Updated: Aug 4, 2021
Many young entrepreneurs feel drawn to the idea of starting a t-shirt business.
Working with t-shirts is challenging and fun. After all, there is a widespread demand for interesting and witty designs. You also don’t need a special degree or a particularly massive opening investment to get started. All this business requires is creativity and dedication. If you approach the venture carefully, you will achieve a steady and reliable income within a few weeks. However, there are a number of pitfalls you need to watch out for.
Some entrepreneurs get stuck right at the beginning. Some can’t handle the complications that start piling up when you start working with customers. It can be difficult to plan your business if you don’t have experience in this field. You might feel overwhelmed by all the tasks in front of you. If you have questions, looking for answers online might lead to confusing and contradictory advice. So we have prepared a step-by-step guide that will show you how to start a t-shirt business online. We hope our advice is enough to get you started.
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY YOUR NICHE
Before you make any investments, there are several questions you need to consider about your prospective customers.
Which age demographic will you focus on?
Some t-shirt businesses prefer to market to teenagers and young adults. Others make shirts for families or even just babies and toddlers. Focusing on adult shirts can also be a good approach.
It is easier to get noticed if you offer a specific content niche. For example, you could focus exclusively on sports-themed shirts or music-themed shirts. Your personal interests can be a good place to start. You may prefer to market to organizations and corporations. If so, you should avoid designs that seem overly immature. Remember to fit everything to the type of customer you want to attract. This goes beyond the designs you’re planning to offer. The level of formality you use on your website should fit your niche too.
Which shirt dimensions are you planning to work with? What style of t-shirt will you print on? Keep in mind that trends change very quickly and it is crucial to stay in touch with the current needs of your customers.
It is also important to consider how much your customers are willing to pay. How will you find a good balance between fair prices and high-quality shirts?
Are you planning to print on other items too? If so, will you need additional equipment? Bags, hats and cups are a few other popular options.
A CLOSED RANGE OF DESIGNS VS. CUSTOM DESIGNS
Finally, consider the designs you will offer to your customers. Will they be able to create their own designs? Or will you offer a broad but limited range of designs they can choose from?
You can make changes in your plan as you go along. But having a niche will give you direction. It will make it much easier for you to stand out among the many companies that provide the same services.
STEP TWO: MAKE A BUSINESS PLAN
Your second step is to consider the business side of things. Here are some of the most important matters you need to take into account.
DECIDE ON YOUR BRAND NAME AND LOGO
Having a memorable brand name and logo is absolutely crucial in the business world. How will you market your company? Will you have a strong social media presence?
Your brand needs to emphasize your creativity and professionalism. Make sure that the design of your logo is striking. There are people who will immediately judge the quality of your graphic design based on your logo and your banners.
DO A GREAT DEAL OF MARKET RESEARCH
In order to be successful, you need to keep up-to-date with the changing trends of your business.
Finding a way to stand out from other t-shirt businesses is crucial. What is the most memorable thing about your business? Focus on the needs of your prospective customers. What niches are currently the most active? Is there something you can offer that your competitors don’t have?
Tracking social media will help you find the answers to these questions. Additionally, it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for extra visibility. Remember that t-shirts sell very well before conventions, fairs, and sports events.
CHOOSE YOUR RAW MATERIALS
After you’ve studied the current trends, make sure to choose the best t-shirts for your business. Will you stick to a single brand? Have you chosen a reliable vendor?
Your niche will figure heavily into your decision on the types of t-shirt to use as raw materials. How many sizes will you offer? Which design is the most appropriate?
The quality of your t-shirts has to be good enough to attract repeat customers. You should also take the time to test your chosen brand, especially in the wash.
Additionally, pay attention to the weight of your products. While heavier shirts are usually better-made, the extra weight will increase your shipping costs.
SET SPECIFIC TASKS FOR EVERYONE EMPLOYED BY YOUR COMPANY
Do you intend to work alone or will you have a team? Either way, you need to have a clear vision of the way your company will operate. When you start working, you won’t have much time to spend on organization. Make sure that everyone understands their tasks well in advance. Do a great deal of research into the specifics.
Here are some of the questions you need to answer in advance:
Do you know how to order raw materials? How do you set up a shipment? Who is in charge of taking orders?
Having clear organizational guidelines will make your company considerably more efficient.
MAKE SURE TO TEST EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU GO INTO BUSINESS
Many beginners skip the testing process. This can lead to disastrous results.
So before you start taking orders, make sure you understand exactly how printing works. Try out a few different shirt models. It’s your job to make sure that the designs don’t look skewed or distorted.
Remember that the design of your shirt needs to fit on the chest or the back. Printing on the sleeves is complicated and it won’t always have impressive results. Testing your shirt design is an important step.
Additionally, practice packaging and figure out the transportation logistics. What kind of customer support will you offer? Are your contact details accurate and easily accessible?
STEP THREE: MAKE A FINANCIAL PLAN
Making a financial plan is one of the more intimidating parts of starting your own company. However, there are many online resources that can help you achieve your goal.
Remember that the purpose of having a solid plan is to help you. Even if you decide to hire a financial consultant, you have to stay actively engaged in this part of business planning. Having a thorough and realistic understanding of your prospects is crucial to the success of your online business.
Here are some of the goals your financial plan has to fulfill:
MAKE A SALES FORECAST
This is the first and most important step. Set up a three-year forecast and break it down by month.
Include the cost of sales in this part of your financial plan. How much will shipping cost you? What about packaging and tagging? What are your main revenue sources?
Keep in mind that this is merely a forecast. You will need to make alterations to your financial plan when you start working.
WHAT ARE YOUR MONTHLY EXPENSES GOING TO BE?
Creating an expenses budget requires a great deal of research.
First, consider the difference between your fixed and your variable costs. Fixed costs involve your payroll, as well as the expenses of maintaining your e-commerce platform.
Marketing expenses are variable. This includes paid ads and banners, as well as flyers and other promotional material.
It’s better to keep your fixed costs as low as possible. You can always compromise on your variable costs if necessary.
How much will obtaining raw materials cost you every month? Buying shirts in bulk can be cost-effective, but you have to be careful and realistic about the size of your order. Printing ink is another serious concern.
It’s not necessary to include taxes in your sales and expenses forecasts. After all, the purpose is to give you a specific overview of your prospects. Accounting requires some additional insights.
CONSIDER INITIAL EXPENSES
Setting up your business will definitely require some careful planning. You want to go for a high-quality printing machine that will match your needs exactly. Other initial expenses include software and licensing.
FIND THE BREAK-EVEN POINT
The break-even point is when your sales match your expenses. Some careful analysis will show you what you need to achieve it. After you have found the break-even point, you can make predictions regarding your monthly profits.
CALCULATE YOUR ANNUAL GROSS MARGIN
While it’s not possible to tell for sure how much you can earn, your business will be more solid if you have a serious financial plan to lean on. Asking for consultation can help you a great deal.
STEP FOUR: OBTAIN THE LICENSES YOU NEED
The kind of license you need depends on your location. Do your research before you commit to anything.Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep all your documentation clear and ordered. Don’t make deals with vendors without a contract. You should also make sure that you understand your obligations before you hire anyone, either short-term or long-term.
STEP FIVE: DECIDE ON AN E-COMMERCE PLATFORM
Operating a web store is a good choice for anyone in the t-shirt business. It makes perfect sense for you to want to make your shirts available to a wide range of customers.
Many people prefer to order their shirts online. This is especially true if you’re planning to offer the option of printing custom designs.
Your website will represent your business and it will give your clients a way to make a purchase. There are two ways you can approach the building of your website.
INVEST IN A SELF-HOSTED PLATFORM
This is the costlier option, but it has numerous upsides. This option lets you use Search Engine Optimization without any limitations. Hence, you can make sure your website is among the top Google results. Having a self-hosted platform gives you complete control. You can build your platform exactly according to your taste and change it at your convenience.
So what is the downside? First, obtaining and maintaining a domain name is an investment. But building up a professional-looking site is even more costly. Without extensive experience with web design, you won’t be able to build a site that satisfies the needs of the market. If you have some WordPress experience, you can start there. While WordPress templates aren’t ideal for an online t-shirt business, they can give your customers a comfortable and familiar shopping experience.
