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How To Launch a Profitable Print-on-Demand Store

Looking to start an ecommerce business and considering print on demand? Then today's Start Yours episode promises to be a gold mine of information for you.

We're joined by Sarah Chrisp, the founder and host of popular YouTube channel, Wholesale Ted, which, as of today, has more than half a million subscribers.

Together, we dive into the ins and out of print on demand, from production and product sourcing to customer service, pricing, and making sure that your products arrive on time.

  • What should you look out for when selecting a print on demand supplier?
  • How can you avoid using copyrighted designs?
  • What sort of product range should you offer?

If you're looking for answers to the above questions and more, hit that play button now to learn more.

Enjoy our podcasts? Do consider subscribing. We've also got plenty more content on our blog to help you build a successful ecommerce business so don't forget to check that out!

Short on time? Here's a seven-point TL;DR version:

  1. When selecting a print on demand supplier, consider product quality first, then production and shipping speed, and finally price as a tie-breaker.
  2. Focus on creating your own original designs. Don't rely on someone else's intellectual property.
  3. When it comes to the product range, offer no more than five different colors and as many sizes as possible.
  4. If you really want to know exactly where your products are being made, use a print on demand provider that doesn't outsource.
  5. A good product sample is not a strong indication of whether a supplier is good. You want to see if they can do it at scale.
  6. If creating text-based designs, consider going DIY. Otherwise, there's plenty of print on demand artists on freelance service marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork.
  7. Add value not with price competition, but by creating a better customer experience.

Start Yours is a podcast about ecommerce, dropshipping, and all things launching a business.

Join us as we meet entrepreneurs who have gone through the triumphs and headaches of running an online store, and learn how they managed to survive and thrive.

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How a Bad Video Game Sparked a Dropshipping Business

Aleisha: So Sarah, you host the very popular Wholesale Ted YouTube channel and you've spoken at conferences and events all over the world about ecommerce and branding and building a business. Tell me how did you actually get into this mode of business?

Sarah: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on.

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Aleisha: Our pleasure.

Sarah: Always great to have people from Down Under together.

Aleisha: True.

Sarah: But yeah. Like many teenagers, when I was 15, I had a part-time job and like most people, I hated it. I scanned groceries every single Sunday evening at my local supermarket. And here in New Zealand, I don't know about Australia, but we call it being a checkout chick.

Aleisha: Yes.

Sarah: Ah you do it too?

Aleisha: Yep, sure do.

Sarah: Yeah, alright. I hated it so much. So I decided that I had to try to find a side hustle to replace it, so I was trying to look for new opportunities. And then by chance one day, I stumbled across one. 

Because my family, we had taken a vacation to the USA earlier in the year. And over the year, I picked up a Bargain Bin video game for the video game system the Nintendo DS. So I came home from that trip. Yeah, and I played it and then one day after school, I was done with it, it wasn't a very good game. So I decided to trade it in to my local GameStop, which here is called EB Games. So they gave me $40 for it. 

And the thing is, I was shocked because in the USA when I bought it, it was so cheap. I can't remember the exact cost off the top of my head. But it cost, maybe, $10 to buy it. And the reason why it was so cheap was that it was a really bad game.

And it was so... Because then it was so bad that the publishers didn't even bother selling it in New Zealand at the time, they couldn't be bothered to bring it over. So hilariously, to our local EB Games, it was considered exotic and rare. Yeah. So I found a loophole and that was my first ever side hustle, it was importing really bad video games that nobody wants in America, but here in New Zealand, it was considered exotic. So I trade them into EB Games for huge profits and that basically taught me how valuable and lucrative it is importing and reselling products from overseas. 

So I took those lessons and I opened my own actual online store at age 16. And at first, I resold... Yeah, I resold video games that I imported. 

But because they were secondhand, I was relying on people trading them in. So my product supply was really not reliable. 

So I just wanted to switch. So I focused on selling products that I could have control over in terms of supply, as in products I could buy directly from the manufacturer. And as you could probably tell, I'm really geeky.

Aleisha: We love a geek. We love a geek, Sarah. I'm geeky too. Good.

Sarah: Excellent. Yeah, two geeky Down Under girls.

Aleisha: That's us.

Sarah: So yeah, I was into video game hacking and modding, so that's what I focused on. And it was through that that I discovered that manufacturers would also do something which you know, of course, dropshipping.

Aleisha: Yes.

Sarah: Yes, so that's basically my very long story about how I entered the ecommerce world. But it's only been recently that I've moved into print on demand because the apps have gotten much better. 

Because compared to dropshipping, print on demand is a really new industry. One of the biggest players, Printify, they only launched in 2015.

Aleisha: Right.

Sarah: Yeah. But what attracted me to it, though, was that it had a lot of advantages over dropshipping. But don't get me wrong, it definitely has its own disadvantages too. There are way more products that you can sell with dropshipping compared to print on demand. So they each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. 

