How to Uncover a Niche Market (Plus 8 Niche Ideas to Inspire You)

niche market and product example of pet parent wearing their dog on their socks

Ever hear the expression, jack of all trades, master of none? It essentially means that a generalist can do everything decently, while a specialist does one thing extremely well. The same holds true when you’re selling online.

Carving out a niche market and positioning yourself as the go-to brand for a specific audience not only establishes your credibility over competing generalists but also results in a more focused business, from your unique value proposition to your content marketing, that makes it easier for the right customers to say, “This is for me.”

If you’re racking your brain trying to think of your first product idea, starting with a niche is a great place to begin. There are countless niches you can pursue, with the opportunity to niche down even further. The key is to identify a niche market that you can master and has a viable audience of customers.

Below, we’ll go over what a niche market is, how to identify one and find in-demand products to serve it, plus eight niche market examples (including niche product ideas) that are ripe for new players.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a niche market?
  2. How to find a niche market
  3. 8 niche market examples
  4. How to evaluate a niche market
  5. Moving forward with your idea

A definition: What exactly is a niche market?

A niche market is a segment of a larger market that can be defined by its own unique needs, preferences, or identity that makes it different from the market at large.

For example, within the market for women’s shoes are many different segments or niches. Shoes for vegan women would be a niche market, as would shoes for plus-sized women, shoes for nurses, and shoes for transgendered people. These are all niche markets within the larger market for women’s shoes.

Nearly every market can be further refined, or divided, by the particular needs and preferences of its constituents. Some of the most common ways to define a niche are based on:

  • Price (e.g. luxury, moderate, discount)
  • Demographics (gender, age, income level, education level)
  • Level of quality (premium, handmade, economical)
  • Psychographics (values, interests, attitudes)
  • Geographics (residents of a certain country, city, or even neighborhood)

Choosing to focus on a niche is a strategic business decision to serve a certain customer base better than competitors who target the larger market.

How to find niche markets in 2019

For both new and established ecommerce entrepreneurs looking for a niche market and product to sell, you’ll first need to establish an overview of the larger market and drill down from there. Your niche will be a subset of that market and will help define everything from:

  • The product features you aim at your market’s needs
  • The price range for your products
  • Production quality
  • Your positioning/branding
  • Your marketing strategy

Choosing a niche gives your online business a competitive edge from the get-go. If you try to launch your online store in a crowded product category or market, you’re going to face a tough uphill battle against the established competition. Focusing on a niche helps you compete not by selling different products necessarily, but by doubling down on a specific part of the market.

Although there’s no single way to choose a niche, there are many methods you can employ. From simple Google searches, to building a mind map to using keyword research to help uncover great niches, there are many ways to build a list of possible niches and find product ideas.

Start with Google searches

The best place to start brainstorming niche ideas is to understand what other online retailers are selling in a product category or to a certain audience. Starting your niche selection with basic Google searches is a great way to get the lay of the land. Let’s use “cruelty-free makeup” as a starting point; from there, we’re able to find a goldmine of potential angles and rabbit holes to go down, from “vegan skincare” to “not tested on animals”.

google search for the cruelty free makeup niche

Through trial and error, you can explore different angles and trends, until you find an underserved audience or demand in the market. Keep in mind that even if a competitor is targeting your niche, you can still compete by doubling down on a more specific segment of that audience. Remember: It’s about being a specialist, not a generalist.

Build a mind map

A mind map is a great way to discover niches for your chosen product. Since mind maps mimic the way our brains think, they’re an intuitive way to organize your thoughts and expand on ideas. Building a mind map for your product ideacan generate ideas quickly while also encouraging you to explore different niche paths. You can use a free online tool like Text2MindMap to create a simple but effective mind map.

Here’s what we came up with for our cruelty-free product idea:

niche mindmap

Use Google’s suggestions

Ever notice how when you start typing something into a Google search, it shows you suggestions before you even finish typing your query? These are Google’s most-searched-for related queries, which you can use to your advantage to find a niche for your product category.

google suggestion to find niche market examples

Google will only show you a few suggestions, so you may want to use tools like Keyword Tool or Answer the Public to gather and organize all of Google’s suggested searches.

We plugged in “cruelty-free” which returned suggestions we could pull a potential niche from. Here’s a small sample of the results:

cruelty-free make up in answer the public

Drill down with keyword research

This next method for uncovering a niche uses Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Keyword Planner is a resource from Google’s advertising platform, Google Ads. The Google Keyword Planner is similar to the Google suggestion tool we discussed above but more advanced and customizable.

To use this tool you need to have a Google Ads account (you can sign up for free). Log in to your account and select Tools from the top menu (it’s the wrench icon) and select Keyword Planner.

google keyword planner for cruelty free makeup

Enter your main niche idea and see your results. You can adjust your location settings on the left to make sure you’re targeting areas you want to reach. You can also add filters, remove branded keywords, and see suggestions for other recommended terms to look into.

Searching through these results can give you a good idea of potential niches related to your original search term, and sometimes even the demand for specific popular products you might want to consider. Don’t be afraid to dive deeper and try a variety of related search terms.

Alternatively, you can use the Keywords Everywhere browser extension to see search volume directly under your Google searches, if you don’t have a Google Ads account.

Look for passionate communities online

The internet is pretty good at organizing itself into communities based on shared interests, passions, and hobbies—in other words, into niches.

You can consider specific communities that you yourself belong to or hunt for ones that show promise by:

  • Sifting through the most visited Wikipedia pages under “hobbies”
  • Digging through the most active subreddits to look for passionate audiences and listening in on their discussions
  • “Listening” to community-oriented hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, like #vegansofig and #vegancommunity to find opportunities to niche down.

8 niche market examples (and niche products you can sell)

While you might have specific trending product ideas already in mind, you can increase your odds of success by starting with a niche market and then drilling down to find niche products with a possible market-fit. Here, we’ll explore eight larger markets to show you how they each contain their own niche markets and product opportunities.

Keep in mind this list of niches and new product ideas for 2019 is simply a place to start your search for a niche market—you can always go in a completely different direction or find other niche opportunities within each category.

1. Conscious consumers

Sustainability has become a hot topic among consumers of late. According to a survey by Neilson, 48% of U.S. consumers say they would “definitely” or “probably change” their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

The rise of the conscious consumer has paved the way for vegan, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free variations of conventional products. If there is a product that is frequently purchased by the mass market, there is likely a niche of conscious consumers that will embrace a greener alternative.

In the past, companies looking to appeal to this niche market might donate a portion of proceeds to a cause, but now most consumers care about how the products are sourced and produced as well.

Bee’s Wrap, for example, is looking to replace plastic wrap with options made from beeswax. The natural alternative to food storage is not only environmentally friendly, but also more cost-effective for consumers because they’re reusable.

bee's wrap is an example of a niche market business

More niche product ideas for conscious consumers

  • Reusable drinking straws
  • Cruelty-free cosmetics
  • Vegan-friendly apparel
  • Menstrual cups

2. Pet owners

Total expenditures for the pet industry in the U.S. alone is an estimated $75.38 billion in 2019. There’s a lot of opportunities to develop a niche within this market, across different types of pets, lifestyles, and more.

Patricia’s Couture has carved its own niche in this market—they sell personalized kaftans, pillows, pajamas, blankets, and other items you can plaster your beloved pet’s picture on. patricia's couture lets you print pictures of your pets on their productsWhile most people own fish, dogs, or cats, there are also unique pets like horses, lizards, turtles, and even chickens, each with their own potential opportunities.

More niche product ideas for pet owners

  • Pet cameras to watch and interact with pets while you’re not at home
  • GPS pet trackers
  • Personalized products with pets’ photos
  • Organic pet food and treats
  • Pet accessories and clothing

3. The LGBTQ+ community

The LGBTQ+ community is huge, and these consumers have unique shopping habits. Per Nielsen, they go shopping 10% more than the average American consumer—and they’re also willing to spend about 7% more.

Brands who make authentic connections with this market are in the best position to serve this niche. Just ask TomboyX, an underwear brand that started in this market. Originally a T-shirt brand, co-founder Fran Dunaway saw the opportunity to hone in on a specific consumer group’s needs to sell underwear “for any body”.

tomboy x serving the lgbtq+ niche

More niche product ideas for the LGBTQ+ community

  • Makeup specifically designed for certain skin types
  • Pride-inspired designs
  • Clothing made for certain body types

4. Travelers

Online sales in the travel industry increased by more than 10% in 2018, amounting to $694.41 billion spent. Coupled with the declining cost of air travel over the last three decades, a more mobile consumer means tons of niche audiences to tap into, from the frequent business traveler to the remote worker struck with wanderlust.

Even the way consumers approach traveling is evolving. In fact, travelers are becoming more environmentally conscious. According to Booking.com, more than half seek sustainable options but have difficulty finding them.

This gap represents a massive opportunity for brands to step up to the plate and support eco-friendly initiatives through sustainable products. And travelers are seeking more than just green options. They also look for authentic local experiences, convenience, and long-term trips.

CNN reports that by 2020, nearly half the UK and U.S. workforce will be freelance, and at least 40% more children were home-schooled in 2017 than in 2014. This opens the doors to longer, more immersive trips, especially for remote workers who leverage their flexible careers to see the world.

Nomatic is a luggage brand geared towards travelers, but especially digital nomads that prioritize functionality. You can see this audience focus represented across their entire business, from their product to their copywriting.

nomatic as an example of a business targeting a niche market of travelers

More niche product ideas for avid travelers

  • Smartphone accessories for traveling content creators
  • Practical and comfortable athleisure for frequent flyers
  • Scratch maps for people who love collecting travel experiences

5. Gamers

“Gamers” is a catch-all term that contains a variety of subsets: mobile gamers, PC gamers, console gamers, table-top gamers—the list goes on. There are more than 2.3 billion active gamers across the globe, and nearly half spend money on their hobby, amounting to an industry worth $137.9 billion in 2018.

Shazim Mohammad launched his online store, Glorious PC Gaming Race, with products specifically aimed at PC gamers. It’s become a 7-figure business that basically runs on auto-pilot.

selling to a niche market of pc gamers

Mobile gaming, in particular, is taking over, accounting for 91% of the market. Plus, more females are entering the market than ever before, a trend which doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Within this category, you can also niche down based on popular genres (like first-person shooters), or consoles (like the Nintendo Switch).

More niche product ideas for gamers

  • Ergonomic products for long gaming sessions (controllers, chairs, blue-light blocking glasses)
  • Decals to personalize consoles, controllers, etc.
  • T-shirts referencing aspects of gamer culture
  • Accessories for mobile gamers

6. Homeowners

Home ownership is changing. What used to be the norm is no longer the case, and the percentage of U.S. consumers who also own homes is decreasing. There are many reasons for this, such as the rise in the cost of living and salaries that can’t keep up.

home ownership trends
Source: Advisor Perspectives

As such, not only is home ownership on the decline, but the definition of being a homeowner is also changing. Homes are increasingly being turned into investment properties or shared spaces which generate additional passive income thanks to the advent of home sharing via Airbnb and VRBO.

