March 24, 2014

How the Do What You Love Mantra Is Hurting Creative Professionals

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 10:42 am


My partner Matt and I have been in the clothing and accessories business for several years, consistently selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product that we genuinely like. By all accounts this sounds like success, but honestly we work a ton of hours and the income-to-effort ratio is really not to our satisfaction. Things have shifted very recently though and I’m thrilled, though you might be surprised at how.

We’ve started selling clothing and accessories we honestly do not like and would not wear, and we’ve been selling a lot of it every single day since we started doing it. We opened a second online store and started offering trendy t-shirts and accessories with cliches about keeping calm and mustaches. This is a radical departure from our usual design work, which features clever humor paired with well-executed original illustration. We prefer the latter, meaning it’s what gives us joy and constitutes what we ourselves would wear. That said, I have no problem with our new online store. I’m not “doing what I love” — I’m doing what’s profitable. And no, this doesn’t make me a “sell out” — it makes me a successful entrepreneur.  I’m doing what’s extremely easy for me and what I know how to do really well as a professional. I’m providing a product people want to buy at an affordable price point, which is a win for me and my new-found customers. If you think less of me for doing this, that’s fine. I’m not looking for anyone’s approval; I’m looking to pay my bills.

There is a pervasive and toxic ethos in small business culture (especially in creative small business) that you should do what you love and love what you do, and that by sticking to your artistic principles your market will eventually “find” or “discover” you or your brand and catapult you to success while still retaining your creative credibility. But if you capitalize on a trend or simply do something you’re indifferent to for profit, it’s seen as less than desirable, or even worse, people will tell you you’ll fail for doing it. I’m here to tell you this is WRONG and any business coach who tells you otherwise is LYING. This touchy-feely, start-with-why, follow-your-dreams-and-money-will-follow fairytale sounds good, but it’s NOT practical and it leaves no room for discussion of important matters that determine profit, like discovering marketplace inefficiencies and exploiting them to your advantage. Running a profitable business is not about YOU. It’s about making money, and that means it’s about selling what other people want to buy, not what you want to buy.

The “do what you love” mantra is a recipe for disaster (and also classist). It’s what keeps starving artists starving. If doing what you love doesn’t earn you money and doing what you’re indifferent to is frowned upon, you’re stuck. Even worse, that type of failure is an indictment of you personally. You were selling YOU (in the form of your love, your passion, etc.) and it didn’t work, therefore you suck. Don’t get me wrong, doing what you love is great! But strict adherence to this kind of mindset should only be expected in the realm of hobby, not the reality of a for-profit business. If what you love and what makes you money coincide, that’s great, but it’s absolutely not necessary and it’s often not possible.

I have to say, moving to Los Angeles really crystallized my thoughts on the “do what you love” ethos. The Los Angeles economy is primarily based on creative work. This city is home to actors, writers, set designers, cinematographers, costumers, artists, comedians and other creative professionals from all walks of life. Since moving here I’ve met so many talented creative professionals that blow me away.

While many of these professionals do what they love, they also do what pays the bills, and the best part of being in Los Angeles is that this is considered the norm. No one here is going to look down on you from behind their Urban-Outfitters-approved-eye-glasses-as-a-fashion-accessory. The comedians you think are so smart, clever, funny, and edgy make extra cash doing punch-up for movies you think are stupid.  The illustrators you think are so mind-blowing that got featured in Juxtapoz or Hi-Fructose are making extra cash freelancing for Disney and Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network. This is talked about openly and with no shame in the creative community here, but it’s a reality that’s largely ignored by many aspiring creative professionals.

The major difference between a hobbyist and a professional is that hobbyists are doing something they enjoy and professionals are doing something that pays their bills. If doing what you love isn’t paying your bills, you’re not a failure; you just haven’t started doing what’s profitable. If you want to earn a living doing creative work, think about what people will pay you the most for, NOT what you most enjoy doing. Doing what’s profitable (even if you personally do not find it interesting) doesn’t make you a fraud — it makes you a smart business person.

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February 4, 2014

3 Tricks to Removing Risk from Your Sales Pitch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 12:43 pm


Every day I get sales calls and emails. Most of them are asking me for money right off the bat and if I said yes to them all I’d be out of business. Whether you’re selling manufacturing services, web hosting, or even your product line wholesale the biggest worry your customer has is that dealing with you might lose her money. I’m not buying ad space on your blog because I might not get any sales and you still get the cash. I’m not buying your product to put in my store because my customers might not buy it from me and then I’m stuck with it. I’m not manufacturing a new product in your factory because it might not sell and I’m stuck with that inventory. That’s the kind of thought every customer has when you try to sell to him or her.

The good news is there are ways you can eliminate this worry from your sales pitch.  If you’re 100% certain your customer WILL benefit from your product or service, offer to prove it to them. Here are a few ways you can do it:

1. Money Back Guarantee
If you’re certain your product will sell in a store, make that promise to a potential wholesale customer. Next time you’re talking to a boutique owner you want to close, tell her you’re so sure your product will sell that if she’s not happy with the sales after 30 days you’ll send her a prepaid mailer to return any unsold merchandise and issue her a refund for those items.

