Have you ever wanted to combine your creative side with your entrepreneurial side? Chances are you’ve shrugged off the idea because of how expensive it can be to start up.
Fortunately, there’s an online business model that makes it easy and affordable to turn your artistic talents into dollars and cents – it’s called print on demand! Discover what makes it so great, and even get some print on demand ideas, in this guide to running a POD business.
What is print on demand?
Print on demand (POD) is an ecommerce business model whereby you team up with a supplier to sell customized products such as shirts, hats, mugs, calendars, and more. The print on demand sector is nothing to shrug your shoulders at, particularly when you consider the growth brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic (check out how Printful saw an 80% rise in orders and a 44% rise in new stores on their platform).@Printful saw an 80% rise in orders and a 44% rise in new stores on their platform - talk about signs of good things to come for #PrintOnDemand businesses! Click To Tweet
If you’re considering starting a print on demand business, you should be prepared to create the designs and take the orders. Aside from that, the supplier will basically handle the rest of the fulfillment process from printing to packing and delivery. Sounds like a good deal!
Similarly to other dropshipping businesses, running a print on demand business means you don’t need to buy or store any inventory, keeping your overhead costs nice and low. All of that said, we should still give a friendly reminder that “all that glitters is not gold” – starting a print on demand business still has its drawbacks…
Pros and cons of print on demand
Pros of print of demand business 👍
- Establish a unique brand – standing out from the crowd can be hard with an online business. Starting a POD business means you’ll have full control over what your product designs look like and how you brand your small business. That means you can be, well, you! Customers love one-of-a-kind products, give them what they want.
- Personalize your designs – along with making your designs unique to your own taste, you can give your customers the option to personalize the purchases they make through your POD business. Consider offering customers the ability to add a name or message to their product. Find a supplier that offers products in different colors to give customers even more possibilities for personalizing their purchase.
- Easy to test new designs & products – other more ‘traditional’ business models make it difficult and/or risky to try selling new designs or products, but not print on demand businesses! As a POD business owner, all you would need to do is create (or find) the new design you’d like to test out and place an order with your supplier to see how it looks in real life. Of course, you can put it up on your website for a limited time to see how customers like it as well.
Some suppliers even have the ability to show you and your customers a mock-up of how your design will look on the product(s) they have in stock before the order is placed. There’s nothing like getting a free sneak-preview!
- Reduce your overhead costs – if you’re searching for a business model that you can use to keep overhead costs down to a bare minimum, print on demand could be the way to go. There’s no office space to rent (and no utilities to pay in that would-be office), there’s no warehouse you need to pay to store your inventory in, there are no product costs, no equipment you need to purchase or maintain, and no logistics for you to handle. Can it get any better than that?
- It’s a low investment business idea with high-profit potential – enough said on this one!
Cons of print of demand business 👎
- It takes longer to POD than to deliver ready products – compared to other business models where the product units are ready to be shipped out at a moment’s notice, running a print on demand business means each order is (you guessed it) printed on demand. That means the time it takes from payment to delivery will be longer than it would be if you were selling shirts or mugs that already had the designs on them prior to the order being placed.
- You lack control over product quality – it’s inevitable that the design on a graphic t-shirt will fade over time, but how many runs through the wash it survives is the real question. Will it be 5 times? 10 times? 100 times? If the designs on your products fade quickly, chances are you’ll have a difficult time developing a high repeat purchase rate at your POD business.
The same is true if the clothes have loose threads, if the hats don’t fit right, and so on. Fortunately, there are plenty of suppliers you can choose from. If you’re not happy with the quality of products you’re seeing from your supplier, just switch!
- Fulfillment is out of your hands – while on the one hand you don’t need to worry about the actual fulfillment of orders (thank you suppliers!), the downside is that if there are any problems within the fulfillment process there won’t be a whole lot you can do.
If certain products are out of stock or if order volumes see a boom, it’s up to the supplier to correct for those changes. If they’re unable to meet the demand your customers make, you could be stuck in a bit of a sticky situation to explain to your customers.
This is another one of those cases where, if you notice issues frequently happening, you can choose a different supplier to work with.
- Handling returns can be tricky – since POD businesses put the fulfillment in the hands of the supplier, the return process can get a bit complicated. Of course, it depends on the e-commerce platform you’re selling on, as well as your supplier’s return policy, and other factors.
Be sure to get a clear assessment of the rules, regulations, and limitations that are set by all third-parties involved in the return process – and have your own return policy be shaped to fit within all of those boundaries. Handling returns is a little annoying in the first place. Don’t let it become more of a nuisance by having a customer surprised or left waiting for too long.
Tips for starting a print on demand business
Take a look over these top print on demand business tips before you get started!
🔎Choose a niche with true potential
Different niches present different opportunities for a print on demand business. And your own interests (and talents as a designer) certainly play their part in determining which niche is right for you. Moreover, you’ll need to pick a niche that has enough demand for you to generate sales, but one that is not oversaturated with existing stores.
Remember, you want to stand out from the competition – that will be even harder to do if there are too many shops already selling similar products.
🔎Find the ‘right’ products to sell [for your niche]
Along with finding a viable niche for your future print on demand business, you’ll need to do some research to make sure you choose the right products to sell within that niche.
