It’s no secret that the t-shirt business is an oversaturated market. Due to the ease of entry and low cost of supplies, it has become one of the more popular businesses for new entrepreneurs to start. Because of that, it gets a bad reputation in some communities for being an “easy” path to success. However, as we’ll explain in this article, there are many benefits to starting your own t-shirt business both for yourself and also for the entrepreneurship ecosystÏem. Whether you’ve already been interested in starting your own t-shirt business, or any kind of business, and you just didn’t know how to begin, you’ll learn the whole process of how to start a t-shirt business from scratch in this article so you can follow along and replicate it yourself.
This article will cover everything you need to know about how to start a t-shirt business successfully, including:
- How to select a niche market
- How to create your t-shirts
- How to brand your business
- How to set up your website
- How to generate an audience
- How to make your first sales
- How to continue building your business
If you want to get started building your first t-shirt business using the best tools and resources, then keep reading. If you’re interested in learning more about how to start your own clothing line, check out this post.
Table of Contents
- Why You Should Start a T-Shirt Business
- How to Create Your T-Shirts
- T-Shirt Drop Shipping Services
- How to Fully Automate Your T-Shirt Business
- How to Choose an Ecommerce Platform
- Creating Your T-Shirt Designs
- T-Shirt Printing Methods
- Choosing a T-Shirt Style
- Creating Mockups
- Building Your T-Shirt Brand
- Trademarks & Copyrights
- Building Your T-Shirt Business Website
- How to Get Sales
- What to Do If You Aren’t Getting Any Sales
- The Future of Your T-Shirt Business
How to Start a T-Shirt Business Part 1: Starting Your Own T-Shirt Business
Why You Should Start a T-Shirt Business
As we just mentioned, starting your own t-shirt business can be beneficial for both you and the entrepreneurship ecosystem. What does this mean?
Starting a t-shirt business can be beneficial for you because:
- It’s easy to get started
- You can pursue it as a side hustle
- It can be fully automated
- You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get it up and running
- You can operate your own business without incurring substantial risks
T-shirt businesses are important for the entrepreneurship ecosystem because:
- They’re not too intimidating to get up and running
- They’re an achievable business model for first-time entrepreneurs to start
- Their ease of entry encourages people to start their first business
- They teach new entrepreneurs how to operate a business
- They help new entrepreneurs learn basic skills that are relevant to operating other businesses
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that everyone learns how to start their own business by actually starting a business, and you’ll learn more from starting your own business than any blog post or video can teach you. T-shirt businesses are easy to automate and require a small amount of money to get started- check out this case study on an entrepreneur who started a t-shirt business in 24 hours with only $24 – so new entrepreneurs don’t have to risk a lot to learn what it’s like to start and maintain their own business.
Where to Start
For any successful business, there is one single, most important way to start. Every business, whether purposefully or not, starts this way, or else they’ll have to determine it as they go along, resulting in setbacks and challenges. The single most important thing every business needs to determine is their niche market.
What is a Niche Market?
What is a niche market? A niche market is a specific group of people joined together by a common interest that is typically a subset of a larger market. Think of it like this: every person in the world has interests and those interests categorize them, consciously or not, into niche markets. The important aspect to note about niches is that they are specific enough to account for a substantial amount of people, while not being too large or too broad.
Simply choosing “Women” as your niche market is too broad. Women are interested in many different things, they are a broad range of ages, activity levels, geological locations, and have varying skills and values. “Women” are a market, but not a niche market. “Women aged 16-25 who rock climb” is more specific, without being too broad. There’s a substantial portion of the world’s population who fit the description of this niche market without it being too limiting.
Define a target group of people who your t-shirts will appeal to.
The purpose of niche markets is to define a target group of people that your t-shirts will appeal to. If you have no niche market, then you’ll have too broad a range of people to try to sell to which can become overwhelming and fruitless. Targeting ad campaigns becomes difficult, your branding can become directionless and there will be no identifiable passion fueling your business. Niche markets are passionate about their interests because, well, they’re interested in them! If you feed into their interests then their community is likely to extend their passion to your business.
Examples of Niche Markets
- Figure Skating
- Horseback Riding
Check out more ecommerce niches here with the 500 Ecommerce Niches Guide.
How to Find Your Niche
One of the best ways to approach choosing a niche market is to choose a niche that you are a part of. This is useful for many reasons. If you’re personally interested in the niche you’ll:
- Know what the niche values and what appeals to it.
- Be able to identify gaps in the market more easily.
- Clearly understand your market because you are a part of it.
- Be more likely to stick through the challenges of building the business as it’s something you’re passionate about.
Finding your niche is the most important first step to take in your t-shirt building process because it will dictate the future of your business and how you make every decision after this.
Take your time browsing different niche ideas, thinking about your own niche interests and how you can translate that into designs for a t-shirt, but also don’t get caught up in finding something “perfect.” You don’t need to have everything figured out all at once, and don’t overanalyze your decisions as over-analysis leads to paralysis in business. Think about your niche, but don’t get too caught up finding the “perfect” niche, as perfection is unattainable. Think about it, pick it and move on. The worst-case scenario is it doesn’t work out halfway through and you have to revisit this step, which is fine.
Validating Your Niche
Once you’ve chosen a niche market it’s important to validate it before you actually start investing time and resources into it. This can help you to see the bigger picture and identify any foreseeable challenges and setbacks before they happen so you can be aware and prepared.
How to Validate Your Niche
Validating your niche comes with a set of criteria by which you can measure it up against:
- What’s the potential size of the niche market? How large or small is it?
- Is this a large niche market that is well known and recognizable, or is this a hyper-niche market that’s under the radar?
- This will determine the number of potential customers you’ll be able to sell to.
- Who’s your competition?
- Are there companies already servicing this niche market in the same way you want to?
- This will determine how you will differentiate your t-shirts, whether it be through price, quality selection, or branding.
- Is this a trend, fad, or growing t-shirt market? Will it die out eventually or is it stable?
- Do you anticipate this t-shirt market being around long-term or is this something you can capitalize on in the short-term only?
- This will determine how long you can expect your business to be relevant.
- Who’s your target customer?
- Will they be likely to look for your t-shirts online? Do they have credit cards and the savvy to shop online? Where and how are they likely to search for shirts like yours?
Measure your niche market up against these criteria to identify any potential challenges you might face or any opportunities that might arise. You aren’t necessarily looking for a perfect niche that passes through these criteria with flying colors, you just want to be as prepared as you can be.
How to Turn Plans Into Action
Now that you’ve identified your niche and evaluated it for potential challenges and opportunities, it’s time to get started building this t-shirt business into fruition. The most efficient way to do this is to set up some ground rules for yourself first.
- Identify how much money you are willing to spend on this project
- Identify how much time you are willing to dedicate to building this business
- Identify whether you want this business to fully automated once you’re done setting it up, or if you want a more hands-on approach
These parameters are important for keeping yourself on track, giving yourself an end goal to work towards, and giving no power to excuses. It’s easy to push off tasks until “tomorrow” or “next week” if you have unlimited time to work on them, but giving yourself a deadline is important for motivating you to just get them done.
