Q: Can you REALLY make money selling T-shirts online?
A: YES! Is it easy? No way. It does take hard work if you want to make a business out of it. Can you get lucky and simply dream up the next “big thing” and have it take off without any work? Sure. But do not count on it.
Q: How much “hard work” are you talking about?
A: If you want to do it full time you should consider putting in at least as much work as you would a regular job (i.e. at least 40 hours per week). If you are just looking to supplement your income I’d say you need to be able to commit at a minimum 20 hours a week to selling t-shirts for profit on the internet. Personally I put in a lot more than that.
Q: Ok, seriously, how much money do YOU make?
A: Enough to keep realizing that selling t-shirts on line is a serious way to make money. Realize that I also work a full time “regular” job as an engineer so if I am going to spend hours working at selling t-shirts I have to be making a comparable amount doing that to what I would make if I worked extra hours for my boss. And engineers are not cheap.
Q: How do I sell t-shirts on the internet?
A: The best way is to set up with one of the many “one-off” producers around the internet. I personally use Cafepress because in my experience they are hands down the best for this purpose in terms of product selection, quality, user interface, and features. But there are also other companies including Zazzle and Spreadshirt.
Q: What will this cost me?
A: Most of these sites have free memberships. What they do is allow you to upload your designs to their galleries and then they do all of the heavy lifting in terms of providing a showcase for your designs, printing the shirts, shipping and order handling. Some sites like Cafepress (again my personal favorite) have “premium” memberships that cost a few dollars a month and give access to additional features like customizable home pages, additional product selection, etc. These costs are usually so small that one or two sales a month would cover it.
Q: How do I make money if someone else is selling my design?
A: These sites pay you a commission based on the price of product that is sold containing your design. Some of these sites let you set your own “markup” and some also offer volume bonuses as well. Then usually every month they send you check if you exceed whatever minimum amount is set for them to justify sending you a check. If you don’t reach that minimum amount, do not worry. They will send you a check as soon as you gain enough sales to qualify.
Q: Can I really compete with brick and mortar stores selling t-shirts on the internet? I hear some of the prices I have to charge are higher!
A: The answer is yes, you can easily compete with the Wal-Marts of the world selling brand name merchandise at rock bottom prices because you are not selling that stuff. What you are selling is unique (at least they better be unless you have all sorts of Copyright and licensing agreements) designs that people cannot buy anywhere else.
Q: What kind of designs sell?
A: You’d be surprised. Basically anything will sell that you can dream up from t-shirts with slogans to full color murals. Just remember however that simple designs can become wildly popular but if they are just a shirt that says “bite me” in Arial lettering there is little is stopping someone else from making it cheaply themselves.
Q: What if I don’t have any artistic ability? How can I design and sell t-shirts?
A: Well, you have two options. You could find a friend who does have some artistic ability and knows how to use graphic design software and go into business together. Or maybe you could just open what are known as “affiliate” shops. Cafepress, for example, lets you sell other people’s merchandise and earn 20% on all sales.
Q: Ok, how much is Cafepress paying you to schlep their services?
A: Nothing. I am simply one of their most successful shopkeepers generating plenty of sales each month to warrant a nice check from them. I believe in their business model and they have helped me generate extra cash so I just really, really, really like them as a company.
Q: Do I need to start my own official business to sell t-shirts online?
A: The laws in each state are different so I would suggest consulting an attorney. There are certainly advantages to making the business official by forming it into a partnership or corporation or what have you but generally it is not necessary. But be aware that if you make money selling t-shirts you are looking at having to pay taxes on that money.
Q: What about selling t-shirts offline? Can I make money doing that?
A: Sure, but there are generally higher costs involved. For example, you would have to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have stock preprinted, possibly the cost associated with keeping a brick and mortar store front, etc. It can be done however.