How to Make Money Selling Merch: 6 Proven Steps

Merchandise, often called “merch,” is a fantastic strategy for brands and businesses looking to expand their reach and boost their income. When you sell merchandise, you not only generate revenue but also enhance brand recognition and reach.

Items like t-shirts, plush toys, phone cases, custom socks, and sweatshirts can transform your loyal customers into brand ambassadors while opening up a fresh revenue stream for your business.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of creating your own merchandise tailored to your audience, helping you tap into a new source of income.

Step 1: Get to Know Your Audience

To create merchandise that sells, you must have a good understanding with your audience. You have to grasp their interests and identify the products that would resonate most with them.

Spend some time to think about your connection with your fan base. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where do your fans spend most of their time online? Are they mostly on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube?

  2. What kinds of people make up your audience? Are they young gamers or working professionals into fitness and wellness?

  3. What do your fans love about your brand? Is it your sense of humor, your eco-friendly approach, or your support for a particular cause?

  4. How do they like to shop? Do they prefer things like posters for their homes or do they like accessories such as custom phone cases and stylish tote bags?

To really understand your audience, try these simple tactics:

  • On social media, run polls to see which merch items your audience likes the most. Show them mock-up designs of items like t-shirts, coffee mugs, and tote bags, and let them vote for their favorites.

  • Use surveys or questionnaires to dive deeper into their preferences. Ask about their favorite colors, design styles, or themes they’d like to see on your merchandise.

This way, you’ll be better prepared to create merch that clicks with them.

Step 2: Choose Products That Match Your Brand’s Style

When it comes to merch, the key is to pick items that align with your brand’s personality and the kind of relationship you want to build with your audience. Let’s break it down:

  • Apparel (T-shirts, Hoodies, Sweatshirts, Long-sleeved Shirts): These are a great choice for fashion-forward brands or those with a sense of humor. For instance, if your brand is all about witty humor, consider designing T-shirts with clever one-liners or humorous graphics that resonate with your audience.
  • Hats and Caps: Branded headwear works well for fashion-forward brands or those with a sporty image. Caps with embroidered logos or stylish designs can be a fashion statement for your followers.
  • Drinkware (Mugs): If your brand promotes relaxation or positive vibes, custom mugs are a perfect fit. You can create mugs with serene artwork, motivational quotes, or your brand’s logo to give your followers a daily dose of inspiration with their morning coffee.
  • Bags (Tote Bags, Drawstring Bags): Branded tote bags are an eco-friendly option that appeals to followers who care about sustainability and convenience. If your brand is more focused on adventure and the great outdoors, consider offering rugged drawstring bags for hiking or travel.
  • Stationery (Notebooks, Journals, Sketchbooks): For brands with a creative or professional following, customizable notebooks and journals are a hit. If your audience includes writers, consider elegant journals with your brand’s logo. Artists might love sketchbooks with unique covers and quality paper.
  • Accessories (Stickers, Patches, Magnets): These items are fantastic for younger audiences who enjoy personalizing their belongings. Create stickers with your brand’s emblem or fun graphics that fans can proudly display on their laptops, phone cases, or water bottles. Patches and magnets can also add a touch of personality to clothing and home decor.
  • Keychains: Custom keychains are practical and serve as constant brand reminders. They can be made in various shapes and designs to match your brand’s theme.

Remember, the key is to choose merchandise that aligns with your brand’s identity and appeals to the interests and preferences of your audience. Offering merchandise that fits your brand’s style will help strengthen your connection with your community and enhance brand loyalty.

Step 3: Bring Your Merch to Life with Design

Now that you’ve decided on the type of merchandise you want to create, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get into the creative process. Here’s how to make it happen:

  1. Design it Yourself: If you have a creative streak and a clear vision, consider taking the DIY route using design tools like Canva. This hands-on approach allows you to infuse your personal artistic touch into your products.

  2. Consider Professional Help: If time is a constraint or you seek a polished, professional look, you can hire a graphic design expert from platforms like Upwork. These seasoned professionals can turn your ideas into visually captivating merchandise.

