Wondering about making POD newbie mistakes with your fledgling print on demand business? And, more importantly-- how to avoid making them?
You’ve come to the right place!
In this blog piece, and the one that follows, I’ll give you the rundown on a few of the mistakes I’ve made, and those that I’ve seen others (especially newbies) make. My goal is to save you some of the hassle of getting started in your print on demand business.
I identify some of the main ones– albeit by by no means an exhaustive list, as they say! I’ve picked the common themes. Mistakes that are easy to make– and also worth fixing.
I’m not here to dampen your enthusiasm for your new business, because that’s just as valuable to you. You just need to manage your expectations, with patience and a desire to get things done the right way. Because, anything done properly at the start is going to take care of you down the line– both in saved time and tempers!
So, spend the time at the front end during ‘construction’, to save time once your store is opened and you want things to be running as smoothly as possible.
Let’s break it down!
Not Optimizing Your Store’s Appearance and Functionality
When you choose your sales platform, be it Shopify or Etsy (my recommendations for beginners), you’ll be excited to dive in and get your store created and published.
There is a lot to learn at this stage though, and plan to afford yourself the space to go through all the set-up instructions provided by your host platform carefully. Get familiar with all the key pieces and moving parts of your account’s backend. It will all start to make sense the more you look around inside it.
A lot of the learning will be in the doing, and it will feel slow at first, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be ‘tech-savvy’. The good news is that you will not need to do any computer coding, so take heart! We have progressed much even in the past several years, and all you will need to do is copy and paste text (for your store policies etc.) and click on buttons to get set up. Feel better now?
Your Store’s Appearance
These are the visuals– and include the following:
Store Theme (Shopify)
Shopify offers a multitude of free and paid themes that you can employ to suit your store and its products.
A theme is the setting for your store’s layout. They each have a different look and setup for product listings and features, and are grouped by industry/products i.e. clothing, jewelry, beauty etc. for optimal presentation.
I always suggest starting with a free theme in Shopify. They are no less appealing than paid themes, just a little less flexible in their functioning capabilities.
Brooklyn is a favorite theme and one of the best free Shopify themes for clothing and accessory stores with a large catalogue.
The theme is comprised of two styles from which to choose– ‘Classic’ and ‘Playful’ – and affords more flexibility for customization of your store and brand message.
Here is how it looks:
As you can see, it makes a clean and bold statement. So, ‘free’ doesn’t have to mean cheap-looking!
In a later blog post I will more closely examine the free themes within Shopify and present their features and benefits.
Store Banner (Etsy)
With Etsy, your store’s template is set as standard. Your main opportunity to stand out and make your first impression is going to be with an eye-catching banner, placed at the top of your store’s page. Again, spend the time on making a quality one. Canva has pre-set templates in the exact dimensions that you will use as the foundation for your design. Be creative, have fun! Set a mood for your store, with evocative photos and inviting colors. This will make visitors want to know more about what you have to offer.
You can also change your banner at any time, for example you may wish to create a special seasonally-themed one for Christmas, or an announcement banner for any sales that you are having. It is completely up to you.
In the below image, you will see how Canva provides a multitude of templates for you to use and amend to suit your branding and products. As always with Canva, never just use the template ‘as-is’ for your purposes. You must make significant changes to the originals to abide by their terms and conditions of use (available on their website).
By the way, if you are keen to learn about all-things-Etsy, I highly recommend that you start following Nancy Badillo on YouTube and subscribe to her emails. She is extremely knowledgeable about selling on the Etsy platform and she shares new information all the time.
I know that I've learned a lot from her, and I also easily recommend her Etsy Mastery Course. You will have it for a lifetime-- and she updates it regularly so that you're kept in the loop of any changes to Etsy, among other topics. I often revisit her lessons for a refresher, or to re-spark my enthusiasm whenever it starts flagging for some reason. (Usually from too many late nights spent adding new lisitngs!) She feels like a friend in the background, motivating me and reminding me of my love for creativity. It's why I got into the business in the first place-- and why I will never leave.
Branding Colors and Logo
In my previous blog post, Successful Branding for eCommerce, I explored the importance of branding for your business. It gives some direction as far as how to decide your branding colors and logo, and overall theme.
If I had to distill that message here, it would be to be position your business as something unique of course, and congruent with your brand’s look, purpose and offerings. And– always go for quality in your logo. I recommend Fiverr as your go-to place for a professional logo. In terms of quality and impact, it should pay for itself in no time. You know the impression you get whenever you land on a website with a dodgy-looking, home-made sketchy logo?
Etsy gives the capacity for ten photos in a listing. Sometimes it’s hard to fill all ten, as per their recommendations, and other times you will wish for ten more! It’s all to do with the product listing and its variations.
In Shopify, you can list as many as you like, or are needed but I recommend at least four to five.
For both platforms, the first photo should be a striking lifestyle, or ‘hero’ shot, which draw the viewer’s attention. There is a saying in ecommerce that your aim is to “stop them from scrolling”, which makes this point perfectly.
As you may (or may not) realize, every website is judged on its visual appeal. In perhaps under one full second, you form an instant impression. The hero image has to be enticing enough to make that great first impression and secure the viewer’s interest amongst all the other choices likely bombarding them. You want potential buyers to want to stop-- and take notice!
