How to Make Your First Sale With Print-on-Demand
Making the first sale is a significant milestone for any entrepreneur as it brings excitement, reassurance, and profit.
A common misconception about building a profitable print-on-demand (POD) ecommerce business is that it only takes creating a design, setting up a store, and then your customers will come pouring in. However, that’s often not the case.
Getting your first customer can be as challenging as it is essential. Even people with a range of stunning designs can find themselves without customers.
Drumming up interest, creating successful content (written and visual), and acquiring customers takes time and a certain level of know-how. That’s where we come in.
After reading this blog post, you’ll know:
- how to make sure you have a product that your customers want
- the different channels (free and paid) to connect with your audience
- how to successfully promote your business on the biggest social media platforms out there
- and ultimately, how to make your first sale!
Create a product that sells
Businesses succeed when the right people are connected to the right product. You already have the product. Let’s connect you to the right people.
Our blog post on picking your niche covers what defines a niche, why it’s crucial to find yours, how to do it, and a list of more than 100 niches to look into. If you haven’t read it, after reading this post, give it a quick read-through because it’ll get you on the right track.
Once you’ve honed in on a niche, you’ll have a better idea of who your target audience is. Great! But before we dive into how to connect with your customers, let’s make sure your product is exactly what your customers are looking for.
Connect with your audience and ask for feedback
First, keep in mind that for any niche, it’s not the product or service that defines it, it’s the people who are interested in it.
The customers who love and support a business are at the heart of the business. In return, business owners cater to their wants and needs. So don’t get attached to the first version of your design, be open to listening to suggestions and making adjustments accordingly.
Connect with the people you want to sell to and ask for feedback from them—it’s the fastest and most effective way to improve your design.
Where can you connect with them? We recommend using the free channels we’ll discuss later on in the blog. You can also ask for feedback from your friends and family if they align with your target audience.
Make sure to improve your design (or product) based on the feedback you get, and be ready to do it again and again. It’s important to keep communicating with your customers—as time goes on, their wants, needs, and preferences are bound to change.
Another way to ensure that your products are ready to sell is by asking yourself, “would I buy this?” But more importantly, would you like it? Meaning, does the quality match your standards? Do you like how your design came out in print or embroidery?
How can you be sure? Order samples!
Ordering product samples is always recommended. It helps you guarantee that you’re satisfied with the design, the quality meets your standards, and the product will live up to your customers’ expectations.
It’s also the best way to write truthful descriptions and create spot-on visuals for your store. We’ll cover all of that a bit later on.
Plus, with Printful, you get a 20% discount on samples.
Make your store stand out
Now that your product is good to go, let’s take a look at how to help your store get noticed.
Pick a marketplace or an ecommerce platform
When it comes to print-on-demand, you have two options: selling on a marketplace (Etsy, for example) or creating your store with an ecommerce platform (like Shopify).
To help you evaluate which option is best suited for you, let’s look at the positives and negatives of each.
Pro tip: don’t skip this section just because you already have a store on either platform, go through our chart and re-evaluate if you’re in the right place. If you are, fantastic! Double down on it. If you’re not, it’s best to switch now.
– Setting up your store is quick and easy, it just means opening an account
– Each marketplace has its own search engine, offering an additional source of traffic
– Marketplaces often have their own trends that you can follow
– You don’t have to worry about the checkout process and payment methods, the marketplaces take care of that
|– Each marketplace has its own rules you have to learn and comply with|
– Less control over your store’s brand and look
– Most marketplaces have transactions fees and some have monthly subscription plans (do your research on the different marketplaces because it varies)
|Ecommerce platform||– Freedom to build a store with a strong brand presence and create a unique shopping experience for your customers|
– Control over your visitors (by using an analytics tool, you can find out who your target customers are, collect their emails addresses for retargeting campaigns, and more)
|– Traffic to your store is coming only from your marketing efforts and the ability to use search engines in your favor|
– You’re responsible (and paying for) setting up the technical side of your store
Printful currently integrates with 22 of the top ecommerce platforms. To properly evaluate which one to use, here’s a comparison chart to help highlight the differences between each platform.
Get your designs out there
Next, publish your products. It’s easy to get hung up on minor details when trying to make sure everything is just right. In reality, it’s only holding you back from making real progress.
For example, there’s no reason to continually second-guess your pricing. After getting your store up and running, you’ll know whether or not the price you’ve set is too high when the traffic you’re getting isn’t converting into happy customers. The only way to truly see what works is by publishing your products and tweaking details based on the results.
