How giving personalised gifts through print-on-demand merchandise can help unnoticed entrepreneurs get recognised

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. 

Were you one of the people who bought somebody something on November 11?

In China, some $84.54 billion worth of gifts were bought on what is called the 11/11. It’s the famous Singles’ Day, which was pioneered by Jack Ma and the Alibaba Group. It’s a big festival of spending that can be considered Valentine’s Day on steroids.

In the recent episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast, I talked about this in the context of public relations. Because giving things to other people is a really powerful way of building a relationship. I’m not talking about bribery, but the opportunity to build your own brand using customised merchandise.

I’ve been building out The UnNoticed Entrepreneur merchandise. The marque of the UnNoticed Entrepreneur is these 19 dots, which can be found on my book and on all the merchandise. The idea for this is that only 5% of the population are entrepreneurs. From the 19 dots, roughly 5% of them are unique — just the one in the middle. 

Recently, the phone case merchandise with this design arrived from Latvia, and it got me quite excited. Coming soon are my hat and my t-shirt, which will be arriving from Spain.

I discussed my merchandise during the episode to give an insight into an opportunity for every business owner to create branded products at a fraction of the cost, with a much greater range, than what was possible before.

How I’ve Done It

There are different ways to build your own merchandise. What I’ve done is to work on a platform called Printful, together with my virtual assistant in the Philippines. 

We’ve made the designs of the logos, uploaded those to Printful, and applied them to a number of products that are available on the platform. The platform has got everything — from clothing to ceramics. I’ve chosen my UnNoticed Entrepreneur dots to be applied to hats, t-shirts, tote bags, cooking aprons, water bottles, mugs, and phone cases. All of the products appear to be really good quality.

From an entrepreneur’s point of view, what’s really fascinating about it is that you don’t have to buy any merchandise stock. You simply upload the design. And if you want to order a sample or order individual items, that’s the only time that they will make it. There are other businesses like this, including Vistaprint in the UK, Spring (formerly Teespring), and Redbubble for t-shirts.

How Helpful POD Platforms Can Be

Print-on-demand or POD platforms enable entrepreneurs and business owners to design products, either as merchandise or as items to sell. 

In my case, I’ve designed the merchandise to complement my podcast, my book, and my SPEAK|PR methodology. I want to have the design applied to other items to support the overall brand proposition rather than to make it into a commercial enterprise. I do want it to wash its face, but I’m not trying to go for a huge-volume-low-cost production. 

The POD companies, together with drop-shipping businesses, also actually take on the delivery of the goods. It allows you to design something on a platform like Printful while they do the shipping to the end customer. What this means is that you can market your design or buy any number of your own designs to deliver to a customer, a member of staff, or a partner without having to buy large volumes of them.

In the past, when we’re giving company merchandise, we had to buy a minimum order of t-shirts, notebooks, or mugs. In the end, lots of them will be left over in the cupboard. This has all changed now with the POD. 

Affordable and Customisable Merchandise

Printful’s phone case is made of biodegradable materials. It also comes in a number of different colours (the one recently delivered to me is red with white dots). It cost me £11.19 for the individual item. There’s an additional £3.29 for the shipping because the case was manufactured in Latvia, though they’re now opening in the UK (Printful has a presence in America, Australia, and Europe). They also have a value-added tax worth £2.90. The total cost for a customised phone case to be designed and delivered is around £17.

It’s an amazingly affordable entry-level promotional idea, which I can give to a staff member, a partner, or a customer. 

You can also personalise a number of Printful’s items. You can put someone’s name or have the design incorporated with the individual company names. This ability to brand an individual product with the name of the recipient is going to be a fantastic way to strengthen relationships. 

It’s important because now, we’re not seeing one another anymore. People are not going to retail stores, warehouses, or events. Although the world is opening now, people are not spending as much time in the office. The question is, How do you keep them and connect them to your brand without selling them something every day? 

Image from Unsplash

Branded merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, mugs, water bottles, phone cases, computer bags, and backpacks are items that can help keep a brand in and around the lifestyle or the working area of people that you want to do business with. 

My Vision for The UnNoticed Entrepreneur Merchandise

What I’ve done with my Printful account is to connect it to an Etsy store. One of the reasons why I chose Printful is because they have an automatic set of application protocol interfaces (APIs). When I load up my design products on Printful, they will be connected to my Etsy store. I can also connect it to Wix, Shopify, and a number of other stores like Storenvy. I can also actually monetise the merchandise of my own brand.

Hopefully, my merchandise can be a way for entrepreneurs to recognise one another. My bigger vision is to let other people recognise an entrepreneur in the other person who’s carrying or wearing the UnNoticed Entrepreneur merchandise. 

Some people may like it enough to want to buy it. In fact, I’ve already sold a number of items on my Etsy store. This can give me a little bit of revenue, but it’s a great opportunity as well to build a profile on social media that’s visual for my brand. 

If your selling a service, one of the hardest things to do is to visualise that service. And you can’t just keep giving people your logo or your talking-head video. Merchandise gives you a chance to either put your logo, a strapline, or anything that you like on social media. 

Image from Unsplash

According to the picture superiority effect, photos overwhelms texts. So you can also take your merchandise and put it into a short video by using a platform like Lumen5 or VIDDYOZE, which does a full animation of a small picture.

Wrapping Up

Using a POD platform like Printful, you can connect your merchandise to stores like Etsy and give you the opportunity to be a little bit creative with your brand and monetise it if you want to. 

You can also create a perceived value of goods that you can give to valued customers. For instance, on my website, there’s a phone case available at £24.99. I can give that to someone and the perceived value is nearly £25. In reality, it only actually cost me around £17 as I mentioned earlier. It provides me with the opportunity to give favours and to reward people who I want to thank for working with me. 

Valentine’s Day is in February but in China, 11/11 is also a big day. This year’s gross merchandise value of $84.54 billion was a 14% increase from the year before. This shows that giving is a central part of what we need to do as human beings.

As we haven’t been seeing one another anywhere near as much as we might’ve done in the past, creating a bond through a gift is a really powerful way of ensuring that relationships are lasting; that our brand and our proposition is there on top of the mind of people who are starting to consider working with or buying from us.

My shop is called The Entrepreneur Merch Co on Etsy. And if you fancy buying from the store and liking it, that would be fantastic. Also, check out Printful and see how you can use it to start building your brand one merchandise at a time. If you have questions, reach out to me at jim@eastwestpr.com

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels