How to make money as a college student online with print on demand
For most students, college is a financially difficult time. Tuition, books, rent, food, recreational expenses – money spent adds up fast and money coming in is never enough. Plus, with a student loan debt looming ominously ahead, even the most masterful budgeting acrobatics and food stretching will only get you so far. We’ve all spent our fair share of time wondering – how to make money as a college student?
Nearly half of all full-time undergraduate students are employed. However, juggling both studies and a job is a daunting task. A study revealed that students working more than 20 hours a week tend to see their academic performance suffer. Makes sense, right? But on a more interesting note, the same study discovered that those working 20 hours or less a week performed BETTER academically than their unemployed counterparts.
That can mean only one thing – it’s time to get on that part-time grind.
But it’s not that easy for students. The grim reality is that there’s fierce competition for every job opening – a situation exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. And even if you do find something, it’s likely to be monotone, low-pay, and exhausting gig.
As a result, a lot of students are turning to online money makers and print-on-demand in particular. Why? You get to be your own boss, build an idea from the ground up, and learn a ton while doing it, but most of all – the potential for financial growth is gargantuan.
So, let’s talk about how to make money as a college student online with print-on-demand.
Print-on-demand is a business model. Traditionally, someone like a t-shirt or coffee cup merchant would order a large quantity of products from a supplier, store them, and sell them off until they’re out of stock. This would require a significant initial investment from the merchant, a storage space, a storefront, shipping management, as well as the nerves and time to deal with all overheads related to overseeing the entire process.
Print-on-demand (POD) makes the merchant’s (your) life much easier and it’s the reason why anyone, even a student, can make money online. How? POD offloads the responsibility of inventory, storage, and shipping on to the print-on-demand service provider, i.e. Printify. You develop an idea (e.g. cool t-shirt design), connect Printify with your web store, and spread the word about your cool store – that’s all you have to do.
The rest is managed by Printify & our partners – when someone purchases your product, Printify prints it, packages it, and ships it, thus taking care of all the nitty-gritty stuff that often puts students off entrepreneurship.
The best part? There are no subscription costs to Printify (with the basic account). Printify will take a cut of the profit from any sale you make to cover resource and processing expenses, but up until that first sale, you’re paying absolutely nothing. This is particularly loved by students – if it works out, great; but if it doesn’t – the only thing lost is a bit of time.
Note: Print-on-demand is the name of the business model. The business of starting an online store with no inventory is known as dropshipping.
3 reasons why POD is perfect for students
In general, print-on-demand is praised for its scalability, ease of management, and being a fantastic point of entry into the ever-growing world of eCommerce. But, technical mumbo jumbo aside, there are reasons why it’s a great way how to make money as a college student specifically. Let’s look at 3 such reasons:
1. It’s the best intro to entrepreneurship
At some point, almost every adult considers starting a business. Be your own boss, build your vision, take control of your life, yadda-yadda – there are many reasons why. But one of the main reasons WHY NOT, i.e. why most business endeavors don’t even get started, is because it’s so complicated.
It’s scary to go into entrepreneurship without knowledge. How will you source materials? How will you brand your product? How will you reach potential buyers? How will you grow? How are you going to stand out from your competition?
In this sense, POD is entrepreneurship LITE – the only things you have to worry about are product design and marketing, which are by far the most enjoyable parts of running a business.
Don’t get me wrong – POD is still a legitimate business model used by thousands and thousands of people to make a fantastic living, it’s just that of all the ways to run a business, POD is one of the easiest, making it perfect for students without experience. Not only will you make some money, but you’ll also learn the ropes of managing a business and marketing, which can be invaluable knowledge no matter what path you choose in life.
2. It’s exciting, dynamic, and rewarding
Settling on a design, launching your website, making that first sale, having a record month of sales, publishing your first ads, getting that first positive review – beyond just making money as a college student online, you’re embarking on a rollercoaster of emotions, victories, and the occasional loss as well.
I can tell you now, it’s this first-timer excitement that will set you apart from the eCommerce veterans that are just going through the motions by now. The drive and the passion stemming from seeing your creation come to life will push you to give it your all, give it your best, and it’s exactly these kinds of resilient people who make it big with POD.
This isn’t to say you won’t have to put in a lot of hard work. You will. But you’ll learn a lot, learn fast, and the more you learn, the more rewarding it’ll be.
3. Low barrier of entry
Getting started is easy for today’s tech-savvy college students, which makes POD a great way to make money online. All you need is a basic understanding of the internet and no more than $50. Ok, I lied – you might not even need the 50 bucks. If you choose to sell on eBay, you get 50 free product posts a month, so if you just want to test your idea out, you can start with 0 investment.
Do note that eBay will take a small cut from your sale, but this happens only when a sale has gone through – you pay nothing upfront.
