Thumbs up, you’ve made a smart decision to design your own merch free and get it going. But there’s more to that. We’re going to help you through the process of creating and launching your custom merch store, from the very beginning. We’ll be going over the bare essentials of getting a store up and running and getting your first sale.
You could tune up your store endlessly before your custom merchandise store could be considered “perfect”. However, we’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be launched – it has to be functional. Because in reality, you only need to complete 4 steps to launch your own merch store:
- Identify your niche audience for your own merchandise
- Design and make merch
- Find and choose your custom merchandise production partner
- Market your custom merch and position your brand
So let’s go ahead and take a closer look at each of these steps.
Step 1: Identify your niche audience for your own merchandise
You’ll agree that it makes sense to have this identified at the very start since the idea for your design is the fundamental building block to your entire online custom merch journey. It will set the mood, define your audience, determine your direction and your theme for your custom merchandise. To move on with a design, you should be asking yourself these questions:
- Who is going to be interested in your custom merchandise?
- Will the target market like your merch and designs?
- Will the target market want to pay for custom merch?
- What is your added value?
- How will you make your merch different from your competitors?
With that being said, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to make it a bit better, a bit more interesting, slightly different…you get the idea. There are plenty of things that will help you make merch that sells great online.
If you’re out of ideas, you can use different online tools to help you do the research, for example, Google trends or Facebook audience insights.
Take a look at this example. These guys have created a custom tshirt that speaks all languages. Call it the ultimate fashion statement — a shirt that can do the talking when no one understands a word you’re saying.
Step 2: Design your own merch
Next step in your journey to make merch – designing. Once you have an idea for your design, you need to put it together in a printable format. In order for your design to be printed, you have to submit the image itself in the correct dimensions and matching the guidelines for the production partner (we’ll get into details about production partners in the next paragraph). Each production partner will have their own guidelines for each product, decoration technique.
Tools that you can use to create design files yourself
The most popular tools to create print files hands down are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Though both come at a pretty fee, and not always is viable for someone just getting their hands wet with design and ecommerce. Luckily, there are alternative tools that are free to use and do the same basic graphic editing:
- GIMP – open source and a program you download, available on Mac, Windows, Linux
- Pixlr – an image editor that you can use in your browser
Outsourcing the designing
If, however, you want to hand it over to a professional, there are plenty of places you can look. Here are a few of them:
- Fiverr – find a designer whose aesthetic matches yours and book them for a gig. Keep in mind – as my mother has always said, you get what you pay for.
- 99designs – describe the task, write how much you’re willing to pay for it, and designers will upload their custom designs for you. Whichever you choose gets the money.
Step 3: Find and choose your merch production partner
Furthermore, you’ve got your designs ready, you have to set up your custom merchandise website – a digital real estate. Also, you have to find a production partner. The best option when starting out is using print on demand services. Services like Printful, Printify, Society6, Spreadshirt and Bonfire will help you make your own merch online.
When choosing the production partner for your own merch line you have to consider the following:
- Do you want your own standalone online store or you’re fine selling your products on a marketplace along with other brands?
- The variety of merch products you want to sell
- Do you want to make your own merch website to stand out and spend more time building your brand?
Make your own merchandise shop
If you want to build your brand, make merch and sell it on your personal merch store. The best option is choosing print on demand partners like:
These partners will handle the printing and shipping part of your making merch process. Here is a full list of merch designer companies. You will, however, need to make your own merch shirt store on Shopify or other e-commerce platform. Our suggestion is to go with Printful – they offer seemless fulfillment services and integrations with 15+ e-commerce platforms and marketplaces.
Selling your custom band merch on a marketplace
Not everyone has time to spend on creating your own merch store. Luckily there is a slightly easier way to enter the market. You can make merch and sell it on marketplaces like:
While your brand would have a higher competition to stand out, there are several benefits choosing to make your own merch on a marketplace. You will get some chunk of organic traffic – these merch marketplaces have millions of visits per month. Meaning that, if your custom made merch stands out, you can get sales with no advertising budget.
Step 4: Market your custom merchandise and position your brand
Once you’ve got your own merch shirt store set up, you are all set to make your first sale. Bear in mind that the money won’t just start rolling in as soon as you click the “live” button on your online merch store. Your first sales will be a result of hard work and persistence – very important words when starting an online store! There are a few ways you can get your store’s first sales, while neither Google nor the world knows you exist yet.
Word of mouth marketing – utilize your existing network
Your initial market will be your friends and family, the people who support you unconditionally (did anyone use it before Katy Perry’s song?) and genuinely want to see you succeed. Post to your personal social network accounts, but be careful to not overspam your friends. Your main goal at this phase is to:
- To get feedback
- Do some changes to your merchandise
- If your friends like your merch, ask them to reshare it
- Appreciated if they do that
You can also send a mass email to your friends and family outlining how they can help.
Outreach influencers and do comarketing
Last but not least, another way to get the word out about your merch line is by approaching already existing audiences. Say there’s a blogger or Instagram influencer that writes about your niche that has several thousand social media followers. That would be a person who you’d want to get involved with to consider a possible collaboration.
Some ways to interact with an influencer just as you’re getting started: Interview them, create a blog post, do a paid campaign. Tweet to them that you featured them, and then they might retweet your post
Ideally, you want to get in front of that influencer’s audience. You can find a few influencers in your industry and niche, and start talking to all of them. Some may be more receptive than others, and you will encounter a great deal of rejection. But don’t let that dishearten you, get up and keep going!
Custom merchandise deals, competitions & giveaways
One of the easiest ways to generate quick social media buzz about your own merch is by hosting a competition or giveaway. Offer a sample of your product in return for a form of engagement – liking your page, sharing your post and other. Make sure to make the most of the competition or giveaway by collecting the emails of the people who enter. You can later send a coupon with a discount code to those who didn’t win the Giveaway.
Speaking of discounts, when you’ve built up traffic to your store, you’d should benefit from running a few deals. For example putting a particularly merch shirt on a sale.
Creating, publishing and promoting your own custom merch can be an excellent idea for all types of groups and creative individuals. From YouTubers, artists, influencers to celebrities and fundraisers. Making merch is a smart way to engage your fans or build new societies, and of course, earn some side income. The good news is, you don’t have to be a superstar to do all that!