Whether you want to put design ideas on shirts, create custom T-shirt designs, or both, a T-shirt company is a potential money-maker if done right. T-shirts are one of the most popular clothing items and allow wearers to express themselves as individuals or display an affinity with a group of co-workers or friends.

This step-by-step article covers the ins and outs of selling T-shirts and how to get your startup T-shirt business off the ground. Read on to learn how to plan, prepare, and start your own T-shirt business, including the legal technicalities and the marketing side of things, as well as how to set up an online T-shirt store as an ecommerce business.

Coming Up With a T-Shirt Business

As they say, proper planning prevents poor performance. This is certainly true when it comes to starting your own small business. The better prepared you are before launch, the higher your chances are for success. But what exactly should this planning entail?

Here, we touch on the core important pieces to include in your planning process:

  • Decide what types of T-shirts you'll sell: Do you plan on printing T-shirt designs that customers bring to you, creating designs to customer specifications, creating original designs, or some combination of all three? Determine what your offerings will be and write up a description of any custom design services. You should also consider what sizes you'll sell. For example, will you sell unisex adult sizes, men's and women's fits, kids' sizes, or all of the above?
  • Decide on printing options: Putting designs on T-shirts can be done in many ways. You might choose screen printing, heat transfer techniques, or direct-to-garment T-shirt printing. If you want to avoid the printing business yourself, you can create an online store with your designs and offer print-on-demand for customers with drop shipping through places like Printful, Teespring, or Zazzle.
  • Determine a design process: How will you go about creating designs? For example, you might want to use a mockup generator that allows you to create T-shirt mockups before printing to make sure the designs will come out right. Simple T-shirt templates that you can find online might also be helpful.
  • Identify the target market for your shirts: You can have one or more target audiences, but you should do some market research and identify at least one to get started. Perhaps you want to sell custom designs to a general audience. Maybe you want to market to companies or teams that might want matching shirt designs. Some T-shirt vendors do well selling customizable shirts at sporting events, such as gymnastics or martial arts competitions.
  • Determine how you will set your prices: The math behind pricing depends on several factors. First, you need to make sure that what you spend on materials and overhead is less than your price point. Second, you want to make sure your prices are competitive. If you create custom designs, you might also charge a design fee. The hourly rate for graphic designers is around $85. Other designers may choose to design for a flat fee. A typical new T-shirt usually retails for between $5 and $30 depending on the materials used, with quality T-shirts costing more.
  • Determine how many T-shirts you can print and sell at a time: Take into consideration how long it takes to make one shirt or how long it takes to create a design and then print it onto multiple shirts. By estimating how many shirts you can make per day, you can better plan for ordering supplies and materials. You can also get an idea of your profit margin based on how many shirts you can create and sell.
  • Add up startup costs: Starting costs include fees for registering your business, purchasing equipment for printing, setting up a website, possibly setting up a store space, and more. Search the upfront cost of each expense and purchase you plan on making to get started and add it all up. It's also a good idea to add a little more to this estimate for items you forgot to include initially.
  • Estimate ongoing costs: Ongoing costs include continued costs for supplies you'll need to order and other ongoing business expenses. It's important to know what these are so you can determine how much you need to sell to make a profit.
  • Understand local business and labor laws: Look up the local business laws and regulations for your area. Some places require that all businesses be registered, while others may let you operate as a sole proprietor under your own name without filing any paperwork. Keep in mind that, as a business, certain taxes may also apply.
  • Develop a business plan: Drafting a business plan is a great way to organize your business ideas. A business plan is a document containing the goals and procedures governing how you'll run your business. It's good to create one, not just for yourself but so that you can show potential investors or lenders that your business is well thought out and likely to succeed.

Laying Down Groundwork for Your T-Shirt Business

Once you're done with the planning process, you're ready to complete the groundwork necessary to open up shop and start connecting with customers. Getting started requires that you take care of all legal considerations in starting your business, develop a marketing strategy so that prospective customers are aware of your services, and prepare yourself for the day-to-day operations.

Legal Requirements for Starting Your T-Shirt Business

Probably the least glamorous part of starting a business are the legalities. The exact requirements vary by state and local municipality, as well as what type of business you want to form. For most places, you can find this information and all business forms on your Secretary of State's website.

The following provides an overview of common legal processes and requirements of starting a new business:

  • Choose your business structure and register your business: If you plan on being a sole proprietor, it's possible you may not need to register at all. However, another common structure for a T-shirt business is a limited liability company (LLC). If you plan on your business becoming very large or requiring investors, you might look into how to form a corporation or other structure, as well. Registration can often be completed online or by mailing in a form and may require a small fee.
  • Registering your business name: Unless you're operating under your personal name only, you'll likely need to register your business's name. If you are submitting forms for a specific business structure, this is often done on the same form. Otherwise, you might need to complete a "doing business as" (DBA) form to register the name. Note that you should make sure your name is unique. This can often be done by searching state and local business registries online through the Secretary of State's website.
  • Check for other requirements: It might be the case that you need to apply for a business license and/or permits for selling your shirts at events or different sites. You should also see if your state or local area requires that you carry any specific business insurance or insurance for employees.
  • Open a business bank account: A business bank account not only helps your business appear professional but also allows you to keep your finances separate from your personal finances. Your bank may ask to see business registration documentation before opening a business account.
  • Understand and abide by tax obligations: You may need to obtain federal and/or state tax ID numbers for your business. At the federal level, this is called an employer identification number (EIN) and it can be obtained online. Look into when and how businesses like yours should be paying taxes. (LLCs and sole proprietorships are often taxed as pass-through entities, meaning that the taxes are dealt with on your personal tax return.)

How to Market Your T-Shirt Business

Once the legal issues are taken care of, you can get down to the business of marketing. After all, it's difficult to sell T-shirts if no one knows you exist. There are many strategies when it comes to marketing. Below are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Build a website: Secure a domain name and put together a website as soon as you can. Some businesses will hire someone to create a website for them, but there are many tools available today that make setting up a simple website by yourself doable. By having a website, your business can show up in internet searches and you'll have a place to direct potential customers if they want to learn more. Many sellers also use an ecommerce platform like Shopify for handling online T-shirt businesses. You might also look into selling your shirts on Amazon or Etsy.
  • Social media marketing: Create accounts for your business on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. Not only does this provide another place for customers to find you on the internet but many of these platforms also allow you to create targeted advertisements and reach a larger audience. You may also wish to contact influencers on social media to help market your bestsellers.
  • Design a logo: A logo is a great way to make your business and brand easily identifiable. Design a creative logo and be sure to include it on your website, social media, and other advertising.
  • Reach out to prospective customers: If you hope to market to businesses, teams, or sporting venues, reach out to these places and let them know about your services. Consider offering an introductory discount to bring them on board.

Prepare for Running Your T-Shirt Business

Before you open your doors, make sure you have everything you need for day-to-day operations. You'll need a way to track expenses and billing. Professional templates for invoices, estimates, and packing slips are also important.

Skynova is a great source for customizable invoices, purchase orders, and other forms. We also offer all-in-one invoicing and accounting software to make it easy to keep accurate records of income, expenses, and payments.

Let Skynova Help

Starting a new T-shirt business can be both exciting and stressful. There are a lot of boxes for new business owners to check before beginning, and it's vital that everything is in order before you jump into the daily process of keeping up with new orders. Skynova offers many software products designed to help entrepreneurs like you with the tedium of bookkeeping and billing so you can get down to the business of your business sooner.