Print on demand is great for standing out in a crowded online marketplace, allowing you to sell unique products online without much financial risk. If you’re a small business embarking on your first print on demand venture, here are five useful tips to help you along the way.
Tip #1 – Seek feedback on your designs
Choosing a print on demand model already puts you ahead of most dropshipping stores by allowing you to offer products with unique features. Your designs are what you’re selling at the end of the day – not just a t-shirt or a tote bag. If your designs are appealing, selling and promoting your merchandise becomes much easier.
Creativity is important, obviously, and it’s a good idea to try out lots of options before settling on the best ones. If you’re not a designer yourself, consider hiring a local illustrator or sourcing one from Fiverr. With some solid examples under your belt, you can then go about seeking unbiased feedback in the following ways:
- Posting them on discussion platforms, like Reddit Design Critiques
- Posting them on portfolio sharing sites like Behance or Dribble
- Sharing them with industry professionals
Always remember to watermark your images so they can’t be stolen. And remember, the more positive reactions you get at this stage, the more potential customers you will have ready and waiting when you come to launch – so be sure to keep them updated.
Tip #2 – Don’t scrimp on quality
Poor printing, cheap materials and shoddy workmanship will not help you gather loyal customers. The quality of your products reflects the quality of your brand. Therefore, it’s important to choose your supplier and your print items carefully. Don’t be tempted to sacrifice quality to give yourself a slightly higher profit margin – in the long term, this won’t do you any favors.
When you’re printing onto clothes (t-shirts, for example), quality varies widely on everything from the fit of the t-shirt to the weight and softness of the material. The only way to make an informed decision is to order a range of samples in different styles and colors so you can handle them in person. Here’s how to tell if that t-shirt is actually a good quality product (hint: it’s all in the fabric).
Tip #3 – Keep an eye on your fees
When it comes to print on demand, a lot of people (particularly designers) start out using a service like Redbubble. Redbubble is essentially an online marketplace for POD products, and while it’s great that they handle all of the manufacturing and shipping for you, the cut that you make as an artist is really quite small.
That’s why most eventually make the jump to creating their own online store or Etsy shop instead. And yes, the running costs go up – but so does your profit potential.
Of course, you want to make sure it’s manageable and that these fees don’t build up and get on top of you. Here’s what you should factor in:
- Ecommerce platform costs – for a comprehensive hosted solution like Shopify, you’re looking at a minimum of $29 per month. Alternatively, you can try installing the WooCommerce plugin for WordPress, but you will still have to pay for hosting and your SSL certificate separately.
- Fulfillment costs – luckily, a lot of POD fulfillment plugins and apps (like Printful and Printify) are free to use, but you’ll still need to order samples and look at their shipping costs. Samples might set you back a few hundred dollars (it depends on the product type) in the beginning, but it’s well worth it to ensure that your product lives up to expectations.
- Payment processing – this might catch you out if you’re new to the world of ecommerce. Even if you’re using something like PayPal or Stripe, payment processing fees still apply. PayPal, for example, takes 2.9% plus $0.30 of the amount you receive. Be sure to factor this into your financial plan.
- Advertising and marketing – when you run your own online store instead of using a marketplace like Redbubble, you won’t get a comparable level of steady traffic to your products – so you need to budget for advertising. Digital marketing budgets are increasing, with the average budget standing at 7-12% of total revenue – though for small companies, this percentage is generally higher.
- Returns and refunds – unless the product is lost or damaged, print on demand fulfilment companies generally won’t allow a return or provide a refund. Consequently, you will need to decide whether to adopt the same policy, or absorb the costs to keep customers happy. More on this below.
Tip #4 – Take advantage of dropshipping
Dropshipping is a great business model for POD entrepreneurs selling products like prints, t-shirts, bags and phone cases, removing the need to carry inventory or ship products so you can focus on managing your store. This means you can run a POD dropshipping business from anywhere in the world, provided you have a laptop and internet connection.
Along with integrations like Printful, dropshipping platforms like AliExpress provide a wealth of suppliers you can contact to print and deliver your designs, which can be particularly useful if you’re looking for something specific that isn’t offered by the mainstream POD apps. Importing and managing products from AliExpress is extremely simple and easy.
A few things to bear in mind with dropshipping:
- Try a few different dropshippers before signing a contract with one specific provider
- Understand that your profit margins will be lower, even if you get lots of orders
- Don’t choose a provider that can’t offer 24/7 customer support – if and when something goes wrong, you’ll be glad you chose a supplier who’ll resolve things quickly
Tip #5 – Handling refunds and exchanges
As previously mentioned, POD suppliers rarely offer refunds or exchanges, the reason being that they’re unable to resell an item once it’s been printed. So you essentially have two options: maintain the same stance as your supplier and don’t offer refunds or exchanges (unless the product is lost or damaged), or accept refunds and exchanges and absorb the cost yourself.
If you take the former route, then you ensure you don’t lose out financially – but you have to make your policy very clear to customers as they check out. If you don’t, they’ll feel cheated if they later request a refund and are refused. The downside of this approach is that you risk upsetting customers either way.
If you take the second route, refunding or exchanging items as requested, then you lose money on the transaction, but you maintain your customers’ goodwill, making them more likely to shop with you again in future – and less likely to spread negative comments.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach this: just be clear about what your policy is so there are no nasty surprises. If you do absorb the cost of refunds, you should remember to factor this into your financial projections.
Hopefully these five tips will prove helpful as you start selling your own print on demand products. Got questions about print on demand or any of the points discussed? Get in touch and let us know. We’ll be happy to help.