As a profitable business owner and top 1% seller on Etsy with over 13k sales (as of August 2021), I have gained a lot of knowledge about starting an e-commerce shop on Etsy. When I started, I didn't have a lot of money to invest in equipment, so I used print on demand services to get started and outsourced my order fulfilment.
My journey with print on demand (POD) had humble beginnings - I didn't see an ad on Youtube advertising how I could make easy money and didn't take any courses.
When I started my Etsy shop, I was just making simple vinyl decals with my Silhouette Cameo 3 - I was having fun crafting so I made an Etsy shop as a hobby. After a few sales, I expanded to selling digital cut files... and after more sales, I found myself wanting to make and sell t-shirts and mugs with my designs.
As I explored putting vinyl or heat transfer vinyl (HTV) on products to sell in my shop, I quickly realized that these materials don't hold up well long term with use. I didn't like the idea of selling someone a mug and them having the letter peel off while washing it - I personally hate that as an Etsy shopper!
I'm not sure where I even read about print on demand for the first time, but I pivoted to a POD model pretty quickly when I realized their methods of printing (sublimation, DTG, etc.) last on mugs and shirts much longer than vinyl.
Print on demand (POD) is an excellent way to grow your business when you don't have the upfront funds to invest in equipment to make the items yourself. POD allows you to outsource the printing and shipping process. The profit margins are so much lower than making them yourself, but they should be - they're the ones doing the majority of the work to make and fulfill your order.
It wasn't an overnight success... not even close...
- I was terrible at using the design tools on the POD sites to make mugs with centered designs, etc.
- I used pricing guidelines from the POD providers which were too low to make a profit - I sometimes even spent more to fill an order than I made once I added in Etsy seller fees!
- I didn't edit the product photos or descriptions enough on the listings to make them stand out to buyers.
Use the right Print on Demand partners that integrate with Etsy. My favorites are:
- Two way integration with Etsy to easily create new products into synced listings, fairly easy shipping profiles, mock up photos, and easy to fulfill orders. Mock ups and design tools are a bit more limited than Printful but there are more product options.
- Printify acts as a middleman to other print on demand partners, and they allow you to pick which partners you fulfill with. Pay close attention to the variances in timeliness/quality ratings, variant color options, geographic location, and shipping costs. It's never a bad choice to go with the slightly higher priced option if their ratings are much better or give you the color and size range you need.
- It may seem odd to use Printify as a middleman when you are already a middleman, but their economies of scale often make it worth it. For example, I make Sherpa Fleece Blankets with a provider who also offers POD services directly. I signed up for a wholesaler account with them and expected to get pricing that was cheaper than offered on Printify since it was direct and they were avoiding the cost of Printify fees... but it was more expensive to fulfill with them directly, especially when you take into account premium plan discounts (more on the optional premium plan below)
- Once you get going, if your quantity of orders increases, definitely consider upgrading to the premium plan which gives you a % discount off of all items - this will often pay for itself and increase your profit margin if your volume is high enough. For example, I only need to sell 3 of my top selling item fulfilled by Printify to cover the cost of the $29/month premium plan, and then the extra discount on the rest of the items is just gravy.
- Two way integration with Etsy to easily create new products into synced listings, easy shipping profiles, mock up photos, and easy to fulfill orders.
- They handle pretty much all of their fulfillment in house rather than using outside POD partners like Printify or Gooten.
- The quality is *generally* better.
- Customer service chat available during most normal business hours (at least for me on the East Coast)
- A big one for me.... they have worldwide fulfillment centers - this keeps shipping costs fairly low.
- I find their design tools are much easier to use than other POD providers.
- Printed Mint
- Etsy integration allows orders to flow in for fairly easy fulfillment if SKUs are configured correctly, but the process of making a new product into a new Etsy listing is very manual.
- The mock ups they provide are excellent, but there aren't a ton of options and unless you're using Photoshop, you can only download them in small quantities.
- Customizable packaging with a logo sticker on the box/envelope for free is a game changer and really helps with branding. They don't charge separately for this (unless you elect for a premium gift wrapping version), but it's definitely built into their overall higher prices for products and shipping.
- The back end is harder to use....
- I can use Printful and Printify's design tools to manipulate designs to make them work for the product, but with Printed Mint I need to make the design file specific for the product.
- You can save a product design after the first order comes through for it, but it sort of expires after 90 days and you have to re-do it.
- Everything is much more manual.
- Products available are unique and interesting. They sell well on Etsy, but are higher priced - and higher quality. Keeping track of inventories is hard without auto-notifications (can check manually), and products get discontinued fairly often - sometimes even when they are top sellers. (That's beyond frustrating!)
- Printed Mint is a small business - their customer service is excellent - the best of any POD partner I've worked with. They are kind, understanding, and responsive. This is worth its weight in gold.
A few other tips:
- Start an email list immediately! Ask your buyers to subscribe to it - finding new customers is hard, but keeping them around is easier when you can reach them easily and directly! They have to opt in though - you can't just take their emails from Etsy and start to send them marketing campaigns. Mailchimp is a free and easy way to get started. When you can afford it (or if you're ready to invest at the beginning), upgrade to a marketing system like Klaviyo which offers more data, integrations, and smarter email/sms marketing.
- I've found it was worth it to start up my own direct website to sell from - I encourage my buyers to shop direct next time and push my social media posts to my website. It's cheaper than Etsy fees if you do it right!
- POD isn't a set and forget source of passive income - it takes work to make sure orders are being fulfilled and that you're providing excellent customer service. Don't start a shop if you can't commit the time to running it!
Interested in learning more about Print on Demand from an experienced shop owner like me?
I have started offering consulting services to help you set up your shop and teach you how to leverage these tools to build your online store. Reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form below to set up a free consultation call today.