Starting Your Print-on-Demand Business Like a Pro!

The 5 Secret Steps I took to go from $0 to $1,000 in One Month

I really wanted to start selling shirts online, so when I was ready, I dove right in. 

I’m a work-from-home mom so the print-on-demand (POD) model appealed to me the most.  No inventory, no shipping, no manually taking orders.  Its as close to legit online passive income as I can get! 

After countless hours of courses it was obvious that a full online store wasn’t much different from a brick and mortar store.  With a lot of hard work only a few sales started trickling in. 

But I didn’t want a trickle, I wanted a full flowing faucet and I just couldn’t seem to figure out where my pipeline leak was. 

After a three-month digital marketing internship, I realized that the reason I was working so hard and getting small results was because I was on a platform that didn’t match my skillset at the time.  To make matters worse, I was so overwhelmed with learning how to run paid ads that I wasn’t able to focus any of my efforts on the other necessary parts of the business. 

I decided to start over and start small. 

And it worked immediately.  

I saw my first sale in only 6 days after I uploaded my first listing. To date, I’ve earned close to $16,000 and I still make money every month from designs I created over two years ago.

So now, I’m super excited to share the top 5 secrets I discovered on my OWN path to achieving print-on-demand success. These are the tips I wish someone had shared with me before I got started:

Step 1: Take a moment to research the platforms that are the right fit for your skillset. If you’re not sure what that is, download the cheat sheet and the flowchart will help you to knock-this out in under two minutes flat. Download the cheat sheet to learn more about tiers HERE .

Step 2: Take a moment to research current trends on other retail clothing and trend sites.  Make note of colors, patterns and themes that keep popping up in your searches.  If you’re not sure where to start, download the cheat sheet and my super simple secret method will help you crush it on your first try in less than an hour  HERE !

Step 3: Study other bestselling listings that are similar to your product.  In addition, search for your product and use the search results to find keywords to add to your listings. If you need help getting starting use the cheat sheet HERE .

Step 4: Get a free trial version of Photoshop or Illustrator and play around.  Once you learn the six basic skills above, you’ll be able to product better quality designs and more variety without requesting and waiting for contractor help. 

Step 5: After you receive some sales and views, make more products using the winning designs.  If you are getting a lot of views but they aren’t selling, try adjusting the sale price to raise your conversion rate. You can lower the price, update the SEO or change the listing images. 

Secret #1: Pick the Right Platform 

The biggest mistake I made was picking the wrong platform.  

For a beginner, I should have picked a platform that completed the entire process and drove traffic to my shop for me.  Instead, I bought a domain and spent way too much money playing with Facebook Ads.  

I decided to ditch my independent online store (temporarily) and switched to an online marketplace.  This simple change allowed me to focus the bulk of my time on research and design, instead of marketing.  

My margins (i.e. profit) are smaller than they would be if I drove my own traffic, but I’m building on this skillset before adding on the additional responsibilities of owning my own shop.  

Also, instead of starting $150 each month testing ads, I started over with just $0.20 fee, which is practically free for me! I chose Etsy and Printful to start with. But if you use the Etsy link, you’ll get your first 40 listing at no cost and you can start this journey TOTALLY FREE.

All platforms will require that you create/supply your own designs. Tier 2 and Tier 3 platforms require that you provide your credit card for production charges! BUT before you get worried about credit requirements and charges, know that you’re only charged on Tiers 2 and 3 for fulfillment. Also, as long as you’ve set retail price that is higher than your production costs, you’re never actually spending any money out-of-pocket because you’ll be paid within 2-3 days.

I started with a Tier 2 platform – which I think should still be considered a free strategy. The best part is, I use the production charges to make even more money! Every time my card is charged, I’m earning points or cash that I can spend!

If you’d like to take this Journey too and get started with Etsy and Printful, you can click HERE to get your first 40 Etsy listings for FREE. Then use this link HERE to get a FREE Printful account! That’s right! This journey will be COMPLETELY FREE for you when you’re ready to take action.

