How to Start a T-Shirt Business on a Shoestring Budget

In this post, we’ll guide you through the easiest way to start a t-shirt business with next to no money! If you’re like a lot of entrepreneurs, the thought of starting your own t-shirt business has crossed your mind at least once. Selling t-shirts online used to be a more complicated project but with the introduction of on-demand printing and drop shipping, the barrier to entry has been lowered drastically and the opportunity for generating a passive or semi-passive income is available to anyone willing to take the time to set up their t-shirt brand online. Let’s get started!

CREATE YOUR BRAND

We first need to come up with a niche, a name for our brand, and a logo. A niche is a subset of a market on which a product is focused. For example, people that are really into comic books could be a niche or people whose hobby is breeding parrots. Basically, it’s a group of people that have a very specific interest in a topic. Researching and choosing a niche are a topic unto themselves, so we won’t go too into detail, but the main idea is to find a topic or theme that is both currently popular and has plenty of marketing possibilities. In other words you don’t want to choose a topic that is too niche, because it has to have broad appeal. There are tons of niches you could choose for your t-shirt business, below are some ideas to get you started.

T-shirts for people who love a certain beverage like coffee, for those who follow a social or political movement, for people who love their pets, and for individuals involved in some type of organization are all examples of niches you can dive into.

Choose an Angle

The niches above are good places to start. They are currently popular and have broad appeal, in other words, there are plenty of people actively searching for t-shirts related to these topics. You don’t want to pick a niche where your potential customers are only a handful of people.

Once you have a couple niches picked out, you want to do some research in order to narrow down your choice to just one. This means doing Google searches, taking a look at what types of t-shirts already exist that cater to that niche, and generally getting an idea of how much competition you’ll be facing.

As you search, make note of any possible opportunities to market your designs. Think about where people who would be interested in your niche hang out online, so that it’ll be easier to market to them once you have a good idea of where to reach them before you start designing anything or thinking of a name. Some good starting points are blogs, forums, Subreddits, Facebook groups, and Instagram hashtags.

Once you’ve picked your niche, you can brainstorm a name and logo design that would make sense for the topic. Feel free to use your previous research of your competition to get ideas for your own t-shirt brand name and logo. It’s also a good idea to save any interesting t-shirt design ideas you see. This doesn’t mean you should copy a competitor’s designs, but keep those designs as inspiration to help you brainstorm ideas for your own brand.

To actually make your logo you have three options: 

Logo Making Options

  1. If you have some design skills you can make your own logo with something like Adobe Illustrator.
  2. If you don’t know how to design you can hire a designer to make one for you using a service like Fiverr or 99 designs, but that can be a  bit expensive.
  3. Use a tool like Placeit’s Logo Design Templates to easily make a professional looking logo.
  4. Creating a brand is very important since your fashion statement has to be well expressed with the perfect logo including the color, graphic and font. Make sure you cover this Clothing Logo Guideline. 

Once you have a niche, a name, and a logo for your brand, you’re going to need some t-shirts to sell.

GET CREATIVE

By far, the easiest and most inexpensive way to quickly make lots of professional t-shirt designs is to get a Placeit unlimited subscription.

This is basically the only thing we’re going to be paying for in the entire tutorial, and once you see how incredibly useful Placeit’s mockups and design templates are, you’ll see what a steal it really is.

Using Placeit's T-Shirt Design Templates

First of all, having a subscription gives us unlimited access to Placeit’s t-shirt design templates. That means we can create and download an unlimited number of professional t-shirt designs. If that wasn’t good enough, we also get unlimited t-shirt mockup credits a month we can use to promote our designs across social media. I challenge you to find a better deal on mockups that look as good as what Placeit has to offer.

Alright, let’s bring out that folder of t-shirt designs you saved when you were researching niches, it’s brainstorming time! Open up one of Placeit’s t-shirt design templates and start playing around with ideas. Remember that if you get a subscription you can make an unlimited number of t-shirt designs, so unlike working with a graphic designer you can very quickly generate several designs and tweak them until you’re satisfied. You will find t-shirt design templates for any and all occasions, so you have plenty of template to work with. Make at least six designs you’re happy with, and remember there’s no right or wrong way to go about this process. Since we won’t be paying for each finished design and we won’t be printing the t-shirts ourselves, we have nothing to lose by trying out more creative or unconventional designs. If a design ends up performing poorly, we can simply swap it out for a new one at no cost. What’s great about this is that we can constantly iterate on our best performing designs and get rid of the ones that don’t resonate with our audience without having to pay a designer every time we want to try out a new design idea.

Excellent, by now we should have a couple of really nice designs for our shop, let’s put those away for a moment and focus on getting our shop up and running.