As you dive into the design phase, keep these crucial factors in mind:

  • Brand Identity: Think about your brand’s distinctive colors and style. If you already have a set color palette, figure out how to incorporate these colors harmoniously into your product designs.

  • Mood and Aesthetics: Delve into the mood you want your merchandise to convey. Your chosen mood will shape decisions about colors, fonts, and overall aesthetics. For instance, if you’re aiming for a relaxed, bohemian vibe, steer clear of overly formal or elaborate designs.

  • Messages and Inside Jokes: Reflect on any inside jokes or messages that resonate with your audience. Integrating these elements into your product design can foster a sense of community and connection among your followers.

  • Practicality: Consider the practical needs of your target audience. If you’re crafting a drawstring bag for outdoor enthusiasts, make sure it can comfortably accommodate essentials like a water bottle and basic supplies. For clothing items, think about options like long-sleeved shirts or cozy sweatpants, especially if you have followers in cooler climates.

  • Quality is King: While affordability is important, don’t skimp on quality. Customers notice the difference, and subpar products can tarnish your brand’s reputation. For example, ensure your bags are durable and won’t easily tear, and make stickers that adhere well and don’t peel off prematurely.

Designing your merchandise is a thoughtful and creative process aimed at crafting products that resonate deeply with your customers. Keep these considerations front and center as you bring your unique vision to life, and you’ll be well on your way to creating merchandise that captivates your audience.

Step 4: Produce Your Merch

Now that you’ve nailed down your designs and the type of merchandise you want to create, it’s time to turn those concepts into tangible products ready for sale. Let’s explore a few production options, depending on your strategy and the products you’re making.

Option 1: Print on Demand

Consider using print-on-demand services (POD) like Printful or Printify. They offer a range of products such as T-shirts, hoodies, and mugs, and allow you to customize them with your designs. 

Let’s say you’ve designed a line of quirky, cat-themed T-shirts. You can then partner with a print-on-demand service, upload your T-shirt designs, and select the colors and sizes you want to offer. When a customer places an order, the service prints your design on the chosen shirt and ships it directly to the customer.

With print-on-demand, you only pay for the products your customers purchase. It’s a good practice to order samples or mockups of your custom products to ensure you’re satisfied with the quality before selling them to your customers. For more information, you can check out my guide on how to start a print-on-demand business

Option 2: Design Your Product from Scratch

If you’ve got a unique product idea, Alibaba.com can help you find a manufacturer to bring it to life according to your preferences. This method works well for one-of-a-kind products.

For instance, let’s say you’ve created an innovative board game that combines strategy and adventure. You can collaborate closely with a manufacturer to design everything from the game board to the cards and pieces, making sure they match your vision perfectly.

In these situations, it’s crucial to thoroughly investigate aspects like who owns the intellectual property rights and whether costs are fixed or based on sharing revenue.

Do your research diligently and verify your sources. Before making your initial order, look at Better Business Bureau (BBB) reviews and ask plenty of questions. When you buy a product, you want to be certain it matches the specifications you’ve seen online and discussed in person.

Consider starting with a trial period with your chosen manufacturer to ensure they can produce products to your liking and fulfill your order requirements promptly.

Option 3: Dropshipping

Dropshipping means you promote products and get orders, while your supplier handles shipping them out. This saves you money upfront and makes it easier to manage inventory.

But it’s not all sunshine. Profit margins are smaller, and there’s fierce competition as the same stuff is available online elsewhere. Popular dropship suppliers include AliExpress, Wholesale2B, Inventory Source, and Megagoods.

If you meet their minimum order (usually around 100 items), some dropship suppliers might even help you create special packaging with your brand’s logo.

When you’re making choices about production, remember that the method you pick depends on your goals, budget, and what makes your brand and products special.

Step 5: Promote Your Merch

Now that your amazing products are ready to shine, it’s time to start promoting them and make sure they reach the right people. You have various strategies available to you, all designed to grow your audience and grab the attention of potential customers.

1. Harness Your Existing Channels

You’ve already built a following on various platforms, such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook. These are your golden ticket to connecting with your audience. Leverage these platforms to reach your target market.

  • Use Visuals: Showcase your merchandise by wearing or using it in your videos and posts. Give your audience a visual taste of what they can get.

