It’s incredibly easy to start an online t-shirt store, I did mine within a day. Now, this isn’t to be confused with getting GOOD at selling t-shirts, or making enough money to retire and buy several houses on precarious cliff edges, but getting a starting point is a big milestone. I’m not going to talk you through how to do it, per se, as this could be a whole online tutorial (maybe I’ll make one of those some day), but here’s a basic overview of how to do what I’ve done so far:
Get your CMS platform set up (Hint: Use WordPress)
WordPress is a CMS, which stands for Content Management System. Basically, it’s a database that holds information, like an Excel spreadsheet or your email inbox. It’s the most popular one for this kind of business, and this is because it’s really simple to get started on. You’ll want to secure a domain name and hosting space first, and then install and configure WordPress on the hosting space. If you buy your domain and hosting space through GoDaddy, you’re looking at around $10 for the domain, and $7 per month for the cheapest hosting. As your site grows you’ll want to revisit this, but it’s sufficient for now. Once you have your logins, you can simply go into the cPanel (don’t be afraid, it’s just like a computer desktop for server-level programs) and use the Installatron option to one-click install WordPress. It’ll prompt you for all the details to get the site displaying when you type in your domain. That’s the whole setup in a nutshell!
Get your theme installed and setup your pages
Once installed, WordPress will give you a rather bleak looking blog page with some dummy text. The next step is to change it to look and function as a website! A theme is like a glove that you pull over the CMS to add colors, fonts, functionality, and style. I like Beaver Builder’s theme, coupled up with their plugin, because once in place, you just drag and drop everything. Everything you see in my site is possible without touching ikky code! They offer a free version of their plugin if you’re on a spending diet, and if thrifty is your style, use the Twenty Sixteen theme that’s already installed within your WordPress. Power combo!
This stage will take you a while, as you’ll want to create a homepage, an About page, Contact, and whatever other fun content pages you need.
Add store functionality
Ok, the meat of your t-shirt store… the store! WooCommerce is a free plugin with an insane amount of possibilities, and does the job perfectly for t-shirt sales. You’ll also want to link it to a vendor who can take your designs, print them, and send them to your customers. Google “t-shirt printers” and read up on the selection (I recommend Printful), then select the one that impresses you the most. With most, you just upload a graphic into their system, set the sizes and colors you want, and once all the settings are correct with your WooCommerce plugin, orders placed through your site should go to them and get fulfilled, without you doing anything other than clicking the approve button!
Make your site robust
Now you’ll want to invest some time making the site strong and ready for the influx of customers. First thing on your list is to have your site backed up regularly. This takes a little photocopy of your site on frequent occasions, so if anything goes wrong (and it will – you’ll start getting overly ‘clever’ at some point, and then mess up your functions.php file and everything will come crashing down around you) you can restore it nicely. Other functionality to add is Google Analytics tracking, a Sitemap plugin (and you’ll want to submit this to Google, so they can plonk your pages into their searches), a one-click child theme plugin (it won’t make sense right now, but in layman’s terms, this will allow you to build your site with all kinds of personalization, without new updates coming along and wiping out all your adjustments), and an SEO plugin (I recommend Yoast, scroll down for more info on SEO).
Add your products. I’m simplifying because this is the bit you should have some idea on. If you can’t use illustrator, look at hiring someone to mock up some designs for you. Get the vector file and a transparent large file such as PNG. Start uploading your products to your t-shirt printer and writing descriptions.
People work best when you tell them what to do. It seem bizarrely obvious, but you will want to make sure your website says the things you want your customers to think, know, and do. Tell them what your site is selling, tell them why you’re better than the other guys doing it, and tell them what you want them to do next. Explain your products, talk about why they’re worth the price you’re charging, and answer their questions before they’ve asked them. Create terms and conditions pages, About pages, a blog with news and updates, and an area with frequently asked questions. Google other peoples’ sites and get ideas based on what they do. Be wild, try new things, create content!
Not everyone has a photographer’s charm, but this is no excuse to go onto Google Image search and start ripping any photos you like. Using images without the correct license to do so will catch up with you, so get into good habits early. If you need stock photos, either pay for them, or go down the CC0 route and use a site such as Pexels for free, ‘free to use commercially’ images. Morguefile is also a good choice, especially if you’re going for that non-stocky look. The image at the top of this post is from there 😉
Start personalizing your pages and functionality
Your site won’t be a success overnight (no, it really won’t, no matter how much of a special snowflake you are), but it will have a better chance of growing, the more you add to it. Obviously you’ll want to get some products in your store to start off with, and you will want to make sure all the pages have valid content. Then you’ll want to look at your store pages and figure out if you like the placement of the description, the size of the photos, the location of the add to cart button. You might want to change functionality so things pop-up or redirect to other pages when clicked. Perhaps you want to change the overall font choice or the color scheme of links. This is all stuff you will be working on forever, and you will probably never feel like it’s ‘perfect’, but it’s good to start getting that stuff underway now. WooCommerce has paid plugins that handle most of the additional functionality you could ever want, but if you’re cheap and determined, most of that can be done for free with code. Just google your question and you’ll likely find a solid workaround on a blog somewhere. Most of all, test out your site, your cart, and be sure that the buying process works (and actually works – buy something!) how you want it to.
Market your site
So by now you have a functioning website, a product, a store interface with connectivity to the dudes who’ll be pushing out your product, and you’re ready to start making dough and buying precarious cliffside houses… right? Nope. You need customers, and although it’s a nice thought, they’re not just stood in line waiting for your store to go live – you have to help them find you. Here are my best resource suggestions for marketing your site:
Forget getting too involved in all the social media sites – right now you should focus on two or three max, and simplify your time spent using them. They’re a powerful tool, but they’re also a time drain. Sign up for what I call the ecommerce big four (Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest) and get them hooked up into a Hootsuite account. Sign up for a free account, and schedule out your postings in advance.
Tweet Wheel is an insanely good service that allows you to set up a queue of blogs, pages, or products, and it’ll tweet them out based on the schedule you set. Not only is it amazing, but I’ve also found nothing else like it on the web. I have my whole product line set up in the queue, and three times a day it’ll send out an alluring tweet to my masses. Even better, at the bottom of each product is a space to specify tweet templates, so you can make them even more personalized in less than 30 seconds of effort.
Use Jetpack to connect your blog to your Facebook, so you can share your posts immediately upon posting. Jetpack also has a ton of other stuff that comes with it to improve your site’s functionality and your analysis of how your visitors are using it. Even though you’re not getting much traffic now, you’ll want these tools in place to track your growth so you can start analyzing it the moment things pick up.
Google loves up-to-date websites, and the more value pages you can add to your site, the better. Blogs are great because they send out the signal that your website is alive and kicking, and they also offer the additional benefit of interaction with your audience, and perhaps the chance for a little extra cash through affiliate ads. Note: If you DO choose to monetize your blog, be sure to only do it in a way that doesn’t remove the value to your reader. If you start making it clear that you’re just milking them for the cash, they’re soon going to bounce.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. If you want to learn from a real, straightforward article, consume, devour, and bookmark this Reddit post. It’s all you’ll need for now.
Ok, I wrote this in a hurry (my laundry is almost done), so I’ve likely forgotten stuff, but this is the most important stuff to me when I was starting this site all those days ago. If you have questions or want guidance on your site setup, let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to help!