So, you’re thinking about starting an online business.
Whether you’re looking to quit your 9–5 or you’re just interested in finding a side hustle, you have probably come across a concept called print on demand.
If you’re not familiar, here is how it works.
You create designs (images, text, or a bit of both) to be placed on merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, and phone cases.
You partner with a printing company who puts your design on the item and ships it to the customer.
They handle 100% of the inventory, so you have no inventory costs.
It is a really great way to sell products with little to no upfront investment.
Examples of commonly used print on demand platforms are Printful and Printify.
These platforms have easy integrations to sites like eBay and Etsy, which puts your items in front of millions of buying customers.
Print on demand is often referred to as a form of passive income, meaning you put in some work upfront (create and upload designs to products, then add them to a platform or your website) and then you can make money on your products- even while you sleep.
Of course, this is intriguing.
You can sell merchandise without having piles of t-shirts in your basement, waiting to be sold and then shipped out.
It really is accessible to anyone.
After starting my own print on demand business, I learned a few key things along the way.
Is it Really Passive Income?
Although print on demand has the potential to serve as passive income for you, the reality is it does require ongoing attention.
People need to be interested in buying products with your designs, first and foremost.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as making a few designs you like and walking away.
What are people searching for right now? What are they buying? Are there any seasonal trends you should tap into?
The answers to these questions requires research and trial and error- and really, this changes over time.
Once you have narrowed down what designs you think people will buy, the next step is to get your product in front of customers.
If you are using online marketplaces like Etsy, eBay, or Amazon to sell your products, there is more to it than posting something for sale and waiting for people to buy it. How will you market it so that more people see it and are able to buy it?
How will you utilize SEO (search engine optimization)? Your product listings need to include keywords like customers are searching for, so that they appear in their search results.
Will you pay to advertise your listings? For example, if you’re using Etsy to sell your products, you can pay to advertise your listings on Etsy to get more views. Social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest also allow you to advertise your listings to their viewers.
You really do learn as you go with this, and you will figure out what works best for you. Time will be your friend, and you will be able to pin down a good strategy once you have experience.
Don’t Forget About Customer Service
Since you’re selling to other human beings, you will run in to questions and issues. Hopefully you’ll be thanking your customers for their business, too (crossing your fingers for repeat sales!).
When I started with print on demand, I had no idea that customer service would take up so much of my time. This is another reason print on demand income may not be as ‘passive’ as you’d think.
I interact with nearly every single customer of mine. I send a thank you note to each person who supports my business- they really appreciate it, and are more likely to come back to buy more.
In addition to this, there are things that can go wrong with online orders. I have had customers enter the wrong shipping address, buy the wrong item, and ask for refunds or exchanges. Customers have received incorrect or damaged items from the printing company, as well (this is not an everyday issue, but always a possibility).
Sometimes, it’s completely out of my hands, and the shipping company has failed to deliver an item.
I know that I was surprised by how time-consuming the service aspect of this business model was.
If you think you have great designs, but don’t want to interact with customers directly, I recommend websites like Redbubble, Zazzle, and CafePress. The downside here is that sales are generally lower on these sites than on larger platforms like Etsy and eBay.
If You’re Still Interested…
All of this isn’t to say that print on demand is a bad idea.
I have been able to start a business without having to invest tons of money.
And, I have not had to print one shipping label, or make one trip to the post office- ha!
I think that some of the information online can be misleading- there is day-to-day work involved in a successful print on demand business. It’s not as simple as posting items for sale and then logging offline and travelling the world.
I also want to mention that you don’t have to be an artist to make this work. Almost all of my designs are text-based. I have found that people love buying items with funny sayings or other words that resonate with them.
Custom products with their names on it are really great, too.
So if you’re scratching your head and wondering how to draw a picture on your laptop, don’t sweat it.
I make all of my designs using Over (you can create images with transparent backgrounds for free). Canva is great, too, but you do need to be a paid subscriber to access transparent backgrounds, which are best when printing designs (you won’t want a big white square behind your design that’s on a black t-shirt, for example).
The most important thing to keep in mind with print on demand is that it is not a get rich quick scheme.
You won’t be listing a few t-shirts for sale and then be earning a full-time income overnight.
Like with anything, if you are willing to put in the work, you can build a business.