A year ago, I started my own online store. Along the way, I've learned how to sell thousands of products but also lose thousands of dollars.

To create my store products, I use print-on-demand services, which allow you to print products as they are ordered without carrying any inventory. Though it's a great way to fulfill orders, for the new business owner, there is often room for error if you don't do your research properly. There are many ways to make money with both e-commerce and print-on-demand integration. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when you're just getting started.

1. Failing to Invest in Design

When I first started creating products, I used inexpensive designers, and the quality of work suffered. Once I started investing more  heavily in design, my sales increased and it helped shape the brand I was trying to create.

At the beginning, it's important to evaluate design talent to ensure not only that the style fits with your brand, but also that you have a good working relationship with the designer. Understanding each other's working style can help the design process move more smoothly. It's recommended that you test five to ten designers for a short trial run to see which aesthetic and working style aligns best with your goals.

2. Judging Suppliers Based on Price

When I was looking for the best suppliers for my brand, my decision was based heavily on price, as I had a strict budget for starting my business. I quickly learned that sometimes the cheapest price meant sacrificed quality. This resulted in dozens of refunds and products printed incorrectly. When evaluating suppliers, it's of paramount importance to request samples of every product you'll be selling. This can be costly, but it's impossible to judge the quality of a product without testing it with your own two hands.

When you are evaluating print-on-demand companies, don't base your decision only on price, but also on delivery speed, quality, and customer service.

3. Not Having a Backup Plan

My yoga mats were selling well and I was excited about their future potential. I quickly started a PR campaign, sending dozens of mats to publications to review. Soon after, my print-on-demand supplier decided to pull the mats from their offering, leaving me without a way to print my orders. I ended up having a frantic week trying to find a new supplier but not being able to find something in the same price range, and I was forced to increase prices.

With print-on-demand, it's important to have backup suppliers in the unfortunate case of inventory shortages and product recalls. These things can happen and it's important to have other suppliers on hand who can help you fulfill at a moment's notice.

4. Being Unprepared for the Holidays

This year was my first holiday season and as a new e-commerce store owner, I didn't know what to expect. November and December are two of the busiest times of the year for the gift industry. I started planning for the holidays two months before. This was much too late.

I should have done a photography shoot with my products in July so I could have pitched them to magazines in August to make it into their gift guides. I did my photo shoot in November and then had only a handful of weeks to promote and pitch my products. Plan as early as possible for any major holiday that impacts your business.

5. Failing to Invest Time in Customer Service

Running a business is difficult--no question about it. You're often juggling ten hats, from accountant to manager. One hat that you can't forget is customer service. Many people get into e-commerce thinking that it can turn into passive income. But a successful e-commerce store requires stellar customer service to ensure your ratings stay high and customers revisit your store.

When I was starting my company, I didn't realize how much time I would be investing in simply answering customer emails. On issues from custom product requests to shipping inquiries, I spend about an hour a day responding to customers. This task can later be outsourced to a trained employee, but when you're first getting started, it's important to respond to messages yourself so you can gain product feedback and insight from your customers.

The world of print-on-demand and e-commerce can be lucrative if you execute a plan correctly. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can get on your way to building the e-commerce business you've always dreamed of.

Published on: Jan 23, 2018