If you’re thinking about starting a printables business, stay here to read this post because I’m going to share with you how to start it, what you need to know and basically give you your printables business blueprint.
Hi! My name is Mei and I help makers, artists and designers make a consistent income from selling their products online.
What is a “Printables” Business?
When I say a ‘printables business’, I mean any business where you’re selling a digital item that the customer then has to print themselves at home to use it. The list of what you can make is endless.
You could create pages designed to fit into planners, inserts focused on helping:
- someone track their yoga class
- a mom’s busy schedule
- encouraging self-care
- food planning
And that’s just planner inserts!
You can also create:
- coloring pages for children or adults
- greeting cards
- templates for businesses to use for their marketing like artwork
- items for homeschool education
The only limit is your imagination.
The biggest advantage of a printables business is that it’s very easy to scale and grow. I know lots of people think of it as a passive income business, but I don’t really believe it’s truly passive.
What Does Passive Income Mean?
In many businesses, you only sell the number of items that you make.
So, let’s say you sell crocheted blankets. If you crochet two blankets a week, that’s the maximum you can sell. If you’re sick for a week, then you don’t have any more inventory.
With a passive income business, you do a bit more work getting set up at the start, but you can sell an infinite number of items with very little additional effort.
If you sell a printable that’s a meal planner, for example, you can sell hundreds of that printables a week and it doesn’t matter if you’re sick or on vacation! The process for selling one printable is the same as selling ten thousand of them.
A lot of people think passive income is you doing the work upfront and then you can just sit back and relax and spend most of your time designing, but that’s not true.
You have to do the work to promote your business if you want to make sales (and there’s also a bit of customer service involved). So don’t go into this business thinking it’s going to be no work involved at all.
Less Expensive to Start
Another really sweet thing about printables is the entry point into the business isn’t very expensive.
You’ll need a computer and perhaps some special software like Adobe Photoshop.
If you don’t have great graphic design skills, you may need to higher a graphic designer, or take some classes. I’ve heard a lot more designers are using their iPad or even something like Canva which is a free graphic design online app that you can make really cool designs with. That’s really all you need to get started.
And when it comes to pricing your printables, just keep in mind that you’re going to be limited to a certain range (and it’s not super high).
Most printables are going to be under $5 and if you’re in a niche that serves other business owners or freelancers then you might be able to sell printables like business planners or marketing planners for, I’ve seen as high as $30-40.
These are really low price points relative to other products. That means that many people will purchase your item without too much hesitation, which is a good thing.
I think that’s a good segue to talk about the challenges to a printables business. I like to talk about this so that you know what you’re getting into and you can plan and strategize around these pitfalls.
I’ll start with the one I touched on earlier, which is the price point.
Because the prices of your printables are so low, you have to find a lot of customers and make a lot of sales if you want to make any meaningful income from this business.
Take for example someone who sells jewelry for $75 while you sell printables for $3. How many customers or sales do you have to make in order to bring in $1,000 a month?
For the jewelry business, they have to find 13 customers. That’s not even a sale a day.
For your printables business, you’d have to find 333 customers, or in other words, you’d have to make 11 sales a day.
Your marketing and traffic game has to really be on point because you’re going to need a lot more traffic than someone who sells jewelry.
Another challenge to be aware of is that because printables require the customer to do something, print it out before they can use it, there is an increase in customer service.
If you aren’t careful, this can generate a lot of work for you. The best way to avoid it becoming an issue is to make your items as easy to use as possible and provide resources to your customers in the way of an FAQ or tutorials.
You can set those up once and not have any more ongoing work for it, but they can serve your customers for you.
Basically, automate your customer service as much as possible because remember in our example, you’ll have to deal with a lot more customers than say a jewelry business.
You have to make sure your systems are set up to take care of your customers at scale.
That “It” Factor
Another small challenge that I feel is worth mentioning from a marketing perspective, is that a printable in itself isn’t very sexy.
We love looking at printables that have been filled in with pretty markers and nice handwriting with stickers and washi tape on it, but that’s the end product and that’s what’s appealing.
But if you look at just the empty printable, it’s pretty plain. What captures your customer’s imagination is what the printable looks like when it’s completed!
That means for each item you create, you’ll want to fill it in to really spark the customer’s imagination about the potential.
If this isn’t your strong suit, it’s worth connecting with an influencer who will make your products come to life!
Let’s talk about your shop’s niche. Printables is a pretty competitive market, especially since so many people are drawn into the allure of “passive income”. You need to decide on a niche if you want to stand out.
It’s really important that you don’t let all the possibilities of what you could make overwhelm you. As creatives, our tendency is to want to do everything (let me know in the comments if this is you) but if you want to be a successful printables business, you have to pick a niche, such as fitness.
Say you’re looking to develop a unique way to help out your fellow fitness buffs with fitness trackers or fitness journals. Or, say you’re super into cooking, nutrition, and food, then you can make printables surrounding that audience. Or you can make coloring pages for kids who love science.
I know that sounds like it’s too specific and too focused and that can feel limiting to you as a creative, but I’m sure you can come up with a ton of products around coloring pages for kids that are more science-based.
You can even have a shop that’s completely designed around printables for a kid’s birthday party. Invitations, banners, activity pages… that’s a niche! It gives your business focus so you can be known for that one thing.
