If you’re creative and want to make money online, there’s a lot to like about starting a print-on-demand (POD) business. Minimal setup costs, no need to carry inventory, and no minimum order requirements mean very few overheads. Plus, it’s a great way to make extra income by applying your unique ideas and designs to popular items bought by customers all over the world.
The key to success is making sure your print-on-demand business is set up correctly and immediately ready to sell. Let’s start with the basics.
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What is print-on-demand?
Print-on-demand is a business model where:
- You provide a design
- The supplier prints it on blank products
- The supplier hands it over to the shipping company that delivers the order to your customers
The print-on-demand business model allows you to sell your unique products on a per-order basis under your own brand. Selling on a per-order basis means that rather than the shipping costs associated with each and every order is individually calculated, a single, uniform charge is applied to all purchases, regardless of how much is spent.
This means you won’t pay for the product until you’ve sold it, eliminating the need to buy from a supplier in bulk or hold the inventory yourself. Print-on-demand is easy to manage because everything post-sale is taken care of by your supplier—including printing and shipping.
What items can be sold using print-on-demand?
Thousands of products can be sold using print-on-demand, making it one of the most effective ways to make money online. You can customize and sell a range of top products that are in demand, including:
- Casual wear and home wear—According to research in the US, from April to August 2020, 49% of consumers spent more on casual wear and home wear than they did in 2019. This is likely because of the coronavirus pandemic, with people forced to change their lifestyle, and adapt to doing everything from home. Whether it’s work, home entertainment, or socializing over Zoom, people began to prioritize comfort over glamour.
- Home and living items—With more people working from home, living rooms are being transformed into offices. You can sell motivational posters or wall art to attract customers looking for inspirational decor to help motivate them while they work. You can also create unique mugs, throw blankets, cushion covers, and more, reminding people to take a break from work once in a while.
- Unisex streetwear—2021 is set to be a year when unisex streetwear—activewear and oversized clothing—will be a big seller. This is because the sports and fitness clothing market is projected to grow by $65.6 billion over the next year.
- Face masks—Masks are everywhere now and they’re here to stay. You can customize masks that can be combined with people’s outfits, offering a variety of colors, patterns, and your own unique designs.
The list goes on forever!
What are the benefits of print-on-demand?
Print-on-demand makes it easy to access and source products for an online store, which is why it’s one of the most popular online business ideas for beginners.
Some of the perks of a POD business include:
- Low risk and low investment—With minimal setup costs and no need to hold inventory, adding and removing products, testing ideas, and switching your approach is made simple.
- Fast product creation—If you have a design ready, you can create your product and have it ready to sell online in minutes.
- Shipping is handled—Your shipping requirements and order fulfillment is managed by your supplier. After the sale, all you have to focus on is customer service.
What needs to be considered when choosing a print-on-demand partner?
Choosing the right partner is key to a successful print-on-demand business. There’s a lot to think about when selecting a partner to sell your products as this will determine what products you can create, where you want to ship them, and the price at which you can sell them.
You could find yourself in a situation with a platform where creating an item costs you very little, but it could take up to 28 days to reach a customer based on the most affordable shipping option available.
You will need to do your research when looking for a partner to help sell your products to ensure they are the right fit for your print-on-demand business. You should decide what criteria matter the most to you when choosing a print-on-demand partner. Ideally, you want a provider that shares your values and meets your expectations.
If you are growing your business as fast as possible, you should also give call center support to your customers. Many predictive dialer software can help you to automatically answer customers and collect more leads.
Look up online reviews of POD providers to find a partner that you’ll feel comfortable working with.
How to get started
You can set up a print-on-demand business in one of two ways. Either you focus on a product niche or a subject niche.
Going down the product niche route means you need to identify what type of product(s) you want to sell. You might decide to sell backpacks or hoodies with a unique logo, but ideally, you should choose one of these and stick to it, creating many designs for your chosen product niche.