These parameters will also prevent you from getting lost in all the choices available to you. As we said, the t-shirt market is oversaturated so there can be endless amounts of choice. Can’t decide between the super high quality $50 premium cotton t-shirt or the $12 plus shipping generic poly-blend? Well if your budget doesn’t support premium quality prices, generic it is. Easy. It might not be perfect, but “perfection” isn’t going to help you launch your first t-shirt business because there’s always going to be something to perfect.
Start now with what you can, refine later.
How to Start a T-Shirt Business Part 2: How to Create Your T-Shirts
You Have Two Options
- You Can Manufacture T-Shirts & Print Your Designs on Them Yourself: This is a great option if you have a lot of money to spend upfront on bulk t-shirt manufacturing, have the capital to purchase a printer and ink, are interested in inventory management, and potentially operating at a loss if you can’t manage to sell all your inventory. However, this is not an easy entry option.
- You Can Use a Service that Can Do All That for You: Services that manage inventory, print, fulfill, and ship orders are called drop shippers. You can have your t-shirt orders printed and handled by drop shippers so all you have to do is supply them with designs and your customer’s addresses to ship them to. This is an easy entry option. It requires no inventory management, you don’t have to own and maintain printers, you don’t have to ship orders yourself, you don’t have to pre-purchase any inventory and you don’t have to worry about selling it all. The best part is, you can use a drop shipping service and still make a profit.
Option two is the method we recommend you use to build your t-shirt business and it will be the focus of this article. It’s a simpler process for first-time entrepreneurs, it requires less money upfront, it minimizes potential risks, and enables you to still make a profit and start your own business.
What is Drop Shipping?
Drop shipping is a service provided by wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors, or suppliers who make their product inventory available for their customers to sell without actually having to pre-purchase any inventory from them or ship the orders out themselves.
When you work with a drop shipping service, you advertise your supplier’s products on your own website for your customers to view, and when they place an order you manually or automatically forward the order to your dropshipper, they fulfill the order and then ship it to your customer.
Essentially, you’re the middleman. You provide products to your customers and source the products case-by-case from your drop shipper. T-shirt drop shippers also print your designs for you.
For more information on drop shipping and what it is, check out our article Dropshipping 101: What is Dropshipping.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Drop Shipping
- You don’t have to purchase or own inventory
- You don’t have to manage inventory
- You won’t lose money on unsold inventory
- You don’t have to own capital and equipment
- You don’t have to manage employees
- You don’t have to print, ship, and fulfill orders
- You have limited control over the range of inventory
- You have no control over inventory availability
- Your profit margins are smaller than they would be if you were to manufacture
- Managing returns and exchanges can become complicated
How to Choose a Dropshipper
Now that you know what drop shipping is, how do you choose a dropshipper for your t-shirt business? This can be based on a few factors:
- If you have a specific type of t-shirt in mind, like a specific style or fabric, find a dropshipper who stocks that type of shirt.
- If you want the largest profit margins possible, find a dropshipper who offers the lowest prices.
- If you plan on creating a completely automated business, choose a dropshipper who has an app that integrates with the ecommerce platform you use (more on ecommerce platforms later).
- Depending on your location or the location of your customers you may want to choose a dropshipper who is based conveniently.
- If you want to use a specific printing method (more on printing methods in Part 3).
Each drop shipping supplier will have unique advantages and disadvantages, it’s up to you to evaluate what you can and cannot compromise on. Shop around to see what each dropshipper has to offer and what will benefit your business the most.
T-Shirt Drop Shipping Services
Each of these companies provides t-shirt drop shipping services. We recommend taking your time to look at a few of them, see what they have to offer you, and if they stock the styles, colors, and fabrics you’re looking for.
It’s important to note that many of these dropshippers also stock more than just t-shirts, so if you think you’ll be interested in expanding your product range after you get started, keep that in mind while looking through these dropshippers. Always remember to do your own due diligence and evaluate each of these companies thoroughly to make sure you find the right fit for you.
- Printful (USA)
- Kite.ly (UK)
- Inkthreadable (UK)
- Merchify (USA)
- Print Aura (USA)
- Printify (USA)
- Shirt Monkey (UK)
- Tee Talkies (India)
- T-Shirt & Sons (UK)
If you’re interested in fully automating your business once it’s set up, some of these drop shipping services may be applicable for you while others may not. Read on to find out how to fully automate your t-shirt business.
How to Fully Automate Your T-Shirt Business
This is important to discuss at the beginning before you’ve even built your business because it will influence how you select the drop shipping service you’ll use. Not every drop shipping service is capable of creating a fully automated service so if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll have to choose accordingly.
Benefits of Fully Automating Your T-Shirt Business
- You Don’t Have to Manually Pass on Orders to Your Dropshipper: If you don’t use an automated drop shipping service you’ll have to make an order with your dropshipper every time a customer makes an order from you. This can be fine for the beginning once you first launch your store when you have little traffic, but as your business grows and more and more orders start coming in it can be a lot of work to manually pass orders on.
- Orders Can Be Accepted & Fulfilled When You Aren’t Around: No matter where you are, what you’re doing, whether you and your customers or dropshipper live in different time zones, orders can be fulfilled without you having to send them over manually.
- You Don’t Have to Actively Keep Track of Orders: No matter how great your organizational skills may be, keeping track of order numbers, dates of orders, sizes, addresses, SKU numbers, etc. is a lot to keep track of with ample room for human error to occur. Automated services prevent order information from changing hands so there’s a smaller chance of mistakes occurring.
- Less Work for You to Do: By using an automated drop shipping service there’s so much less work for you to do when it comes to the actual order-fulfilling process so you can focus on other things like providing exceptional customer service and a really smooth customer experience.
How to Find Out if a Dropshipper Offers an Automated Service
There is an easy way to do this or a hard way.
Hard Way: Search multiple dropshipper’s websites for information on whether they are compatible with any ecommerce platforms and which ones.
Luckily, Printful makes it clear who they integrate with, so if you choose to work with them you know upfront which ecommerce platforms they’re compatible with. Unfortunately, not all drop shippers are that clear about it, so you’ll need an easier way to figure it out.
Easy Way: Search your ecommerce platform’s app store for t-shirt dropshippers to get a list of which ones they’re compatible with.
With a simple search in the Shopify App Store you know all the drop shippers you can work with to run a fully automated business.
We keep mentioning ecommerce platforms but what are they and why are they relevant to your business and the drop shipping service you choose to use?
How to Choose an Ecommerce Platform
An ecommerce platform is the host platform that’s going to support your online website. By using an ecommerce platform you are able to create a website and sell products to your customers.
You basically have two options when it comes to creating your business’ website: you can build a self-hosted website yourself, or you can build a website via an ecommerce platform.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of ways to create a website, however, for new entrepreneurs starting their first business, it is strongly recommended that you build your business’ website on an ecommerce platform for various reasons.
Benefits of Building Your Business’ Website on an Ecommerce Platform
- Increased Security: Because ecommerce platforms are hosted websites they offer much more security for you and your customers than self-hosted websites. If you self-host your website you’re the one who’s going to have to put security measures in place and routinely monitor them, but when you use a hosted platform their team does that for you.