People often ask me which is better, and I always say, “Neither, they're just different. They each have their own pros and cons.”

Quote on advantages and disadvantages of dropshipping and print on demand

The Nuts and Bolts of Print on Demand

Aleisha: So Sarah, you have a number of very informative YouTube videos. I would highly recommend our listeners to go to your channel after they finish listening to the podcast, of course, and check them out. 

But although you have videos about the key to success with print on demand, which I think is, as I said, a must-watch for anyone who is considering moving into this area of ecommerce. 

Can you just break it down and explain what print on demand actually is, and how new store owners or side hustlers can use this service?

Sarah: Yeah. So imagine that you wanted to sell your own custom T-shirt with a picture that you drew of a cat. Well normally, you'd have to go to a manufacturer, often in China, and get them to make hundreds of these T-shirts featuring your picture in different colors and sizes. 

People often forget that you'd have to order them in different sizes and different color variations, and then you'd have them ship them to you and then hope that they would resell.

Well, instead, there are print on demand factories and they're based all around the world; in America, in the UK, in Germany and of course in Australia.

Aleisha: Good.

Sarah: Yeah, and they will let you upload your art to their website or their app and you digitally place it onto a product like a T-shirt, and then they will let you put that T-shirt up for sale in your store, and then when a customer orders that T-shirt, the print on demand factory will see that the order was made, print your drawing onto the T-shirt, package it up and then ship it out to the customer. They will charge you the cost of the T-shirt and shipping upfront, and that's usually about $6-$9 for a T-shirt, and then $4 for shipping, and they'll also email the customer the shipping tracking information, so they'll let them know that it's been sent and it's all just done completely hands-off. 

And just like with dropshipping, you're only buying products such as individual T-shirts one at a time as customers buy them. 

So that's often why some people will call it print on demand dropshipping.

How print on demand works

Aleisha: Right, I see. So as well, you've mentioned T-shirts. But I know that there are lots of other items available. Can you share some of the items that we can print these designs on?

Sarah: Yeah, so to be honest, there are probably too many to list exactly. But they do fall into four different categories. So the first and biggest category is clothing. 

So T-shirts are the biggest one, of course, but there are also hoodies, leggings, pretty much any piece of clothing item that you can think of will be available by some print on demand provider, and after that is accessories. 

So honestly right now, face masks and neck gaiters, which act like face masks, they're super popular, but also necklaces, hats, things like that. And then thirdly, you've got household goods, so mugs, wine glasses, shower curtains, blankets, mats, things like that. And then finally, you have what most people would have thought of, probably initially, which is traditional art prints like posters.

Biggest print on demand products

Selecting a Print on Demand Provider

Aleisha: Oh my gosh, there are so many options that it blows my mind. When I first sort of saw a dropshipping print on demand company, it was just like, "You can do T-shirts and hoodies and you might get a tote bag." and now it's like, it's exploded. 

So okay, our listeners, they've decided, "This is what I wanna do, I wanna print something on a T-shirt and I wanna sell it using my Shopify store." How do we go about choosing which print on demand companies to work with, because there are a lot in the market?

Sarah: Yeah, no, there are definitely a lot, and I always recommend that people go with a provider that has good reviews, that are selling the products that you need. Because as you said, the amount of products now that you can sell is huge. So while there are quite a few players, right now there are probably three major ones, which are Printful, Printify, and teelaunch.

So Printful were and they are the biggest. Now, they basically pioneered the industry of having an automated print on demand app that you can connect to say, a Shopify store, and they honestly did set the bar extremely high, although they are also the most expensive. So they are an app and a service, and they have their own factories that produce and ship out your products. 

So because they make the products, the quality control is extremely high because they usually do it in-house.

Aleisha: Right.

Sarah: Yes, but there is a problem though because right now their USA clothing factory, it's massively backed up with orders because of COVID-19. As you probably know, during COVID-19, ecommerce sales, they were huge and they spiked like crazy, and the demand is still ridiculously huge. So because of the fact that they are the biggest and the most consistent print on demand app and factory, they got slammed with orders for their most popular category, clothing. 

So right now, while some products, they are making them fast, like mugs, anything they make in the European factories is also really fast, their USA factory, it's taking way too long to ship out clothing. So...

Aleisha: I wanna say Sarah that also, I have a merch store, my side hustle. And I was selling something on Etsy and I did look this morning at Printful. I had a customer message come back and say, "Hey, when am I gonna get that T-shirt?" and I went back to Printful and they're like, "Probably another two weeks." So I offered a discount and I've been trying to really waylay ill feelings. 

But it's hard being a merchant and then obviously it's hard being Printful as well, but yeah, it's trying to find that little balance of keeping customers happy, but also being aware that stuff happens during a crisis, I suppose.

