2017 Q3 Income Review – Where I’m At, Where I’m Goingby Michael Essek · Updated: May 27, 2020
It’s QUARTER FOUR!
Which means I owe you one Q3 review blog post.
I know, I’ve been awfully quiet the past few months – I’ve been busy behind the scenes working on a lot of secret stuff (shhh).
But – if you can forgive me – then let me share what’s going on with my T-Shirt royalty income right now…
Show Me The Numbers!
Here is my Q3 total vs Q2…
Grouped into Quarters, this year looks like this:
- Q1 – $27,900
- Q2 – $35,144
- Q3 – $41,262
I’m going to spare you the breakdown by site / channel this time – because there’s really very little change from last Quarter – ie. the percentage breakdowns are roughly static.
So the headlines are:
- Slow but steady. Slight but not significant growth, and no significant losses either.
- Etsy saves the day. August was something of a pleasant anomaly – and this seems to be down to a little uptick in Merch By Amazon royalties – PLUS the sudden addition of Etsy profits (I made about $1000 from Etsy in August – up from about $200 in July, and then about $1200 from Etsy in September).
As usual, these are rough figures and not fully complete. For example – September will almost certainly be better than what you see above, though not by more than $1000 or so.
Another quick note – the £ (Great British Pound) has been strengthening against the $ (US Dollar) over the past few months, and that isn’t good for me. It isn’t hugely significant yet, but it’s just another slight negative factor driving down my bottom line.
Are Things Going To Plan?
Well, since January this year, my strategy has been pretty simple: do MORE of the same.
In other words, throughout 2017 I have focused on increasing output – going from something like 5-10 unique designs a week to 40-50 (and hiring a couple of designers to help me hit those goals).
Has that strategy worked?
Well, yes and no.
It’s worked insofar as my monthly income has recovered from the lows of January…and has worked its way back up to the $12k-$13k/month I was experiencing for most of Q3/Q4 last year.
But it hasn’t delivered the kind of organic growth I was hoping for at the start of the year.
So in that sense, no – the strategy hasn’t played out like I had planned.
Why Isn’t It Working?
Ooh great question!
Here’s what I think…
1. Too Narrow A Focus
I have been keeping a pretty tight focus on a really specific ‘type’ of design: ‘funny / pop-culture designs’, to give it a broad description. I haven’t strayed into many trends or other topics or niches like I often did last year. Instead of following what was selling or trending this year, I have stuck to my guns and my plan. That narrow focus may serve me into the future (more on that soon), but for short-term income and growth it has almost certainly been a limiting factor.
2. Not Enough Designs
I’ve gone from maybe 10 designs a week to 50 – but that really isn’t enough if you want significant growth month on month.
3. Too Little Research / Analysis
When it comes to choosing ideas to turn into designs, I usually just go off my gut. I often don’t put ideas through any kind of analysis – to check competition, prices, or anything like that.
It’s becoming clearer to me that even though going with my gut is great for certain platforms, you really need to have a couple of additional ‘strategies’ beyond that – if you’re looking to grow income significantly each month.
4. ‘Unique’ Designs
The vast majority of the designs I’ve created this year have been ‘unique’ or ‘single’ designs – meaning that each design has a single listing on each POD site I sell on, and isn’t duplicated, replicated or ‘biolerplated’ in any way.
(A boilerplated design would be something like ‘I’m a Teacher – what’s your superpower?’ – where you simply replace the word ‘teacher’ with a gazillion different professions).
Unique designs may be more valuable in the long term, but again, for short-term sales in the fast-moving world of print-on-demand – they are less likely to deliver.
5. Increased Competition
It’s no secret that Merch By Amazon is a hot potato. That means more competition for the most popular niches and markets, and that usually means lower prices and lower royalties. Like the £/$ currency issue, this is just another ‘downward pull’ on earnings.
I guess I could go on – but I think the above covers the main points.
Please note that I am not moaning or complaining about any of the above – I’m simply trying to analyse (with a cool head) the reasons I’m not seeing the growth in income that I might previously have expected.
What’s The Solution?
Now that I have a decent idea of what’s causing my slow growth, here’s my plan.
1. Think Bigger, Think Broader
I’m switching from thinking in terms of ‘unique’ designs, to thinking in terms of batches, categories and collections of designs.
So instead of sitting down to commission unique designs, I’m going to be sitting down to commission collections and batches. In many ways that is more work, but it’s also likely to be more profitable and more worthwhile.
2. System For Research / Analysis
I don’t know exactly what this will look like yet – but I need some kind of methodology to analyse and score new ideas and concepts.
That’s probably going to be a number of repeatable steps – such as checking competition, looking at prices, the wider trend etc. It’s time to take that which has been casual and occasional and turn it into something formal and compulsory.
3. Stick To My Guns
This may seem to run counter to everything said above – but my focus has never been solely on increasing sales on Merch By Amazon.
If you’re going to develop your own brand, have your own store, or expand your reach beyond Amazon and a few other POD sites (which I recommend) – then you will need to have a clear focus on a certain niche or market. You can’t just go chasing after every trend that pops up – unless you are prepared to keep going after trends forever (for some people this is not a bad idea, and is still a great way to make money).
So I am personally focused on creating assets that will bring long-term value, not just short-term sales – and to that end I am going to limit myself to a specific target market and niche (even if it is a little fuzzy ’round the edges) – because I see opportunities for such designs beyond the world of online, print-on-demand sites.
What Of Q4?
Quarter Four is all about maximising what you’ve got – and that’s why I’ve spent considerable time and money this year listing my designs on new platforms, and generally making sure I’m in a position to take full advantage of the natural, organic increase in searches and sales that we should see in the run up to Christmas.
I have a few goals I’d like to hit with the December increase in mind, so in the coming weeks that’ll become my priority.
I do expect a natural uptick month to month for the next few months, but I’m not anticipating anything much beyond that from the organic side, except perhaps in December (which, if previous years are anything to go by, should be somewhere between double and three times my normal monthly earnings).
My Advice For YOUR Q4
- Make The Most Of What You Have. You don’t necessarily need more new designs to increase your Christmas sales – instead you could almost certainly be making more from what you already have. That could mean re-working existing designs to create a number of relevant variations – or it could mean listing your designs (or your most appropriate designs) on other platforms (If you don’t know where to start but you are making sales on Amazon, I would recommend Etsy).
- Think Niche. It’s tempting to set your sights on the big search terms over the holidays: eg. ‘funny halloween shirts’ or ‘funny Christmas shirts’. But those broad search terms are likely to be very difficult to crack – and paradoxically you will almost certainly stand a better chance of breaking into those search results pages by ‘niching down’ and being much more specific. For example – creating Christmas designs for the cyclist market or Halloween designs for the teacher crowd. Things like that.
- Start Thinking About Q1 Now. As you may remember from earlier review posts – my earnings took a pretty significant dive from Q4 2016 to Q1 2017. I don’t anticipate such a big drop this time around – but if your sales are built primarily on Holiday specific or trending topics – you could be looking at a similar drop off. So don’t wait ’til January to find out – start thinking now about how you will maintain your sales in January – and start planning and working now to make sure you hit those targets.
So – that’s really all I’ve got for now – if you want more from me then you really need to get into my Facebook Group – where I’m doing weekly live Q&A sessions which are open to all members.
How do you get in? Right here.
And of course you should be subscribed to my email newsletter (see free chapters offer below) for all the latest.
Until next time – keep on creatin’ – and here’s to an awesome Q4 for all of us!
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