So you want to be an entrepreneur, bro? You know to get that Lamborghini you’re going to need to hustle, but you’re not exactly sure where to start. You might be surprised to learn that thanks to print-on-demand services, starting a clothing a brand is one of the easiest areas to enter the world of entrepreneurship. In fact, you can be up and running, selling your first shirts in less than a few hours depending upon the amount of time you spend building a website. Thanks to templates and storefronts like Shopify or Etsy, even building an ecommerce site can be accomplished in a few hours.
Best of all, aside from creating designs yourself (if you choose), the method I’m going to show you will result in a completely automated store that requires minimal (potentially no) up-front fees and no-inventory to maintain or buy in advance. This is the exact same method I used when building I Love Hot Moms t-shirt store and Eadred.co and with a little ambition and learning, you can start an ecommerce store without hiring a web design firm.
Shameless Plug: Eadred.co is a brand I started founded in the principle that YOU are a king. I found myself in so many areas of my life struggling and I’d beg others “don’t give up on me” when what I needed to do was look myself in the mirror and declare “don’t give up on me”. Eadred is clothing for kings, for the men who walk like a kings and the men who walk like they don’t care who is. Eadred is for the men who hold their head up high despite failing because they may fail early, they may fail often, but they always fail forward. At Eadred.co, we believe you are strong, you are powerful, you are capable, and you are enough. You are a king. Don’t let them say you aren’t…
CREATE A BRAND
One of the earliest steps is to identify your brand. Giving your brand a purpose and story to tell, similar to what I did with Eadred.co above, is an important aspect to give your shirts excitement, a sense of belonging, community, and purpose beyond just existing as some random printed words and clipart. A catchy, intriguing name and a simple, high quality logo can be powerful in catching people’s attention, and if you can back that up a brand that resonates with people you’ll maximize the potential of the brand. If you don’t have a brand you’ve been dying to launch since you were a kid, it’s actually incredibly easy to spark some ideas and find an interesting brand name simply by taking advantage of an assortment of websites that offer brand name and logo suggestions. Simply use a keyword for something that interests you or that’s rooted in what you want your brand to represent, such as a brand for “lone wolfs” and plug that into the brand name generator online.
My personal favorite is Namelix. You give the site a keyword, tell it the approximate length of characters you want the brand to be, and then select from a variety of attributes – misspellings, foreign words, word combos, etc – and it will use artificial intelligence to spit out an endless stream of brand name suggestions. For instance, when creating Eadred.co, I wanted a brand that was rooted in the concept of confidence, holding your head high, and “walking like a king”. I gave Namelix the keyword “king” and among the choices was Eadred, which I would learn was the name of a King of England for a short period of time.
In addition to the name suggestions, Namelix will also offer a variety of font and logo combinations to display your brand name as. Just because we have a cool name doesn’t mean someone wants it screen printed on their chest in Times New Roman. After deciding Eadred was exactly the brand name I wanted, I clicked on it to scroll through a huge list of variations on the design of the lettering along with a simple crown logo. Once I had those saved, I was ready to start creating some initial design concepts.
CREATE SOME DESIGNS
Next, you’ll want to take your brand name and logo and start to piece together some initial designs. I used the free image editing software called Gimp to manipulate and save separate PNG files for my font designs and logo designs. It’s important to save them as PNG files with transparent backgrounds, otherwise it will print the actual white background color of the image if you save as a JPG.
Alternatively, you can outsource the creation of logos to individuals on Fiverr, but if you’re willing to learn how to use image editing software like Photoshop or Gimp, you can save yourself some money while creating amazing designs all by yourself. Initially, I focused on very simple designs, like just the brand name by itself, the logo by itself, and then the brand name beside the logo that would look good emblazoned across the front of a shirt or stitched into a hat.
Pro-Tip: While most colors can be screen printed or digitized on shirts, Printful only has a limited selection of thread colors available. Consider this as you design your art work to be uploaded as extremely intricate designs may be difficult to stitch and those with various shades of the same color will likely require choosing one color for each area. It’s also important to consider how your designs will scale. Upscaling will often lose detail or make apparent flaws in lines that are lost in designs that are printed smaller.