Sarah: It does, I had the same thing. So what happened is that right now Printful's fulfillment times for clothing, they're 23 to 28 business days. So, that's business days, it's huge. So right now, I had to, well before they got to that point, I ended up shifting gears and moving into a different print on demand supplier that was printing out products much faster, which is actually Printify so...

Aleisha: Oh good transition, I like it.

Sarah: Yeah, good transition. But the thing is like it's funny 'cause Printify, they aren't actually a print on demand company. People get this confused a lot. And so it's kind of wrong of me saying that because you see, they're purely an app and a website and they connect you with the different print on demand companies that they're partnered with. So you can add a product from their catalog to your website and Printify's app will automatically go through the order process in conjunction with their partner company that you choose for that product. 

So in reality, I wasn't actually switching my orders over to Printify, I was switching them over to my favorite USA provider that Printify works with, which is Monster Digital. And because of that, it means different suppliers on Printify, they do have variable levels of quality, which again reviews, they are key. 

So don't just look up reviews for Printify because some people will... They'll leave a review for Printify, and I had a comment on my YouTube channel today, somebody said "I ordered a product from Printify and it's taking ages to arrive," and I said to them, "I need to know which supplier you're talking about," and I could tell which supplier they were probably talking about, 'cause there's one called DTG2Go which is been massively delayed right now.

Sarah talks about what Printify is

Aleisha: Right.

Sarah: So it's important to know which specific supplier, what the reviews are for that specific Printify supplier. And then outside of Printify and Printful, there's also teelaunch. 

Teelaunch doesn’t do anything in-house. They have a bunch of partner factories that they work with and they'll route your order to one that their algorithm decides is best. 

Now you've got no choice here and, unfortunately, teelaunch, they aren't upfront about where these factories are located. However, quality across them all despite their mysteriousness has been consistently good for many store owners, including myself. So we give that mysteriousness a pass. But to me… I really wish it wasn't so mysterious, but it works. 

So I'd always recommend prioritizing quality first, so which provider provides the best quality products that you want to sell. So for example, Printify suppliers, they have some great options for unisex T-shirts, but teelaunch have better options for female T-shirts. 

And then next ask yourself, "Okay, well, I'm still choosing between two of these, who produces the products faster?" And of course, as you have seen, this is changing all the time due to COVID-19. So in two weeks' time, it'll likely be very different. So until the world has adapted, it's always good to regularly check the current production times, and then after that, if it's still a tie, you can pick the cheapest or what I usually recommend is that you choose the app that you like using the most. 

So personally, I find that while teelaunch is very well-priced, their app is definitely clunky. So beginners might prefer, even if it costs more, to use an app that's better well-designed like Printify or Printful when they can.

How to select a print on demand supplier

Watch Out for Copyrighted Designs

Aleisha: That's great. So when we're looking at designing, 'cause this is the thing, I think people go, "Oh, this all makes sense. This is easy, I can do it," but looking at designs to actually add to the items, what are some of the big no-nos to consider? 

And when I say that, I suppose I mean not using someone else's trademark or copyright because that will get you into deep shit I think. And then I suppose the follow-on question for you is, how do we then check if something is protected? How do we make sure we aren't ripping someone else off, 'cause that's not cool?

Sarah: Yeah, so you sell on Etsy, so you've probably... I don't know if you saw, but there were a lot of Baby Yoda T-shirts that suddenly disappeared from the platform. Why? Because Baby Yoda is copyrighted, and they're copyrighted by Disney, and Disney is one of the most aggressive companies when it comes to pursuing their IPs. 

But the thing though is that... That of course applies to anything. AliExpress, for example, they have lots of products with copyrighted material that would be illegal to sell, which of course is why Oberlo is so helpful since you remove those products from your database. 

And the unfortunate thing about copyrights and a lot of people just like this but you can't check if something is copyrighted because the moment you draw a picture or create a piece of artwork, it's already protected under international copyright laws. So there's no paperwork required, which means there's no database. 

But you can check for trademarks. Every country has its own trademark search engine online.

So you just go to Google and you type in “USA trademark search”, and you'll find the USA trademark search engine and as I said, you have to check for every single country, so if I wanted to check for trademarks in New Zealand, that's what I would do.

But what I would say to people is don't be afraid because even if you can't check for copyrights, most people just need to apply common sense to it. Are you trying to piggyback and use a popular IP or brand? Are you trying to take advantage of Baby Yoda? If so, you're probably skirting copyright laws. And to be safe, you should focus on creating your own original designs and don't rely on someone else's popular IP to sell, especially Disney or Nintendo.

Sarah explains how copyrighting works

Aleisha: Oh yeah. Oh gosh.

Sarah: And something I find that at first surprised me, but I guess it shouldn't, is people are afraid that if they draw a picture that someone else might have in the universe drawn the same picture and that they wouldn't have known about it. 

But honestly, it's so unlikely that two people will create the exact same art, so if you're out there listening to this, I would say please don't worry about it.