- Ease of Setup: Ecommerce platforms make it easy for you to set up your website by having customizable themes and templates so you don’t have to focus so much on the coding aspect of creating a website. This is great for you if you have none or very little coding experience as it makes creating a beautiful website easy and stress-free.
- Technical Support: If you operate a self-hosted website then you are the technical support. You’re in charge of making sure your website is running properly, that there are no hiccups or bugs, and that everything is in working order at all times. Hosted ecommerce platforms take care of the behind-the-scenes tech stuff so you can focus on creating your business and come to them for help if you need it.
- Cost-Effective: Self-hosted websites may look like they’re cheaper to set up because of low yearly domain payments, however, large costs can crop up unexpectedly. Most ecommerce platforms charge a monthly fee (or you can save money by paying upfront for a year) which is stable, predictable, cheaper than owning and operating a brick-and-mortar store, and accounts for top-notch security and peace of mind.
- Ease of Day-to-Day Use: Because ecommerce platforms focus on handling the tech side of things and make setting up your own website easy, you can manage your website without frustration on a day-to-day basis which really is invaluable. Ecommerce platforms just work which is exactly what you want them for.
Popular Ecommerce Platforms
For your t-shirt business, we’d recommend one ecommerce platform above the rest simply because it’s the best option for this kind of business. Shopify is one of the leading ecommerce platforms available based on its ease of use, customer education and support, app store, theme store, and overall customer experience. It’s top of the leaderboard in the ecommerce industry at the moment and they host hundreds of thousands of established businesses and startups alike.
We cannot recommend Shopify enough and highly suggest you consider it your first choice to host your t-shirt business. If you need more information, check out this Shopify Review or check out this video to help you start up your Shopify store. However, remember that you do have alternative options—you may also want to look into BigCommerce or Squarespace instead.
How to Choose the Right Ecommerce Platform For Your T-Shirt Business
When building your t-shirt business the right ecommerce platform that works the best for you really is going to come down to:
- Price: Since you’re just starting out and perhaps working within a budget, your choice of ecommerce platform may be influenced by the price of the service. Shop around for the price that works the best for what services you’re receiving.
- Ease of Setup: If you’re new to creating websites, you may want to look for the most user-friendly ecommerce platform when it comes to website themes and templates.
- App Integrations: If you’re looking to fully automate your business, your drop shipper’s app must be able to integrate with your ecommerce platform if you want your orders to be automatically put through to them. Search each ecommerce platform’s app stores for which drop shipping companies they integrate with.
It’s important to note that not all ecommerce platforms have apps, therefore the ones that don’t will not allow you to fully automate your business. Squarespace does not have an app store, so if you were to choose it as your ecommerce platform then you would have to manually forward your customer’s orders to your dropshipper. This is not an advisable route for long-term scalability and success.
Some ecommerce platforms facilitate the use of third-party apps, however, they may not always have the latest and greatest app integrations available if they are not one of the more popular platforms.
Since Shopify is one of the leading ecommerce platforms they are the first to have new app integrations and they have the largest selection of apps available. Simply search “t-shirt drop shippers” on their app store and you’ll find plenty of options to choose from that you can sync with your store so you can be fully automated.
How to Start a T-Shirt Business Part 3: Branding & Design
Now that you’ve completed all the research and sourcing parts of your t-shirt business, it’s time to get into branding and design. This is the fun part and the part that most people already have ideas about before they actually start building their business.
Creating Your T-Shirt Designs
We’re going to go ahead and jump right into creating t-shirt designs. Often times the t-shirt designs will influence the name and logo of the business so it can be a good idea to start with the designs first so you don’t stray away from the name and logo as your designs evolve.
How to Create Your T-Shirt Designs
There are several ways you can create your t-shirt designs:
- You can create your own artwork
- You can hire a designer
- You can buy a design
- You can use templates to create your own designs
Creating Your Own Artwork
If you’re artistically inclined or skilled with any sort of artistic medium like calligraphy, etching, or spray painting, it’s entirely possible to create your own t-shirt designs.
The guidelines for creating your own designs via your own artwork are pretty simple: Do whatever you want. You’re the one with the skills and you’re the one who’s going to be operating this t-shirt business so make whatever t-shirt designs you’re inspired to, whether that be image-based designs or text-based designs.
All you’ll need to be able to do is get your artwork into whatever file format your drop shipper requires so that they can print your designs. Most dropshippers require PNG files, JPG files, or at least PDFs, so as long as you can turn your design into a two-dimensional format, you’re good to go.
To learn more about these different file formats and how they’re used on the web, check out Optimizing Images for Web: A Step-By-Step Practical Guide.
However, before you start creating your t-shirt designs be aware of two things:
- If you aren’t creating your artwork on the computer already, you’re going to need some way to get it onto the computer once it’s finished. That likely means you’ll need a scanner of some description that doesn’t compromise the quality of your artwork. Be prepared to face that challenge or find a way to create your designs using software like Adobe Photoshop. Check out this course to help you learn the basics of Adobe Photoshop.
- Depending on the kind of designs you create you may need to be selective of the dropshipper you choose to work with. Each dropshipper will use different printing methods to get your designs onto a t-shirt and some of those printing methods are suited for some designs and don’t work well for others. Make sure the drop shipper you plan to work with uses a printing method that will allow your designs to translate well onto a t-shirt whether it’s a text-based design or a colorful and intricate design. Check out the drop shipper’s website or reach out to them if you have any questions regarding their printing methods. Printing methods will be covered in further detail later in this section.
Pros & Cons of Creating Your Own Designs:
- It’s inexpensive
- You get full creative control
- You can create designs quickly & when you need them
- They’ll be unique
- You’ll receive exposure for your talent/brand
- Limited to your own abilities
- Possibility of having your designs copied
Hiring a Designer
If creating your own designs isn’t plausible, you can always hire someone else to do it for you. There are various different websites and marketplaces you can go to online to find designers and your only limitations will be the cost and specific artistic style you’re looking for.
Where to Hire Designers
How to Hire a Designer
- Read their Reviews: Most, if not all, of the websites you use to search for a designer, should have a section of previous customer’s reviews for you to look through. This is a great place to get a sense of the designer’s quality, turnaround time, work ethic, time management skills, or anything that’s relevant to how they’ll perform their job. Remember that reviews are opinions and they can be biased, so take that into consideration when going through them.
- Evaluate their Portfolio: Have a look at the designer’s portfolio to see if their style matches with the designs you have in mind. This is important because you want a designer who’s the right fit for your brand. Just because a designer is talented at creating one style of design, doesn’t mean he or she will have the skills for others.
- Determine Whether they Fit into Your Budget: Hiring a designer for a project can be as inexpensive as tens of dollars or as expensive as thousands of dollars, so your budget will influence the designer you hire. Consider how many designs you’ll want them to create, any variations of the designs, how often you’ll want them to create designs for you, or if it’s just a one-time project.
- Contact the Designer: Contact them directly or via the service you discovered them or by their email and get a sense if your project is something they’d be willing to accept, whether they have time to work on it, when they can work on it, a quote of the cost and any other information you need.
Be aware that hiring a designer can be very much so like hiring an employee, meaning that they have the power to make your life infinitely easier or harder, depending on how they work individually and how you work as a team.
