How To Start A T-Shirt Business From Home On A Shoestring Budget

Written by Franklin Hatchett

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Our goal at EcomElites is to help readers get the information they need, we partner with companies to help bring you that information. If a purchase or signup is made through our partners, we receive compensation for the referral. Learn More

The lack of know-how and start-up costs prevent many business ideas from being implemented. T-shirts especially are versatile products that can be sold depending on events, demography, believes, and campaigns.

If you are looking to start a business from home, think about selling T-shirts online. T-shirts are worn more than any other type of clothes across the world today. You will have many effective resources at your disposal at a low cost to fit your shoestring budget. Furthermore, you have the opportunity to tap into the global pool of customers.

In this article, we will provide you with the know-how you need to start an online T-shirt business on a shoestring budget.

1. Choose a Selling Platform

You need to choose a platform that will host your webstore. Did you know you can sell your T-shirt stock or any other products without any inventory and incurring costs associated with inventory? How? The answer is dropshipping.

In dropshipping, you will engage a supplier who will give you T-shirt apparel to display on your store. Once a customer orders a T-shirt, the dropshipping supplier will print the shirts and ship them straight to the customer’s location.

You will need to select a selling platform that allows dropshipping for you to cut on inventory costs and focus on the profits. You will also need to consider some factors before you select a dropshipping supplier.

What Are These Factors?

  • The T-shirt choices the supplier offers
  • The unit price
  • Cost of printing
  • Shipping charges
  • T-shirt quality
  • Print quality

These factors give you plenty of choices. You will find T-shirts with various quality standards, and this factor has the most influence on price.

What Platforms Should I Consider?

a. Shopify

Shopify is a highly accessible and popular selling platform that supports dropshipping. You have access to many integrations that support various functions to enhance the performance of your online store. You can add a dropshipping supplier of your choice to display and fulfill products through your Shopify store.

However, we advise that you complete the design process and this tutorial before setting up your store. Finishing up with the design process will enable you to present great designs that you have confidence in.

b. Printful

Printful is a T-shirt supplier that you can integrate with Shopify. It also has an app version. It offers a wide selection of T-shirts and other apparel. As your business grows, you could opt to venture into bags and canvas prints which helps widen your customer base.

You are assured of quality T-shirts when you enroll in Printful.

c. TeeSpring

TeeSpring is a platform that facilitates in-house stores and dropshipping. This means you are limited to their products and their platform. You will lack the chance to establish a brand for your store. Some customization options are not accessible either.

The platform also restricts data analytics so it will be hard to chart your path in digital marketing.

d. TeeChip

Teechip is a platform that lets you import designs on their T-shirts. It is a print on demand service that offers shipping tools and payment integrations. It also offers a wide variety of products for print on demand. You can apply your designs on mugs, hoods, books, etc.

2. Pick A Niche

You need to select a niche in the market. The niche will be your target audience. You have a better chance against your competitors in the market if you know who your target audience is. You will be able to position your brand strategically.

However, you need to conduct thorough research to select a niche your products can target easily and effectively. The niche you target will depend on factors like demography, culture, religion, events, etc. Your adverts will be more specific, and your products will get to your desired audience faster.

The Facebook ads you run will be more effective as they target a particular group of customers.

3. Work On The Design Process

Two rules should influence the designs you use on your T-shirts. They are simplicity and uniqueness. Some people are attracted to intricate designs, but the majority need a design that communicates a message. Intricate designs are mostly confusing.

How Do You Come Up With Simple And Unique Designs?

Avoid copying designs that are already on the market as this might lead to copyright infringement. This also applies to logos and catchphrases you plan to use in your branding. Your design idea can be innovative but you need to research on your competitors and see how your designs may be similar.

You should not copy designs as they lower your market value. Unique designs will generate repeat customers for your business. Consider use of text and colors. They will help your Design to communicate a message that resonates with your audience.

A T-shirt design can be purely text. You can also rely on a color scheme as the design of your T-shirts. A good example is using various flag color schemes on events like the football World Cup or any other global sporting events like the Olympics.

It is also important that after coming up with a unique design you protect it legally as an intellectual property.

Use the following design process to come up with simple and unique designs:

a. Research

The first step is research. You need to know what interests your audience, what amuses them, what they are celebrating, or even the struggles they are facing. Look up current events surrounding your audience to fulfill your research. The research will help you find inspiration for your designs.

b. Look Up Sources Of Design Inspiration

You can draw inspiration from existing designs without plagiarism. You may look up other platforms to assess the designs and identify market trends that could influence your creativity and design.

