As promised, today I give you POD Newbie Mistakes -- Part Two.
In last week’s blog post, I gave the rundown on a couple of the most common POD newbie mistakes (and how to avoid them!). Did you recognize any of them from your own experience? If you haven’t checked that post out yet, I suggest you take a look at it here.
There’s still more to cover, so in this piece I’ll expand on some of the other mistakes that I’ve seen newbies make, and, full disclosure– that I’ve been guilty of myself!
Let’s see what they are…
Offering Poor Designs/Copying Others/Copyright Infringement
These are all what I consider to be the major design pitfalls. Especially when it comes to stealing others' work. Yes, I said stealing.
As tempting as it may be to get 'right in there' with the bestsellers by appropriating them and extracting their value, don’t even think of going there. You'll thank me later. You want your designs to be exciting, I get it-- but you'll soon see why you don't need that sort of excitement in your business!
Let's dive in...
Offering Poor Designs
As a fledgling business owner, quality should be at the forefront of your efforts. Setting yourself up to sell to a discerning public requires more than a slap-dash, “that’ll do” approach.
Remember that the eCommerce space is alive with businesses offering products on some level similar to yours. As I’ve mentioned before, the POD market is thriving, and you want a piece of that. Always remember though, that your potential customers are going to be flooded with options. You might well say that, in real-estate parlance, “it’s a buyer’s market”.
So you’ve got to ask yourself: “What makes my items, and store unique?” Or “I see what's out there-- how could I do it better?”
Doing it better does not look like throwing up designs (figuratively speaking!) onto T-shirts, mugs and hoodies and hoping for the best. Think beyond copying and pasting tired, ‘seen-before’ Clip-Art. (This is not to say that there isn’t some beautiful Clip-Art out there!). Or feeble attempts at humor that miss the mark.
All I’m saying here is this: go for inspired designs with impact. It is impact, after all, that will stop the viewers from scrolling. You definitely want that!
Take Pride in What You Are Offering to Your Buyers
There has to be an evidenced care, pride, and effort taken with your store and its offerings. You should think of it on two counts: pleasing a design-eye, and aligning with the interests of your niche, or what will ultimately become your followers.
Again, as I’ve said in a previous blog post, you do not have to be a designer or artist to create a POD store and listings. How lucky for us that there is a wealth of design resources available online to assist in bringing our ideas to big, beautiful life!
My two most-favorite virtual design assistants (as I call them) are:
This platform is doing a very good job of positioning itself as a one-stop shop for all your design needs. It is a vital app for anyone serious about POD to have in their arsenal for success.
Compared to PhotoShop, Canva is more user-friendly and yet not by any means basic. It is a sophisticated platform that you could spend a few hours exploring just to learn about all its applications and functionality. And they seem to be adding to that all the time.
More recent capabilities introduced include product mockups (‘Smart mockups’) and direct-to social media publishing. For example, you can design an Instagram post in your Canva account with the size specifications already applied (Just choose ‘Instagram post’ from the drop-down menu), and then post it straight through Canva to your IG account. This is a very welcome time-saver, and makes the design/publication exercise seamless. It encourages more frequent posting on Instagram and Facebook, which is good for your brand’s traction and sales.
Some of its best features for POD businesses are:
- The ability to download in a variety of file-types for projects, ie. jpg, png, pdf
- Available templates for social media and standard print-sizes for documents and printable wall art/stationery
- A color-picking tool makes it easy to grab HEX codes and insert them into designs
- Integration with Dropbox and Google Drive for ease of file access and sharing
- Integration with Pixabay for open-source (free) photos and illustrations
- Branding kit feature with suggested color themes and logo creation templates
- Built-in organizational capabilities with folders and link-sharing with teams (if desired).
Canva can also save you money, as there already exist subscription apps which schedule your social media posts. I gave up my subscription to one such app, in favor of Canva for this purpose. After all, I use Canva for practically everything– why pay twice unnecessarily–and with a different app that is single-purpose? It was an easy decision for me to make!
If you aren’t already on board with Canva, or are just considering it– see what more I have to say about it here.
There is so much to learn and enjoy with all it has to offer, and it would be hard for me to list all of the features in this blog piece. Just play around with it for awhile, and see for yourself. There is very little that you can’t do with it as a small-business owner, but also know that major corporations utilize it too. It’s a big-player for a reason.
For all that Canva does –you owe it to yourself to give it a look. I think you’ll be sold!
If you've been lurking in the POD space at all, most likely you will have seen or heard about Kittl.
It is a superbly unique graphic design application built into a web browser, so it's very accessible and seamless to use, especially for anyone intimidated by graphic design.
Once you've logged into Kittl, you'll be taken to your dashboard where trending designs are shown. That's a good place to start, but you can search for a multitude of other designs, filtering by project-type, i.e. logs, T-shirts, and cards etc.