Don’t be afraid to contact multiple designers when you’re initially looking for one and give each of them a trial project to work on so you can get a sense of their work ethic and style as it directly pertains to your project. You want to take your time finding the right designer that fits your brand, as it can impact your business positively or negatively in the future.
Keep in mind that you typically pay for what you get, so if you’re looking for top-notch professional quality designs, you’ll need to allow for that in your budget. Also, remember that designers should always be compensated fairly for their time and their work, so be understanding of the time and effort it may take them to create your designs, mockups, and edits, and be ready to compensate them fairly.
Pros & Cons of Hiring a Designer
- You’ll have a bespoke design (or designs) for your business only
- Your designer can create a unique brand for your business
- The quality of the designs will be at the professional level
- You’ll have someone to create new designs on demand
- You and your designer will have full creative control of the end result of the design
- The cost of a quality designer can be pricy
- The process of creating designs from mockups to edits and then the final product can be lengthy
- Finding the right designer to work with initially can be a time-consuming process
If you aren’t able to create your own designs and don’t have the budget for a designer, it is possible to purchase designs already made. There are various different services that allow you to purchase pre-made designs so have a look at any of the following resources to see if they have any designs that may suit your requirements.
Where to Purchase Pre-Made Designs
- Creative Market (you’ll have to purchase the “commercial license” for anything you use from Creative Market)
- Graphic River (you’ll have to purchase the “commercial license” for anything from Graphic River as well)
- T-Shirt Factory
It’s important to note, however, that because these designs are so readily available, you aren’t the only business that may be using them. Because of this, it can be hard to differentiate your brand in the long run and this is usually only a short-term option only. So if you’re really bootstrapping your t-shirt startup, by all means, start with a pre-made design as it’ll look more professional than trying to throw something together yourself, but just know that this is only a short term solution and you’ll be looking for a way to replace it within a year of launching your business.
Pros & Cons of Purchasing a Design
- The design will be ready-made for you to use
- You can have a professional-looking design without the cost of a designer
- Little effort is needed on your part to imagine a design and have it brought to life, you can simply browse what’s available
- Other brands may be using the same designs
- Difficult to differentiate your brand
- Not a viable solution long term
- Your creative control is limited to what designs are available
Using Templates to Create Designs
The final option you have in terms of creating designs for your t-shirts is to use a pre-made template that you can adjust to your liking. T-shirt templates of all kinds are available for purchase via many different services so there are plenty of options for you to choose from. The benefit of using a template versus just purchasing an entire design is that you can modify templates to make them more relevant to your needs.
While the template itself may be used by other brands, it’s likely to have been modified in a different way from yours so that it’s not completely identical. While this option is still not the best in terms of longevity, it will give you a professional look that you can have some hand in creating, without having to start from square one.
To edit the template you’ll need a software service like Adobe Photoshop to make adjustments to it. Check out this course, Basics of Photoshop: Fundamentals for Beginners, to learn more about how to use Adobe Photoshop.
Where to Purchase Templates
Pros & Cons of Using Templates
- Gives you a professional-looking design
- You have some input into how the end result of the design looks
- It’s less expensive than hiring a designer
- It’s adjustable and modifiable so it won’t be likely that you find another brand with an identical design to yours
- Limited in some aspects of how the design will look overall
- Potential to have a similar-looking design to another brand
- Not an entirely long-term option
The Design Process
Now that you’ve figured out how you plan to create your designs, what does the design process actually look like? There are three main steps to the process that you’ll have to work through, encountering challenges and setbacks as you go.
Step 1: Ideation
This step in the design process is crucial because it’s going to serve as the foundation and dictate every other decision that follows. This is the step where you’ll start brainstorming ideas for your design, how you want it to look, what you want it to represent, and how you want your designs to represent your brand. Essentially you want to map out all of your ideas into a logical plan so that you can build on them in the coming steps.
How to Work Through the Ideation Stage
At this stage, free-flowing thoughts and images are going to be the key to your success. You want to be able to take all your ideas for your designs, in whatever form they come to you, and get them down on paper or into one specific place.
How to Keep Track of Your Ideas:
- Brainstorm/Mind Map: If your ideas are all over the place and you don’t have a cohesive way to explain your design in sentences, start a brainstorm bubble or a mind map to get all of your ideas down next to each other. Once you’ve written all you can, take a look at all the words there and categorize them or summarize them to narrow them down. The purpose of this exercise is to take all the ideas spinning around in your head and see them next to each other so that you can start to create a more cohesive understanding of your design. This will make it easier to explain to a designer or to use for your own reference.
- Write Jot Notes: If you’ve got a pretty solid idea of what you want your design to look like or specific elements you want to incorporate, write them down as a list that you can reference easily. Again, the purpose of this exercise is to get all your ideas out where you can see them so they can be easily explained to a designer or referenced as you’re creating your own designs.
- Create a Moodboard: If you can’t describe what you want your designs to be but you know what they want to look like, create a moodboard of images that represent your designs. These images can show exact elements of your design like certain shapes or colors, or they can be more abstract and give off a certain mood, vibe, or color palette. Whatever it is you want your designs to look like, get it in image form and onto a moodboard.
- Draw It Out: This is the best option if you’re creating the designs yourself, so in whatever medium you plan to create your design, start working on some preliminary mockups. This will give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t work so you can be more prepared for the next step.
Step 2: Creation
After you complete the first stage you’ll be prepared to start creating your designs. Whether this means you’re actually physically creating it yourself, looking for templates online, or having a designer create it for you, the first step has helped you know what you’re aiming for.
The creation process takes time and it usually isn’t as simple as making the design and then it’s done. Often you’ll create a mock-up, a rough draft, a second draft, etc. with edits in between to make the design perfect.
The more information you discerned in Step 1 of this process, the easier you’ll make this step for yourself. If you’re confident with your direction in Step 1 and truly considered every aspect of the design, then this step should simply be a matter of putting it all together. However, that isn’t always the case and you may find yourself changing direction or pivoting as you go along and that’s fine.
How to Work Through the Creation Stage:
- Start With a Mock-Up: Don’t go full out on the first try of making your design. Just have a rough run-through, figure out where you want everything to go, and just get a design created.
- Move Onto as Many Drafts as You Need: From here you’ll be able to identify what worked and what didn’t. You’ll know what went well and what needs more thought put into it.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Make Edits: Edits are where the magic happens. This is where you’ll take your design from being “good” to “better.” If you aren’t sure where to make edits, put down your design and don’t look at it for a day or two and then come back to it. That space should give you time to recognize any glaring problem areas. Otherwise, have a friend or family member look at the design and see what they have to say about it unprompted. You’ll understand a lot about your design based on their initial facial expressions, body language, and words.
- Choose a Final Design: The design may never feel like it’s going to be done as there are always improvements to make. At some point, however, you’re going to have to take what you have and be okay with it as your final design and just keep moving forward.
Step 3: Actualization
This is the final step in the creation process and most of the hard work will be done by now. At this stage, your design is created and now it’s about fitting it and formatting it onto the t-shirt of your choice. This is where you’ll see your product come to life.