GO FOR A HOSTED PLATFORM
If you have budget constraints, this could be the better option for you. Getting a hosted platform means using websites like Shopify to create your web page. You can build a professional-looking Shopify page even without hiring a web designer. Additionally, you will have access to many convenient features which will make purchasing easier for your customers. Using Shopify will guarantee that your customers can make their order via cell phone as well. Bigcommerce and Volusion are also excellent platform choices. This isn’t a good choice for people who want an unconventional website. The limited number of available options might become a problem if you decide to expand your service.
STEP SIX: GET A VARIETY OF HIGH-QUALITY DESIGNS
Your designs need to be memorable and professional-looking. Thus, it’s a good idea to hire a graphic designer. You can get reliable and experienced freelancers to help you create the best possible t-shirt designs. Stick to your niche at first. Remember that a good t-shirt design can be simple, as long as it looks impressive.
What about copyright and trademark? Here are a few things you need to know to avoid any kind of legal trouble:
Original designs are your best bet.
You can incorporate symbols such as flags or coats of arms into your designs.
Printing the likeness of politicians and other public figures is fine.
You’re not allowed to use recognizable characters in your t-shirt designs. However, parodies are considered fair use. So creating a parody that evokes recognizable characters shouldn’t be a problem.
Song lyrics count as a copyright violation. The same can be true for famous quotes. But if you use proper attribution on your shirt, you’re unlikely to run into any problems.
Recreating famous pictures or movie scenes can also be a copyright violation. Again, parodies count as an exception.
Trademark violations are different from copyright violations. Using the logos of famous companies would violate their trademark. This can come with a great deal of legal hassles.
Google Images lets you search for images that are labeled for reuse. This can be a good place to start.
You may feel that it’s unlikely that you’ll get sued for violating a copyright or trademark. While this may be true in many cases, you should keep in mind that any legal trouble will set your business back significantly.
STEP SEVEN: DON’T FORGET TO MARKET-TEST YOUR DESIGNS
Before you start selling your shirts, get some detailed and sincere feedback. Don’t forget to protect your design ideas with a watermark.
Your personal social media accounts are a good place to start. You’ll find that most people like giving their input about style-related questions, but make sure to target your niche as well. While the general public can give you some useful insights, you should focus on the demographics that are mostly likely to buy your shirts. For example, music-oriented communities are a good place to find feedback on rock t-shirt designs.
Posting on forums is a good way to find the niches you need. Reddit is another excellent option. Find a subreddit that fits your niche and you will receive honest and detailed feedback that you can incorporate into future designs.
There is another reason why market-testing is crucial. By posting your designs on different social media platforms, you will generate some publicity for your business. Additionally, you may get new ideas about the best ways to market your company.
STEP EIGHT: OBTAIN AN ONLINE PRODUCT DESIGNER TOOL
Every online t-shirt business requires a set of high-quality designs. But some also offer their customers the option to create custom designs online. This is an extra feature you can integrate into your e-commerce store. There are multiple companies that offer high-quality and intuitive design tools.
These usually offer features like:
Custom image management
Many clipart choices
Custom fonts uploaded by the user
A curved text option
A few different templates for quotes
Overlapping, shadowing, merging and combining different design elements
The goal is to make designing t-shirts easy and fun for your customers. You should make sure to go for options that closely fit your niche. For example, if you intend to build a sport-oriented brand, you should get a designer tool that lets people make custom jerseys with a name and number.
However, it can be a good idea to start with a limited number of features. As your business expands, you can add new ones and boost interest in your company. You should also make sure to consider all the feedback your customers have to offer when it comes to design tools.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to provide the option to save designs. Your customers will enjoy adding new elements to their designs over time.
STEP NINE: GET THE RIGHT T-SHIRTS
High-quality raw materials are an important part of your business.
Many companies fail because they prioritize low cost over quality. Fraying or shrinking shirts will discourage people from making a repeat purchase. You might also end up with an unwelcome reputation, which is extremely hard to get rid of even after you change your t-shirt vendor.
On the other hand, you can’t charge much more than your competitors are charging. So you need to do extensive research and find affordable shirts to work with.