But if you DO have $50 lying around (which, since the internet loves to measure everything in cups of coffee, is less than the price of 20 of them) and you want to create your very own store, then grab a Shopify Basic subscription for $29/mo, get a nice domain name to go along with it for $14/yr, and spend the rest of the $50 on a couple of those famous cups of coffee to keep you alert while setting it all up. Shopify’s really user friendly, so you’ll be up and running in no time.
Anyway, I’ve already gone too deep, but I do hope you got the point – the price of getting started ranges from free to cheap.
How to make money as a college student with POD
Okay, that’s enough raving about how college students and POD are a match made in heaven. Time to get practical and dive into how to make money as a college student. To go from zero to your first sale, you’ve got 4 decisions to make and actions to take:
- Decide what you’ll sell
- Find which platform fits you best
- Get the pricing right
- Make yourself heard
1. Decide what you’ll sell
Listen, you’re probably not going to create a design that’ll become an instantaneous worldwide hit. If even Vincent van Gogh died penniless, what chance do the rest of us mortals have?
You need to pick a niche. Printify has over 200 products, from baby onesies to women’s shoes, you can decorate with your designs and sell, so pick a few things that will fit the theme of your store and run with them.
How to pick a niche? Either look around you or look inside you. Around you – find something where there’s an opportunity or need, e.g. create some college-themed attire for sports events and campus casual wear, or design some fandom hoodies and share them with your online book club. Reflect on all the communities you’re a part of and understand where you can contribute.
Alternatively, look inside of you – capitalize on your talents. Are you good at drawing animals? Then perhaps you can create some cute sleeping animal designs and fill your store with bedding items.
In any case, picking a niche, whatever it may be, will help you get focused and get recognized. If you add too many products in your store, it’ll feel ugly, bloated, and will likely become unmanageable. Better to do less, but do it well. You can always expand later on.
2. Find which platform fits you best
You can integrate Printify with Shopify, Etsy, eBay, PrestaShop, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Wix. Each of these platforms has its own pros and cons, and your final decision will depend on how tech-savvy you are, your budget, and what features you’re looking for.
We briefly touched on eBay and Shopify above, but we’ve also got some in-depth comparative studies for Wix vs Shopify, Shopify vs Etsy, and Etsy vs eBay, so make sure to read these closely before making a decision.
Do keep in mind that you can leverage multiple channels, e.g. have your store on Shopify, eBay, AND Etsy. It’s not an either-or situation.
3. Get the pricing right
You’ve got your platform, you’ve got your products. Now comes the time for the activity that makes every new shop owner’s eyes sparkle – pricing. You’ve got total control over it. Want to sell your custom design shoes for $3,000? Go for it. But chances are nobody’s going to buy.
So be smart. If you go too high, people won’t buy. But there’s also a risk of going too low – if you’re selling stuff at the cost of production, then you won’t make a dime. You might get some early sales from people hunting for a bargain, but once you up the price, it might create some backlash and turn people away.
A good strategy is to look up some successful shops in your niche and, if possible, mimic their prices, or ever so slightly undercut them. You can always play around with prices until you find that sweet spot.
4. Make yourself heard
Ta-daa, your shop’s live! Now what? When does the money start rolling in? Well, people can’t buy from you if they don’t know your shop exists.
Now, if you’ve created something around a community you’re a part of, then getting your first customer is significantly easier. You know these people, you know what they like, you know where they are. Post about your store in forums, Facebook groups, and Discord channels. If it’s something college-related, you can even post some posters around campus, if you get permission.
If you’ve created something more general, like the sleepy animals pillowcases & blankets we touched on earlier, then you’ll have to put in extra effort to find these communities. But, it’s not that difficult – a Google search here, a Facebook search there and you’ll be well on your way.
These are known as organic channels – they’re ways to get customers without really spending any money. Some other tactics include:
- Creating social media pages – take some nice photos with your test products and start an Instagram page!
- Email marketing – collect people’s emails and send them updates when there’s a new product in your store or if you’re running a sale.
- Referrals – give your friends/family discounts that they can share with others.
There are many more ways to get yourself heard and once some organic sales start coming in, you can start thinking about reinvesting that money into paid traffic – Facebook ads, Google search ads, affiliate marketing.
But let’s leave this topic for the next time. For now, you’ve got everything you need to get started and start making that money from the comfort of your room.
Let’s wrap it up
Why is print-on-demand perfect for college students? Lots of room for growth, can get started with a budget of $0, don’t need experience, tons of fun, valuable business experience, and you can invest as much time as you can afford.
How to make money as a college student online with print-on-demand? Pick a niche, find the eCommerce platform that works for you, set a reasonable price, and start shouting about your store from the rooftops!
The sky’s the limit, good luck!