By Ilene Johnson
So you want to ditch corporate America, work for yourself, be your own boss. You want your commute to be a trip to your downstairs office where you can work in your pajamas if you want to. Nice thought, but what on earth would you do to make this dream possible?
Maybe know some witty sayings and thought they would look cool on t-shirts or maybe you are artistically talented and want to sell some of your creations on t-shirts. I personally went this route a few years ago when I started selling my own creations online. I overcame a few stumbling blocks along the way and can share what I wish I knew at the beginning.
Where do I go?
There are many websites where you can sell your designs but the three biggest are Cafepress, Printfection and Zazzle. Each company has its own line of t-shirts and gifts. These companies are best bets for first-timer to open a shop and be successful.
Cafepress is the leader by far. You can open a free shop with limited products or you can open a Premium shop for about $5 a month where you can have an unlimited number of products and designs. You can also personalize the shop any way you like. In addition, your designs are available in the Cafepress marketplace, where the buying public can find them with a keyword search. Cafepress makes it easy to put your images on many products at once with their bulk upload tools. You pick a product name, description and image and put these on all the shirts and all the other products you select at one time. None of the other online vendors have this feature.
One drawback is that Cafepress has become a victim of its own success. As it has grown, the marketplace is crowded and the print quality is spotty. Sometimes the site is down, or slow.
Another company, Zazzle, is giving Cafepress a run for its money and with a $16 million investment from Google investors may blow Cafepress out of the water.
I first discovered Zazzle years ago when my husband custom-designed a motorcycle shirt at the request of the local Harley dealership for the top executive at Buell motorcycles. My husband, a graphic designer, was impressed with the retail quality of the printing. I didn’t initially open a store with Zazzle because I could not name my markup.
This has changed. You can not only custom design a t-shirt or gift but you can put the creation in the Zazzle Marketplace and in your own Zazzle Gallery for sale to the general public and name a markup up to 50% of the product price. Each image is featured on a model rather than just on a boring old t-shirt stock image. Your customers can then further customize the products before they purchase them. I have tested the Zazzle features myself and am very pleased with the results. The images upload quickly and the products are available almost immediately in the Zazzle marketplace. The only thing lacking at this writing is the bulk-editing tools available on Cafepress. Those tools are coming to Zazzle as of first quarter 2008. And this isn’t a pie-in-the-sky promise. Zazzle is a serious competitor. I have had the opportunity to beta test one of the bulk tools, the bulk uploader for images. I recently uploaded 100 images in about 10 minutes to a folder of my choice with no downtime and no connection drop-off. All I can say about this tool is WOW!
Printfection is the third online vendor. It has a nice selection of shirt styles but no infant apparel and a limited selection of gifts. Printfection probably wanted to combine the best of both Cafepress and Zazzle but has not grown in the past year. There are no bulk editing tools for putting your design on multiple products at once, and none seem to be on the horizon. Opening a shop is free and the owners are enthusiastic and listen to their shopkeepers, but without a big capital investment, market visibility for this company is limited. Customers visit Cafepress and Zazzle websites more often.
What do I sell?
So what the heck do I sell, is one of the first questions people ask. What kinds of designs do people like? The most successful sellers find a niche. Popular niches include life changes such as birthdays, weddings, moms and babies. Also popular are international and ethnic designs, politics, holidays, and awareness designs for breast cancer or autism. Photography and very arty designs such as fractals do not seem to sell very well unless you already have a following before you open your shop. It does not mean that your art is not very good; it just means that the buying public is looking for something else. That is the most important thing to keep in mind. It will save your ego!
How much can I make and is it worth it?
How big are the checks? The simple answer is that the more unique designs you have, the more you earn. Some people earn as little as the minimum check amount, which is $25, but others earn as much as $3000 a month and some others even make Cafepress’ 20% bonus category, which is $10,000 in base sales.
The most important advice for success at any of these websites is to keep adding new designs. Equally important is to give your products good titles and descriptions using words that a customer might type into a Google search. And do not even think about copying somebody else’s design because your products will be removed. Read the message boards on each of these sites because they are an excellent free learning environment with tips for building your shops and trends in the business.