Thursday, 27 March 2014

About selling t-shirts

So you think making and selling t-shirt designs would be a good way to earn some cash? This may and may not be true, depending on what you think a good way to earn money is and there are some important things you’d want to know before giving it a try.

I don’t mean to sound disheartening, on the contrary, I’d like to encourage you by preparing you for what lies ahead.

First, it’s not a “get rich fast” thing. It’s a business, and as every business, it requires investments, in this case mainly time, but also some money. I’ve already dedicated two months to doing research, making designs, setting up my online store and I am only now beginning to advertise on tumblr, deviantart and blogger, and I am yet to make my own website and facebook and g+ pages. And to actually sell my first t-shirt.

For some people things may progress faster, but as far as I’ve gathered from different online forums, the general case is that months should pass for things to get going.

And second, selling designs involves a lot more than just making and uploading them.

So, here’s a list of most of the things I have been busy with during those two months.

1. First of all, doing my research.
- What kind of designs people are interested in? Do I want to make a bunch of almost identical designs, make text t-shirts by the dozen and overall flood the internet with easy to make, stupid t-shirts, or invest time and efforts into making more clever, more artistic and better executed designs? And which ones would the customers prefer? (The answer isn’t that obvious as it might seem.)

- Is it OK to use pop cultural references, copyrighted material, etc.? (I’ll cover the copyright thing in a separate blog entry later on.)

- What about getting paid once the money starts raining? What do I have to know in order to fill my W-8Ben tax form? What documents do I need in order to apply for an ITIN number at the IRS (since I am a non-resident alien)? How and where can I certify a copy of my passport, so that the IRS accepts it?

- What kind of an online retailer it would be better to start working with? One that accepts all kinds of designs for all kinds of products, like Zazzle, Cafepress, Spreadshirt, etc., or one that prints limited quantities of t-shirts that have gathered enough likes, like Threadless or Qwertee? One that is popular and has tons of customers and designers, or one that has less (meaning that it will be easier to get noticed, but there are fewer people who buy from there in general)?

2. Once I’d made my choice (I chose Zazzle, but I’m beginning to think I should have tried a smaller retailer like Wordans), I had to get used to adjusting my designs to the particular requirements. It’s small things, mostly, but there are different details you have to take into account –ppi, files size, file format, working with CMYK or RGB, etc. Some retailers require 150ppi for t-shirts, others 200 or 300, some have a print area of 14” x 12”, some 11” x 11”, some use one printing method, others use others (for example there are very strict guidelines for plot printing on Spreadshirt) and so on. This is not that much of a problem, particularly if you are working with vector images, but it takes time, especially if you are uploading to several different sites.

Additionally, different sites have different systems for uploading designs and creating products, and they can be particularly tedious. I’m getting used to that of Zazzle, which is relatively user-friendly, but I gave up on that of Cafepress, which is simply abysmal.

3. Making the designs themselves. For now I stick to simpler designs, but I do intend to switch to more artistic and complex ones, as soon as my (hopefully) improving skills allow it. And I usually spend a lot of time even on simple vector graphics, because I want everything to be perfect. Which is stupid, because most people won’t notice the details, but I feel satisfied when I know I've done my job properly.

4. Some of my designs involve drawing, so I had to get used to working with a graphics tablet. It’s not as simple as I thought, there are various options (most of which I’m yet to take advantage of) and it takes time to start feeling at least somewhat comfortable with it.

5. Wasting time. Not procrastinating, but working on designs which eventually don’t turn out that good or get rejected for copyright reasons, taking hours to do something the hard way, when it could have been done a lot easier and faster, etc. These situations are bound to occur, but I try to think that I learn from them and this will save me time in the long run. (This is probably sloblock, but you gotta stay positive.)

6. Advertising my products. When I created my first few products on Zazzle, I didn’t expect to get rich within a week, but I was hoping for an occasional sale now and then. My expectations were based mainly on this video. The guy apparently made a hundred bucks in three months with just two simple designs and without doing anything else then uploading them. So If I uploaded ten designs on 100 products, I should expect regular sales each week, right? Well, that’s not really how it works. Zazzle is flooded with products and to get noticed, you have to make a lot more than 100 products and to advertise yourself. Make a website, a facebook page, blogs, everything, tag your products, use links, META descriptions and other basic SEO stuff. All of this takes time.

I am still in the beginning, as I mentioned above, I haven’t even sold a t-shirt yet, so I can hardly make any general conclusions, but I can say that it’s not that scary, at least if you can find your way around the Internet, you like new challenges and the activities described above don’t sound confusing.

But it is involving, you have to keep your store active, make new designs and advertise, which means dedicating some hours to your t-shirt business every day.

And you have to stay positive. Sometimes you might feel that your efforts are never going to pay off, but there are a lot of other people who have walked that road and participating in the forums (, the Zazzle forum, etc.) can cheer you up.

In my future posts I will take closer look at some of the issues mentioned above. Take care for now!

- Lyubomir

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