Around this time last year, I started designing my own range of Christmas jumpers to sell online. I’d written countless articles on ecommerce by this point and wanted to try it myself. I’d fallen for my own tall tales about just how easy it would be.

I created eight designs and set up a Shopify store: jollychristmasjumper.com. I got kind friends to model and photograph the jumpers (shout out to Pete Sherrard Photography). I wrote the content, created a logo, formulated a colour scheme and brand voice. The website went live on October 14th.

Here’s what I learned in my first year.

It was more work than I anticipated

 

french hens christmas jumper

First, there’s coming up with design ideas – that’s the fun part. Then there’s designing them, uploading them, and ordering samples. Tweaking the colours if necessary. Re-uploading them, ordering more samples. Ordering samples is crucial, as I’ll go on to explain below.

There’s writing the copy. You need a killer keyword-optimised homepage, about page, category descriptions, individual unique product descriptions, and ideally an FAQs page and blog where you can target questions and long tail keywords. Plus all the legal stuff, return policies, etc.

You need to create the website. Shopify is pretty easy to use, although if you’re used to WordPress, it can be a little inflexible. Simple things like switching the order of text and images within a theme can become inexplicably complicated if you’re not used to messing with code. I also had issues with image compression, which made my beautiful photos display poorly, whatever I tried.

There’s setting up payments, calculating shipping rates, creating collections and social profiles. When it’s all up and running, there’s marketing and responding to customer queries. Split testing social ads. Running outreach and building up links.

Totally worth it though, for the cha-ching sound your phone makes every time you make a sale.

POD apps are great, but they have a long lead time

Print-on-demand is brilliant in that the fulfillment side of things is covered for you. Plus, it negates the risk of ordering too much stock and not being able to shift it. As the name suggests, garments are printed to order and then shipped to the customer. All of this is handled by a third party, in my case Printify.

Printify is a free app that integrates directly with Shopify, which makes adding new products super duper easy. However, the average turnaround time from order to delivery is anywhere between 5-7 working days (in the UK) and even longer internationally. Significantly longer. Weeks.

During the festive period when people are more eager than usual to receive their orders quickly, this isn’t ideal. Jolly Christmas Jumper is UK-focused, so I deliberately chose UK supplier Tshirt & Sons from the Printify product list. And despite the fact the Tshirt & Sons offers express shipping, you don’t get that option with Printify. It’s standard or nothing.

To arrive in time for Christmas, UK customers should be ordering their jumpers by the first week of December – and many people aren’t that organised. Finding a vegan-friendly supplier with shorter lead times is top of my list of jobs for this year!

Good on-page optimisation really pays off – in the long-term

 

bob ross christmas jumper

In the few months up to Christmas, the website had 7,054 visitors and made £2,370 in total sales. Not bad, but lots of room for improvement. Most of the traffic came from social media, where I spent a fair amount on advertising. Organic search hadn’t had much time to kick in by this point.

One year on and left untouched for 9 months, Jolly Christmas Jumper now ranks for 91 keywords. It’s on page 1 for:

  • crap christmas jumpers
  • dragon christmas jumper
  • hygge christmas jumper
  • gardening christmas jumper
  • french hens christmas jumper
  • hoe christmas jumper

And it’s on page 2 for ‘bob ross christmas jumper’ and ‘owl christmas jumper’ – opportunities for further optimisation this year. These are niche keywords to be sure, but highly relevant to those searching for them. The search volume is generally a little lower – but so is the competition.

Now we’re in September, there’s lots to do to ensure higher sales for Christmas 2018. Already, traffic is starting to creep up. By looking at year-round t-shirt related keywords, I’ve identified popular animals to form new designs around this year, the highest being cats, wolves, tigers, bears, giraffes, elephants and otters.

Cats, of course, never stop being in vogue.

You can get big links, if you ask nicely

From September onwards, a lot of publications start planning their Christmas roundups. Best Christmas gifts. Best Christmas movies on Netflix. And of course, best ugly Christmas sweaters.

