HOW TO: Starting a sticker business in your free time

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Written By Sam Davis Ph.D.

Sticker Crypt is the internet's premier source of free advice for artists and small business owners! 

So, you've decided to take the plunge and start your own sticker business. Your sticker shop can be a great way to make side income on your terms. To start a sticker business means that you can sell vinyl, bumper, planner, even print your own stickers with custom designs on them. Planner stickers, logo stickers, and promotional stickers are also a great way to get your sticker business off the ground. In this ultimate guide, we'll cover:

I love stickers, you guys – and I want to make sure that you can start your new business, choose the right equipment, and have a lot of success with your target audience. I'm here to help. Let's do this!

What type of stickers should I sell?

You maty have a vision for your own sticker shop already. You might know exactly what you want to sell – but for many of us, seriously considering the world of custom stickers is the first step in setting up our sticker business. Customer preferences for stickers have changed over time, and knowing our audience will help us determine which products will sell best. So, without further adieu, let's get into it.

Should I Sell Bumper Stickers?

Whenever I think of bumper stickers, I think of my parents' generation. You know – the classic station wagon with stickers covering every inch of the back, maybe even a bumper sticker covering a dent. They're statement stickers – meant to let passersby know what you stand for, who you love, or what you hate. They're typically rectangular, and meant to be seen from a decent distance, so designs are simple and text is large. They often have high contrast backgrounds – white on black, blue on white, that sort of thing.

Bumper stickers are more expensive to produce, but you can generally sell them for $5-10 depending on the venue. If shipping, consider the cost of special envelopes and unusually sized packages, because those can add up. Bumper items are best produced as vinyl stickers so that the last for a long time. You can sell stickers online intended for cars and other large surfaces very easily.

starting a sticker business for bumper stickers is easy!

Should I Sell Planner Stickers?

Planner stickers are on the other end of the spectrum. They're almost always bought by and marketing to feminine demographics, usually Millennial aged or younger. Think, young professionals and students who want to inject some creativity into their daily grind. These type of stickers are good because they're small and easy to produce, but if you're working with a home-based machine cutter, calibration and accuracy is key. Half an inch of error will destroy a two-inch sticker and barely be noticeable on a six-inch one.

You'll have to sell these vinyl stickers in packs to maximize your profit. They should fit easily into envelopes, making them stellar for an online business. You could also consider selling sticker sheets instead of packs of planner stickers. You should probably sell a pack or sheet between $3-10 to encourage impulse buying without missing out on too many profits.

Selling stickers like these are a volume and branding game. Planner stickers are small, so you have sell stickers in massive quantities to make up for it. That's why themed kits, packs, and even subscription options are so important to sell stickers online.

Should I Sell Vinyl Stickers?

Technically, vinyl stickers are any sticker made of durable vinyl material – but often, people use the term to refer to vinyl stickers intended for laptops, water bottles, phone cases, etc. Selling vinyl stickers is easy – they are often unique with bright colors and are less direct statement stickers than bumper sized decals. You can sell stickers online easily when they're this medium size, cheaper price, and made for wide demographic audiences – perfect for an online store. Think of vinyl stickers as your “in between” size. Vinyl is great for logo stickers and branding for other small businesses, too.

The three-inch size vinyl sticker business is what I did exclusively for the first two years that I was in business – I've only recently branched out to other sizes. I recommend selling these between $3-7 depending on size and other qualities. Selling stickers like these doesn't have to be a branding game if your content is good.

B2C or B2B: Which type of small business should I run?

The next major question that you'll need to consider is who you're selling to. Sticker shops tend to focus either on consumers (“B2C”) or other businesses (“B2B”) – they don't try to do both. You can get a lot more stickers sold to businesses, but it's harder to find customers for this type of work. Your sticker marketing strategy is totally different for these two types of customers. Whatever you do, when you're first starting: sell just stickers. Don't try to branch out too quickly.

b2c or b2b sticker business which is better?

Start a sticker business as B2C: Business to Consumer

B2C sticker businesses focus on creating stickers that are meant for consumers to buy directly. They have ready made designs for sale on popular platforms like an Etsy shop or Shopify store; and they likely don't do custom stickers that often. Starting a sticker venture is focused on quality stickers: quality of art work and quality of materials. In a B2C business model, sticker design is key. You'll either need to be or hire a graphic designer to be competitive in the creative market.

The upside of a B2C business is that you're able to express yourself fully. You can feel free to make stickers about the latest trends, and the only thing stopping you is your learning curve. The faster you learn what types of design will sell, the faster your own store will grow.

Start a sticker business as B2B: Business to Business

The other major type of sticker business is a B2B business. Basically, you'll be a third party company that's contracted to produce stickers for other small businesses. You sell directly to a needy business owner. To be competitive in this type of business, you'll definitely need to invest in equipment: a good, basic printer, an accurate cutting machine, and the ability to clean up designs that are sent to you. You may consider sending one sticker as a sample, completely free, to attract businesses to buy from you instead of larger producers like Sticker Mule.

