Business idea: How to make $100,000 in 5 months with a simple T-shirt Business (interview)

business idea t-shirt business

If you want to start an online business, make more money on the side, pay off your debt or even quit your job and travel, you’re going to love what follows.

I recently had the chance to interview Benny Hsu from Get Busy Living Blog who made $100,000 in 5 months with a simple business idea:

Design great T-shirts and put it in front of the right audience

By dint of effort, testing and patience Benny managed to build a 6 figure T-shirt business in a short period of time.

When I learned about him and what he had accomplished I had to interview him to understand how he did it.

In this interview you’ll find every detail you need to know on how to start a successful T-shirt business like Benny.

I highly recommend you to take note.

Featured Download:Download the top 6 advice to start your own T-shirt business

Enter Benny Hsu

1) Could you introduce yourself and talk about your background?

Bennyworkingonplane

I’m 37 years old. A normal guy from a normal background. I graduated college in 2000 with a sports management degree, which I don’t use. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I thought I would eventually figure it out soon though. I started working in the family restaurant business just to give me something to do and make a bit of money. I gained more responsibility and within a couple years was managing the restaurant. I enjoyed my work at that time. I didn’t dread the drive to work.

Then as each year passed my feelings about the world began to change. The work started to be a grind. I hated knowing I had to go to work. However I had no idea still what I wanted to do. I looked for job postings online but nothing interested me at all. So not only did I now hate my job and dreaded going to work, I had no idea what else to do. Also I had bought a house because that’s what normal people do after they get a job and start making money. So now I’m stuck with a mortgage so just quitting and working for minimum wage wasn’t going to happen.

Finally in 2010, after too many years of hoping for a better life, I decided to be serious about it. I had my breaking point one night driving home from another long and stressful night at work. I had enough. I came home and typed a letter to myself which I taped a copy on my wall above my computer and one on the bathroom mirror. I reminded me that if I wanted a better life it was up to me.

After that night, I had a new attitude on life. I was determined to finally create a life of freedom by having my own online business. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I wasn’t going to stop until I had it.

2) What’s your outlook on life? 

Like most people when I graduated college my vision of life was to get a job, make money, buy a house, have a family, take vacations when I was allowed, and then work until retirement. Then like most people I read the 4 Hour Work Week and that changed my vision of life. No more working for work’s sake. I had done that for years. I realized that money definitely did not buy happiness. Even if I gotten paid 10x more a year from working at the restaurant, I still wouldn’t do it.

I wanted to enjoy life while I was still young. I wanted more freedom in life. No more working holidays and weekends. I didn’t want to have to ask permission to take time off. The only job I could find that’d allow me to do that was creating my own job. That’s why I wanted to make money online.

I also knew that whatever I did to make money I had to enjoy it. No more hating work. I wanted to find something I enjoyed so I could pour my focus into. I wanted it to be something that I wanted to do and not something that someone thought I should do.

Life is too short to be doing work that we hate.

3) How did you get into the T-Shirt business and why?

I got in to the business by accident. It wasn’t in my plan for 2013, but I will say that designing and selling t-shirts had been on my mind since around 2007. Back then I was thinking about businesses I could start to make money so I could quit my job. I wasn’t a graphic designer. I didn’t know how to use Photoshop. I just loved wearing t-shirts and thought it would be a cool business to have. I knew there were sellers using websites like Cafepress to sell their designs. I also thought about buying my own equipment and printing them in my garage. At the time it was just an idea amongst many ideas I had so I never pursued it. Then one day in March 2013 I stumbled upon an video interview show and the most recent episode was about a guy who was making over $100K a month selling t-shirts.

how to start a t-shirt businessHe was using a pretty new company called Teespring. Instead of having to order shirts and keep inventory, I could use them to handle all the payments, printing and shipping. I just need to upload my design, select the styles and colors I want and set my price. Then I would need to find a way to let customers know about my shirt. The way he had done it was through Facebook advertising.

Featured Download:Download the top 6 advice to start your own T-shirt business

Teespring is crowdfunding for t-shirts. For each shirt you set a goal (minimum is five). Your shirt only will get printed if the goal is met. Anything over five will be printed and sold even if you set your goal at 100. But if you sell less than five, then no one gets charged, no shirts get printed or shipped, and obviously you don’t get paid. Before the goal was 10 when I started but late last year they reduced it to five.

I listened and was hooked on the idea of selling shirts. So I bought the course he was selling. It was a really cheap introductory course but taught me the basics on how to get started.

4) How did you make $100K in only 5 months? 

To sum it up, it took being obsessed with learning how to be successful at designing and marketing. To make that much, you have to know your audience and how to reach them and then give them a design that makes them stop what they are doing, pull out a credit card and buy.

t-shirt business

You can have the right targeting, but if the shirt doesn’t resonate with them they won’t buy. You can have a great design, but if you’re showing it to the wrong people, they aren’t going to buy. So it took me awhile to move the pieces of the puzzle and get it all to right. I don’t get it right all the time. I’ve had more failures than successes but the ones I’ve been successful at have been the ones that made me that much money.

