Today I wanted to share a new side hustle idea that I’ve been experimenting with over the last couple of weeks.
A typical business model for selling on Amazon is retail arbitrage.
This means you look out for things on sale in the shops, then sell them on Amazon for higher price. If you want to take things to the next level, you can even import your products wholesale from suppliers in China on Alibaba.
This can be a really lucrative side hustle and can definitely be a full time job if you scale it up!
There are just two problems that put me off dipping a toe in these waters:
1. The upfront cost. You need a few hundred pounds to buy stock before you can sell it. Then you have the risk that it doesn’t sell, and you’re stuck with loads of products that you can’t shift!
2. I’m lazy! Yes, I hustle and I want to make money. But I also have a draining day job, and my natural inclination is towards side hustles that I can do in my pajamas with a glass of wine. The idea of schlepping round the sales and hauling massive boxes off to the post office all the time was enough to make me look for a short cut.
The other day I came across an awesome article about a model for selling on Amazon with no upfront costs, no physical stock, and never actually having to handle a product yourself. What’s more, after the initial work setting everything up, it’s close to passive income – my holy grail!
How is this possible?
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Print on demand
This business model revolves around print on demand products. Print on demand (POD) companies have been springing up everywhere in the last few years. You probably know some of them – Zazzle, Cafepress, Teelaunch, Teespring and Gearbubble are some of the big names, but there are loads more.
Basically, these companies allow anyone to upload their own design and have it printed on various items. The products vary by company, but typically you have T shirts, mugs, phone cases, posters and more.
You then try and sell your item. You can do this through the POD website directly, or on Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Shopify – wherever.
The POD sites show you an instant mock up of your chosen item with your design applied so that you can use this on your sales page. But they don’t actually print the item until you make a sale.
When you sell an item, first the customer pays you. Then the POD company prints the item and ships it directly to the customer. Finally, you pay the POD company for any products shipped at the end of the month (payment dates might vary depending on the company).
This means that you don’t hold any inventory yourself. You don’t have to deal with shipping. And if you don’t make a sale, you don’t pay anything!
The best thing about this is there is absolutely no risk involved, and nothing to lose except your time. You can throw up dozens of different variations on each design and experiment with what sells.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing around with a business model which combines Teelaunch’s printing and shipping services with the sales clout of Amazon. In theory, this creates a business that almost runs itself.
Here’s how it works:
First of all, a disclaimer: I’m not guaranteeing you will make money with this idea. It’s something I am currently testing out myself, but it’s too soon to say what the results will be. I’m just sharing this as a potential side hustle idea, in case it’s of interest to anybody else.
I’ll give you a quick run down of the process here, just so you know what I’m banging on about.
However, if you are interested in learning more about this business model, I highly recommend heading over to this article and this one to read more. They are both by a fantastic entrepreneur called Neil at Merch Informer and he really sets out the whole process in great detail for you. Have a read of the comments too – lots of questions answered there.
In brief, here’s what you need to do:
- Open a seller account on Amazon.com
- Set up a free Shopify account
- Add the Teelaunch app in Shopify
- Create or source some designs (more on this below)
- Upload your designs and apply them to T shirts, mugs etc in the Teelaunch app
- Sync your Shopify and Amazon Seller accounts
- For T shirts: once you sync, you can automatically send any T shirts in your Shopify shop over to be listed Amazon. For other products: you will have to create listings on Amazon separately, and then connect them to Shopify.
- Sit back and wait for sales!
Again, head to the article linked above for detailed step-by-step instructions. It literally talks you through every little thing you need to do.
The magic word that makes all this nearly passive income is integration.
Integration for hands off sales and fufilment
Because of the integration between Amazon and Shopify, and then between Shopify and Teelaunch, any sales on Amazon are automatically sent over to Teelaunch (via Shopify) for fulfilment. A customer buys on Amazon, Teelaunch gets the message, prints your product, and ships it out.
Once you’ve designed your products and listed them on Amazon, the process is pretty much hands off.
I say ‘pretty much’ because you are responsible for handling any customer support issues yourself. But still, no inventory, payment information or shipping to handle.
Shopify is essentially just the middle man here, because Teelaunch doesn’t integrate to Amazon directly.
