Building a Business

Starting a Home-Based Sublimation Business

Sublimation makes for an excellent home-based business opportunity. All you need is a printer, heat press, computer, sublimation Inks, sublimation transfer paper, sublimation substrates, a little bit of elbow room and your set. Just plug in the equipment and presto, outcome the orders and in comes the money!

On the surface, it may seem this simple, but in reality there is a lot more to setting up a legitimate home-based apparel decoration business. Yes, the equipment is the core of the operation, but there is more to it than that. Before starting your home-based operation, there are four areas that need to be investigated:

  • Sales & Marketing Solutions. 
  • Consumables & Supplies. 
  • Administrative Equipment, Supplies and Functions. 
  • Physical Location.

Sales & Marketing Solutions

Working from your home offers a lot of advantages: no rent, no commuting, no dress codes, flexible hours, etc. But it also has some disadvantages as well, with perhaps the most significant one being “lack of visibility.” If customers can’t “see” you then they aren’t going to know that you exist. But due to local zoning laws and ordinances, it’s unlikely that you can put out a sign or a billboard. The fact of the matter is that if you operate from home, you are probably totally invisible to prospective customers.

Further compounding this matter is that many corporate entities view home operations as hobbies rather than serious business operations. Making it known that you are working from your house can actually be detrimental in some cases.

Thus you will be most effective if you go to your customer’s rather than having them come to you, which means you need to put together a Sales and Marketing Program for your new business. This sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It begins by creating a Sales Kit so that you are able to work successfully away from your house.

Since you may have any customers at this point, create some exciting ideas using stock images and lettering, then sublimate them onto a variety of different types of substrates, so that you can easily show the full range of what you can do.

Don’t be random, rather think about specific markets you wish to pursue, then build sample kits that will appeal to those markets. For example, if you have an interest in the school market, then create a collection of items that target schools. (You should create your own fictitious school rather than using a real one so as not to show any favoritism.) Your collection could include several sub-categories of products such as spirit apparel, fundraiser items, awards, kid’s artwork, etc.

If you wish to pursue corporate or small business, then create samples that focus on specific vertical markets such as: realtors / golf courses / healthcare / fire & rescue / souvenirs / memorial, etc. The idea is to have good quality items that generate ideas and stimulate sales. Plus it’s a chance for you to “show-off” your abilities and creativity.

(To learn more about specific, access our extensive collection of webcast videos that focus on different vertical markets.)

Identify each sample clearly, so when the customer is looking them over, he/she has a reference. For hard substrates you can print out labels and attach them to the backside.

For apparel, obtain clear name badge holders and name tags from an office supply store. Create an ID Tag for each garment including Item #, Brand, available colors and available sizes, then place this tag inside the name badge holder and clip the holder to the shirt.

Be sure to invest in good quality containers for your products, so as to make them easy to transport and to keep them from getting dirty or banged up in transit. Garment bags for apparel and totes or knapsacks for hard substrates. You might consider a rolling suitcase as well. Keep in mind that you don’t need to take every sample of every sales call, rather you should select the right “collection" and stick with it.

In addition to real samples, it’s also useful to create a portfolio with pictures of some real jobs that you can completed. Group the items and take pictures, then put this into a slide show on a tablet or laptop for easy reference.

Substrate catalogs are useful as well. However, if you buy from a lot of sources, they can be cumbersome to lug around. And in many cases, supplier catalogs also list wholesale prices. And even if they don’t have pricing, if the customer is able to identify your suppliers from their catalogs, they can pursue them online. Thus, be careful what you show. Many Decorators create their own catalogs using desktop publishing programs. Most suppliers will give you permission to use their catalog images and some will even supply you with those images. This gives you the ability to make some really nice catalogs of your own. Be sure to use good quality, heavyweight paper and consider a three-hole binder for easy page change- outs.

The next item in your Sales Kit is a price sheet. (Pricing is a very detailed subject that won’t be covered here.) It’s imperative that you create a pricing system for your goods that takes into account quantity discounts. Ideally you will have a printed price sheet, at least for your merchandise. Some Suppliers are making their wholesale price lists available in MS Excel format, so that you can download it, create your own markup formulas and easily create a printed retail price list. You don’t want to spend too much time in front of the customer fumbling with a calculator. It looks suspicious, as if you don’t know what to charge. In the customer’s mind, this is a perfect invitation to negotiate the price.

Now that you are ready to show your wares to your customers, you need to line up some potential clients. This is where you need to develop a Marketing and Promotions campaign to let the world know that you exist. The whole world is a customer, so be prepared to promote yourself anytime, anyplace.