This will help ease your customer’s mind because now she knows she can’t lose money working with you. You can try this approach with service based offerings too. If you can’t get people to buy ad space on your blog offer a money back guarantee on the ad space. If you are confident your advertisers will make money working with you, you shouldn’t have any problem with this and it will get you a lot more “yes”.

2. Partnership (We make money if you make money)
Selling something your customer pays for before she sees any benefits is difficult. Another way to circumvent this risk is by offering an arrangement where you only make money if your customer makes money. This is the model Square has adopted. This credit card processor provides its customers free hardware and comes with no service charges. The only fee Square charges is a percentage of sales. So if Square’s customers are selling products and benefiting from their service, Square gets paid. If the customers aren’t selling anything, Square gets nothing too.

You can use this approach for product-based businesses too. If there’s an online retailer you’d like to work with offer to drop ship products as their customers order. That way the online retailer doesn’t have to buy any inventory up front. If the products sell, you and the retailer make money. If the products don’t sell no one loses anything.

This is actually the model I use for my t-shirt printing service DropShipDTG. Since we print t-shirts for designers as orders come in, there’s no need for the designers we work with to spend any money up front. We only make money once they’ve made money.

3. Free Trial
A free trial is a great way to allow a customer to try before they buy. If you’re selling a service, offer that service for free for a week or two so the customer can decide if it is something worth paying for. If you’re selling a product you could consign the items to a retailer for a short period so they can make sure your product line sells before they spend money on it.

This business model is also starting to become trendy with web design/hosting businesses. You’ve probably seen commercials offering to build, host and market your business website for free. The idea is that these all-in-one service providers will do all the work and if you are happy with the finished product you pay them, if you’re not you don’t.

The biggest catch with removing risk from your sales pitch is that you have to be really confident that you’re selling a product that’s going to truly benefit your customers. If you’re just out for a quick cash grab and don’t care about the success or failure of your customers, not only will this approach fail, you probably won’t stay in business very long.

Have you come up with a clever way to remove risk for your sales pitch? Tell us about it in the comments below :)

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

January 23, 2014

Is Bigger Better?


In perusing Etsyology, you might get the impression that bigger is better. This site displays statistical data on sales activity on, and offers a fascinating view of what makes for a successful shop and what people buy. One thing you’ll notice on this site is that many of the shops with the most sales also have the most products available, giving the impression that bigger is better. The more stuff you have for sale, the more orders you get, at least that’s how it appears. Is that really true? Let’s discuss:

1. The Long Tail
In terms of retail strategy, the long tail refers to selling a many unique items with relatively small quantities sold of each. This is the strategy used by many of the high performing shops on Etsy, and no doubt retailers all over.

What are the advantages of this retail philosophy?
- It allows you to have something for everyone. If you make posters and you’ve got posters about dancing, beer, baseball, cookies, etc. then regardless of a person’s interests, you are likely to have a product that suits them.

- Metaphorically speaking, this approach is like buying many lottery tickets. The more tickets you have the more likely you are to win. Simply having a lot of stuff on Etsy or Amazon or the internet in general means there are more chances to get orders.

So what’s the downside to this approach?
- The obvious big problem with this approach is that it requires you to design a lot of items AND stock a ton of inventory! It’s a big job to offer something for everyone and not everyone has the space to stock so much product or the creative juice to design a zillion things, especially products the designer may not be passionate about. This approach is well-suited to products that can be made-to-order, but might be a real headache if your product has to be produced in bulk.

- The other drawback of this approach is that is may detract from brand cohesion. If you want to build a brand that’s all about food and cooking, you can’t start making products about baseball and robots and kittens. It would detract from your singularly focused brand identity.

So who should employ this type of strategy?
If doing a lot of online sales volume is your primary goal this strategy can be great. It’s a proven way to make money selling stuff online and if you care more about bringing in the cash than following your vision this could very well be the way to go.

2. Keeping it Short and Sweet
If your goal is to keep a tight cohesive brand offering something for everyone may not be ideal for you. You may want to keep your brand focused on a specific theme or aesthetic and offering 1,000 different items may not be possible.

What are the advantages of this approach?
- Keeping your product offerings limited means you can maintain a cohesive theme or aesthetic for your brand. This may be especially helpful if you want your brand to be known in the brick and mortar world. Think about brands like Sanrio, Ed Hardy or Paul Frank. All of their products have a very similar look that’s easily identified with those brands.

- Keeping a limited selection of products also makes it easier to manage and stock inventory. If you have a product you have to manufacture in large quantities to make your margins, it may be necessary to limit your product selection. For example if you design shoes and your shoe manufacturer requires you to order 500 pairs of each kind of shoe you may not want to have 100 different shoe designs.

What are the drawbacks of this strategy?
- Not everyone is going to be your customer, in fact, most people won’t be. So you’re going to have to work extra hard to connect with the people who are. You’ll need to think more in terms of relationship-based marketing. You may not sell as much volume online as other online shops because you can’t sell to everyone.

