Ahhh! I love Summer!
The pool is open at my local rec center, and I can just park myself on a lounger, sprawl out and create away.
For whatever reason, I feel more inspired to write content and create when I’m outside. So I already know this is going to be a long one! 🙂
Last year, I spent the better part of the Summer cranking out Merch By Amazon designs by the pool. This year I’m focusing less on that and more on my brand.
That brings me to the purpose of this post.
I’ve been getting requests to share more about how I’m building a brand, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain exactly what I mean with regards to print on demand.
This has been something I’ve done in very small stages, and I’m glad I started that way.
Feel free to comment down below if you have questions.
What a Brand Means To Me
Building a brand means uploading a large collection of designs under the same name. The designs target a very specific audience and to promote it, you create social media accounts that use the exact same name.
So if your shop is called Beautiful Red Roses, your Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and every shop or account you create online has that same name.
This is so important for growth, and I’m going to share a story that proved that point in just a sec.
So it’s about consistency and the long-term goal is to build a loyal following, email list and hopefully repeat customers that come back to buy from you for the long haul.
That’s what’s starting to happen with me (repeat customers) and it’s soooooooo exciting!
But you have to remember, this all started with a $5 monthly check on RedBubble. Remember… we all have to start somewhere. 🙂
Why Brand Building Scares People
Some of you have said building a brand sounds scary because it means you have to commit to a keyword and you feel boxed in.
I get it.
Or maybe you don’t really feel you know enough about one thing to commit to it. I get that too.
I wasn’t all that passionate about the keyword I found in the beginning, so I can understand your hesitations. BUT once a few designs started selling, I realized what people like and it spawned new ideas.
I personally fell in love with the actual creative process (especially as I learned more about the niche), and it started to become fun. Not to mention, seeing those dollars roll in just adds to the motivation. 🙂
You will find that over time, you can broaden your ideas a bit, and you won’t feel so boxed in.
So let’s say you start with a red rose gardening niche shop and you’re targeting women who have rose gardens. Several designs start selling after a few months.
You begin posting your work to social media and start to see which designs get the best engagement. I started with Pinterest.
My Pinterest account grew QUICKLY and I think it had everything to do with the designs. They were big, they were bold and they were very unique.
At that point, I knew it was just going to be about volume of uploads. If people liked 10 designs, they will like 50, 100 and so forth.
After a few months, people will begin to take notice and your followers will grow. You might even get personal requests for custom or personalized art (I did), and you start to learn more about what this audience wants to buy.
Suddenly you’re bursting with more ideas and think of other ways to expand what you’re designing. For example, a rose gardener is probably interested in other gardening topics right?
Starting very niche is a good way to get eyeballs on your designs initially. Then you can expand ideas once that following begins to grow.
How It All Began
In 2017, I started selling several designs under a keyword on MBA that was not very saturated at the time. Today that keyword is a lot more competitive.
And let’s be real here. What keyword worth going for DOESN’T have a good amount of competition today? If you’re trying to find the “PERFECT” keyword in 2019, you will be looking for a long time.
This is exactly why there is value in numbers of uploads in a single niche. In 2019, you are not going to go to Merch By Amazon, for example, and find all these wide open niches you can target and make $5,000/month organically with 20 designs.
Gosh, I miss those days!
BUT…. what you will find is a lot of low and medium competition keywords that may only earn you a couple hundred per month on Merch, but will earn you a lot more COLLECTIVELY if you focus on creating a ton of designs on related keywords over time.
The key phrase here is OVER TIME. This is not something you build in 30 days and passive income just rolls in. And this is exactly why people are not attracted to this idea initially.
You don’t get that “instant gratification” factor that many people got with MBA in the early days.
But quite honestly, this is exactly why I like it! Sometimes when things have a lot of hype behind them like Merch By Amazon did the first two years, it creates a lot of copycats and competition….quickly!
However, what I’m doing is not a “quick thing” and it’s certainly not for people who are not ready to commit to this for the long haul. These kinds of things are a big turnoff to the lazy, copycat crowd because it requires too much time and dedication.
