I’ve been there. After an incredibly tough year, I was forced to start in the following January of 2014, debt up to my eyeballs, credit cards maxed out, debt collectors and suppliers on the phone constantly harassing me - and rightfully so...
I owed them the better part of $120,000 and I was scrambling for ideas on how I could quickly pay everyone back. Sleep was difficult at best. The last thing I wanted was to go bankrupt, and I sure as hell didn’t want to go to jail for insolvent trading. These thoughts constantly clouded my mind, and I was often waking up to them at 3am in the morning.
Going bankrupt was always an option but it personally felt like quitting, and no entrepreneur worth their salt quits, certainly not the successful ones. So I kept going, fielding those calls and reassuring those whom I owed money to that I would soon pay them back, with interest. Hustling was my only option– getting in before the sun rose and not going to bed until the early hours of the morning became the norm.
According to one of the many quotes I’d mentally archived, “Opportunity and luck comes to those who work for it.” This was the motivation that kept me showing up.
If you want to know who I am, you can check out an article I wrote on my blog at Storehacks.com. I’ve been lucky enough to have sold millions of dollars of products over the past few years and met some incredible people, like the guys and girls at GearLaunch.com.
How I went from broke to crushing it.
About six months prior to that January, I had been working with my business partner Suhail when I’d learned about Don Wilson or Wilco De Kreij promoting a new platform for selling print-on-demand shirts. I was dubious at best as they claimed to have earned massive amounts of profit with little investment, seven-figure profits with six-figure investment’s kind of dubious.
I was still early in my business career, but learned quickly that this meant I needed to research an opportunity further before investing in what sounds to be the makings of a get-rich-quick scheme. It had all the markings of a get-rich-quick play, but it was a legitimate, acceptable way to get wealthy.
We held back and we waited until the wolf at the door had almost chewed through it – until he was breathing his hot stinky breath on my face.
Stressing after a call with a solicitor, I opened an account and launched a couple of test campaigns – campaigns I wasn’t too proud of. Luckily, they were anonymous, but I still felt like rubbish. A celebrity had died and I was trying to make money off his misfortune. Thankfully, I didn’t. How would I feel drinking with my mates at the expense of someone who’d lost a loved one?
It was a thought that kept playing on my mind, I woke up to myself pretty quickly and searched for a new idea. An idea that would scale, but I first needed an idea that would sell.
Thankfully, a law passed in Australia (yes, I’m an Aussie) that made a certain demographic of our society feel like complete outcasts, or criminals for lack of a better word. I quickly jumped on Vectorstock, opened Microsoft Powerpoint, and created the most basic of designs.
We needed to sell 25 shirts to get the campaign to print and to make our money back. We launched the campaign and watched – 1 sale... 3 sales... 6 sales. It kept on going, 10 sales, 15, 25! BOOM! We’d tipped our first campaign. We thought we’d made it and enjoyed the first holiday we’d had in 3 years, with our respective families – not together.
I pulled into the resort, unpacked the car, and spent every spare moment updating the dashboard. “30, 45, 60, 90…” It kept going, and I ended up selling 136 shirts in that first campaign. I would show you what it was but fear for my life. I wasn’t infringing on IP but I was selling to a niche that I feel I had no right selling to.
That fear, the very same fear I get when I think about people infringing on the IP of others, it’s what keeps me honest and keeps us making unique, original content. Thankfully, over the years we have been able to come up with a system that allows us to provide an amazing life for our families and friends. A system that I am going to share with you.
What is IP, Copyright, or Trademark Infringement?
There is one easy question to ask yourself before you get started with your designs. It needs to be answered with honesty and integrity (two attributes that you need use to conduct your business).
“If my original design was copied and someone else made money off my work, would I be happy?”
My guess is, if you’re a decent person, you would be disheartened by a copycat. And if you’re wondering whether a design you’re about to launch is ok, this next question is a giveaway to whether or not you are potentially walking into the muddy waters of infringement.
“Would this be deemed as copyright infringement?”
That one question should serve as a warning. If you continue down the path of running a campaign after asking yourself that question, you are opening yourself to a potential lawsuit in the future. If you have to ask...you already know the answer and should not continue with that campaign.
So what is it?
So what is deemed as infringement, and how do we go about creating a successful business that doesn’t step on the toes of another company or individual? Understanding the laws that govern us when trading online is paramount to creating a brand that lasts the test of time.
The USPTO sums up “trademark infringement” as the unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services.”
As for Copyright Infringement, “...[it] occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”
That means: do not take any element from another that could be considered original work, i.e. movie characters, sports team logos, player names or numbers. If you’re asking the question “Is it ok if…” then you should definitely forget it.
If that doesn’t ward you off, maybe this will.