You need to learn the trends for t-shirts. What’s selling well? For example, when I started I saw “Keep Calm” shirts doing really well. Another shirt that I’ve seen recently that people seem to be buy says “All I care about is ______ and three people.” In the blank you add in a hobby, sport, a type of dog, etc. These shirts are funny. Funny shirts works, but also shirts that makes someone proud.

t-shirt trend

My early shirts were about following the trend of types of shirts that were doing well, and trying them in other niches. For example, if I saw a “Keep Calm and let the nurse handle it” shirt, I wouldn’t do the same shirt and go after the same audience. I would assume nurses have already seen that shirt. Instead I would think of other job professions that I could try that possibly may not have been done.

I would try ten different professions (just for example) and see within the first $10 for each audience if they were interested. I would see by the engagement on the ads and especially if it was making sales. After spending $10, if the audience hadn’t bought a single shirt, I would close that campaign. That’s how I test interest in a shirt. Some people go up to $20 to test but I like to keep it at $10.

Maybe out of those ten two or three might be keepers. The more the better of course but when it comes to finding a design that the audience wants it takes test. I’ve probably had more campaigns that I would consider bombs (didn’t sell a shirt in the first $10) than winners. The winners though have been hugely successful for me at times. When I found winners I would scale it by increasing my ad spend to reach a bigger audience. I would find more people to target in Facebook. As long as I was having a positive ROI, I would keep spending money on advertising.

Then with the winners I think about what I could sell them next. What design would they like? The secret to success is to dominate a niche and sell to them over and over. So let’s say I found success selling to nurses. My first campaign sold 20. That’s not bad so I’d come up with another unique idea for them and see if they would buy. They may or may not. I may think the shirt is awesome, but it’s ultimately up to the customers to decide with their credit cards.

The people I know that are having huge success with Teespring find evergreen niches and learn exactly how to best target them, understands what they want and create it for them. The ones that I know don’t have much success just keep jumping from niche to niche.

I had to learn about Facebook marketing. I do all my advertising there and know many sellers who do the same. When I started I didn’t know anything about how to run Facebook ads. So I had to learn slowly because it is overwhelming to take in for a beginner.

I failed my first twenty-one campaigns. Meaning I made twenty-one different shirts and ran advertising for them but they never sold. Of course that was frustrating but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I kept learning with each campaign until I found an audience who really liked the shirt I was selling to them.

Patience, persistence and perspiration

Persistence is the key. Now it’s more competitive because Teespring is growing fast and now there are many sellers. That means many more sellers online vying for the same audience you’re trying to sell to. So to stand out you have to give them a great design. You have to be one step ahead of the competition. For example, nurses love buying t-shirts. I’m sure if I was a nurse my newsfeed would be bombarded with ads every single day. It’s because they love to buy, but since there are so many to choose from now they’re not going to buy a crappy design or a design that’s been done a hundred times. In this case, it’s better to think outside the box and try something they have never seen before. It may or may not work, but if it works then it could be like finding oil in your backyard.

When you get the hang of things, then run as many campaigns as you can handle. The ones in this business that make the most money don’t just have one or two campaigns running at a time. It could be thirty or even fifty. But when you’re launching that many not all will work out and that’s fine. You’re just looking to eliminate the ones that aren’t and scale the ones that are. When I’ve had my best months I’ll have between 10-20 campaigns all running at the same time. These are campaign that were whittle down from a larger number.

Featured Download: Download the top 6 advice to start your own T-shirt business

5) What was your schedule like when you were trying to breakthrough in the T-shirt business? 

When I was trying to breakthrough, I spent the majority of my time on this. That meant making this my priority over everything else.

Before I started selling shirts, I was reskinning iPhone games. Meaning taking one game, changing the graphics to make it look like a completely new game. I did that all of 2013. I figured I would keep doing that in 2014 since it was profitable for me but once I started selling shirts I completely stopped that.

I had a podcast I launched a few months earlier and my schedule was one episode a week. When I began selling shirts, I wasn’t keeping up with my once a week release schedule. The same with writing for my blog. The reason was that every time I got on my computer with free time, I would want to be doing something related to selling tshirts. Whether that was researching ideas, making new shirts in Photoshop, or in Facebook groups talking and reading what other sellers were saying. I was pretty obsessed with this. After my wife would go to bed, I’d be up preparing new campaigns for the next day or creating new ads for my existing campaigns.

This wasn’t just something I kinda put time into. I dove into it. If I would have just spend a few hours a week on it, I’d just make a few bucks out of it maybe. But by deciding this was going to be my number one priority, I knew that when I had free time on my computer, I was working on this. I basically treated it like a full time job.

6) Is there any particular skills or talent necessary to get into the T-shirt business and succeed?