SETTING UP SHOP

Thanks to the magic of drop shipping and print on demand technologies, you don’t have to worry about having your t-shirts printed, warehoused or shipped. We’re going to leave all the complicated and time-consuming stuff to our drop shipper and printer Spreadshirt.

Print on Demand Options

There are several really good print on demand options to choose from. Below are a couple of really good options to choose from:

For this tutorial, we’re going to be using Spreadshirt’s platform since it not only allows us to sell our designs in their marketplace, but also lets us create a custom shop for free. This means we don’t have to worry about hosting and all the technical aspects that entails. We can simply use Spreadshirt’s platform to set up our online t-shirt shop and let them take care of everything, including taking orders, printing, and actually shipping the finished shirt. What could be easier?!

Let’s create and configure our t-shirt shop. In just a couple of minutes we’re going to have a clean and responsive store layout that’s much better than simply having our designs in a print-on-demand publisher’s marketplace.

Even if you’ve never set up an online store, you have to admit that was pretty easy. The best part is we don’t have to worry about paying a monthly hosting fee, we don’t have to stress over our shop potentially getting hacked, or that we might do something that could mess up our site. Spreadshirt makes sure our online t-shirt store is online and working for us 24/7. One added bonus of using Spreadshirt is that Spreadshirt not only offers print-on-demand t-shirts, but also hoodies, hats, long sleeve tops, tank tops, bandanas, phone cases, pillow cases, aprons, mugs, and tons of other items you can add your designs to. It helps to think seasonally when adding new products to your range. So, for example, when the summer months are approaching you may consider adding custom crop tops to your shop. All you have to do is activate an item after you upload your design and it will get added to your store. It’s really a no brainer.

One additional step we could take if we want to make our store look a bit more professional is to purchase a domain name and have it redirect to our Spreadshirt store URL. This is an optional step but one well worth considering if you’re serious about creating a t-shirt brand online. For example, instead of our shop’s url being shop.spreadshirt.com/your-stores-name it could be your-stores-name.com. Which URL do you think looks more professional? Exactly. Let’s move on to actually sharing our creations with the world!

LET'S GET SOCIAL

Awesome, so now that we have our shop, we need to set up our social media accounts. These are absolutely essential to our t-shirt business.

Set up Social Media Accounts

First, let’s set up our Facebook page. Our Placeit subscription also gives us unlimited access to Placeit’s social media image templates, so take advantage of that to easily make your Facebook header image.

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Instagram is a very different beast, the interface is spartan, and it’s basically only composed of the images people and brands share. This is where our mockups from Placeit are going to be our secret weapon, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s set up our Instagram account!

Sign in with your Facebook account or sign up as a new user.
Register with your e-mail address.
Type in your name and create a password.
Your account has been created!
Start following your friends or skip this step for now.
Follow contacts from your phone book.
Add a profile photo that reflects your shop or brand.
Choose to save your login information so that you don't have to type it in every time.
Start adding friends from Facebook, your contacts, or from Instagram's suggested users.
This is what your Instagram account will look like. Click the three dots on the upper right hand corner to start editing it.
These are your editing option.
Scroll down and click on 'Switch to Business Profile.'
Click continue to see some of the benefits of having a business profile.
Learn about your followers.
Reach your customers.
Get new contact options.
Connect your Instagram to your Facebook business page.
Select the Facebook page you want it to be linked to.
Update your contact information so that your customers can reach you.
You're all connected!
Click on the 'Edit Profile' button at the top.
Here you can change your profile picture as often as you'd like.
Select an image from your photo library, Facebook, Twitter, or take a photo.
Update your personal information business information, and private information.
Click on the 'Category' option to change the type of business your Instagram is for.
Return to your profile to see your changes, and click on the option to start uploading images.
Select an image or video from your photo library.
Use the different tools to edit your photo or leave it as is and select 'Next.'
Add a caption (be sure to use some relevant hashtags), add you location, and share on your social media accounts.
You've just shared your first image!
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MARKETING 101

We’re nearly done! Now that we have our social media accounts, we can move on to creating slick images to actually promote and sell our awesome designs. Once more, we’re going to head back to Placeit to use our monthly subscription credits to make some great-looking mockups that are going to help our ads look like they were made by a team of photographers and designers.

How to Use Placeit's Mockups

Using professional mockups is an easy way to boost your t-shirt brand’s status online.  Let’s make a couple and get ready to share them on our new social media accounts.

Alright, now that we’ve set up our main social media accounts and created some slick looking mockups, we can move on to actually sharing our t-shirt designs. This next part is half science half art, so get ready to brainstorm some creative outreach ideas. 