According to the US Department of Justice, first time copyright infringement cases can come with a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 5 years in prison. If caught more than once for the same offence, you stand to face further fines of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
If you need to make money, and need to do it fast, let that serve you as motivation to create a business that you can be proud of, something people can fall in love with. It may take a little longer to make a bigger pay day (though not always – I have done it very quickly time and again).
While the lack of money sucks, imagine going through this period repeatedly: selling a lot, running out of money, and starting the cycle over again.
Ironing out the the inconsistencies in business come with building a brand. Create positive experiences for your customers so that they enjoy being a part of your community. Provide quality products at premium prices, which in turn allows them to be a part of an exclusive group.
I couldn’t possibly provide all the resources available to use for checking IP. I encourage you to find the governing body in your country as well as the country you’re selling into when searching for trademarks.
One of the trademarked terms I found was “Country Girl.” To me, there was nothing super special about that term to warrant verifying whether or not it was trademarked. However, after a Cease & Desist letter, we quickly removed it and many others that contained the phrase.
If you are unsure, it’s best to be on the safe side and conduct due diligence.
How to come up with original ideas that sell
It may seem daunting to come up with original content, but it really isn’t that difficult. There are a few tips and tricks that we constantly use to come up with our own spin on a lot of the best-sellers out there.
You will see a lot of this stuff in courses and suggested in many groups about print on demand idea finding. The trick is to become hyper aware of the content you consume online when you’re researching.
You need to put yourself in the path of the sellers and the customers and intercept what could be your next big winner.
Now, I am not telling you to steal someone's work. You can however, use it to serve as inspiration for your own unique design.
Below is an example of adding your own spin to make it more appealing to the niche you are targeting. In this case, I customized a fairly generic shirt. By listening to the engagement on my page from other campaigns, I knew the bearded lads where proud to be both bearded and chubby.
The original vs the niche ersion
This shirt ended up being my first “1000+ sales for a niched design” in a week. I engaged with my fan page to learn what it was that made them tick and I was rewarded for the effort. When you start scaling, you will need to make sure your social media managers are taking note of any common themes of the individuals in your niche.
So how do you find the best-sellers that you know will work well when you scale out?
There are plenty of ways to find shirts that are selling very well. However, to keep in front of the trends, you need to make sure you are looking for anything that can be used as inspiration: bumper stickers, fridge magnets, shirts your friends may be wearing, beer coasters (I literally saw one this morning that will make a fantastic shirt) or one of my favourites: tobacco stores (not for the cigarettes...the funny shirts).
So, the tools:
There are endless websites that you can go to for inspiration. The more you start researching, the more of an archive you will have to help you find the next big thing.
This process is slow at first, but after dedicating time to the process, you will get in the headspace that allows you to make up shirts on the fly. From that beard shirt above, I was able to spin that into several other niches…
“This Girl is Taken By a Super Fit and Sexy Cyclist...and Yes, he bought me this.”
“This Girl is Taken By a Chubby and Super Sexy Biker...and Yes, he bought me this.”
The idea is to get one saying that can scale across many niches. It’s not as easy as it once was, nor should it be, but the end result is worth it.
We should all focus on building a brand first – think similar styled designs across all niches, fonts, art style, voice on social media, etc.
Can we use stock images?
Stock images are a fantastic resource to incorporate great design elements. You must be aware however, that most platforms require you to purchase an extended license in order to sell that design on your products. These can become very expensive very quickly as some of the bigger platforms may charge up to $50 per design – for one element!
In that case, it is best to use stock images as inspiration and have your designer create their own version.
If you really feel that particular design is what you need, then by all means buy it.
This is all great, but how do we sell them?
What I didn’t tell you about selling 1000+ shirts in a week was that it took thousands of launches in order to do it. Our bread and butter comes from designs that hit a minimum volume of 100,and a homerun is anything over 500+.
I can share with you that we weren’t just launching a product here and there. We had a system in place and that meant we launch a minimum of 25 new campaigns per week. Obviously, that may be a unachievable when you’re starting out. Start with a number in mind, perhaps 5+ and stick to it. It will set up a great habit for your business.
That literally is the key to becoming profitable in this game. Just make sure you’re learning from your data, and if you start selling products to a niche, make sure your next launches are targeting them as well. Add fuel to the fire and scale to the moon.
While you may find at times that the going gets pretty tough, you need to remember success comes to those who work for it. You must get in there and do the hard work so you can appreciate what you get when the door finally opens.
The mentality of “building a brand and keeping the customer first” will go a long way towards having a company you can be proud of.
It is never ok to infringe on someone else’s property. It’s not your work. You haven’t put the blood, sweat, and tears into that brand, let alone the millions of dollars it takes to build a massive one.
Be genuine, be honest, be authentic. Your customers will love you all the more for it.
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