Print On Demand (POD) business – what is it and how do I start one?

I looked at many different ways to work from home in the year after I was laid off on maternity leave, including transcription, blogging, bookkeeping and becoming a virtual assistant. I started with transcription and made some money with it, but only $8/hour. What I really wanted to do was build a business that could eventually make money with little input from me. The solution I found was Print On Demand.

Print On Demand

So what is print on demand? It’s basically a business where you create a design and sell the design on a product, like mugs. The item is then made and shipped by a POD supplier only after you get a sale. You can sell on your own website, Amazon, Etsy, eBay, etc. Unlike other e-commerce businesses, you don’t have to buy inventory up front.

How did I learn about Print On Demand and get started?

In the past decade+ of trying to have an online business, I’ve ended up following a number of online business influencers. One of them recommended a training called the Low Hanging System by Rachel Rofe for $297 that was for print-on-demand. This price was a great deal for me since I’ve spent much more on training in the past. I also liked that I didn’t have to buy inventory up front. So I went ahead and bought it.

I started the course at the end of 2016, created about 30 designs and put them up on mugs on Amazon and Etsy. And then I got pregnant while I was still working full-time as a project manager and working part-time on an MBA. The pregnancy just made me exhausted on top of that. So the print-on-demand business went on the back burner. My listings were still up and I just manually entered orders in here and there when I got one.

Getting serious

Fast forward about two years to September 2018 and I was staying at home with my daughter, trying to make money online. I realized that I had actually made $862 in sales and almost enough profit from my 30 listings to make the $297 back. Of all the courses I’ve purchased, that was the first time I’d actually made my money back. I decided to focus in and work on the POD business again.

Around the same time, a new offer came out from Rachel for something she called the Low Hanging System Jumpstart for about $1997. It included the original course I already paid for, but also a number of bonuses, including:

  • Lifetime integrations between Gearbubble (the POD supplier) and Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, and Shopify. Instead of manually creating new listings on various marketplaces, I just hit an upload button. And instead of manually entering orders, it all gets fulfilled automatically.
  • Spotniches – A unique keyword research tool for Amazon, Etsy, and Ebay. It helps you find keywords with demand and not a lot of products supplying that demand.
  • 5 boxes of mugs to send to FBA as a way to scale up with successful designs
  • $100 in credits with the POD supplier
  • 100 unique text designs
  • Coaching from Rachel – great to ask questions and get guidance

Since I proved it worked for me with only 30 designs, I went ahead and got the jumpstart in October 2018.

Print On Demand Progress

I worked hard to get 1000 new products up in about two months after that. I then sold 3 items in October, 54 items in November, and 182 items in December for total revenue of about $5,000 with about 25% of that as profit. Sales dropped down after the holidays but continued. I made back my $2,000 investment back in about 3 months.

Etsy Sales 6/19/2018-5/31/2019

Etsy Print On Demand Revenue

Amazon Sales 6/19/2018-6/18/2019

Amazon Print On Demand Revenue

After the holiday I continued to list new items, trying for at least 5 a day. Sales have slowly increased over time. I have about 900 designs up on 1900 products on Amazon and about 900 products up on Etsy. On Etsy, I let the ones without sales or favorites expire.

Scaling Up Print On Demand

I’ve also grown by occasionally sending a box of mugs for successful designs into FBA. I have only 5 designs up on FBA now and they account for about half my monthly sales. People are more likely to buy when they can get fast, free shipping with Amazon Prime.

I use Amazon sponsored ads to help sell the FBA mugs, generally a very simple $2 per day maximum with targeted keywords for specific products. I’ve also been experimenting with Etsy’s promoted listings. I found that a max Cost-per-click (CPC) of $0.10 with $1 per day with only mugs that have already sold brings me some profitable sales.

Lastly, I’ve grown by adding suppliers beyond the one taught in the course to put successful designs on additional products, including engraved tumblers, wallets, phone cases, baby bodysuits, and so on. Suppliers I’ve used and recommend include:

  • Gearbubble – Primary supplier taught in the course, used for mugs, travel mugs. I prefer to order my mugs from them because of the special foam mailers they use that reduces how many mugs break in shipping or in Amazon’s warehouse.
  • Printful – Used for mugs, t-shirts, bodysuits
  • WC Fulfillment – Mens wallet, women’s wallet, phone case wallet
  • Teelaunch – Tumblers
  • Print Tech – Rock glasses

Summary

In total, I’ve made $11,678 in revenue from my print-on-demand business since I started it in 2016. Most of that amount is since November, so about 8 months of sales. That’s resulted in about $1500 in profit after expenses and my $1997 investment in the Jumpstart program. My last month of sales in May resulted in about $500 in profit. However, it’s worth noting that the retail sales cycle is very seasonal and not steady from month to month. There is a big jump in November/December for the Christmas/etc. season, then another jump in May/June for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Now that Father’s Day is past, I’m working towards building my design/product inventory for the November/December holiday season. Most of the work I do is to keep growing the business with the majority of the orders handled automatically. I also occasionally answer some customer questions about custom products, shipping, etc.

Eventually, I plan to get a virtual assistant to help, but I’m not at a level where I need it yet. I typically only work 10-15 hours a week doing this.

Recommendations for starting your own Print On Demand

If you’re interested in getting into the print-on-demand business, I recommend the Low Hanging System Jumpstart as a good way to get started for the least amount of work. If you don’t want to invest $1997 up front and want to test it out, just getting the Low Hanging System course for $297 is a good way to get started with more manual work to put up listings and fulfill orders. You can also try it on your own, but I believe a course saves a ton of time. It gives you a step-by-step guide to build and grow your POD business. It also gives you a great Facebook community to ask questions in.

With any of those options, you do not need to buy inventory up front. You will need to pay $.20 per listing you put up on Etsy. You can list on Amazon for free, though it works better if you get the Pro membership for $40 a month. Advertising is not necessary, you can get organic traffic on both Amazon and Etsy. I advertise now to a limited extent, but I didn’t when I started out.

You may want to also invest in some graphic design software, though there are free ones available, as well. A few options include:

  • Word Swag – An Android/iPhone app. I use this for 90% of my text-based designs. It currently has a one-time cost of $3.99 for Android.
  • PicMonkey – A browser image editor, great if you don’t want to install anything on your computer – currently costs $7.99/mo or more.
  • Canva – Free app with a paid pro version.
  • Photoshop – Advanced photo editing tool that you download to your computer. You can get this for about $9.99/mo right now with a free 7-day trial.

If you have any questions, please let me know by contacting me or leaving a comment below. All comments are filtered because I get a lot of spam comments.

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