I recently invited members of the Merch Momentum Facebook community to an AMA. I am grateful for the excellent range of questions received on the post and in subsequent messages and emails.
Today, I’m starting the process of answering these questions. Here is the first batch – a number of questions that are personally relevant to most Merchers and deal with subject matter that I’ve already addressed or written about on numerous occasions.
Question: My sales have dried up and so has my motivation. No clue how to fix whatever I broke and pick up the pieces again. What should I do?
Sounds to me like you’re stuck in a rut — a common situation that many Merchers experience after spending too much time taking ineffective steps and getting perpetually disappointed when these efforts never pan out. It’s a clear indication that the time has come to shake up everything about your MBA plan of attack. Here are several steps I would take if I were you:
- Stop designing for niches that have either stopped selling or never sold for you. Don’t stubbornly try to master anything that isn’t consistently rewarding you. Walk away.
- Consider deleting non-sellers that have been live for 6 months or longer.
- Only upload new designs in niches you haven’t previously touched. Portfolios grow stagnant when they stay in the same 25-50 or even 100 niches.
- Double or triple down on the newest niche sellers in your catalog.
- Experiment with new listing, keyword, or even design strategies. If all of your designs look and read like they came from the same designer/creator, there may be a lack of aesthetic diversity that will imperil your sales.
- Be sure to strike a healthy balance of seasonal and evergreen designs. A strong portfolio will have both.
- Don’t limit your quest for growth to MBA. I strongly recommend KDP, Redbubble, Etsy and other platforms where millions of shoppers spend their money.
Question: How do you come up with ideas when you’re out of creativity?
I think it’s always a good idea to be aware of new ways to brainstorm and search for innovative niches and messaging angles to explore. So I’m always asking myself: “Where can I find my next good idea?”
The moods and mindsets of the masses and micro-audiences hold the keys to unlock this mystery every time.
So, naturally, I try to brainstorm places where the moods and mindsets of the masses and micro-niche audiences are clear. For instance, places where I brainstorm ideas with large, widespread sales potential include:
- Nonfiction and fiction bestseller lists (book sales are a window to niches that people care about today)
- Major retailer websites (general and specialized) from Target to Bass Pro Shops (the tees, mobile phone cases, and novelty items sold there tell me what consumers are buying)
- Trending memes and hashtags across social media (viral content often has a longer shelf life than you would expect. These channels are excellent for discovering new niches and brainstorming innovative ways to leverage familiar niches).
- Streaming content platforms (I look at top watched content in films, unscripted television, news, and documentaries. I’ve discovered numerous niches this way).
In terms of smaller, niche brainstorming ideas, I start with a list of ten major niches and then look into blogs or websites specializing in those niches to discover subniches and subniche audience targeting opportunities. For instance, let’s say I want to know more about firefighting. I’ll find a firefighter appreciation blog or equipment service provider. I’ll look at the menu drop down options and browse their blogs, stores, photo galleries, etc.
There’s a good chance I’ll be exposed to terminology, visuals, equipment names, or general firefighting themes that otherwise would have never become apparent to me if I had only searched “firefighter tshirts” on Amazon.
I brainstorm with content in front of me. To make it as productive of an experience as possible, I try to wade into waters where few others go. This is why I love researching niche blogs and websites, as they are typically packed with rich information about the niches at hand. Ostensibly, these sites don’t contain information about tshirts, but they are teeming with inspiration for new designs!
Question: I’m in tier 100. Have a few designs that sell regularly. Is there a proven process for coming up with design ideas that sell? It seems that finding the ones that don’t is pretty easy.
Profits follow passion. Find passionate niche audiences — large or small — and give them designs, messages, and crossover themes that no one else has. When originality meets passion, it’s a catalyst for consistent profits. Serving the same audiences with the same designs over and over is a one-way street to stagnant earnings, if any earnings at all.
I’m a big proponent of researching niches by way of trusting experts in the niches at hand.
I know literally nothing about crafting, yet I’ve sold plenty of designs in the crafting niche by leveraging the knowledge and experience of people who love and live for crafting.
Ultimately, crafting is just like any other hobby or interest worth researching. You just have to find a good resource focused exclusively on the point of interest. In the case of crafting, I begin by searching for “crafting websites” and “crafting news” on Google.