- Since your product offerings don’t appeal to everyone, you’ll need to make sure the people who are a fit for your brand really love your product line. You’ll need to produce more “hits” to make sure everyone who might buy your product will buy it. For example, if your brand is all about birds you better have some of the most amazing epic bird art ever so that every bird lover under the sun will definitely want your products.

Who should employ this strategy?
If you are more interested in wholesale than online retail this approach may be a better fit for your needs. This strategy also makes more sense if you are trying to maintain a consistent theme or style for your brand. If your products have to be produced in high volume before they are sold this approach may be your only option.

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January 22, 2014

4 Essential Elements for a Top Notch Booth at a Craft Show or Festival

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 10:44 am


Pop up retail events are a major revenue stream for my company. We sell our products at all kinds of events such as street fairs, comic cons and festivals. A large part of our success with pop up retail has been booth set up. Here are some of the most important elements of our booth:

1. Awesome Signage
You can’t sell products to people if they don’t notice you, that’s why an eye-catching outstanding display is key. Make sure your booth is tidy, well-merchandised and easy to browse. You want your customers to be able to see all the product options, pricing and the brand name itself pretty easily.

When we exhibit at shows we use a large logo banner in the front of our booth and display pictures of our best selling designs right up front. That imagery lures people into our booth and gets them to shop. Having our signage front and center means we can grab the attention of passersby and help them decide that they do want to stop at our booth. They don’t have to get close to get an idea of what we sell.

2. Loss Prevention
It’s a sad fact that sometimes people steal, and as a small business that can be a huge problem. It’s a good idea to merchandise your booth in such a way that stealing from you would be hard. If you have products that customers can touch and pick up, make sure they are all within your view so you can keep an eye on them. For more expensive items you may want to have them in a display case so people can’t pick them up and walk off. Sometimes when I do conventions other exhibitors have their booth so covered in products that they can’t possibly keep an eye on everything, making them a target for thieves.

When we exhibit at shows we display our messenger bags clipped to the side of the booth so they’d be hard to grab and run off with. We keep our tees neatly folded in in shelves behind us so customers can’t just grab them. We keep lower dollar value items like keychains and pins on our table, but that means fewer items on the table to steal and the items that are there are low cost items that wouldn’t be a nightmare to lose.

3. Marketing Materials
Exhibiting at shows should be as much about marketing as it is about selling your product. We maximize our exhibiting experience by having a newsletter sign up at our booth and giving out fun free swag with our branding.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: do not give out swag that just has your info on it. People don’t keep business cards or a vinyl sticker with just your logo (unless your logo is super awesome, like the Johnny Cupcakes logo or something).

When we do shows we give out vinyl stickers featuring our cute characters like Fuzz Aldrin. Our url is in the bottom corner but the focus is on the art and it gets people to take these stickers and keep them. They end up on skateboards, car bumpers, laptops and other places they’ll get seen which is a great advertising tool for us. We also hand out funny comic strips that people keep and hang up at home or work.

We give out all this free swag that people are happy to take because it’s cute and funny. We are happy to give it away because we know it will help them remember our brand. Even if they don’t buy today they might buy in the future or send friends our way.

4. Well-Organized Inventory
When you’re busy at a show the last thing you want to do is root around for inventory under the table. Having your inventory organized helps get customers in and out faster and helps you restock displays quickly.

We keep our shirts neatly folded in stacks sorted by design and then size so we can easily find a large mens Fuzz Aldrin shirt or a small ladies Unicorn Ranch shirt in a few seconds. We even organize our stacks of shirts by color so we know all the black shirts are on the right and all the jewel tone shirts are on the left.

Traveling with items like clear plastic storage boxes of varying sizes helps keep like items together and makes it easy to see what’s in each box. Even separating like items by size or style into large ziplocks helps avoid digging around for things you need to find quickly.

Got some favorite tips for exhibiting at shows? Share in the comments below.

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

December 11, 2013

Are You Letting Stubbornness Get In The Way of Smart Business Decisions?

If you started your business purely because you really enjoy pulling a squeegee across a mesh screen or manually operating your vintage letterpress, this post isn’t for you. If you started your business to make money, then listen up! Every day I talk to artists who are convinced some aspect of their production methods or manufacturing materials is a must-have and that their customers care deeply about this thing they’re so stuck on.

Here’s the reality: Most of your customers probably aren’t married to wearing American Apparel t-shirts. Most of them don’t know what the heck “giclee” means. They cannot tell the difference between a notecard set that you made by hand with a letterpress vs. the set that was mass-produced using modern machinery to produce a similar effect. Your customer doesn’t view your products through the same lens as you. More often than not they are buying a product because they like the design of something, not necessarily due to the specific components or manufacturing techniques used in its production.