CREATE PRODUCTS ON PRINTFUL
Now that we have some images to put on our apparel and other products, we need to integrate them with a print-on-demand service. Print on demand is the back bone to how this system works as it allows us to have a pseudo-inventory of virtualized products that are only printed once an order is placed. This entirely eliminates the need for purchasing inventory up front, one of the major costs and risks associated with business endeavors. While the downside is that because items are only fulfilled once an order is placed, this means it does take longer to process an order compared to apparel companies that have warehouses full of stock.
Pro-Tip: Because of the nature of customized print-on-demand services, the vast majority of them are not going to offer refunds with exception to very obvious errors on behalf of the print-on-demand service. How you handle your return policy is entirely up to you. Not offering refunds may put you at a disadvantage versus mainstream retailers that do, but they add significant additional overhead to your business because your print-on-demand service is not going to refund you. If you do want to offer refunds, ensure you markup products high enough to account for the risk and consider selling those items as pre-owned clearance items you sell direct to customers.
While there are several print-on-demand services available, I’ve found Printful.com to offer the most ease in almost all aspects of the industry.
Printful offers a variety of automated integrations with online ecommerce solutions like Shopify, Woocommerce, Etsy, eBay, Amazon, and many more. Plus, their prices seem to be exceptionally competitive compared to some of the options I looked at.
Printful is ideal because it requires absolutely no money to get started. You can upload designs, create your shirts, and even get mockups with virtual models absolutely free for advertising media. You’re only charged for orders when a request is sent for fulfillment (manually or automatically), meaning you can collect revenue before you’ve incurred any expenses.
Sites like Etsy may require listing and selling fees, but many alternative avenues for selling exist allowing you to generate a profit with zero risk.
Originally, I was planning on using Apliiq.
Not only was Apliiq’s template studio limited in functionality (I couldn’t rotate logos directly on the site), but it also didn’t directly communicate with Woocommerce (which is the online selling platform I planned to use). Printful was also ridiculously more affordable for significantly better quality and printing options. Apliiq was going to charge me nearly $40 for a basic t-shirt that had a logo on the front and back, whereas that same shirt on Printful was $15 wholesale regardless of order quantity. It would take 500 some shirts to get a bulk order price on Apliiq similar to Printful’s single order price. Frankly, I wasn’t keen on pricing a t-shirt at $40.
Eventually, using a print-on-demand service and uploading your designs, you’ll have a wide assortment of item templates that you can begin selling…we just need a place to sell them.
BUILD AN ONLINE STORE
Printful has a large assortment of ecommerce platforms that it will integrate with, allowing you an almost hands free approach to selling products. If you want to go very low cost, I’d recommend heading the Etsy shop route. Currently, it is $0.20 to list an individual item each month.
Starting an Etsy store is like having your own little marketplace nestled in with a variety of other boutiques. This can be advantageous because your products may be featured as recommended items or within search results of the Etsy website. For this reason, even if you choose to have a separate website from Etsy or eBay, listing your items on those places is a great way to recycle your already existing product designs into new selling avenues.
For Eadred.co, I chose to build a website from the ground up to sell my apparel, which is a lot easier than it may seem. While there is a bit of a learning curve, I used WordPress along with a plugin called Woocommerce to create an online shop, both of which are free software that can be installed on my existing web hosting plans. Technically, there are ways you can get free domain names and free web hosting, but the domain names are limited to a very small number of top level domains and free web hosting tends to be pretty bottom of the barrel in terms of performance. I’m not even sure a free plan would handle an e-commerce store with minimal traffic.
