How to Start A Successful T-Shirt Business

Learn How to Start A Successful T-Shirt Business, Step-By-Step!

These days you no longer need a retail storefront to succeed in selling custom printed t-shirts, screen printing services, embroidery or any other custom promotional product. If you are considering going into business for yourself, you are much better off starting your venture online. Margins are not the greatest in this industry so you want to save money whenever you can, if rent is cheap in your area or if you own property that will house your retail store, that is a different story. Go for it, you can do retail and online. Generally speaking, start off web-based while your business grows. Since you probably already know how to start your actual business, I’ll skip that. If you are trying to decide whether you want to be a reseller or screen printer, here is a quick read. You will need some type of software to help manage your orders and accounting. To read more about business management software, check out this post. For accounting, I started using Freshbooks about a year ago and absolutely love it. Try a free trial.¬†Another good read: You will need a merchant account to accept credit cards online. This goes into why you should have a merchant account versus PayPal.

Back into marketing for screen printers.

You may have some competition locally but your biggest competitors are going to be found online, one good thing about that though is many people want to deal locally. You can do both with this industry since most of your potential customers will visit your website or call your office for pricing before they place their order. I found that running a retail store proved to be a pain, having a web based shop kind of weeds out pain in the ass customers. People that are SUPER picky about ink colors, shirt styles, people that don’t have email and other stuff like that. Yes, sometimes it is GOOD to not work with certain types of people.


One of the first things you’ll want to do is to produce an easy to use website with an apparel catalog, price quote form and simple call to action area that will generate leads for your company. You could invest in some t-shirt design software which will allow your customers to design their own artwork for the custom printed t shirts. It helps to have a design tool for your customers to use but it isn’t necessary. We recommend the open source software named OpenTShirts which would be coupled with the open source software, OpenCart. These are both open source applications that can be installed and customized by you so your clients can design and buy right from your company website! There are some paid options for design software out there but why pay when you can have something just as good not to mention completely customizable? If you are technically adept and know how to create a SQL database and upload files via FTP, and are comfortable making edits to php files, you should be able to install this on your web server. If you have no clue what any of this is, we offer a service to get you up and running, more on that later.

Once you have a lead generating website up and running, you’ll going to need to promote it to the world. There are billions of websites on the internet, your site will not be found in search results without some work. You have a couple of options, either pay for advertising or work on getting your website ranked in google for certain keywords and keyphrases which is otherwise known as search engine optimization (SEO). If you are just starting out there are some other viable ways to secure business such as networking at BNI style groups, spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter. The problem with paid advertising such as the popular Google Adwords is that it’s expensive as hell. Clicks typically cost $3-$5 each. Yes, these ads are the ones found on the right sidebar on Google. It’s tough especially when first starting out because the giant t-shirt companies out there like Zazzle and Custom Ink spend millions on these ads, I don’t know about you but I don’t have that kind of money to toss at Google. That’s why I focus on SEO, which is what I actually now do for a living. The goal with SEO is to get your website ranked for keywords that people search for on Google. It’s going to be difficult to rank a new site for certain keywords because some of your competitors are paying tens of thousands of dollars per month to rank. I would show you how they are doing it but we’ll skip that, let’s just say they are spending a crap-ton of cash.

There are two sides to SEO, on-page optimization and off-page optimization. On-page optimization is basically the process of giving Google and the other major search engines what they want which includes a 2-3% total keyword density and clean code. If you blast your web pages with a bunch of the same keyword for instance, there is a pretty good chance there is no way it’s going to rank. They also look at how people interact with your website. Are they visiting and then immediately leaving? Are they clicking through to multiple pages? Are they engaged socially? Google awards sites that seem to keep visitors interested and interacting with the content. Aged domains are helpful as well. Have a look at the website for domains that have recently expired.

Then there is off-page seo. This would include incoming links, social signals from Facebook and other social media sites and so much more. With local businesses, citations are key. You need to set up accounts and get your business listed with about 40-50 directory sites such as, yelp, superpages, yahoo, bing, google places for business just to name a few.

Google’s algorithm is a complete mystery and all that people who specialize in SEO can do is to test and test again. This search algorithm changes everyday, some updates are bigger than others. For example, just five years ago you could point a million links to your website and get it ranked for pretty much anything. You do that today and Google will possibly deindex or penalize your site. They are looking for natural looking links and signals. Google’s goal is to provide searchers with the most relevant and best search results possible. They don’t want people to try to ‘trick’ their algorithm.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. If you take action and start getting your web presence built out you can have more business than you can handle in no time at all.

If you would like for my business to get your online presence set up and continue with your SEO going forward I will be opening up a very limited number of spots within the next couple of weeks. I can only accept five new clients (not in the same city) as I don’t want to overwhelm myself. If you would like to get on the notification list, please complete the form below.