Aleisha: That's such good advice. And I just wanna say, side note, I own a trademark and I had a lawyer just to save me money, just draw up a really simple but polite trademark violation letter. I have my brand registered with Amazon brand so that automatically removes anything that comes up with trademark searches. 

But also, if I see... I do a little Etsy search once a month usually, I set a little alarm for myself and say, "Just check and see if they're using your trademark." And then I'm always polite and just go, "Maybe you don't know that this is a trademarked brand, but could you remove it from the store?" And if they don't, then I can report it to Etsy. 

But yeah, I'm always trying to be really polite 'cause I think a lot of people wouldn't think to check it. Also, don't take the piss, basically. As they would say in the southern hemisphere, just be cool. Just be cool.

Sarah: Yes. That's good stuff. I'm gonna steal that.

Selecting Your Product Range

Aleisha: Please. Oh gosh, if I can give you a tip, I'm in awe. So Sarah, okay, let's move on and talk about product ranges. It can be a bit overwhelming when you go into one of these suppliers and you can see hundreds of color options and sizes, and then sometimes it feels like it's just easier to click the button and add all of those variations to your store. 

But that's not necessarily the case, is it? How many color variations and product variations should we be adding to our listings without completely overwhelming our potential customers?

Sarah: Yeah, people do get overwhelmed, but I honestly think that people just need to apply common sense to it. So if you take a look at consumer psychology, it's shown that if you give people too many choices that are not meaningful enough, they will struggle to make a choice. So just think about applying that to this situation here. Don't just add all the colors you can.

Actually think about why you're choosing it so that the consumer can make a meaningful choice. 

So, for example, T-shirts, they often come in gray and then they'll come in a heather textured gray. Now while in person, they might look different, in product mockup photos, they look really similar. So consumers are super likely to get confused. Which one should they choose? They both look fine and without a meaningful way to make that choice, they will choose to make no choice at all. So make the choice for them and just add one gray and personally, I really like heather gray, so I'd usually recommend that.

Don't give customers too many options, says Sarah

Aleisha: Right.

Sarah: In addition though, if you give consumers ugly product colors that look bad with your design, then that just makes your store look unprofessional. So I see a bunch of people, they just add in all the colors that they can, even if they're not the best looking colors to match their design. And I think, "Why would you do that?" Because why would a cool T-shirt brand want to offer you 10 different color choices if six of them look ugly, just so that you get to choose. They would want to protect their brand image. 

So high-quality clothing brands create a curated experience for their customers and they make the best choices for them. So you should do that and choose the best colors. And it's ironic because people think by having more options then my customers will be happy. 

But actually having lots and lots of colors, it cheapens your brand, which lessens how much you can charge because the customer, they'll perceive you as low quality.

So because of the fact that I know that people like to have a number to aim for, I'll often recommend that they aim for no more than five. Now again, that's not a specific number, if you go above five, that suddenly your store will be a failure. But if you like to have some specific guidance on numbers, then you can aim for five. 

And something that's also good to keep in mind though, is that when you are choosing your five, if your design looks good in black, I'd almost always recommend picking black. 

I was watching a video from another YouTube channel, Cupcake Trainings, and she said that she asked Printify what their most popular product is. And I was not surprised to hear that it was their cheapest black T-shirt, which is the Gildan 5000. Well, I don't know about you though, I reckon that black's just a... It's a super flattering color. I always look good in black, yeah. And I always get white T-shirts dirty and so with black it's a lot harder to get it dirty. So yeah, everyone likes it. 

So now what this may mean though, is that you may have to create an alternative design. So if your normal design has black ticks, then you'd have to create a version that had white ticks. But it's worth doing that. 

But when it comes to sizes it's a whole other different kettle of fish, I highly recommend that you add as many sizes as you can.

Aleisha: That's a really good tip. Yeah, different shaped-people want different shaped T-shirts.

Sarah: For sure.

Sarah's tips on product range

Aleisha: In your YouTube video, you mentioned that some companies outsource their print on demand businesses depending on the customer's location, you did say this before. 

How do we be really certain that the printing company that we have hired to do our order fulfillment are actually printing what we've ordered and that they're selling similar items and we're not gonna get trapped selling something that we didn't actually intend to sell?

Sarah: Yeah, so this is tricky because it does change depending on the supplier and app. And the industry, unfortunately, often provides little information on it. 

And this is actually something I would like the industry to change, I would like this to get more transparent. 

So Printful, they usually manufacture in their own factories that they own, but they do have backup facilities. But they provide no information on their backup facilities, which is why you can do what I've done, which is to turn off the feature and force them to produce your products in-house.

Now, there is a downside that will slow down turnaround times but I've personally turned it off because I want to know more about who is producing my items so that I can ensure that the quality is really good. And teelaunch, of course, I mentioned them before, they're a big print on demand app, and as I said, they exclusively use third party facilities. But they provide no information on those either so you have no idea what factory is shipping out your products at all. 

