How to Start a Print-on-Demand Business
With all the time we’ve been spending inside lately, it makes sense that many people are looking for work that they can do remotely, from the comfort and safety of their home. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent looking for some extra income, you’ve been laid off due to the pandemic and want to start a business from home, or you’re working full time while pursuing a side hustle, the print-on-demand business offers flexibility and low upfront investment.
There are many benefits to starting your own at-home business, including saving money on rent, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. A print-on-demand business could be the perfect fit for you if you’re interested in selling custom products without having to worry about dealing with manufacturing, storing inventory, or shipping products to your customers.
Whether you’re interested in selling custom t-shirts or creating branded tote bags for your established business, we’ll break the process down into simple steps that you can put into action no matter how experienced you are as an entrepreneur. We’ll go over everything that you need to know about what print-on-demand products are, how to start your business, and some of the most commonly used print-on-demand services that you can partner up with for order fulfillment.
What is a print-on-demand business and how does it work?
A print-on-demand (POD) business, also known as dropshipping, is a method of selling products in collaboration with a third-party fulfillment centre. You provide the designs and choose what products you want to order, and everything else is taken care of by your production company as each order comes in, making it a great source of passive income. Here are the two main options that you will need to choose between to set up your print-on-demand business.
The customer makes purchases from your ecommerce store
If you want your customers to purchase through your online store, you’ll need to invest time and money into creating your own website and submitting (and paying for) each order to your print provider as they come in.
The customer purchases through your supplier
This is probably the more commonly used option, where you upload your designs to a print-on-demand service and they are in charge of handling payment, manufacturing, and shipping directly to the customer. You will then receive a portion of the sale after it is fulfilled.
The pros and cons of print-on-demand
Even though running your own print-on-demand business from home is a relatively low-risk investment, it’s always a good idea to make sure that you have a well-rounded, unbiased understanding of the industry before you decide if it’s going to be the right fit for you. That’s why we’re breaking down all of the pros and cons that you’re going to want to consider before you commit to starting a print-on-demand business.
There’s no denying that selling print-on-demand products can be a great fit if you’re a graphic designer and you want to create custom printed products to sell without having to worry about fulfillment, inventory, or shipping. With a print-on-demand product business, you can create and sell awesome, marketable products like throw pillows, beach towels, and custom t-shirts, without having to deal with all of the potential headaches that generally come with running your own product-based business. Here are some of the many benefits of starting a print-on-demand business from your home.
One of the great things about starting your own print-on-demand store is that it’s accessible to pretty much anyone. Unlike a traditional product-based business, when you sell products print-on-demand you won’t need to invest in inventory, storage, and shipping.
- Quick and easy product creation
Once you’ve created a design, you’ll be able to bring your product ideas to life in a matter of minutes using print-on-demand templates for a large variety of products, from tank tops to flip flops and more.
- Low risk
The print-on-demand business model is especially popular with new business owners since it’s not necessary to make a large financial investment in order to start selling your custom products. This type of ecommerce store is also ideal for testing out a new product or pivoting into a different product niche.
- More time doing what you love
If you’re a graphic designer, you probably didn’t decide to pursue product sales because of a passion for order fulfillment. By partnering with a printing partner who you trust, you’ll be able to focus on creating your designs while someone else takes care of the rest.
Running a dropshipping or print-on-demand business is a great option if you’re a stay-at-home parent. You’ll be able to set your own schedule around your family’s needs with the flexibility to adapt as your business grows.
- No more commuting to work
When you work out of your spare bedroom, there’s no need to waste time on a commute there and back every day.
- Passive income stream
You can set up a print-on-demand business so that once you’ve created and listed your products, it becomes an entirely passive income source. This means that aside from the upfront product design, you can start working on new projects while waiting for the sales to start rolling in.
While the pros of starting your own print-on-demand business might be swaying you, we want to make sure to provide you with a balanced understanding of this type of business before you decide if you’re going to pursue it. Here are some of the downsides to being a dropshipping business owner.
- Low profit margin
Since your supplier will be taking care of all order fulfillment, many print-on-demand businesses end up with a relatively small profit margin in comparison to a t-shirt company where you order in bulk and deal with storage and shipping on your end. However, if you were going to make a bulk wholesale purchase, you would have less flexibility in terms of the variety of products you are able to offer, and you would have to fulfill a minimum order quantity.