You can search for trendy designs on pages like:

  • TeeView
  • Redbubble Popular
  • Snorg Bestsellers
  • Kickstarter T-shirt Campaigns
  • Skreened trending Shirts.
  • Zazzle Bestsellers and Zazzle popular

The above pages should be able to help you identify various niches you could target. You can also rely on Google hot search or Google Trends. The software can be a source of inspiration as they provide analytics on what products people are interested in.

c. Sourcing For Graphic Designers

Do you lack the graphic design skills? There is no cause to worry. You can outsource a graphic designer to bring your idea to life. You can source for designers for as low as $5. You will find many design communities online.

A good example is Dribble. You simply get an idea of what you would like to appear on your T-shirt and message the designers you wish to hire. You can also give Behance a try. It is a platform filled with competent designers.

  • Using Freelancer Networks To Source For Designers

Freelance networks are platforms where you can source for any skill set from writers to graphic designers. You may have heard of a Upwork, Fivver, Guru or any other freelance networks online. These platforms guarantee you a risk-free business relationship between you and your designer.

You can get designing services at low cost of even $3 depending on your tasks. You simply need to post your job description on the platform, and the designers will respond. You will analyze their applications to see who has the expertise and cost-effectiveness you need.

These platforms have a rating system — for example, beginner level, Intermediate, and expert. If you need a professional to design your work, you can enlist a designer on the expert level. Should you need simple designs as a start, you can rely on the Intermediate designers or beginners.

d. Create A Mock Or Test Design

You can also rely on software to create mock or test designs for your T-shirt. The test design display how the end product will appear when full printing is done. You can use test or mock designs on product images displayed on your store.

You have two options when it comes to creating test design:

  1. You can create a physical mockup design. This is where you actually put on a T-shirt with your design on it. You can have a friend or a professional photographer take pictures of you, and you can post them online.
  2. You can create a digital mark design using T-shirt templates.
  • What To Use To Create Digital Mock Designs

1. Adobe Photoshop

You can use Adobe free trial if you are on a shoestring budget. You simply create an account, register for a free trial and search T-shirt templates. You can make you use of the multilayers to add your design and customize the colors. This software also considers the T-shirt contours and its effect on your design.

2. Shopify's T-shirt MockUp Generator

Shopify lets you use this mockup generator for free. It has many features and effects you can apply on your T-shirt template.

3. Creative Market

Creative Market is a design marketplace where you can create test designs for your T-shirt. You can download its templates to apply your designs. However some of its templates are charged. Your Shopping store can upload various T-shirt templates with design mockups on your store.

e. Validate Your Design

You need to confirm that your design will generate a return on sales, especially if you intend to purchase T-shirts in bulk. Validation is about determining if your design will have demand on the market. Your perception is valuable but not enough.

You Can Validate Your Design Through:

1. Social Media

Your store needs multiple social media accounts to widen its marketing base. Post your designs on these social media walls and request from feedback. It is advisable you ask everyone, especially if you are using a personal account. Personal accounts are prone to bias opinion from friends.

2. Reddit

Reddit relies on Subreddits to generate opinion and votes. The subreddits help you to find your niche and ask for their opinion.

4. Utilize High-Quality T-shirts

Quality of your Tees comes after your design quality. Poor material may result in cracks on the design or even fades after a few washes. Quality T-shirts retain design appearance for a long time. They result in loyal customers who make repeat sales.

The repeat sales, in turn, will increase your store’s profits. Furthermore, your customers will help you generate more leads through referrals.

How Do I Tell A T-shirt’s Quality?

You can tell the quality of T-shirt depending on various factors. They include:

1. The fit comfort of the T-shirt. How comfortable do you feel in the T-shirt?

2. The material feel. Cotton and linen T-shirts are the best materials for T-shirts. They are comfortable and bring out great looking designs.

3. The weight. The weight impacts the design through factors like weather. Your audience needs light T-shirts in warm weather while heavier T-shirts suit cooler weather.

4. The sizing accuracy. Your design could rely on T-shirt sizes and measurements. You need to ensure that the sizing is accurate to ensure your design also fits perfectly.

5. The stitching quality. The stitching quality determines how long your design lasts. Fewer stitches mean your T-shirts have a higher chance of cracking when you wash them. The stitching will also impact the cost of the T-shirt.

Start by placing one order to check the T-shirts quality against the list above. You will be able to make an informed purchase when you purchase in bulk.