Technically you could just create products on Teelaunch (or any other POD site) and list them on Amazon yourself, but then you would have to copy the details of any sales from Amazon and transfer them over to Teelaunch manually. Thanks to the magical integration, once everything is set up, you don’t have to do a thing!
For this reason, I’m only selling on the US Amazon at the moment, even though I’m based in the UK. The Teelaunch/Shopify/Amazon integration only works in the US at the moment. Of course, I could always find another POD service in the UK and sell on my local Amazon that way, but I don’t know any that support integration right now.
Without integration, I would have to check Amazon each day for orders, and then copy the customer details over to the POD company manually to fulfill each order. Perfectly possible, but I’m basically trying to keep things as automated as possible here. I told you, I’m lazy! 🙂
The other great thing about this system is selling on Amazon. You could also try to sell your products from the POD site directly or from your Shopify store. But the thing is, you likely won’t get many organic sales. People don’t really tend to end up on those sites naturally so you will have to spend a lot of time and money on advertising to drive traffic to your store.
Whereas Amazon gets hundreds of millions of customers, and is master of the sell. Think of all the ‘related products’ sections and the recommendations it makes based on your browsing.
As long as you have good product titles and descriptions, you don’t need to do much to push your products on Amazon. You get to benefit from their gigantic customer base, their trust, their marketing know-how, and more.
>> Related post: How I Made £1,000 in Twelve Weeks With Risk-Free Matched Betting
Sourcing your designs
There are several options for creating great designs.
Personally, I’m trying to keep costs as low as possible at the moment, so I’m going the DIY route.
I’m no artist, so I’m sticking with simple text-based designs for now. Think cheesy slogans like ‘world’s best dad‘ or whatever (no, that’s not one of mine – just an example!).
I make the designs in Canva. I’d already been using the free version to create my blog graphics, but I upgraded to the pro plan at $12.95 per month because you need the transparent backgrounds. I like to search for quotes and memes on Google Images and Pinterest for inspiration.
It’s great if you find a phrase where you can simply replace the key word to make a lot of similar designs quickly. So for example, if you have a ‘world’s best dad’ design, you can edit it to make world’s best uncle, world’s best sister, world’s best teacher etc, and you have dozens of extra designs with no effort! See how easy this is?
Since you don’t need any physical stock, this business model is very, very cheap to get into! In fact, there are almost NO upfront costs.
Amazon pay out for sales you made every 2 weeks. Most of the below costs aren’t due immediately. So if you start making sales in your first couple of weeks, you actually won’t be out of pocket for very long at all.
Here’s what you need to get started:
- Amazon seller account: $39.99 per month for US residents, $47.99 for EU residents like me
- Shopify lite account (the cheapest package is good enough, since you won’t actually be selling on Shopify): first 14 days free, $9 per month thereafter
- Canva For Work (or other picture editing software of your choice): first month free, $12.95 per month thereafter – OR outsource to a designer – prices start at $5 per design on Fiverr.
- UPC codes (you need these to list on Amazon): approx $5 for a batch on eBay
There’s a huge variety of products available on Teelaunch. They have fixed prices for you, but of course you can set your own prices when you list on Amazon.
You’ll want to do a bit of research and see how much similar products are selling for.
As an example, I’m mostly selling mugs at the moment.
I’m listing my mugs on Amazon for $14.95 + $4.49 delivery. That makes $19.44.
My costs are:
- Amazon’s cut: $2.92
- Mug price on Teelaunch: $3.50
- Teelaunch delivery fee: $4.50
- Shopify fee: approx $0.25
This makes $8.27 profit for each mug sold.
Have a look at the range of products available on Teelaunch and compare with Amazon to see how much profit you could make on different items.
How’s it working for me?
I’ve been playing around with this idea for two or three weeks now. I have my own little budding Amazon shop with 18 products at the time of writing! I haven’t sold anything yet, but the majority of my products haven’t been listed that long, so I have hope.
This process is not difficult, but it does take a bit of time if you’re familiar with all the different sites mentioned.
I would say it took me around 7 hours on the first weekend I dedicated to this to set up my Amazon shop and list my first product. I made a few rookie mistakes like saving my images as the wrong size.
Since then, I’ve sped up considerably. I can now create and list about four or five products in an hour.
Also, once you’ve created a really good product description you should be able to adapt that easily for all your other products.
