I treat each of those as a separate layer. The dog is on its own layer because I might have a design that I can use the same dog for and all I have to do is go into the raw design and grab that particular cell or layer. If the image is flattened and there is not a lot of room in between the dog and the other elements, it takes longer to eliminate all of the other parts of the image and requires fine manipulation of the lasso or magic wand tool. So, on my computer, I have a folder for each design. In each folder I have multiple image files for each element along with the finished design. Consider them my own personal stock art supply. Operating in such a way gives you have the ability to put together designs quickly and keeps your store updated with new content that doesn’t take a huge chunk of your time. The last thing you want to do is reinvent the wheel.

Also, think of your website or store as being layered. If you create a storefront and just throw every design on the front, customers may have a hard time finding exactly what they want. If you take the time to plan out some simple categorization you can expand your shop to include several designs organized in a way that allows for quick browsing or searching. As of right now, I have about nine categories or sections on my CaféPress site. They are organized by subject including one for Retro looking ideas from film, designs inspired by video games, television, general Pop Culture themes, and a few more specialized categories dealing with subjects like Zombies and Business/Office Culture. Within each of those sections it gets broken down by design and if there are multiple designs or styles for one idea that gets broken down even further. If you are more of an artist you might consider dividing up your store by product and then by image or theme. Do some research on knowledge management, taxonomy and library sciences. You can apply best practices in these cases.

In the beginning, when I first opened my store, I just put every design up on the front page and never realized how much I would grow after a few months. During this time I posted different designs on my blog trying to drum up business and didn’t realize that I was painting myself into a corner. Once I saw how poorly organized my shop was, I scrapped it and rebuilt everything, categorizing it as I went. The problem was that my blog posts now had broken links to my different designs because when I moved them, the address changed and now I had huge holes in my blog that took a lot of time in filling. If you leave yourself open to growth you can save yourself a lot of work later.

Have a great weekend and start designing!

TIP 2. Dream Big, Start Small: World Domination Starts With a Street Corner

Posted by Mongo

Before you can conquer you must compete. Even if you have grand designs on how to make it big in the Print On Demand business, you have to start somewhere. Sometimes, one idea is all it takes. Get yourself out there with a couple of good designs and then build from there. I have a ton of designs on my sites and for every one that sells there are 15-20 that haven’t yet. That hasn’t deterred me because those couple of designs, that generate the bulk of sales, are enough to keep me in the black while I test and tweak others.

But realize that you may not be doing yourself any favors by trying to proliferate the market with your work. Careful planning and an attention to detail will go a long way into securing sales and a customer base. I tried to throw everything up at the wall and make it all stick. Sometimes, I poorly planned a design because I just wanted to catch onto a current event or fad and the lack of thought led to those products never selling. Over time, the subject cooled off and there was no interest anymore. Timing is everything and forethought can be a powerful ally but sloppiness and poor planning can hurt you more. Trends and fads will come along at a clip and not everyone is going to have an impact that is sustaining. If you’re an awesome graphic designer, feel free to churn out designs at will, but if you’re just learning how to use graphics programs you may want to build your skills before you tackle every subject that comes down the pike.

Another tip you’ll often find on Best Practices lists is to think like a customer. If you have a design that looks great on a shirt, what about a magnet or a button? Be careful, because this can lead to poorly thought out placement and might turn off a customer from purchasing something. When you work on a design, think about how it will look on products and choose products that will look good with your design. If you have a design that is square in nature, it may not look good on a round button. This could lead customers to think you are unprofessional and have no idea what you are doing and they won’t buy. The same goes for adult themed designs being used for children’s products. Not a good idea. You don’t have to put your picture on everything. I know it seems easier to just design and auto populate by adding images to all products but be selective and careful on what you pick.

In getting designs ready, plant the seeds early and then let them roll around in your skull a bit before tackling them. I have four or five ideas that are almost a year old but I just haven’t come up with a great way to deliver them. Instead of just rushing through to get them out in the system I’d rather take my time and work on designs that I know I can pull off and maybe, along the way, I will get some inspiration on how to go back to the others and figure them out.

Gain some street cred from pushing out a few good designs. Zazzle has a Today’s Best Award which usually will get you a few “Atta Boy” comments on your store wall and maybe a few fans of your work. Taking the time to consistently put out good work will keep your fans interested and perhaps buying from you or recommending your store to their friends. As time goes by and your business grows you can command a much bigger flock of designs. It's not a race, it's a business.

Tip 1. Know Your Limits: No Bailout For Shirt Designers

Posted by Mongo

Before you can tackle the world of Print On Demand retailing or any business venture you have to get a sense of humility. What are the limitations to how successful you will be? No MBA program will know who you are but you. What is that you can do? How much time do you have to commit? Where are you going to get the capital? Why are you choosing now? Once you figure all that out, figure out what success means to you. Now take all that Zen crap, stick it in a blender and hit puree. Pour it all out, throw it at the wall and hope it sticks.

