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Ep. 120 - Fighting the Misconceptions of Dropshipping and Passive Income - with Nora Inveiss

Nora has been part of the Printful team since 2015. She has spent the last 5 years writing content, coordinating communications projects, and helping customers learn about ecommerce. 

Now as brand manager, she's using her deep Printful knowledge to take our brand to the next level.

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [00:59] New video format!
  • [02:00] Before Printful and being Brand Manager
  • [03:37] Learn how to communicate with people
  • [04:03] What Printful is
  • [05:14] The ideal customers for Printful
  • [07:00] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [07:20] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
  • [07:56] Print-on-demand vs local print house
  • [08:56] Fees on Printful vs owning inventory
  • [10:14] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [11:42] Printful’s printing techniques
  • [13:02] Using Printful to find success
  • [15:07] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [17:40] Nora’s practical tips for stores
  • [20:08] Dropshipping is difficult
  • [20:54] Sponsor: Avalara avalara.com/honest
  • [22:18] POD is NOT for passive income
  • [22:45] Starting an apparel business
  • [24:13] Understanding your brand
  • [24:35] Little thing DO matter
  • [25:29] Professionalism, trust, and expectations
  • [26:41] Details build trust
  • [27:18] Printful can help you get started
  • [28:06] Start your business now and experiment


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Nora Inveiss  

If you're a new brand, you want to make sure that you show other people who bought from you. Because people are going to trust people more than your brand and your copy.

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results. I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business. Let's get on with the show. 

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And today, we're welcoming to the show... And also I should... 

This is gonna be the first video podcast we ever do. I mentioned that before. Nora from Printful is joining me. How are you doing today?

Nora Inveiss  

Great. I didn't know this was the first video podcast. It's very cool, excited.

Chase Clymer  

I'm super excited. Alright, so the reason we're doing videos now... Here's a hint for everybody: If you have a podcast, you should probably do video if you're putting it up on YouTube

So when the pandemic hit, I started doing a short form version of this called Unprepared --that I'm sure anybody that's actually watching this or listening to this has heard of. And what I saw was... 

Those were all videos because they were shorter and it was easier to do. I saw that the plays were way more, like 10x on some of them. We were getting big numbers on YouTube. 

We're getting 10-20 views on the normal podcast. We're hundreds of views on the ones with video. People like video. People like people. That makes sense. I don't know why it took me this long to do it. 

So we ran through all the different podcast remote recording apps, and SaaS is out there and settled on Riverside for anyone that's curious. And now we're trying to do all the episodes with video. 

So thank you, Nora.

Nora Inveiss  

Cool. Glad to be the first. Great. (laughs)

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So we're absolutely gonna screw this one up. So no pressure on us.

Nora Inveiss  

(laughs) Looking forward to it.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Alright. So if you're in the Ecommerce game, I know you've heard of Printful. They've come up on the show before and now we have an expert on their side here to talk about dropshipping... 

You're doing a lot of things over there with printing and fulfillment for customers in Ecommerce. But before we get into that, Nora, let's walk it back. What were you doing before you got to Printful? And what is your position over there? What does the brand manager do?

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah, so I've been with Printful for just over 5 years, like 5 and a half years now so it's been quite a while. Before that I studied English Literature in university. I had a job as a community and Editorial Manager for a website in Toronto, before I moved over to Latvia to join the Printful Team. 

So at Printful, I started as a content marketing specialist. This was back when our marketing team had... I was the third person to join so I did a little bit of everything back then from emails, social media, blog posts, you know, you name it, I probably did it. 

Then over time, I became... As our team grew, I became a project manager for marketing projects, so working on bigger scale projects for the marketing team. And now I am our brand manager. 

So basically, what I do now is make sure that we can grow brand awareness internally and externally. 

So internally, making sure that everyone at Printful --we're a huge team now--making sure that everyone globally understands, okay, what are our values? What's our mission? 

And then externally, reaching new audiences, making sure that our customers and people also know who we are, what we do, what we stand for, and how we can help them.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely, I think that if college is what you want to do, I think communication is probably the #1 degree. Learning how to communicate with people is going to help you in life so much. It's a difficult task to pick up.

Nora Inveiss  

Right. Yeah. It's about training yourself to use language as a tool. It's a tool essentially, that you can learn and cultivate. And it does really come in handy later in life. Whatever you do, I think communicating is very key.