- Less control
When you hand off responsibility to a print provider, you also need to relinquish some control over the product quality, packaging, and overall customer experience. While some dropshipping services will allow you to include your own branded packaging in your orders, this isn’t always the case, so there may be less opportunity for your customer to learn about you and your business.
Many print-on-demand companies have fulfillment centres around the world so that customers can save on shipping and customs charges no matter where they live. The potential downside of this arrangement is that the quality of your products can vary greatly depending on your customer’s location. For this reason, it’s a good idea to order samples so that you have confidence in the items you are selling, but you’ll only be able to order from your local fulfillment centre so you still won’t know about the experience of your global customers unless you receive feedback after the fact.
- No access to customer information
If you’re selling through a print-on-demand ecommerce platform rather than your own personal website, you may not be able to receive customer information like their name and email address in order to maintain a relationship with your new buyer.
- Basic design capabilities
When you work on a product idea directly with a manufacturer, you’re able to have more control over the final design of the product. On the other hand, print-on-demand companies only allow you to use their established templates, so you won’t be able to customize your designs or image placement.
- Distractions at home
As with any business that you run from home, your experience will likely be a lot different from working in an office with set hours. You’ll need to find a space in your home that you can devote to running your business, and it can be tricky to establish a private space when your whole family is at home. You’ll also probably have to deal with a lot of interruptions. Try setting boundaries by treating your at-home business like any other job. That means setting office hours and making sure that the family respects that you’re at work and not to be disturbed. In addition to distractions from your housemates, it takes a lot of commitment and self-control to work from home with distractions like your television and a full fridge in the next room, so this career choice might not be the right one for everyone.
How to start your own print-on-demand business in 5 simple steps
Now that you know what a print-on-demand business is, how it works, and the pros and cons of starting your own dropshipping online store, let’s go over the five steps that you can take today to start creating your very own print-on-demand ecommerce store.
Step 1. Decide what to sell
If you’re new to the world of business, it may seem like it’s a good idea to try to cater to as general an audience as possible in order to increase your chances of making sales. In reality, this mindset is counterproductive and will likely lead to your t-shirts and phone cases getting lost in an overcrowded market.
The more specific you get about your product niche and target audience, the easier it will become to get to know your customer and what they want so that you can market directly to them and their pain points in everything you do, from the products you sell to the way you write about, photograph, and promote your items.
How to choose your niche
Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to defining the niche for your print-on-demand products.
What are you interested in?
If you’re unsure what niche market you’re interested in pursuing, start with what you’re interested in. Choosing a niche that you’re passionate about and familiar with will mean that you probably already understand your audience, which will improve your ability to appeal to them. It also means you’ll be less like to experience work-related burnout because you’ll be working on something that you’re interested in.
Look at current trends
It’s always a good idea to look at current market trends in your industry. Your niche should be specific enough to appeal to a certain demographic while still being general enough that enough people will be searching for what you sell.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Even if you’re not confident in your skills as a designer, there’s no harm in sharing your designs, seeing how they perform and using that information to help you create new designs in the future.
Step 2. Choose your print provider
There are many different print-on-demand companies that you can work with, so it’s important that you do your research to get a sense of what’s out there and how they compare. Make a list of what is most important to you: product quality, order fulfillment time, printing techniques, etc. Then compare how the popular print on demand services measure up.
Keep in mind that many dropshipping companies allow you to create an account and list unlimited designs at no cost, so there’s nothing stopping you from creating accounts with multiple providers in order to reach more potential customers.
Step 3. Prepare your designs and products
Before you do anything else, you need to have at least one design ready to upload. Decide whether you want to create your own designs or if you want to commission a designer to create white label designs for you. Either way, note the dimensions required by your chosen print-on-demand service and make sure that your image is 300 DPI for best results.
Next, you’ll need to upload your image, choose which products to offer, and customize the image layout for each one. Add tags and keywords to your description so that customers can find you.
Even if you are selling your designs through a print-on-demand website, it’s a good idea to have your own website or landing page, or at least create a professional social media account on Instagram to grow your business.
Step 4. Promote your new business
Many print-on-demand services provide product photos and mockups, but you can also order samples and take your own product photos if you want to stand out. You’ll need to come up with a marketing plan for your business, which can include using targeted hashtags and client outreach on social media, or you can run paid ads that target your ideal clients. You should also start collecting your customer’s email addresses in order to build your email list.
Another way to get more eyes on your business is by collaborating with influencers in your niche. You can offer to send your items to them for free in exchange for an honest review or photos of them wearing your custom t-shirt designs.
