Starting your own T-shirt business can be a fun and profitable way to take the first step toward entrepreneurship. Thanks to the boom of eCommerce, it has never been easier to reach your audience and sell your product. Starting your business can be done for next to nothing, and you get to learn a lot in the process.
Our guide will walk you through everything you need to know about starting a T-shirt business with no money. Regardless of whether you’ll be using a print-on-demand service that does printing and shipping for you and allows you to focus on design only, or plan to set up the whole production in your garage – we’ve got you covered.
Our guide will walk you through everything – from researching the industry to shipping orders and managing inventory. Whether you’re just getting started or looking to expand your existing operation, read on for our step-by-step guide on creating a free T-shirt business.
Research the Industry and Competition
Conducting a thorough study of the T-shirt industry is essential. Before doing anything else, you’d want to know who your competitors are and what they do to engage their clientele. Research allows for a better perspective of the market you’re trying to break into and helps you come up with a business plan. At this stage, deciding on a niche is also a good time investment.
A niche market may represent a smaller market share, but it shouldn’t be disregarded. It’s far easier selling a product if it is something you believe in, know a lot about, and potentially have a community to share it with.
Let’s say you are interested in fishing and maybe even a member of a local fishing club. If you decide to produce T-shirts with largemouth bass printed on them, your fisherman group represents a niche market where this product is likely to sell well. You don’t have to be vegan to sell vegan cupcakes, but it definitely helps if your consumers feel like they can relate to you, your small business, and your mission.
Starting a custom T-shirt business is similar to starting any other endeavor. Before making the first sale you’ll want to plan ahead and decide on designs, prices, and marketing strategies you want to implement. Following successful T-shirt businesses on social media can give you a lot of information on who your main competitors are and how they run their businesses.
Another good idea before getting started is to talk to people in the industry or ask successful entrepreneurs for advice. You can also order a T-shirt from a prominent business to get an idea of what they do and how good their quality, delivery, and client service are.
Create a Business Plan and Branding Strategy
Once you’ve gained a basic understanding of the industry and competition, it’s time to create a business plan for your T-shirt printing business startup. This document should outline your business goals, strategies, and how you plan to achieve them. It should be clear, concise, and specific. When done right, a business plan helps you measure your progress over time.
A well-thought-out plan will serve as a roadmap for you and your team when starting a T-shirt company. Meeting your goals on time can be critical for the success of your business. A solid business plan ensures that everyone is on the same page. This will help keep the operation on track.
A business plan needs to include a branding strategy, as this is how you will differentiate your business from other manufacturers on the market. Your branding strategy will normally include everything from your company name and logo to your T-shirt designs and marketing materials.
Creating a detailed strategy may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re not sure where to start with a T-shirt business plan, you can search for resources available online. If writing is not your forte, don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own; hiring a consultant or a freelance writer can be a worthwhile investment.
Once you have your plan, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Source Materials and Suppliers
When starting a new business from scratch, it’s best if you understand the ins and outs of the market, the business model you’d like to use, and how to implement a good marketing strategy. However, the product you’ll be selling is what will matter the most.
Regardless of your budget, quality should be paramount, especially when you’re just starting a T-shirt line. If you were to offer a subpar product, you would likely still manage to sell your T-shirts but would risk losing your customers in the long run. This may not seem like a big deal, but small businesses thrive on returning customers.
Decide on the type of materials you’d like to use. Look for suppliers that offer good quality supplies and are reasonably priced. Most wholesale websites and regional shops will have the tools you need to start printing. This includes everything from T-shirt fabric and printing supplies to packaging materials and labels.
Before you start your own T-shirt company, look for suppliers that are easy to work with and have a good reputation. You can always ask other businesses in the industry for recommendations or test a couple of wholesale websites to find the most reliable ones.
Perform several test orders, compare prices, and try to find the supplier that you won’t have to stress about a lot in the long run. Order T-shirt samples in different sizes before you make a final decision. This will help you take note of the delivery time, communication process, payments, and T-shirt quality.
Get familiar with different types of T-shirt materials, color schemes, and cuts. There is a variety of different fabrics that can be used to make a T-shirt. The most popular option is cotton, which is soft and comfortable to wear. Other popular choices include polyester and bamboo.
You’ll also need some fabric printing supplies to start a T-shirt business. If you’re looking to minimize the work you have to do, you might opt for a print-on-demand service, but more on that later.
Design Your T-shirts
Designing your T-shirts can be a fun part of starting a T-shirt business. You can bring your ideas to life by hand-drawing them or using illustration software and then transferring those designs onto T-shirts.