It would make sense for print-on-demand to probably filter by T-shirts, but don't be limited by that. You don't necessarily have to use the T-shirt templates or T-shirt designs. Take your time to survey the other categories, and you may find an inspired design that would still look good on a T-shirt. Prepare to get lost for awhile looking at some staggering designs!
So remember, your design doesn't have to be tagged 'T-shirt' for you to use it for that purpose. Just another reason that I really love Kittl's versatility!
Kittl really shines if you're into retro and vintage designs, too. In fact, you may not have to look anywhere else for that niche, Kittl does it so well. And they're always adding to their catalog-- which is very appealing and helps to those creative juices switched firmly on!
You can also opt to follow creators on Kittl, to keep right in the loop with their new designs as soon as they're published. Kittl also has a pretty tight community on Facebook and Discord, wherein you can find more inspiration, help and ideas. I highly suggest joining those, and also their YouTube channel. They even run a design competition!
As with Canva, you still have to make modifications to any Kittl designs that you use, to abide by their terms and conditions. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with them. In a nutshell, you could change colors, font, text, and elements. View it as though you are invited to use their fabulous foundations, and go make the designs your own!
Not Making Consistent Efforts
When I started in POD several years ago, there was a favorite saying in one of my course’s Facebook groups: “Five a day!”. That meant: Make sure to put up five new design listings a day. And, if you don’t get in your five a day during the week, make up for it at the weekend.
The message is this: consistency is key to growing your business. You have to be a bit obsessed, in fact.
Why Realism in POD is Your Friend
Perhaps you thought that print on demand just looked like this: Upload a bunch of designs and then sit back on a beach and watch the money come flowing in. That is categorically not the case, even though some would have led you to believe that. (Ask yourself: wouldn't everyone be doing POD that if it were that easy?). I rest my case.
So, you're going to have to continue to keep uploading more and more (quality, research-based) designs before you see your profits even start, and then increase. And you need to be learning the whole way: What sells, what doesn't, and how to get better at everything.
This is not to say that a design won't hit it out of the ballpark from the get-go-- but that's always going to be an exception to the rule of persistence in this long game.
Are you in it for the duration? I hope so. If you love what you're doing, it will be a lot easier.
Not Budgeting Properly (For Apps, Platforms, and Sales)
As explored in a previous blog post, "What is Print on Demand, And is it For Me?", it is very inexpensive to get started in POD. Inexpensive, surely -- but not free.
We live in a blessed age where to run a business, the world is literally our oyster. We can reach-- and sell to anyone with access to a computer, or even just a smartphone.
One of the biggest POD newbie mistakes is forgetting to budget for their business's base costs.
These include platform subscriptions, such as Shopify-- which is about $30 per month, before any additional apps are tacked on (and there are many good ones that you'll want to add).
You're Going to Need (and Want) Apps!
Other business-supporting apps that I deem essential are design-based, such as Canva. If you can only go for one app at the start, that is the one I recommend because it covers so many bases, and just seems to get better and better all the time.
Like many things, it is cheaper to get on an annual subscription, versus monthly. If you can afford the annual tier though-- go for it. Any savings like this will help the bottom line of your business.
If you can't quite afford it yet-- think about getting it after you've made some sales. Reward yourself that way, instead of spending all your profits on consumer goods and piffle like candy (the latter: like I did waaay back when I had two paper rounds!).
Of course, when starting out, it may make perfect sense financially (short-term) for you to go monthly. So don't feel bad about that. That's why they offer the monthly option.
Mind the Gap
Making sales is fun! That's no secret.
But, do you know what isn't fun? Making sales-- and then not having the cash flow to pay the manufacturer to produce the customer's item. Yes, it does happen. Especially to newbies. Because all they configured for their budget was Sales=Money In. End of story.
But, there's another layer to it, of course. Each sales platform will have a lag between a customer's purchase, and disbursement of those same funds to your bank account.
Your POD supplier, (the manufacturer/shipper) on the other hand, will try to collect the base and shipping costs from you almost immediately. If you don't have a sufficient 'float' in your bank account, the production of the item will be stalled until such time as they can collect what you owe.
In the meantime, production days are being added to the transaction, which may translate to an order going out late, and ultimately an unhappy customer.
It does get easier to build up your float, as you make more sales. But be prepared to have the resources, either by debit or credit card to pay for those basic costs. Then, when your sales platform pays you, it restores the float and you collect your profits.
I'll admit, I got caught out like this at the start-- and it smarted. It made me feel like a bit of a criminal, to be fair-- accepting a stranger's money without the means of keeping my end of the bargain as a business. It wasn't a good start, but I learned from it quite quickly.
So, I don't recommend this 'empty tank and crawling to the gas station' business model. Look after yourself so that you can look after your customers. You'll soon get into the flow.
So, strivers-- that's it for this week. I hope you got some inspiration from this for your own POD business, and maybe had a few questions answered too.
We'll do it all again next week. ; )
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!