This paved the way for August to launch its own line of keyless entry and home security products for homeowners. One of the main features is guest access, allowing hosts to grant access to renters for specified time periods.

august targeting home owners

More niche product ideas for homeowners

  • Home security cameras (in-home, doorbell, smart home devices, etc.)
  • Furniture/home decor for small apartments
  • Home solutions for renters (like no drill blinds)

7. Remote workers

The rise of remote workers is largely thanks to two influences: more self-employed contractors and more companies open to the idea of dispersed teams.

There are many reasons for this. For one, allowing employees to work remotely increases job satisfaction and productivity. These workers are also more engaged and two times more likely to work more than 40 hours a week. And those who go the self-employed route are typically seeking more freedom and a better work-life harmony.

Freelancer At Work is an example of a company serving this niche market of freelancers with products that can help attract potential clients. They sell laptop decals that advertise what you do wherever you choose to work.

example of business in remote work niche

Keeping these remote workers’ motivations and lifestyles in mind can help you identify product ideas to help them and the companies that employ them to achieve their goals.

More niche product ideas for remote workers

  • Desk toys/decorations
  • Decor for home offices
  • Laptop accessories for people who like coffee shop work sessions

8. Locals

Even the world’s biggest brands are adopting local marketing approaches through targeted campaigns. And rightfully so: They’re competing with a consumer-driven movement to support local businesses.

But if you’re only selling online, it can be difficult to establish a local presence. Luckily, there are ways for ecommerce sellers to get in on the movement by looking at their city or country as a niche market.

Apparel company Peace Collective, for example, was founded in Toronto and around Toronto pride. The brand has expanded to appeal to Canadians nationwide and to fans of various NBA teams.

peace collective as an example of a location-based niche market

More niche product ideas for locals

  • T-shirts with slogans specific to a culture or city
  • Prints/photobooks of a certain cityscape

How to evaluate your niche market ideas

Now that you know what to sell online, you need to make sure there’s an audience for it. At the start, your niche market and products are just ideas—a hypothesis of what you think will resonate with your target audience.

While targeting a niche as your focus will make it infinitely easier to find potential customers and convince them to buy from you, you need to be sure there are enough buyers in that niche to make it viable. If you determine your niche is too small to generate reasonable interest and profit, consider pivoting to a different audience within that niche or promoting a different product. You won’t really know what will resonate until you try.

Even if you do achieve success early on, niches change and it’s up to you to evolve with your audience and adjust your positioning over time. You might even introduce new products to your line as new opportunities present themselves.

Here are some ways to evaluate your niche market idea:

  • Build your audience first. Kickstarter campaigns generate buzz and awareness about products before they’re even developed. While this may not be the route for you, you can still introduce your idea and gain followers before the idea has come to fruition through email opt-in pages, social media campaigns, and other online tactics. This way, you’ll have an engaged group of potential customers ready and waiting for when you do launch.
  • Test before you invest. Start with a small batch of products and run a campaign to your targeted audience. Solicit feedback from customers who’ve made the first purchases, or send a few out to influencers and ask them what they think. It’s important to get feedback early on, especially if you’re developing a new product, so you can perfect it before it goes out to the rest of the world.
  • Dig deeper into your niche. You already did the keyword research to identify your niche market, but you can go even more in-depth. Analyze blogs, social media, influencers, and other key areas in your niche to gain insights. Can you solve a problem that repeatedly comes up?
  • Research consumer trends in your market. It’s important to be up-to-date with what’s happening in your chosen niche. Resources like Facebook IQThink with Google, and Nielsen consumer research will help you understand consumer pain points, desires, and breakout trends. Set up Google Alerts for related keywords and regularly monitor social media conversations to stay on top of what’s trending.

When it’s time to actually market your product, remember to hone in on your specific audience’s needs and commonalities. What makes this niche market different from the broader market, and how can you appeal specifically to their wants, needs, and preferences?

Handbags offer a huge market, for example, and there are many niches with many different uses for a handbag within it. You might have new moms who want a handbag that can be used as a diaper bag, you might have college students who need a bag to hold their books, single women in need of an evening bag to hold their phone, keys, and credit cards, vacationing moms who want a large beach bag to hold their family’s gear, and many more.

Understanding the unique needs of each niche makes it possible to speak directly to them in your marketing—you’ll have a greater chance of attracting a buyer’s attention and winning their business by making it clear that your product is specifically for them.

Moving forward with your niche market opportunity

Now that you know how to choose a niche market and generate product ideas your target audience will buy, it’s time to turn it into a reality. Here are a few resources to get started, whether you plan to make it yourself, work with a manufacturer, or dropship:

Which products or trends have you noticed lately? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Print on Demand: A Low-Risk Way to Sell Custom T-Shirts, Books, and More

what is print on demand and different services you can use

Whether you’re an artist, writer, designer, or entrepreneur, physical products can be the perfect canvas for monetizing your creativity.

From t-shirts to posters, backpacks to books, you can put your own original spin on everyday products and sell them online. However, if you go the traditional route of buying and holding your own inventory, you may be left with a pile of products that aren’t selling.

Print-on-demand services offer an alternative way to bypass the time, investment, and risk associated with managing inventory, letting you go from creating to selling custom products at a fraction of the cost.

What is “print on demand” and how does it work?

Print on demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize white-label products (like baseball hats or tote bags) with your own designs to sell them on a per-order basis under your own brand.

That means you don’t pay for the product until after you’ve actually sold it, so there’s no need to buy in bulk or hold any inventory yourself.

Plus, with print-on-demand services everything after the sale, from printing to shipping, is handled by your supplier. Once you’ve set everything up, it takes only a few clicks to fulfill an order once you’ve made a sale.

You can use print-on-demand services to:

  • Test a business idea or new product line for an existing business without the risks that come with buying inventory.
  • Monetize an audience you’ve built. Printing on demand is a great option if you’re a YouTuber, cartoonist, or social media influencer who wants to spend your time creating content instead of fulfilling orders.
  • Create original products for a niche of customers. For example, apparel for people who are passionate about gaming.
  • Easily print one-off items—t-shirts, books, shoes, bags, wall art, phone cases, clocks, laptop skins, mugs, and so much more. You can send these as gifts or keep them for yourself and your team.

The pros and cons of print on demand

Print on demand sites can be used to build a business based on a dropshipping model—where the products and shipping are all handled by a third party. It’s one of the most accessible ways to source products or start an online business, but you should know the perks and limitations before you dive in.

Pros

  • Create products quickly: Once you have the design, you can create the product and put it up for sale in minutes.
  • Shipping is taken care of: Shipping and fulfilment is out of your hands and in your supplier’s. After the sale, you’re just responsible for customer service.
  • Low investment, lower risk: Since you’re not physically holding any inventory, it’s easier to add or remove products, test ideas, or pivot your approach.

Cons

  • Lower margins: Naturally, your costs per item will be higher than if you buy in bulk. On-demand products may yield thinner profits, depending on how you price them and acquire customers.
  • Less control over shipping: Shipping costs can get complicated as it often varies for different products. Your options may also be limited if you want to create a standout unboxing experience.
  • Limited customization: Your ability to customize products depends on the vendor and the product. You’ll have to weigh base costs, customization options, printing techniques, and available sizes when deciding on which products to customize.

Print-on-demand services for creating custom products

While many print-on-demand services might seem similar at first glance, you’ll have to carefully consider the ones you choose based on the products you want to create, where you’ll be shipping them, and the retail prices you want to offer, among other factors.

For example, a low base cost for one product might make it an obvious choice, until you realize that it would take 21 days to reach customers with your most affordable shipping option.

Exercise due diligence when you’re evaluating the right platform for you. To help you out, I put together a quick overview of some of the most popular services that cover a variety of scenarios. All of these services are free to set up (you only pay when you order a product), plus they integrate with Shopify.

This list is by no means exhaustive. For more print-on-demand options, check out the Shopify App Store.

1. Printful

Printful is a popular choice among print-on-demand services because of its wide selection of products and brands (Gildan, American Apparel, etc.), easy-to-use mockup generators, and options for adding your own branding to the unboxing experience via stickers, package inserts, and custom notes.

For apparel products, in particular, Printful offers a number of printing techniques. Here are some that you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Direct to Garment prints ink directly onto the material, which is especially good for simpler designs (i.e. witty t-shirts). You can only print on certain areas of the product as a result.
  • Cut and Sew is sometimes known as “all-over print”. The article of clothing is printed on in pieces for maximum coverage and then sewn together for a seamless print across the entire piece. While the base costs may be higher, this lets you create a more premium product that you could sell for more.
  • Embroidery is perhaps the most complex printing technique because the final product is actually a threaded design with a 3D effect. This is best for simple designs that involve only a handful of colors, and for products like hats that traditionally feature embroidered designs.

You should also be mindful of how additional customizations affect the price. Printing on the sleeve, for example, will usually mean paying a nominal fee on top of the base cost.

Besides apparel, Printful also offers mugs, pillows, framed posters, beach towels, aprons, and more.

printful print on demand service for t-shirts and other products

2. Lulu Xpress

Lulu is a self-publishing platform for printing and distributing your own books and ebooks.

Lulu Xpress  is its print-on-demand offering and lets you choose from a wide selection of book sizes, binding types, and page/print quality to build your own book product.

While there is no built-in editor to design your book, Lulu Xpress does offer downloadable templates to get you started. It even has a transparent pricing calculator to help you cost out your project, including various shipping options.

There are also discounts available if you’d like to order in bulk.

lulu print on demand service for books

3. Gooten

Like Printful, Gooten  offers a wide range of products that you can customize with several that are unique to its catalogue, such as calendars and dog beds.

However, since Gooten uses an international network of vendors to print their products, there’s also a lot more variance between their items in terms of quality and shipping. But that means you’re likely to see lower product and shipping prices as well.

Gooten also has an intuitive image editor that gives you a good sense of what your final product will look like.

gooten print on demand service for a wide range of products

4. Printify

Printify  is another print-on-demand service that features the usual selection of t-shirts and hoodies.

What’s notable about Printify is that its international vendor network enables a number of unique white-label products you’re not likely to find elsewhere, such as jewelry, clocks, shoes and water bottles. In fact, the platform boasts over 200 products you can print on.

While Printify is free to use, a premium subscription is available that gives you 20% off of all products for $29 a month, which is a solid option if you’re looking to scale up later and improve your profit margins.

printify print on demand service for t-shirts, jewelry, and more


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Designing products when you’re not a designer

It goes without saying that design plays a crucial role in creating successful print-on-demand products. But you don’t need to be a full-time designer to source original designs. There are many ways to commission or produce your own designs, as long as you understand a few key concepts that will help you work effectively with designers.

