How I started selling things on the Internet.
About nine months ago, I wrote an article about my experiences so far with t-shirt selling. It was deep into last year’s holiday season, and I was selling a great many shirts at the time. Later, Teespring picked this article up and put it on their blog. My blog post had a funny name, and they gave it the SEO-focused name “Seven Steps to Selling on Teespring”. Since then, lots of people have told me how useful they found it.
But some of them want more. So this blog, and eventually the book, is designed to give them more. The idea is to break down every stage of the process, and to cover a whole range of things you might sell, not just print on demand apparel. But the basic steps are in the article. Design a thing. Put it in front of people. Use free marketing techniques to sell it. Once you’re selling it to people who don’t love you, you know it’s good enough. Use paid advertising to sell a lot more of them. Repeat until you get to go and live on an island.
Looking back on this article, what would I change knowing what I know now? I’d add three things.
1. Diversification. There are many platforms where you can sell things online. I was very dependent on Teespring. They haven’t had the best year in 2017, and that’s impacted not only my profits, but my sense of wellbeing. I’m fortunate in that I have some profits stored away, so if one of my platforms let my customers down I could resolve the problem and make sure people got shirts. So one of my 2017 goals was to diversify platforms, and I’m doing that. I’ve now got three ‘proper’ platforms (Teespring, Etsy and Amazon Merch) and a couple of smaller ones. Teespring still counts for most of my profits, but the others are building up.
2. Consistency of effort. I didn’t mention this in the article at all, but as with other self employment, steady work is consistent to this. There’s an old joke; “The great thing about self-employment is that you only have to work half-days. And even better, it doesn’t matter which twelve hours you work!” I don’t think you have to work yourself into the ground to be successful, but I do think you have to work consistently. Especially at the start, nobody’s there to spot when things are going off the rails.
3. The roller-coaster effect. You can see that in my sales graph. I had a great, profitable time, right up until the last sales for Christmas. It then went scarily quiet for a few weeks. I then had some good sales around Trump’s inauguration, and around the big anti-Brexit march. Those trends have dried up a bit now, but then I had another super month in July with my second best-selling shirt ever. That’s more or less over, so I’m ready to catch a new wave. And this is normal. Apart from solid sales in Q4, everything about this business is unpredictable. Which is why your metrics should be around work and diversification, not around sales. If you focus consistently on developing multiple income streams, sales will come.