How to Start a Print on Demand T-Shirt Business with Dropshipping

A print on demand t-shirt business with dropshipping is one of the most lucrative and easiest businesses to build today.

It is so simple that one would think it is like building a lemonade stand.

Perhaps you have heard about the buzz; perhaps you have not.

What I will share with you today is how you can start your own t-shirt business four easy steps.

Depending on your level of capabilities, you can start a t-shirt business in as short as a month, a wee, or even just one day.

That is right—one day! If it is not your first rodeo with building an online store, then I highly believe you can build one in 24 hours, albeit you will only have a few products.

These are the things we will discuss today:

  • What is print on demand?
  • What is dropshipping?
  • Choose a Niche
  • Select a supplier
  • Build your store
  • Market your products

Excited? I am, too! Let us get started!


What is print on demand?

Let us backtrack a little.

There was a time when the printing industry required a silkscreen before the ink could be transferred to the cloth.

The process of making a silkscreen can take days—the artist has to draw and cut plastic filaments, put them on the silkscreen, and repeat the process for each color.

what-is-print-on-demand

After that, the printer has to lay down the silkscreen on the shirt, apply the ink, spread it, hang the shirt to dry, and then finally deliver it to the customer.

This process is so tedious and manual that t-shirt printers needed what was called a minimum order requirement or MOQ before they work on a project.

The MOQ ensures that they come out of the project with a profit.

All these things have changed because of computers.

Now, there are large computerized t-shirt printers that can print designs as a normal printer would print on a paper.

On paper, you simply have to create content, like a presentation on Microsoft PowerPoint, then send it to the printer.

The printer then grabs a piece of paper, spouts ink on the appropriate places, and the physical copy of your document is now ready for distribution.

It is up to you to print how many copies you want.

This is what happens in a print on demand t-shirt printing facility.

An artist renders the design, sends it to the printer, and the printer does its job.

The artist just has to position the shirt so the printer can spout the ink in the right areas.

It is called print in demand because:

  • You no longer have to ask the printing company if they can print the design or not
  • You no longer have to create a silkscreen template for the printing process
  • You do not have to order in bulk to be able to print a shirt

With a print on demand business, you can order one shirt—yes, one shirt—and the print on demand company, which we will also call POD, will print it for you.

You usually find these companies in malls. All you have to do is to give them your design, pay for the shirt, and then wait for a few days and come back or the shirt.


What is dropshipping?

Dropshipping is a business process where you sell someone else’ products to your customers.

However, the customers would think that it is your product, or they would think that you are a retailer of various products and that you are the one keeping an inventory.

What the customers did not know is that group that shipped the item is the supplier the manufacturer.

There are three major entities involved in dropshipping. These entities are you, the supplier, and the customer.

  • Dropshipper – you are the dropshipper; your responsibility is to build an online dropshipping store, market the products, and “fulfill” the order
  • Customer – the person who comes across your products online and buys them
  • Supplier – the manufacturer or source of your goods; the supplier’s responsibility is to supply you with product photos, product descriptions, a platform where you can order, and to ship the item to the customer who ordered from you

The dropshipping process may be confusing at first, but it is really simple.

In a nutshell, here is what goes on in dropshipping:

  • You find a supplier who can ship the item to a customer
  • You set up your online store and market the products
  • A customer orders from your store
  • You order the product from your supplier
  • The supplier ships the item to your customer

Once the initial set-up is done, the only thing you have to do is a cycle of marketing and order fulfillment.

The beauty of dropshipping is that you do not have to buy an inventory.

The products are just sitting in the supplier’s warehouse, and you do not have to buy them in bulk—you only have to pay for them once an order is made through your store.


How to Start a Print on Demand T-Shirt Business

Now, imagine if you find a supplier who will ship an item for you, and this same supplier will print one shirt at a time for you.

Can you imagine how easy it is to build a business like this?

You design your shirt, or choose from the supplier’s library of designs, post them on your store, and order them one at a time for each customer who places an order.

But how do you get started?

1. Choose a Niche

That is right. While many people think that a print-on-demand business is a niche on its own, you need to dig deeper.

What is a niche?

A niche is a category of specialization. Clothing is a niche, and so is sports.

The thing where a lot of dropshippers fail is that they start a business on a broad niche.

Think about it, if it is your first time building a store, will you build a sports store that covers everything about sports? Take a look at the things a huge sports store sells:

  • Shoes for running, badminton, boxing, basketball, etc.
  • Jogging pants, shorts, underwear
  • Different types of tops
  • Gym equipment like dumbbells and other weights
  • Sports equipment like basketball hoops, nets for volleyball, etc.

If you take on this monumental task, you will be overwhelmed.

The same thing goes in a POD business. You need to drill down your niche.

It makes things easier for you, and you will find it easier to create a customer avatar.

A customer avatar is the persona of your target market.

In the t-shirt business, you should not be surprised that there is an endless number of sub-niches out there.

What is going to be your theme? Is it going to be love, relationship, comedy, politics, religion, or something else?

As you can see, a t-shirt business that sells nothing but Christian stuff is a lot better than a t-shirt business that sells everything.

If you choose your niche carefully, your store is going to look specialized, and you will find it easier to make your own designs.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Camping – focus on camping designs like military clothing
  • Goth – there is a market for individuals who  
  • Yo’ Mama Jokes – shirts with yo’ Mama Jokes at the front and back

As you can see, each of the suggestions above focuses on a single market.

