10 Questions to Help You Start Your Own T-shirt Brand

1. How much do you know about existing t-shirt companies?

For a while you need to live and breath your competition. This isn’t just an exercise in knowing what you’re up against. It is an exercise that involves knowing why certain brands are doing better than others.

If you don’t know which brands are successful then you need to consider if you know the industry well enough to be a player in it. Don’t just assume that a flash website and big attitude means success. Know which websites have been around a long time and have a fan base of repeat customers, and start looking at why.

2. What brand identity will you have?

Don’t try and sell to everyone, at least to start with. If you have a strong brand, it will mean something to the people who’ll be wearing your shirts. If your brand has meaning then it follows that some people simply won’t ‘be’ your brand. They won’t ‘get it’ or simply won’t like it.

But don’t be scared of not being popular with everyone. All you have to do is be the best for a select group of people. It is okay to be disliked by some. And as Bill Cosby once said, the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

3. Do you have, or can you find the capital you need to get started?

A lot of people will tell you you’ll need thousands (tens of thousands) to get started. If you want a big business from the word go, that’s true, but there’s nothing wrong with starting small.

4. Do you have a business partner?

Starting a business on your own can be hard. There’s no one to share the frustrations with and you’ll also need the time and skills to cover every aspect of running a business.

You might make some wonderful designs, but can you sell? Can you run numbers and manage cash flow? It is much better to work in a team. For example if you have a friend who has the gift of the gab, is all about online social networking and can easily make new contacts, why not let him handle that side of things while you focus on what you enjoy more?

Maybe you can do it all, but in reality you’ll be doing the rounds, selling your product, managing a website, talking with suppliers, sorting designs and so on and so on. Even if you’re planning big and intend to have staff to share the work, having a partner to help you make balanced decisions from the word go is a great idea.

5. Do you plan to do your own printing?

This is where lots of money will be spent. Over years of printing, you might eventually make more profit per shirt, but the initial outlay is usually immense.

The good thing is that there are options. You can choose from a number of printing methods such as:screen printing – the cheapest, but cost-effective if you are producing around 20 or more t-shirts.direct to garment printing – a little more pricey, but fast and good for small runs of 20 or less t-shirts transfer printing – more expensive than screen printing but usually good for creating samples since the setup costs are very low

The other big expense to consider will be stock. You’ll need it if you want to respond to orders quickly. Find a good supplier that will send you the shirts you need in 24 hours. They’re out there.

6. Can you use an external printer to fill your orders?

This will cut into your profits, but it will certainly reduce your set-up costs. If you go for screen printed garments you’ll need to make an initial payment to the printer to prepare the screens.

This can cost hundreds but the cost per shirt is significantly cheaper. You want to be sure you’ll be selling a lot of one design before you go for screen printing. Another option is to get the first few prints done through a short run printer, such as one of the personalized shirt printers.

7. Do you have a very clear business and financial plan?

If you borrow money you’re going to need one. They’ll want to know where all the money is going. Even if you don’t borrow, you’ll want to do this for your own sake.

Thinking about the numbers will help your brand survive. As an example, here is a situation your might run into:

If you plan to sell promotional shirts to businesses you may get less orders, but they may order 20 shirts in one go. Would 20 shirts make the cost of setting up with a screen printer worthwhile? If not, would the money made per shirt with the higher unit cost of a shirt run printer mean you make enough money to eat?

8. Will you have a website?

Maybe you’re not planning to sell to the world via a big e-commerce venture. That’s OK. But even if you sell your small personal range via market stalls, or in person to t-shirt outlets, people want to know how to contact you. Anyone who walks away without being able to return to your brand is a sale lost forever. A website says you’re professional and that they’ll be able to find you if something goes wrong.

Don’t be worried about the cost of a website. Chances are you’re already a bit of a designer. Well, that’s most of the job done. Read about the basic do’s and dont’s of web design and then draw out how you want your site to look.

With most of the creative work done you can then approach a reputable freelance web designer. You’ll be able to get your ideas turned into a website for a shockingly small fee. If you’re happy for something more ‘off the shelf’ then there are plenty of companies who offer full e-commerce sites at great prices.

9. So, nearly ready to go?

Has anyone actually worn one of your shirts yet? If you haven’t shown your designs about and heard lots of appreciative noises like “i’ll have one of those when you get them printed” then you can’t expect any more from your customers.

This is where the short order printer will come in handy. Get some designs done by whatever method works, get some shirts in your hand and see how people react.

Wear it yourself, give it to your sister if that suits your demographic better or head down the local old folks home with a box of 20 and call the press!

10. So a few local people have your shirts. How will you increase sales?

This is where your social giant friend/new business partner comes in. Joking aside the relevant words here are ‘use everything’. Use social network sites, blogs, pay-per-click advertising for your new website (but do read a lot about this as you can waste money very quickly).

Also remember marketing takes time, and lots of it. It can be a full time job to do it really thoroughly. Be prepared to share your business among new partners, or pay to have some of the work done for you.

11. Did it sound like it wasn’t going to be much fun?

Naah rubbish, you’re going to love it. Go out there and sell the best t-shirts in the world and have a great time doing it!12. Did I say 10 questions?

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