Chase Clymer  

Alright. So for the 8 people out there that don't know what Printful is, can you let them know? Because you guys are probably the number one in the industry, in my opinion. It's not even an opinion. I think you already have the biggest market share.

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. (laughs) I think we are, yeah,  among the top in the industry. And I'm glad that you feel that way as well. (laughs) But yeah, so we are a print-on-demand, dropshipping company. 

So essentially we print and ship products for our customers and sell them and ship them to our customers' customers around the world. 

So you connect with Printful, you add your products to your store connected with us and when you get an order we essentially print it and ship it under your brand. So that's the main service that we offer but we also do warehousing fulfillment, for example. 

So if you have products that you get from other providers, you can ship them to us in bulk and then we can store them and ship them on your behalf. 

We offer all sorts of extra services. We have design services if you need help creating designs that you want to sell on products.

We have store setup services if you need help actually setting up a store or creating a platform. 

So our main business is print-on-demand, but we do offer a lot of extra services on top of that.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Absolutely. So let's get into it for how would a brand... I guess, what's the ideal customer for Printful and who's going to have a good time utilizing Printful? 

Because I feel like the software can integrate with any store at any level of their business. That's not really the argument here. It is not an argument. That's not really the issue. 

Who's gonna have a better time? Who's going to actually enjoy using the software? Who's going to see success with it?

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. I think there's a lot of different use cases. I think anyone really... And I know that's  not the best answer saying, "Oh everyone can use this service." But I think with print-on-demand with printful... It is true, we have a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. That's our core audience. 

But it's great if you are just starting out a business. If you have,  maybe an idea that you want to try out, you don't want to spend a lot of money upfront, it's a really great way to get started. 

If you are maybe a designer or an artist, you want to figure out --or a musician-- you want to figure out how to monetize what you're doing through merch. That's a really great way to go about it. 

If you have a business that is completely unrelated to Ecommerce or merch and you want to just add a product component to it, --you're in a business, you want to sell t-shirts for your business-- print-on-demand is great. 

And same as if you are a larger customer, too. I think the beauty with having print-on-demand and using Printful is that we can also scale with you. 

So if you do higher volume sales, then partnering with us is great because we can scale with you, we can keep up with all of your demand. 

So I think, yeah, most commonly, we see small-to-medium sized businesses that use us. But really, there's tons of use cases where print on demand could come in handy for whatever you want to do.

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Chase Clymer  

Let's talk about the advantages of print-on-demand for a small business versus just going to my local merch house and buying a round of t-shirts.

Nora Inveiss  

Well, I think the main difference in the main benefit with print-on-demand versus going to your local print house is that you can be very hands off with Printful or with any POD service provider. 

So you don't have to, first of all, you don't have to order anything in bulk. So you don't have to go to your local print house to buy all the shirts yourself and guess which colors [and] which sizes are going to sell best and then print those. 

The on-demand printing, we print stuff on demand. So you add your product, add your design, you don't have to guess how much of what you need. Once you get an order, we'll print it out and ship it to your customer. So that, I think, is huge. 

You don't have to buy anything in bulk. And then I guess the second main advantage is you save time. You don't have to go to your printing store every week, however often. 

You connect it with Printful and then we take care of the rest, essentially. So I think that's you know, the two main biggest benefits are saving time and saving money.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Well, I guess on the saving money part, I want to guess... I want to drill down there and I'm sure that this is going to be a question that you're gonna have to answer very poetically. 

But how does... How do the rates on the products compared to buying it thrown from a local resource or just a more of a printing company because you guys do offer more services than just the printing on it. 

You do the fulfillment as well. It's more of a split once you sell the product. So how do the fees compare versus just owning inventory on it?

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. With Printful... Our prices, we factor in not only the product but the fulfillment itself so our prices are probably going to be a little bit more expensive than ordering stuff yourself and printing them. 

They're also going to be a little bit more expensive than some of our competitors out there too. But with us you get the quality. That's really big. 

We want to make sure that all the products that we offer that we stand behind them and that we do the best job we can and the highest quality printing. 

So I think, with that extra expense again, you are saving yourself time. That adds into it and then with Printful, you know it is going to be higher quality than maybe elsewhere.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Thanks for answering the question, honestly. That's what I want and that's what I was going after.

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Chase Clymer  

So with the quality, that's a great little transition there. Is this all direct to garment printing? Or are you guys doing screen printing on some of the products? How does this... How does that work?