Secret #2: Research Niches and Trending Designs

My second biggest mistake was designing items that I thought were great. 

If my designs were so awesome, why weren’t they selling? Because no one was looking for them. Simple answer. 

I could sell more of what I wanted to make, only if I already had a following. And even then, there’s no guarantee that my fans would be passionate enough to buy those designs.

Creating designs that were on trend and better than items that were already selling is what got me that first sale. 

Secondly, selling within a niche increases my chances of selling more than one item to the same customer. 

So here’s my research strategy in 3 Steps:
  1. Research your Sources
  2. List the Traits
  3. Make a winning combo!

For an extra trend boost, I might add my combo to a niche (e.g. moms, aunts, nurses).

This is how it works… The research starts with broad search terms like, “women’s shirts”, “women’s tee”, “kids shirts” etc. I note my findings in Compare and Contrast (Concentric) Circles, and then I do it again with different terms – niching down. For example, my next search might “nurse shirts”, “attorney shirts”, “grandma shirts”. Your seed words can start with themes and animals as well. For example a search for “Harry Potter” or “pugs” will yield a lot of interesting results.

You’ll note the similar traits in the center of your circles. Then you’ll combine those traits in the center for design ideas as the similar traits in the center have proven to be the winning designs. 

On Etsy, there are a number of bestselling selling designs that can be improved upon. Obviously you never want to copy someone else’s design or venture into a trademarked area. But are there ways you can improve upon a proven best-selling design?  Can you add better art? More Color? A trending phrase to a popular design?

I only create designs that have elements from the center circle and with one rule –  ” All designs have to combine at least 2 winning elements.” If you can combine 3 successfully without making an ugly design, you’ve likely got a winner.

Secret #3: Marketplace SEO  

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is super important in an online marketplace. 

Without the right search words, the platform has trouble matching people with the products they’re searching for. 

To optimize your listing, the focus should be on your store / domain name, your listing titles, tags and descriptions.  

This doesn’t have to be a difficult process. The keywords for your SEO can be found on other bestselling listings and in marketplace search bar. 

I also decided not to invest in a service for help with this right away. Instead, I searched for items similar to my product and find the ones were are selling the best. I copy and paste the keywords and tags for those listings. Then I combine the ones that are best suited for my product listing.

You’ll always be testing and tweaking your SEO keep your listing optimized. The market might instantly change and number of people searching for your product could suddenly decrease.

If possible, you might want to duplicate your listing and do some A/B testing to see which one performs better.

Secret #4: Up Your Photoshop Game  

Photoshop skills are imperative for a successful shop. 

Obviously, there are so many free graphic editor programs out there (like Canva, Photopea or Over) available for you when you’re just starting out.  

But having access to either Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator will reduce the need to outsource for help and increase your design capabilities. Here is a list of the basic photoshop skills you’ll need to learn first.

  1. Layers
  2. Resizing Images
  3. Pen Tool
  4. Text Tool
  5. Transparency / Jpeg Conversion
  6. Increase DPI

Most of my Photoshop skills I learned from watching YouTube.  There’s so many ways different to get around in Photoshop and Illustrator and its a necessary skill.  

Secret #5: Make More of What’s Working. LOTS more.  

When I saw some success with my first few designs, my first inclination was to find more designs so that I didn’t lose momentum. 

But having spent so much time researching these initial designs, I decided to use those same designs on different products to see what the response would be. If a design was performing well on a mug, I placed the design on a shirt, tote and face mask as well. 

And it worked! 

The lesson was – just create more of what they want. So, that’s what I did. 

I also tried variations of the designs with different colors and design elements.  But what worked the best was using the same exact design, on different products. 

When the pandemic hit, shipping POD internationally became a nightmare for customer service. This was a great experiment and easy money, but not the most ideal business model. Still, earning money on autopilot ever since has been pretty cool. If you’re interested in seeing the income earned year-to-date with snapshots go to this post here!

Please note this post contains some affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission if you purchase through my link at no extra cost to you. Rest I assured, I only make recommend something I enjoy myself. Please see full disclosure here.