An important thing to note here—less is more in the beginning. Start with a couple of good designs you’d personally buy (or that you’ve already vetted, based on feedback). Then, focus your energy on creating quality descriptions that compel people to buy your product. More on that next.
Write quality content
Everything you write impacts the way your customer perceives you. When it comes to sales, your writing can do one of two things: drive the customer away or invite them in. Check out our blog post on how to Boost Your Writing to Boost Your Business to learn more.
Your brand story
Now before you get into writing awesome content, let’s briefly look at your brand’s story. Why? Because people are interested in what your brand stands for, not just the product or service you offer. Compelling brand stories build trust, increase customer loyalty, and inspire engagement.
To ensure that all of your content is cohesive and complements each other, define your brand’s voice and personality before writing content. Here are some examples of great brand stories that can serve as an inspiration for creating your own.
Learn more: How to Start a Clothing Brand
Stellar product descriptions
So what should you cover in product descriptions? Talk about sizing, fit, fabric softness, thickness, and anything else that you would personally want to know as the buyer. Imagine yourself on the other side of the screen while writing (and editing) your descriptions and anything else you’ve written.
Ask these three questions for every description you write:
- Does the way I address my customers align with my brand voice?
- Do I focus on features or benefits? (Features are product specs that your customer probably isn’t interested in. Your customer wants to know how your product will benefit them.)
- Have I made it easy to understand? In other words, make your product info as straightforward as possible. Pro tip: use bullet points.
Remember that any confusing or unclear information could drive potential customers away.
The SEO angle
Another important thing about creating descriptions is the SEO angle: optimizing your written content to make your website rank higher in a search engine (like Google) to bring in visitors.
Read our blog post A Beginner’s Guide to SEO to learn:
- What SEO is and how search engines work
- What affordable SEO tools are out there
- Ecommerce SEO tips for beginners and best practices
- How to find what you need in our SEO glossary
When thinking about creating visuals, let’s start with the most important visual for your business—your logo.
It has to grab your attention, make a good first impression, and separate you from the competition (see what we mean below). It’s what people will associate with your brand.
Creating great product visuals for your store is also super important. You can make true-to-life mockups for free in our Design Maker. Plus, you can customize the mockups if you have a premium subscription plan.
Another way to create unique product pictures is to take them yourself.
And you don’t have to hire a photographer or rent a studio. Traditional selfies or pics taken using a phone stand work just fine.
What to keep in mind when creating photos:
- Have good lighting. Be creative and use what you have at home to get the best result. For example, use a white surface to brighten your photos (see the impact it can have below).
- Invest in a phone stand if you don’t own one yet. This way, you can take good pictures from different distances.
- Mind the background. A simple background allows the customer to entirely focus on what’s front and center—your product (see an example below).
- Use different angles to document product details (zippers, buttons, clasps, etc.) and give your customers as much information as possible.
Last but not least: give yourself room to improve over time. Keep learning and look to others for inspiration, you’ll eventually find your groove for creating the perfect visuals that highlight your designs.
Have policies in place
Since you’re doing business online and are subject to legal regulations for ecommerce, having policies in place to protect your customers and yourself is a must.
Make sure everything is in order and that you’ve read through all the applicable policies before making your first sale. That way, you won’t run into any difficulties after the fact.
Here are three policy pages every ecommerce store has to have:
- Shipping and Returns Policy
- Terms and Conditions
If you’re new to online retail, writing privacy policies may be difficult. Read our blog on Printful Policies Your Store Should Copy and get free templates at the end of the article.
Also, if you have customers in the European Union, check out our post about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) to learn more.
Test your store on family and friends
Your products are published, and you’re ready to make your first sale, but…does everything look professional and polished?
We’ve already established that feedback’s the fastest and most effective way to get it right. So, ask your friends and family to check out your store, logo, and brand identity and give their honest feedback. Make adjustments based on their insights.
Take advantage of free marketing channels
Before spending any money on advertising, make sure you’ve looked into all the different marketing channels that don’t cost a dime. Yes, we’re talking about promoting your business on social media. It’s one of the most popular and successful forms of digital marketing today.
There’s no need to be on every site. Invest time in only one or two platforms and stay active on them. The golden rules across all platforms are: create high-quality content, add value before trying to sell something, and engage your audience.
Learn more: How to Market a Product
Let’s dive right in and break down four of the biggest social media platforms available to you for free. Keep reading to learn what they are, why you should consider using them, and tips on how to get the most out of each.
Reddit is a network of communities (or subreddits) where people can connect and talk about what they’re interested in. It’s one of the best places to get to know your community.
If you’re not familiar with how Reddit works, let’s briefly touch on that. Each community (community = subreddit = group of people who share a common interest) has its own page, subject matter, users, and moderators.
