Print & Sell

Launching and marketing a profitable print-on-demand store10 min read

November 20, 2020

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Launching and marketing a profitable print-on-demand store10 min read

In today’s world, many people are launching online businesses, and it’s no surprise you may feel overwhelmed with competition or fear of missing out. But don’t let that hold you back. When you follow the right formula and have a great strategy, you will be well on your way to building a profitable print-on-demand store.

The framework for a profitable print-on-demand store

Anybody with a computer can follow a guide to create a print-on-demand store, but not everybody will become profitable. I made a framework that helps you step-by-step to increase your probability of having a profitable store. Each step is essential, and having a good understanding will help you accelerate your chances of having a successful store.

  • Catering to a niche market
  • Understanding your target audience
  • Creating designs that resonate with your target audience
  • Choosing the right POD supplier
  • Getting traffic to your store (Obviously)
  • Optimizing your store, the more it grows.

What is print-on-demand?

Print-on-demand (POD) is when you sell prints of your designs onto products like mugs, t-shirts, bags, headphones, etc only when a customer makes an order. Hence, “on-demand.” That means you don’t have to hold any inventory in a warehouse, a bedroom, or in your parents’ basement.

A print-on-demand supplier will take your order each time your customer purchases something from your store. They will then produce, package, and ship it to your customer. Your customer wouldn’t know the difference; it would appear as if the products came fresh from your online store.

It’s an ideal way to start a business with little to no capital.

A good POD store should ship to most of the world, have excellent customer service, perform quality checks, and have white-label packaging. Like Printful, for instance, the print-on-demand supplier I use.

Before you dive in

Above I outlined some of the steps in bullet points. The truth is there are many ways to get started. However, the approach I created came after years of trial and error. I have refined my process and have created a framework that allows me to validate an idea of building a print-on-demand store that cashes out every day.

I implemented many practices from marketing, sales, design, and police detectives to create the framework. Yep, you read that right; I said detectives because the methods work like magic when translated into eCommerce!

Getting started is easy. However, giving too much thought about the wrong things when building your store is also easy. If you follow the framework, it should help you avoid those distractions and keep you focused on making your store grow.

So, where do you start first? You start by knowing who you’re going to serve. One way to start is to choose a niche.

How do I choose a profitable niche?

When people think of niches, they tend to think of the most oversaturated ones first. It seems that everybody has the same niche, but that is not the case. Or sometimes it feels that you don’t know any niches other than one, which is saturated. Choosing a profitable niche can often define whether your print-on-demand store will fall or rise.

What to consider when selecting a niche:

  • Is there a community for your niche? You don’t need to choose a niche connected to an organization. Still, it helps to get to know that community if one exists.
  • Are there social media pages about your niche? Knowing that there are existing social media pages or influencers representing a particular niche is suitable for marketing. Think of places such as Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
  • Are there related products in your niche on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy? You can verify your niche often using searches on marketplaces. If the products exist, it usually means buyers do too.
  • Could your niche be a sub-niche or crossed with another niche? Animals can be dogs, and dogs can be a specific breed like a Pug.

If your niche doesn’t fit into some of these considerations, it’s okay. Sometimes you hit something that has never been done before until you started doing it.

Other things to consider for niches:

  • Would you be able to advertise it? Some people choose niches such as guns, knives, and other vulgar stuff and have a hard time taking off because they cannot promote.
  • Are there influencers you can promote your products within that niche?
  • Could it be flagged as a copyright infringement? Some people get excited and base their store around a company or brand—for example, Harry Potter t-shirts. Unless you have permission from Warner Brothers to use Harry Potter, you will crash before getting started with copyright claims.
  • You found a niche, but you can’t find the audience. It could mean that the niche is too specific, small, or you’re not looking in the right place.

Example of a poor niche

Motivational quotes are examples of a poor niche because it’s vast, too oversaturated, and quotes are subject to copyright.

Another example of a poor niche is fitness because it’s cultivated and competitive. “Do you even lift, bro?” quotes wouldn’t push your store as good as you think when it comes to becoming profitable. You have to think more profound than that. However, if you have a niche about people over 60 pumping weights and called it “Never too old to lift,” you may be onto something!

