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

Posted by Mongo Friday, November 13, 2009

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.

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