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TL;DR: Merch is a fickle friend but *I think* I’m finally figuring it out. My account was terminated in early June of this year. I got it back 10 days later but it fundamentally changed how I approach Merch and my POD Business as a whole (I’ve branched out to other platforms). I’ve found some success in trends and have started to find what works in the current environment. There are many things to improve but my overall outlook on Merch remains **incredibly positive**. I’m working my way toward my target of $6K/month take home. Hint: I’m over halfway!
It has been over six months since I gave an actual Merch Journey update so I felt it was time to reflect a bit and share what I’ve been up to (and what I’ve learned). As I’ve said before it’s good practice to take some time to reflect and *document* lessons learned and review progress on goals. For the most part, this writeup is for me, not for you, but I like to share because I think everyone can learn something from my successes and failures. It’s a way for me to check the pulse of my business and articulate ideas that have been formulating in my head and put them into writing as well as measure progress on my goals for 2018. As they say, **an unwritten goal is just a hope**.
In order to reach said goals, I’ve been really focused on the things I can control and I feel like I’m finally starting to see some progress & traction because of it. As such, I’ve had less interaction on Reddit and haven’t been around to do any longform content. It’s also made me a bit more grumpy… and I’ve gained weight because I literally work on Merch 4-6 hours each day (except Sunday) in addition to my real job, commute, family & hobbies. I’ll talk about my plans to help with this coming up.
Finally, I’ve changed the way I report for my POD Business (and you’ll notice that I don’t call it my Merch Business any longer) because I’ve branched out to other POD platforms. Going forward I’ll give a breakdown for just Merch, in the regular “Weekly Numbers” format, but my tables will show total numbers for the whole biz so they’re a bit higher than the last update to account for other platforms.
Let’s get into it, but first, here are my prior summary posts if you want the whole story:
– [first few months]( https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/6sv6lu/merch_does_have_potential_heres_my_journey/)
– [milestone update 1]( https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/7acnp1/another_milestone_a_little_eye_candy_a_gift/) (see below for a note about an updated spreadsheet)
– [milestone update 2]( https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/78xcc2/a_quick_journey_update_a_day_of_milestones/)
– [Year One](https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/81glei/one_year_anniversary_data_is_beautiful_edition/) *This is a good one IMO b/c I go over the things I’ve learned so far – not much has changed with my approach.*
– [Q1 2018 Update](https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/8b3bca/q12018_update_spreadsheet_link_with_instructions/) *Note, the spreadsheet linked here is old and hasn’t been updated to include new products, returns or new markets. I’m working to sanitize an updated one to share*
Okay, here we go:
#Merch Numbers thru Q3 2018:
**Total Live Designs:** 3535 (as of September 30th)
**Total Sales YTD 2018:** 2977 (94 returns)
**Selling Designs:** 292 (<10% Since reloading in June)
**What Worked: (in no particular order)**
– *Focusing on things you can control:* – I try really hard to not worry too much about things that are out of my control. I like to speculate and dream but when it comes to action I try to focus my energy. With POD, those things are research, niche selection, designs, keywords, uploads, compliance and price. Sales should be a by-product of these things (coincidentally the prior list is in order of importance to me). If you focus on the things you can control you will slowly grind your way to a successful POD business. Your goals should be actionable and built around these. I have upload goals for each day, week & month. I have goals around the number of designs I need to do myself and the number I need to send to my designers each week. If you stick to what you can control you *SHOULD* be rewarded. It has been working for me.
