What Kind Of Entrepreneur Are You

Posted by Mongo Friday, October 8, 2010

Manz over at GritFx and Tees In A Pod posted a great article, complete with flowchart, on the Pitfalls of PODs.  It was a huge coincidence that I was writing a similar post about brand awareness when it came out.  I posted a comment on TIAP and went on, ad nauseum, about the type of designer who uses PODs as an alternative to doing the heavy lifting themselves.  So, I thought I would once again ride the coattails of those well versed in the game and write an additional post expanding on my comment.  As always, I try to write from the generalized perspective of an entrepreneur, but gear my examples towards specific tips in t-shirt and apparel design.

Grumble Beginnings
If you have actually taken the time to sit down and plan your strategy for world domination, then I tip my hat to you.  I had no clue what I was doing and was basically a monkey flinging poo at the wall in the hope that something would stick.   Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! was born out of a failed idea.  It was one of those, pie in the sky, million dollar ideas we are all have while we toil away in a lackluster 9-5 job.  Unfortunately, our business plan rivaled that of the Underwear Gnomes from South Park.  But, sometimes you look at it from the Edison point of view.  I didn’t fail, I just successful found a way to NOT run a business.  In fact, had it not been for that successful failure, MAMS would not have been born.    If you want to waste a good half hour, here’s the whole story of how Mongo came to be. 

Choose Your Own Adventure
Now that I’m a good two years into t-shirt designing I’ve come to the realization that I don’t spend nearly enough time on this.  After all, this was simply a side project, a way to earn some extra cash.  I would only make it a full time gig if I was about 100 times more successful than I am now.  Of course, by full time I mean having a fully dedicated website and in house printing equipment.  I am nowhere near ready for that type of commitment.  I am the main source of income and health benefits for my family and couldn’t afford to make that leap.  I suppose, one day, I might have a Jerry Maguire moment and just flip out and quit but I think I’d have to win the lottery for that to happen.

For now, I am content letting sites like Skreened, CafePress, and Zazzle do all the heavy lifting for me.  That was one of the things that sold me on the idea to start my own t-shirt designing business.  Inventory is not a problem since I don’t have to stock anything.  Billing and ordering is all handled through the PODs.  All I am responsible for is the designs, product choices, and any marketing or promotion outside of the sites.   For me, marketing and promotion is free since I use a blogspot account, a Facebook page, and Twitter to do all that.  But I also get plenty of help in that area thanks to others in the business who have been gracious enough to help promote and share my work with their readers and fans. 

But before you get to that point, you really have to ask yourself, “What kind of entrepreneur am I?”  How much time do I want to devote? How much overhead do I want to have?   Here’s a Monday morning quarterback graphic detailing the different levels of the t-shirt business.

POD Pyramid
Not a definitive classification.  Open to interpretation.

The top most level of the pyramid represents the simplest of ways to earn money online.  The bottom represents the most effort. 

Affiliate – Uses POD sites and other websites to promote affiliate links through own blog, social media outlet, or website for percentage from sales of advertised products (commission junction, share a sale, Zazzle, Amazon, Skreened)
An affiliate needs more marketing savvy and communication skills than actual designing skills because they are simply choosing to showcase products from other sites and derive their sales from driving customers to the products they list.  In return, they get a percentage of the sale.  They can do this without owning a website and their success is measured on how well they can promote an item.

Bulk Sellers – Designs and publishes for self or events or gatherings.  Isn’t concerned with continually publishing content.  Designs on a per job basis  Think Contractor.  Uses PODs like Skreened and CafePress or screen printing shops for fulfillment.
Bulk Sellers aren’t in the business for steady streams of incomes.  They get most of their sales from bulk orders for events like reunions or local sports teams.   They may not even be the actual artist but will provide a service to others by word of mouth and simple advertising.  They are usually associated with their customers through family, friends or peers.  I did this in college when I worked at an amusement park.  I went to a local print shop and ordered hundreds of screen printed tees for our games team.  I supplied the design based on mine/group idea and asked an artist to do the work.  The screen printer did a bulk discount and it whatever profit I made covered gas, artist fees, and extra costs for bigger sizes. 