And even though, as I said, teelaunch, they're really mysterious, the quality has been great and others have also had the same experience as me. I've seen others report that the quality that they get is consistently good, too. So while the lack of transparency is definitely one of my least favorite aspects of teelaunch, if I was to recommend to them that they add anything, it would definitely be that. The quality is still really good regardless.

But if you really want to know exactly where your products are being made, I would recommend that you choose to use a print on demand provider that doesn't outsource. 

So for example, when you use Printify, you are choosing the exact supplier that you're gonna be working with. So for example, I really like Monster Digital, so if I ever add a product from Monster Digital, I know that it is their factory that is going to be fulfilling it. And so, yeah, you can always Google your factories and see if those individual factories have really good reviews.

Consider selecting a provider that doesn't outsource

To Sample or Not to Sample

Aleisha: Great. That is awesome. Okay, this is a big one, and I know some people get a little bit tight when they're talking about this, especially if they're just starting a new business, but do you think we should pre-order samples prior to selling, so we know the quality of the item?

Sarah: Yeah. So I remember, I've definitely heard a lot of people get really angry at the idea that you wouldn't sell a product without checking a sample. Although I also find this funny because a sample is literally just one product, and really, when you are an online store, you want to make sure that your supplier is able to produce products at a mass scale consistently. 

So even if you got one product sample and it was really good, it's actually not a strong indication about whether or not a supplier is good. You really want to see if they're able to do it at scale. 

So that's why I think samples can sometimes be a little bit overrated, but of course, it's always good to have them and it is always great to order them if you can. 

So the problem though is that right now, if you don't live in the same country as your print on demand provider, like, I live in New Zealand, ordering samples is really difficult because COVID-19 has made cross-continent shipping horrible. If I order a product from the USA right now, it's an absolute toss-up whether I'll get it in one week or two months.

Aleisha: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah, that's the thing, I would recommend that when times are good, definitely get samples, but keep in mind with print on demand providers, they will actually give you a product image mockup, so you can see exactly what it will look like. And if you combine that with choosing a supplier that has great reviews for quality, then you can still run a store and have happy customers even if you don't get a sample product first. 

And that's the thing, the reviews are the absolute best thing because, again, you'd want to be able to see that your supplier is able to create high-quality products at scale consistently, not just once. There is, though, a really important tip. So I would say never order a discounted sample product. 

So a lot of providers, like Printful, will offer this. So instead of paying the full price that you'd normally pay them to make a T-shirt for a customer, they'll give you 20 percent off to order a sample order. Printful has actually removed this feature because of COVID-19, but a lot of them still have it. 

And really, the sample orders that you order from these suppliers, they're usually worse quality than the products you pay full price for. 

Now, I don't know why. My guess is that to keep the cost low, the products skip a portion of the quality control phase. But, again, that's just me speculating 'cause I actually don't know the real reason why product samples are awful. It's super weird, I think it's really silly, I've seen a lot of print on demand providers like Printful lose potential store owners by sending them cheap sample products. So if you're gonna order them, make sure that you pay full price for them.

Sarah on good sample products

Handling Customer Complaints

Aleisha: Right, excellent tip and I think I have in the past ordered samples and have seen exactly what you're saying that I've gone, "Oh, this is crap," and then other customers going, "I love the T-shirts, they're such good quality." Going, "Oh my gosh, what do we do?" 

Okay. So, if we aren't in control of the production, which we aren't, when we are choosing to print on demand, how do we deal with customer complaints? And this is a big issue at the moment. As you said, shipping is slow. People aren't getting what they want in the expected time frames. And that is understandable due to the international crisis that we are currently going through. 

So, what's your best suggestion about just customer relations, especially if you're new to the game as well?

Sarah: Yeah. So, this is definitely something that could be considered a downside in some respects, 'cause you're letting someone else handle your orders. But on the flip side, I would say, that if you live internationally, like me, most of my customers, they're in the USA. 

So, by having a USA factory handle my order, I get all the advantages of having someone locally to handle any issues. So, my customers have faster service. So, it depends on how you want to look at it. But if you're having any issues, like a customer gets a damaged item, you just contact your supplier. All the big three, they'll happily send a replacement, but they do require that a customer uploads a photo, for example, of the damaged item. Now, the problem for lost mail is that it's not their fault. So, it's really up to the customer and you at that point to chase it up with the shipping company. 

Now, because of the fact though, that you're shipping locally, this is very easy to do. But I've honestly not had really any issues with local domestic shipping. It's international shipping that causes the problems, especially during COVID-19. It's getting way better, but during April, it was definitely a little frustrating. 

My best advice is that if you're using Printify, try to re-route your orders to one of their suppliers that's based in the customer's country. 

So, even if you'd normally use a Printify supplier based in the USA, switch to one of their suppliers based in Australia. And if you ever do email these companies, if you have any issues, they will usually reply. Well, they've always replied to me within one business day. So, it's always really nice to know that you're gonna get a fast reply.

