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Realistic Eggspectations : The Unpredictable Chicken of Print on Demand

Apologies for the terrible pun. Trying to explain POD as a business model is quite difficult, especially when I had to describe to my parents and say I was selling stickers and T-Shirts online instead of having a real job (for now). Passive income online is generally a new area of work. Passive probably isn’t the correct word; ‘residual’ might be better. You do the work, leave it, and then later reap the rewards.

Print on Demand, and Redbubble especially, can be very unpredictable. It’s like owning a special chicken. You can feed it all you want, but it might not give you any eggs. It might sit there and eat up all your time and effort, and then three months later you open up the hutch and it’s exploding, eggs everywhere. Too many eggs to count.

chickens

You can probably mitigate the risk by owning multiple chickens; add more products, develop more income streams, maybe you invest in some cows or sheep (That would be an analogy for opening up other accounts, say MBA or a KDP account), but at it’s core, you don’t really have an active role in selling. You feed the chicken, you make sure the conditions are right, but it’s up to the chicken to make the egg.

For example, I just made my first Merch by Amazon sale. I’ve had the account for a few weeks, and there, first sale. Out of nowhere.

The wild ride of Print on Demand

Nice

One of the first things I do when I wake up is check my Redbubble filter on my gmail account. Sad I know. But one thing that is striking is how different it can be day to day.

One day I wake up to nothing, or just a single sticker sale. One day I wake up to £40, some complete maniac has bought a piece of my work on an art print or bath mat, or someone has bulk ordered some T-Shirts. That’s as much as I was earning working in a shop all day, and I’m not even out of bed yet!

As a business, it can be completely unpredictable. A piece of work that hasn’t made any sales in two years is suddenly flying from the (digital) shelves. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. It’s tough to realise what you should expect when it comes to POD, especially when starting out. As it’s tough what to expect, it’s tough to work out what to do to increase your own sales.

So far, I have found that the safest approach to increase sales and make more money is to increase the amount of products I list.

I am lucky to be making sales every day. I can’t even remember the last day I didn’t make any sales on, it was so long ago. To get to this stage, it really is a numbers game.

I make sure all of my current designs are listed for as many products as they look good on, and I just generally make sure to upload a few designs to Redbubble every day. I don’t think it hurts your ranking at all to add more products. I don’t even stick to a niche anymore.

How do you estimate sales?

I’m not sure where I heard it first, but I go by the following rule;

1 Design Uploaded = £1 / Month Average

It works out more or less. At the time of writing, my main store has 290 designs, and I earned around £300 last month. I see any number over 1:1 as a success. It must be shocking to be one of those accounts which has 200,000+ designs. Even if 1% sells to the above formula, that’s still £2k a month. Amazing.

Adding more products mitigates risk throughout your store. You just don’t know if your next upload is going to be a hit or not. Look at my top sellers for the past year:

The top seller sells 3x more than the next one, and it came completely out of nowhere. I didn’t have any idea it would sell so well. Creeping up the list are things I have uploaded in the past week or so, something I really couldn’t have predicted.

Pages 2-5 are somewhat consistent, and from then on are outliers and newer posts. Wait a minute, this isn’t passive at all is it? Well, not at this stage, no.

Passive income can be passive, but it generally won’t improve sharply without your input. If I was happy to plateau, I could probably leave it where it is, and thanks to Redbubble’s awesome advertising, I will probably stay at this level for the foreseeable future.

My goal, however, is a little over 3x as much as I am currently earning.

Quick tips to increase sales

Looking back at the chart I made for the first post, there were a lot of things I did in November to more than double my Redbubble income. One of those things was to sort out my profit margins.

Before November, my profit margins for ALL PRODUCTS was at 18.5%. Redbubble was just an afterthought for me, I didn’t bother uploading anything new, I didn’t bother promoting work, I just left it. Things I had added 5 years ago were selling, and I was happy. I was probably also undercutting everyone else.

It was only in November 2019 that I started looking to the wider Redbubble community. Everyone was selling stickers at 100% margin or above. Oof. I’ve been missing out!

I instantly changed my margins to 100% and I have never changed them back since. I changed all of my other margins to at least 25%.

A few things happened when I changed my margins. I earned more money, and I actually sold more products. Doesn’t seem to make sense until we look up the rule of perceived value.

“This costs more, so it must be better quality and therefore worth the price” – Any customer.

That’s why brands do so well I suppose. I haven’t looked back after charging more, I realised I was simply selling myself short. I tinker with my margins now and then as we all should but this was such an impactful change, I would recommend everyone do it.

Key Takeaways from this post

I’ll summarise the post, especially good if you can’t be bothered to read it all (Good, you should be uploading stuff instead, but do remember to take breaks now and then!)

  • More designs = More Sales
  • Review existing designs to make them compatible with all more products
  • Put your sticker margins up to 100% at least
  • Be prepared to upload something and then potentially wait months before it sells
  • Don’t sell yourself short; your designs are worth more than the bare minimum
  • Understand that selling on a Print on demand service is not a linear upward curve, but will be a bumpy ride
  • Expect nothing at all in the short term

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