Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Jeff and I started Stoic Muse last year as a creative side project. I am currently selling about 100-150 t-shirts per month ($3K revenue) with around a 40% margin. I am hoping to sell 500 in December!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I spent 2019 living in Bali Indonesia doing the “digital nomad” thing. I was building an Amazon FBA business but was getting super burned out. I wanted to start a creative side project that would allow me to learn graphic design and sell on a new platform.
Etsy seemed like a breath of fresh air coming from the soul-sucking Amazon Seller Central (if you know you know). Here is a pic of me “digital nomading” in Bali:
One of my favorite things to do in Bali was to ride my motorbike around and listen to audiobooks (crazy right?). I listened to The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday on repeat and was really inspired by the underlying Stoic Philosophy themes. I thought it would be cool to make some art inspired by Marcus Aurelius (who is the OG Stoic Philosopher), and then use a Print on Demand company to fulfill the merch. I wasn’t totally sure what the most profitable PoD products were, so I started out designing t-shirts, stickers, and posters.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
About 90% of the products I have sold on Etsy are Print on Demand (mostly graphic T-shirts and stickers). Designing “Print on Demand” products is extremely easy. There aren’t any upfront costs for prototyping or manufacturing. Everything hinges on making cool art and putting it in front of the right audience. Here are a few of my first sticker designs:
Describe the process of launching the business.
I opened an Etsy shop way back in 2016 to sell some of my woodworking art but never ended up following through with it. I changed the shop name to Stoic Muse and connected Printful (Print on Demand Fulfillment partner).
I wanted to experiment with several other PoD platforms so I decided to post all of my designs to Merch by Amazon, Redbubble, and a couple of others. Over time, it became obvious that Etsy had the best sales, so I slowly stopped posting on the other platforms.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One thing that really helps in building credibility and trust on Etsy is getting positive customer reviews. There is an option in the Printful settings where you can add a message to your receipts, which makes it super easy to ask customers for a review. As of this writing, I have almost 200 (5) star reviews on my Etsy shop. Here is the copy that I attach to each receipt;
Thanks so much for your order! If there is anything else I can do, or if you have any issues please do not hesitate to reach out! If you could leave an Etsy review I would really appreciate it! Thanks so much, -Jeff
Another super useful tool is called Erank. It’s an SEO tool that takes the guesswork out of choosing keywords and tagging in Etsy. It’s only $10/month (I think) and is well worth it in my opinion.
My social media presence is complete garbage, unfortunately. I have never invested the time in learning how to grow on any of the major platforms and have no desire to. If this little business continues to grow, I will just throw money at someone to take care of it for me. I fucking hate “content creation”. I hate the whole concept of making endless disposable content, but I also realize that my bad attitude is only hurting me and my burgeoning brand.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Well, this year has been fucking crazy, to say the least, but as far as this little business goes, things are good. Sales are slowly growing, and a small number of people seem to dig the art that I am making, which is a REALLY good feeling.
As far as the future goes, I think I will continue to post new designs whenever inspiration strikes and hopefully continue to grow sales.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I really think there is a TON of opportunity on Etsy. A lot of eCommerce entrepreneurs look down on it as the “mom seller platform”, but personally I don’t give a shit. I have seen relatively quick growth on Etsy, and the customers tend to be way nicer than the typical Amazon customer in my experience.
Margins on t-shirt sales are thin, and running Facebook ads profitably is nearly impossible. I only spent a few hundred dollars on FB ads and broke even at best.
When COVID-19 hit in March, my Print on Demand partner went down HARD for months. I was only getting a couple of orders per day at that point, but the fulfillment times for those orders went up to over a month. I think the biggest lesson I learned is to not put all of your PoD eggs in one basket. I ended up distributing a lot of my designs across multiple PoD platforms (Printify, Merch by Amazon, Threadless, etc), to mitigate any future disasters that could take one of them down.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Shopify. I just launched stoicmuse.com
- Klaviyo. I want to experiment with ways to grow my email list, open to suggestions.
- Merch by Amazon
- Creative Market
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Recently I have been really inspired by the content that Daniel Inskeep puts out on YouTube. Of course, I still love browsing all the amazing content on Starter Story too as a premium member!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Some random PoD business takeaways:
- Create a design with the medium in mind. In other words, a t-shirt design might not work as well on a coffee mug. I see a lot of other PoD sellers just slap the same design on a dozen different products and the result is usually bad.
- If you ask for reviews, people will give them. I have received almost 200 reviews because I added a note with each order asking for an Etsy review.
- eRank is a helpful SEO tool to fill up all the tags.
- There are tons of different PoD products available, but the t-shirts sold the best.
- Margins on t-shirt sales are thin, and running Facebook ads profitably is nearly impossible. I only spent a few hundred dollars on FB ads and broke even at best.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
No, but I would love to connect with other Etsy shop owners who are looking to grow!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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