Money VS Passion: TRJ’s Quarter-Year Update

This post is my first update on my journey so far. If you have been following the journey, or just intrigued to know what I have been up to those past 5 months, then I invite you to read on.

First of all, this is not exactly a “quarter-year,” but I only thought of this post about two weeks ago or so, and I was either going to do it now and be a little behind on the “quarter” part, or wait for it to be like half a year update or something. But I eventually decided to just do it now.

I felt like I should have a post where I document what has been going well for me so far on this journey and what needs improvement. So that I can have an overview of where I am exactly.

I started this journey in December 2018, so this is currently my 5th month on the journey.

I have had some downs and a whole good deal of ups, and I’m working my way through this as hard and as fast as I can.

Downs

I’ll start with the downs first, so I can end this on a positive note.

1. No day job

So far, I haven’t managed to find any day jobs that would allow me to do what I love doing, which is writing.

I enjoy writing, whether it’s blogging here or writing fiction, and living to do just this was my ultimate dream. But, you know, it would have been nice if I managed to get paid for that as well. However, no luck so far in that area.

2. No more Redbubble

Another bad news is that my online store on Redbubble, which was actually bringing in some profit, got suspended for no reason about 2 months ago.

I figured it out by chance, when I was checking for broken links on my website here and found that my store’s link was one of them. I mean imagine finding out like that; not a very pleasant surprise.

I contacted them a dozen times, for about 3 weeks, and I received no answer. Until I eventually tweeted them and someone replied to me a week later.

They said my account seems to have had some kind of a “suspicious activity” that violated their rules or so and which has resulted in suspending it.

Now I have not logged into my account nor uploaded any new designs for over 3 months prior to this suspension. So, there is no way in hell I had anything to do with this activity.

When I tried to have a better explanation as to what kind of activity exactly that would be considered “suspicious,” to the point that they would suspend an account without even a notice; their reply was that they don’t know and they can’t tell me what it is exactly.

That was it. They literally shut down a person’s source of income with absolutely no explanations.

They shut it down and they don’t even know why it was shut down. However, they still banned me from ever using their service again.

I wrote a post some time ago about my experience with print-on-demand websites and I talked about how much I love and recommend Redbubble as a free online shop, I sincerely take that back now. Please do not use this service.

I wholeheartedly believed it was an amazing service at the time, but you can only judge something based on your experience and what you have seen, and at that time, I only saw a great service. But now and after how they’ve treated this whole situation, I honestly would just recommend you go for any of the other alternatives on that list.

3. No books read

So, I had a plan to read a book every month. One book that would help me progress and benefit me on this journey; and I would write a review about it here to share the best ideas discussed with everyone.

However, I only managed to read 2 books throughout the past 5 months.

I will try to get into the habit of audiobooks, because apparently having to stare at words on a screen 24/7 is not making me very enthusiastic about seeing more words on any other page.

Ups

Now to the good and productive side of the journey!

1. Investment

I mentioned in a previous post that I started my first investment in real estate through a local home construction company; starting with a very humble amount of money, the least amount they accepted actually.

This one is successful so far and is supposed to provide a little amount of interest in the next few days, as a quarter year profit, which will hopefully help with my saving up target for the year.

2. Saving Goal

Speaking of saving up, I’m sort of halfway through my annual saving goal, so this is good news as well.

I have been practicing a lot of ways to help minimize my spendings as much as possible, since my income is not that great at the moment. So, I follow these saving money tips religiously.

I still need to find some form of a stable job though, since it’s apparently the only way I will be able to progress a bit faster with my goals.

3. Retirement Account

I was in the bank a few weeks ago and I was asking about the available index funds to see if I could afford any.

And I found something else, that is a bit similar, which is a type of insurance that withdraws a fixed amount from your bank account on a monthly basis and provides a certain profit every year.

The profit percentage is not fixed and it is mostly connected with the economy, so it is sort of a similar thing to index funds; however instead of making one-time payment to buy a fund, I make smaller monthly payments, which kind of suits my current financial situation.

So, I opened an account there and this is considered my first long-term investment method. (If you are in Egypt and want to know more about it, just contact me.)

4. Knowledge

I have learned so many new things in those past few months.

Some things I have already implemented in my life and practice and some are things that will help me in a bit of a long-term, such as the various investment methods that would make it easier for me to see what exactly I would want to do with my money once I have enough of it.

5 months ago, I had absolutely zero knowledge in any and all of the below.

a. Making Money

  • I learned how to become a host and make money with Airbnb. I was planning to put that to practice a bit earlier, but decided to put it off for personal reasons. However, I still have it on the list of things I will be doing soon.
  • I learned how to invest in index funds, and I consider this to be one of the highlights of my accomplishments, if I say so myself. This is also the first thing coming up on my list once I have enough money to put in a fund.