If you decide on a subject niche, you need to identify a trendy topic or catchphrase and apply it to a range of products. For example, a popular slang term at the moment is ‘yeet’ or there’s the common catchphrase ‘oh snap!’ that you could use on a range of mobile phone cases in different colors and designs.
However, it’s important to make sure that your design idea—whether it’s a catchphrase or imagery—isn’t copyrighted.
Once you have decided on a niche and checked that your design idea isn’t copyrighted, it’s time to go full throttle to launch your print-on-demand business and make money online:
Step #1 – Identify your market
It’s important to establish whether there’s a demand for the products you want to sell. To do this, you need to define your audience. What you’re selling and who you’re selling it to will make or break your print-on-demand business.
To help you identify your niche market, you will need to invest some time in doing research. You can use a variety of online tools to research current consumer trends to find needs and concerns that your products can address.
Identifying a niche market means less competition, a better chance of getting noticed, and higher profit margins.
Step #2 – Create your artwork
Your print-on-demand supplier will need your design to apply to their products. Providing high-quality digital images is crucial. Your original artwork is the safest option as it removes any potential copyright issues, meaning that you pay no extra costs or have to pay out royalty fees.
If you are unable to bring your creative idea to life, consider hiring a designer.
If you decide not to use your own artwork, designs, or images on your products, it’s vital that you have the necessary permissions from those that own the rights to photographs or catchphrases.
Step #3 – Take photos of your products
To attract customers to your store, you need to present your products properly. This means you will need top-quality photos of your products. It’s likely that your POD partner will have images of their products that are blank, in which case you could apply your designs to them or hire someone else to do it for you.
Alternatively, you could order some product samples from your potential supplier. As well as being able to photograph the products yourself, meaning they are copyright-free, it’s an opportunity to test the quality of the products they supply, the efficiency of their shipping process, and their turnaround times.
Step #4 – Register your domain name
Once you’re in a position to start building your online store, you’ll need to register a website domain. You need to decide what your domain name is going to be. For example, you might choose www.printondemand.net. You will want to buy a domain name that’s catchy, short, and easy for people to remember.
To register a domain, head to a registration site like 123-reg or GoDaddy.
Step #5 – Select your eCommerce platform
Once your domain is registered, it’s time to put it into action. The quickest way to do this is to use an eCommerce platform like Etsy or Shopify. You’ll need to create an account and find a ‘storefront’ that best suits your business.
Most eCommerce platforms are very flexible and scalable and give you a solution that allows you to sell globally.
Step #6 – Set up shop
Once you’ve found an eCommerce platform that’s right for you, setting up your shop and creating your custom products is the next step. Most platforms offer a range of customizable templates, allowing you to create the right look and feel for your business with pages that are most relevant to your online store such as:
- A home page
- About us
- Shipping information
- Payment options
- Contact info
A premium template is recommended to ensure access to all the features, allowing you to create an online store that offers a seamless shopping experience for your customers. You’ll want to make sure your store has the functionality to generate coupon codes or discount alerts. Plus, there are some premium plugins you can use for email marketing and more.
You have to spend a little more to access premium templates on eCommerce platforms, but it’ll pay off in the long-term.
Step #7 – Choose your print provider
Your print provider is key to your success, so choosing the right print-on-demand supplier to integrate with requires some research. Your reputation is in the hands of your print provider. That’s why you need a reliable partner that can fulfill your orders quickly to meet customer demand.
Here are five things to consider when choosing a print provider:
- Price and location—The ideal scenario is to find a print provider that’s close to where your customers are based. This minimizes shipping times and cuts your shipping costs and drops shipping-related taxes.
- Availability and customer service—Customer service is a great indicator of how willing your print provider is to help and how they will deal with you if problems should arise. Choose a provider that’s easy to communicate with, listens to requirements and concerns, and responds with the level of urgency that your business needs.