BUT…. when you do become established, it becomes harder for a copycat to just hone in on your keywords the way they can on Merch By Amazon because you now have followers in multiple places and an established brand. You’re not just relying on one site’s traffic. Copycats aren’t going to take time to do all that because they don’t like to work.
Eventually you will start seeing the passive income roll in daily and this is where I’m at now. May was my first $2,000 month with the brand alone, but the earnings came from multiple sources — even custom work. So I’m starting to see all that hard work pay off.
I did very little work in May. I blame the girls trip to Monterey! lol Sometimes when I have a vacation, it throws my rhythm off, so I had a very unproductive month in terms of getting stuff done. 🙂
It takes me a moment to get back into the swing of things after I travel. But hey…. I deserve a break ’cause I’ve been hustling! 😉 However, the income still rolled in because of the work I had done up until this point.
That is what passive income is all about!
OK… back to the tips…
When you notice that you are selling a handful of designs in the same niche, you take those designs and build a niche shop somewhere. Then you begin to grow that shop by focusing only on the audience you serve.
Over time, it will become about quantity. My upload/sell percentage for my brand is WAAAAAY higher than Merch By Amazon because I’m targeting ONE audience.
In other words, my brand sells a higher percentage of my designs than my random MBA and Spreadshirt accounts. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise because when you focus on one audience, your followers are much more likely to be interested in more of your designs.
Shopify-Like Shop or POD Shop?
I chose to start with a POD shop because I had absolutely NO following in this keyword or brand, so I knew that RedBubble would give me some organic traffic.
POD sites are a great way to see what will sell. Think about it. If you can sell 30 related items per month on a multi-niche POD shop, imagine how much you can sell if you increase the number of products you upload and ONLY focus on that one niche.
I realize Shopify (or something like it) is a better long-term strategy. BUT…if you start with Shopify, you have to know how to market your shop. Period. There is no Shopify marketplace where people can search and find your designs like they can on RedBubble or TeePublic.
Long term, I would like to do something like Shopify because I can control more of the profits and collect info about the customer. However, I have no regrets about starting with POD.
A year from now, I will have a decent-sized email list….(Yes I said it. I’m claiming it now.) I will have an audience to sell directly to. So when I do open my Shopify store, I’ll make that transition when I’m ready.
However, I will admit that I have gotten a little spoiled by not having to deal with fulfillment. The shop upgrade is a little intimidating, and to be honest, I’m putting it off because even though it means more money, it also makes this less passive.
As many of you know, this is not my full-time job and I’m not sure I want it to be. I also enjoy teaching this, so I really need to ask myself how far I want to take this. Right now, I’m really just enjoying the added passive income.
Just know this…
There is always more than one way to succeed, so please don’t assume you HAVE to approach your brand the same way.
I know what will happen. Some of you will read this and try to duplicate the EXACT way and that’s fine, but that may not be the best way for you.
The main point I want you to see here is that a collection of designs in one niche will give you more traction over time than random designs with no brand or audience focus.
Bottom line: You need a niche! You need unique designs and you need fans. Make that your first priority. Don’t obsess over things that don’t matter right now. If you aren’t selling anything on POD yet, you need to tackle that first.
Don’t spend all this money on a fancy shop, website and logo if you haven’t even identified if the niche has enough demand. That’s what free POD sites are for. Upload and test!
How Growth Happens With a Niche
When someone follows your niche shop, they did so because they liked your funny rose gardening tee, for example. So they are much more likely to “like” many of your other rose gardening tees. This keeps them more engaged.
So imagine multiplying that follower by several more over time who also like rose gardening. Suddenly, you have over 100 or even 200 people who are following you and you already know they like rose gardening related shirts.
Well, if they like rose shirts, isn’t it very likely they will also like more generic gardening shirts? Sure! Now that you have a steady following, you have room to go broader.
So even though you started out very niche, you will notice how you’ll be able to expand this out a bit over time. This is exactly what happened to me.