Since we don’t have a lot of money to throw around, we’re going to skip giving Facebook and Instagram fistfuls of cash to run ads, and instead we’re going to focus on generating organic traffic to our t-shirt shop.

This is where being creative really pays off. There are some basic strategies you can use to get you started. The main idea is to try to generate traffic to our store by getting our great looking t-shirt mockups in front of an audience that is interested in our niche. First, we need to start to build a decent sized audience to give our brand some social credit. Try to look at your social media accounts the way someone who has never heard of or seen your brand would see it. You can’t just start posting your t-shirt mockups, no matter how cool they are, and expect people to come running to your store without first having some social cred and having your brand’s profile look the part. Something that can really help your brand develop credibility and increase trust in your products is user generated content. If you’ve had no luck getting users to send in images or reviews of their purchases, selfie mockups can help you get the ball rolling.

The first thing they would look for is some social proof that you’re a legitimate t-shirt brand In other words likes, followers, and comments, and the more the better. To get you started, invite all the friends and relatives you think might be either interested in the product or at least willing to help you get started building your audience. Send them a quick message if they’re on Facebook letting them know you’re starting a new project and you would really appreciate it if they helped you out by following your t-shirt brand’s Facebook page and Instagram profile. Let them know it’s a super quick way for them to greatly help you out.

Instragam Brands Comparison
A comparison of two t-shirt brands on Instagram.

Once you have a few people that “like” or “follow” your social media accounts, go ahead and start by regularly posting links to content that’s relevant to your niche mixed in with the t-shirt mockups we made with Placeit. You want to surround your designs with relevant images and posts that show your brand is the real deal and aware of what your niche’s audience is interested in.

Relevant Article Being Shared
Content relevant to a niche being shared by a clothing brand.

For example, if your niche happens to be health/exercise then start by regularly sharing health and exercise related articles. Sharing links on Facebook is super easy but on Instagram you’ll want to regularly share images. Continuing with our health/ exercise example, you might share some images of healthy meals, people exercising, or other inspiring images with descriptions asking your audience if they’ve worked out that day. Once again, you’ll want to take a close look at what your competition is doing to help generate ideas for your own posts.

Health And Fitness Instagram
Different types of posts shared by a sportswear line.

Next, you want to return to the notes you took while researching your niche and take a deep dive into each one of the possible outreach opportunities you noticed. You could go about this in several ways. If you found a blog that caters to people that are part of your niche, try emailing them and letting them know you have an online t-shirt shop that has items you think their audience might be interested in. Depending on the type of blog they run, they might be willing to share your store on their blog or give you a shout-out on their social media. You could also try contacting them through their social media account and letting them know you have some designs you think they might be interested in.

T Shirt Magazine Promo1
A t-shirt blog that helps promote t-shirt brands.

How you actually go about this is up to you and requires some finesse to make the approach seem natural and casual. The last thing you want to do is seem desperate to have them take a look at or comment on your designs. This is going to take a bit of practice to get down and different people you approach are going to respond differently, but don’t get disheartened if they don’t respond. Simply move on to the next opportunity and try again. With time you’ll get better at reaching out and getting people to actually respond favorably.

If you found a forum or online community, say a Subreddit, you’ll want to take some time to lurk and see how the members of the community talk to each other. You want to try and blend in as much as possible so they don’t see you as someone that’s just trying to make a quick buck. Some communities are hypersensitive to people marketing their products, I’m looking at you Reddit, so you’ll want to be extra careful and play it cool when they eventually call you out for promoting your t-shirt designs. Simply be real and let them know you’re a member of the community that happens to also designs t-shirts, not just someone trying to extract money from them.

Reddit T Shirt Sellers
T-shirt sellers sharing their designs on reddit.

Even though we focus on Facebook and Instagram in this tutorial, don’t neglect the other social networks. Every niche has one or two social media networks that work best for reaching their audience. In your case, that might be Twitter or Pinterest or even Tumblr, so be sure to not to rule out any possibilities. As we mentioned before, each social media network has its set of tips and tricks to maximize your t-shirt brand’s reach, so be sure to do your research before diving in and posting without having at least a basic plan.

Each social media platform has its best practices and tricks to maximizing your content’s reach. Here we have two very informative videos that have great in depth information about creating brilliant Facebook and Instagram ads:

WRAPPING UP

So that’s it, with only one $29 Placeit subscription and a bit of time and research you can start a t-shirt business that’s basically generating recurring revenue for you with minimal effort. You would simply focus on adding occasional designs, swapping out the ones that don’t work, and sharing relevant images and posts with your audience. There’s really no reason not to start a t-shirt business, so what are you waiting for?

"It's so easy to make professional looking t-shirt designs using Placeit's design templates!"
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