Did you know that the average person makes more than 35,000 decisions each day? If you’re a newbie starting a print-on-demand business, that figure is even higher.
Beginners to the world of eCommerce need to make plenty of tough choices in the early days:
- Which platform is right for your store?
- How do you choose the right products?
- How will you market them effectively?
Without a big team behind you to help, decision fatigue can quickly set in.
Fortunately, there are successful entrepreneurs out there willing to share their knowledge. One of them is Joe Robert, an eCommerce expert who has turned his hand to training.
Joe’s YouTube channel has been growing over the past few years and now boasts 44,000 subscribers and over 1.5 million views. Along with his print-on-demand training courses and Facebook group, he’s become a go-to influencer for POD newcomers.
We caught up with Joe to talk about creating products that sell, effective marketing and the metrics of success. Let’s dive right in and hear from the man himself.
Hi Joe, it's great to have you here. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got started?
“I used to run an eBay store, but after having to let that business go, I began searching for alternative options. I discovered print on demand in late 2016 and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I loved the idea that I could design my own products but never have to touch them.”
“I opened my first store in 2017. At the start, I was like all the other newbies out there — I was asking a million questions but making zero progress. I joined tons of Facebook groups and watched lots of YouTube content, as I didn’t know anything at all. I was trying everything out, throwing it all at the wall in the hope that something would stick.”
How long did it take for you to begin seeing results?
“It took me around six months to actually see any traction from what I was doing. At that point, things began to change, and I was able to open multiple stores at once. I used Instagram and Facebook ads to scale them until it all became too much to handle. I actually ended up using Shopify Exchange to sell several of the stores. I thought it was cool that you could sell a business like that, so I ended up selling everything and starting again!”
That was a bold move! Did your experience lead you to create the POD Ninja courses?
“It did. I created POD Ninjas, a training course for print-on-demand newcomers, as a result of my experiences. I also began making YouTube content and started a Facebook group, which now has over 45,000 members. Along with my online businesses, this is now a full-time thing for me, and 18 months ago I was able to leave my regular job.”
So as a full-time online entrepreneur, what would be your first piece of advice for newcomers?
“When you’re starting out, the first thing to remember is that this is a real business. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme where you watch a 30-minute video and expect great things to happen right away. I’m not saying you need to draft an entire business plan, but you have to make sure that what you’re doing makes sense. Put some real thought into the process and don’t set the whole thing up in a weekend.”
Since we're here to chat about products, what would your advice be for creating winning items?
“That’s the million-dollar question, right? Everything comes back to this. I always say to the people I’m trying to help that the most important part of a business is the products. You can have a beautiful store and the best marketing in the world, but if you don’t have items that people want to buy, you won’t make sales.”
Let's focus on listing the three most important factors for creating successful products.
“OK, sure. I’d say that primarily, people struggle with finding a niche where people actually want to buy the items. Usually, new sellers end up on opposite ends of the spectrum, either going too broad or too specific. People won’t resonate with what you’re selling if you go too broad. If you go too specific, it’s difficult to find enough buyers to make a profit.
“You need to remember that print on demand is all about emotion. A gadget might sell because it solves a particular problem, but print-on-demand items aren’t like that. You need an audience with an interest or emotional attachment to what you’re selling.”
And the second factor?
“The second part of the equation is product selection. You need to choose items that make sense for your niche. If a product doesn’t resonate with a particular audience, they’ll scroll right on by. Here are a couple of examples:
“Imagine you’ve decided to sell clothing for nurses. Instead of selling t-shirts with nurse-related slogans, think outside the box. How about selling printed shoes that nurses could wear while they’re at work? That way, you’ve created a product that people could actually picture themselves wearing. That helps create an emotional connection and builds interest.
“Another example might be police officers. You could offer a printed doormat or a flag that they could hang outside of their home. You need to think about who the people are in your niche and what they’re interested in.”
What would you say is the third thing newcomers struggle with?
“The third thing that people struggle with is design. I see so many people decide that they’re going to design their own products, despite having never done anything artistic. The results are usually lackluster, but they expect people to pay for those items.
“If you decided to open a gallery, would you practice painting for six months or hire artists to fill the space? Without a background in design, you should be hiring a professional. Don’t spend months learning to use design software if you lack artistic ability.”
Those are great tips. Now let's talk marketing and the best ways to promote your products.
“Your marketing strategy will differ depending on the platform that you choose. I like to build stand-alone websites and create brands, so I’m 100% into Shopify stores. I avoid Etsy and Amazon because that’s not building a brand; that’s being a part of someone else’s brand. If you have a WordPress or Shopify store, you can add ten designs and drive unlimited traffic to that site.”