Look, If you plan on doing this as a main source of income, you better have a hell of a portfolio and great business sense. I’ve always seen this venture as a supplement to my pitiful income. Quite frankly, sometimes I have to cringe when I hear the horror stories about people who are out of work and can’t make ends meet. If you have a computer, an internet connection, and an idea, you can at least turn a profit in these down times. Now, that’s not to say that you will become an instant millionaire, but every little bit helps. However, before you get caught up in the pipe dream of being a Fortune 500 Shopkeeper realize that the more successful you are MAY depend on how much you are willing to spend. Take some time and do some research. Read up on blogs and best practices. Check out tips for being successful. Realize that success is destination and work is the journey. If you can maintain the amount of effort to keep up with rest of the pack, you might just lead it.

My CafePress store has over 300 sections organized by category. Since I went to a premium account in March of 2009, I have created over 300 different designs to be sold on everything from shirts to tote bags. My Zazzle store, which is just getting off the ground, will probably have close to the same amount before I’m done. Factor in that I have also opened up a Printfection store as well as one on Skreened and we’re talking nearly 1000 product designs in close to a year. That’s a bit insane. My wife confirms it. I spend waaaay too much time on my computer but I wanted to be successful, so I thought I had to be everywhere. Figure in roughly three to four hours a day just on design, organization, and publishing alone and my life is a complete waste. This isn’t my main job. I hold down a 40 hour work week on top of this. I’m nuts. Are you? Frankly, the best time to get in on this type of business would be in college.

I’ve always had a love of popular culture and I am a bit of a computer geek to the extent that I know enough to be dangerous. I’ve also done a lot of work with paint programs over the years. In college I had free access to Photoshop and now I primarily use Paint.NET because it is free, although I have a copy of Elements. I’m the guy in the office who gets asked to “Photoshop” someone’s head onto another body or put them into another picture altogether. This is why I decided to pursue this venture because I have a basic understanding of paint and graphic programs and a twisted sense of humor. I also wanted to start my own online business but was afraid to get into those scam ones you hear on the radio telling you to work from home and sell products you don’t even have to warehouse. Print On Demand publishing is very legitimate if you stick with the major players and you get to work from home and sell products you never have to see, so it worked out great. Package in my quirky nature and amateur design skills and it was easy to see that I had been missing out on a lot of extra income.

Success is what you make of it. When I first got into this I did it because it was free. I bought into the idea that I could just set up a free store, put up a couple of funny designs and wait for the money to roll right in to my hands. If you believe that is how it happens, then I’d like to discuss a real estate deal with you for some oceanfront property in Utah. This kind of thing takes some work and once I started actually paying to use one of my sites, I changed my way of thinking. I said to myself, “Self, why don’t we just see if we can turn a profit? Let’s spend $60 and see if we can make it all back before the end of the year.” So, I did, and at the end of a 15 day free trial for a premium shop I had made enough to cover a year subscription. I operated like I was playing Black Jack at a casino. Only spend an initial investment, make that back, pocket it and then play with the house money. The checks I get each month are a testament to that process and when they stop coming, I stop paying and close up shop.

Now, that is just CafePress. Other sites like Zazzle and Printfection and Skreened have the same business model as CafePress’ premium shops, but are free. I suggest doing some reading up on the differences because it can affect your choices and your bottom line. If you really want to stick with CafePress and have a free shop feel free to do so. Just realize that you have limited availability of products to design for and you can only have one design per particular item per shop. I would need to have over 300 shops to pull that off. Not to mention, basic shops (free ones) don’t get the same kind of ranking in terms of search results as premium ones do and you can’t customize your basic shops design if you know HTML and CSS.

To kind of bring this all back to the beginning, realize that the odds of making more money than a 9-5 job are hit or miss. You need to establish a level of discipline and set some goals. However, don’t buy into something before you really give it a lot of thought. I put a lot of time into my stores but not nearly enough to quit working every day. For now, it helps and I call that a success. That’s why I suggest either being someone who is in college or has the free time to work on this. Sometimes I feel a lot of pressure to keep designing and churning out ideas but all it takes is a couple of really good ones and you can establish yourself a baseline and then freely tackle other projects while you automatically earn a steady, passive income. I have two or three solid performers that I constantly see popping up in my sales reports. These were luck and good timing. If you have some skills and good ideas then you can grow your business by leaps and bounds and then focus on the bigger picture. That brings us to Tip Number 2.

