The internet is a wonderful place to discover new niches and one that is gaining a lot of popularity these days is creative designed T-shirts. You could see them everywhere on online stores. It seems like a fun thing to do, but can you make money selling T-shirts for the long term?
This article will compare three business models that are commonly used by T-shirtpreneurs and explain the pros and cons that you need to be aware of.
The Setup Process
Before we get into the details, let’s look at some setup basics. Just like selling other apparel online, it’s always good to have a platform that can be utilized to present the products to the viewers. If this platform is something that you owned, even better because then, it gives you more control on how to market the products.
There are generally three steps involved in creating an online presence for a T-shirt business project.
- First, you’ll need a custom domain and a website; I recommend using WordPress since it is one of the most versatile platforms out there. The cost of a domain plus a web hosting service could average to about $30 per month.
- Second, you need to source for designers who are good and know what looks nice on a T-shirt. If you have those skills, that’s great. If not, search for them through professional freelance sites – they cost somewhere between $50 to $200 per assignment. Some people use gigs from Fiverr (that’s $5 per assignment), but I’ll be cautious with that since cheap stuff usually comes with some kind of risks.
- Next, you’ll need to source for printing services that produce good quality workmanship in terms of fabric selection and the final product. Trust me, T-shirts that are both durable and comfortable to wear are the qualities that make people buy them over again.
Once you have those resources in place, marketability is what you want to scale in terms of running a profitable business. So let’s see which one is the best choice for you.
#1 Online Retail
When it comes to retailing, it’s important to learn how to set up an online store and fortunately, this can be done through the WooCommerce solution on WordPress. Most startups employ this method for selling T-shirts and it can be done in two ways.
- Buy From Suppliers
You would buy T-shirts in bulk at wholesale price and have them printed with your own designs before you market the product in your online store.
The Pros – You are in total control of the T-shirt quality, what designs to print and how much profit margin you want to earn.
The Cons – You’ll need a team to make this profitable for the long term. Imagine the amount of time required to search for suppliers, hiring designers, marketing online and processing orders from the customers. It involves a lot of work and overstocking is the last thing you want to happen.
Honestly, this method is becoming dated due to its risky nature. Most people are now moving away from the inventory model to new technology that can print and get T-shirts out there faster.
- Print-On-Demand (POD)
What happened in this new technology is that, when customers buy a T-shirt through your online store, the order gets sent to a printing company for producing the final product. The company then goes on to fulfill the order by shipping the T-shirt to the customers with your own label printed – pretty much like dropshipping.
Here’s a video overview to help you visualize the system.
The Pros – The major overhead here is the printing service, but you only need to pay for that AFTER making a sale so that greatly reduces the risk of overstocking. Without having to manage inventory and orders, the focus is now on more important things like getting the best designs and scaling your business through various marketing channels.
Most of these printing services pick up orders automatically from your eCommerce solutions without having you to intervene so that’s really convenient. Plus, they usually come with other merchandise too, so you can use the same design to print on a variety of products and increase your sales profit.
The Cons – It is still not a one-man’s job. If you are serious about scaling this type of business, you need to consider hiring professional designers who can produce consistent results and virtual assistants to do content marketing, social marketing and so on. You also have very little control over the printing quality and fulfillment services. So if the printer company screws up, this will negatively affect your brand reputation too.
Fortunately, there are a few reputable drop shipping companies out there that can help you get started easily. Order a T-shirt sample and see if you like to work with them for the long term.
- Custom Cat
- Print Aura
#2 Targeted Campaigns
Targeted T-shirt campaigns is also part of the POD industry, but instead of selling the whole year round, a design is usually listed for a particular time period that targets a set of audience. The campaign basically ends when a monetary goal is achieved.
The Pros – This sales model is great for fundraising purposes. As we all know, T-shirt is a great way to raise awareness and many people are more than happy to purchase for a good cause. In the business sense, you can actually create something that is unique and interesting where most online retailers may not offer for a certain group of people.
The Cons – This method requires diligent niche research and understanding what is trending around you. It’s not only about the designs, but the context also has to be relevant and appealing to the buyers. For that to happen, paid advertising is crucial as it brings you targeted audience in a short time, but it can be a costly business.
Benny Hsu, who makes $100,000 selling T-shirts on Facebook claimed that he spent over $50K in Facebook ads alone.
Online advertising isn’t for the faint-hearted and you clearly need to know what you are doing – what niche and what design sells – before mapping out the campaign. Anyway, if you are still interested in this route, here are some popular platforms to check out.
#3 Affiliate Marketing
In the affiliate marketing model, you are not actually selling, but promoting T-shirts made by others. Earnings are based on sales commissions that usually range between 7% to 15%. What you need to do is to create a blog, partner with affiliate programs and drive visitors to the merchant’s site for them to complete their purchase.
The Pros – Creating a blog is easy and cheap – there’s no need to scout for designers or set up an online store, so that keeps your overhead to the most minimum. It’s an ideal make-money online model for anyone who have the passion for all-things T-shirts, be it the creative side (think funny, sports and geeky) or the business side (think about printing platforms) of things.
Most programs have fine prints that will walk you through the signup process. To search for them, simply go to Google and enter “T-shirts affiliate programs” or search under affiliate networks. Here’s a list that I’ve compiled for you.
<list of affiliate programs + commission + network/private offers>
The Cons – The source of traffic for blogging usually comes from the search engines and this can take a while to see its effect, especially for beginners who are new to the concept of keyword research and SEO.
Without using the proper keywords, one could potentially end up with a bunch of articles that are not relevant and worst, cannot convert into sales. Without a good understanding of how the search engine works, Google will never be able to index and rank your blog for the users. So this knowledge has to go hand-in-hand as you venture into the world of T-shirt affiliate marketing.
Success with blogging is not something that can be achieved overnight, but when you do master the skills, it will reward you with massive online traffic and potentially, long term recurring income.
What’s Your Idea of a Creative T-shirt?
In what seems like an oversaturated industry, my research tells me that there is a lot of opportunity for this type of business to thrive online. It’s somewhat a finicky niche, but definitely an interesting one. So, can you make money selling T shirts? Of course, but you need to know which approach is the best for your current situation and budget.
Most of the stories that you heard from successful T-shirtpreneurs have one thing in common – they started without any experience and went through plenty of trials and errors before figuring out what works for them. Chances are, you’d have to go through the same process too.
I hope this article has provided you with some helpful information and if you need extra guidance on how to build a successful online business, please check out my recommended training platform here.
“Successful people are the ones who are breaking the rules.” – Seth Godin
Question – What are your thoughts about this topic? Do you have anything to add? Please leave your comment in the space below to get some discussion going.
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