When evaluating your product manufacturing methods and components, ask yourself these questions:

 1. What Will Make Me More Money?
My partner and I sell t-shirts and accessories and we do not print on American Apparel; we print on blank shirts that cost about half as much as American Apparel. They’re perfectly nice and soft and well-made with a great fit, but don’t have the hipster cache of American Apparel. We sell thousands of shirts at live events every year and no one has ever decided not to buy a shirt from us because it wasn’t American Apparel. It’s very rare that we run into someone who has an opinion on our blank shirts one way or another. Mostly our customers are looking for a comfortable tee with a good fit that features a good design that speaks to them in one way or another. We also very rarely run into a customer who doesn’t like our shirts because they want a thicker, heavier weight shirt — it can happen, but it’s extremely unusual. We don’t expect to please everyone, so we try to design our products based on what will please most people.

If we chose to print on a more expensive blank shirt because we just assumed our customers insisted on it we’d make less money. We’d either have lower margins (less money for us) or we’d have to raise our prices (making our price point too high for many customers — again, less money for us). I’d print on a more expensive blank shirt if I had some evidence to support that my customers really wanted shirts made of organic cotton or a certain brand of shirts, but it’s simply not the case. I see no reason to adversely affect our income to add a product feature that the overwhelming majority of our customers don’t care or ask about.

2. What Is Scalable?
When you started your business, maybe advertising that all your products were handmade by you sounded like a charming selling point. But what happens when your order volume increases or a department store calls wanting to place a large wholesale order? Is it realistic for you to keep making everything yourself by hand when you have to sell thousands of pieces every month? Even if you could keep up with all that production, is that going to give you enough time to tend to the other parts of your business, like new product development?

A product is not inherently bad because it was made by a vendor or employees, and your customers certainly won’t enjoy the product any more or less based on who physically made the item. If your creative business is your livelihood (or you want it to be), think about how you’re going to keep up with production as demand increases.

3. How Do You Know What Your Customers Really Want?
Are you assuming your customers want you to use specific production methods or components or did you come to this realization based on their feedback? How do you really know your customers would *only* buy posters you designed if they are screen printed vs. printed digitally? How do you know your customers prefer a more expensive piece of jewelry with fine gem stones instead of a more affordable piece with faux stones? Selling at live events is a great way to get customer feedback in real time. What are your customers focusing on about the products? Are they actually interested in the manufacturing process? Are they more concerned with price than the quality of the materials? Are they buying your items specifically because they are handmade by the designer or 100% organic or 14 karat gold? Take note of what your customers seem to like about your items when they’re right in front of you, and think about ways you can lower your manufacturing costs while still producing a quality finished product your fans will enjoy

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

November 21, 2013

Don’t Want to Compete on Price?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 3:53 pm


I recently stumbled onto a thread on a marketplace website where the merchants were complaining that customers said the pricing on the marketplace was too high. Some of these merchants were imploring the site owners to re-brand the marketplace as a place to buy handmade and small business products, reasoning that customers should be willing to pay higher prices for handmade/small business because they shouldn’t support evil, corporate, big box stores and their dirt cheap prices.

On the face of this, it sounds good. But the reality is that all things being equal, people are motivated by price. While this marketplace site has a lot of handmade and small business products, the marketplace is dominated by products designed around the pop cultural properties du jour such as Breaking Bad, Dr. Who, Adventure Time, etc. And right now, that stuff is absolutely all over the place. You can get that stuff at Walmart, Target, Amazon, etc., not just handmade versions and not just small business versions.

Here’s a fun thought exercise: imagine I have a Dr. Who fan on my Christmas list and they could use some art on their walls. If I can buy a Dr. Who poster on Amazon for $6.75, why would I go to another marketplace website and pay $15 or $20? Sure, maybe the $20 Dr. Who poster has a different design and was silk-screened by hand in a hot, uncomfortable basement studio, but at the end of the day if I’m shopping for a Dr. Who poster and I can get such a poster for less than $7.00, why would I pay two or three times as much for a fairly similar product?

Being a small business or a purveyor of handmade goods is not compelling enough of a reason to get people to buy from you. You need to either compete on price or offer something those other stores and merchants can’t offer. I personally prefer to offer something no one else has. I prefer this for a few reasons:

1. It’s better for my brand
If I were selling Adventure Time tees, I’d know customers were buying my products because they like Adventure Time, not because they like my brand. When that customer walks down the street, they blend in with everyone else. Their shirt would look pretty much like everything passersby have seen a zillion times.

Instead, I know customers are buying items from me that only I’ve designed. Those designs don’t look like everything else in the vast consumer market, and will prompt passersby to ask those customers “where’d you get that?!” Every time I sell another tee or hoodie or messenger bag featuring my art, it’s one more person that’s going to be out in the world showing off my totally original material to everyone who passes them, thereby growing MY brand, not someone else’s.

2. I can set my prices where I need them
My company is the only source of products featuring my art. That means I get to set the price and I don’t have to sell my products on razor thin margins. My customers aren’t going to find a vastly cheaper Fuzz Aldrin shirt from another company because Fuzz Aldrin is my creation. That means I get to say what a product featuring Fuzz Aldrin is worth.