Any customer who finds his way to your website knows immediately what your product is about.

It is also easier to blog about your products because there is only one customer type—all your content will focus on this single person.

2. Select a supplier

The second pillar of a print on demand t-shirt business with dropshipping as a model is the supplier.

It is not an issue as to where you will find them, but it is an issue as to who you are going to work with.

Here are some of the things you need to think about when selecting a print on demand supplier:

  • System – do the dropship printing companies have an online mechanism where you can create designs and place orders?
  • Variation – choose a supplier who has a large number of “blank” products. Do not limit yourself with a supplier who only sells t-shirts. Choose one that also sells mugs, phone casings, and more. You will never know when you are going to expand or scale your business.
  • Mock-up – the supplier must have a mock-up tool where you can upload your designs and then see how it looks like after the print
  • Integration –the supplier’s online system must integrate with your selected e-commerce platform. If this is not available, you should not pursue doing business with this supplier.

What happens next? Once you have selected the supplier, you need to integrate the supplier’s system with your e-commerce platform.

After the installation, you should be able to access your supplier’s system from within your e-commerce dashboard.

It is on this system where you will design your t-shirt, see a mock-up, and upload or import it to your online store.

Once a customer places an order, it is on this system where you will notify the supplier and pay them.

Once this is done, they process the order.  

It is also in this print on demand drop shipping system where you will see the status of your order and if it has been shipped to your customer.

Some POD suppliers are sophisticated enough that once a customer orders, their system will immediately notify them.

They will process the order even if you do not process it yourself manually

One last tip about choosing a POD t-shirt supplier: order the item yourself. 

It is important that you get to see the kind of product that you are selling.

You must be able to hold it and check if the material used lives up to what the supplier promised.

If it is advertised as cotton, then it must be made of cotton.

Ordering a sample also means that you will experience first-hand how long the shipping is going to take, or how long the entire process is going to be from the order phase to the fulfillment phase.

If you know all these, you will be able to set proper customer expectations and avoid refunds, complaints, and other issues where the customer is not happy with his experience.

3. Build your store

The third pillar of a print on demand business with dropshipping is the store.

Whether you build it or not, you need to understand how it works.

You can create a dropshipping store without learning how to code.

There are so many tools that are available to you.

The sheer number of web-building platforms is overwhelming.

My advice is to stick to the two leading contenders in building an online store: WooCommerce and Shopify.

Shopify

Shopify is one of the most popular web-building platforms for dropshippers.

While it does not have a drag and drop feature, the entire system is built on a theme-style building.

On Shopify, you choose a theme and then replace the images on the theme with your photos and text.

Shopify is flexible. You can choose from thousands of free plug-ins to modify the look and functionalities of your store.

Shopify is supported by hundreds of application developers, including a lot of print on demand t-shirt suppliers.

The Shopify universe is huge, and there is no shortage of experts who can solve any issue that you may have.

It is also affordable, as it only costs $29 a month.

At this rate, you do not even have to pay annually. Shopify charges on a monthly basis, and you can cancel anytime you want.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce powers more than 40% of the world’s online stores.

It is a free plug-in that you can use with WordPress, but you can also buy a complete package with WooCommerce to build your store, which includes hosting.

While WooCommerce is free, its other applications are not.

Basically, the WooCommerce plug-in is what makes a WordPress blog become a store.

It lays down the foundations to your blog or website to make it become a store.

However, you need to build your WooCommerce store from the ground up.

Here is a list of what you need to do just to give you an idea of what you need to do with WooCommerce to be able to put up an online store with print on demand t-shirts:

  • Host – you need to pay a web host a monthly fee; the host is where all your files are stored
  • WordPress – this is a free content management system; this is the tool where you add products, blog posts, pages
  • Payment processor – the default payment processor of WooCommerce is PayPal. If you want to use something else, you have to use a plug-in for that payment processor
  • Web builder – most of the themes in the WordPress universe are “me too” themes; they are not as flexible as themes go in Shopify so you need a different theme builder tool which can cost you $49 per year

The WooCommerce platform is cheaper if you do the math, but it is more difficult to use.

Shopify offers a platform where you no longer have to learn anything new—everything is intuitive. With WooCommerce, you are going to build a store from different parts.

4. Marketing Techniques

The last pillar to build a solid dropshipping store is marketing. Right at the get-go, you must have a plan for how you want to reach out to your target audience.

Building a store is easy, but making sales is what is challenging.

You need to be consistent in executing your marketing plan, plus you have to keep on learning to keep up with marketing trends.

To give you a head start, here are some ideas that you can exploit to market your products:

  • Social Media – make sure you choose a maximum of three social media channels where you are going to post your content. The content does not have to be comprised of your product photos all the time—post quotes or blogs that help people solve a problem.
  • Ads – pay for ads on platforms where your customers hang out. Choose from reputable advertising platforms like Google, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.  

Marketing is a complicated thing.

If there really is one part of a business that you have to focus on, it is marketing.

Do not get lost in tweaking your website all too often. Market your store and people will come.


Summary

There goes our step by step process in building a dropshipping store. As you can see, there are only four pillars that you need to think of.

Spend some time researching, getting feedback, ad using these tools in their free versions. Make a list of your questions, find answers, and draw up a business plan, so all your moves are guided accordingly.

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