It’s crazy to think that we’re already in the final quarter of 2021. With Halloween now behind us, we’re about to enter the main holiday season of the year.
For many people, the Christmas season is a time for friends, family, and celebration. For print-on-demand business owners, this is also the busiest and most profitable time of year.
In this interview, we sat down for a chat with Amanda Heiser, or SketchyMandy as she’s known to her fans. As an influencer using print on demand, Amanda has notched up an impressive follower count, which she also uses to connect to her fans and occasionally, promote her online store.
Let’s jump in and learn about Amanda’s secret to success, as she prepares for the busy holiday season ahead:
In this story:
Hi Amanda, it's great to meet you. Tell us a bit about your background?
“I was born and raised in New Jersey. I’ve been an artist ever since I held a pencil and started doing paint by numbers. I took art at school, but when I graduated, I ended up working in fashion retail. Working for companies like Banana Republic got me interested in the fashion side of art. Though I’ve never had any inclination to become an entrepreneur.”
How did you decide to start selling your art online?
“I’d say my journey began in 2014. I was drawing with pencils and paper at that point, and shortly after I met my husband, I shared some of my art with him. He suggested that I try making money from it, but there weren’t as many online portals back then.
After some research, I added around ten designs to one of the most popular printing websites. I was creating designs based on famous people and celebrities. The profit margins were tiny, so nothing came from it.”
What brought you to print-on-demand?
“Right before the COVID-19 pandemic, in the Christmas season of 2019, I had picked up drawing again on an iPad. I was doing a few custom pieces for friends and family and creating things that made me happy. When a few people mentioned that they’d like a t-shirt or mug with my art printed on it, I started doing some research.
I’d never heard of print-on-demand before, so I was pretty excited at the fact I wouldn’t need to order lots of stock.
After ordering some samples, I built my first Printify collection in September 2020. I did a big launch in January 2021, and I’ve seen some crazy incremental growth since then, with around 2,500 sales so far.”
Those are great numbers for a beginner! Does your Sketchy Mandy store have a specific niche?
“I hate to say this, but I’m not sure I have a defined niche. I guess I’m trying to be a relatable millennial woman! If you’re the type of person who watches reality TV, drinks a lot of coffee, and uses phrases like “I’m literally dead!”, then you’ll be able to relate to my niche.”
What platform do you use to host your store?
“I’m on Etsy. I want to move everything onto my own website in the future. If I can do that, I’ll gradually sunset the Etsy store for good. Although I do love that Etsy is a trusted platform, especially when you’re starting out.
Etsy makes it easy to get your name and product out there without having to do all the legwork yourself. I know some people don’t like the fees and the guardrails that they have in place. I like that I can get sales from people scrolling through results and finding my shop.”
Social Media Influencers on Print on Demand
You're using social media for growing your brand and making sales. Could you tell us a little more about that?
“I’m primarily using Instagram to build my audience. I know that I’ll need to work on my Etsy SEO to grow my brand outside of social media in the future. My goal for the last quarter of 2021 is to increase my audience during the holiday season. I have almost 12,000 followers so far, which has built slowly over time, so I know that they’re all real people!
It’s kind of crazy, to be honest. It was never my intention to be an influencer using print on demand. I started sharing my everyday life on Instagram, as I love it when businesses do a similar thing.
I was getting messages asking about certain products, so I started sharing what I’d found. I’d tell people about items I’d seen from all over the place, not just from my own Etsy store. I wanted to be someone that people would love to follow. I didn’t want to be a business account that only advertised its own items.”
What general advice would you give to new sellers when it comes to marketing?
“My biggest piece of advice is to be your own biggest supporter. You should always be the cheerleader for your brand. Even if you don’t have a big following, you can still wear your items and post them on your personal accounts.
Try giving away your items as gifts to friends and family, or reach out to influencers and offer them a free sample. All those tactics can get you your first sales and help you to grow your brand. If it costs you $20 to send out a free sample, but you make ten sales, it was all worthwhile in the long run.
It’s important to concentrate on getting eyes on your products. Focus on getting your name out there, rather than doing any kind of hard selling. You don’t want to come across as sleazy. Once you get the followers, the sales will come naturally.”
Can you tell us more about how giveaways fit into your marketing strategy?
“I’m careful not to do giveaways all the time, as they can lose their sparkle if overused. I try to reserve them for important milestones, such as gaining an extra 1,000 followers.
The main goal is to keep people engaged. Stick to a single giveaway each month, or your followers may lose interest. You could also try to match your giveaway to a relevant date. For example, you could give away a free mug and a Starbucks gift card on International Coffee Day.
If you want to do a bigger giveaway, you could reach out to other small businesses to see if they’d team up with you. For example, I once collaborated with another Etsy seller: She gave away a pair of earrings, and I added a t-shirt. We were both able to grow our brands using a single promotion.”
You mentioned connecting with other influencers as a marketing strategy. Could you share any tips based on that idea?
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is not to be afraid of reaching out to big social media influencers. I’ve sent a few PR packages, but I’ve also sent hundreds of messages that have gone completely ignored. Every once in a while I’ll get a hit and someone will offer to share one of my products. It can definitely be worthwhile, especially if they have several hundred thousand followers.