How to Work Through the Actualization Stage:
- Format Your Design Onto Your T-Shirt: As we said, the hard work is done at this stage and all you need to do is put your finalized design onto your t-shirt mockups. Be aware of any specific formatting or dimensions you need to adhere to depending on how the t-shirt is being printed. Your dropshipper will have all of this information available to you on their website.
- Make Minor Adjustments: Whether it be a color or certain spacing or just a minor modification, make it now before your shirts start to get printed.
- Different Printing Methods: Depending on the design you just created, it may need to be printed in a specific way so it’s important to understand your options and know what your dropshipper can offer you.
For more on the t-shirt creation process check out these two courses:
- The Definitive Guide to T-Shirt Design & Manufacturing by Jeff Staple of Staple Design.
- Hey, Cool Shirt: Designing Effective T-Shirt Graphics by Chris Delorenzo of Johnny Cupcakes.
Inspiration for t-shirt designs can be found here:
- Kickstarter T-Shirt Campaigns
- Redbubble Popular
- SnorgTees Best Sellers
- Zazzle Best Sellers
- Zazzle Popular
Printing methods may have an influence on your designs and how they end up being able to appear, so it’s important to understand the different printing methods available to you, how they suit different designs and how they may impact which dropshipper you are able to work with.
The Four Main Printing Methods
Screen printing is one of the oldest printing methods and has stood the test of time because of the quality results it produces. Screen printing only usually makes sense to utilize when there are a large number of t-shirts with the exact same design needing to be printed as it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming to set up.
This printing method is utilized by some dropshippers, but they usually still require bulk orders of t-shirts that you would have to pay upfront to produce. This option doesn’t usually make sense for new entrepreneurs as you’ll be more likely to not want to produce in bulk so you don’t have inventory to pay for and manage.
As the name would suggest, this printing method uses heat to print the design from special heat transfer paper onto a t-shirt. This method is an old printing method, and it hasn’t stood the test of time as well as the screen printing method as it doesn’t produce super high quality or long-wearing results.
This printing method may be used by dropshippers, but typically it’s used by people printing and selling their own t-shirts from scratch. The upfront cost to purchase a heat transfer printing machine as well as the t-shirts and printing paper can be immense and isn’t a recommended option for new entrepreneurs as it’s costly, produces low-quality results, and is labor-intensive.
Direct to Garment (DTG)
This is a relatively new printing method that extremely cost-effective because it’s conveniently similar to an inkjet printer, thus suitable for printing small orders. This printing method yields high-quality and lasting results that are less labor-intensive to achieve.
Most dropshippers will use the DTG printing method because of its ease of use, color accuracy, and ability to print in small quantities. This will be your best choice to print your designs as it’s able to print both colorful and monochromatic colors well and intricate patterns are not a problem.
This is another relatively newer printing method that’s generating a lot of attention in the apparel drop shipping world at the moment because it allows you to print a design all over the entire garment as opposed to just in one place.
Some dropshippers offer all-over sublimation printing, so look into it and see if it’s something that would elevate the look of your t-shirts.
Choosing a T-Shirt Style
Each dropshipper is going to offer a different selection of t-shirt styles for you to choose from. You’ll want to have an idea in your head of which kind of style (or styles) you’re looking for so you can find a dropshipper that offers what you need.
Your options typically include short-sleeved t-shirts, long-sleeved t-shirts, cap sleeve t-shirts raglan t-shirts, pullover hoodies, zip-up hoodies, tank tops, cropped t-shirts, crewnecks, v-necks, scoop necks, youth t-shirts, infant t-shirts, and unisex t-shirts. Depending on the dropshipper they may have some, all, or more of these options. It’s up to you to decide which look you want to go for so you can pick a dropshipper that has the styles you want available. Check out this review for the best quality t-shirts for printing.
Once you’ve finalized your designs and now have an idea of how you want your t-shirts to be printed, it’s time to create mockups. Essentially these are going to give you a sense of what your final product is going to look like, and they can serve as your product photos on your website.
Luckily, most t-shirt drop shipping services provide a complimentary mockup creating service so that you can create your t-shirt mockups easily, for free, and typically on the exact t-shirt style you plan to use. You can also provide mockups to your dropshipper to help them understand the placement of your design on your t-shirts which is useful knowledge for them so your t-shirts appear exactly how you want them to.
These services are helpful tools to use to get a sense of what your designs will look like on actual t-shirts. This can help you manage the placement of your designs and communicate to your dropshippers how you want the final product to look. Most of these tools are free to use.
- 22 Awesome T-Shirt Templates & Mockups
- 50 Free Templates
- The Best T-Shirt Templates & Mockup Generators
- Graphic River T-Shirt Mockups
- Placeit Apparel
- Printful Mockup Generator
- Shirt Mockup
These are the best option for creating product photos of your t-shirts for your website because they will give you a realistic look without you actually having to take the product photos yourself. Many of these templates also show the t-shirt on the body which is helpful for your customers and typically what they want to see when they’re shopping online. Most of these tools require a small fee to use (around $10-$20) as well as Adobe Photoshop to make adjustments.
- Realistic T-Shirt Template
- Hanging T-Shirt Template
- Ghosted T-Shirt Template
- Isolated Model T-Shirt Templates
- Men’s Lifestyle Image T-Shirt Templates
- Women’s Lifestyle Image T-Shirt Templates
- Comprehensive Clothing Template Bundle
Building Your T-Shirt Brand
Now that the details are finalized such as your t-shirt designs, style, printing method, and mockups, it’s time to start building a brand around your t-shirts.
What is a Brand?
A brand is how someone thinks and feels about your company, whether they’re a customer of yours or not, and their thoughts and feelings are based on the sum of all the interactions they have with your business.
A brand is a collection of expectations, memories, promises, stories, thoughts, feelings, and relationships between businesses and people. A brand affects both customers and noncustomers, and a business can control some aspects of their brand while people’s experiences, reactions, and interactions dictate other aspects of a business’ brand.
Why a Brand is Important
As we’ve already mentioned, the t-shirt industry is oversaturated, meaning many people are designing and selling their own t-shirts to sell to consumers and without a brand, there’s little to no reason why consumers should buy from your t-shirt business rather than another one.
Defining your business’ brand also gives you a direction to work in and helps you communicate your message and story to consumers. It gives consumers something to relate to, which is important because consumers buy from brands they like. Every business has a brand whether they consciously play into it or not, so if you’d like to have a hand in your t-shirt business’ brand, it’s advantageous to start when your business is new for maximum desired effect and potential.
What a Brand Consists Of
Branding itself is a huge topic to cover as there are lots to know and learn about branding specifically, so if you’re interested in learning in-depth about branding and building a brand then check out our Ecommerce Branding Guide.
In the meantime, these are the basics of branding your t-shirt business:
Controllable Brand Elements:
- Brand Story
- Business Name
- Brand Colors
- Photography Style
Uncontrollable Brand Elements:
- Customer Experiences
- Customer Expectations
- Word of Mouth
It’s important to differentiate the two types of brand elements—controllable and uncontrollable—before you start because it will impact what you’ll need to work on and develop as a business. We’ll go into both elements in further detail.
