Print-on-demand is a great opportunity to get started in the e-commerce industry with minimal investment or expand your current offering if you already have an established e-commerce presence.
As simple as it is, though, a little planning and preparation at the start will pay huge dividends down the road.
There are several important aspects to keep in mind, such as ensuring your print-on-demand supply chain is reliable and produces products with consistently good quality.
Interested in learning how to start a print-on-demand business and how to get started?
We’ll explain everything you need to know to get your new venture up and running.
Here’s how the print-on-demand business model works, in a nutshell:
1. You set up a store for your products.
2. Create designs to print on the products you choose to sell.
3. Select a printing partner who will fulfill your customers’ orders.
4. When you sell an item, forward the order to the printer and it’s shipped directly to your customer.
Since your printer will create the product after a sale goes through, you don’t need to worry about keeping inventory or even shipping it.
The only time you’ll actually handle the items is probably during the quality-control phase when you’re selecting the right printer to work with.
It’s really not much more complicated than that. And because it’s relatively simple, it’s important to make the right decisions in terms of what to sell, who to partner with, etc.
So, let’s go over some tips to help you make those decisions.
Assuming you already have a store set up or are planning to set it up, the foundational question for any print-on-demand business is who your target customers are.
In other words, you must pick a niche since focusing on a smaller and more defined audience will let you better tailor products and strategies to meet the needs of that audience.
A lot of your success will hinge on this decision because it will largely determine the designs you create and the products you sell.
Competing only to have the best-selling design is always an uphill battle where you’ll be chasing after the hottest trend or topical event. But, you can sidestep a LOT of that competition by selecting a product that few other sellers offer.
There are (literally) hundreds of books out there about getting niche selection right. So we’ll just cover the basics to get you started specifically in print-on-demand.
Start by doing some research about what’s trending and what’s capturing people’s attention in the public sphere. Look out for things that speak to people on an emotional level but stay away from fads that tend to burn out quickly – sometimes these can be difficult to spot.
Hobbies are a great example of a niche that never goes out of style. And yet, when you niche down a little deeper, the hobby niche is full of fads that don’t make for a great long-term print-on-demand strategy.
When you’ve found a few niches that seem interesting, validate them with keyword research and trend analysis. A niche with good potential is generally one in which you can find many related terms with high search volume over a period of several months.
This is a crucial decision, and the range of products that POD companies are adopting is growing very quickly. So getting the right product at the right time can be just as important as the designs you’ll make for them.
By picking a product that is easy to customize and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance or repairs, you’re setting yourself up for success from the start.
That’s why things like t-shirts and mugs are so popular in the POD industry and also why the market is so saturated with those products.
Of course, the most important factor to consider is picking a product that people want to buy. But that’s only part of the story and it’s meaningless without some context.
Here are some tips to get you thinking in the right direction:
Read more about etsy print on demand.
Broadly speaking, you have two choices for where to sell your products: on an eCommerce marketplace or on an eCommerce platform.
With an eCommerce marketplace, you list your products on a website like Etsy and people can buy them, it’s simple and fast.
Setting up a store on an Etsy print-on-demand store or any other eCommerce marketplace usually requires minimal effort and can be done in a short amount of time– and there are other benefits.
Established marketplaces provide access to high-intent traffic, which means potential customers can find the store quickly. Additionally, most marketplaces offer some level of support and customer service, making it easier for store owners to resolve any issues that may arise.
However, there are some drawbacks to using an eCommerce marketplace as well.
For example, store owners have less control over their store’s appearance, branding, and content compared to when they use an eCommerce platform.
Furthermore, these marketplaces typically have their own set of rules that you must follow as a store owner; this can be limiting or restrictive for those who want more control or customization options.
Examples of popular marketplaces to sell POD products include
Alternatively, an eCommerce platform like Shopify lets you build your own website where people can buy your products.
It takes more time and money to set up and customize, but you have more control over the look and feel of your store.
