Starting an online t-shirt store on a print-on-demand site seems like an ideal way for writers to earn an extra stream of income. It costs almost nothing. All you have to do is create a graphics file with your design, upload it to the site, and collect markup when someone has your design printed on a t-shirt. You can do text-only layouts if you’re not comfortable with images. Unfortunately, there are five major frustrations you can encounter when setting up your own t-shirt shop on a print-on-demand website.

The first frustration is paying more than is necessary to set up your shop. You should be able to do it for almost free.

A second frustration is fighting with your image editor. Too simple an image editor will be too painful to use. A full-featured image editor can be hard to figure out.

The third frustration is not knowing what your customers want. These are self-expression products. You need to find out what feelings people want to express.

The fourth frustration is not knowing how to attract your customers to your store. Having what people want doesn’t help if they can’t find you.

The fifth frustration is not knowing what designs people like. For example, people don’t particularly like large, rectangular images that dominate the layout.

The way to avoid the first frustration is twofold: First, get the GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP. It’s free and as powerful as you’ll need it to be. Second, carefully choose the sites where you will set up your stores. You may want more than one store if you have incompatible product lines, family vs. Adult-oriented, for example. For that, you might prefer Printfection, where you can create many free stores. Printfection has a reputation for high quality, but has few product types. If you don’t intend to set up many stores, you may decide it’s worth paying the $60 per year that CafePress charges for each “premium” (i.e., proper) store – you get a wide variety of products to place your designs and advertising on . brings a lot of customers through your marketplace. Zazzle is free, has many types of products available, and does a reasonable amount of advertising.

A big problem with a powerful image editor is that you can get lost in the features. It is worth buying a book that tells you how to start using it. There is information available on the web for free, but you may have trouble finding what you need simply enough.

One way to find out what customers want is to ask people, but that can give you too small a sample and too skewed. Another approach is to find what keywords people type into search engines when looking for designs like yours. You can find out for free, albeit at the cost of a bit of time, using the Google keyword tool and the Google search page. The keyword tool will suggest alternative keywords and tell you how many times people search for particular phrases in an average month. The Google search page will give you an estimate of the number of web pages that use the key phrase. If you find this process too much effort, you can purchase Micro Niche Finder or pay to use Wordtracker.

One way to attract customers to your store is to use keywords effectively. You should fill your store pages with good keywords, for example by using them in the descriptions of your designs. More importantly, you need to get quality back links to your store by using those keywords in your anchor text. (That’s the colored text in a hyperlink.) You can get free backlinks by providing information. You can post useful tips on forums, you can post comments on blogs, you can post pages on Hubpages or Squidoo, you can write ezine articles, you can have your own blog. The most important thing in all of them is to give away useful information and not try to sell. Links to your website in your signature lines and resource boxes will bring you some visitors. More importantly, they will spread links to your pages across the web, telling search engines both about what’s in your store and how important your store is.

A good way to find out what designs people like is to ask them. Join the forum on your host site. Post your designs and ask for feedback. Traders are usually happy to offer suggestions and encouragement. You can also ask people you know online or offline.

There are definitely things that can frustrate you when setting up your own print-on-demand t-shirt shop, but you can do things to alleviate those frustrations.

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