Controllable Brand Elements
Controllable brand elements enable you to present your business in an appealing way to consumers. Everything about your controllable elements should work in harmony with one another, not contradicting each other, and always aligned. This means that they should use similar colors and fonts, complementary styles, the same tone of voice, and most importantly—represent the same brand story.
Your brand story is the backbone of your business and it should tell customers what purpose your t-shirt business serves, why it was created, who wears these t-shirts, what they represent, what they stand for, etc. Your brand story should be compelling as it’s how your customers decide that your business is right for them, that they’re aligned with your brand values and it’s why they’ll choose to wear your t-shirts. Your brand story should play a part in every aspect of your branding because it represents why your brand is important and it sets you apart from other brands. You should explain your brand story in full detail on your website’s “About Page.”
Your business’ name is one of your first points of contact with consumers and should represent as much of your brand story as you can possibly fit into one or two words. Business names are better short and sweet, the easier to spell and pronounce the better, and should be easy to remember.
If you’re having trouble thinking of your business name try using the Shopify Business Name Generator or brainstorm some ideas and test them on friends and family for spelling and pronunciation. Your business name is important, so don’t approach the task too flippantly, but also don’t let it hold you back from progressing with your business.
It’s also important to check which domain handles are available for your business name before you finalize the name, so check on Shopify’s Business Name Generator, Namecheap, or any other domain registrar.
Again, your business’ logo is one of the first points of contact between you and consumers so it’s important that it represents your brand accurately. Not all businesses choose to create a brand logo or to create an elaborate one. Luxy Hair is a successful business that simply uses stylized text as their logo, so it’s not integral that your t-shirt business has a complex and professionally designed logo. Of course, you can choose to create a beautiful logo if you think it’s worthwhile for you.
You have several different options for creating a logo: you can design one yourself, get a designer to create one, use a logo-making service, or use a premade template.
Check out the logo making resources we recommend:
It’s common knowledge that colors evoke certain feelings within people, so depending on the atmosphere you want to create between your customers and your brand, choose appropriate colors.
The importance of your brand colors starts on your website and may even extend as far as the colors you pick for your t-shirts. If you’re branding your business as being adventurous and playful, you may choose bright colors for your t-shirts, while if you’re wanting to exude a more minimal, fresh feel you might pick black or white shades instead. Whatever colors you choose will impact how your brand is perceived.
Resources to help you develop your brand colors:
Font matters. It subtly relays atmosphere and emotion to written words, so choose brand-appropriate fonts for your website, logo, and for your t-shirt designs if there’s text involved. There are many resources you can source either free or premium fonts from, so have a look and find one that speaks well for your brand.
Like all the other visual elements of a brand, photography style plays into the mood of your brand and should reflect it appropriately. You need to understand how you want your customers to feel when they have your t-shirt in their life and you should be aiming to represent that through your photography style.
There are two main photos you take for your website, product photos and lifestyle photos. Product photos should always show the t-shirt clearly, in quality lighting with very little distraction. For more on product photography, check out this Product Photography: The Ultimate DIY Guide.
Lifestyle photos should show your t-shirt in action. They should show how it’s worn, where it’s worn or why it’s worn. It should enable your customers to picture your t-shirt as a part of their lifestyle.
Use stock photos and a little photoshop to create some lifestyle photos:
Uncontrollable Brand Elements
Uncontrollable brand elements are defined by your customers as well as people who have never purchased from you. It’s important to realize that these uncontrollable elements are not solely limited to the individuals who have purchased from you because that leaves out a large portion of people who have drawn conclusions of your brand that you haven’t directly had a point of contact with. It’s important to know your non-customers’ impressions of your brand just as much as it is important to know your customers’ impressions.
So how do people—your customers and non-customers—impact your brand?
People start having an experience with your brand the moment they come in contact with your first touchpoint, whether they see your t-shirt on someone, get a glimpse of your logo, hear your business name or listen to someone else talk about you. From that moment that person is having either a positive, neutral, or negative experience with your brand whether you like it or not. You have no control over what they’re seeing or hearing, and you have no control over how they’re perceiving their experience. The most you can do is provide the best possible experience through every direct point of contact you have with people and hope that continues positively.
People, no matter how little contact they’ve already had with your brand, have their own preliminary expectations. They expect a certain level of quality when it comes to aspects of your brand such as your website, your customer service, your shipping, and packaging—as well as your product and this level of expectation—is different for everyone. Because it’s a totally subjective experience that you don’t always have a hand in controlling (like if their package is lost or late because of the shipping courier, or if your t-shirt is of a different quality than they expected), then they either form a positive, neutral or negative opinion about you.
Ideally, you should always be aiming to exceed your customer’s expectations, however, that isn’t always possible because their preconceived expectations may not be realistic for you to meet. All you can do is your best.
Word of Mouth
Lastly, an aspect of your brand you have no control over is what other people are saying about your brand. Based on their expectations and experiences with your brand, whether they’ve actually purchased from you or not, they may speak in a positive, neutral, or negative way about your brand to other people. This may or may not improve or damage your brand’s reputation depending on any given situation, so again, the most you can do is provide the best possible experience that you have a hand in controlling directly and hope that doing so encourages positive word of mouth.
For more on branding, check out this worthwhile course: A Staple of Branding: How to Start Your Fashion Company by Jeff Staple of Staple Design.
Trademarks & Copyrights
It’s common for new entrepreneurs to wonder if they should trademark their branding or copyright their designs and if it’s worth it. For this subject, your best advice would be that of a lawyer and there are many online law services available for you to contact should you be interested in legal advice.
- Trademarks apply to identifying elements of a brand such as a logo
- Copyrights apply to literary and artistic works such as designs, books, and videos
The short answer that we can provide you is no. It’s not worth your while to formally file for a trademark or copyright protection purely because trademarks are only valid in the country they’ve been registered in (unless you register a special kind of trademark) and copyrights are immediately granted to works of art, such as your t-shirt designs, automatically and without you needing to formally register them.
Registering for trademarks and copyrights can be a costly expense for a new entrepreneur to stomach when they’re first starting and it’s not something that’s mandatory. Your best bet is to work on your brand so much so that people would rather purchase directly from you rather than a counterfeit version of your t-shirt design, so focus on creating a strong brand identity.
However, always do your own due diligence and seek professional legal advice.
Online Legal Resources:
How to Start a T-Shirt Business Part 4: Building Your Website
Now that you’ve put together a product it’s time to get it on the web so you can start selling to customers. First things first, you need a website.
In Part 2 we discussed ecommerce platforms and we strongly recommended that you chose Shopify as your ecommerce platform host, as that is almost always the best option for every ecommerce t-shirt business.
Your ecommerce platform is where you’re going to build your website, and there are four main steps you need to achieve. You need to:
- Design your homepage
- Integrate with your dropshipper
- Set up the rest of your website
Designing Your Homepage
Your homepage is one of the most important aspects of your business as it is your main point of interaction with your customers. You want to make sure that it’s easy to navigate, a clear representation of your brand, and displays your t-shirts in an enticing way.
It’s Important for Your Homepage to Be:
- Easy to Navigate: You want your customers to be able to easily find what they’re looking for.
