Do you like to make pretty things? Are you interested in ways to supplement your income? Or maybe you’d rather build your own business and skip working for someone else entirely? Lucky for us, the internet age provides us with an all-but-infinite source of unconventional job opportunities. The popularity of "printables" - digital files that a customer can purchase to print at home - is steadily increasing because it's a low-cost product which doesn't require that any physical inventory change hands. Printables are especially huge in the planner community because they allow us to customize our planners to the Nth degree. If you're interested in what it takes to run this kind of business, here are 10 things you should be aware of before you launch your venture. I've even got a FREE checklist you can print out to help you decide which e-commerce platform is right for you.
1) What kind of printables do you want to create and what supplies will you need to create them?
A lot of the appeal in creating printables is that you don't need a huge list of expensive supplies. You don't have to worry about sorting through stacks of scrapbook paper or remembering to buy that glue you've run out of. There are, however, some supplies that will make your job easier.
Invest in some fantastic fonts as well as some good clipart or stock photography, and make sure you've got a license to use these items commercially if you plan on selling anything you've created with them. Design Cuts is a truly phenomenal place to grab fonts & other supplies that can be used for commercial purposes; they offer bundles of resources worth thousands of dollars for just $29. Free For Commercial Use has a pretty comprehensive list of sites where you can grab stock images.
You'll also need to learn to use a graphics & layout program. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign are the industry standards for graphic designers, and a license for Photoshop is only $10 per month. As a designer myself, I strongly recommend the Adobe products since they'll net you the highest quality output (which helps you build a reputation for superb content.) However, free programs like Canva and PicMonkey can also serve most basic purposes if you don't need to do anything particularly fancy.
Once you've got your tool set, you'll want to decide what you're actually going to make. For most of us planner addicts, that means designing stickers, inserts, and dividers that work with our favorite planner. But the wide world of printables isn't limited to planner products. How about some of these?
- Photo booth props
- Business cards / personal info cards
- Holiday cards
- Vector graphic packs
- Digital scrapbook papers
- Poster art
- Wall calendars
2) Which e-commerce platform(s) will you use to sell your products?
This one can get tricky, because there are so. flipping. many. platforms out there for selling digital downloads and many of them have their own unique emphasis on a particular type of product. That's why I've created this FREE checklist for you: it lists 15 popular e-commerce services and gives you space to research & record each platform's fees and advantages, to make it easy for you to compare and decide what will work best for you.
(The reason I didn't fill in all the details for each service is because fees & focuses change. I don't want you to plan your whole business around information that might be out-of-date by the time you go to put it into practice! Print the checklist when you're ready, and use it to determine the current prices & policies of the platforms you like.)
3) Engage with social media (Pinterest is your new best friend)
Digital printables are often referred to as "passive income" because they're files that you can design once and then sell over & over again without any further work on your part. The term is wildly misleading, though: running an e-commerce business is ANYTHING but passive! There's a ton of hustle involved with e-commerce success because you have to create awareness of your products from scratch. Unless you can afford a TV commercial spot, social media is going to be your biggest source for customers.
You absolutely want to be on Pinterest. People are on Pinterest because they're explicitly looking for things they want - they're looking to shop, even if they're not planning to buy right away. If you're selling something as visually appealing as custom printables, Pinterest is the best possible way to show off your work and have it found by people who want what you're making. If you're not familiar with how Pinterest works, check out these 6 pointers for using Etsy and Pinterest together to get a better grasp on what Pinterest can do for you as an online seller.
I recommend picking one other social media platform to focus on in addition to Pinterest. For me, that's Instagram because what I create is so visual. Sharing pictures of my products in use is the best way to draw attention to my work. But you may prefer Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Whatever you choose, make sure that you're posting consistently and (this is key) interacting with your followers and with new people. The whole point of social media is community. Engaging in conversations & communications is a HUGE component of your brand's identity, which is what creates trust and encourages people to buy from you. Speaking of which...
4) Branding, branding, branding
Who else is out there on the internet doing something similar? How are you going to set yourself apart? In the world of online shopping, you never get a chance to make a face-to-face impression on your customers. Those customers have to use other factors to decide which shops they like and trust (and by extension, which shops they'll buy from.) What builds trust? Consistent branding!