First, we need to talk about preparing your print file. When working with designers, you should specify that your design is for printing. This tells them that it should ideally be 300 digital pixels per inch (DPI or PPI), have a transparent background, and other nuances of designing for print vs. web.

Note that print file specifications will change depending on the printer and printing technique used. When in doubt, send the designer the print specs for the specific product and any printing guidelines so they understand the full context.

The designs you upload should be large enough for the printing area of the actual product, or larger—resizing a smaller image to make it bigger will likely result in a loss of quality. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, you can use Pixlr (free), or one of these photo editing tools.

Where to find design ideas and designers

In the best case scenario, you’re a designer or know one you can work well with. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have immediate access to design talent. That’s what outsourcing is for.

You can find designers to work with on Behance99 Designs, or other freelance sites who can produce usable designs as long as you provide clear instructions. Here’s how you can add clarity and context for a design project:

  • Share insight into your audience. Tell them what it’s for and who your audience is. Showing them your website, if you have one, can also help.
  • Clearly explain what you want. Use your initial pitch and subsequent revisions (you should get at least 1 or 2) to over-communicate what you’re looking for and the guidelines to follow, and try to provide concrete feedback every step of the way.
  • Provide examples for inspiration. Give them a reference to base the design on or point to past work that you liked.

There are a lot of talented designers, so you should be able to find someone to bring your ideas to life. The tricky part is figuring out what you want to design in the first place.

This will depend on your target audience for the product, but you can find design inspiration on:

You can look for content, messaging, or styles that already resonate with your target audience to brainstorm ideas worth pursuing. Just be sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s work.

Social media is also a great place to litmus test your ideas. If you’re looking to turn the internet into your focus group, try the following:

  • Post to your personal network on Facebook or to groups
  • Use Instagram’s Poll and Question stickers to solicit feedback
  • Share a rough version of your design idea with a relevant subreddit

Tips for starting a print-on-demand business

Using a print-on-demand service might be easier than managing your own inventory, but there are some considerations unique to this approach that you should be aware of. Luckily, for most of the challenges you’ll face, there are creative solutions.

1. Always order samples

Quality assurance is essential when you’re using print-on-demand services to sell online. It’s always possible that something gets lost in translation from the design you see on your screen to your printed product. But you can just reach out to your vendor’s customer support for advice on how to fix any issues.

You want to ensure your physical product looks and feels as you intended, and the best way to do that is to be your own customer so you can experience first-hand what it’s like to receive your products. Some services, like Printful, even offer a sample discount of up to 20% off or free shipping, so be sure to take advantage of that if it’s available.

Beyond ensuring product quality, samples are also good to have on hand for taking your own product photos for your website and social media profiles.

2. Be strategic about shipping

Even when you’re not shipping products yourself, shipping still offers some complexity in the form of shipping times and costs, and setting the right expectations with customers.

You’ll want to be sure that you’re accounting for printing times when it comes to shipping. Whatever the shipping times are, be sure to add anywhere from 2 to 4 days for production, or more depending on the product.

Always be upfront about shipping times or you’ll wind up with a support inbox full of shipping questions. Outline what to expect on your FAQs page or consider creating a separate Shipping page to explain shipping to customers.

If you can, try to partially or fully absorb your shipping costs into your retail price. Year after year, studies show that surprise shipping costs added at checkout can deter customers from buying. On top of that, free shipping bolsters a number of your other marketing efforts:

  • Free shipping is a great sales sweetener, even if you can only offer it for specific regions, and provides customers with one more incentive to buy.
  • Conditional free shipping (e.g. “Get free shipping when you spend $30 or more”) encourages customers to add more to their cart to reach the threshold and usually helps you achieve a better total shipping rate by shipping everything together.
  • You can use free shipping to justify longer wait times. Many consumers will wait a bit longer for an order if they know it will save them money on shipping.

free shipping for print on demand

3. Create mockups that show off your products

While models can help you snap compelling photos of your products, mockups are also an effective alternative and will be a prominent part of your product pages.

Many print-on-demand services can help you create your own mockups, showing your products on a person or as a flat lay. But there are other services and plenty of free mockup templates that can also bring your products to life.

These mockups are what will sell your products to customers, so it can literally pay to go the extra mile. PlaceIt is an easy-to-use mockup generator that lets you create photo and video mockups for $8 each. Or, if you know the basics of Photoshop or other photo editing tools, you can browse Mockup World or Behance for templates.

4. Focus on a niche to make marketing easier

Marketing is what ultimately determines the success of your business. But if you’re targeting everyone, you’re not really marketing to anyone. That’s why focus is so important, regardless of the tactics you employ.

Having a clearly defined audience (e.g. dog owners) can actually help you create products that are in demand, lower the costs to acquire customers, and maximize your potential profits because your targeting decisions will be that much more precise.

Better yet, if you can build an audience of your own through marketing, you can create a permanent asset for your business even if your products change.

There are countless possibilities for marketing, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start an Instagram account and create/curate content for your target audience. Get followers and build relationships among your prospective customers.
  • Run Facebook ads targeting the interests of your target customers. You can also use Facebook ads to test out your designs for as little as $10 to see which ones resonate with your audience.
  • Collect emails from visitors so you can continue to market to them for free.
  • Get your products into the hands of influencers who can contribute some of their clout and help you make sales.

Growing an audience of your ideal customers is a must for building a long-term business, print-on-demand or otherwise.

 

Design, test, sell, and grow

Print-on-demand services offer an accessible source of inventory for new entrepreneurs or for anyone who just wants to test an idea before they invest in it.

If your business idea pans out and you start to generate a meaningful number of sales, you can always graduate from using a print on demand site to holding your own inventory or continue to use these services while finding new ways to grow your audience. The choice is yours.

How to Find a Manufacturer or Supplier for Your Product Idea

How to find a manufacturer or supplier for your products

If you’ve been reading about how to start a business, you may have brainstormed some ideas of your own. This is an interesting time for an entrepreneur, as momentum begins to build and excitement grows the more you think about your ideas.

However, time and time again, many entrepreneurs find themselves hitting a brick wall and losing momentum when it comes time to actually source products. Whether it be manufacturing your own product or finding suppliers to purchase wholesale from, they aren’t always easy to find.

In this post, we’re going to look at the basics of sourcing a supplier for your next project. We will look at some places to search, how you should approach them and what to ask.

Table of Contents

  • The basics: What are you looking for?
  • Domestic vs. overseas suppliers
  • Where to begin your search for a manufacturer
  • Other research tips
  • Requesting a quote
  • Negotiating minimum order quantities
  • Have you found your supply partner?

The basics: What are you looking for?

For the purpose of this post, when we refer to suppliers, we’re referring to anyone who has the capability to provide you with products and inventory. This encompasses manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

There are a ton of helpful resources online which you can find on Google. But before you begin, there are a few things you should know and decide.
First, you should determine what type of supplier you’re looking for. This will help determine the terminology you need to use in your research. Check out our post on Make, Manufacturer, Wholesale, or Dropship to help you get started. There are several options, the most common being:

  • A manufacturer to produce your own product idea.
  • A supplier (who may also be a manufacturer), wholesaler or distributor to purchase already-existing brands and products.
  • A dropshipper to supply products and fulfill orders of already-existing brands and products.

Domestic vs. overseas suppliers

When looking for suppliers if you plan to manufacture or wholesale, you’ll need to decide whether you want to source domestically or from overseas. Overseas can refer to any location abroad.

Typically, and for the purpose of this post, overseas suppliers are located in Asian countries like China, India and Taiwan. That’s because it’s often cheaper to source your products overseas, especially in these countries. But there’s a lot more to the decision than just the upfront investment and cost per unit.

Both domestic and overseas sourcing have their advantages and disadvantages:

Domestic sourcing

Advantages

  • Higher manufacturing quality and labor standards.
  • Easier communication with no language barrier.
  • Marketing appeal of being made in North America.
  • Easier to verify reputable manufacturers.
  • Faster shipping time.
  • High intellectual property right protection.
  • Greater payment security and recourse.

Disadvantages

  • Higher manufacturing costs.
  • Less product choice (there are many items that just aren’t made in North America anymore).

Overseas sourcing

Advantages

  • Lower manufacturing costs.
  • High number of manufacturers to choose from.
  • One-stop services like Alibaba have made it easy to navigate suppliers.

Disadvantages

  • Lower perceived quality from customers.
  • (Usually) lower manufacturing and labor standards.
  • Little intellectual property protection.
  • Language, communication and time zone barriers can be difficult to navigate.
  • Difficult/costly to verify manufacturer and visit on-site.
  • Longer shipping time.
  • Cultural differences in business practices.
  • Product importation and customs clearance.
  • Less payment security and recourse.

Where to begin your search for a manufacturer

Now that you have a better idea of exactly what you’re looking for, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of domestic vs. overseas sourcing, where do you begin your search? Naturally, the internet is the best place to start, but there are a few places in particular that can help with your search:

  • Directories
  • Google
  • Local library
  • Referrals

Directories

Some of the best sources are free online supplier directories. These directories contain profiles for hundreds or thousands of manufacturers, wholesalers and suppliers. Below, we’ve listed a few of the most popular ones for both domestic and overseas suppliers:

Online domestic directories

Online overseas directories

Find a manufacturer for popular products

Google

Over the last handful of years, we’ve become accustomed to being able to easily search Google and find what we’re looking for in the first few search results. However, many suppliers haven’t kept pace with the internet or Google’s algorithm changes. Their websites are usually old, sparse on information and not search engine optimized.

So how do you find suppliers on Google? For possibly the first time ever, you’ll need to explore page two of Google search results and beyond. You’ll also want to use a variety of search terms. For example, words like wholesale, wholesaler and distributor may be used interchangeably, so you should search for all of them.
It may help to make yourself familiar with Google’s search shortcuts to improve the quality of your searches, thus the results.

Use Google to help find a manufacturer for specific products

Local library

You may also want to consider heading to your local library. Many libraries pay monthly subscription fees for online business and manufacturer directories that you normally wouldn’t have access to, or you’d have to pay for. These directories contain profiles for many manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors in North America, depending on the exact directory.

Give your local library a call ahead of time and ask if they have access to these types of private directories. For larger libraries, you may need to chat with the business and technology department.

Referrals

Some of the best leads can come from referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask connections in your professional networks if they have any recommendations, or if they know someone who might. Look for individuals who’ve found success in an area you’d like to pursue and see if they’re willing to share their contacts.

Social networks have made it much easier to get the word out so make sure to use these channels. Join Facebook groups and other online communities of ecommerce business owners and see if anyone there has a glowing review.

As you do start to uncover suppliers, even if they aren’t the right fit for you, be sure to ask them if they can point you in the right direction. Being in the industry means they’ll likely have great contacts and would be happy to refer you to an option that might be a better fit.

Other research tips

Another possible way to search for product suppliers is by searching for your products by their NAICS code.

NAICS is the North American Industry Classification System, and pretty much every single industry and product you can think of is attached to a NAICS code. Sometimes manufacturers and suppliers may list their products by the NAICS code which can make your product manufactures and suppliers easier to find, especially if you’re using professional directories.

