15 Things About Selling T-Shirts Online

15 Things I’ve Learnt About Selling T-Shirts Online

by Michael Essek   ·   Updated: June 5, 2020

I’m three and a bit years into selling T-Shirts online, and I’ve just begun to learn a few things. (!)

I wish someone would have been around to tell me this stuff when I was starting out. But sometimes it’s best to learn things the hard way.

Here’s my purpose with this article: to help the young designer or illustrator get a clearer picture of the key principles that have the biggest impact on your success selling T-Shirts.

If you can grasp and apply these principles, I believe you will be streets ahead of your competition.

Like any business (and be in no doubt – as soon as you start trying to make money from something, you are starting a business) – making money from T-Shirts online takes hard work and dedication. But working hard on the wrong things is not going to be effective. With a clear understanding of what matters and how to achieve your goals, you are much more likely to succeed.

So let’s get into it!

1. Nobody Cares About Your Original Work

Nobody Cares About Your Original Work

This can be a hard pill to swallow for designers, illustrators and artists – so I thought I’d get it out of the way early on.

Of course – unless you’re stealing someone else’s work – everything you create is ‘original’, at least to some extent.

So what I mean by ‘original’ work is the kind of thing that YOU want to create, as opposed to something that OTHER people want to buy.

Another way of putting it might be to say that ‘Artsy-Fartsy’ doesn’t sell well when compared to novelty, pop culture and humour. (For more on this, see Key 3 in this article: How To Make Money Selling Print on Demand T-Shirts.

How can you tell the difference between the two?

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Is somebody already buying something like this (my original work)?
  • Has anyone bought something like this from me already?
  • Am I able to reach the audience that is already purchasing this kind of thing?

It is a lot easier to sell something to someone if they want to buy it – and are actively searching for it.

But it’s really hard to present some original work to someone and get them to purchase it. You have to hope that they:

a) like it


b) like it enough to be willing to pay for it (in some physical form – t-shirt, print or whatever)

This doesn’t mean ‘original’ work is a non-starter.

You should just know it takes a long time to get attention and traction with original work – so building it up to a point where it is bringing in regular income is going to take a lot longer (than focusing on creating designs that cater to existing trends, markets and customers).

2. It Pays To Be First, If You Are Also Best

It Pays To Be First, If You Are Also Best

Being the ‘first to market’ with a certain design or concept is valuable.

Of course it’s hard to predict what designs are going to ‘big’ or what will ‘blow up’ in some way. That’s why you need to keep your output levels high (ie. Design Daily).

But fairly regularly over the past few years I have spotted opportunities and been ‘first’ to the market. Those designs have gone on to deliver thousands of dollars of ‘passive income’ over the years.

But if my design wasn’t good enough, I would have been quickly out-gunned by my competitors, and long-term I would have lost a lot of sales.

So don’t just be first – be first and best. That’s what it takes to dominate the markets you are playing in.

3. It Can Also Pay To Be Second (If You Are Better)

It Can Also Pay To Be Second (If You Are Better)

Sometimes the first design to the market isn’t the best. (see above)

And that’s where it can make sense to be second (as long as you can also be better).

It can be easier in some cases to make a success of being the second to market – because you may already see some validation in the market from the sales of the first guy.

You also can see exactly what is selling, and can make something that’s guaranteed to better.

Am I advocating copying someone else’s ideas or designs? No, not at all. I simply mean that when you have an original idea or concept for a design (at least, you think it is original), you shouldn’t always be put off from it simply because someone else has already done it. If you can do it better – do it!

So don’t write an idea or niche off just because you aren’t literally the first one there. You can almost always do something better than the first guy, and win the long-game this way (because over the long term, quality matters more than whether you were ‘first’ or not).

Thank You For Your Interest In This Article!

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You can read the full article in my new book 'Grow Your Own T-Shirt Business'.

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