You can also add more content than on a marketplace and establish your brand as opposed to just being one of the thousands of sellers on a marketplace.
Many people find that the right strategy lies somewhere in between.
A marketplace provides a springboard to get you off the ground if you’re literally starting from zero.
Eventually, and as you grow, you’ll want to evolve into having your own presence on a platform like Shopify, Wix, or Woocommerce (on WordPress) and either move away from the marketplaces or continue to rely on them for supplemental income.
Having a print-on-demand supplier that you trust to make excellent merchandise and ship on time is vital. It’s fair to say that a good working relationship with your suppliers forms the backbone of your print-on-demand business.
Here’s a basic checklist to use when vetting suppliers.
1. Look at each supplier’s pricing structure, turnaround times, and customer reviews to get an idea of their overall performance. You should also look into their production capabilities to make sure they can handle the volume of orders you’ll be placing.
2. Get samples of the products that you want to sell before committing to a supplier. Often, you’ll find that some POD suppliers have great products in one category but fall short in another so it may make sense to work with several suppliers if you want to sell a wide range of products.
3. Does the supplier provide integration with your chosen outlets? Many POD companies will already have ready-made integrations with major platforms like Etsy and Shopify and if that’s an option, it can definitely make your life a lot easier.
If those basics check out, you’ve got a good potential supplier. However, problems will always arise down the line that you can’t predict.
How your supplier behaves and works with you to solve these problems will ultimately determine whether the partnership will work out in the long term.
Once you have a supplier, the next step is starting to explore the many potential sales channels for print-on-demand businesses. You could choose one marketplace or online website or start by listing your products in several places, such as Etsy or Amazon.
If you choose to focus on your own online property instead of a marketplace, a lot depends on whether you already have an e-commerce store or are looking to start a print-on-demand business from scratch. Wherever you sell products, your online business needs a few essential pieces of information to get started:
It can take some time to put all the info together, but your print-on-demand business stands a much bigger chance of success if you start with a detailed, professional business website that explains who you are, what you do, and the services on offer.
If you’re unsure how to set up a storefront as a seller on a third-party marketplace, it’s worth looking at whether they have a new business onboarding service or retailer template to work from.
We’ve run through advice around setting up a new business store, selecting product ranges, and choosing a reliable supplier–the final step is to think about how to start promoting your business and advertising your product ranges to the right audience.
Promotion is essential because, even if you already have an established business, your customers need to know about your new print-on-demand items before you start receiving your first orders.
If you’re just getting started, here are the foundational elements of any successful digital promotion strategy:
1. Lean heavily on social media. Social media can be one of the most effective ways to get eyes on your business. With a strong social media presence, your business can share products, stories, and promotions with an engaged audience that can be segmented according to interests and preferences.
2. Use paid advertising strategically. Paid advertising on platforms like Google Ads or Facebook Ads can be a great way to reach more customers and increase sales. But you have to make sure to target the right audience with the right message.
3. Start email marketing campaigns as soon as you can. You’ll need an address list to get started but once you do, this will be a vital avenue of business. Email campaigns can be tailored for specific audiences and used to send personalized offers based on their preferences.
4. Go where your customers are. Find the true believers in your target audience and find out where they like to hang out. Reddit, Goodreads, and Dribbble are some examples of social platforms that have extremely engaged audiences you can tap into if they’re part of your niche.
As you can see, starting a print-on-demand business isn’t all that complicated. You just need to put in some legwork and you can start earning faster than with most other business models.
It is important to decide on a niche, select a product that people want to buy, and choose a reliable supplier.
Additionally, setting up an online store with essential information and promoting the business through social media, paid advertising, email campaigns, and other social platforms are all vital for success. With the right preparation and strategy, print-on-demand businesses can be an excellent way to generate additional income or expand current catalogs.
Ready to start your new online business or expand into print-on-demand? Check out the Skup roadmap to e-commerce success for more guidance.