Example of the right niche

The sign of the right niche is when it’s not too broad nor too specific. For example, pet dogs are a particular niche. In contrast, Rottweiler dogs target a more narrowed audience. However, if you go further, such as five-foot-tall grannies with Rottweiler dogs, you may have just pushed it a little too far.

The most prominent mistake people make when choosing a niche.

Some people confuse a niche with branding. For example, choosing a fitness niche, creating a logo for it called “Fittaholic,” and printing it on everything. Unless you’re some type of influencer with a crazy following that purchase everything you announce, it doesn’t sell well, if at all. You need to avoid that trap for all causes!

Besides, building a brand is different from selecting a niche. You should instead build your brand around a niche. For example, be the brand known for cool printed bandanas for French Bulldogs. That is what I mean by making a brand around a niche.

Understanding your audience

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons is that you need to understand your audience. Knowing who your audience is crucial. It gives you a better understanding of their needs, passions, goals, and wants. If you don’t know anybody within your niche, try to create a character in your head. That character will be the persona you will develop and market towards. Of course, you can do some research on the matter.

Important questions to consider are:

  • What’s the name of your persona?
    If this person is real, use their name. If not, go ahead and make one up. You can’t humanize something without giving it a name, can you?
  • Where do they live?
  • Who are their friends?
  • What is their favorite magazine?
  • Who inspires them?
  • What is their favorite movie?
  • What is their favorite book?
  • Where do they shop for groceries?

These are only some of the questions that you should be asking yourself when defining your audience. It may seem excessive, but it will come into play when creating content and marketing for them. Believe me!

If your niche was classy Poodles and your ideal persona was a woman named Kris in her 40s. Let’s say she loves regular manicures and shopping at Wholefoods. What designs would Kris be attracted to in your niche? Compared to a Kris who loves to get takeaway every other night and binge on Netflix. I hope you get the point.

Having a deep understanding of your customer will help you connect with them on a deeper level. You want to touch their emotions.

As your store develops, continue improving your customers’ knowledge and updating your ideal persona as you grow.

Keep in mind that having an ideal persona is excellent, but they also have to exist and be realistic. The objective is to create designs that will resonate with your audience.

Creating designs that resonate with your audience

Most print-on-demand products don’t fulfill a need or fix a problem because they’re generic items. Phone cases, bottles, t-shirts, hoodies, they’re nothing special. So what you need to do is design items that resonate with your customer.

If you can produce a design that resonates with your customer – you’re more likely to sell to them.

So, the question is, how do you resonate with your customer?

Suppose you did your homework from the advice above. You found a niche, defined your ideal target audience and customer. In that case, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Let’s use the example of fishing.

Niche: Fly fishing

Target audience: Fathers and grandfathers

Ideal persona: Ricky, who is the father of two boys. He loves his family and works as an accountant. Ricky’s favorite movie is Back to the Future. He also lives in a rural area but not too far from the city. He enjoys wildlife, camping, and lives in a home with acres of land.

If you had to design something for fly fishing, knowing that your customer was Ricky, what would you create?

Fly Fishing Niche Profitable Print-on-Demand stores

Another example of a niche

Niche: Pugs

Target audience: Women with pugs

Ideal persona: Harley, is a mother, loves beer, football, tattoos and motorbikes. She lives that rock n’ roll lifestyle but still has love and time for her children. She spends a lot of time with her family and her pet pug. She has her own business and enjoys not being the boring mom.

What could potentially resonate for people like Harley?

Pug Niche for Profitable Print-on-Demand stores

Keep in mind that resonating designs are crucial for your print-on-demand business. Sometimes, it may be challenging to do so. If you find yourself in that situation, take a step back and take a look at your persona if you have to. Tweak it, if need be. Don’t squish yourself to a corner; having a persona should be used as a guide when creating your designs.

Designs for your store

Unless you’re an illustrator, designer, or some type of artist, you may have a difficult time with this step, and understandably so. However, there are hundreds of stores doing well without the founder being an artist of any sort. One obvious method is to hire a designer, artist, or illustrator to create your vision for you.

Mistakes when communicating with a designer

As a designer myself, I can share some useful tips to use when communicating with illustrators, designers, and artists to create designs for your print-on-demand store.