5. Set-up Your Shopify Store and Printful App

You can set up your Shopify store once you are settled on a validated design quality and T-shirt quality. You can initiate the sales side of your T-shirt designs in three simple steps:

a. Sign up on the platform and enjoy a 14-day free trial before you subscribe to the payment packages.

b. Create an account of Printful and download the Printful app. The dropshipping platform provides many T-shirts to choose from. Upload your design files to Printful, and they will print, and they will fulfill your designed T-shirts to your customers. The plugin automatically updates your product catalog to your online store.

c. Make sure you initiate a test-order once you set up a store and integrate your dropshipping supplier. The test-order makes sure your suppliers can order.

Printful does not limit you to Shopify, but you can integrate the plugin with other platforms like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, ShipStation, Zakeke, and Zapier.

6. Market Your Business

Once your store is ready, you now focus on the marketing end of your business. It would be best if you generated leads to your store for you to start making sales. At this point, be ready to spend to earn. For example, the more paid ads you run, the more leads you are likely to generate.

Here are some of the marketing strategies you can use to boost sales on your Shopify or any other online store:

  • Keep Up With Market Trends

Current events impact your targeted audience a great deal. Please communicate with your audience and research to find out the current events surrounding them. You can rely on social media or email to gather the appropriate trends and information. You will easily find a niche and appeal to their interests when you focus on market trends.

  • Use Google Ads

Google Ads has two marketing options. You can purchase an ad that displays text, or you can purchase an ad that shows the product image and price. You have seen text ads at the very top of your search results. The product and image price are displayed in various places like on the side of search results or websites.

You will need to do proper keyword research if you opt for Google ads. You will be analyzing the keyword volume. It would help if you also looked up available competition and price.

  • Use Facebook Ads

Facebooks Ads are very useful and efficient when it comes to target advertising. You will be able to market your products based on criteria like:

  1. Gender
  2. Age
  3. Location
  4. Interests
  5. Job titles

Interests have the most impact on your marketing strategy and selecting a niche. You can assess what people like on Facebook and select a product that targets these interests. For example, if someone likes sports, you can base your design themes on sports. You can also identify fathers and market Father’s Day T-shirts to them.

The marketing opportunities are many if you base your strategies on the criteria above. Furthermore, you can rely on an ad management tool like HubSpot to run your marketing campaigns. You will be able to measure the impact of your ads on sales conversions.

  • Use Instagram

In the United States alone, Instagram has over 100 million active users. The global count is over 500 million. Instagram offers two marketing options:

  • Use Influencers

These are people with a large follower base. You can request them to post or mention your products at an agreed cost. Their followers will follow up on your products, and your leads will increase.

  • Organic Reach

Organic reach means you post products images or videos and add hashtags to them. Quality images and relevant hashtags will quickly draw users to your products.

  • Use Pinterest

Pinterest is mostly used by women with expendable income. If they are your target audience, it is sensible to run your ads on the platform. The wedding industry has used the platform to market a lot of its products because of the defined user base.

7. Brand Your Store

A brand is a customers’ perception of your products. A strong brand helps to gain customer attention, gain their trust and convert them to loyal repeat customers. It would help if you worked on your customers’ perception of your products for you to increase your sales.

How Do I Influence My Customer’s Perception?

The first step is to research your competitors and target audience. You will need this information to establish your customer’s needs and how your competitors are branding themselves for you to be able to stay ahead.

You can also rely on online resources to research and influence your customer’s perception.

Examples include:

Facebook. Research on what your customers like and gather any information that would be useful for building products with a positive impact. For example, you can research their hobbies, role models, etc.

Subreddits. They help you discern what interests customers in a particular niche.

Social Media. The other platforms on social media, for example, Instagram can be a source of information on both your customers and competitors. Ask questions like: What are my competitors doing right to build their brand image? What are they failing to do?

The information will help you to come up with brand visuals (logos, colors, and fonts), a company slogan and website tone.

Final Thoughts

The process of launching a T-shirt business on a shoestring budget is simple but detailed. In a nutshell:

  1. Choose a platform to sell on
  2. Pick a niche after conducting enough research
  3. Use simple and unique designs
  4. Utilize high-quality T-shirts
  5. Set up a store and source for a dropshipping service
  6. Market your business
  7. Brand your store

There is no rush to memorize this process as you can always refer back to be able to adhere to the details that will make your business stand out.

There are significant takeaways that will be constant throughout your business journey.

They Include:

  • Always do thorough research.
  • Make sure your products are influenced by the customer’s needs.
  • Ensure all your products and processes are as unique as possible.
  • Make use of social media marketing to generate leads.

Do you feel we have left out any entrepreneurial advice on how to start a successful T-shirt business from home on a limited budget? Would you mind sharing?

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