What sets Reddit apart from other social media platforms? The whole community determines the voting mechanism.
Put simply, every user has the option to upvote (show support for) or downvote (disapprove of) any post. By doing so, it’s either raised closer to the top position or sinks further down in the subreddit. Posts closer to the top are more easily seen and read.
Before getting started, carefully read the guidelines for using the site, wittily called “Reddiquette.” The big one to pay attention to is that too much self-promotion will lead to your account being banned. Reddit guidelines state that only about 10% of content should be self-promotion.
Additionally, each community has individual guidelines to follow. Let’s take an example: you want to join the subreddit r/AskReddit. In addition to Reddiquette, you’d follow these rules:
It might seem silly to say “follow the rules,” but it’s important to note that Reddit users are fiercely protective of the communities they have created. Also, community guidelines are overseen by moderators, so they will be enforced.
The best strategy for successfully marketing your brand on Reddit:
- Be consistently active. It means voting on posts, creating your own, and communicating (answering questions, adding comments) in threads within the subreddit. See some examples below.
If your posts are consistently unique, original, and helpful, you’ll become more popular and well-respected in the community. Which, in the future, will translate into a loyal customer base that trusts you.
- Focus on getting to know your audience, as it’s one of the best ways to interact with your future customers directly.
Are they talking about your competitors? If they are, what can you learn from their feedback? What pain points can you identify?
- Use the direct relationship with your customers—ask for feedback on your designs or products! Gather feedback and make improvements.
Promoting your content on Reddit is possible, but it has to be done strategically. Remember we mentioned the users being fiercely protective of their communities? That includes disliking people or brands who try to take advantage of their subreddit for personal gain. Show them that’s not you!
Be a valued member for your participation and insights before you try to showcase your products. If Reddit marketing is done right, your brand can get great feedback, valuable connections, and a loyal audience.
If you feel like Reddit is the place for you, read this comprehensive guide on using Reddit for marketers to get more in-depth information.
Facebook is the biggest social media platform on the internet, with more than a third of the world’s population using the platform monthly. This means you can reach a large audience and communicate with them directly.
Use this direct line of communication to bring in future customers! Ask for feedback on your designs, get inspiration, and grow together as a community. Also, be active: post valuable content that your audience likes and reacts to.
Staying active on Facebook is beneficial for two reasons: first, you’ll get to know your audience better and you’ll be able to develop a detailed customer profile. Second, the more active you are, the more Facebook’s algorithm will show your Group to new people (Facebook prioritizes content from Groups that users frequently engage with).
The best strategy for successfully marketing your brand on Facebook:
- Optimize your Group description to help your audience find and connect with you better: include participant benefits, relevant keywords that your audience might be looking for, and a call to action like Join us.
- Lay out ground rules straight away, so your customers know what to post and how to behave within your Group; it creates a welcoming and safe place for members to engage. Check out the example below.
- As with other platforms, start by building a strong, loyal customer-to-be following that you can then market to.
Get to know them and experiment with different content formats to figure out what engages your audience and keeps them coming back for more.
Here are some different types of content to try:
- User-generated content (asking members to upload photos or videos)
- Facebook Live videos (interact directly with members)
- Response-focused content (polls and surveys)
- Images (gifs, memes, and infographics)
The owners of a very successful print-on-demand store Iconspeak (seen below) have discovered that, for them, Facebook is better than Instagram in terms of people engagement—followers are more eager to like, share, and comment.
If you feel like Facebook Groups are for you and want more tips on how to use them, read through these top tips for using Facebook Groups.
Instagram has become the second largest social media platform after Facebook, with over one billion active monthly users. With such an enormous amount of people spending their time there, it’s no wonder that around 71% of US businesses use Instagram to promote themselves.
Furthermore, 83% of Instagram users have discovered a new product or service on the platform. Let’s look at how you can utilize this platform to your advantage.
The best strategy for successfully marketing your brand on Instagram:
Think about what you want to achieve with your time and energy on this platform. Below are some of the main goals that content creators have in mind when using Instagram.
Some examples of different IG goals and correlating content below:
Promote and sell your products (many businesses are on Instagram for this reason)
Build your portfolio so the audience can see your work and engage with you
Source: Toyin Ojih Odutola
Build brand awareness by posting motivational quotes and fun visuals
Source: The Blurt Foundation
Check out what others in your field post. For example, what posts are getting the highest engagement, what popular hashtags they’re using, their captions, how often they post, and how quickly they’re growing. This information can serve as a benchmark for you as you grow your account.