Regardless of the direction you choose, I do highly recommend purchasing a domain name. While this is optional, especially if you’re using an Etsy shop or similar 3rd party vendor, it’s a great way to protect your brand. With a domain name, you also have the flexibility to redirect your URL to your 3rd party shops, such an Etsy shop or you can create a website directly on your domain if you also purchase webhosting. In either case, the domain will let you send and receive emails with your brand domain, which gives a more professional look. A typical ‘.com’ domain is only going to run you $15 annually. You can redirect that domain name to forward to an existing Etsy (or other) shop or for an additional $5-15 per month you can pick up a business plan hosting package at 515hosting.com or similar web hosts.
Most web hosting providers offer easy one-click installation of WordPress and building a store on top of a WordPress site using Woocommerce isn’t much more difficult. If you’re already familiar with building WordPress blogs, you’ll feel right at home expanding upon building web pages with WordPress to design a web store and.
I push the Woocommerce application quite a bit because it’s the one I’m most comfortable with and offers a wide range of automated selling tools directly with Printful. Printful and Woocommerce will automatically sync items you want to sell, allow you to edit their profit margins in bulk, and even automate the shipping charges incurred. This means, you don’t have to keep an eye on your wholesale product costs or worry about shipping charges.
Shopify will also integrate with Printful and has a variety of features you’ll find with Woocommerce, but while it’s more user friendly the subscription fees are substantial.
ADD THE ITEMS TO YOUR SHOP
With our online store built, we can now start adding products. To do so, you’ll head back over to Printful, select your design template you’d like to upload to your ecommerce shop, and then select “Add to Store”. From here, you’ll choose the mock up images, color and size variations, and the markup. Once you’ve selected all the options, your item will automatically sync with your shop.
It’s literally almost just that easy.
Anytime you need to edit an item, you can do so exactly from the Printful website in a way that allows you to focus on the most important aspect of your store – great designs!
Plus, because everything is handled from within Printful, you don’t have to worry about manually updating product costs. In addition to editing the markup on single items, you can also bulk edit every single item in your store, ensuring that as product costs rise over time due to factors like inflation, you don’t run the risk of forgetting to update prices to reflect necessary changes in markups.
Pro-Tip: Most payment processors are going to charge a fee for their services. When you collect a payment from a customer, you will incur a payment processing fee that is deducted from the total received. The remaining funds will then be dispersed to your account. This charge is typically 2.9% + $0.30, so it’s important to consider that when pricing your items as you must sell a product for enough to cover the wholesale price from your print-on-demand service plus the payment processing fee. For higher priced items, a reasonable markup will more than cover the payment processing, but for lower priced items the payment processing fee can be a large chunk of change. In fact, if you sell an item for $0.75 that costs you $0.50 to buy, you’re going to pay $0.33 in processing fees and effectively cost you $0.08.
SELL YOUR FIRST ITEM
Arguably, the most difficult part is getting out there and making your first sell. Unfortunately, attempting to generate leads simply through search engine optimization is going to be nearly impossible given you will be competing against businesses with an upper hand of content that are well established online. People are not going to magically search out “cool shirts” and end up on your website from Google.
The sites that do show up when you search “cool shirts” have a huge head start; however, you can skew the results a bit through advertising, personally hustling the shirts, pushing them on 3rd party websites like Etsy and more to get your brand recognized. Once you generate some customers, the sales process works very smoothly.
The customer will place an order which will sync with Printful. The customer will be invoiced the full price you charge for the items in your shop plus any sales tax required. If you’ve connected Printful to Woocommerce, there’s even an option to automate shipping charges. Your customer will pay this balance using the payment processor you’ve chosen, the payment processing fee will be deducted and you’ll receive the remaining balance as a deposit.
Meanwhile, at the same time the customer is charged at your shop, you will also be charged by Printful for your wholesale purchase. Let’s say you Printful charges you $15 for a t-shirt to have it printed and $4 for shipping, they will charge you $19 to process the order. Fortunately, this all occurs after your customer has paid you. As long as you’re linked up with Printful to automate the shipping charges to your customer, you can easily pass those on directly and now if you’re charging $24 for the shirt, you’ll get a nice $5 profit since the customer.
Now, get out there and hustle your sells, expand your brand with social media pages, and learn how to increase your sells. It’s a process going forward, but now you have a foundation to build from.
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