First of all, never tell be vague with your artist. Telling them “I want a design of a dinosaur for a t-shirt.” Sure, the artist may deliver something, but that something may not be what you’re looking for. Most likely, it would have no emotional connection to your customer.

Instead, here are some tips you can use when communicating with your designer:

  • Show them examples of existing designs that inspire you. These designs do not need to be related to your niche. Instead, they can be the inspiration of a style or art direction you’re looking to go towards.
  • Let your artist know your target audience. Knowing your customer is vital for the artist. Suppose your target customer is a badass mother, handling a business, and rocking cool tattoos. In that case, a cute design may not make the cut.
  • What emotions do you want your designs to bring out or convey? Could it be joy, pride, happiness, a blunt statement, and so on?
  • Include as many details as possible for the creation of your design. However, allow the artist to have some flexibility to give their unique touch to work.
  • Remember that your store will need more than one design. Negotiate with the artist or designer for a price that makes sense for however much artwork you want. You can always mention that you may use them for future artwork if all goes well.

Not everybody may want to hire a designer. There are alternatives. You can either design it yourself or purchase existing designs and touch it up.

If you do not plan to hire a designer, the internet can still provide some assistance. Marketplaces like Creative Market allow you to purchase designs and there are other sites that enable you to download designs for free. Ensure that you look at the licensing for every design you are buying or download for free. You don’t want to be hit by any surprises when adding designs to your store.

If you purchase or download free designs, don’t just put it on a product and upload it onto your store. Change it up, adapt it to your target customer persona. Spruce it up, don’t be lazy with your designs.

Where to find illustrators or existing designs

  • Fiverr is a marketplace where you can find freelancers of all types. When choosing a designer from Fiverr, you need to perform a background check on them. Be sure that the person you are hiring is actually an artist and not somebody stealing designs from others and selling them to you. That can cause you a lot of harm in the long run.
  • Dribbble is a network for creative professionals. Often illustrators publish their work there and are available for hire. However, many may come at a cost.
  • DeviantArt has been around for a very long time. Many hobbyist and professionals share their work and are available for hire.
  • Social media is also another excellent tool for finding artists. Search around and reach out to potential designers that attract your attention.
  • Etsy has listings from illustrators, artists, and designers offering their services. You can often see their listing price, what they promise to deliver, and sometimes negotiate a deal.

Suppose you were to design your products yourself. In that case, I assume that you are acquainted with all the tools necessary needed for the job. You’re an artist, designer, or illustrator by profession or do it as a hobby. In that case, you’re all set to go. However, keep in mind some advice about having a niche, conveying emotions, and resonating with your customer.

Types of designs to avoid

  • Boring designs that do not resonate with anyone. For example, an illustration of a fish on a hook, targeting fly fishers wouldn’t work well.
  • Unrelated designs. If your niche is about pugs, having a t-shirt with a pug eating french fries may not mean anything to your audience. At least try to resonate and relate with your customer.

Choosing the right print-on-demand supplier

There are hundreds of print-on-demand suppliers on the web, each different and some specializing in specific areas. When it comes to choosing the right print-on-demand suppliers, ask yourself what your needs are. Remember you can mix and match suppliers within your store too, you’re not limited to one.

Considerations to take when choosing a POD supplier

  • Do they ship to where your target customer resides? If no, then find another supplier.
  • Does the supplier allow seamless integration with my selling platform? The right POD supplier should be able to integrate with your store and marketplace. It means when an order comes through any of your mediums, it is sent straight to the supplier, fulfilled, and sent to your customer without you having to get involved.
  • Test a handful of sample products before choosing a supplier. It will give you an idea of the product’s quality, print, packaging, and shipping times.
  • Test the customer service response time. Also, look into the details of their terms such as dealing with misprints. The right POD supplier should offer a free replacement for errors caused by them.
  • Does the POD supplier print on the product you’re looking for? Perhaps one POD supplier prints on dog collars, which you love but doesn’t have great quality t-shirts. In this case, you can use the POD supplier for the dog collars and another supplier for t-shirts. Mix and match your suppliers.

