These 3 Things May Be Holding You Back | T-Shirt Business Growth

Survey Results Reveal Top Three Challenges T-Shirt Shops Deal With

Those were the three things that showed up in a survey that Sign & Digital Graphics Magazine did recently. The question was about the Top Three Challenges to growth in Laser Engraving businesses next year.

But as I’m reading the results of this survey, it’s obvious that the business doesn’t matter.

What the equipment or technique used doesn’t make much of a difference.

 The product you’re making, the part of the country you’re in, size of the market you’re in or who you sell to…  don’t really matter.

Because MOST of the business people I talk to inside and outside the customizing things industries have the same three concerns:

All three of these are more a lack of knowledge or strategy than they are a lack of resources. And in my experience, the FIRST one often isn’t even a valid concern.

Competing with Online Alternatives

Chances are this one really got your attention.  Seems like a daunting issue right?

Online competition is real, of course. But out of the thousands of small business owners I’ve talked to over the past few years there’s been a BUNCH that said things like:

“I can’t compete with the screen printer down the street.”

“There’s someone locally selling XYZ for cheaper than me.”

“You can get shirts from Amazon for just $____, no way I can compete.”

Does that sound familiar? My next question is usually “What sales have you actually lost to that competition?”  Have you added it up?

This is the place in the conversation that you want to start mentally working on your weekend to-do list – you’ll have the time. Because I almost always get silence in response.

People see the billboard for local competition. They get an email from Amazon about shirts or awards or anything they sell. They hear someone talking about a product they sell for ½ the price that they sell it for. And they give up.

It may just be mentally giving up, but this is when and why fear works its way in.

It does happen. You WILL lose business to someone else. But few people I talk to are actually losing or have lost business. They don’t know what to do and anticipate failure because they feel helpless.

Here’s how to deal with that:

Make sure you have a REAL issue instead of a PERCIEVED issue.

Develop a strategy for dealing with this real issue by answering questions like:


Why should people buy from you regardless of the price?

What makes your business a better choice?

Do you really want to be the lowest price?

Do some research:


Identify your USP – Unique Selling Proposition

Define your low price and margin limits in advance.

This way you’ll avoid losing money to keep a client that will make you continue to lose money.

There are more strategies and ideas on dealing with competition – if you THINK this will be a problem for you in the coming years then listen to this free resource:

Marketing May Be Holding You Back

You probably didn’t get into the business you’re in because you really, really want to do marketing for it, right?

You got into the custom t-shirt business, sign business, opened up an Etsy store, etc. because you wanted to quit your job, or be creative, or build something to pass on to your family, or be your own boss.

But MAKING things isn’t actually what you get paid for – you get paid for people PAYING you to make things.

The good news is that if you’re like 39% of the survey responders and Marketing is your biggest barrier to growth…

 you can fix it.

Because Marketing is something, you can learn and plan, and do.

And it’s really not hard to figure out.

About 90% of the small businesses I talk to get the vast majority of their sales locally. Your customers are probably with 30 miles or less from where you are right now.

That’s good news because you have a defined area and set of customers to market too.

If you have a particular niche market? Even BETTER. Specializing in uniforms, or cheer, or Italian Coffee or butterfly engravings – the more specific you are, the easier it can be to find your next customers.

Here are some steps you can take to start getting a handle on your Marketing:

Read or Listen These 2 Books

Buying Customers
by Bradley J. Sugars
The 1-Page Marketing Plan
by Allan Dib

Listen or subscribe

to the Custom Apparel Startups podcast.

Take Start a Custom T-Shirt Business Course

This Course MOSTLY about marketing and planning. The most useful chapters are Selecting a Niche Market and the follow-ups on how to actually market to them.

If Making a Profit is a Problem – THAT’S a PROBLEM!

Guilt and embarrassment are probably the two most common things holding small businesses back from actually earning a profit. Followed by Math.

It REALLY doesn’t matter what business you’re in for this one.

I cannot tell you how many entrepreneurs – especially ones that are making that side gig or hobby to a real business transition – that just can’t bring themselves to charge properly for their work!

Fundamentally, they’re embarrassed to make money.

They feel guilty charging more than they absolutely HAVE to.

So they’ll add up what the blank items cost, the cost of the supplies involved, then figure out how much they can bring themselves to make.

That is a state of mind that you just have to LET GO of.

There are two popular ways to price goods:

Keystone Pricing

Key stoning is basically doubling the price of the blank items, then adding a standard calculation for the customization method. It’s fine.

Market Pricing

Market pricing is the one I love – research what similar products sell for in your market and work backward. Then charge a little more.

That sounds a little trite, but you can read all about how to price embroidery or monograms.  It’s about how-to price embroidery in specific, but the idea will work for you too.

Pricing is one of the fastest and easiest fixes to test if Profit is your problem. But there are tons more, and it’s worth a little reading and research.

Here are some more great resources to help you be more profitable:

Buying Customers by Bradley J. Sugars – this is a GREAT book no matter what your business is. It will inspire your marketing too.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz – this is a great approach to the financial side to your business. Check out the book, then listen to when we had the author Mike Michalowicz on the podcast here.

Competing With Online Alternatives, Better Marketing, and Making a Profit

Three fundamental, universal concerns.  Three challenges you’ll need to solve before they hold you back from taking the next step in your business.

Three things you can overcome with knowledge and strategy – it’s up to you.

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