Freelancers Starting Online T-Shirt Shops Face Five Frustrations

Opening a T-shirt shop online at a print-on-demand site seems an ideal way for writers to pick up an extra income stream. It costs next to nothing. All you do is create a graphics file with your design, upload it to the site, and collect a markup when someone has your design printed on a shirt. You can do text-only designs if you're not comfortable with images. Alas, there are five big frustrations you may encounter in setting up your own T-shirt shop at a print-on-demand web site.

The first frustration is paying more than you have to to set up your shop. You should be able to do it for nearly free.

A second frustration is fighting with your image editor. Too simple an image editor will be too painful to use. A full-featured image editor may be hard to figure out.

The third frustration is not knowing what your customers want. These are self-expression products. You need to find out what sentiments people wish to express.

The fourth frustration is not knowing how to attract your customers to your shop. Having what people want doesn't help if they can't find you.

The fifth frustration is not knowing what designs people like. For example, people do not particularly like large, rectangular pictures dominating the design.

The way to get around the first frustration is twofold: first, get the GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP. It's free and as powerful as you will ever need. Second, carefully choose the sites at which you set up your shops. You might want more than one store if you have incompatible product lines, family vs. adult-oriented for instance. For that you might prefer Printfection where you can create many shops free. Printfection has a reputation for high quality, but has rather few types of merchandise. If you do not intend to set up many stores, you may decide it is worth the $60 per year CafePress charges for each "premium" (i.e. adequate) store: you get a wide variety of merchandise to put your designs on, and their advertising brings a large number of customers through their marketplace. Zazzle is free, has many types of merchandise available, and does a reasonable amount of advertising.

A big problem with a powerful image editor is that you can get lost in the features. It is worth buying a book to tell you how to get started with it. There is information available on the web for free, but you may have trouble finding what you need presented simply enough.

One way to find out what customers want is to ask people, but that may give you too small and too biased a sample. Another approach is to find what keywords people type into search engines when they're hunting for designs like yours. You can find this out for free, though at the cost of a little time, by using Google's keyword tool and the Google search page. The keyword tool will suggest alternative keywords and will tell you how many times people search for particular phrases in an average month. The Google search page will give you an estimate of the number of web pages using the keyword phrase. If you find this process is too much effort, you can buy Micro Niche Finder or pay to use Wordtracker.

A way to attract customers to your shop is to use keywords effectively. You need to fill up your shop pages with good keywords, for example, using them in descriptions of your designs. More importantly, you need to get quality back links to your shop using those keywords in the anchor text. (That's the colored text in a hyperlink.) You can get free back links by giving away information. You can post helpful advice at forums, you can post comments on blogs, you can put up pages at Hubpages or Squidoo, you can write e-zine articles, you can have your own blog. The most important thing in all of these is to give away useful information and not to try to sell. The links to your web site in your signature lines and resource boxes will bring you some visitors themselves. More importantly, they will spread links to your pages around the Net, telling the search engines both what's at your store and that your store is important.

A good way to find out what designs people like is to ask people. Join the forum at your host site. Post your designs and ask for comments. The shopkeepers there are usually happy to offer suggestions and encouragement. You can also ask people you know on- or off-line.

There are definitely things that can frustrate you when you set up your own print-on-demand T-shirt shop, but you can do things to relieve those frustrations.