POD part time – Little to no investment. One or two designs centered around a specific idea. (CafePress Basic Shops)  Designs own work for special projects or posts a few designs in niche areas with little online marketing.
POD Part Timers may just be testing the waters like I did when I first started out and do not want to devote a lot of time to the venture.   They can be simply watching the trends of pop culture and the news and then will publish one or two designs to grab quick sales.  Another example would be a personality or small businesses that want to offset some of their costs with branded apparel and goods for swag and promotional purposes.  They may use a CafePress basic shop with a few items and rely on their own website to promote the products.

The Designer – Designs own work for multiple ideas or categories, markets through blogs and social media.  Simply uses PODs as an outlet to be creative and generate revenue streams for their work.  Wants some control over their brand and identity but is still not a full time business owner.    Might have a steady full time job that gets more priority.
The Designer is how I would classify myself at this moment.  I have multiple POD sites with hundreds of designs.  I publish my own content for my blogs, market through Facebook and Twitter as well as peer sites like SupportSKs and Tee Gazette.  Still, I don’t have a specific domain and am looking to establish multiple streams of repeatable revenue.  In other words, all the hard work for me is done from a front office mentality, branding and marketing, while all the heavy lifting is done by the POD in the back office.  Free labor as it were.

POD full timer – Designs own work, may have own domain built around POD ordering and shipping site, does own marketing through blogs and social media GritFx, Saucewear, Soge Shirts, Creature Creations)
POD Full Timer.  These are the real web and business savvy folks.  They have their own websites and brand presence but let the POD handle the ordering, inventory, shipping, and billing.    They have more overhead and work harder to generate more sales to offset those costs.   More control over their brand and identity than other POD users.

[sidebar] I want to interject a sidebar here about PODs and the different types of users.  At some point all suffer from the same pitfall, which Manz points out in her post on Tees In A Pod.  Namely, the branding issue.  It can mean a lot in your decision making.  I was going to go on with a huge point here but decided to table it for another post called...um, The Branding Issue.  Stay tuned. [end sidebar]

Seller – uses shopping sites to sell own items or acquired items (Etsy, EBay, Amazon)
I didn’t know exactly where to place the seller because they don’t follow a regular model like the others but in some cases they resemble the independent business model.   Basically, a seller is the person who has an online business that sells physical items that they have either constructed or acquired.     For instance, a person goes around to yard sales and picks up interesting items and then turns around and sells them on eBay or Amazon for a profit.   Their costs are derived from listing fees and shipping fees and possible fees from hosting their own website.    At one time, I felt a seller on EBay was the surefire way to go but it seems like the marketplace is flooded and it’s hard to gain any kind of identity when you have to compete with countless others for pricing and content supremacy.    You can also use sites like Amazon or Etsy to sell products  but the responsibility is on you as a business person to handle a lot of the transactions on either end of the sale.

Independent – designs, prints, ships, and markets own work in house or sells licensed apparel. (Saucewear, Lady Umbrella, Crock Tees, Busted Tees, 80sTees, Snorg Tees, T-Shirt Hell <- NSFW)
The Independent Shopkeeper is the pinnacle of entrepreneur evolution yet I listed it as the bottom of the pyramid because of the amount of coverage it takes.   You control all aspects of the business.  You design the products, you host the work on your site, you market the products, you print them and ship them and you handle the ordering and billing.    You are responsible for inventory levels, forecasting and other fine points.   If you can find someone to do the website work you’ll be relying on them to do the blocking and tackling of everything from the interface, shopping cart, and secure server for the payment transactions.

Well, I hope that gives you some insight into the different types of entrepreneurs and what you need to know in terms of choosing your own business model.  Maybe you can find a hybrid.  Like I said, this is by no means a definitive classification system.   You should do your own research.  I suggest checking out Tees In a Pod and T-Shirt Forums for more information.


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