B2B sticker businesses do best when they occupy a specialized niche and really know their target audience. It could be a local niche, e.g., “the only local sticker shop in Browntown!” – or it could be a specific product type, like thank you stickers or brand logos. The good thing about B2B is that you can start selling quickly and often retain customers with excellent customer service, meaning that you'll get repeat business and larger order sizes.

Where to set up an online store for stickers

After you've decided what type of business you want to run, you'll need to consider how to sell stickers online. Most sticker shops will want to have an online store to sell from. Every online platform has a cost, so you'll really just need to consider your audience size, technical ability, and budget.

how to set up an online store for starting a sticker business

Start a sticker business with Etsy

Etsy is the largest craft marketplace out there. As a result, an Etsy shop is a popular choice for many people. Getting started on Etsy is free, especially if you use someone's referral code to get free listing fees. However, Etsy's fees are notoriously confusing and you can really screw yourself if you're not careful. We recommend using a free fee estimator before publishing your listings, so you understand exactly what your take home pay will be. Additionally, Etsy has a lot of restrictions on new accounts, like payment reserves. There are countless sob stories about peoples' shops being suddenly taken offline for no discernible reason, and they take weeks to get reinstated.

All the negatives aside, Etsy offers a huge organic traffic source. It's easy to get started selling stickers on Etsy. People might start their Christmas shopping searches on Google, but they finish them on Etsy. With pages upon pages of search results and sticker designs, your new sticker collection is sure to be seen by some customers, especially if the pricing is right or if you invest in advertising. Selling stickers on Etsy, with the right stuff, can literally happen overnight. Most sticker shops on Etsy are very successful at selling stickers.

Start a sticker business with WordPress and Woocommerce

WordPress is a free, open source blogging platform that has transformed into the number one platform for self-hosted websites. If you're technical minded or have experience with websites, building your own website with WordPress is a great way to go because it can be a little cheaper. You can pick and choose your hosting, plugins, and fully customize your site. In 2021, you no longer need coding ability to create or maintain most simple websites – even eCommerce solutions.

The problems with WordPress and Woocommerce are primarily audience. When you create a website, your reputation starts at zero. You'll need to invest heavily in building out content for your website, getting backlinks, and possibly advertising to get your sales started. Social media can help, but you'll rarely rank first on a search without trying really, really hard.

Start selling stickers with Print On Demand – like Redbubble or TeePublic

If you're short on cash, starting your sticker business with a print on demand (PoD) service is a great first step. It's actually how I started – I started making listings with Redbubble and TeePublic about six months before I began investing in my own equipment. Every sale brought me a great sense of victory. I was selling stickers in my sleep!

The problem with print on demand platforms is also its boon: traffic and competition. You'll get a lot of eyes on your designs on PoD platforms, but those eyes will also be looking at your competitors' stuff. You'll have to create stickers and sticker designs that really stand out from other shops. You also won't be able to sell physical stickers at craft fairs unless you order some. All stickers on PoD platforms are die cut stickers and printed and shipped when people order. There's no existing stock, which means that shipping time can get a little long during their busy seasons. Either way: if you're strapped for cash, PoD platforms are a great way to get your feet wet.

Starting a sticker business with Shopify

Shopify is the in-between platform for people who don't want to rely on marketplaces like Etsy, but also don't want to learn a whole new program like WordPress. Shopify is an exclusive shopping platform where you can list your products and run your own website. Their pricing is a monthly subscription, so that can be somewhat cost inhibitive – but it's a good option if you want to get up and running fast. Shopify integrates with sticker makers like Printify and Printful, so you can still outsource your custom sticker printing.

Starting your own shop with Facebook Marketplace

I would not recommend that anyone start selling stickers on Facebook Marketplace. Facebook has, hands down, the worst business level customer service that I've ever experienced. I've waited over two months for them to refund customers after their software prevented me from fulfilling orders. I'd say that Facebook Marketplace has cost me – not made me – hundreds of dollars in selling stickers at this point.

Their infrastructure is confusing, their help pages are broken, and you can't find a live person to help you to save your life. Stay far, far away from Facebook Marketplace as a major selling platform. It might be good for garage sale stuff, but steer clear otherwise. It's just not yet ready for prime time.

How to produce my own stickers

Alright, so you've got an idea for a store. You've settling on an online strategy. Now it's time to actually talk production! The most important part of selling stickers is designing stickers. You'll have to do your own research into what types of designs you want to do, but your entire audience will be waiting anxiously for you to release your first design into the world – so hurry! Sticker products don't have to be complex, they just need to spark something in your customer's brain that helps them hit that “buy” button.