I’ve only given you a very brief overview so far but the links above will give you more information on things like product research and writing good Amazon descriptions. The site where I read about this business model (Merch Informer) actually sells software to help you identify best selling products. I haven’t tested it out yet, but might invest in the software if I decide I want to do this long term.
When will I see results?
I think you would probably want to get at least 100 designs up before you can start expecting to make money.
This might sound like a lot, but remember what I said about creating one design with key words you can switch out? So maybe you only have to think of around 10 unique designs, with 10 variants on each one.
I listened to a podcast the other day which was an interview with someone who has a 7 figure business selling T shirts online. He said that only around 1 in 10 designs really took off. (The podcast was My Wife Quit Her Job, by the way. It’s an fantastic source of info for internet businesses!)
This is why you just need to throw loads of ideas at it, and see what sticks.
I also read a quote by another online entrepreneur who said something along the lines of ‘the amount of money you make is directly related to the number of buy buttons you have online’ (completely forgotten who, sorry!). I think that is very true for this kind of business.
So, this is not a difficult process, but I think you do have to put in the time to create a large number of products before you expect to make money!
Since the initial investment is so low, I think this is a great idea for anyone who wants to dip their toes in the world of online business with little risk or startup cost.
I’ve decided to give myself three months to test this out and see if I can make a decent profit.
You’ll be able to see how I get on in my monthly income reports. I might also write a follow up post on what I’m learning through this process.
Remember, this is just a side hustle idea! I’m sharing with you my journey to create an online business for passive income. There are no guarantees and I’m no expert.
But if you’re interested, please follow along!
**Update (September 2017)**
I’ve had a few messages asking how this side hustle is working for me, so I’d thought I’d write an update.
I actually put this project on hold about two months in. I didn’t make enough sales to cover the monthly Amazon seller fees, and I didn’t have enough time to focus on the project and make it a success.
I still believe this is a great potential business model though, and I will maybe pick it up again in future.
I’ve seen a lot of people from Facebook groups (hint: search ‘merch’ to find some good ones) who are making great money doing this, and even some that are doing it full time!
The difference is, of course, that if you want to make a full time income, you have to treat it like a serious business, and invest your time, money and energy accordingly. It just wasn’t for me at this time 🙂
By the way, the side hustles I’m currently focusing on are blogging (I have two main sites now) and affiliate marketing on Pinterest.
What I learned from dabbling in Amazon sales
Here are a few things I learned to help out anyone else thinking of trying to sell shirts/mugs on Amazon:
It’s all about the volume! Well, I knew this anyway, but I feel it even more now. A large proportion of your products will be duds. Keep putting them out there and eventually some will take off. Unfortunately I did not commit enough to put out the volume of designs required.
Sales aren’t as passive as I optimistically hoped with this model. You need to promote your products, at least in the beginning, to get your first sales and move up the Amazon rankings. Once you have enough sales and reviews to get on the first page of search results you will start to make more sales organically.
Some ways to promote your products that I’ve heard people have success with: Pinterest (free traffic!); paid Facebook ads; pay to promote your products within Amazon (sponsored listing); create a Facebook page, Instagram or other social media profile around your niche, share lots of viral/popular content to build a following, then start to promote your own products (time-consuming but free and potentially very successful); promote in relevant subreddits or Facebook groups (careful not to spam); pay an Instagram influencer to promote your product. You can also check out this article for more ideas on free ways to promote your products.
If you hope to make organic sales without too much promotion, it helps to do some research into trending topics or current events, and write good, keyword focused titles and descriptions. If you do create products around popular topics or culture, be careful not to use any trademarked words.
Sign up for Merch by Amazon as soon as possible! This is a T-shirt print-on-demand system run by Amazon themselves. You upload your designs directly to Amazon and they take care of the rest (bypassing the POD companies like Teespring). Merch has no monthly fees (they just take a cut of sales), so it’s even lower risk than the above method! They only admit a limited number of applicants at a time, so get on the waiting list now.
There are lots of Facebook groups about Merch by Amazon and print-on-demand where you can pick up a lot of tips on designs, keywords, promotion, legalities and more. I won’t name specific ones here but just search and you will find them 😉
Has anyone else given this a go? Would love to hear about your successes or failures!
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