Building your store

When it comes to building your store, you should give importance to usability and functionality over design. In over 10 years of my user experience design career, I have never seen aesthetics beat good usability and functionality. Of course, you can have it all. You should be careful as sometimes aesthetically pleasing designs can distract your customer from the end goal of making a purchase. It happens.

Look at the functionality of your store first. Is it clear where the checkout button is? Is it easy to add a product to a cart? Can you easily view your products? Does it make sense how to make a purchase? Is the site easy to navigate? Sometimes you may not be able to see the flaws in your store, so it could be good to get a friend or family member to test it. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to use as this will often result in more sales and give a clear direction for your customers.

One way to achieve functionality, usability, and elegant designs are by using Shopify for your store. Shopify is a leading eCommerce platform. A good customer shopping experience is given to your store by default. They have hundreds of templates to choose from, free to paid versions, to customize your store.

They also have many apps to add to your store to increase functionality, user experience and implement marketing strategies.

Once you have a store, you want to make sure that you track your customers. At the minimum, install Facebook Pixel and Google analytics tracking data, use it to enhance your store and sales over time.

I use Shopify and swear by it because of how fast it is to set up and integrate with many POD services. However, there are alternatives:

  • WordPress (WooCommerce)
  • BigCommerce
  • Wix
  • Webflow
  • Squarespace
  • Etsy
  • Prestashop
  • Big Cartel
  • Magento
  • Storenvy
  • Ecwid

Driving traffic to your POD store

Driving traffic to your print-on-demand store can be done in many ways. One method is to have paid advertising. You can use Facebook, Google, Pinterest, TikTok, and any other social media.

The benefit of using social media is targeting an audience that fits the interest of your store. You can then optimize the audience using the initial data to refine your targeting.

You can also target individual influencers, paying them a price to advertise your product. If you take this approach, you should choose somebody who represents your niche in one way or another. Say your niche is about Rottweilers. An influencer who happens to have a Rottweiler could be an excellent choice to do paid promotions with.

You can also personalize your designs with influencers. In other words, collaborate with them to create a design that is yours and theirs. It will make them feel more unique, and they’d push it more to their audience.

Another way to advertise is to grow your store organically. You can use a range of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to ensure that your store ranks for keywords and searches on search engines like Google. This is a learning curve if you have never done it before, and can take up to six months for search engines to pick it up and rank you. I would suggest implementing acceptable SEO practices from the beginning but not relying on them for sales.

Another organic way is to make social media content. Creating engaging content on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media can help increase your brand and store’s awareness. However, try to avoid the mistake of trying to sell something with every post. Nobody wants to see a page full of adverts. Add some entertainment value, at least!

As people come to your site, checkout, browse around or whatever else they do, try to capture their email. Offering an incentive such as 10% off in exchange for their email is an excellent method to grow your list. You can use your plan to market to your customers afterward. Especially on event days like Black Friday, Christmas, Easter, and so on.

Optimizing your store

Eventually, as your traffic builds up, you will have tracked more and more customers. It would give you a good idea of what type of people land and checkout at your shop, as well as knowing where they drop. Facebook Pixel can give you some of that information you can then refine and target more accurately customers and previous visitors.

Learn more

Resources found in this post.

So I hope you got some helpful tips and tricks from this short guide. Suppose you want to dive deeper into some of the strategies and methods. In that case, you can pre-order the course Profitable POD Store today at 67% off for a limited time only.

Pre-order the course. It takes you step-by-step on how to build a successful print-on-demand store. It includes exact methods and details to finding a profitable niche.

It covers the best way to find designers for your POD store and how to avoid mistakes a lot of POD stores make, preventing them from becoming successful.

The course also would cover how to create designs that resonate with your target audience to create an emotional urge to purchase.

As a bonus, it includes marketing strategies and an in-depth guide to optimizing Facebook ads to work best for your store, so you continue to grow.

Additional bonuses: The guide will cover how to write compelling product descriptions and a few other surprises to enhance your store.

LIMITED TIME OFFER: Pre-order price $49 (Save 67%)

Pre order for $49 today! Full price on release $149

Hey! I am Captain POD, and I want to tell you about all that I know about building a successful business using Print-on-Demand! Whether it's a side hustle, full-time job or a hobby.