I know starting very niche can make you feel boxed in at first, but it makes it EASIER for you to build a following (for FREE) when you’re just starting. Then you can expand from there.
Being Everywhere Has Advantages
I am discovering the benefit of “being everywhere” even though I wasn’t everywhere at first. I started with Pinterest in 2018. Once the account started working on auto-pilot, I started Instagram in 2019.
I really want you to see how I’m not doing this all at once. It has been done in stages, and it all started with a RedBubble shop.
Some of you still need to figure out your keyword(s) first. I wouldn’t suggest doing this until you are selling consistently on POD (if you choose to approach this the way I did.) Take time to find your niche you can grow. Please!
I now have 48 followers on Instagram, and let me tell you, this was no small feat for a non-social media person like myself. 🙂
I started by posting my most popular Pinterest work with relevant hashtags to gain exposure. I’m not doing that follow-for-follow stuff either.
You don’t need to, and I can’t tell you how much I absolutely hate that strategy! If your designs are striking, you’ll get TARGETED followers organically. Remember… quality over quantity!
Now….I can’t tell you how many sales Instagram has brought me, but what I CAN tell you is having a presence everywhere is so beneficial, even if you aren’t active in all places.
So much has happened with very few followers…
One guy was trying to reach me because he wanted to buy a digital copy (EPS) of one of my designs for print. So he tagged me on Instagram to get my attention. He found the design on RedBubble, but didn’t know that RB has BubbleMail, so he reached out on Instagram instead.
If people like your work, they will automatically search for you under the same name to either follow you or try to contact you if they need something. Always use the same username everywhere!
I’ve also had people just @mention my work and tag/reference my brand name, which of course, just brings more attention.
Another lady left a comment on one of my Instagram images because she wanted to know if I sold posters. I pointed her right on over to my RedBubble shop in the comments for all to see.
Remember…. this has all happened on Instagram with 40ish followers!
Know this! Any time you have an image or a group of related images that gain traction on one POD site or social media platform, pay attention. It might be time to scale or build a niche shop somewhere. Volume and patience will be the key to growth.
Literally while I am typing this, I got a DM from a lady on my Instagram who wants to know if I plan to upload a certain image to my shop because she wants a shirt. (I have a direct link to my shop on my Instagram profile.) That was an oversight. I thought it was already uploaded. Oops!
So having an Instagram account is not just about driving direct sales. It’s about being accessible and in relevant places. Sure, it may drive some sales, but it’s also great for ongoing exposure and branding.
You might remember me giving up on Instagram earlier, but I just wasn’t being patient enough. All it took was one image to get over 100 likes (it was shared by a popular user), and that helped the followers start coming in…. finally!
In addition to all this, Etsy has been the biggest income booster, especially last month. I am constantly asked for custom or personalized designs.
I charge a flat fee ($24.99) if they want me to do something custom or personalized. I simply use an Etsy listing to handle the transaction. BOOM! …another income stream.
So yes… being everywhere has its advantages. If your artwork gets fans, people will look for you on their favorite platforms.
To further promote my social media accounts, I list my Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest names at the top of my header image on all my shops and in places like my Etsy shop description.
Most POD sites don’t let you add clickable links to your shop header, so it doesn’t hurt to incorporate the @handle text into your header image. Think about it. If they are fans, they will follow you.
Here’s my biggest lesson….
This is all about doing a small build piece by piece. The “Rome wasn’t built in a day” saying has never been truer for me right now. That’s for sure. Whew!
Create Raving Fans!
One of the things I believe I’m doing well is creating very unique designs for a very passionate audience that didn’t have a large collection of designs in any ONE place before I jumped into this space.
If you can just start there, it will take you far. This is the part where many stumble, and if you don’t execute this step, it makes growth more difficult.
Ten highly unique, audience-focused designs are better than 100 designs you “modified” from someone else’s shop or idea.
Here’s a RedBubble message I received. Notice how they mentioned how the design stood out to them.
Think of all the people out there who have extreme passions, unwavering political opinions, belong to health-related support or survivor groups, hold strong opinions on social topics and would love to become loyal to that ONE shop with unique designs.
