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Make a Living Online with Cafe Press

Updated on July 23, 2015

Have you ever dreamed of quitting your job and working from home? I think we all have. I would love to say that it’s easy. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to achieve these goals. But the truth is anyone can do it! As shocking as this all sounds, it’s very true. There are people less experienced and less qualified coming up with mediocre and downright terrible designs ideas with horrific store layouts that are making a stable income. Sounds way too good to be true right? I thought so too. Until I started researching and asking these so-called successful Cafe Press and Zazzle stars how they did it. I’m the kind of person that wants proof. So I asked for just that. Several store owners sent me copies of checks, deposits, and sales. Now that’s something that I can believe.

None of these people started out with the intention of it becoming a full time job. So a good starting point would be to supplement your income. There’s lots of different ways to do this without ever changing out of your PJs.

The moneymaker I want to talk to you about today is Café Press. It’s a print on demand (POD) company that allows you to make and submit your own designs for t-shirts, coffee mugs, and hundreds of other products.

Café Press allows you to open a free online store to sell your designs on merchandise that they print and ship out to your customers. You make a small profit from each sale. You never pay anything out of pocket and you never have to have actual inventory. You get to set the amount of your profit per product. For example Café Press has a t-shirt base price at $9.99 you set your upcharge to $5.00. The shirt sells for $14.99 now you have a $5.00 profit. Not everyone sets rates this high. Personally I set my rates at least $2.00 over the base price for t-shirts. It’s really up to you and the price settings can be changed at any time.

You are going to need a few things to get started.

  • Design Software - My personal favorite is Corel Draw. Due to its overwhelming cost when I first got started I had to install the free trial version and use it until I could afford the full version. Even if it meant I had to uninstall and reinstall the trial version every 15 days. Home and Student version is the most affordable.

Depending on your level of expertise you could even use a beginner print program such as The Print Shop. The cost varies from $9.00 to $35.00 depending on what version you are using. Amazon always seems to have the cheapest price. Other contenders would be PrintMaster made by the same company. If you get the Platinum edition it comes with all the bells and whistles for less than $50.00.

  • Notebook and Pen to write ideas down in. Those are the three most important tools to get started.

Next you want to open up a new store on Café Press. Come up with a really good store name to compliment the designs you want to sell. Pick a hobby or activity that you know a lot about. Maybe its knitting, country music, or gardening. For example, one of my many stores is called Hooptastic www.cafepress.com/hooptastic. I have targeted Hula Hoop Dancers and create only Hula Hoop related designs. Try to keep your designs in the same theme as your store name. Someone looking for fishing shirts isn’t going to look in a music related store and vice versa.

Once you have your store opened its time to pick a store template theme. For a small monthly fee you can use a premium template for your store. I choose not to pay upfront and Café Press deducts a small percentage from my sales to cover the premium store cost. If you don't have any sales then you pay nothing. Its a pretty good deal. For now just pick a nice template and we can dive into customization later.


The other option is to only post your designs to the Cafe Press market place. It takes less time to do this but it will effect your profits. When you place designs in your store, you are able to control the price. In the market place the commission rate is between 7 and 10 percent. This rate can easily be increased to 10 percent by adding additional followers and making sure that your profile is complete.

Personally I like to do a mix of the two. I keep all my niche designs organized in my stores. My in between designs I like to post directly to the market place. Its completely up to you how you would like to post your products. Personally 99% of all of my sales are from the market place anyway.

After you decide how you would like to post your products you should take a look at the product choices. Get an idea of what type of products you would like to offer. Write it down in your notebook. From my personal experience my best sellers are bumper stickers, t-shirts, and mugs.

Next open up your design software and come up with your first design. I like to save all my designs in PNG format. I also make the design as big as possible. You always want your design to be bigger than the space you need on the product. This allows you to have crisp cleans lines and no loss of resolution. Otherwise your designs may look pixilated and subpar.

Once you get a feel for what products look best with your designs you will be able to make a product set template. Basically you create a list of products that you can use over and over again. This saves a lot of time if you continually use the same products. I have dozens of product set templates created. An example would be making a set for only light colored shirts. Many of the designs you create will only look good on a light background. Often I create two designs for each t-shirt. I create a white design and a black design. My white designs I use dark lettering and elements. For my dark designs I use light colored lettering and light elements.

Now it’s time to get cracking coming up with as many designs as possible. Making money on Café Press is all about the numbers. The trick to being successful is to come up with a lot of designs. Not everyone likes the same things so you have to give your customers options. With the millions of designs already offered on Café Press, you are already a little fish in a gigantic pond.

It’s best to not put all your eggs in one basket. But instead come up with several different niches that you are familiar with. The ultimate goal is eventually having several different stores in different niches with a one thousand designs per store. If you can successfully do that then you can make a livable income. No one can make that many creative designs overnight. It’s going to take some time to build your empire from the ground up. With a little faith and a lot of hard work you can make it happen. Don’t get discouraged, it may take months to make your first sale. The more sales you have on a design the more traffic that design will generate. Instead of your design showing up on page 10 of the marketplace it might show up on page 1 or 2. Repeat design sales are a great thing.

In the months ahead please check back and continue your quest on how to build a successful store. I will do my best to guide you along the way with great tips, key marketing moves, and inspiration.

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