By contrast, if I were selling Breaking Bad themed products I’d have to do a fair amount of research on my competition and see how others have priced Breaking Bad merch so people will consider my products. Instead, I’m selling products featuring my own creations and it allows me to justify selling $25 shirts instead of $10 shirts. It also helps normalize the idea that independent artists are the place to go for unique, new, original material and that unique, new, original stuff is worth more money.

When even one company touts itself as being the product of an indie artist or purveyors of handmade goods but then sells products featuring famous corporate characters like Batman, Mickey Mouse, etc., it’s bad for ALL handmade/indie artists. It conflates cheap, mass-produced, unoriginal products with the concept of handmade, independent art. It trains consumers to expect everything should be cheap and unoriginal because they see that from companies billing themselves as handmade and/or indie artists. It blurs the distinction between Walmart and Etsy.

So much of my own job at Ex-Boyfriend has become consumer education. I’ll be exhibiting at a festival and someone will ask me “what’s this from?” I have to explain that it’s from my imagination. It’s sad that people are so used to homogeneity in the marketplace that they assume everything is from something else. Usually people are delighted once they learn that they’re seeing something that’s awesome all by itself without being attached to a TV show or movie.

3. I get to help shape the culture
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the Beatles than Beatlemania. I’m not interested in being a cover band; I want to inject my own humor and aesthetics into the cultural zeitgeist. I can do that because I’m creating original material. If I just designed products around material other creators produced I wouldn’t be adding anything new to the culture. I’d just be trying to capitalize on the success of another creator.

Think about the successful artistic brands you know of — Sanrio, Paul Frank, Johnny Cupcakes, Blue Que, etc. They didn’t achieve their success by glomming onto the meme of the moment; they created their own universe, their own brand, their own artistic vision. They didn’t follow the trends, they set them. This is really what all creatives should be striving to do because it results in a world that’s filled with more interesting, original, new material.

4. Getting sued sucks
Riding the coattails of other creators is a recipe for legal trouble. Intellectual property owners are well within their rights to sue anyone who sells products featuring their trademarked or copyrighted material without permission. When they do decide to get litigious, IP owners can sue for thousands or even millions of dollars. And if you sold infringing products to a store, that retailer could get sued.

To me, it’s not worth the risk to my own business or my retail partners. I’d rather know I’m free and clear to make money off of my art in any way I like because it’s mine. I can retail, I can wholesale, and I can license, and I never have to worry about someone telling me I don’t have the right to do that.

If you’ve been selling products featuring other creators’ characters, know that you don’t need to do that. People absolutely will pay a premium for good original products. I know it’s true because I sell thousands of my own products featuring original material every month. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to make a quick buck and keep your fingers crossed that you don’t get sued, or do you want to build a brand with staying power and put something new into the world?

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.

November 13, 2013

Add T-Shirts To Your Product Line With No Upfront Cost

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Meredith @ 2:46 pm


In my last post I mentioned that one of my goals for 2014 is to grow the manufacturing branch of my business. For years now I’ve owned and operated a graphic apparel and accessories business with my partner Matt, and we know all too well how hard it is to start and operate this kind of business.

The biggest challenge with selling your illustrations on t-shirts is cost. Let’s say you have a design that’s selling like crazy on posters and you’d love to print it on a t-shirt. You’ve got two options:

1. You can screen print your design onto shirts
If you do that you have to:

• pay up front for the inventory

• guess what size breakdown to order

• stock the inventory yourself

Just to start with 1 t-shirt you’ll probably spend around $400 getting that first design printed. So if you wanted to go all-out with a full line and print 10 designs you’d need $4,000.00! You’re also going to have to sell hundreds of those t-shirts before you recoup that initial outlay and break even. And if you decided to print a design that ends up not selling well you might never break even on that particular design.

2. You can have your shirts printed to order on a POD basis
With sites like Cafe Press you’ll only make a dollar or two per order and when those shirts ship to your customer the packing slip won’t have your branding on it. So customers will remember the shirt came from Cafe Press, not you. Even during the checkout process, your customer will be asked to join the Cafe Press mailing list, not your mailing list, so you won’t be able to re-market to them later if they liked your art.

Neither of these options is ideal. You can either take on a lot of risk, spend a lot of money up front, and allocate a lot of storage space to warehouse your inventory, or you can make peanuts from the sale of your art and have little control over your branding. The good news is, I’ve just created a new alternative to both of those options: Meet DropShipDTG, my new one-stop service for t-shirt printing and fulfillment.

Why I’m Offering This Service
Although my t-shirt line has been around for a few years and at this point we have lots of best sellers that we regularly screen print, even we aren’t immune to the problems with screen printing. Sometimes I run out of larges long before I run out of every other size, and I don’t necessarily want to spend another chunk of cash just to re-stock one size right away. Sometimes I release a new design and it turns out to be a dud. If I screen printed that new design without any sales history I might end up with a bunch of slow moving inventory I can’t get my money back from.