They are ecstatic to find your abundance of work because they’ve never really seen any shop focus on large amounts of designs for their specialty or passion.
You want to create THAT. ONE. SHOP. for them and they will love you for it.
Over time, you will get messages like “OMG! I love your work! I am going to be back for more!” Or…. “Can I pay you to do a custom design for me?”
I literally have to decline some requests simply due to lack of time or they aren’t willing to pay for the time required. (Boundaries! Yes, I’ve learned!)
But if you can just stay patient and focus on the growing collection of related designs OVER TIME, realizing there are benefits in the COLLECTIVE AMOUNT OF DESIGNS IN ONE SPACE, you will do well.
I hope this gives you more clarity on what I’m doing. Again, I would never tell you this is the only way to approach this. I sort of fell into this and let the process dictate my direction.
I have a tendency to fumble my way around and take somewhat unconventional approaches. They may not always be the direct way of getting things done, but I get where I’m going eventually. 🙂
The moral of the story is you need to create interesting, unique designs that connect with people in a specific audience that is UNDERserved from a COLLECTIVE standpoint. That means there aren’t a lot of niche shops that cater to this audience.
Forget about looking for the “perfect” niche. It doesn’t exist. Sure, you want to narrow down and choose a niche with demand, but there is value in the collection of designs. Most people simply aren’t building that way on POD.
That may give you a keyword advantage over random hodgepodge shops that are not focusing on your audience the way you are.
Remember. This is about the LONG game. Keywords that don’t look appealing for Merch By Amazon by themselves, may be better for the long game with a volume of designs.
I prefer to start with POD shops because there’s no startup costs and there’s little risk. It’s a great way to test different markets. You have nothing to lose but time and lots of experience to gain!
I know it can seem daunting at first, but it’s worth the slow start. Trust me…. there’s nothing more uninspiring than getting a $5 check from RedBubble after uploading 30-40 designs. I know how that feels because that was me in 2017.
See… that is when most people give up and say “This doesn’t work” or “It’s a waste of time.” It takes patience and determination to keep pushing through those low months.
Slow and steady wins the race. Not to mention copycats will never have the energy to build something like this long term.
So if you’re tired of thieves “stealing” your profits on MBA, build something bigger elsewhere. Let them chase those scraps while you’re feasting on a whole meal!
Copycats bothered me so much more when my POD income was more MBA-dependent. That’s changing thanks to diversification.
Don’t let these lazy people steal your joy or prevent you from growing. They have a small-minded, unethical approach that may bring them a few short-term profits, but Karma will get ’em in the end!
I’ll keep you posted as I continue on…
Diane Kennedy says
Lisa just had to thank you for all the great content here and youtube. I was wondering I have teepublic, redbubble and Merch accounts and been doing this little over a year. I do best on Merch then teepublic and last redbubble. I would like to try to do a brand on redbubble to see if I can boost my sales. I have a Pinterest account with 25k monthly view going to merch. Now should I start another Pinterest account for the brand? I really don’t want to do more the Pinterest I’m older and really just not interested in doing the others. Also, I have so lots of shirts in one niche say hobbies, do I just make the brand for hobbies and just do all hobbies or do you think to pick a hobby and concentrate on that one hobby? That could be for all niches do all dogs or do animals of all kinds meaning pets. Thank you again been thinking about this for a bit and this gave me the push I needed:)
I definitely think the hobby idea is too broad. You need to narrow it down to one hobby. Maybe pick the hobby that is selling the most.
Hobbies can be tough though because of so much competition. I’d try to find something a little more specific. For example, a specific kind of nurse (as opposed to just nurses) or Autism moms. People are soooo passionate about causes. Any subject that people feel extremely passionate about is a good niche to focus on. I do believe that’s why I’ve had so much success with my topic. It’s a super passionate topic.
You want to focus on something people rally around. What would they join a group for? What would they campaign for? March for? These are things people really get behind. These are keywords and topics that are easier to grow than more generic topics like sports. And it’s helpful if you find something you actually know something about.