B. Blogging

I have learned a lot of tips and ways to help with my blog’s performance, whether it be through applying SEO or other methods that I shared here to drive more traffic.

Learning this stuff and applying them gradually has made a noticeable difference in the way the blog has been performing.

Below is a graph of my views and visitors from December 1st until April 25th. And I will not be sharing any numbers, because my focus is not on the numbers at all, just as it shouldn’t be anyone else’s, as long as progress is being made.

The point is that this curve/chart is going upwards, not a flatline and not heading downwards. That is the only thing that matters in stats.

Blog stats (views/visitors) from the period of Dec 1st to Apr 25th

Since I learned about Google’s SEO and applied most of what I learned to my website, I’ve definitely started seeing a difference in traffic, in that, I have been gaining a lot more visitors from search engines, Google and others, in the past few weeks than I have been since I started this blog.

There is no graph I could manage to get from the WordPress stats to show this progress.

But here’s how my website has been performing as recorded on Google Search Console from Dec 29th till Apr 23rd.

Google Search Console stats for my website from Dec 29 to Apr 23

I learned a lot about Pinterest, too, and how to use it to drive traffic to your website.

I’m still working on seeing results from this one as I have just started; but I did see my very first few clicks from Pinterest last week, and my curve is also moving upwards. So, hopefully, I’m on the right track.

Below is a graph of the profile reach stats over the past few weeks since I started working on the account, from March 27th to Apr 25th.

Pinterest profile reach from March 27 to Apr 25

C. Wellbeing

I have also learned how to manage goals and set up clear and achievable plans.

I developed a lot of habits that has helped my productivity, such as creating lists for everything, which has hugely impacted my life, to be honest, and helps me achieve my daily goals every day.

Also, thanks to this, my house is always clean now, because I’m rocking those chores! That’s probably too much information for you, but I wanted to put this out there: Little accomplishments count, too.

I’m physically much better than I was a few months ago, too, thanks to a workout routine, a few detox challenges here and there, and learning more about physical health and ways to keep a good posture to ease my neck and back pain.

I’m also mentally motivated, blogging-wise, thanks to a great company of bloggers who have found and read my blog and granted me with nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award, the Blogger Recognition Award, and the Sunshine Blogger Award, which I am yet to publish a post about.

5. Great Company

Speaking of great company, last but definitely not least, throughout the past few months, I have met so many amazing people.

Some of them couldn’t have been more supportive of my journey and never seem to miss an opportunity to cheer for me and lift me up with their comments and feedback.

And some of them have inspired me in a lot of different ways, and maybe without them even knowing it.

But all of them are incredibly nice and friendly people with genuine personalities that have left a huge positive impact on me.

And I would like to take this moment to give them a shoutout, just because I can (in no particular order, websiteTwitter).

Erin@Erinbabysteps
A. Jackson@AMisanthrope1
Hannah‏@PagePlacePlate
Vanessa@TheWblogger
Sandy@sundaywithsandy
Mikaela@fit_blondie_mj 
Roger@mindandlove1
Syeda@Gurru_Says
Mama Robbins@MamaRobbinsLife
Alpana@chand_alpana
M. Lanen@lanendevries
Sophie Alice@prosateuse
Kenzie@MsKenzieMack

These people have been the cause of some of my smiles, giggles, or laughters; they either taught me something new or just been such great companions that made my journey, so far, a much more enjoyable one!

I cannot wait to meet more amazing people and learn more and, hopefully, achieve more of my goals to eventually reach the ultimate one: Becoming my own boss.

Till next week, happy days!

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Online Business: My Experience with 5 Print-on-Demand Platforms

Things you need to know before you start selling on print-on-demand websites; plus some tricks on how to promote your products and make sales.
Platforms discussed in this post are Zazzle, Redbubble, Cafepress, Threadless, and Printful.

Before getting involved with Redbubble, please read this update first.

Online business can be considered as an active income and a passive income option. And there are various methods to run a business online. I went through 5 of the passive income ones in last week’s post 5 Online Businesses That Work.

In this post, however, I’m discussing the method I have tried so far which is selling products online. I tried several websites and here I will be sharing the pros and cons through my experience with Zazzle, Redbubble, Cafepress, Threadless, and Printful. (You can jump to Zazzle’s section to skip the intro.)

For starters, I’m not a professional designer, far from it actually, I’m just someone who enjoys playing with images and fonts. I discovered this sometime in the fall of 2016 when I was thinking of a gift to get for a specific someone; and I have a bad habit of putting an insane amount of thought into gifts (that’s why I only buy gifts to very few people in my life, because it can get really overwhelming).

So, I thought instead of buying a normal gift or asking someone to make me something, I was going to customize that gift myself. I only found that option on Zazzle and so I created an account there and started working on that design. That’s how I realized I enjoyed the process.