– *Branch out to other platforms:* – After I lost my account (more about that below) I realized that I really didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. It also helped solidify in my mind the fact that I had all my eggs in one big Merch Basket. I quickly looked for ways to get away from that. I had a Redbubble, Teespring & Etsy account but combined there were less than 20 designs on other platforms (now that I think about it I did have a Spreadshirt account but it hadn’t been touched since 2009…) Serendipitously, just before I lost my account in June I had subscribed to OrbitKit and I started to upload to more platforms (Spreadshirt, Teespring, Redbubble, FineArtAmerica, Inktale, Zazzle & Cafepress). I also shell out for Printsy – for now – so I can load to Esty & Amazon Seller Central through Printful. It is expensive ($95/month for OrbitKit and $15/month for Printsy) but allows me to drip my designs to each of these platforms in an effort to make more sales. During this time I also setup a CreateSpace account (which has now moved to KDP) and have 3 whole designs there! Haha! I’m also on Threadless, Teepublic and working on Sunfrog but with no real results (I did get my first sale on Threadless with only 5 designs loaded). So far it seems to be working rather well. [As a bonus, this strategy appears to work well as a defensive measure to put your work on every other *major platform* before your work can be stolen (Teespring being the most trash platform because of this) – they can’t steal your stuff and load it elsewhere if it’s already blanketed everywhere else! ::Eddie Murphy pointing at his head meme::]
– *Viral Hunting:* One of my goals for this year was to focus on submitting at least one *attempt* at a viral/trend design each month. I have a whole strategy around how I go about spotting trends, which I may share at a later time, but it basically involves focused & concentrated efforts with a **TON OF LUCK** thrown in. In February of this year I thought I had found a trend so I jumped on it. The timing was right for the design and I even had a post on Reddit get over 1200 upvotes when I shared my shirt (don’t bother checking my history, I used an alt). I went on to sell 50 during the month. This felt “good” but not *50/day great*. So I kept at it. Ironically after my account was terminated I reloaded my best selling designs first. I changed up some keywords based on “updated news” and a few of my designs sold from the trending niche from February. I spotted some “trigger events” bubbling up in the news so I made a few more attempts at a trending design in that same niche. Because I had been watching it, I knew what might appeal to the audience. And I hit it. It took off the day I uploaded it. I had 78 sales in a day on Merch alone – combined with other platforms I had over 100 sales that day! It wasn’t a flash in the pan trend so it continues to sell well even today. I’ve sold over 500 of that design to date (well over 500…). I’ve been following another niche for most of the year and I tried my hand at another trending/viral design 2 weeks ago. So far I’ve sold over 75 of that design. I’ll continue to refine what I’m doing and see if I can figure out how to replicate it more consistently. You can see the spikes on my graphs & charts linked below.
– *War on Copycats:* This is an area where I’ve totally changed my opinion from earlier in the year. I used to say it wasn’t worth it to go after copycats. But not anymore. I hate them now. Actually, I loathe them with an ardent hatred. I can’t believe these low-effort hacks that somehow got accounts and all they do is copy stuff that’s selling. I’m not talking about improvecats – those who at least make some effort to “improve” your work – they suck too, but I’m talking about blatant P4P Copycats. After participating in 2 mini-trends I can say that this is still a major problem on the platform. I successfully had over 50 designs removed in those two niches alone. I couldn’t believe the audacity of these fools. In another case I had some designs that I had loaded to all the other platforms but was slow to load to Merch. By the time I loaded them to Merch an entire portfolio of mine from a particular niche was ripped off and loaded to Merch by someone else (over 40 ASINS posted to all the products). Because I wanted to make a point I reported each design separately over the course of a week. I figure they might not get in as much trouble if I reported 10 designs at a time as they would if I reported 40 individual policy violations… in that case I was able to back into this thief’s entire brand of more than 1000 designs (it seems their MO was to steal everything, even found more of my stuff but joke was on them since none of it was selling!). Guess what? About 2 weeks after I reported them was when the first wave of “Merchageddon” hit… it appears their account was terminated during this time as their brand no longer exists on Merch. I’m glad too. If you are going to steal you don’t deserve to be on the platform. **Please, please, please report every copycat you find.** I totally agree with u/SourPatchSoul on this one. Take them out whenever you find them. It will help us all! Right now it’s a problem because WE ALLOW IT TO CONTINUE. We need to have more respect in ourselves and our work to report these assclowns and get them kicked out of the program.
– *Pricing Tests Completed:* I feel like this was a win over the past 6 months. Inspired by a post from u/MerchHunt (where’d they go anyway), I did some serious price testing during this time. You can see the results on my average/sale in the charts below. What I found is that, for my stuff, higher prices work great. I have a floor of an average of $4/sale across all my sales and a target of $5/sale. Popsockets bring this average down a bit as do returns on Merch and other platforms but overall it’s at a level I can live with. You should test for yourself but I am really happy with the numbers I’m getting. It almost makes it worth my time (now that would be a scary analysis if I figured out my $/hr in total for Merch…). Basically if I can get 25% margin on a product then I’m happy… and it’s totally possible. (One unintended “consequence” from pricing high is that it really helps you find the winning designs in your portfolio. Before my account termination I had over 700 designs that had sold at least once. Around 180 of those had only sold once, at a VERY low price, to then never sell again. If they were priced higher they may have never sold and I would have cut bait on them earlier. I’ve learned to not fall in love with any of my designs because they all suck until the market proves that they don’t!)