Thinking to start a print on demand t-shirt business? A niche consisting of younger people could be ideal. Funny or sarcastic text could work, or maybe one of your own custom designs. Printing t-shirts with photos of pets might not do quite as well…
Likewise, if you’re considering opening a business for print on demand business cards, you’ll want to make sure your niche consists of professionals. Aiming to sell custom business cards to an audience of 18-24 year olds will be tough going, to say the least.
🔎Invest some real effort into your website’s design
Instead of going to school or becoming a YouTube graduate of professional web design, you can opt to build a Shopify print on demand business from scratch. Creating a website through Shopify is easy even for those of you who aren’t computer geniuses.
Regardless of how you go about it, you’ll want to put real attention to your website’s quality in the customer’s eyes. It takes a fraction of a second for customers to form an opinion about your website – don’t waste that opportunity to get them hooked!
🔎Partner-up with the ‘right’ POD supplier
When you select a POD supplier, you’re also choosing a business partner. Perhaps not in the traditional sense where you split the risk and the reward, but a partnership all the same.
The supplier you end up going with is the supplier you’ll need to regularly communicate about orders, fulfillment, returns, and many other aspects of the business. Ideally, you’ll have easy ways of reaching out to your supplier whenever you need to, and you’ll be able to build a strong relationship with them. Do your due diligence before selecting a POD supplier – look at reviews and check online forums and ask for advice from experienced POD business owners to see what the consensus is for the supplier(s) you’re considering.
As we noted above, you can always switch suppliers if you don’t like the one you’ve gone with. Yes, there are some complications that can arise if you switch – but if it’s a matter of your business’s success, you may have to make that decision.
🔎Develop an effective marketing strategy for your shop
Let’s face it, this is one of the most important aspects of your print on demand business plan. You need to create a unique brand and promote it across the web, and go up against the competition at the same time. A strong e-commerce advertising strategy can make all the difference.
As an online business, you’ll want to be actively marketing your shop across several platforms and websites. A diverse approach to online advertising is a must:
Top Tip: Advertising across several platforms can get confusing for some. Luckily for Shopify sellers, there’s an app that seamlessly integrates with top ad platforms to help make sense of all of that data, and much more. Scroll down to find out more, or click here!
🔎Track, analyze, adjust, and repeat
As with any sort of business, becoming successful doesn’t happen overnight. While some people may say “just give it time”, that’s only half the equation. It’s true you’ll need to wait some time, but while you wait you need to also be tracking how your business progresses. Without some way to look back at the history of your business, how can you really tell how it’s doing now?
For those of you who don’t have the memory of an elephant, you may be familiar with keeping spreadsheets. And listen, we’re not here to hate on spreadsheets – we love spreadsheets. But the reality is that spreadsheets have their limits. So, how can you break those limits to get advanced analysis of your business’s data without all the hassle?
BeProfit – Profit Tracker is the best Shopify app for tracking expenses and profit margins with unbeatable accuracy.
The app turns your store’s complex data into easy-to-understand charts and graphs, helping you make sense of your shop’s real profitability.
On top of that, BeProfit lets you create and export reports – giving you a clearer picture of how your business is performing so you can make data-driven decisions.
Who said tracking Shopify profits & expenses had to be a headache?
What are the best print on demand products to sell?
This can be a bit of a tricky question to give a one-size-fits-all answer for. We mentioned earlier that the products you’ll have the best of luck selling successfully will depend largely on the niche you’re selling in.
Even so, we can look across all the different niches and all the different POD suppliers and see which types of products are most popular in general.
Here are the top 10 best print on demand products to sell:
- Phone cases
- Tote bags
Take your time to find a supplier that offers a wide variety of products. A new idea can come to mind and you’ll want to try selling a different item to spark your customers’ interest. When that day comes, you don’t want to be left looking for a new supplier since that can take a fair bit of time. Feel free to bookmark the list of best POD products above for your future reference when you’re shopping for suppliers.
How do you price print on demand products?
There are plenty of pricing strategies you can use, and the strategy you choose can change over time as your business grows and the industry changes – that’s perfectly normal. To get you started, here are three basic steps you can take to determine how you should price your print on demand products:
1. Identify your production costs
The question is simple: how much will your business be spending on the products being sold? The answer can be a bit more complicated. You’ll need to consider a number of different factors including:
- The value of the design-making process
- The costs for different products as well as printing
- Shipping costs
- Any other per-order fees
2. Factor in your profit margin
After defining how much it costs to have a product produced, you need to decide how much you want to earn from each sale. This is the core principle of the profit motive. Regardless of what other reasons you have for launching your POD business, if you’re not earning a profit you won’t be able to keep the business running for long.
Setting a realistic ‘target’ profit margin takes careful thought. Make it too high and you’ll probably have a hard time keeping your repeat purchase rate strong. Make it too low and you’ll find it slow and difficult to grow your business. Don’t stress too much about it though, you can (and should) reevaluate your profit margins on a regular basis and make adjustments as needed.
3. Adjust for additional costs
You know how much it’ll cost you to produce your goods and how much money you want to earn per sale. Now all you need to do is zoom in on the additional ecommerce expenses to consider when running your POD business.
Here’s a brief look at some of the costs you can expect to encounter when running your print on demand business:
- Platform subscription(s)
- Apps and other services
- Internet and other utilities
Is print on demand worth it?
On the whole, a print on demand business model is fully capable of earning you a profit. The real answer to the question is that it’s up to you. Even when you consider all of the great advantages offered by running a POD business, it will still require dedication on your part. With the information you’ve gotten from this article though, you’re well on your way to starting a profitable POD business. Ready to get started?