Almost instantly, I discover https://crafting-news.com/
Upon clicking the link, I find a wealth of articles and resources. But I’m not going to dive into any of them just yet (if ever). For now, this phase is much like the first step of going into a restaurant. You have to see a menu before knowing what to order. In this case, you have to see a menu before you know what to design.
Niche-focused websites can give you an extremely helpful glimpse at valuable sub-niches just from their drop-down menu. In the menu from Crafting-News, I see such subniches as:
- Home decor crafts
- Kids crafts
- General crafts
- Art, drawing or painting
- Paper crafts
- Homemade gifts
- DIY jewelry
- Seasonal crafting
I have barely lifted a finger to research crafting but because I started my journey on a niche-focused website, I have a great head start with 14 subniches that provide a helpful window into the detailed interests (subniches) of crafters.
Regardless of whether you end up at an ecommerce store, blog, or news site pertinent to your niche, the first order of business in subniche research is always the same with this tactic: check the menu. There just may be enough insight in the menu alone to meet all of your initial subniche needs.
Question: How do you manage your time and schedule between creating designs for different products (like KDP & Merch), researching, uploading on different platforms?
What helps me is to set more weekly or monthly goals than daily goals, especially with regard to POD and the various platforms where I want to grow the most at any particular time. Life throws too many daily curveballs to set and adhere to strict daily goals. Flexibility is a must for mental sanity and long-term actionable planning and incremental progress toward goals.
For instance, I would much rather set a goal to upload 100 designs a week than 20 designs a day. Let’s face it, some days this will not be possible. But it might be possible to upload 40 the next day. It may sound simple if not silly, but it does work for me. A big part of being productive is removing the feeling of not being productive enough. Giving yourself more time to hit milestones and reach goals can be a very helpful, in my experience.
Question: How do you decide on how to connect niches for the crossovers you talk about? What’s your process like?
Ordinarily, the last place you should start doing research for tshirt ideas is the first page of best selling Amazon tshirts.
In my experience, the winning strategies have involved finding small niches with little to no competition (micro-niches, if you will), scaling into evergreen and seasonal niches with unique messaging angles, and not chasing the herd but rather trying to get ahead of the pack. My strategy has never been to create one tshirt that sells 10,000 units a month but to create 10,000 shirts that can sell 1 unit a month.
When it comes to cross-over niche designs, however, research begins precisely where your research should not begin ordinarily for single niche tshirts — by looking at some of the top selling niches (tshirts, totes, phone cases, throw pillows, etc.) on Amazon, Etsy, and other POD platforms of your liking.
So why do we start at the top here? Because only putting two micro-niches together will result in a design with such limited appeal that it doesn’t take full advantage of the content shortages presently pervasive throughout the best selling niches on Amazon. While this approach may change over tine — after all, Amazon is a very fluid environment — for now, I start at the top and I think you should too.
One of the top selling niches on Merch By Amazon today is video games. If your plan is to make another “I Paused My Game To Be Here” tshirt and release it with little more than a new font against a backdrop of thousands of tshirts that say nearly the same thing and look practically identical, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if that design fails to sell a single time, even with the best keywords and listing language deployed.
Does this mean you should stay away from video games? Not a chance. This niche — one of Amazon’s most bankable — has been leveraged poorly when it comes to pairings with other niches.
Having long been a fan of pairing hobbies with professions, I know from the firefighters in my life and social circle that gaming is a great way for many firefighters to pass time, relax, or decompress. The number of quality video gaming tshirts for firefighters on Amazon is beyond underwhelming. There are no “I Only Pause My Game to Fight Fires” tees targeting firefighters who love gaming.
When you find opportunities like this, you can branch out to design video gaming tees for various professionals and hobbyists.
But this isn’t a blind exercise in scaling. It’s very strategic. The selection of video games and firefighting, two hugely competitive niches that are difficult to make waves in, had virtually no products that fused the two niches together. When you find opportunities like these — and they are far more plentiful than you realize — success can follow much, much faster than had you simply stuck to designing for each niche individually. Just make sure the pairing you have in mind is original and not already done.
We should NOT be uploading any designs that already exist on Amazon.
More answers to your questions coming soon!