Remember that shirts need to come in three sizes – small, medium, and large. Some businesses profit from selling extra-large printed t-shirts as well. Others go for child-sized shirts.
Trying out a few different vendors is a smart and careful approach. However, you should make sure to maintain a good working relationship with every vendor. You never know when you might need a sudden change.
STEP TEN: DECIDE ON A PRINTING METHOD
The best printing method (add URL) for you depends on a number of factors.
HEAT PRESS TRANSFER
Heat press printing is on the rise among t-shirt printing companies. This method is excellent for large-scale businesses. This is because you can use a commercial heat press machine to print a huge number of vivid designs very quickly.
One thing you should keep in mind is that this type of printing requires some intense focus at first. But it won’t take you too long to figure out how to heat press a shirt. Once you get used to the process, you’ll be able to do it safely and efficiently.
You can get heat press machines that can accommodate various shirt sizes. Furthermore, this method is a good choice for other items such as cups and plates.
While the cost of this equipment may be an issue, you should definitely consider this option. The end result looks extremely crisp and professional.
If you want to print designs with a limited range of colors, screen printing could work for you.
This method is easy to learn. However, more sophisticated designs will take too long to print. This isn’t the best method for large-scale printing.
This method results in vivid colors. The printed shirts can look very professional. Additionally, the printing process is very simple.
However, direct-to-garment printing is time-consuming. The ink you need for these printers is a significant investment.
Note: You might have heard about embroidered printing as well. This method uses special sewing machines to create intricate designs. In most cases, it’s used on polo shirts rather than t-shirts.
While the end results are very elegant, we don’t recommend this method for online t-shirt businesses. Using this equipment takes a long time to learn. Additionally, you cannot use embroidered printing for delicate or small designs.
STEP ELEVEN: SET UP YOUR PRINTING INFRASTRUCTURE
Printing itself requires a great deal of preparation. Start with choosing appropriate color schemes. There is software that can let you simulate the final product and select the best palette. Last-minute changes in the design are common and extremely useful. Even if the design looks great on your screen, you may need to implement subtle changes in color or shape. If you’re working with custom designs, make sure to have a backup copy saved before you start editing. After your palette is ready, you can start printing. If you expect to work with bulk orders from the get-go, you can hire experienced printers to do this part of the job.
STEP TWELVE: PREPARE FOR DELIVERY
Many people in the t-shirt business prefer to package and send out shipments personally or with a team. This is the most flexible and cost-effective option, especially at first.
But there are a few other options that could make the process easier for you.
Drop-shipping is a widespread practice. You can hire a company to take care of your order for you. This is something of an investment, but it will provide you with a sense of security.
You can also look into logistics companies (Google 3PLs in your state). While the packaging is still your job, these companies can offer warehouse storage as well as affordable shipping options.
STEP THIRTEEN: START YOUR BUSINESS
You’ve done your market research. You’ve made sure to advertise your company on various platforms. Most importantly, you have a very solid grasp of the process of printing t-shirts.
This means that you’re ready to open your website to customers. Here are some of the most important parts of running a successful online business:
PROVIDE EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Answering emails is one of the most important parts of the job. It is very important to pay attention to your customers and provide a short response time. Many e-commerce platforms also provide options for on-site messaging.
WORK ON YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY
Never stop advertising your work. You can always hand out flyers and business cards. Campuses are a great choice for this, but you should also consider organizations, clubs, and local businesses.
You should also keep an eye out for new online marketing opportunities. An active social media presence can do wonders for your business.
PAY ATTENTION TO FEEDBACK
Your service doesn’t have to be perfect from the get-go, but it’s crucial to learn from every mistake. If you run into any bugs on your e-commerce platform, address the problem immediately. Positive feedback is extremely important as well. Your customers can provide you with new design ideas.
ALWAYS STAY FLEXIBLE
What if your shirts start losing popularity? Successful businesses are able to make a smooth transition from one niche to another. Always consider adding new services. Don’t hesitate to hire more people if your business starts growing. Additionally, don’t forget to update your business plan.
A FINAL WORD
Starting a t-shirt business requires some clever strategizing and a lot of determination. But your passion for your business may be enough to bring you good results.