– *PopSuckets & UK/DE Were Mixed:* I have 150ish PoopSuckers loaded and just recently sold my 100th one. I average around 30/month. Low effort and easily uploaded, I’d say adding a few to your portfolio isn’t too bad for an extra $60/month… So far I’ve been underwhelmed with UK/DE as marketplaces. I’ve said elsewhere that I sell more in the European market on Spreadshirt & Redbubble because I think they have a better foothold there now. I give it 6-12 months before we see better traction IMO. I just think “Amazon” isn’t the first place people think of when they want to buy novelty tees in those markets. But that will most likely change – and hopefully Q4 helps push that along.
– *AMS & Advertising:* This one is borderline “didn’t work” but for now I’m still in positive territory for the 6 campaigns I’m running. I’ve spent around $120 and have sold 28 designs from ads. You can do the math based on my numbers from above, it’s still breaking even so this is currently a win. I approach my ads with a low bid and no end date. I can get quite a bit of keyword data from my reports so that’s worth something more than just the sales. I’m also advertising on Etsy (with both Platform & Google ads) and have seen worse results than Amazon but still in “acceptable” territory. I’m running a loss but part of that was my fault. [I accidentally set my market to Europe in the middle of the month which killed my momentum](https://imgur.com/i1Sxph0). Be careful with advertising. You can lose money quickly. But it can also be useful.
– *Less is More:* I’ve also spent quite a bit of time testing bullets in the past couple months. I think I posted here at some point that I was going to spend most of the month of August not loading bullets. I can say that over 120 designs have sold without any bullet points whatsoever. I am currently in the process of adding bullets to those which didn’t have any to see if that helps further. From what I can see though is that the Title has quite a bit of weight when it comes to keywords. This will impact my strategy in 2019.
– *180 Timeline Extension:* – I think this was very helpful. If your stuff can’t sell in 6 months then you should really take a long look at your design, keywords or niche. But this also puts some onus on us to do some *curating* during that time to ensure our designs have the best chance at being seen. I have developed a 60 day touch approach to my portfolio. If the design hasn’t sold in the first 60 days I try and change up the keywords. I’ll do a deep dive on the niche and see if I can focus the kws to the ones that will appeal to the buyers. At 120 days without selling I’ll do another look at the keywords and drop the price by $1 or $2. If the design still hasn’t sold by 150 days I drop the price to the floor and see if I can get a sale. So far I’ve only gotten to the 120 mark with a few of my designs. I can’t say if it works any better than just leaving them alone but I have sold around 10% of the designs I’ve “touched” in this manner… totally respectfully I might add. 🙂
– *Affiliate Site Update:* In reading my older posts you can see that I had planned on focusing more on my small affiliate site. Obviously different events from this year changed that plan. I added one article – out of the planned 50 – so now it has a total of 4 articles! However I am happy to report that it is still pretty successful. [I’ve earned over $1000 this Year](https://imgur.com/kOLrSlY) More to follow on this for 2019.
**What Didn’t Work:**
– *Account Termination:* It should be pretty clear at this point that I did in fact have my account terminated. I got the account back but it was empty. [I gave a decent rundown of what happened here.](https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/9rf8lu/has_anyone_had_their_account_closed_in_higher/e8hjwuc/) The primary takeaway here is that you shouldn’t use tools to do anything to your account that doesn’t act like a human. I have quit using all tools except for PrettyMerch Pro & MerchTools at this point. Both are used pretty extensively in the community (and by Merch employees I’m told) and both were known to Amazon when I contacted them. **They did NOT say they were safe to use and would never tell me they were endorsed or approved by them. Trust me, I asked multiple times.** But I’m in good company using them for now and will continue unless/until something changes.