Last year I approached several big publications who had already posted Christmas sweater roundups and politely asked the authors if they would be kind enough to include one of mine. Of course, from most of them, you hear nothing. But it paid off – I managed to get links from The Mirror and Glamour Magazine. For free.

In addition to that, I emailed various bloggers requesting a review in exchange for a free jumper. Particularly niche bloggers whose interests matched the jumper designs: cyclists, gardening enthusiasts, hygge, etc. Many were happy to send photos, which also provided great social fodder. I found the links to be more valuable than social mentions, since they boost website authority as well as driving traffic. A link lasts for as long as the post remains live; the average lifespan of a tweet is around 18 minutes.

You must order samples

 

hoe christmas jumper

When you’re in a rush to get your website ready, it’s really tempting to assume the printed designs will look fine and to go ahead and make them live. I’m glad I didn’t, because there were various issues with the first (and second) round of samples I ordered.

First, I discovered that printed designs lose much of their contrast, compared to how they appear on screen. Dragon Sleigher, for example, is made up of many shades of green and red. On screen, it looked perfect. Printed, you could barely discern one shade from another. I altered the original design so the darks became darker, and the lights became lighter. On screen, it looked a little much. Printed: perfect.

Second, you need to identify any quality control issues. When you use a third-party supplier, you don’t check the products for yourself. A common problem with DTG printing is getting unwanted white edges around your design. This is because they print a white base coat first. Unless the two are perfectly matched up, the base coat will show through.

Needless to say, I was disappointed when some of my samples had random white edges, and I brought this to the attention of the supplier on more than one occasion. Luckily, there have been no complaints of poor print quality. However, I would have expected better of their quality control teams in the first instance (another reason I will look to change supplier this year).

Social media is hard

I understand the basic ins and outs of social media, but proper social media strategy is a full-time job that requires a lot of know-how. Sensing it wouldn’t be the best use of my time, I hired someone to take care of that side of things for me. Unfortunately, they turned out not to be as qualified as I’d hoped, and after the first couple of times updates went out with spelling and grammar mistakes (not to mention getting the brand name wrong), I ended up writing and preparing most of the updates myself.

Social media is hard. And finding people who genuinely know what they’re doing is even harder. The rules are constantly changing. And every platform has its own set of them.

Using a combination of Kit and AdEspresso, I was able to try out Facebook ads and test different sets against one another. I created super targeted audience profiles: marketing individual jumper designs to people with relevant hobbies and interests. I also ran a Facebook page giveaway, which got a surprising amount of engagement.

Conclusion: the ads worked, but they were expensive and time-consuming. That’s why for me, organic marketing feels like a more valuable investment, particularly long-term. That and finding myself a genuine social media whizz…

People will buy anything if it has a dragon on it

 

dragon sleigher christmas jumper

I mean that’s it really. Put a dragon on something – or a unicorn – and it’ll probably sell better. People love dragons. And dinosaurs.

Dragon Sleigher outsold the other jumper designs by a considerable way, probably helped by the fact that it was the one The Mirror and Glamour Magazine both decided to feature as their favourites. With fantasy TV shows like Game of Thrones looming large, dragons are very on trend. They make everything better.

My friends are awesome

Finally, the last big thing I learned in my first year selling Christmas jumpers online is that my friends really are the bee’s knees. They willingly showed up to my last-minute photo shoot and posed in all sorts of silly accessories – in exchange for a free festive jumper. Not only that, they were happy to take part in my marketing video, where they presented their jumpers as if they were pieces of fine art. The joys of being friends with actors…

Do you know what a 15-sided shape’s called? Find out:

I wanted the product photos to be silly and tongue-in-cheek, much like the jumpers themselves. I couldn’t have achieved that without this funny lot. Fortuitous, too, to know someone with a pleasingly Bob Rossable afro.

Making Jolly Christmas Jumper was buckets of fun, and I am really proud of it. I learned a lot, and if you have your own oddball business idea, I encourage you to do the same. You probably won’t do everything right the first time, but each year you’ll (hopefully) get a bit better. I can’t wait to get stuck in and see how it does in 2018.