What would you say to those who believe Etsy is a more cost-effective choice?
“I do understand the objections to my opinion. People will say, ‘Joe, I don’t know how to drive traffic, and I don’t have a lot of money. I just want to upload my designs for free and not worry about traffic.’ If that’s the case, I’d suggest researching people who have been successful on Amazon or Etsy. Many will tell you it’s a numbers game, with some uploading 200 to 400 designs.
“If you add 100 listings and only 5% of them make a sale a few times each week, that’s a decent side hustle, but it’s a lot of work. Plus, if you’re also hiring designers, the costs are going to mount.
“For those reasons, I prefer Shopify. You don’t need to upload hundreds of designs. You can concentrate on building a brand, creating winning products and scaling them. I know that it’s possible to do the same on Etsy, but in my experience, the ceiling is higher with Shopify. For example, I have two students who have scaled businesses to over $1 million.”
That's an incredible figure! How are your students driving traffic to their stores to see those kinds of numbers?
“There are so many options when it comes to driving traffic. Some sellers choose to partner with Instagram influencers, whereas others focus on ads. I’ve seen people start blogs to get organic traffic and use Pinterest to build out pins in a specific niche. Eventually, everything ends up linking back to your store, and you have a giant web of traffic.”
So it's all about sticking it out and building a solid foundation. On that note, let's chat about setting realistic goals for your business:
“I always encourage people to set realistic goals. Someone on my Facebook group asked if it was possible to make $250,000 through print on demand in their first year. I explained that it was possible to make that kind of money, but that’s a million-dollar business in effect. That’s not realistic for a beginner, whether it’s an online store or a restaurant.
“A better goal would be to work on creating your first winning product. Try and focus on designing something that you can sell five of in a single day. That’s an attainable goal, and it’s a great baby step. For example, if you’re obsessed with making a quick $250,000, you’ll see $30,000 as a failure, when in fact, it’s a massive win.”
You're obviously aware of KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. How would you suggest newcomers monitor their results?
“There are a million performance indicators you can look at. If you’re driving traffic to a store, conversion rates are a great metric for beginners to focus on. If people are visiting your store, how many are buying? That can help you diagnose what’s going wrong with your store. Likewise, you probably have a marketing issue if you’re getting low traffic numbers.
“Imagine if you were advertising a restaurant using billboards on the highway. Nobody will visit if you get the board wrong or place it in a bad spot. Yet if people are visiting but none are ordering food, you’d be crazy to start tweaking the billboard. It would be better to figure out what’s wrong with the smell of the food or your prices.”
And how about measuring the performance of the products themselves?
“There are plenty of ways to measure product performance, but for me it comes down to profit. I have a book by a guy called Dan Kennedy, who said:
“The business that can spend the most to acquire a customer wins.“
“If I create a more profitable product than my rivals, I can outspend them on marketing. That means I can get all the potential customers and still profit.
“If you’ve created a product that people want to buy, and you’re making a small profit, you’ve done something really cool. Next, it’s time to figure out how to take that skill and apply it to making a greater margin. It’s an oversimplification, of course, but I think it should be the ultimate goal.
“If you’re selling a $10 t-shirt for $20, you might be doubling your money, but it’s still only a $10 profit margin. That’s going to be difficult when it comes to your available marketing budget. People think that print on demand is all about t-shirts. Actually, there are hundreds of items to choose from and many are very profitable. Items like the Printify suitcase for example, could give you over $100 in profit. Sure, you need to enjoy what you’re selling, but always pay attention to profitability.”
Thanks for all of the actionable advice, Joe. Let's wrap up by listing a couple of misconceptions that newbies might have about eCommerce:
“People’s first misconception is that they can launch a store and start making sales straight away. This isn’t a video game where you can add cheat codes! Real people are looking at your products. They work hard for their money and rarely make dumb decisions. If those people aren’t buying, it’s because your offer isn’t compelling enough.
“The second misconception beginners have is thinking that they need to follow trends. A few years ago, Snapchat was the hottest thing out there. Pinterest was next, then back to Google Ads. These days it’s Tik Tok. If a person tries Shopify and Facebook Ads, and it doesn’t work out, they might hop to Etsy, thinking everything will be great. The problem is they haven’t diagnosed the issue, but jumped platforms hoping sales will magically appear.
“That’s why I focus so much on creating winning products. If you have a great product, it doesn’t matter what platform you choose, so long as you stick it out and learn to fix problems.”
Thanks Joe, it's been a pleasure sitting down to chat!
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