We receive a number of questions from our readers in our Consult Your Guides section . For this question, I decided to reprint the answer here because I thought that it is something that others can learn from. Here’s the question from a reader in California:
I have an idea for an online store. Without going too much into details, I like an online store that offers customized printing of t-shirts. Customers can upload their t-shirt design and images on the site, and I will make a t-shirt out of their designs. They can also make money by selling to me their designs, which I can then offer to other customers of the site. How can I make this site a reality? I have no idea whatsoever of how to make an online store, and any assistance or resources that you could direct me to help me will be greatly appreciated.
Here’s the answer that I gave her:
The first step is to think of what features you’d like to offer to your visitors. From what you said, you want:
- Customers to have the capability to upload their own t-shirt designs.
- Have a store where customers can buy custom-designed t-shirts either from your own designs; or designs sold by members to you
However, here are some questions to consider:
- Who is your target market? Will you be going after the young and hip male demographics? Or will you be going after business customers that routinely give away t-shirts for their customers?
- Will you require a minimum number of orders per t-shirt design?
- If you will not require minimum order, have you crunched the numbers to determine the profitability of the business?
- In order to be profitable, what is the price per item for custom designed t-shirts? What is the price that you will charge for the already available designs in the store?
- How will you pay for the customers’ designs? Will it be a one-time fee, or will it be royalty fee based on the number of times the design has been purchased?
- Will your website allow customers to customize the designs already available on your site? A huge segment of the market will be those who are not creative enough to come up with their own designs, but may need inspiration from those already available in your site?
- How will your site be different from other similar sites that already exist where customers are allowed to upload images and design their own t-shirts?
The website you envision requires extensive customization. It is not something that you can buy out of a box. My suggestion is to make a complete list of the features that you want to see in the site, classifying them as must-have features, then the bells and whistles that you can add later on to the site.
There are a number of talented programmers out there. Check out sites such as elance.com, rentacoder.com and similar sites. But before you put in a request for a bid, it is best to have:
- To the extent that you can (maybe get the help of a technical savvy person), make a comprehensive list of features that you want the site to have when it is launched. The clearer you are in what you want, and the more detailed the features you want in the site, the easier it will be for the programmer to give you what you need. Think of this as your Phase 1, and then depending on how the site performs, you can add more features at a later time.
- Determine what look and feel you want for the site. Go around the Web and make a list of sites that you like, whether in the same industry or not. Jot down what you like in each of these sites, what features call out to you, even what colors you want the site to have. Do this with your target audience in mind — e.g. if you are going for the edgier look, you don’t want to use Hello Kitty colors in your site.
- Decide whether you want a single person/company to do the ecommerce side, image customization side (if offered), and the web design. You can opt to have the application programmed by one programmer, with the web design done by a different person.
- How much budget do you have to create the application, the ecommerce component, and the website design?
When choosing the programmer to work with you, verify first the level of skills they have. You don’t want to waste your time (and money!) on someone with less than desired programming skills, resulting in a product that does not meet your expectations. Look for expertise and skill, not the price, and make sure that the project is not way over their heads. Also, determine how easy it will be to contact the person. With many talented programmers living across the globe, chances are they are awake when you are sleeping, so put that into consideration as well.
Good luck to your planned venture!