A Guide To Outsourcing The Design of Stickers

There are plenty of free resources out there for graphic design and illustration. To be successful, you'll need some level of competence. You don't need to be the best artist in the world, but you'll need to get your idea across better than your competitors. If you've got the cash, it might be more cost effective to pay a designer for a few designs before branching out and doing your own. That way, you can direct the creative vision without having to create and tweak it yourself. You could also consider using clip art to supplement your design ideas.

Plus, hiring a designer often means that you can get advertising materials more easily: digital mock ups and social media graphics are easy purchases from designers. The turnaround should be quick for a designer to create sticker designs for you, and there are plenty of graphic designers to choose from.

When To Design Stickers Yourself

If you've got some art inclination, go for it. I'd say with a few weekends of study, you'll get the hang of it. The key for sticker design is really composition: you want your sticker to evoke a feeling or tell a story to your audience. You can solicit feedback from friends and family, you can try new programs, and you can develop skills that will serve you for years to come. Free programs for sticker design include Canva, Photopea, Inkscape, and others.

Printing Stickers

You'll need to decide whether you want a big print house like Sticker Mule to do your printing, a small or local print house, or if you want to do it yourself. If you want to print yourself, the three most important things you'll need are: sticker paper, a good printer, and a cutting machine. Everything is related to your budget, but we started with a Cricut Explore Air, an Epson inkjet printer, and sticker paper from Avery. We've since upgraded and use an HP color laser printer and sticker paper in bulk from Online Labels. But you'll have to find the sticker paper and printing/cutting set up that works best for you – and just go with that.

I'd say that Sticker Mule is fine for your first go of it, but real profits will only be found when you can create stickers in the thousands through a print house, or you can produce them yourself. Printing and cutting your own stickers is the best way to sell stickers for a profit. There's just nothing like holding a fresh batch of physical stickers in your hands.

Check out these resources for printing stickers:

printing your own stickers for starting a sticker business is very rewarding

How to sell my first sticker

Ok, are you ready to sell stickers? Your first die cut stickers may be a little off if you're producing in house, so give those to friends and family. As soon as you can get your system down reliably well though, you're ready to sell for your own sticker business.

Online, pictures sell stickers.

There's this funny conflict online. As humans, we love visual things: we eat up images and videos, while we glance over text and only read headlines. Search engines are the opposite though: they love text and hate images and videos. In other words, you'll need to optimize for both words and visuals. But your images will sell stickers for you. So make sure to take – or make – great pictures. Browse for inspiration on Etsy and Pinterest and then copy, copy, copy – but make your copy better, and avoid copyright infringement. Run a test by making a duplicate listing with different pictures to see which pictures sell better, and then do more of those with your designs. It's a little bit of magic, and a little bit of science, to have success with stickers.

Social media is a good start, but don't let it suck you in

Social media is great for selling stickers. They tend to be impulse purchases, so getting your customer after a long hard day is a great way to help them hit that buy button. There are a few problems with social media though, so be careful not to focus on it too heavily. Traditional marketing may return more sales for you in the long run than constantly posting on Instagram.

I sold! How do I ship?

At first, shipping stickers is easy: an envelope and a stamp. As you elevate though, you'll need to consider your sticker packaging and whether or not you want to invest in a printer for shipping labels. Also – skip the tissue paper. It's wasteful. Keep your packaging light and your brand on point, and your wallet will thank you.

As you grow, you may also consider investing in a platform like Pirate Ship or to ship your packages at a discount. PirateShip is free, but they don't offer stamp / letter mail options, so they're really only good for poly mailers and larger packages. I love their customer service though! and a few other services will offer discounts for a flat monthly fee. Although their services are more expensive, they're good for higher volumes, and they, unlike Pirate Ship, do offer stamped and letter mail services. Finally, you can just use your local post office. They love helping you out, and let's be honest: there's some super cool stamps out there anyway.

Where do I get help?

If you've got questions about starting your own sticker shop, we're here to help. From the nitty gritty of website building and graphic design, to problems with your cutting machine, stickers can be a sticky business (see what I did there?). But stickers can also be super rewarding, and the playing field is wide open. There are so many niches out there that we could inspire hundreds of sticker makers and still have plenty of room to grow our own business.

If you've got questions, we've got answers. Leave a comment, ask a question, or start a conversation on social media. If you've got more general questions about online business, there are some really great sellers groups on Facebook. In there, you can ask questions and get answers from people who sell completely different products, but have a lot of experience growing their own businesses.

In the end, ultimately, growing your sticker business will be about how much time and love you can dedicate to the process. If you're only designing once a week, your business will grow slowly. But if you can do a little bit every night, you're well on your way to success. Remember, don't overwhelm yourself, celebrate the small victories, and you'll get there soon enough.

starting a sticker business: free elite guide to success

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