The NAICS directory can be found at your local library or online. Here is the link for the United States’ NAICS code, and the link for Canada’s NAICS code.

You’ll also want to make sure you properly vet your potential manufacturer. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few possibilities, dig deeper in your research to make sure they’re credible.

Check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to make sure there haven’t been any complaints filed, browse their Facebook page reviews, and use those Google search tricks to query the company name + reviews to see if any red flags come up.

Requesting a quote

Once you’ve found a suitable supplier, it’s time to approach them. The biggest question you’re going to have is “how much?” but before you hastily send the supplier your request for quotation (many times referred to as an RFQ), plan what you want to say and the questions you need to ask.

Requesting a quote can help you find a manufacturer that fits your budget

Planning your initial inquiry can increase your chances of receiving a response and the correct information. Here are a few important questions to consider for your email:

What is your minimum order quantity?

Also referred to as a MOQ, you want to make sure the minimum order quantity is manageable for you, and that you can afford them. This minimum order quantity can vary wildly depending on the product and the supplier, so it’s important to ask upfront.

What is your sample pricing?

You’ll likely want samples to inspect before making a full order. Sample pricing ranges, depending on the product and supplier. Some suppliers that receive many requests may charge the full retail pricing, others will offer you samples at a discounted rate, and some may even send you samples for free.

What is your production pricing?

One of the most important questions is how much your products will cost. You’ll probably want to ask for pricing for several quantities to get a sense of if and how they do discounted pricing for bulk orders.

What is your turnaround time?

Knowing how long it will take to produce your order is an important consideration. Depending your exact business, time can be critical.

What are your payment terms?

Many suppliers will require new businesses to pay for the full order upfront. This is important to know since inventory is a major cost for ecommerce startups. You may want to also ask if they provide payment terms on future orders.

Suppliers get bombarded with email quote requests all the time from flaky buyers that are just ‘kicking the tires’ so it’s not unusual for many suppliers not to reply to every request. A lack of supplier responsiveness is a common complaint from new ecommerce entrepreneurs.

So how do you avoid being ignored? There are a few things that you should avoid when you reach out to suppliers for the first time:

  • Long emails: Your first email to a manufacturer should be clear and concise. Avoid telling too much about your story and background. The first email should purely assess potential fit at a high level. Focus on what suppliers care about the most, like the details of what you’re trying to source.
  • Asking for too much: Requests aren’t always easy for the supplier to produce. It’s important to ask for a few prices for multiple quantities, but avoid asking for too much or too many quotes. Stick to asking for what you absolutely need to assess fit between you and the supplier.
  • Asking for too little: If you ask for a quote well below the supplier’s minimum order you risk being met with silence. If you’re unsure whether your request is too small, consider giving them a quick call or send a one-question email prior to ask what their minimum order is.

Finally, if you’re contacting a supplier from overseas, keep in mind that in many cases, they may be using programs to translate your email as well as their reply. Keeping your emails short, concise, well-formatted and error-free will not only help the manufacturer but ultimately provide you with better replies and answers.

Also, when asking your questions, it’s best to number them. This way, they can easily reply to each number, keeping the questions and communication clean and organized.

Negotiating minimum order quantities

If you’re looking for a supplier for the first time, you’re going to quickly learn about minimum order quantities (MOQs). It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to require a commitment to purchase hundreds or even thousands of units for your first order depending on the product and manufacturer.

MOQs make it difficult when you have limited funds or want to start small and test the market before making larger purchases. The good thing is that MOQs are almost always negotiable.

Before you negotiate, understand why the supplier has imposed a minimum. Is it because there’s a lot of work upfront? Or maybe it’s because they prefer to work with larger buyers. Understanding the reasons behind the minimum will help you better understand their position and allow you to negotiate and propose to best counter offer.

After you have a better understanding of your supplier’s position, you can offer a lower order quantity. Compromises can include giving the supplier a deposit for a larger order, but just producing small amounts at a time or paying a higher price per unit.

Have you found your supply partner?

Sourcing suppliers and manufacturers is a unique process, and for many, a new experience. Trying to locate suppliers that are a good fit is a critical decision for your new business and aren’t always easy to find.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you hit dead ends or brick walls but in most cases, it just requires a little more patience and perseverance to find the perfect partner for your new business.

How to Develop a New Product (From Concept to Market)

product development process

Bringing your vision for an original product to life is frequently one of the biggest hurdles for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The product development process can seem almost mysterious, and when you hear the origin stories of other great businesses, the journey to a finished product rarely resembles a straight line.

Tina Roth-Eisenberg, for example, realized that semi-permanent tattoos were lacking when her daughter brought some home, and mobilized her community of fellow designers to create Tattly.

David Barnett, on the other hand, had to teach himself how to use 3D design software so he could prototype PopSockets, the now-popular phone accessory.

On their own, these inspiring stories don’t provide an end-to-end blueprint for product development, but the similarities they share reveal some of the steps founders consistently take on the road to starting a business and shipping a finished product.

The new product development process in 6 steps

New product development is the process of bringing an original product idea to market. Although it differs by industry, it can essentially be broken down into five stages: ideation, research, planning, prototyping, sourcing, and costing.

Here’s how to develop your own original product idea and what to consider at each stage.

1. Ideation

Many aspiring entrepreneurs get stuck on ideation, often because they’re waiting for a stroke of genius to reveal the perfect product they should sell. While building something fundamentally “new” can be creatively fulfilling, many of the best ideas are the result of iterating upon on an existing product.

The SCAMPER model is a useful tool for quickly coming up with product ideas by asking questions about existing products. Each letter stands for a prompt:

  • Substitute (e.g. fur in faux fur)
  • Combine (e.g. a phone case and a battery pack)
  • Adapt (e.g. a bra with front clasps for nursing)
  • Modify (e.g. an electric toothbrush with a sleeker design)
  • Put to another use (e.g. memory foam dog beds)
  • Eliminate (e.g. the middleman to sell sunglasses and pass the savings on to consumers)
  • Reverse/Rearrange (e.g. a duffle bag so that it doesn’t wrinkle your suits)

By asking these questions, you can come up with novel ways to transform existing ideas or even adapt them for a new target audience or problem.

If you’re still looking for your “aha!” moment, we also put together a list of sources for coming up with your own product ideas, from analyzing online marketplaces for inspiration to reinventing historical trends.

2. Research

With your product idea in mind, you may feel inclined to leapfrog ahead to production, but that can become a misstep if you fail to validate your idea first.

Product validation ensures you’re creating a product people will pay for and that you won’t waste time, money, and effort on an idea that won’t sell. There are several ways you can validate your product ideas, including:

  • Talking about your idea with family and friends
  • Sending out an online survey to get feedback
  • Starting a crowdfunding campaign
  • Asking for feedback on forums like Reddit
  • Researching online demand using Google Trends
  • Launching a “coming soon” page to gauge interest via email opt-ins or pre-orders

However you decide to go about validating your idea, it is important to get feedback from a substantial and unbiased audience as to whether they would buy your product. Be wary of overvaluing feedback from people who “definitely would buy” if you were to create your theoretical product—until money changes hands, you can’t count someone as a customer.

Validation research will also inevitably involve competitive analysis. If your idea or niche has the potential to take off, there are likely competitors already operating in that space.

Visiting your competitors’ website and signing up for their email list will allow you to understand how they attract customers and make sales. Asking your own potential customers what they like or dislike about your competitors will also be important in defining your own competitive advantage.

The information compiled from doing product validation and market research will allow you to gauge the demand for your product and also the level of competition that exists before you start planning.

3. Planning

Since product development can quickly become complicated, it’s important to take the time to plan before you begin to build your prototype.

When you eventually approach manufacturers or start looking for materials, if you don’t have a concrete idea of what you want your product to look like and how it will function, it’s easy to get lost in the subsequent steps.

The best place to begin planning is with a hand-drawn sketch of what your product will look like. The sketch should be as detailed as possible, with labels explaining the various features and functions.

product development sketches for hidden radio
Product sketches from the crowdfunding campaign for a bluetooth speaker by Hidden Radio.

You don’t need a professional quality drawing since you won’t be submitting it to a manufacturer at this stage. However, if you are not confident that you can produce a legible diagram that will make sense of your product, it is easy to find illustrators for hire on DribbbleUpWork, or Minty.

Try to use your diagram to create a list of the different components or materials you will need in order to bring the product to life. The list does not need to be inclusive of all potential components, but it should allow you to begin planning what you will need in order to create the product.

For example, a drawing of a purse design could be accompanied by this list:

  • Zippers (large and small)
  • Silver clasps
  • Leather straps
  • Protection pouch
  • Embossed label
  • Interior wallet

Along with the components, you should also begin to consider the retail price or category your product will fall into. Will the product be an everyday item or for special occasions? Will it use premium materials or be environmentally friendly? These are all questions to consider in the planning phase since they will help guide you through not only your product development process but also your brand positioning and marketing strategy.

The packaging, labels, and overall quality of your materials should be considered as well before you continue to the sourcing and costing stages. These will have an effect on how you market your product to your target customer, so it’s important to take these aspects of your product into consideration during the planning phase too.

4. Prototyping

The goal of the prototyping phase during product development is to create a finished product to use as a sample for mass production.

It’s unlikely you will get to your finished product in a single attempt—prototyping usually involves experimenting with several versions of your product, slowly eliminating options and making improvements until you feel satisfied with a final sample.

razor prototypes
Several prototypes for the Angle Razor by Morrama.

Prototyping also differs significantly depending on the type of product you are developing. The least expensive and simplest cases are products you can prototype yourself, such as food recipes and some cosmetic products. This do-it-yourself prototyping can also extend to fashion, pottery, design and other verticals, if you are lucky enough to be trained in these disciplines.

However, more often than not, entrepreneurs will work with a third party to prototype their product. In the fashion and apparel industry, this usually involves working with a local seamstress (for clothing and accessories), cobbler (for shoes) or pattern maker (for clothing). These services can usually be found online by Googling local services in the industry.

Most large cities also have art, design or fashion schools where students are trained in these techniques. Administrators from these university or college programs can usually grant you access to their internal job board where you can create a request for prototyping help.

For objects like toys, household accessories, electronics, and many other hard-exterior objects, you may require a 3D rendering in order to make a prototype. Artists or engineers who are trained in computer-aided design and drafting (CAD) software can be contracted to do this, using UpWork or Freelancer. There are also user-friendly online tools such as SketchUpTinkerCad and Vectary, for founders who want to learn how to create 3D models for themselves.

trifecto infininity pen
A 3D rendering for the Trifecto Infinity Pen.

To get a 3D design turned into a physical model, makers used to have to get molds made for each part. Molds are typically expensive and involve set up fees, for things like tools and dies, that are used to cut and shape pieces of plastic and other hard materials.

