Start a custom prints business by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your custom prints business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the initial costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.
Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your custom prints business is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
STEP 8: Define your brand.
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
A custom prints business is a “jack of all trades” kind of business. These businesses often focus on printing on everything from business cards to t-shirts. This also opens the door for turning some of your more successful screen printing endeavors into sideline businesses (that focus solely on something like t-shirts, for example).
Who is this business right for?
This job is ideal for someone who is good with both technology and people. It is necessary to be good with technology because you must know your way around the hardware and software necessary to print onto a variety of different surfaces. You must be good with people because your clientele is potentially very diverse—the professional who needs new business cards may be very different from the college student who wants to order an ironic t-shirt.
What happens during a typical day at a custom prints business?
In no particular order, your daily activities may include corresponding with existing customers, reaching out to potential customers, and managing your advertising (including a web page and social media presence). You may periodically clean and perform maintenance on your equipment and, in rare cases, order new equipment and new parts. Most of any given day will include creating your custom printed items and then shipping them to your customers.
What is the target market?
Your preferred clients may vary depending on whether you want to specialize in a particular printing service or not. Generally, though, business people will be your preferred clients because they are likeliest to become steady clients, needing to periodically get more of their original business card designs, to change cards as their employers and information change, etc. Thus, while you would make more per t-shirt than per business card, those buying things like t-shirts are less likely to become repeat customers over the years.
How does a custom prints business make money?
A custom print business takes customer requests and charges money to print customized words and graphics onto different kinds of items.
What is the growth potential for a custom prints business?
There is good growth potential for this business because you can start small and build your way up. For instance, you may start out only printing on certain items, and once you have become successful in that, you can branch out to other printing services. Since you will already have the equipment, you can also sell your own custom-designed shirts and prints through venues such as Etsy, offering you a different revenue stream.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful custom prints business?
Prior training and experience with things like art and design can be a major help, as it may give you familiarity with the hardware and software you'll be using as well as prepare you to help clients with their various requests. Any direct experience you have in designing and printing things like shirts, prints, and cards is helpful for the same reasons.
What are the costs involved in opening a custom prints business?
The costs involved in opening this business varies by how many things you want to specialize in. For instance, one entrepreneur started a business focusing only on custom-printed t-shirts. He used existing apps and web services to help print and ship (such as Printful) his t-shirts. This allowed him to build the cost of new orders into the t-shirts themselves and functionally launch a small business for under $500, with $16 going towards paying for a font on the site, $8 paying for a t-shirt mockup, and the rest going towards the actual printing of shirts.
In the long run, though, you'll probably want to own your equipment. It is possible to purchase small business screen printing packages, for instance, for less than $7,000. This includes necessary equipment such as the printer, flash cure unit, dryer, vacuum exposure unit, and assorted supplies such as ink, screens, coater, adhesive, temperature gun, and so on. For printing business cards, you can start out for under $2,000, as this primarily requires a high-quality color printer, good card stock, and programs such as Microsoft Publisher. As everything can be done from home, there is no overhead involving buying or leasing separate business space.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a custom prints business?
While it is possible for your business to grow and supply different printing needs, it is good to start out by focusing on a single, specific need. Also, consider your market: this is one business where you may find more success marketing yourself as an affordable local business rather than a major national business. For selling t-shirts, don't forget to use your website and social media to showcase how the shirts actually look (as opposed to just showing template designs online).
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Growing Your Business
How to promote & market a custom prints business
The best ways to promote your business will be online. If you have the budget, it may not hurt to advertise via traditional local means such as newspapers or radio. However, your business will be online, and that's where most customers will find you. Make sure you have a professional-looking website and a social media presence, which will allow customers to reach out to you and allow you to show off how good your finished work looks.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the marketing ideas above, don't be afraid to approach various businesses, schools, and organizations in your area. You can market yourself as an affordable way for them to have custom t-shirts that build team spirit and promote synergy and unity. To sell business card services, make sure you approach new businesses as they open; with luck, their success will be your success, and they will become lifelong customers.
How and when to build a team
In all honesty, this business will probably never require a team. It is typically run out of your own home, which is where you will be keeping your equipment in order to keep costs down. If business gets to the point where you cannot handle all of the orders on your own, you may consider taking on a family member or close associate as a partner; this can be particularly useful in shipping or delivering everything to its recipients.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a Custom Print business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office.
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
A custom prints business is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a custom prints business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your custom prints business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
How much you charge is typically rooted in how much a customer orders and how complex an order is. For instance, you might charge nearly $8 per shirt for 20-60 one-color t-shirts, but that price might go down to just under $6 a shirt if they order a $1,000. You may consider charging something like an extra twenty-five cents per shirt per extra color that is added. You should also consider charging approximately $2 extra per shirt if they want a double-sided design. You may also consider adding a one-time (per design) setup fee for every color added that ranges between $10 to $15.
For business cards, you may consider charging $3 to $5 for 25 single-sided cards with a basic matte coating and premium material. That price may jump to $35-$50 for ordering over 2,000 cards. If the cards are printed on color filled premium paper, you can charge between $7 to $9 for 25 of them, and a similar price range if the customer wants the cards printed on thicker, card stock material.
What are the ongoing expenses for a custom prints business?
The ongoing expenses of this business are effectively non-existent in the sense that they are built into your prices. For instance, you will periodically need to buy more ink, adhesive, screens, paper, and so on. However, you should price your wares so that when you do buy more supplies (and only when you run out or are close to running out), you will always have adequate funding to do so based on the previous sales.
How much profit can a custom prints business make?
Obviously, the exact amount of profit that you earn is based on how many sales you make. One screenprinting expert estimates it is possible for this job to net above $100,000 in profits, but this is contingent on having numerous bulk orders (typically for companies and organizations). Realistically, you may need to diversify your printing services and create some dedicated sideline businesses online in order to reach six figures.
How can you make your business more profitable?
One way to be more profitable is to find a niche. To be honest, the market is flooded with t-shirts, so if you can find an area of fandom or pop culture that is underrepresented (or not represented at all), you can effectively corner that market. Also, try to meet people in person whenever possible. It can be easy for a work at home business to feel very isolated, but having face-to-face meetings with prospective clients can help you via traditional networking that leads to long-term business. Finally, don't underestimate the power of contests. Having online drawings or contests for small orders of t-shirts or business cards helps to build public excitement for your product at a low cost to you, which is great for advertising and public relations.