I solved this problem by purchasing a DTG printer. A DTG printer is a special printer designed to print on cotton. So it can print on t-shirts, tote bags, sweatshirts, etc. The big difference between DTG and screen printing is that screen printing relies on screens. You create screens specific to one design and once they are set up you can create hundreds or thousands of copies of that design, but if you need to print another design you have to set up new screens. DTG doesn’t use screens — it’s entirely digital — so you can print 1 copy of 100 different designs with just about the same amount of effort that it takes to print 100 copies of 1 design.

I use my DTG printer to fill in inventory gaps if I run out of a size or test new designs to make sure they’re going to sell well before I invest in 100′s or 1000′s of screen printed pieces. The thing is, I only use my DTG printer for a couple of hours each day. The rest of the time it sits idle.

I decided to start printing for other artists to keep my printer occupied and generating income even when I’m not using it. It also means I can do something I believe in and enjoy, which is helping other creatives grow their businesses.

How The Service Works
If you’re interested in using DropShipDTG, you can create an account with us. Once your account is active you’ll be able to start taking orders. You can take orders for shirts the same way you take orders now. You can accept orders via your website, Etsy, Big Cartel, etc. When you have shirt orders you can log into your account and provide us with the order details. We accept your order data via our web form or via a spreadsheet.

We’ll print the shirts your customers ordered and mail them off using YOUR packing slip and YOUR return address. This means your customers will never know you didn’t ship the order yourself. We can even include your promotional materials if you’d like (stickers, postcards, flyers, coupons, buttons, etc.). We’ll bill you weekly for your orders once we’ve shipped them.

How much can I make from selling t-shirts?
That’s up to you. DropShipDTG offers pricing tiers based on volume and you decide what you want to sell the shirts for. If you just sell one shirt per day your cost would be $15.00 per shirt. If you sold the shirts for $25.00 you’d make $10 on every sale — a much better return than what you’d get from the leading print-on-demand services. You’d also get to control your customer’s experience. They will place their orders with you just like they do now and when their order arrives it will have your branding so your customer will remember you, the designer.

You can learn more about DropShipDTG by visiting the website. We’ve addressed the most common questions on our FAQ and pricing pages. If you have additional questions not covered by the DropShipDTG website feel free to give us a call or send an email and we’ll be glad to help you out.

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November 5, 2013

What I’ve Been Up To

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 8:46 am

photo by kovik via

I haven’t blogged much in 2013 because my year was pretty consumed with my move to Los Angeles. So much has happened since our move but here are some highlights:

1. We Love LA!
When we decided to move to LA it was a business decision. We couldn’t find a screen printer we were happy with in Baltimore and we were doing too much printing to be without a printer we could depend on. Southern California has more screen printers than any other part of the country so we moved here to have more options.

We burned through a couple of printers in the LA area before we found a good printer, but we did find one we liked. We also found that we are close to a ton of other suppliers. This means we can get all the supplies we need within a quick drive. If we don’t feel like picking up supplies we can order them online and they arrive the next day. The money we’ve saved on getting supplies has been a huge boon. Not to mention the convenience of being able to get supplies so quickly!

LA has also been a great place to get noticed by more wholesale contacts and Hollywood costumers. Just being at live events in the LA-area has gotten our products seen by store owners and costumers, and landed us more wholesale business and more appearances on TV.

LA’s relaxed friendly vibe, sunny mild weather and affordable cost of living turned out to be a nice surprise too. We’ve been thrilled that we can find so much inexpensive, good quality produce at local markets. We’re close to tons of beautiful natural scenery which has been great for day hikes on weekends.

2. We moved more jobs in-house
When we started our company we had an awesome vendor who’d been printing and shipping our products for us. When they went under we tried to replace them but couldn’t find any good options. We ended up bringing fulfillment back in-house which was a bit of a bummer but turned out to be a good kick in the butt for us. We have better control over shipping, lower costs and it encouraged us to invest in some much-needed equipment.

3. More distribution = more business
We didn’t really have time to focus on advertising this year, so it fell by the wayside. I was sure our sales would tank but they kept on growing. I attribute the growth to getting more product out into the world. In the last 12 months we did more live events like festivals and conventions, did more wholesale, did more flash sales. In short, we got more of our product in front of consumers and into their wardrobes.

Since we design clothing and accessories, our customers wear our products out in the world and act as advertising for us. We hear all the time from customers that everyone asks them where they got their shirts, bags, wallets, etc. and they always send people our way. Just being seen all over the place has generated so much word-of-mouth business for us.

We’ve also seen benefits from all the free swag we’ve given out over the last 12 months. We’ve handed out hundreds of thousands of comic strips and stickers at festivals and conventions in the last year. We hear from people more and more that they’ve seen our stickers and comics and sought us out as a result.

What’s on for 2014

We have a few things planned for 2014 but here are some of the big goals:

1. Make more time for content and product development.

2. Hire more help, especially for live events.

3.  Grow the manufacturing services side of our business (more about that later this week).

4. Keep growing our online and retail presence

How was your 2013? Let me know in the comments!