Nora Inveiss  

So we offer... I believe the number now is over 250 products and a lot of them... We have different techniques for different products. when it comes to just t-shirts, our main printing technique is going to be direct-to-garment. We don't use screen printing. 

And that's because direct-to-garment, I think, [is] the way of the future, I guess. It's easier to scale, you have more freedom to print more colors, it's more cost effective for one-off prints. So that's our main printing method for t-shirts. 

But we also do... For example, we have sublimation printing and cut and sew printing. So that's when we take a piece of material, print the design just directly on the material.And then afterwards, we cut it and then we sewed it into the garment. 

So we do that as well for leggings, backpacks, and some of our other products. We do embroidery for hats, for beanies... Also for t-shirts. 

We have embroidery, on some t-shirts, aprons, that kind of thing. And we will always try to expand new product categories, see what our customers like. 

So we have engraving. Also we do jewelry, phone cases... And there's a ton of methods and products that we offer. But for t-shirts, for apparel, it's mainly going to be DTG.

Chase Clymer  

With that in mind, let's  transition back to the listeners of the show. So what would be a good strategy? Or what have you seen other brands do utilizing Printful to find success? I know it's a very open ended question. 

But I guess maybe I'll give you... A more specific example would be what would... How would an established brand... 

They already have a customer base that's already selling a product to them. What would be the best way to utilize a direct-to-garment printing service fulfillment service like Printful?

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. I guess... Okay, first of all, just on your note of success, I think finding success is challenging. You can't just set up your store, offer a product and expect it to go viral overnight. 

To find success using Printful or any POD or starting any business, you do have to put in the work put in the marketing know, your audience, and how to reach them. 

So I think definitely first of all, to find success, to use Printful, whatever business you have, you have to really work at it. It's not going to happen overnight. I think for established business owners who are interested in using print-on-demand, how to find success there. 

First of all, is knowing your audience, knowing what is going to interest them, whether it's... I don't know what products they're going to want, what designs are going to speak to them, what color palettes they're going to want... So understanding that is really key. 

But I think the beauty with print on-demand is that it's so easy if you're an established business, if you want to try it out, it's really easy to test stuff out and see what works and what doesn't. It's pretty easy to experiment. 

So you can try if you have an idea for a t-shirt for design, you can add it to your store and just see how it goes. If it sells well, great! You have a hit on your hands and we're going to help you fulfill it and it's all going to be great. 

If it doesn't sell as well as you thought, well okay fine. You can pull it from your store and then try something else. 

So I think it's all about knowing what your audience wants and then experimenting and figuring out, "Okay, what are the sizes, the colors, the products that are going to speak to them?" And figuring that out.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think that's probably one of the main advantages of a brand like Printful, or a product/service is the ability to test things, which is cool before investing a lot in  doing your own product run or whatever. 

I think that's something that a lot of brands overlook that I would recommend: If you are looking to get into a different category, using something like Printful to test the waters first is a lot better investment, maybe not margin-wise but as far as testing goes... 

Because obviously, the economies of scale makes sense to bring that stuff in-house at some point, I don't think anyone's gonna argue that. But for the first iteration of it, testing it, it's like "Why not?"

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. I think either way, it's a win-win. You can test a product. Again, if it doesn't go the way you thought it would, if it doesn't sell, okay, fine. You can pull it from your store. You're not stuck with inventory of products that don't sell. 

At most you lose the time you put into creating the design, if you ordered samples or any ad spends. Fine, you lose that. But you know, comparatively, it's not as bad as if you'd ordered a bunch of stuff that just doesn't resonate with your audience.

And then on the other hand, if it takes off, great! Again, you found a hit and you have a partner that can print it for you. And then as it scales you can decide what to do.

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Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So let's go... Let's talk about those that are just starting out. Maybe they've got an idea. They're about to build out their first store or they're thinking about it. So if you're thinking about it, just do it, who cares? But what would you kind of tell them to keep in mind? What do you see... This doesn't even have to do with Printful, really. 

It's just like what people are doing these days with building their own Ecommerce brands  that you're seeing working with dozens, if not more, brands a day? What are they doing  in finding success?

Nora Inveiss  

Oh, that's a good question. I guess... Okay, first of all, just practical advice for anyone thinking of starting out. I'd definitely suggest, if you're going to go the POD route, is to order samples for yourself before you offer them in your store. 

