Selling t-shirts online with a print-on-demand platform like Teepublic can be an excellent small business or side hustle for a digital nomad.
This guide is part of a series of posts about business ideas for digital nomads.
If time freedom is one of your main goals as a digital nomad, read on to find out why and how an online t-shirt shop can give you just that.
You can look at your first t-shirt shop as a fun experiment and a supplementary source of income.
If you enjoy it, you can expand to more shops and more products and eventually even make e-commerce your full-time source of income.
Why sell t-shirts online as a digital nomad?
For me, the best reason why selling t-shirts online is great for my digital nomad lifestyle is that it gives me plenty of time freedom.
With this business model, you can work when you want. You’re not limited by the time of day or day of the week.
You simply post your t-shirt designs online and the sales can happen when you’re out and about exploring a new destination.
For extra freedom, you want to choose an online t-shirt shop based on a print-on-demand model.
In a nutshell, print-on-demand platforms are websites that you upload designs to, they present a mockup of your design on t-shirts and other products, without actually manufacturing anything at first.
When a customer orders a product, the platform will print your design and handle the payment, shipping and customer service for you.
You will get paid for each product sold.
You don’t have to be online to take orders or reply to customers’ questions.
What’s more, you can upload a t-shirt design once and sell it multiple times, even years after you first added it to your shop.
That’s a clever way of generating income that isn’t completely dependent on the hours you can spend in front of the screen.
How to start selling t-shirts online
Selling t-shirts online is a competitive field to go into, so if I were to start out today, I’d probably pick the path of least resistance.
Based on my experience in the past few years with shops on different platforms, I’d say the easiest route for beginners would be to open a TeePublic account and start selling there.
Later on, you can expand to more platforms, if you want.
With a print-on-demand shop, you don’t have to do much more than design, upload and do some online promotion for your products.
You won’t have to do any customer service, handle shipping or returns, worry about inventory or any of the other issues that come with running your own e-commerce site.
This is an ideal model for creative people, as it frees you to focus on your craft.
If you’re not an artist or a designer, there are many non-creatives who open shops online by outsourcing the design work.
Other than creating designs, you as the shop owner have to come up with a title, a description and a list of tags to help people find your artwork. The platform will help you by providing relevant keywords.
When your designs are searchable within the Teepublic marketplace, you’ll enjoy the SEO benefits of a well-established website that already ranks well on Google and often appears on the first page of search results.
Why start out with teepublic (pros and cons)
Since you’re just starting out, it’s best to test the waters, see if you like running this kind of business and only when you see success and decide that it’s right for you, move on to more complex e-commerce platforms.
I recommend starting out with Teepublic because:
- It is very easy to use.
- It will let you take the plunge into e-commerce with no risk and minimal hassle.
- You will have all the time freedom and flexibility you can wish for while running an online store.
There are plenty of other print-on-demand sites, but I chose this one because I know it well from experience and can bring you a concise breakdown of the pros and cons.
With TeePublic, in my opinion, the pros easily outweigh the cons.
- The marketplace isn’t as saturated as other platforms, such as Redbubble or Amazon Merch.
- It’s easier to get accepted to TeePublic, compared to Amazon Merch; you just need to sign up. It’s free to sign up.
- The upload interface is very easy to use with a fast upload process.
- Teepublic will help you sell more products. They run sitewide discounts about twice a month. In my experience, you’re very likely to make more sales during these sitewide promotions.
- TeePublic also use paid advertising and may feature your products if you tick the box saying “Yes, I’d like to advertise my products in off-site marketing. on the sign-up page.
- Teepublic offers many types of t-shirts in many different colours, as well as wall art, stickers, phone cases, mugs, pillows, bags and more. At the moment you can sell each design you upload on 75 products.
- They keep up with current consumer trends. For example, their size charts are inclusive and they offer a diverse range of sizes and fits, including curvy shirts. Also, they currently offer an eco t-shirt (recycled and organic).
- TeePublic has a Fan Art scheme that lets you sell officially licensed pop culture designs, based on TV shows and movies.
- There is an upload limit of 50 designs per day.
- The prices are fixed and you can’t control your margins, which means commissions may not be as high as you’d like them to be if you were in control of the pricing yourself. That said, TeePublic prices are very reasonable from the consumer’s point of view; this pricing policy can lead to more sales, meaning your commissions can accumulate quickly.