Start by creating business cards which are so simple, yet so critical. Carry them with you everywhere you go and hand them out in huge volumes. Be sure to include as much contact information as possible. Many home-based businesses shy away from including a physical address in an effort to disguise their location. However, the lack of a physical address or the use of a PO Box is a clear indicator that the business is operating from a home location. Some businesses get a commercial box from a business like The UPS Store, as it comes with a physical location and uses the term “ suite” instead of “ box” .

The second step is to ALWAYS wear something embellished, preferably with your logo. A lot of people simply do not understand what sublimation is. By wearing it, you have the perfect example to refer to. Plus, spectacular designs always garner comments. Be prepared to take advantage of such comments by handing out a business card and expounding on the virtues of what you have to offer. Anyone can be a customer and you never know whom you are talking to.

Here’s an example. As you are checking out, the cashier in the Grocery Store notices your decorated shirt. “ Nice shirt” she says. You respond with “gee thanks, I own a business that does this type of work." And of course you are handing over the business card at the same time. “I’m Jane Doe with ABC Company. We specialize in all types of imprinted products including company shirts and caps, school uniforms, gift items, etc. If you ever need our services, please give me a call.” Keep it simple and to the point, as the checkout line is not a great place for a full-blown sales presentation. It may be that the cashier simply drops your card into the circular file (trashcan). On the other-hand, she could be the President of the PTA.

This goes beyond apparel, as there are plenty of sublimation products such as mobile device covers that are ordinary accessories of life, which will accomplish the same task of showing off what you can do with sublimation.

The rest of your strategy for marketing your home-based business simply becomes a process of finding ways to put your name in front of key people. Supply products for door- prizes at a school carnival. Join the local Chamber of Commerce and participate in all events. Sponsor a local team of some sort. (Bowling, fishing, golf, cycling etc.) Typically this can be done for a very low investment. Send out Press Releases to the local newspaper. Show your products at local craft shows or festivals. There are lots of creative and fun ways to reach people.

Consumables & Supplies

When starting any kind of decoration business, the primary focus is always on buying the proper equipment. The Transfer It Company will sell you a printer and heat press, plus a startup kit that includes consumables (inks, transfer papers, blank substrates, etc.) to help you get started. But you will still need some other items to help you process your work.

For example, two tables are needed in the work area. Preferably six to eight feet in length and sturdy in construction. One table will be used for prepping the work for production. Here you will lay-out your blank substrates so you can properly position and attach the printed images prior to pressing. You will probably have your printer on this table as well.

The second table is used for finishing. Here you can quickly move finished products from the heat press to the table for cooling down. Once the order is complete, it will be a simple matter of boxing up the finished items as everything will be together in one place. Your heat press could be positioned on this table if it’s sturdy enough, or you may want to invest in a cabinet to mount between the tables and then install the heat press on top of it.

Other things that are needed in your production area include: heat tape, adhesive spray, scissors, tape measure, ruler, oven mitts, and a decent sized trash can. Certain types of substrates will require special accessories such as foam for shirts and pads for ceramic tiles.

You will also need some storage containers for your consumables (ink & paper), plus your accessories. Typically some heavy duty plastic tubs (with lids) will work fine. The key is to keep things organized and accessible without cluttering your work area.

Administrative Equipment, Supplies and Functions

It’s quite easy to assume that once you buy production equipment you are in business. Wrong! You must understand that you are creating a Business That Does Product Decoration, rather than a Product Decoration Business. The focus must be on the “ Business” aspects first, everything else second. You must develop methods and systems to track leads, take orders, process jobs, order merchandise, pay bills, etc. So to ensure that you setup the business aspects of the business you need to invest in some non-decoration equipment.

The first item is a computer for administrative functions. It should be separate from the one that does production and art functions. There are several reasons for this separation. First of all, graphics software is very sophisticated and demands a lot of the computer resources. Second, when it becomes necessary to do two things at once (a frequent occurrence), one computer becomes totally inefficient. Example, you are invoicing customers, and your husband comes in to help you out by setting up some designs. One computer doesn’t work!

Along with your computer(s) it’s necessary to invest in a good quality scanner and photo quality printer. This allows you to process artwork, create flyers and brochures, etc. And of course, you will need the proper software to make everything work. 

As a business you will need programs that create files that others can easily read. The business standard for spreadsheets is MS Excel while the business standard for documents is MS Word.

For example, if you wish to email documents, quotes, price sheets, etc., to a customer, chances are that he can read the MS Word format. If you send anything else, he may not be able to read it. So it’s important that you are on the same level as the rest of the business world. Most business in this country have invested in MS Office Suite which includes these two programs.