[It's] definitely something that we recommend because with POD, someone else's doing the printing for you. So you don't really have control [with] that so before you offer it, you want to make sure that you stand by your products and you print out samples for yourself so you can see whether the colors match how you had imagined on a product. 

You can also then test the quality, see whether it actually matches your standards or not. You can see how the product fits or feels, which will then in turn help you with product descriptions. And having a product on-hand, you can take product photos. 

So that's, I think, one thing I definitely recommend to anyone who's interested in getting started. Other things... Again, as I mentioned, it takes time honestly. You can't... 

Again, you can't just add a product and create a store and then expect things to go well. You're going to have to put the time and the effort into making your store you know appealing and to grow and trust with your audience. 

So people who find success for example, they'll put a lot of time and effort into writing product descriptions. 

So again, while you want your product samples, so you can write those descriptions, take amazing product photos... Because when you're selling stuff online obviously, you have to sell, convince your customers through words and through photos. 

So paying attention to that, making sure your store, you know, it looks professional that everything works as it should, that checkout works, and spending a lot of time in the little details. And then I think of adjusting as you go. 

Again, figuring out which products are gonna be interesting for your audience, which social media channels you need to be on where your audience is hanging out. 

So just understanding your audience, and how you're going to reach them, and how you can adjust your store, and your offering to be appealing to them.

Chase Clymer  

I appreciate that. Because there is... That's the reason that this podcast was started so long ago: there's some bad advice out there that you can just...  

You could build a million dollar business overnight with dropshipping, which just isn't true at all anymore. It was hardly true back then either. 

And you're hearing it straight from one of the number one dropshipping providers out there outside of... I guess Alibaba would be the other one or AliExpress, I don't remember. (Oberlo) is the one that gets all the stuff from there. But anyways, that's getting all tangential things. 

You're hearing it straight from the source. it's not easy, you're not gonna, it's not overnight success, it's going to take hard work. So you have to think about that. 

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Chase Clymer  

And then I think a lot of businesses, when they want to get first started with Ecommerce, everyone wants to do fashion and apparel, which is fine. 

Everyone wears clothes. I spent a lot of money online on clothes. Let's be real. 

And using a partner print on demand partner is great there. But what advice would you have for people that specifically are looking to like start an apparel company or like a lifestyle brand type company?

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah, I guess... First, just going back to what you said a moment ago, just touching on that again, you hear the words "passive income" thrown around a lot. And I don't really like that sentence. Especially in print-on-demand. 

Because yes, you outsource so much print [that] you don't have to spend time on the printing on a shipping fine, that's off your hands. 

But you still have to spend time on the marketing on the business side of things and understanding "Okay, so I have this person that's printing everything for me, what do I do to actually get them orders to print?" 

So yeah, just touching on that a little bit, again. I think if you're interested in starting an apparel brand... And I guess that's also one of the side effects of on-demand manufacturing and print-on-demand is that it's such a low barrier to entry that a lot of people cannot do it. 

It's so easy to start an online store, which is great if you want to start one. Amazing that it's so easy to do.

And on the other hand, okay, it's so easy. So a lot of people are doing it. So I think you really have to understand, first, the niche that you're targeting. So you want to make sure that okay, you have a specific audience that you want to go after. 

I like recommending that you focus on something that is a niche that you're a part of, a club or a hobby that you do, that you know how to target and how to reach. 

So I think you need to have a clear audience. I think you need to have cool designs that stand out. Look at what's trending right now. How can I get involved in that? Text-based designs are pretty popular. 

Anything right now, like a viral meme can be made into a shirt. Are there any like viral trends that you can get on? And just understand, "Okay, how do I create really cool designs that are gonna resonate with that niche?" 

And then figure out what products you want to sell as well. Again, every niche is going to have products that interest them.

So if you want to sell... I don't know. If you're, you know, want to sell athletic apparel, well then okay, you can do t-shirts, tank tops. We have, at Printful, athletic shorts, we have a whole athletic line.

So figuring out also the products that are going to resonate with the designs that are going to appeal to your audience. And then really understanding yourself. How do you stand apart from all the other apparel brands that are available right now? I think having a really clear mission. 

I always recommend that stores have a clear About Us page. I think that's such a... It can be an overlooked part of your website, anything having a clear story telling the world about yourself, why you launched your business, I think that'll also help you stand out from the competition.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I agree with everything. And even going back to earlier when we touched on investing time and energy and possibly money in the content element of it... We're talking a lot now about printing clothes, apparel, and doing a lifestyle brand in that way. 