But this part of my life was a bit tricky on a personal level; around that same time I had a very bad fight with that person and they were out of my life, which happened 2 days after I had quit a job that I thought was my dream job (the copy editor one), and things at home started going south as well. So, all in all, my life was a wreck at that point. And the two things that have kept me sane through that time were my new-found love of design and National Geographic (yes, the TV channel. It served as the soundtrack of my life for a few months).

Now back to Zazzle!

Zazzle

On Zazzle, you upload your design and create each product separately and they have a huge selection of products to choose from. You can watch this video to see the steps on how to create designs there.

I loved it in the beginning when I was just designing stuff and customizing products, and I found the interface really attractive, so I created my first Nightingaled store there.

But then when I went through the process of setting up a payment method which was early 2017, I realized it was not an easy process.

If you are not a US resident, Zazzle requires filling out a tax form (which requires a lot of information and a lot of reading) and sending them requests and waiting for acceptance so that you are approved for a payment (or not!).

Also you need to have made sales first before your application is even considered for approval or rejection– something they don’t mention anywhere and I had to figure that out after going through the whole process (twice) and eventually being told “sorry, we cannot consider your application because you haven’t made sales during this current year yet” (although I did make sales the previous year.. That money is still stuck there.)

Yes, many people did it, of course! So, it’s not impossible, but I didn’t feel like it was worth all the hassle for me; especially when I found there are other platforms that provide the exact same thing minus the hassle!

Redbubble

I started looking for other alternatives. I did a quick research and Redbubble along with Cafepress seemed to be on close level to Zazzle’s popularity and variety of products. But I decided to go for a Redbubble Nightingaled store.

I liked its interface; although it took me a while to get used to it because it’s quite different from Zazzle’s, but now I have come to really love it.

You upload a single photo that goes onto all the available products, but then you have the option to customize each one separately or upload a new photo for a certain product. You can read more about how to upload your designs to fit each product here.

Though one of the best things about it is that you can actually get your money! There is no hassle in the transaction procedure even if you are not a US resident. Getting paid there is as easy as adding your Paypal account; no restrictions, no applications to fill, no extra fees, no minimum threshold to transfer your payments (unlike Zazzle where you need to have $50 USD before they would transfer or you can request it with an extra fee).

So, with Redbubble, as long as you have a verified Paypal account, you will get paid regardless of how much money you make or on which side you are on the planet. (Life can be so much easier if we want it to be!)

The real effort in this type of business lies in two things:
  1. Coming up with the design ideas 
  2. Promoting the shop/products

Coming up with designs can be tricky for some people sometimes because:

A. they don’t want to be copying other people, but they also want to make something that sells, so it needs to be something that is “viral” or “trending” to get the attention and

B. they think they don’t have enough talent, and for this one I will say, you don’t have to have talent, I don’t have talent and people still buy my stuff (some of them), so don’t worry about that part you just need to practice a lot and try your best to make it look like something YOU would buy. That’s what I try to do.

“Practice is a talent.

Perseverance is a talent.

Hard work is a talent.”

Abhinav Bindra

As for coming up with ideas, I don’t stress over this much, because I initially started this whole design thing for fun, so I try not to lose that. Whatever inspires me or whatever I feel like creating today, I will create it and add it to the shop, and cross my fingers that someone somewhere will have the same taste as mine and decide to buy it. (Not the most brilliant business strategy, I’m sure.)

When it comes to promotion, though, it can be challenging at first; especially if you do not already have an audience or connections or dedicated followers/fans (as it is in my case). However, I am still reading articles and books and trying to learn about it from other sellers and people who managed to succeed in this industry.

Four tips on promoting:

When it comes to promoting an online business, the first obvious step is to do so through social media; however, it is better to create dedicated social media pages to the shop and not promote through your personal accounts.

I created pages on both Facebook and Twitter. I also started an Instagram and Pinterest ones, but I haven’t really used them much yet.

Which brings us to the second tip, that is, it’s much better to focus on just one or two social media websites and try to grow on them instead of using all of them at once, because each of those platforms have their own techniques and certain strategies to grow on them. So, it can be too much to try them all at the same time.

Honestly speaking, though, I’m a bit lazy in this department. I’m not that active on the shop’s social media pages, not as much as I should be if I want to turn this into a source of income.

But I have noticed something that is really worth paying attention to, even though I’m not active, I don’t have many followers, and I don’t get any interactions yet, I do make sales! And that’s not even the surprising part, when I checked the traffic history to my shop (another brilliant feature on Redbubble), almost half of it is through social media! That blew my mind.

What I did to move from flat-line sales as you can see below to a few sales per week (and sometimes few sales per day, if I’m lucky) was become more active, as in upload new designs to the shop; and every now and then I’d share the new ones on Facebook and Twitter (again, with no interaction whatsoever).