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July 18, 2013

Wanna Go Into Business? Ask the Right Questions.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 10:32 am

customer service

I haven’t updated in a while since I’ve been pretty swamped with my own business. We grew our sales by 60% for the first 6 months of 2013 (vs the same period in 2012) and relocated for our business. More about that later, but today I was prompted to post about something that happens to me all the time and sort of drives me crazy. At least once a week I run into someone who wants to start a business and wants to ask me all about it. I am happy to chat with them but they ALWAYS ask me the wrong questions. Here’s what they usually ask:

- What should I sell? (I can’t answer that for you.)

- How much of X should I make to start? (I don’t know — what are your distribution plans?)

- How do I get a website? (There are many ways to go about this; what is your budget?)

- How do I get started? (Too open-ended of a question.)

I basically get a lot of broad questions I couldn’t possibly answer or a lot of questions specific to the product. Here’s what you need to know and what you should be asking:

1. The product isn’t as important as you think it is
People starting product-based businesses usually fixate on the product and it’s the wrong thing to fixate on. A product is not a business. Repeat this mantra; it’s the #1 rule everyone doesn’t understand. Your product could be awesome or it could be crap and it almost doesn’t matter. Your success is going to be dictated by your ability to sell, market and find distribution channels, not necessarily the product itself. Sure, produce a product that you think is good and that you think will sell. But don’t expect you will succeed purely because the product is good.

2. How much capital can you invest?
Yes, you will hear of stories where someone started a business with $5 and people write entire books about this; that sort of thing is popular to talk about because it’s what wannabe business owners want to hear. However, just because something is possible doesn’t make it probable. Those people who “made it” because their product showed up in a hit movie or instantly got picked up by Hot Topic, etc. are the exception, not the norm. Don’t count on results like that.

If you want to build a real business selling hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars in product every year then you should count on your start up requiring a large investment of capital and a few years to really become profitable. My own business was technically “profitable” when it wasn’t a real business. When I first started and was selling less than $20,000.00 a year in product I was actually netting a few thousand dollars after all the expenses. It wasn’t a real business though. I wasn’t going to be able to pay my bills or quit my day job. Since growing my business to a quit-your-day-job size proposition I have had to loan my company tens of thousands of dollars over the years. It was necessary to put in that kind of money to grow our business to the size it is today.

That’s the reality of growing a business — they require investment to grow. And if you want to really grow it, it may require a pretty substantial investment of both cash and time. Are you prepared to put both of those into your venture to make it grow? Whatever you think it’s going to cost, however long you think it’s going to take, you’re probably way off. It’s going to cost so much more and take so much longer than you expect. Is this something you’re prepared for?

3.What will your distribution channels be?
Know how I said the product almost doesn’t matter? This is what matters right here. If you have a product-based business you need distribution channels. How are you going to get your product into consumers’ hands? You should obsess about this; it’s the #1 thing that matters.

Are you going to sell online? If so, how will you bring people to your website? Are you going to be awesome at online advertising and search engine optimization? Are you going to sell at retail events like conventions and festivals? If so, which ones? How will you vet them and find the right ones? How many will you sell at? Are you going to sell through 3rd party marketplaces like Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc.? How will you generate sales on those sites? Are you going to wholesale to stores? How will you acquire stores? Will you do trade shows? Will you cold call? How will you track your sales leads?

How much product do you need to sell to pay your bills and at what price point? How are you going to meet those sales goals consistently?  Will your distribution channels be able to meet your needs in terms of price point and sales volume?

3. Are you willing to take on tasks you don’t really enjoy and learn new skills that don’t interest you?
This is a big part of the J.O.B. right here. When people ask me and my partner about our jobs, they assume it’s a fun glamorous gig and that we design all day. Design is probably less than 10% of what we do. We spend 90% of our time doing other things for our business. In any given day we might be managing vendors, placing sales calls or following up on other business opportunities, addressing customer service issues, dealing with logistical and administrative tasks like bookkeeping, paying sales tax, etc.

The list of things you will need to learn is endless and there’s usually no one to teach you. Remember how I said you’re going to need more capital than you think? Some of it is going to go here. You’re going to make mistakes. Some of them might be big and expensive. You’re going to maybe hire the wrong contractor or employee. You’re maybe going to have a manufacturer screw up a release of your product and send you a shipment full of defective goods. You’re going to do an expensive trade show that turns out to be a bust. You’re going to invest in some piece of machinery or equipment that breaks or maybe doesn’t deliver the value you expected. Stuff like this is part of the learning curve with starting and growing a business and there’s no way around it.

You do have to be an expert in nearly everything your business does and becoming an expert on all of it is going to take time and cost money. It’s going to involve embracing tasks you don’t find interesting and don’t enjoy. You can eventually hire people to do some of it for you, but unless you’re an expert how will you know who to hire and whether the employee or contractor is doing the job right?

Still wanna go into business?
If you’re already in business you’re probably saying “amen” to everything I just wrote. If you’re not in business yet hopefully you’re taking it all to heart. I still don’t expect to have time to update here regularly, but I will try to add a few posts from time to time about what we’ve been up to at my company and stuff I’ve picked up as I’ve been growing my business.