Step 5. Use analytics to assess and improve your business
Just because you love your designs doesn’t mean they will necessarily sell well. That’s why you should consistently check how your products are performing to gain more information about your most popular designs and product options. Some print-on-demand companies offer access to business analytics with your free account. You can use Google Analytics to get insight into how you can better serve your customers and get more sales. You can also consider following up directly with your customers to receive feedback that you can use to fine-tune the way you run your business.
7 print-on-demand services to start your business today
Since you already understand how to set up your print-on-demand business, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the most popular print-on-demand websites so that you can decide which ones you want to trust with your business.
Printful is a print-on-demand ecommerce platform that gives you the ability to put your design on over 250 products, including posters, prints, and t-shirts with custom embroidery.
How it works:
Start by connecting your online storefront with Printful, then upload and publish your products. When a customer makes a purchase, the order is submitted to either an in-house printer or a partner facility, depending on where the buyer is located. The product is then shipping with your custom branded packaging included.
Printful can integrate with most of the commonly used website builders, including Shopify, Etsy, and Amazon. They also have a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices.
Gooten is a production and shipping company that works with a global network of manufacturers. Orders through them are fulfilled by the closest geographical manufacturing facility in order to reduce shipping costs and increase your profit margins. Gooten states that they are a better fit for businesses that are already somewhat established and are looking for help scaling up as opposed to brand new businesses.
With over 300 products available, Printify is a great free option if you want to sell your designs on everything from apparel to mugs to stickers and more. They offer integration with all of the most popular ecommerce platforms and use automatic syncing to save you time. You can opt for them to include your custom branded packaging in the order so that your customer can connect with you directly. Printify also has a mockup generator that you can use to show off all of your designs in use. They offer 24/7 customer support for all of their merchants.
Society6 is a great choice for new and established artists alike. Anyone can sell their original art, whether it is graphic design, typography, or photography. They have a worldwide customer base so that you can connect with a global marketplace of other artists and customers around the world. You can put your design on wall art, home decor, and even furniture using Society6.
Your earnings as an artist are firmly set at 10 per cent of every sale, except for art prints, framed prints, and canvas prints, where you will be able to set your own custom profit margin based on how much you want to make on each sale. You can also join their affiliate program, where you will receive 10 per cent of any sales that are made through your specific partner link.
Society6 pays its artists every month using PayPal. They also provide artist education and resources that teach you how to make the most of your online shop, with tips on everything from setting up your store, promoting your items, and even writing a great artist biography.
How it works:
Create your free account with Society6 and upload your designs. Customize the image placement for each product you want to offer, and publish your work. Promote your shop using social media or paid advertising and keep uploading new designs.
Redbubble is another print-on-demand ecommerce platform offering high-quality products to a global audience. You’ll be able to put your design on over 70 products, including masks, mugs, and t-shirts. A big benefit to using this dropshipping platform for your business is that you are able to set your own profit margin for each product that you offer. Redbubble also helps you protect your designs with their watermark feature, including in your free account.
How it works:
Create a free account and upload your design. Choose which products you want to enable and fine-tune the details to make sure your designs look perfect. The products will be produced when an order comes in, and they are fulfilled and shipped worldwide. Once the items are shipped, you’ll receive a payment for a percentage of the sale.
Teepublic offers-high quality products and printing services, and they boast the highest artist earnings out of any print-on-demand site. You can upload a single art file for use on over 75 products, so you don’t have to worry about saving multiple file formats. Your designs can be sold on t-shirts, stickers, phone cases, wall hangings and more. Teepublic ensures that you maintain 100 per cent ownership of your designs.
How it works:
Prepare your digital file, create an account, upload your design and hit publish. For the first 72 hours after your product is published, it will be discounted at no cost to you. Use this time to encourage sales on your social media or email list.
With Zazzle, you can upload and sell your art on hundreds of products for free. They manufacture and ship to over 30 million shippers around the world. You’ll be able to set your profit margin at anywhere between 5 per cent and 99% per cent. Zazzle also has an associate program where you can earn 15 per cent of every purchase made through your custom link.
How it works:
Create a free Zazzle account and make your online store. Upload your art and arrange and resize your design to suit each product. When a sale happens, Zazzle will process all of your transactions and take care of customer service. Then they’ll print and ship to your customer and send you your portion of the sale.
Now that you know all about what print-on-demand means, how it works, and how to start your own print-on-demand business using some of the most popular dropshipping platforms, it’s time to start your business and share your awesome creative ideas with the world.
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