I’ve been doing POD on a regular basis for about 2-1/2 years. However, my approach has been very scattered at times, I’ve had too many other irons in the fire, and I have some health issues that make working long hours a real challenge. As a result, I have not made the progress I would otherwise have made by now.
Over the last few months, it has finally hit home to me that if I want to make a full-time income from this endeavor, I need to be more FOCUSED. And I need to have a SYSTEM. So I’ve been mapping it out little by little over the past few weeks, and I finally have a step-by-step plan in place for my business going forward.
In short, the idea is BRANDING
I want my business to be long-term and sustainable. I want to build a brand on my own internet “land.”
Most of my sales so far have been on Merch by Amazon – I’ve made $5,500 overall, but that’s over the course of 34 months, which is only $162 a month on average. I need to make that in a DAY. There are lots of days I still see a big fat zero in most of my sales channels.
And I think that’s because I haven’t focused on building a brand as opposed to just throwing designs everywhere with no set plan. I talked a bit about building a brand in this post and this one, but it took me a while to really figure out my own path.
The ultimate goal
My goal is twofold – basically I have an overall business goal as well as a financial target: 1) I want to have an active print-on-demand business that spans several different sales channels and eventually becomes a relatively passive source of income, and 2) I want to make $4,000 per month.
In regard to #1, I am diversifying my income so that I’m not dependent on one source. In other words, I don’t do just Merch by Amazon or just Shopify or just Etsy – I do all of those, plus a couple more sales channels and PODs.
As for #2, I’m not looking to get rich, although $4,000 a month would make me FEEL rich compared to what I make now! 🙂 Hitting this goal would allow my husband to leave his job, which is slowly killing him physically and mentally.
The starting point
1) A general Shopify store, categorized into 18 categories with about 450 products. I would probably break it out into separate stores if I had the money – and hopefully will at some point. I’m using four primary apps: Teelaunch, Printful, Printify, and Gooten.
2) A Merch by Amazon account at Tier 1000 and 310 live designs (I had all my slots filled at one point but had a ton of drop-offs earlier this year).
3) Eight Etsy stores in 8 of my favorite niches from my Shopify store, plus a general Etsy store for all other niches combined, so 9 in total.
4) A Redbubble account with 14 designs, each on a variety of products.
5) An Amazon Seller Central account with 309 listings, about 90% mugs, 5% hoodies, and 5% miscellaneous.
6) A KDP account with 14 listings, mostly composition books, a few journals.
7) A Facebook business page for each of the 9 major niches.
8) An Instagram profile for each of the 9 major niches.
9) A Pinterest board for each of the 9 major niches under one overall Pinterest business account.
10) A YouTube channel for each of the 9 major niches.
All the above sounds much better on paper than in real life. The social media profiles are starting from scratch – most have only a couple of posts on them, if any. None of the Etsy stores have more than 6 products on them and most have only 1 or 2. I only get a few sales a month on Shopify and on Amazon Seller Central.
In addition to all this, I have a graphic design/Photoshop course called the POD Squad (of course you know that because you’re reading this on the POD Squad site, LOL) as well as a print-on-demand mockup Etsy store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/merchmultimocks).
Changes I need to make
I know having all that to keep up with sounds kind of crazy. But since I can work on it all day every day, I’m determined to try!
But after a few weeks have gone by, I will reassess my niches to see which ones are getting traction. Those that aren’t performing I will probably put on the back burner for a while so I can narrow my focus to what’s working the best.
The fact that I still have zero sales days with hundreds and hundreds of listings on the internet might make you think this’ll never pay off for you if you’re just starting. But I have done no paid advertising, my keywords need work, and I’ve only used social media the tiniest bit to get my products out there.
I believe that if I work on just the two latter problems (because I can’t afford paid advertising right now), I can make a huge difference in sales.
Another issue for me, oddly enough, is design. It is true I have been a graphic designer all my adult life and know what makes for good design, which is why I teach it, but that doesn’t mean I know what people want to buy on t-shirts or other products – clearly! If I did, I would be making more money by now. So already being a designer is no guarantee of success. I will be working on doing better research to find out what types of designs people want.
Speaking of which, about 95% of my designs are evergreen, meaning that they are not connected to a specific event or holiday. For the other 5%, I do try to catch a trend or event once in a while if I’m interested in it or see an opportunity to ride a wave of interest.
