15 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your Print-on-Demand T-Shirt Business

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your Print-on-Demand T-Shirt Business
With many entrepreneurs branching into this business, the print-on-demand market has gotten competitive. Make sure you don’t make these common mistakes when starting your own t-shirt business.
The print-on-demand business is growing exponentially. With many entrepreneurs branching into this business, the print-on-demand market has gotten competitive. This has led to the creation of several print-on-demand services that take the load off you, especially when while learning the ropes.
The Heidorn Report: Merch Research & Strategy Guide

The print-on-demand business is growing exponentially.

The T-shirt printing market is said to have a projected growth of up to 10 billion dollars by the year 2025.

With many entrepreneurs branching into this business, the print-on-demand market has gotten competitive.

Starting an online Tshirt business is one of the growing trends for marketing and e-commerce.

Image of print on demand tshirts
T-shirts| Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This has led to the creation of several print-on-demand services that take the load off you, especially when still learning the ropes.  

Although these services have been a godsend for many, mistakes will still occur – as with any business starting up.

However, there are mistakes you can avoid that will hopefully save you thousands of dollars in the process.

1. Putting Minimal Effort Into Design

As mentioned, the print-on-demand industry is constantly growing.

With the market so competitive, it would be foolish to fail to invest in your design process.

You’re joining an industry with already established stores with a good reputation.

You will need to set yourself apart from the existing and upcoming business.  

Poor quality designs are off-putting for starting an online tshirt business.

If your customers do not like your designs, they will not be back. This is damaging to your store and your brand as well. 

We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work

Thomas A. Edison

If you’re not a designer, I would advise that you invest in a qualified and talented designer.

Make sure that the designer fits with your brand and is also able to work well with you.

In the design process, be sure to stay away from generic designs that can be easily sourced.

It is important to establish your niche and make designs that are in line with your brand.

Image of a design on a t-shirt
Cool T-shirt design| Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

2. Neglecting Customer Service

As with any business, how your clients feel when they buy from you is important especially in starting an online tshirt business.

When starting up your print-on-demand business, you will most likely have a small team.

However, you cannot fail to put in work when it comes to customer care.

With any online store, a good store rating not only gets clients coming back but also acts as a marketing tool when drawing in new clients.

You will probably spend a lot of time answering client emails on everything from shipping details to general inquiries on the product.

Make sure to invest time in this process, especially early on when gaining your first few clients.

They will help you promote your business and they will potentially be return clients.

The Heidorn Report: Merch Research & Strategy Guide

3. Being Unprepared for the Holidays

The holidays are the busiest time for many e-commerce sites.

With people rushing to get last-minute gifts, you might get overwhelmed and may over promise and under deliver.

Planning for the holiday season should begin as early as July or August.

Starting an online Tshirt business means preparing in advance and taking advantage of these special days.

Get your product shots in order and have your designs already created.

If you plan on promoting your store in the media or on social media networks, this would be the time to create a marketing strategy.

The price of stability is unpreparedness

Anthony Ryan, Queen of Fire

The holidays are hectic; it is advisable to have a run-through of how orders will be taken and delivered to make sure customers have all their products in time.

Don’t let the holiday season get the better of you.

4. Handling All Operations on Your Own

You probably think you can run a successful print-on-demand business on your own.

However, as you continue to grow, you will quickly realize that you cannot handle all aspects of the operation.

It is important to delegate as much as possible.

If you’re not good at design, hiring a qualified designer would be wise.

If you have no idea how to go about marketing and don’t have the time to learn, then you need to hire a professional marketer to take on this role so you can focus on other tasks.

Delegating is important for any business owner, especially once the orders start coming in.

It will keep your business running and profitable at the same time.

Starting an online Tshirt business does not necessarily mean that you need to have full-time employees.

You can hire freelancers to work on specific projects for example someone to handle your accounts and someone else to work on your website’s landing page.

5. Having Inconsistent Cash Flow

As your print-on-demand business begins to grow, it is expected that the demand for your products will increase.

Therefore, your supply will also have to increase and this means your expenses will be more.

When starting an online Tshirt business, expect to have a low profit for a few months before it picks up. 

So before you quit your full-time job, it’s important to analyze the business and secure funding. 

Seasoned business-owners advise new businesses to have enough operating cash for at least 90 days.

During this period, you might not have any sales yet and this will give you room to focus on gaining clients and improving your marketing strategies.

When using print-on-demand services, remember to set money aside for operational costs before client sales start coming in.

Depending on how your customer is paying you, it might take up to 21 days for you to receive your first payment.

During this time, you will still have orders that you need to supply.

The Heidorn Report: Merch Research & Strategy Guide

6. Not Checking if Your Designs Have Been Copyrighted

This is one of the most important aspects when starting an online Tshirt business.

When scouring the web for inspiration, remember that you cannot take any design and use it on your t-shirts.

This is illegal and your store will be penalized.

Designs once created are automatically copyrighted and using them without permission as your own is illegal.

However, if you like a design, you can use it as inspiration and use it to create something similar.

For catchphrases, you’ll have to do a search on your country’s trademark search engine and check if the phrase has already been trademarked.

Trademarks are filed in each country.

So if a phrase is trademarked in England, it might not be trademarked in the United States.

So you are legally allowed to use it in the United States. 