Luckily, with the innovation of 3D printing, designs can be turned into physical samples at a much lower cost with a quicker turnaround time.

Chris Little, the founder of Wintersmiths, prototyped his line of barware using Quickparts, and explains that he was able to do so on a budget and within a few days time. Alex Commons of Bulat Kitchen recommends 3D Hubs, which he used to prototype a knife, paying around $30 per 3D-printed model.

3d printed knife product prototype
A 3D-printed Bulat Kitchen knife design by 3D Hubs.

5. Sourcing

Once you have a product prototype you’re satisfied with, it is time to start gathering the materials and securing the partners needed for production. This is also referred to as building your supply chain: the vendors, activities, and resources that are needed to create a product and get it into a customers’ hands.

While this phase will mainly involve looking for manufacturing-related services, you may also factor in storage, shipping, and warehousing into your choices at this stage.

In Shoe Dog, a memoir by Nike founder Phil Knight, the importance of diversifying your supply chain is a theme that is emphasized throughout the story. Finding multiple suppliers for the different materials you will need, as well as different potential manufacturers, will allow you to compare costs. It also has an added benefit of creating a backup option if one of your suppliers or manufacturers doesn’t work out. Sourcing several options is an important part of safeguarding your business for the long-term.

When looking for suppliers, there are plenty of resources both online and in person. While it may seem old-fashioned, many business owners choose to attend trade shows dedicated to sourcing. Trade shows like Magic in Las Vegas, provide the opportunity to see hundreds of vendors at once—to see, touch, and discuss materials and build a personal relationship with suppliers, which can be valuable when it comes time to negotiate prices.

During the sourcing phase, you will inevitably come across the decision of whether to produce your product locally or overseas. It is a good idea to compare the two options, as they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The most commonly used sourcing platform for overseas production is Alibaba. Alibaba is marketplace for Chinese suppliers and factories, where you can browse listings for finished goods, or raw materials. A popular way of using Alibaba to find a manufacturer is to look for listings with similar products to your own, and then contact the factory to see if they can produce your specific design.

6. Costing

After research, planning, prototyping, and sourcing is done, you should have a clearer picture of what it will cost to produce your product. Costing is the process of taking all of the information gathered thus far, and adding up what your cost of goods sold (COGS) will be, so that you can determine a retail price and gross margin.

Begin by creating a spreadsheet with each additional cost broken out as a separate line item. This should include all of your raw materials, factory set up costs, manufacturing costs, and shipping costs. It is important to factor in shipping, import fees, and any duties you will need to pay in order to get your final product into the customers hands, as these fees can have a significant impact on your COGS depending on where you are producing the product.

product development costing spreadsheet
A product costing example. You can view it in full or copy and adapt this spreadsheet to create your own.

If you were able to secure multiple quotes for different materials or manufacturers during the sourcing phase, you can include different columns for each line item that compares the cost. Another option is to create a second version of the spreadsheet, so that you can compare local production vs. overseas production.

Once you have your total COGS calculated, you can come up with a retail price for your product and subtract the COGS from that price to get your potential gross margin, or profit, on each unit sold.

Product development in popular industries

The product development process will naturally vary by industry, so let’s take a brief look at what you might have to consider across three of the largest and most well-established industries: Fashion and Apparel, Beauty and Cosmetics, and Food and Beverage.

These three industries have relatively straightforward paths to product development thanks to the many well-documented case studies that can be used for inspiration.

Fashion and Apparel

In the fashion industry, product development usually begins the old school way: with a hand drawn sketch, or the digital equivalent using a program like Procreate.

A sketch is then developed into a sample using a pattern maker or seamstress. During the prototyping phase, a size set is created, which means a range of samples with different measurements for each size you want to sell. Once the size set is finalized, it is put into production.

Rather than make the product, some fashion and apparel businesses choose print-on-demand to produce their clothing in the beginning. Print-on-demand allows you to upload designs to a third party app, that connects your store with a warehouse and screen-printing facility. When an order is placed online, your design is printed on an existing stock of t-shirts, sweaters and various other items on offer, creating a finished product without the need to design the entire garment.

Other factors to consider:

  • Hang tags: the branded tag that hangs from a garment and usually contains information like price, size etc.
  • Labels: the fabric tags sewed or stamped into a garment that usually contains information about fabric contents and care instructions
  • Wash tests: putting your product through wash tests to understand whether it holds up over time and how it should be cared for

Beauty and Cosmetics

The beauty and cosmetics industry includes a wide range of products that is constantly expanding due to wellness and self-care trends. From makeup to bath products and skincare, many beauty brands are focusing on all natural ingredients and sustainability, which makes it easier to prototype a product on your own using everyday ingredients.

White labeling is also popular in the beauty and cosmetics industry, which is the process of finding an existing product or manufacturer, then packaging and branding the products they already produce. Whichever route you decide to take, mass manufacturing for cosmetics is usually done by working with a lab and a chemist to make sure quality stays consistent at scale.

Other factors to consider:

  • Labels and warnings: identifying all materials used in the product and any potential reactions
  • Laws and regulations: researching FDA regulations and how they pertain to your product and packaging, both where they are produced and where you intend to sell them
  • Shelf life: conducting tests and adding necessary expiration dates to products

Food and Beverage

Food and beverage products are among the easiest to start developing at a low cost and from the comfort of your own home. Creating a new energy bar can be as simple as buying ingredients and tweaking the recipe in your own kitchen, like Lara Merriken did when she started Larabar.

In order to move from recipe to packaged goods you can sell in stores or online, you will need to find a commercial kitchen that is licensed to produce food and has passed a health and safety inspection.

These kitchens are usually set up with large ovens and cooking equipment to accommodate large batches, but if you are considering mass production and packaging, a co-packer or co-manufacturer might be a better option. These are manufacturing facilities that specialize in processing raw materials and producing food and beverage products at scale.

Other factors to consider:

  • Labels and warnings: ingredient lists, nutritional information to display
  • Laws and regulations: many countries have regulations around dietary information, allergen warnings, and health claims that you will need to comply with
  • Expiry dates: understanding your product lifetime and how you will produce, package and stock the product to accommodate this

What will you bring to the market?

During product development, each journey to a finished product is different and every industry has its own unique set of quirks involved in creating something new. If you find yourself struggling to figure it all out, remember that every product that came before yours had to overcome the same challenges.

By following these steps as you undergo your own product development process, you can break down the overwhelming task of bringing a new product to market into more digestible phases.

No matter what you’re developing, by putting in all the necessary preparation—through researching, planning, prototyping, sourcing and costing—you can set yourself up for a successful final product

How to Sell Photos Online: For Both Amateur and Pro Photographers

How to Sell Photos Online: For Both Amateur and Pro Photographers

Making money as a photographer, like a YouTuber or Instagrammer, is all about harnessing that same creativity at the heart of your work and applying it to the monetization of your talents.

It can seem hard to make it when anyone with the newest iPhone can call themselves a “photographer.” But success, for most creators who turn to entrepreneurship, comes down to three things:

  1. Finding your niche.
  2. Building an audience.
  3. Creating several streams of income.

This guide will explore some of the things you should know about selling photos online with resources to help you make your photography-based business a reality.

E

 

How to sell photos online: two essential steps

1. Define your niche

Every successful photographer has a consistent style or theme that runs through their work. Whether your thing is travel, fashion, cityscapes, nature, food, etc., consistency is key.

People follow other people online to see more of whatever it is that interested them in the first place. People unfollow other people when those expectations aren’t met.

Finding your niche if you want to sell pictures online is typically something you feel your way into as you see which styles and photos resonate with your audience. But you can also evaluate the demand for certain topics using keyword research to analyze the search volume for terms related to your photographs.

Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension that shows you the search volume right below your Google search, making it easy to find and experiment with in-demand subjects and angles to see what you can cater to with your photographs.

As a suggestion, anything above 1,000 average monthly searches is sthe ignificant volume to consider capitalizing on.

Photographers, just like bloggers, YouTubers, and artists of any kind, should also invest in building their audiences because that’s ultimately what helps them build their business and sell photography online.

Whether you’re freelancing or selling photography online as prints, you’ll need to build and leverage your network to expand your reach and credibility.

Visual social platforms like Instagram and Tumblr with built-in audiences can help you reach a wide audience, but there are also photo-sharing sites that can connect you with other photographers where you can build a following and, depending on the platform, sell licenses to use your photos (more on that later).

Linking your various accounts makes it easier to manage your photo-sharing across several platforms, which is good for visibility of your photographs, especially important when you’re trying to figure out how to sell your photography. On Instagram, for example, you can go to Options > Settings > Linked Accounts to connect Tumblr, Facebook, and more to publish in more than one place with a single post.

IFTTT is a free tool that can help you create other useful integrations between apps that don’t usually integrate, like Instagram and Dropbox.

On Instagram, you can also use Hashtagify to discover relevant, active hashtags to increase the visibility of your photographs on the platform to get more likes, comments, and engagement.

2. Integrate ecommerce into your portfolio

Most photographers have a main portfolio site to showcase their work and let clients hire them. But by adding ecommerce to it, including the ability to accept payments, you can open several more doors to monetization, like selling courses, physical products, and services.

Matt Suess (below), for example, has a store that showcases his work, lets others purchase da igital and print version of his shots, and buy his courses.

Source: Matt Suess

You can build your portfolio or store on Shopify, install the relevant apps to customize it to your needs and monetization strategies, and start sharing and selling your photography in different forms: online or even offline through POS.

 

You might also want to consider installing apps to add more functionality like Digital Downloads (free), an Instagram gallery, and more.

There are a lot of reasons your own ecommerce site can be a best place to sell photos online, many of which we’ll explore below.

Best place to sell photos online: 20 stock photography sites to license your photography

Here are 20 stock photography sites to sell photos online:

  1. Getty Images
  2. Shutterstock
  3. iStock
  4. 500px
  5. Stocksy
  6. Can Stock Photo
  7. FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  8. Adobe Stock
  9. Fotolia
  10. PhotoDune
  11. Alamy
  12. Twenty20
  13. Depositphotos
  14. Dreamstime
  15. GL Stock Images
  16. EyeEm
  17. Image Vortex
  18. Crestock
  19. 123RF
  20. Foap

Licensing is one of the most popular ways to “sell” your photos online to brands, publishers and anyone who might have an interest in using your photos for their own purposes.

And that’s the key here. You need to work backwards and think about how your photos can used by a brand or a publisher — versatile photos that express ideas tend to be popular, especially when they feature human subjects.

There are a lot of stock photo sites to choose from, including:

1. Getty Images

On the higher end of stock photography sites, Getty Images attracts brands and publishers looking for high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images to license. The standards for becoming a contributor are predictably higher than many other stock photo sites. For photos licensed via GettyImages.com, rates start at 20%.

2. Shutterstock

Shutterstock is a micro-stock site where photos are cheaper and non-exclusive, and the way to increase downloads is by contributing a large quantity of images that can be used as visual metaphors. Don’t expect to earn as much here, but it’s a good place if you’re just starting out. Payouts are based on your earnings over time and range from 20% to 30%. There’s also an affiliate program where you can earn additional money if you refer new photographers or customers.