Tools I pay for
Here are the tools I have and how much I use them:
- Merch Informer – haven’t used much, will try to use more (I think I paid $99 one time, got grandfathered in)
- Merch Wizard – used a lot at first, lapsed briefly, will use more from now on because it’s awesomesauce ($8.06/month)
- Merch Buddy – don’t use anymore since the multi-uploader on Merch, used to use it a lot (paid $15 one time)
- Merch Lister Pro – I still use this if I’m doing single uploads on Merch but used to use it a lot (paid $15 one time, got grandfathered in to lifetime membership)
- FPTraffic – turned this job over to my husband, yay! ($10/month)
- Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign – use every day, especially Photoshop ($56.17/month)
- Shopify – I got in on a lifetime deal a couple years back ($23.20/month)
- Flume Pro – allows me to switch between Instagram profiles and post from my Mac rather than mobile (paid $10 one time, I think it’s $20 now)
- KDP Uploader Pro – haven’t used yet but plan to (free)
- Amazon Seller Central professional account – ($39.99/month)
- FontBase ($3/month)
- Placeit – for mockups, use it regularly ($29/month)
- Aweber – autoresponder ($19/month)
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means I make a small commission if you purchase through them. That’s not why I’m listing them here, though. I want you to know what this kind of POD system can reasonably cost. You can definitely do print on demand for next to nothing, but I pay for a few things on a monthly basis that really make it easier.
Those monthly costs add up to $188.42. I need to make this amount easier to cover!
Tools on my buy-later list
There are a few things I will subscribe to (or resubscribe to) when I am able to:
- PrettyMerch Pro – used to have, cancelled for now ($9.99/month)
- Merch Momentum Strategy Guide – used to have, cancelled for now ($10/month)
- KDP Wizard – KDP software (free beta right now but will cost in the future)
As mentioned, I have my husband’s help with some of the social media tasks, but for the most part, I’m going to attempt to do all of this on my own. I cannot afford a virtual assistant (VA) at this time.
That’s where my system will come in. It might seem like a good idea to focus on one sales channel per day or one social media account and put a bunch of different designs on them. But because it’s better to have regular daily activity on the various sales channels and social media accounts than to have a flurry one day and nothing for a week, I’m going to do this by niche instead.
What this means is that I’m going to create a design (or remake an old one that didn’t sell or needs improvement) and then upload it everywhere. Shopify first, because ultimately, that’s the most important one, then Merch, Etsy, Amazon Seller Central, KDP, and Redbubble – most likely in that order, as long as the design is appropriate for all those channels.
For example, if it’s an apparel item that I’ve uploaded to Merch, then I won’t also put it on Seller Central, as that would be wasted effort. If it’s a text-only design, I most likely won’t put it on Redbubble, as that’s usually better for graphics and art, unless it’s a very cool typography design.
When the apps I use to create the product in Shopify integrate with Amazon or Etsy, pushing that listing to those additional platforms will be relatively quick and easy.
Then I’ll post it on all social media outlets: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest mainly. For some designs or group of designs in a niche, I’ll make a quick video using Lumen5 or something like that and put it on YouTube as well as on the other outlets.
As I’m doing each social media post, I’ll also quickly dash into each of the other niche accounts to add non-sales niche-specific content. That way when I get around to that niche, there’ll be several days’ worth of regular content so that when I post a link to a product, it’ll be in the minority and my feed won’t seem like it’s all about selling to the viewer.
The goal each week will be to get one design uploaded everywhere in each niche, so 9 designs. That doesn’t sound like much, but remember it will be on a wide variety of products, so one design can result in dozens or even hundreds of “buy buttons” around the web for people to purchase.
For instance, when I take the design to Shopify, I’m going to put it on one or two products to begin with. I won’t go crazy until I know whether that design is a seller or not. I’m not going to do everything on a shirt, but apparel will definitely be a major focus. I plan to do lots of home goods too, such as pillows, blankets, drinkware, wall art, and some newer POD products that not everybody is doing already.
I’d love to think that I could do 2 niches each day, but with all that’s involved as detailed above, it’s doubtful. Too bad the week isn’t 9 days long! I’m going to try to get all 9 niches into 7 days, but we’ll have to see whether that’s realistic or not. I’m sure at first it won’t happen as I work out the best and fastest way to do things.
In addition, I am helping my husband with our side hustle: a new blog and YouTube channel (https://burkesatwork.com). So I still have too many irons but that blog is partly about my POD stuff too so it’s all connected.
Expectations regarding your own progress
Some of you might follow along as I implement this new system of mine and try to extrapolate the data to fit your own situation and predict the results you’ll have if you use a similar system. Be aware that there are too many variables to make an accurate forecast for yourself, not the least of which is the fact that I am starting with an infrastructure in place that those new to POD won’t have.
Plus if you’re a POD weekend warrior, or can only work in the evenings, you won’t be able to put the time into this that I can. I’m working at this full-time – usually 7-9 hours a day and maybe 6-8 hours over the course of the weekend. But this will give you an idea of what can be accomplished in this particular situation. At the very least, doing these weekly updates on the blog will serve as motivation for me!
I’ll post here occasionally with my progress, and if you’d like to follow our case study on our other blog when it’s ready at https://burkesatwork.com, I’ll be posting even more details there.