- Maintaining a consistent brand aesthetic on your Instagram account is important. Random content confuses the audience and can cause you to lose followers. See an excellent example of cohesive content below.
- Grow your follower base. Start by posting 10 to 15 high-quality photos, follow accounts that interest you (and relate to your business), engage with the people you’ve followed (like or comment on their posts), and encourage your followers to share your content.
An excellent example of a company using IG to their advantage is ND Renegade (their IG page is below). To learn more about the brand and their mission, read Printful’s interview with Sally Willbanks.
Why is ND Renegade so successful on Instagram? They are very active in interacting with their followers. For example, they regularly repost customer pictures (see below). It’s an approach worth adopting if you want to successfully market yourself on IG.
Now let’s turn our attention to TikTok. With 1 billion monthly active users, it’s one of the fastest-growing social media platforms to date. Considering it’s famous for dance challenges and lip-synching, you might wonder if marketing on TikTok is worth it. We’d say definitely—depending on your target audience.
It’s a highly creative and playful environment for business owners to engage with, but is popular among a more limited demographic. Most TikTok users are 10-29 years old, with the majority identifying as female.
If that’s the audience you’d like to connect with, explore creating a branded channel and experiment with content types. Short videos can be produced relatively quickly and with no budget. To make your first sale through TikTok, follow trending hashtags, get involved with the latest memes, and apply them to your brand.
Liz Bertorelli, the owner of Passionfruit (profile below), has successfully promoted her store on TikTok and says it’s a great way to acquire customers.
If you feel like giving TikTok a go and want to use ads, read our blog on Advertising on TikTok.
Look into influencer marketing
Consider who might be some cool social media influencers you’d like to collaborate with. An influencer can simply be a person with a large following on a particular platform. Who are you already following that could serve as a brand ambassador for you?
When relying on influencer marketing, the top ways to promote your business are by offering free samples, giveaways, and discount codes. Let’s break each of these down and look at some examples.
Sending free samples to influencers
Giving free samples to popular influencers in exchange for their review and promotion is one of the best ways to get your products noticed. You run the risk that an influencer could potentially decide to not feature your product, compare it (unfavorably) to another product, or even give it a negative review. Still, if you’re confident in your product, it’s a great way to get it out there and receive real-life feedback.
In an interview with Printful, Dionna Dorsey, creator of the successful POD store District of Clothing, said that at the very beginning of her brand, she passed out a few t-shirts to the women she worked with. They all had large Instagram followings, and some of them were blog owners.
The women took their own pictures with the t-shirts and posted them on their social media accounts, and Dionna’s store started to “pick up steam.” This tactic can be a great way to activate sales.
If you want to learn more, read this article detailing the 10 benefits of using influencer marketing.
Giveaways can help build interest in your brand and the influencer. They are a fantastic way to encourage new audiences to connect with your brand and learn more about you and your products. In addition to organizing giveaways through an influencer, you can create them on your own just for your customers.
To organize a giveaway, we suggest buying samples of your products (with the 20% Printful discount we mentioned earlier) and setting up a contest. For example, the first 5 followers that reply to a post will win a product. To drum up interest, advertise the giveaway on social media.
Does it work? Sean Douglass, the creator of Circle Square Diamond, thinks so. He was interviewed by Printful and discussed his successes, inspiration, and biggest challenges. When asked what’s been the most successful marketing strategy so far, he said giveaways.
He elaborates, “even if you don’t see a lot of sales from a giveaway initially, that doesn’t reduce their potential. Prompt customers to give you an email address to enter. Once the contest is over, send them an email telling them they didn’t win, but give them a discount code as a thank you for entering. That’s really where the sales potential is. They’re interested in the product, and now you just need to push them a little.”
Giving discount codes
Building on Sean’s advice: discount codes (also called promotional codes) are beneficial to both the customer (because they get to buy the product at a lower cost) and the seller (because of the sales generated).
Read this article to get the nitty-gritty on giving discounts to your customers. You’ll learn about:
- how discount codes work
- the three types of discounts
- how using these codes can help you track your marketing efforts across different platforms
Consider paid advertising
Paid advertising is a great way to quickly increase your traffic and bring in more sales. There are various social media platforms you can advertise on. Here we’ll delve into the three biggest channels you can use.
As we discussed, Facebook can be used to reach a wider audience, generate new leads, and bring in more customers. It’s the same for paid advertising. Learn about the structure of Facebook ads and find some inspirational ad examples here.
The pros and cons of using Facebook ads
- Perhaps the most significant benefit of Facebook is targeting. It lets you target your ads to different people/groups, focusing on demographics, age or location, ads they’ve clicked on, and pages they engage with.