3. iStock

iStock is the micro-stock offshoot owned by Getty Images. Commission ranges from 25% to 45% depending on whether the photos are exclusive or non-exclusive.

4. 500px

500px isn’t just a stock photo site; it’s a community-based platform for photographers. You can follow other photographers, list your photos in their marketplace, and participate in Photo Quest competitions for prizes. The community is full of stunning, creative shots with a 30% commission payout for non-exclusive photos and 60% for exclusive ones.

5. Stocksy

Stocksy is a popular mid-range stock photography site, especially among publishers. The standards to be accepted are higher, and Stocksy requires exclusive images, but it also pays out a generous 50–75% commission.

6. Can Stock Photo

More than 70,000 photographers sell photos on Can Stock Photo. There are various payout structures ranging from percentages to fixed amounts, and they’ll also give you $5 for every 50 photos your referral sells. When you sell photos on Can Stock Photo, they also list your photos for sale on Fotosearch, a stock photography agency.

7. FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FreeDigitalPhotos.net offers free photo downloads as well as images for users to purchase. When the small version of your photo is downloaded for free, attribution is required. While you won’t earn a cent, you will get credit. When their target market (professionals who need images for business use) purchase images, photographers earn 70% commission.

8. Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock is a best place to sell photos online because when you list photos for sale here, they’re also available on stock site Fotolia. You’ll earn 33% commission on the photos you sell through Adobe Stock.

9. Fotolia

Fotolia, which has been purchased by Adobe Stock, has two pricing models for users: Pay-As-You-Go and Subscription. Photos sold to Pay-As-You-Go customers earn 20–63% commission, while Subscription generates 33% commission but has a minimum guarantee.

10. PhotoDune

PhotoDune, part of Envato Market, is another best place to sell photos online. Payout structures vary. PhotoDune also has a referral program:Receive a 30% commission from your referral’s first cash deposit.

11. Alamy

Alamy pays contributors monthly and has a varied payment structure. Sales through www.alamy.com earn photographers 50%, Distributors earn 70%, Novel Use earns 50%. Payments are deposited monthly, as long as your Cleared Funds are $50 or more.

12. Twenty20

Twenty20 started as a tool for Instagram photographers to sell their images to brands. Now, it’s a robust stock photography site where you can sell photos online and connect with potential clients. You can earn money three ways: selling a photo, for you earn $2 per photo licensed, 100% cash prizes from photo challenges, and 100% commission from whatever brands hire you for scheduled shoots.

13. Depositphotos

Depositphotos has its commissions based on the contributor’s experience and status on the platform, as well as the resolution and license type. Commissions range are 34–42%.

14. Dreamstime

Dreamstime is a stock photo site with a generous payout for contributors. However, they require more commitment: You must have at least 70% of your portfolio on their site for at least six months. But, non-exclusive contributors earn 25–50%, and exclusive photos generate a 27.5–55% commission. There are also lots of ways to earn money for referrals, both on the contributor and the purchaser side.

15. GL Stock Images

On GL Stock Images, you have the choice of setting your own prices. And you’ll earn 40% commission on all sales.

16. EyeEm

EyeEm focuses more on advertising stock photography, making it a best place to sell photos online if you’re looking to be in the commercial photography space. They advertise a 50% commission on their site.

17. Image Vortex

Image Vortex doesn’t require exclusivity, so you can sell your photos on other sites as well. Commission rates are 70%, and you establish your own prices.

18. Crestock

Crestock pays contributors 20–40% commission rates based on the total number of downloads. They also have several affiliate programs through which you can earn money.

19. 123RF

This is another stock photo platform that pays contributors based on the number of downloads and purchases. Commissions range from 30% to 60%.

20. Foap

Foap offers contributors five ways to earn money from selling photos online: $5 for every photo sold, $100–$2,500 for Missions, $0.25/photo for album-specific photo sales, submitting photos to Getty Mission (payouts vary), and selling photos online via partner platforms, such as Adobe and Alamy.

How to sell photography prints, products, and photo books

  • How to sell photography prints and products
  • How to sell pictures as photo books

It’s not just brands and publishers who might want your work. Your fans might too.

And there are plenty of ways that they can potentially own it, whether it’s as a simple framed print or a pillow. Luckily, selling your own physical products is a lot simpler than you think.

How to sell photography prints and products

There are many sites and tools where you can upload your photographs and sell your pictures as photo prints on paper or physical products, such as mugs, T-shirts, and calendars.

You can work with a local photo lab that ships prints or use a print-on-demand service like Printful to dropship a wide range of products (prints, phone cases, pillows, and more) featuring your photos.

Be sure to order samples first to ensure that the quality of the products match the quality of your photos.

how to sell photography onlineImage via Burst

There are many other sites and tools you can use to print photos and products to sell.

How to sell pictures as photo books

You can also learn how to sell pictures by creating photo books with your photographs and selling those online.

Photo books are another physical photography-based product that can complement any coffee table. The more niche and consistent your photography is, the more likely you’ll be able to put together a stellar photo book based around a compelling theme.

You can use a service like BlurbYork Photo, or Shutterfly to create, print, and ship them on the demand.

While you won’t get the best margins with print-on-demand services, it’s a great risk-free way to test demand for your products before you decide to invest upfront.

How to sell your photography as a service

Whether you’re covering events, doing fashion shoots, or taking product photos, there’s ample opportunity to take advantage of the demand for professional photography. Here’s how to sell your photography as a service:

While you can list your services in freelance directories like Fiverr and Upwork, or apply to be an Expert, selling your photography as a service for decent pay usually involves networking locally since you need to be able to travel to meet clients in-person.

Here are some tips to build your network:

  • Always have business cards handy — you never know when you might meet a potential client
  • Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, showcase your work, and optimize it for the main photography service you provide (“Event Photographer”, for example).
  • Attend networking events where entrepreneurs and event organizers go — these folks will inevitably have a need for a professional photographer in the future.
  • Build a personal brand as a photographer so you’re top-of-mind when anyone in your network needs your camera and skills.

Since photographers, unlike other freelancers, must operate in strict time slots, it’s good to have a booking platform you can use to let prospective clients see your schedule and book you when you’re available.

Both Set More and Simply Book have free plans and features that work well for photographers. Or, if you’re using Shopify, you can install BookThatApp to schedule appointments directly from your site.

Now, let’s talk about usage rights and protecting your work.

A photographer’s legal primer to selling photos online

Figuring out how to sell your photography online can be overwhelming enough. And while rights and licenses related to selling photography may seem a foreign language, there are some terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself from theft and infringing upon others’ rights when selling photos.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, or a substitute for actual legal advice (I’m not a lawyer), but it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.

Glossary of legal terms for selling photos online

  • Editorial use
  • Commercial use
  • Retail use
  • Exclusive
  • Non-exclusive
  • Public domain
  • Creative Commons
  • Royalty-free
  • Rights-managed
  • Right of publicity

Editorial use: Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines and other publications.

Commercial use: Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.

Retail use: Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). Sometimes talked about in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.

Exclusive: Exclusive use means that the one who purchases the license from you is the only one who can use the photo.

Non-exclusive: Non-exclusive photo licenses can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less than exclusive ones.

Public domain: Holds no restrictions or copyright claim and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes. Works created by U.S federal government agencies (such as NASA) generally fall into this category unless otherwise stated.

Creative Commons: Conditional usage of your work is allowed as long as it’s in compliance with the stated restrictions. Attribution to credit the creator is sometimes required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this license for free.

Royalty-free: Others can buy a license and use the photo for an unlimited duration and unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of license purchased and on the cheaper end of the spectrum since these photos are usually non-exclusive.

Rights-managed: A one-time license can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licenses must be purchases for additional use.

Right of publicity: The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use when you sell photos online. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above and you should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.

For more in-depth information about copyright laws and licensing in the U.S., check out Photo Secrets to understand the copyright laws that protect your work, or look at any major stock photo site to see how they define different types of licenses.

What to do if someone steals your photos

Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.

It’s common practice for photographers to watermark their images before selling them online to offer them at least some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply your own identifying mark in Photoshop or use a Watermark Generator.

A smaller watermark, often in the corner, still lets others enjoy your photo, while a larger tiled watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.

But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway?

cease and desist request will usually work. Or you can send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to either pay you or take the photo down.

At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic back to your other work, but also good for search engine optimization and helping your standing in Google search results.

Turning your passion into profit

Whether photography is your hobby, your side gig, or full-time hustle, there are more avenues than ever before when it comes to how you sell photos online.

Your talent and your determination ultimately decide your earning potential, but the income you get from doing what you love and what you’re good at is some of the best cash you’ll ever earn.

17 Best Online Photo Editor Softwares and Apps (Free and Paid)

17 Best Online Photo Editor Softwares and Apps (Free and Paid)

Good product photography enhances the perceived value of your products and increases the credibility of your store.

That’s why we have put together not only key tools and resources for beautiful DIY product photography but also a step-by-step guide to every aspect of the shoot.

This post focuses on one more crucial aspect of product photography: image editing. Because no matter how well you shoot your photos, there are always little things to fix and retouch afterward.

Here are free and paid tools—including software, services, and apps—that you can use to make your pictures more compelling.

Paid Photo Editing Tools

1. Photoshop Elements

1.  Photoshop Elements 12

The Photoshop suite is the ultimate in image editing. Elements offers every editing tool you need and then some. This is top-of-the-line software, which means that it’s not the cheapest item here.

Note: Consider also Photoshop CC, the latest edition of Photoshop that costs $9.99 every month.

2. Photoshop Lightroom

2.  Photoshop Lightroom

Elements offers huge functionality in editing individual pictures. Lightroom focuses on editing in batches. So it retains many of the features you’d find in Elements but is especially powerful at organizing and editing pictures at a large scale.

3. Camera+

4.  Camera+

Camera+ is an app that significantly enhances the capabilities of shooting pictures on your phone. You can change shooting modes, adjust touch exposure, and set up a grid to guide your shots. And, it’s only $1.99.

4. Fiverr

5.  Fiverr

Fiverr is a marketplace for small, inexpensive gigs. There are a lot of people who offer to edit photos, all with their own specialties. Too many people to look through? Rank them by “Recommended,” “High Rating,” and “Express Gigs.”

5. Shopify Experts

6.  Shopify Experts

Okay, maybe you’re willing to spend more than $5, and on more professional agents. Well head over to the Shopify Experts page. There are dozens of photography experts you can reach out to for photography services.

6. Tucia

7.  Tucia

If you don’t want to spend time hunting down the right person to send photos to, consider Tucia, an agency that has edited over 3.7 million photos. There are three tiers of services for different features. One cool service it offers for every tier: unlimited free revisions.