  • Clear Information: Make sure your audience knows how to order your products. Include merch details in your “About” section and within post descriptions or comments whenever you feature your merchandise.

2. Optimize for Organic SEO

As your brand grows, people will search for you online. Make sure they find you with organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

  • Content Strategy: Create content rich in strategic keywords that highlight the quality and convenience of your merchandise. Tailor it to resonate with your target audience’s interests.

  • Meta Tags: Don’t forget to use meta tags on your images to help search engines like Google understand what your audience is searching for.

3. Paid Advertising

Paid search and social media ads can significantly expand your reach and introduce your merchandise to new audiences.

  • Targeted Ads: Craft social media ads that target specific demographics in line with your typical audience, exposing your brand and products to potential customers.

  • Search Engine Ads: Utilize paid search to promote your merchandise to people actively searching for your brand or keywords related to your niche.

4. Activate Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is a potent tool in your marketing arsenal. Happy customers can become enthusiastic brand advocates.

  • Special Promotions: Run offers, promotions, and presales to get your products into the hands of early buyers and generate excitement.

  • Giveaways: Host giveaways where your merchandise is the prize. Encourage followers to engage with your brand, or collaborate with influencers to extend your reach.

5. Collaborate with Influencers

Partnering with influencers who align with your brand can expose your merchandise to a broader audience.

  • Identify Influencers: Find influencers in your niche or industry who have an engaged following that matches your target demographic.

  • Collaborative Content: Work with influencers to create engaging content that features your merchandise. Their endorsement can boost credibility and generate interest.

6. Email Marketing

Email marketing is a direct way to reach your audience and promote your merchandise.

  • Build an Email List: Encourage visitors to subscribe to your email list by offering exclusive merch-related incentives, like early access or discounts.

  • Engaging Campaigns: Send out well-crafted email campaigns that highlight your merchandise, its benefits, and any promotions or special offers.

Step 6: Start Selling Your Merchandise

Congratulations on reaching the final step: it’s time to start selling your incredible merchandise. When it comes to setting up your shop, you have several platform options. Your choice will depend on various factors, including whether you handle your own inventory, use a print-on-demand service, or run your website. Let’s dive into some top options:

1. BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a powerful e-commerce platform that empowers you to create your own online store. You can fully customize your store’s appearance to match your brand’s identity. BigCommerce offers integration with a variety of e-commerce apps and tools, making it a versatile choice for selling your merchandise.

2. Shopify

Shopify is a renowned e-commerce platform known for its user-friendliness. It seamlessly integrates with services like Printify, allowing you to set up your online store with ease. With Shopify, you can create a fully branded store that reflects your unique identity and products. For more information, you can check out my guide on how to build a Shopify store

3. Printify

Printify specializes in fulfilling print-on-demand orders, making it an ideal choice for merchandise creators. It offers a diverse range of customizable products, including apparel, accessories, and home goods. You can sell your Printify products across various online marketplaces, expanding your reach to a wider audience.

4. Amazon

Amazon is a massive online marketplace that offers two primary methods for selling merchandise.

First, you can set up a seller account and list your inventory directly on Amazon’s marketplace. This is a traditional e-commerce model where you manage your inventory.

Alternatively, you can apply to join Amazon Merch. This program allows you to upload your designs and specify the types of products you create. When customers order, Amazon handles production and fulfillment, and you earn a royalty.

Need more help? Check out my guide “How to Sell on Amazon“. 

5. eBay and Etsy

eBay and Etsy are popular online marketplaces, each with its own distinct audience. Etsy is an excellent choice if your merchandise appeals to artsy and custom-loving individuals, as well as small business enthusiasts.

eBay, on the other hand, is ideal for reaching deal hunters and those looking for unique or rare finds. You can choose to list your products on both platforms to maximize your reach and exposure. To learn more, check out my article “How to Set Up an eBay Store“. 

6. WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, making it an attractive option if you already have a WordPress website. It seamlessly integrates e-commerce functionality into your WordPress site, allowing you to sell your merchandise directly to your website’s visitors.

With WooCommerce, you have full control over your online store’s appearance and functionality, and you can expand its capabilities with various plugins.

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