- Enticing to Your Customers: You want them to be interested and excited about your brand and your product.
- Devoid of Distractions: You don’t want your customers to click onto a link that leads them off of your website, and you don’t want to distract them from your products.
- Representative of Your Brand: You want your customers to immediately be able to understand what you’re selling and what your unique value proposition is within three seconds of being on your homepage.
- Welcoming: You want customers to see your homepage and trust your business immediately.
It’s Important for Your Storefront to Have:
- An Appropriate Theme: The theme you choose for your website dictates the look, feel, and layout. You want your theme to do your t-shirts and brand justice, so choose one that fits your business’ style. Check out the Shopify Theme Store and Out of the Sandbox Shopify Themes for theme options.
- Your Business Name & Logo: These are important to your brand and you want your customers to undoubtedly know which website they’re on.
- Your Unique Value Proposition: This is a few words or a short sentence that tells customers why they need your product in their life and why it’s of value to them.
- A Clear Call-to-Action: Lead your customers through your website, don’t let them be a deer in headlights, tell them to “Click Here For This” or “Scroll Down For That” so they know exactly what to do and where to go.
- Lifestyle Photos of Your T-Shirts: Show your t-shirts in action and give your customers a vision of how their life will look with your t-shirts in them.
Integrate With Your Dropshipper
This is how you’re going to be able to operate a fully automated t-shirt business. If you’ve chosen your ecommerce platform strategically, it will have an app integration with your drop shipping service that enables you to link the two together.
This means that every time a customer places an order for one of your t-shirts it will be sent directly to your dropshipper and they’ll be able to confirm the order, fulfill and ship it without needing any additional input from you.
It’s highly recommended that you select a dropshipper who does have an app integration with your ecommerce platform as it will make your life much easier and your business easier to manage.
Printful, our preferred printing and drop shipping service, has an entire article answering frequently asked questions for the Shopify + Printful integration.
Setting Up Your Website
After you’ve set up your homepage it’s time to start on the rest of your website. Similarly to your homepage, the rest of your website also needs to be devoid of distractions, easy to navigate, representative of your brand, and enticing to customers.
It’s Important for Your Website to Include:
- An “About Us” Page: This is where you get to gush about your brand story and tell your customers what you’re all about. The “About Page” is one of the most frequently visited pages of any website so be sure you utilize it to let your customers know about your t-shirts and why they need one.
- A “FAQ Page”: Another frequently visited page on most websites, the “Frequently Asked Questions” Page should answer common questions customers ask, or questions you will expect customers to ask, so they don’t have to contact you and wait for a response. Make everything as simple as possible for your customers and provide as much information as you can upfront.
- Product Pages: Every different kind of t-shirt you’re selling on your website needs to have its own product page. When your customers click on a product your website will direct them to the product’s page and that’s where they’ll learn necessary information they’re interested to know like what sizes your t-shirt comes in, what colors, and what styles. You should also include additional images of your t-shirt, like what it looks like on the body, what the back looks like, and any other images you see fit. There should also be a compelling description of the t-shirt like where it should be worn or how it can be worn, plus you should also include the care details (how to wash it, etc.) and what the fabric is made of (cotton, polyester, blend, etc.)Answer all your customer’s questions on the product page so they can feel satisfied knowing what exactly the product is that they’re buying. This will also save them from contacting your customer service asking questions you could have easily answered.
- T-Shirt Pricing: Before you launch, you’ll need to put a price on your t-shirts. This is where you’ll have to take into account how much your dropshipper is charging you for your t-shirts and how much profit you’d like to make per shirt. You’ll need to find a balance between the cost of making the shirts, the cost of shipping, your profit, and how much you anticipate a customer would be willing to pay and find a number that suits that balance. You need to at the very least cover the cost of the shirts and the shipping, the profit you make is totally up to you and probably lies between the cost of the shirts & shipping, subtract how much you can expect a customer will pay for the shirt. Make use of psychological pricing strategies to help make your t-shirt prices seem more appealing to customers, but don’t expect to be making a large profit per shirt. Dropshipping as a business model chews into your profit margins so aim to sell large quantities of shirts rather than making large quantities of money each time you sell a shirt. Tip: Make sure you know which currency your dropshipper works in so when you’re crunching numbers they’re all in the same currency. If you can also let your customers know which currency your website operates with so your prices make sense to them. Check out Shopify’s article to help you with currencies. Don’t forget to figure out the correct taxes either.
- Contact Information: In the event that a customer needs to contact you to ask a question or provide feedback, let them know the best way to contact you and within how long they should expect a response. You should be able to respond quickly to your customers (within 24 hours is ideal) through whichever method of contact you prefer (email is typically the best), as making your customers wait may force them to purchase from another business. Use Google Apps for Business or FastMail to get a domain-specific email handle like firstname.lastname@example.org. Want a business phone number you can use right on your own phone? Check out OpenPhone.
- Shipping Information: Let your customers know how their t-shirt will be shipped, how much it will cost them, whether they should expect any customs or duties fees, and how long they should expect their package to arrive. Providing all this information upfront allows your customers to create realistic expectations of your service so they know what to expect.
- Returns & Refunds Information: Let your customers know how and where they can return their t-shirts and what your refund policy is. Since you’re working with a dropshipper who handles the t-shirt fulfillment, you’ll need to get familiar with how they handle returns and how that will work for your business. Use these to create a Returns & Refunds document: Returns & Refunds Policy Generator
Launching Your Website
The final step is to launch your business! It’s important to realize at this point that just because you’ve built a business does not mean that customers will immediately start trickling in. You’ve done a lot of work up until this point to create your t-shirts and get your business ready for customers, but once you’ve removed the password protection from your store and officially launched, it’s time to start working on generating traffic.
How to Start a T-Shirt Business Part 5: Generating Traffic
Just because you’ve built a business does not mean customers will magically come. It’s up to you to use strategies to generate traffic to your store so you can start selling your t-shirts.
How to Get Sales
In case we haven’t said it enough already, the t-shirt business is a saturated market. There are lots of other t-shirt businesses and that’s going to impact how you make sales. No matter how cool your designs are, you’re not selling a product consumers can only get from just you, so you need to be very specific with who you target. Remember your niche market?
Sell to Your Niche Market
This is where your niche market comes into play. At the beginning of this post, we went into a lot of detail determining the right niche market and ultimately you built a business that should appeal to the niche market you chose. Now’s the time to target that market.
They are your ideal customers. They’re passionate about your niche and people like to spend money on their passions. All you have to do is make yourself known to them. So how do you do that?
Go where they go.
Where does your niche market hang out?
- Do they have a Facebook group?
- Are they on Instagram?
- Do they have a subreddit on Reddit?
- Do they hold organized events?
- Are they at fairs or markets?
- Can you find them at festivals?
Any place your niche market hangs out is an opportunity to target them. Become a part of these groups, engage in their communities, and take part in their events. Even if it just means getting your business exposure and not necessarily sales at first. Just make your business known in as many ways as possible.
Strategies to Get Sales
Beyond just making your business known to your niche market there are strategies you can implement to get sales. These strategies can help get you up and running, generate some traffic and momentum, and help get your t-shirts out there. Here’s what you can do.