Another way that Influencers make money is by using Etsy’s affiliate marketing program. For example, if I can persuade an influencer to post a link to my Etsy store, they get a small percentage of every sale. That can be a great incentive, especially if you can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to have a big influencer promote your stuff.”
Do you think influencers would benefit from selling merch via print-on-demand?
“I’d say that for influencers, print-on-demand is an untapped market. It could be a huge win for anyone with a decent following to get into this niche. So many influencers have a great eye for design that they could use to make their own products, rather than advertising other people’s items.
I have seen some influencers trying to sell merchandise that doesn’t sit well with their own style or brand. For example, if they always wear neutral colors and start selling bright pink or blue items, it often doesn’t feel right. It’s important to keep your audience in mind when creating your designs.”
Optimizing Your Holiday Sale Season
Do you have any helpful advice for sellers preparing for the busy holiday season?
“The most important thing is to have your holiday and Christmas season mockups ready ahead of time. Make sure everything aligns with each seasonal event. I purchased mockups on both Etsy and Creative Market, and I’m about to make my own using Christmas decorations that I’ve pulled out of the attic.”
Does your marketing plan change during the holiday period?
“The most important thing you can do when marketing during the Christmas season is to make sure you’re excited about your products. Keep making a big deal about your items to keep your audience engaged.
As online sellers, we can live inside our heads a little too much sometimes. We tend to presume everyone already knows about our products, or when the Christmas season is due to start. I’m not suggesting that you ram your advertising down people’s throats, but you definitely need to build the excitement early on.
It’s important to strike a balance, as you don’t want to cannibalize your business in the process! For example, you shouldn’t be making Thanksgiving sales before Halloween is over.”
Do you have any advice for specific dates or times for each holiday?
“This year, I did Halloween and Fall together in early September. After that, my goal was to get my main holiday items out for October 15th, ready for the Thanksgiving sales. After the holidays, I want to have a fresh collection prepared for December 20th. My idea is to take advantage of people who might have gift cards or extra cash. I’ll keep people paying attention to my store by releasing new items every week that aren’t holiday-themed.
As a bonus, when you keep people’s attention like that, it also gives your social media accounts a nice boost as well.”
Will your store be running sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
“Yes, absolutely. I plan on doing a sale for that entire weekend. I’ll be using specific deals and a few special giveaways just for Small Business Saturday.”
Influencer Design Tips for Beginners
Many new sellers find the designing process challenging. Do you have any tips to help them get started?
“My first design tip is to keep things simple. When you think about t-shirts and sweatshirts, don’t try and get too fussy or intricate with your designs. Often, you only need a few words to send across a great message that stands out.
Secondly, try to imagine someone walking down the street wearing your design. It’s essential to think about the type of person you’re planning on selling to and creating products that appeal to them.
It’s vital to show your followers aspirational ways of wearing or using your items. I focus on making the most beautiful mockups I can and taking some of the photos myself. I want everything to stand out and look amazing. You need to offer people a certain lifestyle, and even the small, simple things can make a big difference.”
Is it still possible to get started if you lack even the most basic design skills?
“If you have the entrepreneurial spirit but lack design skills, you can check out places like Creative Market. They sell pre-packaged designs along with the rights to reproduce them for yourself.”
How has your experience of Printify been so far?
“My experience has been amazing so far. With 2,500 sales, there’s always going to be a certain amount of obstacles to overcome. But, when something has needed fixing, it has always been efficient. If anything, my main issue is the sheer number of different products on offer. I’m always ordering new samples to add to my store!”
Do you have any favorite products in the Printify catalog?
“I always return to the same three items for my designs: The Bella+Canvas T-Shirt, the Gildan Crewneck Sweater, and the 12oz Latte Mug. Those items of clothing have always been the most consistent for me. They’re soft and easy to wash, plus I actually wear them myself. The mug is a great size, dishwasher safe, and I love that you can print on both sides.”
What has been the most challenging obstacle to overcome during your journey?
“The hardest thing for me is time management. I still work from nine to five, so selling print-on-demand is my side hustle. I have to be strategic with my time to ensure I respond to my messages and check all the orders are going through. When I factor in designing as well, it means I have to think a long way ahead.
If anyone is planning on doing something similar, I’d tell them to think about how they’re going to plan their day. You need to be willing to compromise and make sacrifices. There are times when I have to ask my husband to cook for me, and I’ll often do my designing while we’re both watching TV.”
What has been your most significant success so far?
“Someone actually recognized me in the street recently and sent a message on Instagram. That was definitely the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me.
I guess for me, success is seeing that there’s a future in what I’m doing. Everything is growing exponentially, and I don’t see a ceiling to how big it could get. That’s so encouraging, and it means it could be possible to do this as my full-time job in the future. So yeah, I guess it’s the continued growth that I consider my biggest achievement.”
What is your final advice for anyone thinking about starting a print-on-demand business?
“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to get on and do it. Do it messy, do it ugly, do it halfway, but just get on and do it. You learn so much more that way than you ever could from researching on the sidelines. There’s never going to be a perfect time, so if you want to do it, start now!”
Thanks you so much Amanda for sharing your story. Check out more about Amanda Heiser on:
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