- Quality—The quality of the items you’re printing on and the print quality of your custom design itself can make or break your print-on-demand business. Partnering with a specialist print provider ensures that the quality of your products is of a high standard. The samples you receive will be a good gauge of what your customers will be buying from you. If the samples are of a high standard, the final product going to your customers will be top quality.
- Reliability—In a world of instant delivery, you need a print provider that’s reliable to ensure that your customers get their products on time. It’s an added bonus if you can find a provider that offers free shipping as this will help to attract customers. It’s crucial to find a provider that ships consistently every time and if problems occur, they are quick to communicate them with you so that you can inform your customers.
- What do other sellers say about them—To check how professional a print provider is, you need to look up reviews to get an idea of their reputation for price, availability, quality, and reliability. The reviews of other sellers are a good indicator of a print provider’s reputation, credibility, and trustworthiness.
It’s good practice to find a print provider that offers an all-in-one inventory management, printing, and dropshipping service to ensure that your online print-on-demand business runs as smoothly as possible. A print provider with fulfillment centers all over the world can help you sell domestically and worldwide.
Plus, you should choose a print provider that has a wide range of customizable items to turn your ideas into brands and unique products to make money online.
For example, Printful offers more than 250 customizable products, and can currently link with 22 different eCommerce platforms, giving you a wide range of options to create your online store.
What happens next?
Once you’ve followed the steps to get your online print-on-demand business started, it’s time to start promoting and selling your products to get noticed. With hundreds of thousands of online stores on the web, competition is fierce, so spreading the word about your business is a must.
You can start by sharing your business with friends and family. Ask them to become your word-of-mouth marketeers and share your online store and products with their social networks. This is a great way to drive free publicity and start building an audience.
Optimize your website
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of creating keyword-rich content across all areas of your website, whether it’s product descriptions, your ‘About us’ page, or image captions.
Keywords are the terms that people use online to find specific products and services. For example, if you sell custom-made mugs, you would include this keyword phrase across your website. When people search for a custom-made mug, your website has a better chance of being seen by customers looking for this item.
A well-optimized website is arguably the most powerful tool for raising awareness of your products and brand. Depending on the platform you use to build your website, a number of plugins are available that will help you to optimize your site. Alternatively, you could hire a copywriter and SEO specialist to write keyword-rich content for you and optimize your website.
The benefit of a well-optimized site is that it will boost your search engine rankings, increasing your online visibility. It’s all about choosing the right keywords that are appropriate to your products and your brand. You then need to weave those keywords into the content on your site.
To help you with your keyword research, you can try tools like Google Keyword Planner or SEMrush.
Leverage social media
You should also create social media accounts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. However, you’ll need to make sure you make time to manage each social media account equally.
Social media allows you to target and join specific groups that are potentially interested in your products. Social networking is a great way to build brand recognition and reach millions of people worldwide. It’s an opportunity to:
- Create a unique hashtag for your store—Ask your customers to use your unique hashtag when referring to your business on social media.
- Share organic content with your audience—Promote your products with short, catchy posts to drive engagement. Short, visually appealing, and action-oriented content is effective on social media.
- Reach out to influencers—Provided that your product aligns with their specific niche and values, an endorsement from a popular social media figure will raise awareness of your brand.
Ask customers for reviews
When you have sold some of your products, encourage your customers to leave a review. Customer reviews are and will continue to be, crucial for building trust and raising awareness of your products and brand. This is especially true when you are just starting out.
Product reviews build strong social proof. One positive review can lead to more sales than a paid social media campaign.
Starting an online business with print-on-demand requires you to invest time and effort to grow your brand, develop a strong reputation, and make your business profitable. However, there are thousands of print-on-demand business success stories, which will offer you some encouragement when establishing your own venture.
The key is to build trust in your brand, selling unique, top-quality products that resonate with your customers. If you can build a loyal customer base, you are on the way to building a thriving, online print-on-demand business.
Here’s to your success.