– *Outsourcing Issues:* I let one of my designers go for the summer just days before my termination. I was getting behind on uploads so I told him to take a break. Since my termination I’ve been BURIED with uploading old designs so I still haven’t asked him back. My other designer had some really sad & horrible things happen in his personal life so he was out of commission for 2 months. Both of these events came at the “perfect time” for my account since I didn’t have time to manage new uploads as well as reloading the old stuff. However I did miss out on some opportunities because my one that had personal issues had 40 of my Halloween designs in queue when it happened. By the time he came back I had 1 week before the Halloween deadline. I’ve sold 2 of the designs he gave me organically and 5 of them to myself (just because I didn’t want to have to reload them next year). It sucks but it is what it is. He’s back now and I picked up another one that has a better style. Combined I should get 60/week from these two and can add a 3rd if I want for a total of 80/week – if needed. More on this below, but I don’t plan on loading more than 100/week next year so this should be manageable.
– *My VA is Broken:* I say this a little tongue in cheek because I know you can’t have VAs but my wife was helping me upload (I did ask about this when I was dealing with Merch and they said that a spouse can help upload as long as it’s clear you’re in the same house/area). She lasted about 3 weeks. I guess it’s just not fun to some people. I’m trying to sell her on the idea of taking over my KDP account but she still isn’t sold on that idea. Kinda sucks since that means I’ve loaded over 5000 designs in the past 5 months by myself. It’s a GRIND!!! I really need the help but things have a way of working themselves out. I was somehow able to find time to load boatloads of designs to Merch as well as other platforms.
– *Other Platforms Cost MONEY!* I forgot that other platforms cost money. I have my Etsy set to pay daily but Amazon is every 15 days. It’s a long time to float cash. [Especially if you’re chasing trends](https://imgur.com/Q2i7Uqe)… I ended up spending almost $2K this month. If you don’t have that available I would steer clear for a bit.
Understandably I’ve had really low activity on most social media, the Discord Group & other forums for several months. I was trying to focus on loading designs and getting stuff done. As such I’ve had quite a few people send me PMs asking questions and looking for my opinion on stuff. I didn’t answer most of them (if I ignored you, sorry!). In an attempt to share, most of the stuff above was my thoughts on various things from the past 6 months which hopefully answers some of the questions that were in my inbox.
**2018 GOAL Update & 2019 Plans (preliminary):** For the most part my goals for 2018 haven’t changed. I’m still making great progress on them and plan on most of them for the year. I also tried to inject some “fun” into the grind in the form of my [Merch Bucket List](https://www.reddit.com/r/MerchPrintOnDemand/comments/994ng8/i_thought_it_would_be_fun_to_have_a_bucket_list/) which consists of a lot of things that make it entertaining. Here’s how I’m doing so far.
– *7000/8000 live designs on Merch:* I’ve posted both numbers in a few places. Recent memory is that I was shooting for 7000 live designs by the end of the year. I feel like I’ll hit that without any issues. That’s just 2000 away. So I might change this goal to “7000 live designs by ‘The Freeze’ – *IF* the freeze doesn’t happen then I’ll work to have 8000 loaded by the end of the year. This will max me out and hopefully get me really close to a tier up in 2019. As for Marketplace ratios, I want to have 6K on US and 2K on UK/DE. I don’t care the makeup for the other markets, just a combined 2K (most likely skewed toward UK since they’re quicker to load). So far my approach to DE has been to translate titles only for DE. I keep the bullets in English. I use connections who are fluent in German to help with my translations… which is also why I only have like 250 designs on DE currently.
– *2K Designs loaded to “other platforms”:* I ~~hope to~~ will have over 2K designs on all the other platforms by year end. There is a metric TON of room for improvement in this realm. Currently I’m operating on a “MVP Model” whereby I blast my designs up with semi-relevant keywords and titles just so they’re loaded. I’ll come back later and refine the tags, titles and descriptions in an effort to maximize the return on assets deployed. I plan on doing this for most of November before Black Friday. Right now royalties are close to an 80/20 split for Merch/Other Platforms but my hope is to get to the point where it’s 70/30 [Other Platforms/Merch]. I want to make less than 30% of my monthly money from Merch. This should ensure that an account termination won’t be completely devastating if/when it happens in the future. Finally, I plan on doing a write up on each of the platforms at a later time… also, more on that below.