So, present your hero image as the first image of your listing, then other aspects of your product can follow in the pictorial sequence.
Luckily, you are not as restricted as you would be by Amazon which insists on functional and somewhat plain white-background photos for featured images. That’s due in part to the platform’s scale and thousands of sellers. It’s less about setting a mood, perhaps– and giving just the facts, Jack! It's a more utility-driven site.
We as small business owners do also give the facts, but in our secondary photos, after ‘Wow-ing” the viewer with our standout hero starting images. You could call it the best of both worlds.
Of course, you should ensure that all of the product photos are high-quality and the appropriate dimensions as per each sales platform’s recommendations. And never upload a pixellated or out-of-focus photo. It will scream ‘Amateur’. Or, worse– ‘lazy’. Take the time to get it right, and if you can't get it right-- don't use the photo.
Again, Canva is your friend for scaling your photos, although most POD company listings integrated with your store are optimally sized anyway, and so that work will have been already done for you.
Like your product photos, your product descriptions should draw in your visitors. You want to balance the ‘lifestyle’ appeal factors with the facts, so that buyers know exactly what they will be getting.
It’s not the time to get too ‘flowery’, in that the description doesn’t have to be prose. And don't go on for too long, or you'll lose them. Use the first few lines to give a summary of the product’s benefits, both tangible and intangible. Sell your visitors on both.
Here, for example is Printify’s stock description for duvet covers:
Leave the bedroom doors open when guests come - everyone will want to see and admire this high quality super soft duvet cover with a durable print. Not to mention the pleasure of sleeping in a personalized environment!
.: 100% Polyester lightweight woven microfiber
.: Multiple sizes
.: Invisible zipper closure
.: Pillow cases not included
.: Insert not included
.: Note: Pre-constructed item. Size variance +/- 3"
As you can see, as a description this has that features/lifestyle benefits balance done quite well. Personally, I tweak this description a bit and sneak in a more descriptive word or two that’s also high on SEO search rate (checked with Erank). This demands a little more research on your part, but is well worth it to target a more specific audience to your own niche. It will mean more hungry buyers finding you with less effort.
Which leads us to…
Ignoring the Importance of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
When I opened my first Shopify store, I was perhaps the poster-girl for the “if you build it, they will come” theme from Field of Dreams. Have you seen that film? It was brilliant, and remains one of my favorites. I mean, Kevin Costner is in it!
Anyhow, so I built this store. And I thought to myself, “Hey, I have a website now, I’m properly ON THE INTERNET. Look at that!” And I told myself that people were going to love it once they saw it, which was also going to be very soon. Because I had put so much into it, right? That Google would somehow see that and send people my way. (Magical thinking much?)
Letting Google 'do its thing' (or so I thought), I then turned my focus to my new business’s Facebook page. I was confident that the key piece was to keep that page peppered with posts about my store’s offerings so that all would look alive, active and ‘happening’. Because everybody is on Facebook, right? And sooner or later they would see my page…
Spoiler alert– it wasn’t too long before my gut told me that all was not as it was supposed to be.
Accept That Nobody Knows Your New Store Exists
My first clue (after several weeks) was a resounding absence of any sales, and even more importantly– traffic. Because, without traffic, there will be no sales. Simple as that.
Shopify has a cool feature in the back office of your account that gives historic and live reports of site visitors and their locations. That’s a very useful tool for perspective. Especially when you can see ONE visitor on the virtual map from, say Denmark. And the rest of the world is, well– doing other things. Like millions of people do. Just not taking a look around in your store. And, funnily enough-- you might begin to resent that!
I recalibrated my expectations (and my pride of accomplishment in having built a store), and accepted that the internet is a BIG place, and that there are many, many businesses online. Bigger than we can imagine. Kind of like stars in the galaxy, if you will. Nobody knew I was there, except for perhaps friends and family that knew about my new venture and looked it up after I gave them my link. I needed to think bigger, and broader.
It begged the question: Who was I trying to reach, and how was I going to get seen?
Search Engine Optimization is Key to Getting Seen
The answer: It is SEO that drives traffic to your site. Think of it as your own personal ‘sat-nav’ for your would-be buyers that are lost in the online wilderness!
Paid ads are another thing, but we'll cover that another day. SEO costs nothing but time in research, and perhaps a low-priced subscription to a specialized app that will gather data for you.
So, research those SEO keywords, because in large part your traffic depends upon them. In a future blog post, I’ll name my favorite apps and methods for finding your keyword gems. You can't ignore this step, and done the right way, it'll put you ahead and pay dividends in traffic, and ideally, sales.
My message is this: buyers won't magically find you, no matter how beautiful your store looks and how worthy of buyers it may be. It would be nice if it were that simple, but it just isn't. You need to send out a virtual flare into the night sky as it were to let them know that you're there, and keywords are that beacon.
Tune in to next week’s blog post for Part Two of POD Newbie Mistakes. I really hope you found this post helpful and are still feeling excited about your POD venture after a bit of reality shared.
To moving forward,
About the Author
Dani Sherman, CEO at EcomGemini
Dani's been immersed in the online space for the past several years, and she knows what it takes to establish a presence on multiple e-commerce platforms. She would like to help you get started with your own dreams of running a successful online business. Her weekly blog focuses on all things Print-On-Demand and eCommerce. So, check back often to see what's new, and to be inspired!