If you’re not a designer, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to get great designs for your shirts, even if you are at the very start of your online T-shirt business. You can hire a freelance designer, use a design template website, or even find free designs online.
Whichever route you go, make sure you do not copy someone without their permission or break any copyright laws. It is advisable to research the competition, as it is always easier to take some existing work as inspiration and slightly modify it, especially if it’s already performing well. However, improving on an existing design and copying it are two different things altogether.
Once you come up with your first designs, today’s offer of high-tech scanners makes it very simple to transfer them to a T-shirt.
Produce Your T-shirts
Starting a shirt printing business on your own means you’ll be handling every aspect of your small enterprise. Calculate for possibly significant investment upfront, as you’ll need to purchase stock and printing equipment. Still, by doing this, you’ll be able to control most of your business and improve as needed.
You’ll likely need access to some of the required tools: heat-press, printer, inks, dryers, and transfer paper. You can rent them or even purchase them if your budget allows it. Depending on the type of printing you choose to do, you might have to rely on different printing methods. This will determine which tools you’ll need.
Dig deep to find the right tools to create quality T-shirts you’d be comfortable selling. Higher quality products typically require better tools and equipment, which require an up-front investment. If you are looking to start a T-shirt business for free, you might find print-to-order solutions that don’t require you to set up production at home.
Your budget, desired quality, and the usability of gadgets can all help narrow the options down. The key is to strike a balance between the price and quality of the printing equipment, so do your research and make sure to make the best choice for yourself.
You can either screen-print the T-shirts or use a direct-to-garment printer. Whichever printing method you choose, make sure you test it out on a few shirts first to ensure the quality is good.
If you can’t afford the machinery you’d like just yet, don’t lose sleep; you’re likely to change your T-shirt-making equipment down the road. As your business grows so will your operating budget.
There’s a multitude of fabric printers and they are usually either inkjet or laser printers. Inkjet printers use liquid ink to create images, while laser printers use heat to fuse toner onto the fabric. Laser printers are typically more expensive and produce higher-quality prints.
Producing your merchandise brings you another step closer to starting a T-shirt business at home.
Get Started Tomorrow for Free By Using Print-on-Demand Services
Not everyone is interested in printing their own T-shirts. It could be the lack of time or resources, but that doesn’t necessarily narrow down your T-shirt business opportunities. There are many print-on-demand options available today and they often manage much more than just the printing.
So how does the print-on-demand service work? These businesses collaborate with white-label product providers. By choosing a print-on-demand service you are essentially relying on a third party to produce and deliver T-shirts to your customers.
All you have to do is upload the design you’ve created and they will print it on a T-shirt, baseball cap, or other products and ship it directly to your customer. This is the best way to start a T-shirt business, as it means you won’t have to worry about inventory or fulfillment. A print-on-demand service allows you to fully focus on designing your product.
When choosing a service provider, place an order for a couple of options yourself. This allows you to mark the time it took the merchandise to arrive, the print quality, and the fabric quality of the T-shirt. Print-on-demand services vary in price and quality, so it’s important to do your research before selecting one.
You can choose your white-label provider or use the options offered by the printing service. You have to trust the white-label provider that the prints will always be top-notch, shipped on time, and that the quality will not deteriorate later on.
There is a lot of competition in the field so make sure you have a unique design and excellent quality to accompany it.
Fees To Include in Profit Calculations
There are a few things to keep in mind when using a print-on-demand service. While often advertised as a free way to start a T-shirt business, these services do have several fees you should consider. Typically, these fees will be deducted from your profits, so keep that in mind when calculating your prices.
When starting an online T-shirt business, you can expect to pay $5-8 per white T-shirt and $3-4 for first-class shipping if you decide to go with USPS as your shipping provider. Since customers usually expect free shipping, consider taking on the shipping costs yourself.
Your total cost will likely be around $11-12. To earn a profit, you should price your T-shirts anywhere above that. Keep in mind that you should leave enough profit to invest back into your business. Consider selling T-shirts for $25 each.
Market Your Business
Once you’ve dealt with all the previous steps, now it’s time for the product to reach your customer base. This is where marketing steps in. You need to create a website for your T-shirt business startup and set up a marketing campaign.
Create a Website
Creating a website for your product-based business is critical. A website provides a space for your potential customers to learn more about your products and decide whether or not they want to buy from you. Above all, your website should be easy to navigate with high-quality images of T-shirts, colors, and designs available. It should also include a clear sizing chart, descriptions of materials, and your contact information.