7. Portrait Professionals

8.  Portrait Professionals

If your products involve human models, take a look at Portrait Professionals. It’s a software tool that’s optimized for airbrushing portraits to fix blemishes and reshape the face.

8. Pixelz

Pixelz screenshot

For $1.45 per image, Pixelz uses proprietary software to strip your images of their backgrounds so that you can substitute something in its place (for example, pure white, or the right shade of blue). It promises a 24-hour turnaround.

9. Mister Clipping

10.  Mister Clipping

Mister Clipping makes paths by hand, not software, to remove the backgrounds of your photos. Its prices range from $0.95 to $9.95 per image, and a free trial is available.

10. KeyShot

11.  KeyShot

KeyShot is an image rendering piece of software that can create high-definition visuals and models. They can be made so high-def that they look like real photographs. In the right hands, KeyShot can do wonders, and is used sometimes by big companies to create their marketing materials. At $995, it’s the priciest item on this list, but there is a 14-day free trial for you to see if you could use it.

11. Digital Tutors

12.  Digital Tutors

We’ve given you some pretty sophisticated software tools for editing photos. We wanted to include Digital Tutors because it’s one of the best learning resources online. It has lessons on many aspects of using Photoshop, KeyShot, and design more generally.

Free Photo Editing Tools

Okay, those paid tools are great, but if you happen to be on a budget or don’t want to invest a lot of money, no worries. Take a look at the tools below. They may just get you to where you need to be.

12. GIMP

13.  GIMP

GIMP is the most sophisticated free image-editing tool. You can use it to retouch, edit, and draw. Just download the software and you’re ready to start editing.

13. Fotor

14.  Fotor

Want to edit online, directly on your browser? Take a look at Fotor. It offers editing and beauty retouching. Most cool is its High Dynamic Range feature: you can take three photos with different exposures to combine them into a single image, with the best light and tone from each of the separate photos.

14. PicMonkey

15.  PicMonkey

PicMonkey is another great online photo editor with a very cool feature: Collage. You can take various photos and arrange them together. If you have lots of products, you can collage them together as perhaps a banner image for your store or in an email newsletter.

15. Pixlr

16.  Pixlr

The Pixlr editor is one of the most widely used image editors online. It has three editions, all free: Pixlr Editor, Pixlr Express, and Pixlr O-Matic. The latter two can also be used as apps.

16. Photo Editor by Aviary

17.  Photo Editor by Aviary

This is a free app that you can use to edit images on your phone. Enhance with hi-def, fix red-eyes, and adjust various aspects of lighting.

17. Photoshop Express

18.  Photoshop Express

We’ve opened with a very expensive piece of Photoshop software, and we feel that it’s fitting to close with a free one. Photoshop Express is an app for your phone with slightly fewer functionalities than Photoshop Touch. It lets you crop, fix red-eye, share on social media, and more.

Conclusion

With recommendations of tools and resources for shooting, a step-by-step guide to using them, and tools to edit the pictures afterwards, you’re running out of excuses for poor-looking products. Take a look once more through our resources, and improve the way your products look today.

Do you have a favorite tool for editing your photos? Share it below.

Social Entrepreneurship: How to Harness Business to Make the World a Better Place

Social Entrepreneurship: How to Harness Business to Make the World a Better Place

Some people start businesses to improve the quality of their life, others seek to work for themselves, and some simply see an opportunity in the market that they can’t resist.

But sometimes the thing that tickles the entrepreneurial spirit in you is the desire to use business as a means of creating positive change.

This is called “social entrepreneurship”, and it’s an approach to business that’s gaining in popularity as globalization brings conversations about sustainability and international development to a global stage, and more people ask themselves, “What can I do for the world today?”

Social entrepreneurship involves starting mission-based social enterprises that dedicate some or even all of their profits toward furthering a cause—giving their customers a purpose behind every purchase.

What is a Social Enterprise?

what is a social enterprise

“Social entrepreneurship” has a very broad definition that can arguably include non-profit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which rely almost exclusively on donations and grants, and even for-profit companies like Tesla that put their clean energy products front and center.

A social enterprise is a type of business where the bottom line and success metrics are measured in more than just profits. Instead, social enterprises typically measure success based on a triple bottom line:

  • People: The social impact of your business, and your ability to change lives and develop a community in a sustainable way.
  • Planet: Your environmental impact; how you contribute to a sustainable planet or reduce the carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) of your business and customers.
  • Profit: Like traditional businesses, they need to make make money in order to sustain themselves, pay workers and grow as an enterprise.

Social Entrepreneurship is about harnessing commerce for a cause.

of the challenges to succeeding in social entrepreneurship is that it’s easy to measure profit (did you make money, or did you not make money?), but it’s not as easy to measure your impact on people or the planet and communicate it to others.

Social entrepreneurs adopt a business model that puts their mission at the center, and are held accountable to their customers and stakeholders based on their proposed impact.

The Benefits of Building a Social Enterprise

For today’s consumers and businesses, social responsibility is a growing priority as concerns about climate change, international development, and supply chain ethics become a more prominent topic of international discussion.

In a survey by Social Enterprise UK, 1 in 3 people said they feel ashamed about buying from socially irresponsible businesses. In another study, 91% of global consumers expected companies to operate responsibly, and address social and environmental issues

This reflects a shift in consumer awareness about the impact of their purchase decisions. Not only are businesses being held to a higher standard, but many consumers are holding themselves to a higher standard as well.

So while social enterprises, by definition, must dedicate a portion of their profits to the impact they want to make, they do enjoy the following benefits that help them succeed:

  • Mission-based branding: A company story with a cause at its core makes consumers feel good about every purchase they make from you.
  • Partnership opportunities: A social enterprise, because of their mission-based motivations, can partner with other non-profit organizations and for-profit companies to leverage existing audiences and established reputations to create a presence in their market. “In kind” resources and discounts are not uncommon for social enterprises.
  • Press coverage: Publications and blogs love to cover social enterprises and their impact, helping them to evangelize their efforts and share their impact.
  • Certifications and support systems: Social enterprises can be eligible for grants, “impact investing” opportunities that focus on job creation and sustainability, and special certifications such as a Benefit Corporation status that make it easier to establish credibility, commit to transparency, and attract customers, employees, volunteers, and investors.

For the sake of this piece, we’ll look at what it takes to create a sustainable for-profit social enterprise. And that starts, as most businesses do, with figuring out what you want to sell.

Finding a Product to Sell and a Mission to Lead

The mission comes first for social entrepreneurs, but that doesn’t eclipse the importance of having a quality product to sell. After all, when all is said and done, a for-profit social enterprise needs to make money to survive just like any other business.

But there’s a pattern amongst successful social enterprises of establishing a good “product-cause fit” that aligns their mission with what they sell.

LSTN Sound Co. for example, sells premium headphones where a portion of profit goes toward the Starkey Hearing Foundation to restore hearing to people around the world.

LSTN social enterprise

Cotopaxi makes and sells outdoor gear for adventurers and travellers, dedicating 2% of total revenue to provide grants to specific non-profits that seek to alleviate poverty in different parts of the world.

cotopaxi social entrepreneurship

Love Your Melon sells beanies and hats and, on top of donating 50% of profits to pediatric cancer research and supporting patients, also has a Campus Crew Program that mobilizes students across the United States to help with their mission.

love your melon social entrepreneurship

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These are only a handful of many examples of ecommerce-based social enterprises that do a great job of not only tying a sense of purpose to their products, but using traditional business strategies, such as event marketing and giveaways, to promote their mission.

Defining Your Mission and Illustrating Your Impact

For social enterprises, their mission is a competitive advantage that can help them stand out in a crowded market—if they can communicate their motivation and the impact they can make.

Many social enterprises adopt a model where they donate a portion of profits to a cause, but that’s not the only way to position your company as a social enterprise.

It’s not just saying, ‘Hey, we have a social mission as an organization, and X percent of our sales goes to nonprofit X, Y,  and Z.’ I think it needs to be deeper and more authentic than that.

There are also social enterprises that focus on:

  • Creating jobs within the communities they care about, such as hiring local ex-convicts or ethically outsourcing production to communities in need of fair work and career development opportunities.
  • Reducing their carbon footprint by planting trees or going out of their way to reduce carbon emissions throughout their entire supply chain and educating customers about it.
  • Hosting workshops and “people development” initiatives to teach skills and empower people to build better lives for themselves and their communities.
  • Advocating for diversity and inclusion on behalf of underrepresented groups and becoming an engine of inspiration, such as Goldie Blox does by making toys to expose young girls to the joys of engineering.

Transparency and sustainable impact are essential for a successful social enterprise. And these things are easier to achieve if your cause is close to your heart and you choose an impact that you can measure.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” in the words of C.S Lewis.

Transparency is about visibly demonstrating your integrity and holding yourself accountable to your mission and the people who support it.

Depending on your mission, you can directly implement your plans for change as a social entrepreneur and expand your contributions as you grow. But if you choose to partner with non-profit organizations (NPOs) to help execute the “social” part of your social enterprise (as many do), be sure to do your homework before you reach out and ask questions like:

  • What am I ultimately giving back to?
  • How will my contributions actually be used and what are the organization’s operating costs?
  • How does the organization measure its success?
  • Is their impact sustainable, or will it only end up doing more harm in the long run?
  • Does this organization have an ethical history as a non-profit?

This is all part of your founding story—the tale of why you started your business—and will likely come up again and again in your elevator pitch, About Page, PR efforts and more. So refine it with your mission in mind and your action plan for creating change.

Funding Your Social Enterprise

Social enterprises are accountable to the cause that they support, and that means automatically setting aside a portion of future revenue to invest in their impact.

Social entrepreneurs often have to be creative with how they raise money, and that’s why crowdfunding is a popular option.

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter can not only help you raise the money you need to get your idea off the ground, but get your mission out there in a community that exists on the premise of supporting projects and causes they believe in. Learn more about running a successful crowdfunding campaign in The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding.

goldie blox cause-driven kickstarter
Goldie Blox’s Kickstarter campaign exceeded its funding goal by a landslide and helped launch the successful business that it is today.

There are also a growing number of grants that you can apply to for social enterprises that meet specific requirements, and a new trend of “impact investing“, where the return on investment expected isn’t just financial, but includes social and environmental impact as well.

Marketing Your Mission

What works when it comes to marketing can vary from business to business, but the need for transparency and the “for-benefit” position that social enterprises adopt make certain marketing strategies especially effective at generating awareness.

After all, you’re marketing your mission, not just your business.

Content Marketing

Digital media and the internet enable storytelling at a scale that wasn’t possible before.

From shooting videos to sharing photos on social media, social enterprises can leverage content to share real stories of the impact they’re making and provide proof that every customer’s purchase went toward doing some good in the world.

You can visit the affected community and film a documentary-style video. Or you can create an infographic for a data-based illustration of your impact or why your vision of change is needed.

There are ample opportunities for a social enterprise to spread its mission and tell its stories with content.

 

Events

Since NPOs often host events for fundraising and other initiatives, social enterprises can partner on or sponsor the causes that relate to their mission.

