When the book “The 4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss became a New York Times bestseller, it introduced amateur entrepreneurs and side hustlers to the exciting new world of dropshipping.
Dropshipping was a relatively new way of doing business where companies sell products and then use a third-party service to physical product, package, and ship these products directly to the customers. These could be anything from t-shirts to phone cases, mugs, notebooks, and even wall art. Today, dropshipping is a thriving industry claiming profits of over $4 billion with a 7 percent year over year increase over the last 10 years.
The latest twist to the dropshipping business model has been to combine it with something called print on demand. If you’re the creative type and looking to make some passive income, then here’s everything you need to know about the print on demand dropshipping business and how you can get in on the action.
What Is Print On Demand?
Print on Demand (or POD for short) is when you set up an online business that offers your brand’s unique graphics on products that are for sale. As your customers order these products, a dropshipping fulfillment company takes care of printing the design on the item and then shipping it out.
Because you (the seller) never actually handle any of the inventory, the print on demand is considered a dropshipping process. This is in contrast to a traditional dropshipping arrangement where you simply sell whatever products the dropshipping company offers. For example, if you choose to sell products from a well known dropshipping company like AliExpress, then you’d be stuck with whatever text or graphics they already have printed on the products they choose to offer.
How Does POD Dropshipping Work?
Even though print on demand works similar to traditional dropshipping businesses, there are a few additional steps that need to be taken into consideration:
- First, you’ll want to decide what kind of products you’d like to offer to your customers. Depending on the graphics you’ll be adding to these products, you might want to offer a wide variety or go niche into one particular type of item. For example, you may only wish to specialize in athletic wear for women.
- Next, gather all the graphics that you have which can be paired together with the products you plan to offer. These could be designs, images, or even just snarky text. Depending on your products, you may even wish to reach out to a freelance artist and create some specific designs that will enhance your product portfolio. Again, it will help to do your homework and decide ahead of time who your target audience is and how you can appeal to them.
- Pick a platform to sell your products. You could sell your products from your own website or blog. But unless you’re already receiving a decent amount of traffic, you might want to partner with a big-name selling platform that caters to a POD business. These would be familiar names like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Shopify or BigCommerce.
- Select a POD dropshipping service. Finding a selling platform is only half of the battle. There are many print-on-demand sites out there, but you’ll also need to integrate with a dropshipping company that specializes in POD fulfillment services. Look into names like Printify, Printful, TeeSpring, Zazzle, Lulu Xpress, RageOn, WC Fulfillment, etc.
How Does POD Compare To Traditional Dropshipping?
In general, there are a lot of similarities between a POD business and a traditional dropshipping business model.
- Both make it possible for the seller to move thousands of products per month without ever having to lift a finger to physically manage the inventory.
- Both also offer you the opportunity to work from home. There’s no office or workshop to report to; just your laptop and email.
- Both make passive income a reality. By listing items for sale and managing your product listings virtually, as more sales are made, your potential for profits can build with every month that you’re in business.
With print on demand being a relatively new way to enhance the dropshipping industry, it does offer some unique advantages:
- The biggest advantage is that you will have more control over the look and feel of your products. Based on who you choose to work with, you can customize the graphics and which types of products they can appear on. By contrast, with traditional dropshipping, you’re more or less bound to whatever products and graphics the dropshipping company offers.
- Many POD services can fulfill orders quickly (3 to 4 days) since they have more U.S. based operations. A lot of the traditional dropshipping companies are located overseas and may take several weeks to fulfill an order.
- Most POD services also will give you the option to brand your products whereas most traditional dropshipping companies sell their products as is.
- As more and more people are getting into POD, these services are offering bigger and wider portfolios of products that are in high demand. Dropshipping tends to stay focused on certain niches or low-cost of production items.
To be fair, not everything about POD is better than dropshipping.
- Traditional dropshipping typically yields higher profit margins over print on demand.
- Along those lines, the products for print on demand tend to be a little higher in cost than the usual dropshipping products. This could turn off some customers.
- Because you’re using such large platforms like Amazon or Etsy to sell your items, it can be easy for your shop to get lost in the shuffle and passed up for another seller.
How Do You Market A Print On Demand Business?
On the front end, POD businesses can use social media advertising to get as much visibility as possible. Nearly all of the popular platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) offer some type of PPC (pay per click) ad system where your posts will show at the top of the page. Though this will cost you every time someone clicks through one of these ads, the increase in sales it could produce might be well worth the cost.
After a customer places an order, you can also market to them on the back end by regularly following up with offers for new or similar products. Think about someone who orders a t-shirt with a funny graphic on it. Chances are they might be willing to buy several other ones if they are equally as novel. Shopify entrepreneur Dan Dasilva recommends this strategy and even says you may want to consider selling some items on the front end at a loss if you believe your sales funnel on the back end has a higher upsell potential.
How To Have A Successful Print On Demand Dropshipping Business
There are several things you can do help ensure that your POD dropshipping business is successful:
- Research your target market and decide what niche groups you would like to appeal to.
- Strategically pick products that will not only sell well but offer the best chance for profitability.
- Investigate the POD dropshipping company you plan to work with and make sure they are legitimate. From time to time, some can be scams.
- Always be working on your marketing plan. Learn the ins and outs of online advertising, monitor your progress, and increase your budget on the products that are producing the greatest results.
- Pay attention to which items are selling and which ones are not. If certain products or graphics just aren’t moving, don’t be afraid to drop them from the line-up and replace them with ones that could do better.