- Sell to Friends and Family: This will be your most accessible group of people to sell your t-shirts to initially and can help give you a boost of motivation when you’ve just launched. Contact your friends and family, show them what you’ve been working on, and encourage them to show their support by purchasing a t-shirt.
- Setup Your Business on Social Media: It’s never too early to get your business on social media so register on all the platforms that make sense for your business whether that be Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Youtube, etc. Start engaging with your niche market by following, hashtagging, commenting, and posting so you can get your brand out there and get people who are interested in your t-shirts following your accounts. Making your business is present on social media is the easiest and fastest way to introduce your brand to relevant markets. Check out Shopify’s article on growing a large Instagram account from scratch.
- Run a Contest or Giveaway: This is a great way to get your business on the radar of lots of people and generate buzz around your brand. To do this you’ll want to use a tool like Vyper or Gleam which generate viral giveaways to encourage consumers to sign up and share with their social platforms. Try it out and see how it can boost your sales.
- Produce Paid Advertisements: Paid advertisements are hugely important on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit, and can be a very lucrative opportunity when done right. You may have to spend some time tweaking your advertisements before you get the right mix of what you need for it to be successful, so if you have time, patience, and some cash, paid advertisements can drive a lot of traffic to your website. You can also pay for sponsored posts by social media influencers, depending on your budget, as that’s a lucrative way to target a niche market.
- Implement an Email Capture: This is a long play strategy and won’t likely get you many sales in the short term, however, it will help you to build access to an interested audience that you’ll be able to make sales from eventually. In ecommerce, emails are king because they’re free to send, you don’t have to bid for the top spot in a customer’s inbox and essentially the people who sign up for your newsletters are volunteering themselves as being interested in your brand. These are the ideal candidates to sell to. Your email list will start at nothing but the more effort you put into sending out valuable information the more it will grow. You can send out information such as new t-shirt designs you’ve launched, new t-shirt styles you’re printing on, other news that’s relevant to your niche market, exclusive discounts, or share social media images of customers wearing your t-shirts. Do what you can to promote your brand through your free marketing channel. The best way to acquire emails is to give customers an incentive for signing up like a discount or a free product, have customers create an account with your website in order to check out, use a tool that creates pop-ups like the Sumo List Builder or the Picreel Exit Offers. They may be annoying but they work. Check out these email capture resources to start collecting emails: Klaviyo: Advanced email marketing, MailChimp: Free for up to 2,000 subscribers, and AWeber: Affordable email marketing.
- Create Content: Create content on your social media platforms to entice customers that are interested in your brand. You can create any kind of content whether it be Instagram posts, Youtube videos, or blog posts, just create on any platform that makes sense for your business. Content will help people engage and become interested in your brand and the more they identify with it the more likely they’ll be willing to purchase one of your t-shirts. Check out our Content Strategy Guide for helpful information and tools to create your best content.
What to Do If You Aren’t Getting Any Sales
If this is your first business it’s likely that you may have trouble generating consistent sales at first, so don’t get too frustrated. Sometimes all it takes is a revamp of your sales strategies and a small change in direction to get where you want to be. This is a learning process, so be willing to try new tactics and don’t get too discouraged.
Identify the problem. It could be anything from poor product photos, expensive shipping fees, a confusing website, a poor quality product, an overpriced product, lack of exposure, poor SEO, inauthentic content, an unconvincing brand story, or a combination of any of these factors.
Take a hard look at every aspect of your business and figure out what changes can be made. If you can’t achieve an objective perspective, have family or friends help you out. Your best bet, however, would be to have strangers with an unbiased opinion towards your business take a look. Post a thorough question or request to the r/entrepreneur subreddit on Reddit for advice and suggestions you may not be able to observe yourself. Basically, you just want to figure out what’s not working so you can fix it.
A major challenge you may be facing if you aren’t getting any sales is that you may not be targeting the right market. Re-examine your niche market to find out if your product directly adds value to it, or if you’ve begun to stray away from your niche since you originally identified it at the beginning.
Perhaps your niche market has shifted slightly and you’ve been marketing to the wrong group of people. Maybe you need to target a larger niche market or a smaller niche market. Perhaps you need to target an entirely different niche than you originally thought. This may take some time to evaluate and retarget, but you’ll eventually find out where your brand fits in.
It’s easier and cheaper to sell to current customers than it is to acquire new ones. You have a t-shirt business and people typically wear more than one t-shirt in their daily lives. That means you have a great opportunity to sell more than one of your products to your customers. Utilize that opportunity!
Create an incentive for your customers to purchase again from you whether that be a stellar unboxing experience, a packing insert with a discount code for their next order (Printful enables you to send your branded packing inserts), or fun new products for them to get excited about. Do what you need to to make them want to purchase from you again.
How to Start a T-Shirt Business Part 6: The Future of Your T-Shirt Business
What does a t-shirt business look like in the long run? What sort of strategies can you implement to make it successful long-term?
Utilize Your Email List
If you’re maintaining a steady amount of traffic and you’ve got your email capture method figured out you should be growing your list. Continue to make use of this list to send out weekly or monthly news and updates, sharing your content and your products to the people who have raised their hands and put their names down to say they want to know what your brand is up to. These people are important, so keep up with your email list and you’ll continue to grow a dedicated group of customers.
Continue to Better What’s Already Working
If customers are loving your t-shirts, bring out some other apparel or homewares. If your social media content is generating lots of views or likes, keep at it. If your paid advertisements are sending lots of traffic your way, keep investing in it. Just keep focusing on what’s working and building that platform of whatever is driving traffic and sales to your store. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Just keep working on it and it’ll keep growing.
Sell on Other Marketplaces
Your t-shirts may do well selling on other marketplaces such as Etsy, Amazon, or eBay so don’t rule those out as possibilities even when you have your own ecommerce store. The benefits of selling on marketplaces are that they already generate lots of traffic and lots of consumers are actively searching for products, so make use of that opportunity. Use other marketplaces as a tool to help generate traffic back to your own ecommerce site and to gain exposure.
Contact your customers, let them know that you’re a new business and you want to know what you can do to improve. You want to be evolving in the direction your customers want to see you go, so ask them what they’d like to see from you. This can help you to realize problems you never knew you had and it will help you to create a positive experience for your customers in the future.
You now know the entire process of what it takes to create a t-shirt business and it’s time for you to start your own.
A t-shirt business is a great entry-level business for new entrepreneurs because it doesn’t cost a lot to start and working with a dropshipper that can integrate with your ecommerce platform makes the process easier and automatable for you. You can start and run this business as a side hustle to make extra cash in your downtime because it’s not time- or labor-intensive to start up, and it can be fully automated once your ecommerce platform and dropshipper are integrated.
By starting a t-shirt business you get to learn some fundamental ecommerce business skills such as niche selection and validation, design creation, branding, setting up a website, getting traffic, and making sales that are the basis of any business. A t-shirt business is a perfect low-risk way to implement these skills, play around with them, and learn from them without being afraid to make a costly mistake.
The best way to learn how to start a business is to actually start your own, so follow along with this guide, make use of the tools and resources and get your t-shirt business up and running.