- It’s becoming increasingly expensive to advertise on Facebook. The main reason is increased competition. As more and more advertisers bid for space, the cost goes up. The second reason is: Also, marketing effectively on Facebook is a skill that takes a long time to master, and time is money. To solve this, you can hire a Facebook advertising agency and leverage their experience, knowledge, and expertise in the subject.
See some examples of Facebook ads below:
For an example of a successful print-on-demand store, check out House of Chingasos, a brand that found success after it started using Facebook ads.
Read our beginner-friendly guide to using Facebook ads if you want more in-depth info on this topic.
Facebook’s daughter company, Instagram, is one of the best social networks to advertise on. It’s already as big as its parent company, and is expected to grow even more.
Note that these ads are on the expensive end of the spectrum. And even though they do often bring rather large returns on investment, you should evaluate whether or not your business can afford it right now or should you leave it for the future.
Let’s look at the benefits and downsides of advertising on IG.
The pros and cons of using Instagram ads
- You can target audiences with Facebook data since Facebook owns Instagram
- Posted ads look just like any other shared post on Instagram, which makes them feel more natural
- There are multiple ways to advertise on Instagram, including stories, videos, and Shopping ads
- They’re expensive
- Two-thirds of Instagram’s user base is under 34 years old (which should be taken into consideration when thinking about your target audience)
Here are some examples of different types of Instagram ads below:
Does paid advertising on Instagram work? District of Clothing owner Dionna Dorsey says yes. After starting to publish ads and more content on Instagram and Linkedin, she saw a noticeable increase in sales, and the company’s social media audience doubled.
Pinterest Ads, also known as Promoted Pins, can be used by most businesses to find a profitable target audience. This is thanks to the platform’s large user base.
The pros and cons of using Pinterest ads
- Because all boards on Pinterest are public, your content isn’t automatically excluded from people just because they don’t follow the board where it was pinned—people who are interested in products like yours will be able to find you
- It’s free to get started, so you can test whether or not this platform works for you and quit without investing too much if things don’t take off
- Pinterest lets you make highly targeted ads and define your audience by demographics such as gender, language, device, and location
- The traffic on Pinterest is attractive to a very specific audience—women under 45 years old
- Pinterest is primarily a lifestyle social media site, so to make that first sale through Pinterest, you really have to show your customers how your product is compatible with and will improve their lives
Let’s look at two ads that flawlessly fit the platform and why.
First is this ad for rice cakes. The reason it’s excellent is the marketers understand that Pinterest users are often looking for new ideas and inspiration, and this ad gives them just that. Plus, it blends right in with the rest of the pins.
The second is a great ad because it combines a product that makes your life better and offers actionable tips on how to use it. Consumers often browse Pinterest looking for inspiration and how-tos.
You can use Pinterest Analytics to see how many people have seen your ad, clicked on it, saved it, and tweak your content accordingly.
Learn more: The Ultimate Pinterest Marketing Guide
Going from a single sale to your first 10 sales
Now that you have all the tools to make your first sale, let’s look at how to keep the momentum going.
Reflect and analyze
Review the marketing strategy that have worked best for you. For example, which platforms did you use, and which of those brought in the most value in terms of money, quality feedback, valuable connections, etc.?
Having the right information before continuing with any additional marketing attempts ensures that you’re getting the results you want.
In that regard, data plays an integral part in any successful digital marketing strategy.
To make data-driven decisions, you have to analyze your stores’ performance based on what you’ve been doing. One of the best tools to gather data is Google Analytics. It provides in-depth insight into your business and allows you to optimize your marketing tactics. Here, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on setting up and using Google Analytics.
Create a feedback loop with your customers
Another essential thing to do is to gather feedback from your customers.
Reviews help you:
- get noticed
- build your reputation
- improve search engine rankings
- inform your following of product decisions
- showcase testimonials on your site
- make more sales
Use reviews apps like Wiremo, Stamped.io, HelpfulCrowd, Reviews.io, Yotpo, or others to help you gather feedback. Check out this page to get a more detailed look at the different review apps, specifications, features, and pricing.
Be persistent in your marketing efforts
As an entrepreneur, you need to be persistent. It can be challenging to keep things going when you aren’t seeing instant success. Don’t get discouraged if your business isn’t growing as fast as you had hoped. Giving up too early means missing out on opportunities to gain valuable insights for the future. A positive mindset is essential to weather the learning curve and be resilient.
Apply this knowledge to your store
Now you have everything you need to get out there and make your first sale! Apply these steps to your store, and let us know how you do in the comments section.
Is there something we missed? Maybe there’s a topic you’d like to know more about? Let us know below.