A graph of my sales on Redbubble from Dec 2017 to Nov 2018.

The fact that I am making sales and getting traffic to my shop with a very minimal effort on my part is a very good indicator that this can definitely turn into a profitable means of income, if I pay it more attention.

So, the third tip from here is to remain active, upload new designs and promote on regular basis, regardless of the interaction rate you get or the number of followers you have. And I assume this should only be until one grows a dedicated audience.

Recently, I have decided to try other POD platforms as well, because the fourth tip is in order to make proper sales, it is best if you have your designs spread around many print-on-demand platforms not just one. Besides the exposure your products/brand will get, you can also benefit from each one’s offers and discounts which helps in attracting customers. So I went ahead and tried a few other ones. (Though I haven’t managed to do much with my shops on those other websites yet; I’m still getting used to them.)

CafePress

This is an equally popular website to Zazzle and Redbubble. It also has a variety of different products to have your designs on.

When you upload your design on CafePress it adds it to all the products available (like Redbubble) but with much less (if any) ability to customize on each product separately.

You can get paid through your verified Paypal account; however, there is a minimum threshold of $25 for transfer. Also, there is a required tax form to fill for non-US residents who wish to get a discounted tax rate, but it is not mandatory to get paid.

The other downside is that this one is not available for all countries. You can use the website and add your products and all, but when you come to set up a payment method, you may not find your country listed. There is a specific list and mine was not among them; therefore I would not have been able to get paid if I went ahead and made sales on this one.

Threadless

I initially thought this one is focused on clothing products like t-shirts and hoodies, but when I set up my shop there, I found they have a wide variety of other products to select from. And it is also similar to Redbubble in that you upload one photo that goes on all products but then you have the option to customize each one separately before publishing it. You can check out this guide to learn more.

On Threadless you are also paid through your Paypal account with no minimum threshold or any extra fees. US residents, however, are required to fill a tax form first.

The cool thing about this one is you can order samples of your products, and because you are the designer you get the product at a discounted rate; so you only pay for the base cost. You also get free shipping when you order for more than $20 within US and $50 anywhere else.

There is only a tiny drawback for me which is they do not watermark or protect the uploaded designs, so they are available for anyone in their full resolution copy, unlike with Redbubble where they give you options to protect/watermark. However, after you upload and edit the design, you can replace the original image with one that you watermark yourself without affecting the design on the products, so there is a workaround for it.

Printful

This one’s process is a bit different as you don’t just set up a shop on their website. First, this one gives you the choice to sell your own physical products (and use their warehouse) or use the print-on-demand service to sell your designs on their products. Of course I went with the print-on-demand option. When you go with that option, you will need to merge an already set-up online store to your Printful account.

Here’s how it works:

  • I set up a Nightingaled store on Shopify (they have a 14-day free trial so I figured I’d try it).
  • I then logged into my Printful account and chose to connect it to my newly-created Shopify store.
  • After that I would start uploading my designs on the products on Printful (they have plenty).
  • Then sync those products to my Shopify store (this can be set to sync automatically)
  • People can then navigate products on my Shopify store, place an order, and make a payment.
  • The order is automatically sent to Printful who prepare and ship the product.

Printful then bills me with the production and shipment cost. These costs are already clear when you set up your product so you can set your prices based on the margin you would like to get after the cost is paid.

For example, they charge $10 for a T-shirt. So, I can set a price of $15 for the t-shirt on my Shopify store, so that after paying Prinful fee, I would still have $5 profit.

The good thing here is that you are only charged after you make the sale. So, no upfront cost (except of course for the cost of your actual Shopify store which starts at $29/month). But you have plenty other options to choose from when it comes to choosing a platform to merge with Printful. I just decided to go with Shopify as a start because I was curious to see how it works.

The other thing that I really loved about Printful is how you can literally create your own brand.

  • You can add your own logo printed on the products and the payslips the customer receives (for free!).
  • They add their address for return, but add your store’s name not Printful, so to the customer they are dealing with your brand only.
  • And you can also send flyers along with the product (which come at an extra cost).

And that’s only what I managed to figure out so far, but this is an amazing feature! You are creating an actual brand with products shipped with your name on it when all you really do is just upload designs on a web-page!

Besides Shopify, the other platforms you can use include ones like Etsy, Amazon, eBay, and more. They either require you to pay a subscription fee (like Shopify) or a commission on sales. You can read about the prices for each one of the platforms on this comparison page.

I can sum this up by saying that to me the most convenient platforms I found so far are Redbubble, for a free platform, and Printful, for a paid one. I am actually thrilled I found out about Printful, but I still need to decide which platform I will be using with it.

I will be posting about this topic again in a few months to share my progress and any new tips I gather along the way. As for my next post, well, let me surprise you this time.

Till then, happy days and happy new year!