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September 27, 2012

The Myths Behind the “Quit Your Day Job” Promise

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 11:24 am

I recently said that I don’t relate to a lot of people who read my blog anymore because of how my own business has matured. In response, one of my readers encapsulated a sentiment that perfectly jives with what’s been bugging me about writing for those who haven’t yet made the jump from hobbyist to professionals:

“I have been rethinking this very issue of late and though I don’t have a business background, I believe the problem is what’s called a business model. We “mom/solo” enterprises were sold a bill of goods that if we worked 60 hours a week, wrote a blog, had a Facebook page and tweeted, etc. if we did what we loved and were passionate about, THEN the money would follow. It doesn’t. It’s not a business model that works. It’s a pipe dream that comes true for very, very few. It’s just the way capitalism and the free market works”

In short, YES! Who’s selling this fantasy and why?

1. Failed entrepreneurs
There’s an entire cottage industry out there of self-appointed business coaches who never succeeded at their own business but want to give you advice on your business. They tell you exactly what you want to hear; that if you just work hard enough and blog and Facebook, you too can get rich. This is usually said in flowery language and accompanies pitches to buy ebooks and ecourses and attend seminars on touchy-feely subjects like story telling or showing the real you to customers. The language is always carefully crafted so that it appeals to creatives who have no interest in dull stuff like sales and accounting and SEO. It doesn’t delve into the nitty-gritty of cash flow and supply chains and vendor relations — that stuff is dry and complex and doesn’t usually appeal to creative types, even though it’s the stuff you most need to know in order to succeed.

2. Marketplace websites that target wantrepreneurs
I see some culpability on the part of sites like Etsy as well. Whether intentional or not, they are in the business of selling the fantasy that anyone can start a “business” with just a little creativity. You don’t need a big fancy website or technical know-how or anything — just pay a few cents per listing and you’ll be in “business”. Anyone with an internet connection and a dream can do it!

People fall for these promises because they’re appealing. Who doesn’t want to make a living hanging out in their PJs all day and crafting? The myth is fed by smiling photos of Brooklynites in hip studios in Park Slope who’ve quit their day jobs and struck it rich. “You can do it too!”, is the promise. These stories never delve into what’s really going on there. How many hours does the person work? How much capital did they invest? How much revenue is their business netting after expenses? What specifically do they do all day? Who have they had to hire to help them grow?

When I talk to people who are really in business they all have their horror stories of subsisting on mayonnaise sandwiches, trying to decide if they make payroll or pay the mortgage on their house, investing their whole retirement savings. One of my entrepreneur friends lost his house this year to foreclosure in order to save his business. Perception-wise, I am sure all his customers see is a success, a guy who’s been all over TV and in magazines and is really making it. The sacrifices to get there are never really talked about. It’s the story you aren’t being told most of the time. It’s not a fun, glamorous job; it’s a difficult and exhausting job, and if there was more truth out there about what the job really is there would be fewer people applying for it.

So what’s the reality?

The reality is that creating and running a successful business is hard, expensive and time consuming. I’m telling you this as a business owner shifting thousands of units of product every month to retail and wholesale customers. My business partner and I regularly work 12 hour days on our business and I personally invested tens of thousands of dollars of my own money before we became profitable. (This is actually fairly modest start up capital, by the way.)

We don’t spend our days crafting. We spend our days managing people, making sales calls, managing the company’s finances, coordinating with vendors, and generally solving problems that make us want to tear our hair out. We spend less than 5% off our time doing creative work.

When people find out what I do for a living they often say “that sounds like so much fun, how can I do that?” My first question is usually “well do you consider yourself a creative person? I mean, do you like creating, drawing, crafting, etc.?” If the answer is yes I usually say “then you do not want to do what I do for a living.” The truth is, in addition to the need for time and money, you need a willingness to spend your time doing things you don’t especially like doing. No one likes dealing with the vendor who is ripping them off. No one likes calling that buyer every week and trying to sound upbeat and not annoying while you try to get a purchase order out of her. No one likes staying up til 3am proofing an order that was delivered from a supplier late and needs to go out tomorrow.

But, Meredith, I don’t have $50,000 laying around and I can’t work 80 hours a week! I have kids and a day job! Making sales calls gives me panic attacks!

I totally get it, but given those facts you’re probably not going to be able to develop a mature and highly profitable business. You might be able to pull in some extra spending money, but you’re probably not going to quit that day job or build a seven figure enterprise.

So if you’ve found yourself stuck and frustrated and don’t understand why you’re not making a zillion bucks on your craft, take stock of what’s really going on. Are you sufficiently capitalized? Are you putting in the requisite hours? Are you taking on the unappealing but necessary tasks? If the answer is no and you aren’t going to change any of that, accept that what you’re doing is for fun or to make some spending money. It’s perfectly okay to do that and it’s a lot less frustrating than spinning your wheels and feeling like you’re “failing” at something you aren’t even really doing to begin with.

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