I finally got around to reading this. Excellent as usual Lisa. Question for you regarding Pinterest. I’m about to embark on a new shop, a more personal brand of my interests. I sell quite the few sporadically over 4-5 different PODs but I now want compacted into Redbubble. A new brand. I have these already on Redbubble. Do you think it is ok to upload them too on to this new brand? And leave the designs on the older Redbubble page.
Also, Question for you regarding Pinterest. Say, with this new brand, I create a Pinterest business account. With yours, are they just linked back to your redbubble brand page, or a separate website?
Also, on your Pinterest account, do you have sections like t-shirts, pillows, aline dresses etc with your designs using the Redbubble pictures?
Thanks as always Lisa
I was faced with this same decision with another shop I created and decided not to upload them twice. I guess I was afraid the algorithm would ignore the duplicate (as they get smarter) and I didn’t want to lose sales/rankings for the ones that were already uploaded and selling. Now, if they haven’t sold yet then I would delete from the first shop and re-upload, but not if they are selling.
Most link back to my RB shop but I also experiment with linking to the website. It’s really hard to track what actually works best with Pinterest but I always spread my strategy out.
I do not have sections on products, just art category. Although that wouldn’t be a bad idea! Never really thought of that to be honest.
Brilliant thank you. And as always, when I’m about to embark on a new project like a new shop…I’ll experiment. I’ll go with this new shop in Pinterest using – phone cases, pillows, graphic tees, clocks and so on in categories linked back to redbubble, and see what results arise over the coming next 6-8 months. I’ll keep you posted.
It’s just that Redbubble really does take great photos with the products so I’m guessing possible re-pins and clicks…all fingers and toes crossed.
Now I have pinned some non shirt products even though I don’t have boards for them and the one thing I have noticed is the product images don’t get nearly the exposure and clicks as the image only. It will be interesting to see what you find.
I’ll be back to ye for sure. Experimenting – the joy of life
I always enjoy your information…always makes me want to get to work…LOL.!
Thanks for all your great ideas and great inspiration…The social media posts
today is in the billions so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd…but with your smart
ideas a person can get noticed…Great Information…Love Ya.! Henry
Exactly! It’s all about the unique ideas.
Cynthia Dixon says
“Let them chase those scraps while you’re feasting on a whole meal!” This literally made me LOL
This has to be one of your best!! You’ve been so transparent and have shared such valuable information!! Again, I applaud your direction and lack of “following the crowd” when it comes to starting and growing your business.
You’ve given me so much to think about. As you recall, one of my long-term goals was to start a Shopify store, but your blog post made me see doing that in a different light.
With my experience of placing designs on multiple PODs, branding really has my interest. I think focusing on one thing allows more creativity and less stress. Chasing niches ain’t no joke! lol
I am happy for your success and I wish you so much more of it!! As always, THANK YOU for being such a great teacher and allowing us to pick your big beautiful brain.
I’m glad you enjoyed it Cynthia! Yes there is definitely more than one way to approach it. I don’t know why I can’t follow rules. I’m like the rebellious kid who just has to do things my way! I am at the point now where I’m focusing more on creation and it is less stressful than always chasing keywords.
Diane Massad says
Love that TRUTH: keywords smoozing and ever changing parameters. Well said! And thanx for inspiring US.
Once again, great content! For me – unfortunately – MBA became the most profitable sources of income besides FB ads. Unfortunately because it can be over anytime. Account banned, no more sales and so on.
Therefore – on the long run – it is really important to build an own brand like you did. I tried it last year but wasn’t very successful because I had one brand but many niches in this shop. Maybe I try again this year with only ONE niche.
PS: Besides your great POD content you’re the most likeable and good-looking blogger/podcaster in the scene. 🙂
Thomas, that was super nice of you. Thank you!!! I think you should try again. It makes a huge difference when you focus on one audience and have an abundance of designs.