What to do when the product is lost in the mail, according to Sarah

Creating Print on Demand Designs

Aleisha: Yeah, that's really good. It's important, 'cause you wanna... That reflects on your business as well. Okay. So, I've got an idea, but I don't have the graphic design skills to create something gorgeous to put on my print on demand items. Where should I go to find great design talent to help me out?

Sarah: Well, you've got quite a few options, actually. So, if you wanted to just create a design that just features plain text, you can always give it a crack yourself and try to make your own design. It's real easy. I always recommend Canva. It's a free app that anyone can use. 

But if you do want something more artistic and you want a designer, I understand, I'm not one either, you can head on over to Fiverr or Upwork and browse through the different print on demand artists that are on there, and look through their work, and find one that you like. 

And you can also go to Shutterstock and purchase art from there. But it is really expensive. A pack of 25 enhanced image licenses, they cost $1,687. It's really expensive. And the smallest that you can... It's not expensive, it's actually perfectly fair. It's just that it's a lot more expensive than hiring an artist, and the smallest bundle you can buy is two images for $200. So, it's $100 an image. You'll definitely have cheaper art if you hire an artist. 

So, you usually only go to Shutterstock if there's a design on there that you particularly need, or really want, or if you need it fast.

Where to source for print on demand designs

Aleisha: Yeah, great. That's awesome advice. Thank you. Okay. So, we've done that. We've created our design. We're really happy with it. And now, we want to list the items on the store. But I'm not a very good photographer. I don't know a photographer. How do we make it happen? And we don't wanna necessarily, as we've said, buy lots of samples. 

How do we go about photographing or creating photographs that look real and that are these gorgeous lifestyle images? Do you have any recommendations? Are there apps or services that we can use to get that stuff done?

Sarah: Oh yeah, I totally do. So, one of my favorite apps in the world, it's called Placeit. They are a super lovely team. And they are the most friendly people ever. Placeit, it costs $15. And when you register, you'll be greeted with the website. It contains thousands of photos featuring blank products. 

So, for example, they have hundreds, maybe thousands of photos, I actually don't know how many, of models wearing blank white T-shirts. So, all you do is upload your artwork, and you digitally put it onto the T-shirt. And you can choose what color you want the T-shirt to be. And then, boom, you've got a picture of a model wearing your T-shirt design.

Aleisha: Wow.

Sarah: Yeah. Of course, that there is what we'd call in the industry a product mockup photo in a lifestyle context. So, a lifestyle mockup photo. Now, if you don't have any money at all, and you don't wanna pay for a Placeit subscription, most print on demand apps, they will give you at least one free photo mockup of your picture. They're usually not a lifestyle photo, but Printful does have some free lifestyle mockup photos for their most popular products. 

And one of the really cool things, though, about Placeit, if you can get a subscription to it, is they have product photos in lots of different contexts. 

So, they'll have models, for example, wearing a blank hoodie that they're holding a dog. So, what you'd wanna do, of course, is you want to use this as an opportunity to sell a dog-themed hoodie because by having your product mockup match the context of the product itself, of course, it's gonna be way more engaging for the customer.

Pricing Your Print on Demand Products

Aleisha: That is so cool. And they do look great. When I watched your video, and I went to Placeit and checked it out, my gosh, there are so many awesome colorful images that just look really pro. I'm definitely using it in the future. Let's move on, then, to pricing strategies, because this seems to be a bit of a tricky issue. Do you have any advice about how we should set our store apart from others with pricing? Should we undercut our competitors, or perhaps even go higher than our competition? What's the best way to do this?

Sarah: So, personally, I don't find pricing... I do not find it to be a tricky issue at all, but I do know...

Aleisha: Good.

Sarah: But I do understand, though, why people find it to be confusing. 'Cause earlier I said that people, they want definitives. They wanna be told what the product price should be. What's the one specific perfect price? But of course, that's not how business works. 

So, if you went into a Walmart, you'd find graphic T-shirts selling for around $10 to $20. And then, if you hopped into the Supreme T-shirt aisle, you'd find their T-shirts are selling for $150 to $300 featuring even smaller graphic designs. So, what does that show you? It shows you that pricing is entirely subjective. There is no answer to this question. Nothing is... It's not worth anything in particular. We all make it up in our heads. So, there's that wonderful phrase. 

The product is worth what the customer is willing to pay. 

That is legitimately the most accurate explanation on pricing that anyone can truly give. And by embracing that, we can figure out the answer to this.