10 Tips For Shopkeeper Success

Posted by Mongo

For anyone who has taken the time to read some of my posts or has become a fan of my Facebook page I would like to, once again, thank you for your time. I use the term “fan” loosely as that is Facebook’s terminology, not mine. I tend to think of them all as people who are too nice to click the “No longer a fan” button or whatever it’s called. They put up with my incessant artwork and babbling and I truly apologize for enabling their masochistic tendencies. Just kidding folks, I love ya. Now keep reading, puppets.

With all my delusions of adequacy concerning my bid to take over the world, the least I could do is to pass on, from time to time, a few tips on graphic design or even entrepreneurship, if you so desire. I’ve spoken to a few people, offline, about what I do in my spare time and eventually, after they stop looking at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears, they ask how to do it.

The truth is I don’t have the best answers in the world on how to successfully run an online business like this. I don’t have a business degree nor do I claim to be successful enough to quit my day job for this type of work. But, I can tell you ten things that have at least allowed me to turn a profit in one way or another. It all depends on your willingness to make an effort and your sense of accomplishment. Everyone is different and 99% of you are more business savvy than I am. I’m just a man with a warped sense of humor and an Internet connection.

Those two things are probably going to pay for Christmas this year. Now, it’s nearly the middle of November and Christmas isn’t far away. Hopefully, you’ve started shopping. I haven’t. But, I have a dresser drawer that contains enough money to pay off this year’s intended spending for the holidays and I still have two more checks that will be issued this month and next month. If all goes well, I should not even have to have a credit card balance beyond January.

What does this mean for you? If you are really serious about taking the plunge and starting your own POD business you need to get cracking. At least you can pay off those cards when they are due next year. Realize that if you were to start today and make a sale that commission stays in pending status for 30 days. This is the period of returning product for the customer just like any store. Once the 30 day window closes you bank that commission. Once you reach your level of minimum payout, which usually starts at $25, you get a check towards the middle of the month for that amount. So, a sale today plus 30 days takes you to the middle of December and unless you sell enough to get you at least $25 in commissions, you won’t see a check until January. I only mention this because if you had any grand schemes of buying an LCD HDTV and figured you could pay it off with shirt money, it ain’t going to happen for a couple of months.

With that said, be on the lookout for my ten tips for successful shopkeepers. Each one will be a blog post since I can’t just say two sentences and be done. I have to go to Erie to tell a story my wife says. But once I post a tip I will hyperlink it back to this post.

  1. Know Your Limits: There’s No Bailout For Shirt Designers
  2. Dream Big, Start Small: World Domination Starts With a Street Corner
  3. Think Globally, Act Locally: Paint Brush, Corner, Doh!
  4. Play To Your Strengths: Exploit Your Weaknesses
  5. Spread Yourself Out: Right Click On Red
  6. Stay Tuned: Veg Out
  7. Research and Development: An Excuse To Be On the Internet
  8. Be Social: Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy
  9. Experiment: The Mad Doctor Is In
  10. It’s a Secret But a Very Important One

I'm On a Boat

Posted by Mongo

In its 35 year run, Saturday Night Live has had its share of ebb and flow when it comes to popularity. Looking back, most will say that the best years were during the ones with the original cast back in the 70s. Some will say the early 80s produced the funniest moments when Eddie Murphy was a part of the cast. More will say that when Dana Carvey joined the cast in 1986 with Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller and Phil Hartman the show had its best years yet. The next renaissance would come with the inclusion of Mike Myers, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler at the end of the 80s into the beginning of the 90s. I could go on up to the present but you see what I mean.

But for every heyday the show had, it also suffered huge slumps that almost cost Saturday night television an institution. However, history aside I can say that for time being SNL has been enjoying a solid run these past couple of years with Andy Samberg, Keenan Thompson, Seth Meyers and Kristen Wiig. Some of the biggest pop culture moments to come out of the show were not even live. They were digital shorts produced by the comedy troup The Lonely Island featuring Andy Samberg. Two of the more popular ones to come out were Dick In a Box and I'm On a Boat.

Having missed the bandwagon for Dick In a Box with shirt designs, I am trying to stay current with what could come next. I've only slightly missed catching the wave for I'm On a Boat. But sometimes you need to take a step back and not jump at the first chance to be trendy. I thought about just doing a plain design with the words, "I'm on a boat." on a shirt but that is too easy and cheap. If you're going to pay between $15 and $20 for a shirt the least a designer could do was to put some effort into it. So, I mulled over the idea and thought, what is the song about? It's about being on a boat, right? But it's about living the pimp life on a luxury boat with champagne and girls and flashy jewelry. Hmmm, that sounds like living large on the Titanic, doesn't it? That led me to think would it be funny to have the iceberg be the one saying, "I'm on a boat!" Funny or not, that's where I went with this one. It could actually be seen two ways. The iceberg could be saying, "I'm on a boat" or the irony could be that you're living large like the King of the World on a boat and some dumb iceberg comes along and ruins it. There you have it.

Get it at Cafepress or Zazzle