Building a website can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking to create a website on your own, there are a few different options you can go for. Keep in mind that paying someone to build your website and the cost of a domain name should be calculated in the T-shirt printing business startup cost.
You can use website builders like Wix or Squarespace, which allow you to create a website without any coding experience. This route can have a steep learning curve, especially if you haven’t done it before. You can also be quite limited when it comes to the design and functionality of your website. The upside is that it’s a very cost-effective way to get started.
If you’re looking for something more custom or want more control over your website, you’ll either need to do it yourself or hire a software developer. Hiring someone is likely to be more expensive, so it’s not a common choice for those looking to start a T-shirt business on a budget. Going custom will allow you to create a truly memorable website that will perfectly fit your needs.
Build Your Brand
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business and T-shirt printing is no different. You’ll want to create a logo and a slogan representing your business. The logo should be simple and easy to remember as you’ll use it on your website, packaging, and marketing materials.
You’ll also want to develop a color scheme and font style that you can use on all of your T-shirts. This will help create a cohesive look for your T-shirt business startup.
Another important aspect of branding is making your business recognizable. Participating in local events or sponsoring a cause you believe in can help you reach more potential customers. People tend to buy more from businesses they trust, so don’t be shy and get your brand out in the open.
Of course, if you’re setting up an online shop and would like to reach a different sort of market and not the local one, ensure that you’re marketing your T-shirt business to the right audience. You’ll want to make sure that you’re focusing on people who are likely to be interested in your T-shirts and fit the profile of your target customer. This leads us to the next step: marketing your T-shirt through the proper channels.
Start a Marketing Campaign on the Right Channels
Social media channels are a great way to connect with potential customers and share more about your business. You’ll likely get closer to your consumers by sharing information about your products and presenting special offers and discounts.
Here are some quick tips for marketing your T-shirt business or startup on social media:
- Use great visuals. Ensure your photos and videos are high quality and showcase your shirts in the best light possible. Natural lighting is always recommended.
- Use hashtags. Hashtags are a great way to reach new people and get your T-shirts in front of potential customers. Use relevant hashtags that describe your brand and product, and also pay attention to current viral trends.
- Engage with your followers. Take the time to like and comment on other people’s posts and respond to comments on your own posts. This shows that you’re active and engaged with your followers, which makes them more likely to engage with you.
- Run giveaways and contests. Everyone loves a good giveaway. Hosting a contest is a great way to build excitement around starting a T-shirt line and get people talking about your products.
When it comes to marketing your product-based business, there are endless possibilities – so feel free to get creative!
Manage Inventory and Shipping
Depending on whether you’re using a print-on-demand service or doing it all on your own, things run a bit different.
The final step in starting your T-shirt business is to manage inventory and shipping. This includes keeping track of your list and packaging and shipping orders.
You will need to decide how you want to store your inventory. When selling online or through a service, you won’t have to worry about this part. However, when dealing with physical stock, you’ll need to find a place to keep your products safe from environmental factors.
Packaging and Shipping
The last step when starting a T-shirt business is packaging and shipping. You’ll need to purchase packaging materials, such as boxes, poly mailers, and shipping labels. You should also get a shipping scale to accurately calculate shipping costs.
Once you have all the materials you need, it’s time to pack and ship your T-shirts. Start by packing them securely in the packaging you’ve chosen. Then, print and attach the labels and take them to the post office or shipping company of your choice.
You’ll need to register your business so you can get paid. The registration process when opening a T-shirt business may vary state-to-state, but it should be a straightforward process nonetheless.
To register, you’ll need to choose a unique name for your startup and file for a business license. Not all states ask for a business license for an online shop, so make sure you understand the requirements prior to selling. Registration can usually be done through your state’s Secretary of State website or the Small Business Administration.
No business is viable unless it makes money and no money can be made if you’re not getting paid. You will need to set up a payment processing system for your T-shirt business to start making money. There are a few different options available, such as PayPal or Stripe. All payment systems take some kind of commission for their services, so you might want to calculate these into the price you are charging for T-shirts.
Once you have registered and set up a payment processing system, you’re ready to start a T-shirt business!
That’s it! You’re now ready to start your very own T-shirt business. Starting any company for free is never easy and it takes time and dedication. You’ll learn how to do things that you could have easily outsourced if you had the budget. Nevertheless, you’d still come out of it with an excellent skill set.
If you are looking to start a business for free, be prepared to learn a great deal upfront, get organized, and be creative with your marketing. But if you’re willing to put in the work, you can definitely start a T-shirt business with no money and make it profitable.