So the best way to understand how to price your products is to understand how consumers decide the price that they're willing to pay. And the way that most people are willing to do that is through something called price anchoring

So that's when someone looks at your product and they compare it to similar products that they've seen before, and they see if the price matches up. So you're selling a T-shirt for $30, the customer goes, "Great. Well, how much are other T-shirts that I've seen before?" And they'll go, "Well, I know that if I go into Walmart, I can get one for $10 to $20 and if I go on to Etsy, I can find cool T-shirts from small, indie local clothing brands for $30. But if I go into the Supreme T-shirt aisle, I'm paying $150 to $300."

So now they've got their range, and they'll go, "Okay." Well, does your store brand match what they would expect to see from Walmart, or does it match what they'd expect to see from Etsy or from Supreme? And so of course, yeah, pretty much anyone who's new to the industry, they will not successfully turn themselves into a high-end streetwear brand from the beginning.

Sarah discusses pricing strategy for print on demand products

Aleisha: No.

Sarah: No. But you can aim a lot more successfully for the higher quality, local indie brand from the start if you make your store experience curated rather than feeling super cheap. So, if you don't think that you can pull off that curated, indie feel, then, of course, aim for the lower price point that brands that feel cheaper go for. 

But to be honest, my advice is always to aim to add value, not with price competition, but instead, add your value by creating a better customer experience. So create a great-looking store. Put effort into making your products, present a unified message to the customer so that people feel that buying a product from you is an experience and that it's fun. 

I see people, they just slap up stores and they just stick products in them without thinking about their page copy, their branding. 

They might still see some success for a super cool viral design, but they will struggle to charge those higher prices if their branding looks cheap.

So I know it's super vague of me to say it, but what I would say to people is that even though it's difficult for me to describe this in words, it's much better when you look at it visually. So go to Etsy and find brands that are successfully charging $30 a T-shirt and study what they do and take inspiration from that to help you craft and design your own store. 

And something else that's really important to note, too, is that while some products, like T-shirts, are really easy for their consumer to do price anchoring with, some products are much harder.

So, my friend Adrian, he's sold over $700,000 with the print on demand leggings. And they featured these super cool patterns of dogs and he sold them for $70 a pop. Now, the reason why he could charge so much for some leggings is a mixture of his product and store. Giving off the appearance of being higher quality, but it was actually more so an issue of price anchoring. Because back then, most people had never seen leggings featuring super cool patterns of dogs and so, they literally had nothing to compare it to. 

If they had nothing to compare it to, then you have lots more leeway to set the price, especially to a more premium price.

And so, I can't give people a specific answer to what price they should set their products to. But my advice would be to study successful stores and be brutally honest with yourself. Is your store's branding on par with the lower end of the pricing scale? Or is it more on end with stores that you would see successfully charging prices on the higher end?

How to add value to your print on demand products, according to Sarah

The Not-So-Secretive Secret to a Successful Print on Demand Business

Aleisha: Fantastic. "Aim high, people," that's what I say. Now, Magic Genie, I'm gonna ask you this, and you're probably gonna go, "Get stuffed, Aleisha, there's no answer to this." 

But Sarah, what is the secret to success, if there is one, to running a print on demand business?

Sarah: Well, I wanna say there isn't a secret, but the number one secret is the same secret that applies to any new business venture. It's to always be determined that you will not give up and that you will always strive to be the best because...

Aleisha: Yes.

Sarah: Most people go... Exactly, that's the thing. It's really not a secret. Most people go into their new business venture. They ask, "What is the minimum amount that I need to do to be successful and make money?" And then unsurprisingly, they make subpar products that no one wants, and they get frustrated that nobody bought them and they close their stores.

But people that are determined to make it a success and determined to be the best might initially create some designs that nobody wants. But they'll be ruthless in continuing to make more and more designs and to test more and more products. 

And their drive to excellence and to being the best will ultimately drive them in the right direction so that one day they will create a great product that people really want to buy.

And once you have that great product that people want to buy, that's how you make a profitable store. So what I tell people is this, "If you went to a master chef and you say, 'Hey, if I take your cooking class, will I be a master chef at the end of it?' They would laugh and go, 'No, of course not. There are so many lessons that I can't teach you. You will only learn them by actually chopping vegetables yourself, or by actually grilling a steak.'" 

Now whilst some people, of course, are immediately amazing chefs, most people aren't. But with practice and persistence, they get good at cooking. And business it's no different, creating great products is no different. Learning to market products is no different. You learn to design and you learn to come up with good products through getting really good with your niche and understanding what your customers want through persistence and trying lots of things and observing your customers over time. So in my opinion, it should be obvious, but unfortunately, because most people don't like that answer, they ignore it. While the willingness to be persistent shouldn't be considered a secret, unfortunately, it kind of is.

Persistence is the key to a print on demand business success, says Sarah

Aleisha: I think it's a huge secret. But as you said, it's obvious, but it's also people are like, "No, I just wanna get quick, rich quick," and you're like, "Well, this is not gonna work for you, buddy. You've gotta put in the hard yards." Sarah, this has been freaking amazing.

Sarah: Thank you.