- You’ll make the most sales during sitewide discount days (a couple of times a month). Your margins will be lower than usual during those sales, but there’s a plus size to that: those designs that sold at a discount will now appear higher in search results on the TeePublic marketplace, so you have a better chance of selling them at full price in future and make a higher commission.
How to use teepublic
Here are all the steps you need to take to get started.
2. Add your payment details (where your commissions will be sent) under Account Settings.
3. Get your designs ready to upload.
In the world of print-on-demand, designs are often classified as either “evergreen” or “trending”.
Evergreen themes are popular all year round and are likely to keep selling for many years to come. For example, dogs and cats are always popular.
Trending themes are popular only for a while. They may make a lot of sales for a few weeks and then become irrelevant.
Other trending designs can sell again and again in coming years. For example, back-to-school designs will make your sales every year around August and September.
To find trending themes, click the search box at the top of the Teepublic site. You’ll get a list of currently trending keywords. You can then create designs using those keywords for a higher chance to sell.
Always design with a keyword in mind. Focus on keywords that a normal person would search for, such as “rainbow t-shirt” or “dog hoodie”. These are general examples of course, but if you can niche down further, you’ll see better results.
Outsourcing the design work is always an option, if you prefer to focus your efforts on picking keywords and promoting the shop, rather than doing the design work itself.
4. Upload your first design.
Here’s the full guide on uploading to Teepublic.
Start by uploading a single file in the basic uploader. Select background colours and the placement of the design on each product. I suggest you enable all the products that the design looks good on.
Add a title and a description using words that will help people find you in the search, i.e. imagine what an ordinary customer would type in the search box if they wanted to buy a t-shirt with your design on it.
Next, you want to add 15 tags (keywords). Take advantage of the tags that TeePublic suggests automatically. It will save you time and make the tagging process very quick.
It will also give you a better idea of the keywords customers search for on the marketplace.
Another quick way to add new designs is by copying the settings of an existing design. This is a great time saver.
If you have several designs that share the same aspect ratio, you can upload one, then go to your storefront, locate it there and click the copy link underneath it.
This lets you use the same settings for a new design, including the size and scale, tags and description, enabled products etc. All you have to do is upload the new design, change the title and you’re done.
5. Design your storefront.
Add a profile picture and a background image to your Teepublic storefront.
It only takes a couple of minutes and makes your online shop look more attractive and more professional.
6. Upload more designs. Quantity is important.
The more designs you upload, the better your chances are of making sales. This is true for many e-commerce sites.
One of the reasons I suggest you start out with Teepublic is because the upload interface is so user-friendly, and uploading a lot of designs can be relatively fast. You can upload up to 50 designs each 24 hours.
7. Promote your shop
Use social media and newsletters to promote your t-shirts. Pinterest is excellent for promoting online shops. Some sellers also use paid ads.
Facebook and Instagram can also help you sell more, especially if you have a large following of people interested in the themes and niches of your designs.
Once you make some sales, your designs will start to be more visible in search results, which can lead to even more sales driven by the TeePublic marketplace itself.
8. Check your earnings.
Every time you make a sale, you’ll get an email from Teepublic with the cheerful subject line: “You’ve made a sale” 🙂
You can see an overview of your earnings when you click on My Account at the top of the TeePublic website.
From that same page, you can also click a button to generate a detailed report, that shows you all the details of the products sold, such as the colours and sizes of each t-shirt.
In the months leading up to Christmas (from around September / October) and shortly after the holiday season, sales online tend to spike and it’s definitely the best time to see results in your online shop.
9. Stay consistent.
Keep uploading on a regular basis. Add some time to work on your new shop to your weekly schedule.
Some artists upload every single day, but if you have other time commitments, that is not strictly necessary.
You can dedicate some time during the week to creating the designs and then upload all of them during the weekend.
That’s just one example, of course, and you can plan your time in whatever way you prefer. Work on your shop at any time of the day or night that suits you and on any day of the week you like.
The big advantage of this kind of business is that it lets you be flexible with your time.
As a digital nomad, it means you have more time to travel and don’t have to sit in front of your computer at specific hours to run your shop. The shop can make sales for you while you’re hiking or on a plane.
While you probably won’t make a full-time income with just one TeePublic shop, you can definitely use what you learn from your first shop to expand into more e-commerce enterprises.
Whether it’s selling t-shirts online on additional platforms or selling anything else, this world of online e-commerce is wide and full of potential.
If you want to maintain a good level of time freedom, you can outsource most of the tasks related to running your online shops.