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If you’ve been dreaming of launching an e-commerce business that requires a minimal up-front investment, zero on-hand inventory, and little to no overhead costs, print-on-demand may be the way to go!
Whether you’re a designer looking to sell your art, a musician looking to sell custom merch, or an artist looking for new mediums on which you can share your masterpieces, print-on-demand (POD) offers a low-risk business model. And it’s relatively simple to launch!
Here are seven tips for starting a print-on-demand business. From sourcing the right products to listing them for sale, this step-by-step guide is designed to help you get started.
Step 1: Identify Your Niche
Print-on-demand businesses may take many forms. With a virtually endless number of available products and designs, it’s imperative to identify your niche! Consider whether your target audience will be based on a certain profession (such as teachers, nurses, parents, professional businesses, services providers, etc.), a shared passion (such as sports fans, foodies, wine or whiskey lovers, pet lovers, runners, yogis, gamers, etc.), or people who participate in shared activities (such as athletics, cyclists, pet owners, readers, etc.).
Aim to be as specific as possible about your niche and as broad as possible with your audience. This will not only help you select your products and styles but also help you design sales and marketing campaigns that engage potential buyers.
Before identifying your niche, it’s helpful to conduct some preliminary research. This may include:
- Social media scrolling: Check what is currently trending on TikTok or Twitter or participate in Facebook Groups or Reddit forums to immerse yourself in conversations among your potential target market. This will help you gauge the demand for the niche you’re considering and allow you to get your know your audience.
- Asking the internet: Leverage free tools like Google Trends to gauge interest in particular topics. Be sure to pay attention to current trends that show steady growth over a multi-year period.
- Researching keywords: SEO software like Moz or Semrush can help you measure the amount of search traffic that shopping-related queries attract. Similarly, a solution like JungleScout can help you gauge interest and sales for items based on data from online marketplaces like Amazon.
- Market research: Browse Etsy, eBay, and Amazon, and read product descriptions and reviews to gain insight into who’s buying what on each platform.
- Competitive analyses: Identify potential competitors and visit their websites to see who they’re targeting with their products. This can help you identify a niche that’s not currently being served and allow you to craft your own messaging in a way that’s been shown to convert shoppers to paying customers.
Step 2: Select Your Products
Print-on-demand (POD) platforms offer a broad range of products including clothing, hats, baseball caps, water bottles, stickers, posters, gift wrap, reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, cooking utensils, smartphone cases, and more. As such, it’s imperative you select the right products for your POD business and your niche. (These are some of the top print-on-demand products to consider selling.)
You may also differentiate yourself from your competitors by offering sustainable, eco-friendly, and/or ethically-sourced items. These options are especially appealing to Gen Z consumers and several print-on-demand suppliers offer a range of eco-friendly printed products, from apparel and water bottles to lunch totes, stickers, posters, gift wrap, and table runners.
Step 3: Create Your Designs
Depending on your design skills, this step is either be the most exhilarating or intimidating part of launching a POD e-commerce business. From the artwork to the color(s) to the messages and fonts, and everything in between, the design options are virtually limitless! As are the opportunities to create fully custom, semi-custom, or commissioned designs.
If you find you need some artistic inspiration, consider browsing the best-selling designs on other platforms and putting your own, unique spin on them. Be careful not to copy existing designs and be sure to steer clear of any trademark infringement (to learn more about this, we recommend studying intellectual property for print on demand).
Step 4: Select your Print-on-Demand Partner
Finding the right POD partner can make or break your business! Here are some things to consider when exploring potential partnership opportunities:
- The types of products the platform offers
- The quality of these products (many companies will send you product samples; we strongly encourage you to take advantage of this!)
- Average production and ship times
- Geographic location and how that may impact shipping costs and timelines
- Fees and payment structures
- Customer service support including how they handle returns, cancellations, and refunds
- Integration options
- Reputation (reviews are a great place to start!)
Step 5: Launch your E-Commerce Store
Whether you’re looking to sell direct, via a branded e-commerce website and online store, or via a marketplace such as Amazon, Etsy, or eBay, or via a multichannel mix, launching a branded website can help you to build the right foundation for your print-on-demand business. In addition to giving you total control over the user experience, a website allows you to test various prices and offers without limitation. It also gives you direct visibility into user behaviors and buying patterns so you can better track what is impacting your sales.
Shopify, Wix, and WordPress offer a variety of e-commerce website templates and integrations (both POD and shopping cart) you can customize to complement your brand.
Step 6: Establish Your Pricing
Creating your pricing strategy is often challenging, as you need to find the sweet spot that not only appeals to customers but also maximizes your profitability. Here are some things to consider when establishing your pricing:
- Start-up costs – Make sure that your pricing accounts for all your expenses, including marketing, labor, fees, and other operational costs.
- Competitors’ price point – When possible, your pricing structure should align with that of your competition. Otherwise, it’s imperative to design a strategy for justifying higher price points.
- Uniqueness of your products – If your products are one-of-a-kind, or produced using sustainable, eco-friendly materials, you may be able to justify a higher price point.
- Shipping costs – More than half (58%) of shoppers abandon their carts due to higher-than-expected shipping costs; offering free shipping is always a good idea if you can do so without eating your profits. Some options for offering fast and free shipping include rolling shipping costs into your product pricing or offering free shipping at certain price points.
- Calculate your margins – Be sure to sanity check your pricing structure by accurately calculating your profit margins; account all expenses and costs including returns, taxes, transaction fees, and so forth.
For more tips on how to set the right price, check out these nine product pricing strategies.
Step 7: Create Your Marketing Plan
To build a successful print-on-demand business, you not only need to launch your e-commerce website and go live via a multi-channel sales pipeline but also proactively create buzz and drive attention to your products. A marketing plan is the best way to ensure you stay the course.
Here are five ways to begin building your brand, engaging potential customers, and creating positive buzz around your business:
- Share your website and brand with friends and family and encourage them to share your products with their networks.
- Engage with buyers on social media. Each major social media offers a variety of tools you can leverage for sales and engagement. Also consider joining in on relevant conversations to express your brand’s personality online.
- Create a blog. You can publish articles on your website or other online forums that showcase various ways to use your product and/or simply addresses questions people might have when searching for a brand like yours.
- Partner with influencers or other brands that share a similar target audience.
- Leverage email marketing. Whether you’re looking to re-engage shoppers, reduce abandoned carts, or generate buzz around upcoming sales, email marketing is a great way to engage with customers and keep your brand and products top of mind.
Here are 14 additional eCommerce marketing ideas to help spark your creativity.