Aleisha: You are a wealth of knowledge and I could literally talk to you all day and I have so many more questions. But we must let you go, you're a busy woman. 

We always like to end an episode of Start Yours by asking our wonderful expert guests this one question. If you have a piece of media or a book or a course or something that's inspired you, what would you like to recommend to our Start Yours listeners to get them motivated and hopefully keen to start their own business or improve what they're already doing?

Sarah: Ooh, so… I wanna give an answer. I hope it's okay, 'cause it may come as a little bit of a surprise, 'cause one of the most impactful audiobooks that I've ever listened to for business, it's not a business book it's actually a history book.

Aleisha: Oh.

Sarah: Yeah, it's called Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.

Aleisha: Fantastic.

Sarah: And you know, I say it's not a business book but it did make it onto Bill Gates' recommended summer books.

Aleisha: Alright.

Sarah: So, it doesn't give tactical advice. But it does break down many aspects of the economy and how it works. Consumer psychology and marketing. And the way that it does it is by... It looks at how the economy and consumer psychology and marketing has evolved over history. 

One of the most impactful things for me was that it changed my perspective on money because we often have really negative connotations about money and it really brings us down when people look at us and judge us for being interested in it. But actually, money has done a huge amount of good for society, but it's done it in ways that most people don't think about. 

So, there was a question that the book posed and it was this, "Imagine a world where money doesn't exist and you had to barter with products instead, and in this world, you're an apple farmer. So, what would this world be like?" And they provided a really cool example. 

It was like, imagine, one day you get a hole in your boot, so what do you have to do? You have to bundle up lots of apples into a basket and go down to your local shoemaker, and you say to him, "Hey mate, can you fix my boot?" And he's like, "Sure, mate. But what will you give me?" And so you say, "Well, I own an apple farm so I can give you a basket of apples." But he scowls and he's like, "Well, I like apples, but I hate my marriage. I want a divorce. Get me a divorce and I'll fix your boot." So, you go to the local lawyer, and you say to her, "Hey mate, I need a divorce." And she goes, "Okay, well, what's your name?" And you're like, "Oh no, mate, it's not for me, it's for the shoemaker." And she goes, "Oh, okay. Well, what will you give me if I write up divorce papers for the shoemaker?" Then you go and point to the basket of apples and she scowls and she's like, "Man, I'm allergic to apples, but I need my sink fixed. Get my sink fixed and I'll write up divorce papers for the shoemaker."

And so then, because money doesn't exist, right? You then have to go to the plumber and hope that they would accept your apples so that you could get the sink fixed for the lawyer, who could then write up divorce papers for the shoemaker, who would then finally fix your boot. 

So, even if you do adhere to the idea that money is the root of all evil, the reality is, is that it's a necessary evil, because otherwise life would be so much more difficult.

Aleisha: Bravo Sarah, that was amazing.

Sarah: Thank you. Thank you. I didn't... I will be honest, I didn't tell the story quite as well as the audiobook. So, I didn't read it, I'm really bad at reading books, I only listened to the audiobook. So, I highly recommend that everybody goes and listens to that version instead.

Aleisha: That's great. So that's Sapiens: A Brief History Of Mankind. It's one of those books that you do see. Now, it's funny. I haven't read it but a lot of my friends have it on their bookshelves, and I was like, "Oh Sapiens, you've got Sapiens, you're very smart." But I should now... I didn't even think about getting it on Audible. I'm gonna add that to my Audible list, 'cause I feel like that's something that I will feel good and have great stories like that to tell at dinner parties, which is life's goals there.

Sarah: Yes.

Aleisha: Sarah, this has been extraordinary. I have really enjoyed your company and you produce such amazing content, people would be mad to not check out what you do. 

Can you give us a plug and tell our lovely listeners where they can connect with you, see this content, and jump on board with what you do at Wholesale Ted.

Sarah: Yes. So, the best way that you can check out my content is to go, of course, to my YouTube channel which is Wholesale Ted and I understand in my New Zealand accent that it sounds like I'm saying Wholesale Tid as in T-I-D. 

In New Zealand, we don't really have the letter E, we basically pronounce it as the letter I, but it is Wholesale Ted. And I give actionable advice for entrepreneurs that are building, scaling, and growing their business. And so, if that is you, especially if you have an ecommerce business then come check me out and hopefully my videos can help you.

Aleisha: Oh my gosh. Sarah Chrisp, please come back again very soon. I adore you and thank you again for enlightening our Start Yours listeners. And of course, if you have a question, a thought, a comment, a topic, or maybe you want Sarah back and you're like, "I need to have Sarah back on the show, I want more information," pitch us, tell us what you wanna hear and maybe I can persuade Sarah to come back. 

You can email us and of course, if you have a theme or a topic that you think we haven't covered yet, tell us, I wanna hear it. Sarah, thank you.

Sarah: And thank you so much for having me on.

Aleisha: My pleasure. Happy printing on demanding.

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