Whereas this would be deemed a marketing expense for traditional businesses, for a social enterprise it can double as an investment in their cause.

Le

With a feel-good story and a carefully crafted pitch, a social enterprise can win media mentions from bloggers and publications that are constantly on the lookout for something interesting to cover for their audiences.

Since there’s a purpose behind your company, there’s usually a lot more meat to the story by default than there might be for a traditional business.

 

Social Media

Purchasing isn’t the only way for people to support your mission. They can donate their voices online too.

According to an analysis by CoSchedule on why people share things online, 84% used social sharing as a way to support causes or issues they care about.

As long as you integrate your mission into your marketing, you can expect your audience to help you spread the word.

You can even amplify your message by starting a Thunderclap—setting a deadline to collect tweets, Facebook shares, and Tumblr posts that will go out all at once.

 

thunderclap social cause
Thunderclap offers a great way to mobilize your social media following to contribute to a cause or campaign you care about.

The Rise of For-Benefit Companies

Social entrepreneurship isn’t the only way a business can be for-benefit and not just for-profit.

Many companies are owning their social responsibility based on a growing belief that those with the power to do so can and should try to make the world a better place.

Our connected world has brought about a new era of awareness, where we can find problems to solve and lives to improve across the street or across the world if we choose.

People from all over are making the decision to make change in whatever way they can, whether it’s by being more conscious of what they buy as consumers, or building an engine for social and environmental good by becoming entrepreneurs.

Social Entrepreneurship: Harnessing Business to Make the World a Better Place

Some people start businesses to improve the quality of their life, others seek to work for themselves, and some simply see an opportunity in the market that they can’t resist.

But sometimes the thing that tickles the entrepreneurial spirit in you is the desire to use business as a means of creating positive change.

This is called “social entrepreneurship”, and it’s an approach to business that’s gaining in popularity as globalization brings conversations about sustainability and international development to a global stage, and more people ask themselves, “What can I do for the world today?”

Social entrepreneurship involves starting mission-based social enterprises that dedicate some or even all of their profits toward furthering a cause—giving their customers a purpose behind every purchase.

What is a Social Enterprise?

what is a social enterprise

“Social entrepreneurship” has a very broad definition that can arguably include non-profit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, which rely almost exclusively on donations and grants, and even for-profit companies like Tesla that put their clean energy products front and center.

A social enterprise is a type of business where the bottom line and success metrics are measured in more than just profits. Instead, social enterprises typically measure success based on a triple bottom line:

  • People: The social impact of your business, and your ability to change lives and develop a community in a sustainable way.
  • Planet: Your environmental impact; how you contribute to a sustainable planet or reduce the carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) of your business and customers.
  • Profit: Like traditional businesses, they need to make make money in order to sustain themselves, pay workers and grow as an enterprise.

Social Entrepreneurship is about harnessing commerce for a cause.

 

For this reason, one of the challenges to succeeding in social entrepreneurship is that it’s easy to measure profit (did you make money, or did you not make money?), but it’s not as easy to measure your impact on people or the planet and communicate it to others.

Social entrepreneurs adopt a business model that puts their mission at the center, and are held accountable to their customers and stakeholders based on their proposed impact.

The Benefits of Building a Social Enterprise

For today’s consumers and businesses, social responsibility is a growing priority as concerns about climate change, international development, and supply chain ethics become a more prominent topic of international discussion.

In a survey by Social Enterprise UK, 1 in 3 people said they feel ashamed about buying from socially irresponsible businesses. In another study, 91% of global consumers expected companies to operate responsibly, and address social and environmental issues

This reflects a shift in consumer awareness about the impact of their purchase decisions. Not only are businesses being held to a higher standard, but many consumers are holding themselves to a higher standard as well.

So while social enterprises, by definition, must dedicate a portion of their profits to the impact they want to make, they do enjoy the following benefits that help them succeed:

  • Mission-based branding: A company story with a cause at its core makes consumers feel good about every purchase they make from you.
  • Partnership opportunities: A social enterprise, because of their mission-based motivations, can partner with other non-profit organizations and for-profit companies to leverage existing audiences and established reputations to create a presence in their market. “In kind” resources and discounts are not uncommon for social enterprises.
  • Press coverage: Publications and blogs love to cover social enterprises and their impact, helping them to evangelize their efforts and share their impact.
  • Certifications and support systems: Social enterprises can be eligible for grants, “impact investing” opportunities that focus on job creation and sustainability, and special certifications such as a Benefit Corporation status that make it easier to establish credibility, commit to transparency, and attract customers, employees, volunteers, and investors.

For the sake of this piece, we’ll look at what it takes to create a sustainable for-profit social enterprise. And that starts, as most businesses do, with figuring out what you want to sell.

Finding a Product to Sell and a Mission to Lead

The mission comes first for social entrepreneurs, but that doesn’t eclipse the importance of having a quality product to sell. After all, when all is said and done, a for-profit social enterprise needs to make money to survive just like any other business.

But there’s a pattern amongst successful social enterprises of establishing a good “product-cause fit” that aligns their mission with what they sell.

LSTN Sound Co. for example, sells premium headphones where a portion of profit goes toward the Starkey Hearing Foundation to restore hearing to people around the world.

Cotopaxi makes and sells outdoor gear for adventurers and travellers, dedicating 2% of total revenue to provide grants to specific non-profits that seek to alleviate poverty in different parts of the world.

Love Your Melon sells beanies and hats and, on top of donating 50% of profits to pediatric cancer research and supporting patients, also has a Campus Crew Program that mobilizes students across the United States to help with their mission.

These are only a handful of many examples of ecommerce-based social enterprises that do a great job of not only tying a sense of purpose to their products, but using traditional business strategies, such as event marketing and giveaways, to promote their mission.

Defining Your Mission and Illustrating Your Impact

For social enterprises, their mission is a competitive advantage that can help them stand out in a crowded market—if they can communicate their motivation and the impact they can make.

Many social enterprises adopt a model where they donate a portion of profits to a cause, but that’s not the only way to position your company as a social enterprise.

It’s not just saying, ‘Hey, we have a social mission as an organization, and X percent of our sales goes to nonprofit X, Y,  and Z.’ I think it needs to be deeper and more authentic than that.

There are also social enterprises that focus on:

  • Creating jobs within the communities they care about, such as hiring local ex-convicts or ethically outsourcing production to communities in need of fair work and career development opportunities.
  • Reducing their carbon footprint by planting trees or going out of their way to reduce carbon emissions throughout their entire supply chain and educating customers about it.
  • Hosting workshops and “people development” initiatives to teach skills and empower people to build better lives for themselves and their communities.
  • Advocating for diversity and inclusion on behalf of underrepresented groups and becoming an engine of inspiration, such as Goldie Blox does by making toys to expose young girls to the joys of engineering.

Transparency and sustainable impact are essential for a successful social enterprise. And these things are easier to achieve if your cause is close to your heart and you choose an impact that you can measure.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” in the words of C.S Lewis.

Transparency is about visibly demonstrating your integrity and holding yourself accountable to your mission and the people who support it.

Depending on your mission, you can directly implement your plans for change as a social entrepreneur and expand your contributions as you grow. But if you choose to partner with non-profit organizations (NPOs) to help execute the “social” part of your social enterprise (as many do), be sure to do your homework before you reach out and ask questions like:

  • What am I ultimately giving back to?
  • How will my contributions actually be used and what are the organization’s operating costs?
  • How does the organization measure its success?
  • Is their impact sustainable, or will it only end up doing more harm in the long run?
  • Does this organization have an ethical history as a non-profit?

This is all part of your founding story—the tale of why you started your business—and will likely come up again and again in your elevator pitch, About Page, PR efforts and more. So refine it with your mission in mind and your action plan for creating change.

Funding Your Social Enterprise

Social enterprises are accountable to the cause that they support, and that means automatically setting aside a portion of future revenue to invest in their impact.

Social entrepreneurs often have to be creative with how they raise money, and that’s why crowdfunding is a popular option.

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter can not only help you raise the money you need to get your idea off the ground, but get your mission out there in a community that exists on the premise of supporting projects and causes they believe in. Learn more about running a successful crowdfunding campaign in The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding.

Goldie Blox’s Kickstarter campaign exceeded its funding goal by a landslide and helped launch the successful business that it is today.

There are also a growing number of grants that you can apply to for social enterprises that meet specific requirements, and a new trend of “impact investing“, where the return on investment expected isn’t just financial, but includes social and environmental impact as well.

Marketing Your Mission

What works when it comes to marketing can vary from business to business, but the need for transparency and the “for-benefit” position that social enterprises adopt make certain marketing strategies especially effective at generating awareness.

After all, you’re marketing your mission, not just your business.

Content Marketing

Digital media and the internet enable storytelling at a scale that wasn’t possible before.

From shooting videos to sharing photos on social media, social enterprises can leverage content to share real stories of the impact they’re making and provide proof that every customer’s purchase went toward doing some good in the world.

You can visit the affected community and film a documentary-style video. Or you can create an infographic for a data-based illustration of your impact or why your vision of change is needed.

There are ample opportunities for a social enterprise to spread its mission and tell its stories with content.

Learn more in The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing.

Events

Since NPOs often host events for fundraising and other initiatives, social enterprises can partner on or sponsor the causes that relate to their mission.

Whereas this would be deemed a marketing expense for traditional businesses, for a social enterprise it can double as an investment in their cause.

Learn more in How Cotopaxi Build Its Brand and Spreads Its Vision With In-Person Events.

PR

With a feel-good story and a carefully crafted pitch, a social enterprise can win media mentions from bloggers and publications that are constantly on the lookout for something interesting to cover for their audiences.

Since there’s a purpose behind your company, there’s usually a lot more meat to the story by default than there might be for a traditional business.

Learn more in How to Land Your Business in the Press.

Social Media

Purchasing isn’t the only way for people to support your mission. They can donate their voices online too.

According to an analysis by CoSchedule on why people share things online, 84% used social sharing as a way to support causes or issues they care about.

As long as you integrate your mission into your marketing, you can expect your audience to help you spread the word.

You can even amplify your message by starting a Thunderclap—setting a deadline to collect tweets, Facebook shares, and Tumblr posts that will go out all at once.

Learn more in How to Create a Social Media Content Calendar in 4 Simple Steps.

Thunderclap offers a great way to mobilize your social media following to contribute to a cause or campaign you care about.

The Rise of For-Benefit Companies

Social entrepreneurship isn’t the only way a business can be for-benefit and not just for-profit.

Many companies are owning their social responsibility based on a growing belief that those with the power to do so can and and should try to make the world a better place.

Our connected world has brought about a new era of awareness, where we can find problems to solve and lives to improve across the street or across the world if we choose.

People from all over are making the decision to make change in whatever way they can, whether it’s by being more conscious of what they buy as consumers, or building an engine for social and environmental good by becoming entrepreneurs.