Make sure that all of your images - from your product photos to your shop graphics to your social media pictures - have a consistent visual style that people can instantly associate with your business. You'll also want to make sure that the tone of your email communications matches your brand aesthetic. If your shop sells high-end luxury graphics, your writing should sound equally refined & elegant. Forego the chatspeak or multiple exclamation points unless your intended audience is kids.
5) Take the time to consistently generate new content
It's possible that you might create a single product that's so overwhelmingly amazing & awesome that you immediately sell millions of copies and can retire comfortably without ever having to work another day again... but I'm pretty sure I don't have to tell you what the odds are against it. The very best way to create success as a purveyor of digital files is to keep designing fabulous content. Every new release is an opportunity to remind your followers that you exist and that you're making products that will help them. Plus, if you're using a platform like Etsy, more item listings will help you show up in more search results
TIP: Allow customers to request custom products. It can go a long way toward relieving the pressure to come up with new product ideas if your clients are coming up with ideas for you. Let them know that the files you create will be made available not just to them but to your entire shop - unless they're willing to pay you a full hourly rate as a graphic designer for one-of-a-kind custom work. Remember that the whole point of printables is to spread the cost of creation out over multiple buyers. Don't spend ten hours designing a file that's only going to make you $10! You deserve to earn a living wage.
6) Protect your work with copyright statements & password protections!
Just about any digital artist can tell you that, at some point, somebody is going to steal your work. It's a gimme. Chances are good that that future person just doesn't understand copyright rules, but it's important to be as prepared as possible in case legal action becomes necessary. Put a clear statement of copyright on every product you produce. Make it obvious that they are buying a license for personal use only and that they may not make money of any sort from your file. Below is the statement of copyright that I put on all Rebel Lux products; feel free to use this language if you don't have a specific license of your own.
Copyright © Brittany Ledyard and Rebel Lux Design Studio. This product is licensed for personal use only. Any items included may not be copied, distributed, altered or resold in any form or fashion. http://www.rebel-lux.com
Another important feature is password protections. Not every program will allow you to specify password protections, but here's now they work through Photoshop:
Save your file as an Adobe PDF to access these options. Make sure to enable printing (that is, after all, why your customers are buying from you!) but disable all other changes. This will prevent basic users from copying your text or images illegally.
7) Share your work with influencers
Reach out to bloggers who write about the kinds of products you're designing. Send out free samples in return for reviews. Leverage the power of the blogging community to reach audiences you can't access on your own. Make sure, though, that's a genuine & professional relationship. Don't just ask them to help you - ask what you can do for them in return, too, like write a post of your own to advertise their review.
8) Be willing to commit to at least one year
This one's less of a hard-and-fast rule and more of a personal suggestion. Businesses take time to grow. So many potential entrepreneurs give up because they get excited about a project, launch it, and... nothing happens. It's okay if your shop doesn't start raking in money within 24 hours of opening its virtual doors! In fact, I can nearly guarantee that it won't make any money in its first day. Probably not even in its first week. Maybe not even in its first month.
None of that means you've failed.
If your business is something you're serious about (if it's not just a passion project you're doing for fun on the side) make the commitment to give it your all for one year. If you've tried every tactic you can think of in that time frame and things still aren't moving, then it may be time to step back and re-evaluate what you're doing and how best to do it. Just don't give up before your great idea has even had a chance!
9) Make sure you've read & understand your local tax laws
Get an accountant the absolute second you can possibly afford it. Their job is to help you set your biz up in the way that most benefits you during tax season. I wasted hours poring over incredibly dry copy, trying to figure out what taxes I needed to be collecting, what business licenses I needed, and where to remit payments by what dates. I could've spent that time creating new products to sell!
Running a business isn't something you should have to do alone. Don't be afraid to hire the people whose job it is to help you succeed.
10) Track your sales & success
Here's another place where your planner comes in! Even though you may not have to worry about tracking any inventory, there's still a lot of data that you'll want to keep an eye on. Which items sell best? Have you made any updates to a product since its original release? Which products have you announced on which social media platforms? If there are listings which aren't selling at all, can you do something to improve them? Or should you scrap them to avoid paying fees for listings that won't make you any money?
One of the printables I offer in my own shop is a very basic three-page online business tracker. Try it out for just $2.50 and see if it helps you improve your shop's performance!
If you want more information about best practices for your shop once it's open, check out 10 Tips for Creating Printables from Elegance & Enchantment!