Be sure to do your research before using a phrase.

7. Failing To Choose a Niche

Picking a niche for your print-on-demand may seem like you’re boxing yourself in.

You may be tempted to think that by having a general store, your pool of customers is wider.

This is rarely the case when starting an online Tshirt business .

By choosing a niche, you will set yourself apart from the vast competition already out there.

Having a niche store shows your potential customers that you are an expert in your industry. 

Choosing a niche also helps you leverage SEO marketing and this in turn brings more traffic to your site and gets you noticed.

As a generalist, you’ll have more competition and it will be harder for you to break out in the business.

Having a niche will also reduce confusion when potential clients land on your page.

When people have too many choices, it is often harder for them to make a conclusive decision.

Having a specific niche also gives your brand its identity.

Following trends will mean that you always have to stay ahead of the game.

Constantly checking to see what’s in so you can break out.

This is extremely difficult to do.

By having a specific area of specialty, you can concentrate on one area and work on perfecting your craft.

8. Overpromising Clients

As your business takes off, you’ll probably get excited and sometimes ahead of yourself.

Even in your excitement, you should never promise a client something that you cannot deliver.

Overpromising will have you spending more than you intended to.

You may rush to fulfill an order by a certain date and incur higher shipping costs.

You may even fail to fulfill an order and this could lead to a negative review and lost clients.

When it comes to starting an online Tshirt business, it is important to set realistic expectations.

Ones that you’re able to fill and those that the client will be content with.

If you’re unable to deliver – let the client know.

9. Creating General Mockups for Your Products

Advertising is a big part of any print-on-demand business.

Starting an online Tshirt business means choosing the best advertising method that works for your brand.

Creating general mockups of your t-shirts will not create the buzz you need to get clients coming back to your site.

Having lifestyle images will boost your engagement and ultimately your sales.

Having lifestyle pictures for your designs can be an expensive process.

However, with services such as Placeit, you can add your designs to lifestyle images already in their gallery.

Be sure to choose images that are relevant to your designs and what you are offering.

The Heidorn Report: Merch Research & Strategy Guide

10. Failing To Get Feedback

It’s human nature for us to think that our designs or ideas are the best things out there especially when we are starting an online Tshirt business.

We need to gain objective feedback to know areas where we need to improve on.

You can do this by asking trusted family and friends to give you their opinion on how your products look and even how your online store looks.

Constructive criticism is needed for anyone to succeed.

We’re likely to overestimate our abilities, so you should take any opportunity for feedback.

Be sure to consult from someone you trust and whose opinion/s you value greatly.

11. Overusing Scarcity as a Technique

Using scarcity is a well-known psychological tool to get people buying your products.

It creates a sense of urgency and they are more likely to purchase before it runs out.

Scarcity is a powerful tool that needs to be applied strategically.

If overused, your customers will get suspicious and may not trust you.

The number of limited products should be down to about a third of your products in the store.

This will make this technique more realistic.

12. Poor Facebook Advertising

Facebook is one of the biggest advertising platforms out there.

Although advertising on the platform costs money, it has helped small businesses break out.

Facebook is a great advertising tool that allows you to target specific groups that your designs are geared to.

You will be able to choose your audience based on age, gender, location, and sites they frequently visit.

When advertising, be sure to check that your niche does not have restrictions with their advertising rules.

This might also determine the niche you choose. 

Choosing a niche that is sexual in nature may be harder to advertise on Facebook.

Make sure you go through Facebook policies to see what niches are banned from advertising.

13. Failing To Invest In Your Online Store

Your store is your first line of connection between your customers and your brand.

You need to have a website that reflects your style and design.

A website that catches the eye of the customer will make them stay longer and they will eventually purchase products off your site.

Studies have shown that having a website that is pleasing to the eye leads to greater conversion and higher sales.

As you invest money in your design, be sure to put similar effort into your web page and its functionality as well.

Make sure the colors, font, and design of your web are in line with how you want to represent your brand.

Image of print on demand products
T-shirt designing| Photo by Luis Cortés on Unsplash

14. Failing To Have a Backup Plan

As with any other venture, a lot can go wrong – and quickly.

You could have new orders ready to go and the last minute your supplier backs out.

This will put you in a panic and you’ll be frantically looking for a supplier and you might not be able to fulfill all your orders.

Having a print-on-demand business means that you need to have a list of alternative suppliers in case your regular supplier is unable to provide what you need.

This is especially true if you’re not using services such as Redbubble or Spreadshirt that handle this aspect of the business.

15. Choosing the Wrong Supplier

You might get tempted to choose the cheapest supplier who can fulfill your orders.

When starting an online Tshirt business, cheaper options most of the time does not translate to higher quality.

Choosing the wrong supplier will mean that your clients will be dissatisfied with their orders due to poor quality.

This might result in refunds and this will affect your profit margin.

When choosing a supplier, base your decision on more than price.

Check reviews and ratings on their customer service and delivery speed.

The Bottom Line

Print-on-demand businesses can be rewarding – especially when done right.

If you’re looking to start this business, be sure to avoid these mistakes and you will be one step ahead of your competition.

If you have already started your business, evaluate this list, and see which mistakes you’re making and make the necessary changes.

The Heidorn Report: Merch Research & Strategy Guide
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