An eye for design. I’ve seen some really horrible designs trying to be sold. 90% of the time when someone wonders why no one is buying their shirt it has to do with design. They think it looks great, but when I look at it, I instantly know why no one wanted to buy it. One way I determine if the design is right is to ask myself if I would wear that shirt. If I wouldn’t wear it, why would I expect others to wear it? That’s my standard. If you’re unsure if the design looks nice, compare it to shirts that are selling or ask friends who do have an eye for design.

Don’t think it has to be fancy either. I’ve sold hundreds of shirt that was just all text. However I made sure to pick a nice font that wasn’t just a plain boring font. I’ve seen others do that as well. So a simple design with a nice font but a message that really resonates can work sometimes. The other times you’ll need something a bit nicer to stand out from the other sellers.

Just be hungry to learn all about the business. It’s not just being a badass at Photoshop nor just being an expert Facebook marketer either. You have to be able to do both well. Even today I’m still learning and I’ve done this for 10 months. I’m not making a million dollars a year like some sellers, so I know I still have lots to learn.

A willingness to go through the awkward and stressful beginners stage. You can’t expect to jump right in and be an expert. You don’t need to know everything to start making money, but you have to push through those really tough times when you just want to quit.

7) What your next thing is going to be?

Right now I continue to do what I’m doing. I know there is more potential in this business. There are sellers doing six figures a month. Teespring last year had twenty millionaires. So as long as I’m enjoying this, I’m going to continue.

I certainly would like to diversify my income and not just rely only on Teespring. So I’ll be keep my eyes open for a great new opportunity.

Free report reveals the top 6 advice to start your t-shirt business

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11 comments… add one
  • 2SoloMost January 26, 2015, 3:34 am

    I hardly ever imagine such successes, but now Iam sure this t-shirt business can always work pretty well. Hey Simon thanks for another eye opening opportunity.

    Reply
  • Vijay January 26, 2015, 9:22 am

    Hello Simon,

    Thanks for this amazing interview of Benny on your blog. I would like to ask Benny couple of questions through your blog, would appreciate if he can take some time to answer them.
    1) When you say after spending $10 per campaign you decide if you want to go ahead or not by engagement in that campaign which does seems obvious. But aren’t we supposed to do website click objectives when creating campaign? Or are you talking Page Post Engagement Ads? Since website clicks doesn’t provides much of an engagement as Facebook optimizes them for website clicks.

    2) Do you ever take CTR into your metric, I have tested few campaigns (Website Clicks) so far but CTR seems to be hovering around 1-2% mark and yields me 0.30-0.50 cent clicks on USA market. At that price I would need to 10% Conversion rate if I conside $5 profit per tee to break even. How do you see this stat? What kind of CPC’s and Conversion you would say is Average for you?

    Reply
    • Benny January 26, 2015, 9:14 pm

      Hi Vijay, I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

      1) Clicks to website is something you can do. The goal of that is to just drive people to click on your link. I’m making talking PPE. Majority of the sellers I know start with PPE. Some have found through their experience CTW works better for them.
      2) Yes I do look at CTR. If it’s under 5%, and my PPE is over .12, I’ll stop running that ad. 1-2% is really low and that is really expensive clicks. Your targeting must not be precise enough or the shirt you’re selling isn’t what that audience wants. When the shirt is great, you’ll get lower PPE because people are liking and sharing it. So anything over 5% and under .12 PPE is good when you get to $10 spent.

      Reply
      • Vijay January 27, 2015, 7:54 am

        Perfect Answer Benny, Definitely will try to push some PPE ads. I believe PPE ads do get high ctr since likes and shares are counted on that as well. So I think while doing PPE I need to optimize my ads so that people click on website link more than just liking it or commenting.
        BTW on the side note been checking your blog since yesterday, and it looks amazing 🙂 Keep up this good work!

        Reply
  • Rawy January 26, 2015, 2:18 pm

    Very insightful!
    Simon great interview! Well done!

    Reply
  • Michelle May 6, 2015, 9:47 pm

    There are opportunities all around us.

    Reply
  • Yury October 16, 2015, 4:20 am

    When you are starting your own t-shirt business you definitely have to consider where you can get amazing graphics for you future amazing t-shirts if you are not a designer or artist or if you cannot afford to hire anyone for doing that part of the business. There are plenty of online ready-to-use vector graphics resources for launching a t-shirt business, particularly libraries of vector images with extended license (which grants you rights to produce unlimited amount of copies and use them for items for resale – as t-shirts). Usually extended license is pretty expensive. You can find price comparison for this license at http://www.toonstyle.com – website that offers vector images with lowest extended license price on the market!

    Reply
    • The Becomer October 23, 2015, 9:25 pm

      Awesome Yury! Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  • Edith Mickey February 15, 2017, 8:53 am

    Very nice article informative content thanks we liked it.

    Reply

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