#2019 Preliminary Plan
If you can’t tell I’m already looking ahead to 2019. At this point there isn’t much to do but load my remaining designs and “hold on” for Q4. I’ve already started planning for the build-up for Q4 2019 – so long as I don’t do something dumb and lose my account – 2019 should be a “banner year”. LOL. The focus will be on “doing more with what I already have”. I want to focus on selling MORE with the assets already in place. This means I’ll focus on building up other platforms and working on driving traffic in various ways. This may mean I cut down to 1 or no designers beyond me. I’m fine with that (TBH it’s a huge headache to deal with them but that’s partly because I’m picky). It’s what it will take.
– *Uploads:* I plan on loading around 80-100 items to Merch each week (haven’t finalized the number yet). That will put me at around 16,000 live items by year end (this factors for reloads, culls and new designs based on current CTRs) Of course if I don’t get tiered up I’ll load to draft until I do. Now that I type this out it sounds a bit too ambitious. I may pare this down a bit because I want to focus MORE on the things below.
– *Uploads to Other Platforms:* 3K live on Etsy, 5K live on KDP and 5K live on all other platforms.
– *Marketing:* I have a few ideas I want to try in 2019 to help me market my products. I’ve found some success with Reddit and I want to explore more Influencer marketing. I’ll do some write-ups when I feel there’s something to share.
– *Social Media:* I’m going to dig into Pinterest and Instagram this next year. I have some ideas and goals around this but I will absolutely try my hand at building an audience around some of my bigger niches.
– *Focus Area:* If you’ve made it this far and your eyes are totally blurry, great job. Maybe you missed the hint above, but my primary focus next year will be on KDP. I want to do No-content/Low-content books as well as some actual fiction and non-fiction. I have 5 fiction books in various states of completion and I want to finish them and see what happens there. Plus, *Henry the Elder* wants me to publish a book for him. It should be fun.
– *Affiliate Site* I’m going to get to this site next year. No interruptions. I’ve proven yet again that this niche has some potential [making over $1000 so far this year](https://imgur.com/kOLrSlY). I want to turn that into $4000 next year. Part of the plan is content (50 articles), the other part is to develop a whole line of products for this niche and really build it up. That way I can double dip a bit. Funny enough I only have one shirt in this niche currently. There again, this is why I write this stuff out – I just realized I have a missed opportunity.
– *Wearing the Guru Hat?* Okay – here’s the deal: I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a podcast/YouTube channel and a website. I have plowed through EVERY podcast out there in the past few months. From MerchMinds to 45/54, Merch Entrepreneur to T-Shirt Helpdesk. There aren’t many good ones and most of them have devolved to being really negative and “unfun”. I’ve kicked this around with a few people and they seem to think it would be fun so long as I share good stuff and don’t end up in Shill territory. What do you guys think? Would there be interest in a fun, free, helpful and informative podcast about POD? One of my initial plans was to do a monthly or quarterly series (but weekly episodes covering various topics) where I work with someone to help them improve their account or work on specific questions they have. Also, if I do this, I might want a co-host… u/rulesforrebels – you looking for a new project?!? 🙂
#THE REAL MEAT
[table id=4 /]
P&L | 2017 | 2018* | Total
Royalties | $9,058 | $18,392| $27,450
Outsourcing | -$5,419 | -$2,985 | -$8,404
Purchased Clothing | -$996 | -$503 | -$1,500
Advertising | -$318 | -$1027 | -$1345
Platforms & Tools | -$0 | -$370 | -$370
NET Profit/(Loss) | $2,325 | $12,434 | $14,759
\* Through Sep 2018
**EYE CANDY** *Data is beautiful* – I’ll add some commentary on these later… maybe.
[2018 Sales through September](https://imgur.com/HUn2SnI)
[Product Mix Data](https://imgur.com/NYyjCYe)
[Sales by Platform/Platform Mix](https://imgur.com/Ay4oNGZ)
[Sales by Upload](https://imgur.com/YUNvuoK) – this is obviously skewed now because I loaded most of my bestsellers in June when my account was re-instated.
That’s it… congrats if you made it this far. I tried to condense 6 months of *Happenings* into one post. Sorry!
EDIT: Formatting & clarification.