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10 Tips to Work Smarter in Your T-Shirt Shop

10 Tips to Work Smarter in Your T-Shirt Shop

Nicole Rollender |

Have you ever started working in your t-shirt business at 9 a.m. and literally not stopped till 10 p.m.? Owning your decorated-apparel business can be a great full-time or side hustle, but it’s way too easy to get sucked into a black hole of working way too much. Instead of printing yourself to the bone, it’s time to think about how you can work smarter, not harder, to achieve success in your t-shirt business. We’ve got 10 tips that will help you spend less time working in your business – and still make more money.

How to Work Smarter in Your Decorated T-Shirt Business

Check out our best tips for making your t-shirt business run even smoother. See if you can choose one or more to start improving your work habits in the next few months in your business.

1. Get Paid Upfront 

The bottom line: Collect 100% of the money for your work upfront. Think about how Amazon and other sites work. Buyers are 100% used to (and OK with) paying for their product before it ships. If you’re selling t-shirts via your website or another platform, you’re probably already operating under this model, and that’s great. However, if you’re taking orders from an individual for bridal shower t-shirts or from a business that needs 15 shirts for a special staffed event, you should always require 100% upfront payment. Here’s why: You’re not a bank. Your customers should pay you first for their blanks, supplies and the labor hours it’ll take you to make their shirts. This way, they’re way less likely to cancel the order and leave you holding the bill.

2. Set the Right Profit Margins for Profit

It’s so important to consider everything that goes into creating your decorated apparel when you set your prices and profit margins. List out your material costs, creative design time, and supplies, along with your monthly business overhead, labor hours, and other miscellaneous expenses. Your pricing should comfortably cover your expenses, and provide you with a healthy profit.

Our best advice here? First, don’t try to compete with other vendors by racing to offer the lowest price. Buyers who want the lowest price often don’t stay loyal to any brand. If you’re unsure what profit percentage you should aim for, it’s well worth talking to an accountant or CPA to figure out the right profit margin for your unique business. Then, you can confidently adjust your pricing accordingly.

3. Cross-Train Any Employees or Helpers 

A big business lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic? Missing employees could immediately hurt a company’s productivity or profitability. That’s one reason why it’s important to cross-train any employees or contract helpers. If an employee – or one of their kids or other family members – gets sick, they don’t have to feel guilty about calling out. And you can keep your production schedule intact. 

If you’re just starting out or you’re a solopreneur, most likely you work alone. However, at some point, you may decide to hire part-time or contract help. That’s why it’s important to know that worker morale goes up when they know another person can pick up their tasks, if there’s an issue. Plus, when more than one person in your business can do the same work, you can take on more jobs and you can also take more time off to enjoy life.

4. Stop Selling What People Aren’t Buying 

There’s nothing worse than decorating t-shirts that don’t sell and instead sit on your shelves gathering dust. First, you can take a look at what types of designs and products have sold best for you, and offer those to buyers. Second, consider moving to a print-on-demand business model. This way, you’ll only decorate shirts that your customers have ordered and paid for already. 

5. Outsource Work When You Can

Outsourcing certain tasks in your business makes a lot of sense. Plus, you can deduct these as business expenses. For example, you might outsource your bookkeeping or your custom heat transfer production. Don’t be afraid to make a list of tasks that simply don’t dollar out for you to keep in-house, whether it’s a regular task like updating products on your website or special work like custom artwork for a client.  

6. Streamline Your Workflow or Production Schedule 

The apparel-shop business can be total chaos, as you might have already learned. One of the easiest ways to work smarter is to streamline your production schedule. Work to standardize as much of your workflow as possible, so you can go smoothly from step to step. That can also include organizing your work area, and designating certain areas for each step of the process. It also makes sense to group like shirts and designs together so you can produce them in bulk in one sitting. If you’re still feeling out of control, keep notes for a week every time you hit a bottleneck or snag in the process so you can brainstorm specific ideas to improve your workflow.

7. Communicate Clearly and Often

One of the biggest complaints both customers and employees have is not being told enough about what’s going on with their order or the business. Some t-shirt shop owners automate emails that go out to customers when they receive, produce and ship orders, so buyers know exactly where the order is in your pipeline. If you have any employees or contract help at this stage, clearly outline the goals and challenges of your shop to them. That way, they’ll feel part of your success and will work hard for you.

8. Record Videos for Meetings 

Have you seen the all-too-relatable meme, “I survived another meeting that could have been an email”? Nobody wants to sit through unnecessary meetings. But by the same token, there are some times when a personal touch is required, and an email won’t cut it. Instead, we recommend recording and sending short video messages to customers to let them know when their order is ready or give them an update on the progress of an order. You can also send them videos of new products you think they’ll like! 

9. Create or Update Your Website 

If you don’t have a website, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to increase your revenue. If you have a website that you aren’t regularly updating with your products or isn’t ecommerce-enabled yet, then you’re also missing out. Hire a contract developer to maintain your website and ensure you’re using it to show off your work, bring in sales, and keep customers up to date about what’s going on in your shop.

10. Cut the ‘Non-Essentials’ 

Time is an essential element you can never get back. If you’re wasting time multitasking, holding unnecessary meetings, constantly checking emails, hopping onto social media or looking for tools in a messy production area, it’s time to stop. If you waste even a minute of each day on something non-essential, you’ll have wasted almost seven hours of work a year. You can use a time-tracking tool or app to see where you’re spending the bulk of your workday, so you can make better use of those hours.

Make This the Year You Work Strategically for Success

If you’re a t-shirt shop owner, you know how much you hustle to bring in business and keep it coming. By following these tips, you can work smarter in your decorated t-shirt business and achieve greater success while also having more time for yourself.

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