But it doesn't matter what you're doing online. If you're building an Ecommerce business, your content needs to be better than all --than everyone else's-- if you want to succeed. 

The investment after finding a product that works is all about marketing and in copywriting in sales... Your business is nothing if you're not selling anything,

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah, no. I think the little things really matter. If you're writing a product description... If you do have a copy on your site, and there's a typo, well I personally, probably won't trust this brand because there's a mistake on their website. 

Are they really gonna be legit? Do I want to give them my credit card info? All these little things really add up and they matter.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, it does. And there's such a... I think... Well, there's 2 things I want to say here. First of all, there's an inherent level of professionalism that comes with like... Not professionalism, but trust that comes with the professionalism on really well-designed websites. That's a whole conversation for another day. 

But you'll see these top tier brands in the level of time and energy that they put into their website. You can see the content and the design. That just resonates trust with consumers. 

And so you'll see that they'll be converting at higher conversion rates, and they'll be having first time customers purchase more frequently because [they're] like, "Wow, this looks really professional. This is really trustworthy." 

So that's where the time and energy needs to be spent. But on the flip side, like if you're not going to invest that time and energy and making a professional product and professional presence on a website, and awesome content, you shouldn't expect anything. 

There are great themes for various levels of whatever you're doing on Shopify, or whatever platform. But if you're just throwing up something free and like creating some crazy mall offering with 9000 products with no general direction, no niche, no, nothing, you shouldn't expect anything.

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. And I think also stuff like having a clear return policy, for example, I think that's really important. Because if I'm buying online, I have no idea if this product is gonna fit me like what I do if it doesn't? How do you handle returns? 

So even thinking of stuff like that, social proof, that's going to go a long way. If you're a new brand, you want to make sure that you show other people who bought from you, because people are going to trust people more than your brand and your copy. 

So yeah, all these little things that help create a really high quality website and high quality package are going to make a difference.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Is there anything that I forgot to ask you that you think would be worthwhile to share with our audience? 

Nora Inveiss  

No, I don't think so. (laughs) I don't know. I think, yeah. Print-on-demand, I guess... Yeah. 

Going back to what we talked about already, It's great. If you want to get started testing new design ideas, testing new niches, getting started in apparel, I think it's a really great way to go about it. 

With Printful specifically, too... I don't mean to be overly promotional or anything. There's other POD providers too. But with Printful, we have all sorts of tools to make it even easier to get started and to start a business. So we do... 

We offer our design maker tool. So it's really easy to create designs, if you're like me and don't have the skills or the software to do it yourself. 

We have all sorts of extra services to help you get started and Ecommerce platforms to connect with. 

So I just think it's... Yeah, it's a great way to get started to test ideas and to, yeah, validate whatever you're trying to do.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. And there's something to be said with... When I was younger, I was always playing around with building websites, and just going off and just learning. 

I think if you want to learn Ecommerce, building a brand using a POD provider is like the #1 way to learn as long as you go and deal with the expectations of "This probably won't make me a millionaire, but I'm going to learn a lot about Ecommerce." 

And then you can find what part of Ecommerce is exciting for you. Maybe you really liked the design element of it and you're gonna learn web design, and UX, and CRO

Or maybe it was the marketing element that caught your eye because there's other ways to succeed in Ecommerce and in this ecosystem outside of building a brand. There's service offerings... There is all sorts of stuff that you can do. 

But that's my advice to anyone out there that's listening that isn't looking to build a brand that's looking to be a consultant or something like that. First thing to do is just build a website, learn what excites you.

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah. And that's also... At Printful, our philosophy is a lot of the things that we recommend, on our blog and our videos, we've done some of them ourselves. We've experimented too. So that's how we know how we take... 

We take what we've learned and we also translate that to our customers. And that's really the best way is just to learn by doing and just experimenting, I think. Yeah. 

When it comes to success in Ecommerce, a lot of it is just experimenting, finding what works and you know, trying new things until you get it.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Awesome. Nora, thank you so much for coming on today. I'll make sure to add a bunch of links in the show notes if people are curious about Printful or they want to get a hold of you. But yeah, thank you so much for coming on.

Nora Inveiss  

Yeah, thanks for having me. This was great.

Chase Clymer  

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review

And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.