Database programs are great for tracking leads, and keeping up with customers etc. There are many programs available for this function, but for a new business MS Outlook (part of the suite) might be fine. MS Excel can be used as well. Or you can look into a system such as Sales Force which is a more comprehensive solution that can grow with your business.

Along with office software, you will need accounting software. There are many programs to choose from. Quick Books is very popular among small businesses. Talk to your Accountant and find out what he/she recommends. This will ensure you are compatible with his/her system, which can save you some money in the long run.

Desktop publishing is a must for a new decoration business as well. This will enable you to create flyers, brochures, mailers, etc. MS Word and MS Publisher are both popular programs for this task.

With a full complement of software, you will be able to manage your business affairs much more effectively than if you use paper and pencil, combined with manila folders. (Though you will still use paper files to some degree.) You make money in this business through sales and production, not "paper-pushing.” By setting up good systems for managing vital information, you will spend less time playing Clerk and more time producing revenue.

In addition to the more complex pieces required to manage your business, there are the small everyday items that go with it. Don’t forget the routine office supplies such as pens, paper, pencils, whiteout, stapler, staples, tape, post-it notes, rubber bands, markers, shipping supplies, paper clips, binder clips, file cabinets, file folders, envelopes, letterheads, calculators, etc.

Along with having the proper resources, there is a whole art to making it work properly. For example, order forms. What is the perfect order form? Each business is different, so there is no single order form that is perfect for every business. The problem is that much of product decoration is custom, so it’s hard to cover every possible variation of every detail within a printed form. Some shops use elaborate multi-page affairs, while others use a blank sheet of paper. Ideally, you should start off with something simple that ensures you gather the needed details. Over time you can fine-tune the so-called “form" into a smooth working document.

A beginning order form could consist of a blank area at the top, followed by a series of questions to ask the customer. In the blank area, you attach artwork or draw a sketch of the design concept (or both). The questions at the bottom are to ensure that you get all of the required information.

Example of Order Form questions:

  • What is the customer’s contact info?
  • What date is the finished order required?
  • What substrates are going to be used?
  • Does the same thing go on each substrate?
    If not, create a separate order for each item.
  • If a garment is involved, where will the design be applied?
  • What are the proper colors?
  • Are stock images being used? What is the image source and ID?
  • Are photo’s being used? Is the customer supplying them? Is a release needed?
  • If keyboard lettering is required, which font? What letter height? What Color? Arc or straight? All capitals or upper/lower case? Etc.

No matter how simple the job is, it is imperative that each work order can be reproduced by simply looking at the form. Make sure all the information is legible, and be sure to save notes about the setup. Most shops use the work order form to create a design information sheet that details all of the parameters necessary to recreate the design.

Forms are a big part of the decoration process. As your business grows, you will no doubt find that you need a variety of forms to cover a variety of issues. Using your business computer system, you will be able to create, modify and output forms for every occasion.

Physical Location

Now that you have production equipment, samples, consumables and administrative supplies, etc. need to find a place setup your business. A key factor for location within your home is SEPARATION. You need to maintain a physical and emotional separation from your business. Though your business will become your life, you do need to spend some time away from it. But just as important, you must keep certain elements of your home environment away from your business operation.

For example, small children. A production shop holds many wonders for a small child, but unfortunately danger lurks just beneath the surface. Sharp objects, moving parts and electrical devices are just a few of the things can easily hurt a child.

Another element to contend with is household odors such as food smells, cigarette smoke and cleaning solvents. All of these items can permeate the merchandise in your shopping that is awaiting delivery. Your customer will reject the order if it smell like cigarettes.

Pets can also be a problem. In addition to physical dangers that might cause injury, a pet can leave behind odors and hairs, which can also permeate products, especially garments awaiting production.

Another thing to consider when choosing a location within the house is physical environment. Can you get your equipment where it needs to go? Heat presses can be heavy and bulky. Is there adequate heating and cooling? (Damp basements and dusty garages are a no-no.) Is there adequate electrical power? A heat press draws a lot of current.

As you can see, starting a sublimation business in your home does involve more than just purchasing the right equipment. It takes careful thought and planning. And just because you are in your house, doesn’t mean that you are exempt from local, state and federal laws concerning businesses, taxes, licenses, permits, etc. The main difference between a home- based location and a commercial location is just that: location. The rest of the details that make a business a business are pretty much the same. Ignore them and you may fail, identify and manage them and you will do well.

Let Transfer It help you run with it!

Transfer It is here for you to help answer many of the day-to-day operation questions when it comes to building your new, "Personalized Product Decoration" business.

With some hard work, perseverance, and common sense your new business should be a great success! We look forward in the coming months to hearing from you about it.