Ronald Yarosh says
Lisa. Excellent thoughtful advice as always. I have about 40 designs (mostly photos) on RB. It’s been over a month with no sales, but I will soon be uploading a variety of vector based designs. I will then begin sending my designs to other POD platforms. It’s a one step at a time process. But, the road to success begins with the first step forward. I will not give up on this opportunity, especially with you as my coach and my inspiration. I’ve been turned down my MBA, but I won’t let that deter me even though I just turned 77 a few days ago. Thanks again for all your hard work and generosity.
Mitchell Allen says
Pillar post much? LOL!! This is epic and, as I always say, applicable to so many of us outside of the POD industry. I’m saving this in Evernote to re-read and to re-inspire myself!
p.s. “After a few months, people will begin to take notice and your followers will grow.”
I was so caught up in the analogy, I read that as, “…and your flowers will grow.” 🙂
“Pillar post much?” LOL!! Love it! Thank you Mitch! The flower statement works too! Ha ha ha!
Mitchell Allen says
How ’bout that? I didn’t even see it that way.
Ethan Hausey says
Very excellent blog Lisa Irby. This posting couldn’t of came at a better time. You are correct, start off small, and over the course of time, things get bigger, and better. Also, about the COPYCATS, I noticed that those FOLKS don’t only exist in the POD BUSINESS, they also exist in other forms of business. Like technology, YouTube, social media, etc. I can say when it comes to the COPYCATS, it just comes with the territory. But, still in all, VERY EXCELLENT BLOG, AND POSTING. Thanks!
Sherrie Webb says
I was actually referring to the free store that you can get through your amazon adverting account. Here is an example they list https://www.amazon.com/stores/page/28447088-CA79-486D-B75A-6F173E3E8EC5?channel=amazon-stores. I have seen a few t-shirt vendors using them.
Oh!! I thought you meant through the Amazon seller central. I always forget about that. Any store option can work. I really think it’s up to what features you want.
Sherrie Webb says
I love your approach to branding. What do you think about using the same strategy to start a niche store on Amazon as opposed to using a POD site like Redbubble.
Thanks Sherrie! I see no problem with it all. Just keep in mind it’s a little more expensive and hands-on, but you can definitely go about it the same way.
Kenneth Keel says
Based on what you’ve stated, it sounds like your ready for prime time. Are you still putting your team together?
No, not like I should be! lol
Darlene at SugarsBeach.com says
I just love your posts. SO inspiring.
I’ve been branding my beach site (and it’s gaining traction) but I still feel the call to design more tees… especially when I hear from you. Haha
I know I can create beachy designs…and I have, but as much as I love my site I’m not motivated to get real creative with beach designs.
There is another niche that calls to me with the designs. And I already have about 3000 engaged followers on IG in that niche. My 1st thought is keep it simple with Spreadshirt and building my list, but don’t think I can do both. :/
Would you suggest I feature my shirts on my IG first and then if it takes off, do the Shoptify (or whatever) so I can build brand and list?
P.S. There is a way to still stay hands off with production and a Shoptify store. I actually thought you were the one to tell about it. Or maybe that was Etsy. Let me think about it, if I can remember.
Yes, I say keep building what you have. If you have 3,000 targeted followers that’s a GREAT start. I would keep promoting your designs. I’m actually driving interest to my tees (based on Instagram comments) with a few followers. So if I can do it no doubt you can too. I would definitely keep building on that.
I love that you already have a following that is targeted. I feel most people try to build a brand without even having a following anywhere and that makes it harder.
You’re talking about Etsy and Printful. Yes, I have done that but you still don’t get the marketing/branding benefits you get with Shopify and others. Plus there are things I don’t like about their shipping process so I’m not committed to them for the long haul.
Darlene at SugarsBeach.com says
Lisa thanks for the additional tips!
Ahhhh, Etsy and Printful, yes that was it.
Back to IG… seems like it could be a lot of fun doing contests/giveaways… and also have peeps tag you when they wear your tee (& be featured.) Or even mailing tshirts to micro-influencers. IG seems perfect platform to play around with creativity.
Yep! I can see that once I get more followers.