If you want, later on, once you’ve established yourself, you can expand into other niches.
Having said that, one thing I’ve noticed in a crowded marketplace is that you can niche down too much.
If you’re one of only 2 people selling that thing, that’s probably because there isn’t a lot of demand for that thing. I’m not even going to encourage you to make an invention because totally new ideas take a lot of funding to educate people on its use before you can even expect to make sales.
A quick way to do some market research is to head over to Etsy and see what shops there are doing.
Now, we’re not going to copy anyone, we’re just going to do some intel, collect some data so we can see where you can fit in.
What kind of information are you looking for? Here are some ideas:
- What’s the average price point?
- Then look at a seller who’s doing really well and see if you can tell what they’re doing
- Do they offer the printable on a certain size paper?
- Is there a graphic style that’s trending?
Then when I search for ‘printable coloring pages’, that gave me over 40,000 results on Etsy.
The good news is that coloring pages are popular so you know there’s a market for it, but the bad news is that it is a pretty crowded space.
Take notes on what’s doing really well and also about what you would do differently.
Etsy is a really great place to do your research because so much of the information is public! You can see how many sales a shop has, how long they’ve been in business, and how many times an item has sold.
Make Your Printables Different
One way to really stand out in a competitive market is to spend some time thinking about what makes your printables different.
Maybe you have an innovative organization system that you’ve found really helps people get their days focused! If this is your strong suit, then you’re almost like a miniature life coach folded up in someone’s planner.
You can be successful with one system, a few page layout options, and a few different decorative choices.
Or say you’re into astrology and you know there are certain times of the month that is better for doing certain things than others. You can marry your expertise in astrology with printables to create checklists or planners or calendars to help your customers.
Or maybe your illustration style is what sets you apart. For many artists, their unique style is enough to make them completely distinctive, and sometimes that’s all you need to stand out.
Or maybe it’s that your personality is super goofy and you like telling jokes and pop culture and memes, and maybe all your printables have that flavor of fun and wit about them. That will certainly appeal to a different audience than one that’s into feminine or vintage styles.
The goal is that when someone sees your products, they’ll say, ‘that’s so-and-so’s!’. Give your customers a reason to become enthusiasts for your brand.
The more distinctive your products, the easier your marketing will be.
Can you imagine a tribe of customers posting your printables they use daily on Instagram? That’s amazing word of mouth and referral marketing that’s free for you, all because you took the time to think about what makes you different.
This is a time consuming, soul searching process, so don’t expect this to take overnight. Be easy on yourself and give yourself time.
Having a strong foundation at the beginning of your business before you even start it, is what can make the difference between making a full time living in six months versus ten years.
I love talking about pricing and if you’ve seen my videos, I have a pricing formula that I teach. However, for a passive income business, that whole formula goes out the window.
When you’re pricing your printables, you’re going to be pretty restricted by your competitors. You’re going to have a hard time fetching more than a few dollars for a printable planner unless you have a very strong value proposition that people are willing to pay a lot of money for, like if your planner can help someone make a million dollars or cure cancer or save a marriage or lose a hundred pounds.
With pricing more or less fixed, your business is all about the quantity you can sell.
With the exception of a bit of customer support, you’re doing the same amount of work whether you sell one item or a thousand. So let’s try to sell a thousand or more!
The good news is that once your printable is released, you can keep marketing it for years. So pricing printables is less about the time you spent designing it, and more about surveying the price for something similar to what you’ll sell and then you decide whether you want to be below that price, at that same price, or above it.
I recommend setting up an automated system that will deliver the file to the customer immediately and automatically. You don’t want to be sending out individual emails yourself, manually.
Etsy has an instant delivery option, so that’s definitely something you’ll want to use if you have an Etsy shop.
With that being said, I always recommend that you have your own site and focus all your traffic and marketing to that, even if you are using other platforms to sell your printables.
If you’re on Shopify, there are a lot of apps you can install to sell digital printables that automatically get delivered to your customer after they buy.
A free one to look at is called Digital Downloads. I haven’t used it myself and the reviews are just okay, so make sure you do your own research and testing before you commit to it.
If you use a Shopify app that you really, I’d love for you to share with us in the comments below!
Once you’re more established, there’s always the option of printing your items yourself or through a service printer like UPrinting, and then and distributing them to local craft or gift stores, especially if your items are something like coloring pages or greeting cards.
You could also get into selling on Amazon.
Promote Your Heart Out!
Once your business is open, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time promoting it.
This is a whole topic of it’s own, so you can watch this marketing playlist to get you started, however, for a printables business, I think specifically the strategy of influencer marketing is going to be super helpful for you.
Because your printables are very low cost if not free to give to a lot of people, make a list of influencers either from Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or bloggers who are in your niche and offer them free printables.
If they really love your work, they’ll use it and show it to their audience.
Yes, you can build up your own social media following and audience but that takes a really long time to get to the number of followers that will translate into a consistent income.
Influencer marketing is a really fast way of reaching thousands of your ideal customers.
Facebook ads can also be super effective for you because your price points are so low, it’s easy to find impulse buyers on Facebook, especially if you have a very specific niche.
We obviously don’t have enough time to talk about everything you need to know in your new printables business, but I hope this gives you a starting point in your journey.