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Checklist Basics – Startup Tools and Resources for Launching a T-shirt Business on a Shoestring Budget in t shirt business startup checklist

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If your budget is small and you’re looking to build your own t-shirt empire on a shoestring budget, then this checklist will point you to the various tools, tips and resources to get you started – on a shoestring budget!

Hi, my name is Cartess Ross and I’ve made a ton of money printing t-shirts with a t-shirt heat press machine. If you haven’t seen this machine in action, go to my site at: It’ll amaze you how this simple machine allows you to make screen print quality shirts in as little as 8 seconds.

Let’s begin with the very basic stuff you’ll need to get started:

  • Heat Press Machine – you can purchase these new or used. If you’re tight for cash, you can find great deals on websites like, and Ebay. In many cases, you can find machines for as little as $200-$400 on I’d recommend you start with a 16×20 if it’s within your budget. If not, a 15×15 machine will work fine for MOST people. If you wish to go larger, let your business pay for it and upgrade to a 16×20 when the money starts coming in.
  • Blank T-shirts – there are a variety of places you can get blank tees and other types of apparel and accessories. TSC Apparel is one such source that sells wholesale tees, golf shirts, caps, hoodies, canvas, totes and messenger bags, aprons and more. You’ll need to have a sales tax id to purchase wholesale from the various vendors, but they’re free to get. You don’t have to start out with 5,000 tees. Start where you’re at. Some of you will have access to more funds than others, but don’t go into debt trying to purchase huge amounts of inventory. Grow into this thing – it may take you longer, but you’ll get there.
  • Getting Your Designs Created – many people think they can’t get into the t-shirt business because they can’t draw… Not true. There are graphic artists who will take your design ideas and create them for you. I use a service where graphic designers from all around the world will bid to do your designs – works similar to an auction. You post a description of what you’re wanting done and the designers will compete to win your project. They’ll post the fee they’ll charge you, along with previous work they’ve done to convince you they can do the job. You’ll be surprised at the costs you can get quality work done for. The site I use is Freelancer at
  • Getting Your Designs Onto Transfer Paper – The transfer paper you purchase at the store and run through your home printer is PURE CRAP. The designs will crack, smear and fade. They will not last long at all. We use screen printed transfers – which give you a screen print quality look and feel. They’ll last many years and the quality is superb. To learn more about how this work, visit our site to watch the free modules outlining the process at

Here’s a listing of a few other things you’ll need to get started

  • Business Plan – it’s hard to plan your trip if you don’t know where to go. You can find a bunch of templates online for free. I’m currently putting one together for our members.
  • Domain Name – Ideally, if you plan on selling on the Internet, you’ll need a dot-com name. Best place to go for that is at
  • Website – No one will take you serious without a website. In addition, it’s a great way to get exposure for your brand. Our t-shirt start-up course will teach you how to put your own website together without having to pay graphic designers thousands of dollars.
  • Business License – Each city or town may require you to have a business license. You’ll still need one if you’re working from home. They’re fairly inexpensive and worth having. I’d encourage you to get a PO BOX and use that as your mailing address. Once you get a business license, you’ll start receiving a bunch of mail from other businesses soliciting you for their services. If you don’t want excess mail showing up in your mailbox, get a PO BOX.
  • Legal Structure – There are a bunch of benefits to incorporating your business… Protecting your personal assets from liability is one of them. Opening up business checking accounts without your social security number is another (if your credit sucks and you haven’t been able to open up a checking account, you can usually open one up under your ‘corporation’ without any problem). We talk about the different types of legal structures available in our T-shirt Startup Course.
  • Sales Tax ID – If you wish to purchase wholesale tees, bags, apparel, you’ll need a sales tax id number. Many vendors won’t deal with you without one. It’s free and you can generally download a form at your state’s department of revenue website.
  • Choosing a Location – If you’re just getting started, working from the kitchen table is a great option. Before moving into an office/warehouse, I started and worked from both my bedroom night stand and kitchen table. Let the business pay for itself – grow into a location; don’t go into debt trying to get started.
  • Getting Financing – Here’s the hard and cold truth. Banks aren’t going to loan you money unless your business is already making some money. Yea – you’ll hear people talk about the Small Business Administration putting up huge amounts of cash. But for most of you, and I’m talking about brand new start-ups, getting money from these organizations isn’t going to be a reality. You’ll just have to get funding the old fashioned way by saving money, getting a part-time job, putting it on a credit card or borrowing from friends and family (if your business plan is solid, family and friends can be a great source of funding). If your credit is good and you have a great relationship with your local credit union, it’s very likely they’ll loan you money. In fact, if you don’t have an account at a local credit union, go get one NOW. You’ll have far better chances getting money from them than you would from the big ‘corporate’ banks.
  • Marketing & Advertising – If no one knows you exist, you won’t sell any tees. You must market and advertise if you expect to be successful. There’s too much to talk about here, but take a look at our online t-shirt start-up course for more information about marketing and advertising your new t-shirt business.

I have plenty of more, but I’m going to stop here… Feel free to add to the list by posting your comments below… Take a look at our online course if you’re interested in jumpstarting the growth of your new or existing t-shirt business

How to Start a T-shirt Company of t shirt business startup checklist

t shirt business startup checklist with

It started with a nickname. Every day, Johnny Earle would go to work at the Braintree, Massachusetts, music emporium Newbury Comics, and every day his colleagues would call him something different. ‘Hey, Johnny Appleseed; Johnny Pancakes; Johnny Cupcakes!’ Somehow, Cupcakes stuck.

That was back in 2000, when Earle was ordering T-shirts for his metal band, On Broken Wings. On a lark, he got a Johnny Cupcakes shirt printed up. His colleagues hooted, and store customers asked, ‘Where did you get that? Is it a bakery? An adult movie store?’ Soon, Earle was selling half a dozen shirts a day from the trunk of his ’89 Camry. He bought cheap shirts from a local silk-screen shop where he once worked. Shirts plus printing cost $4 or $5, and Earle charged $8 to $10. He created new designs that played off pop culture — the Statue of Liberty lofting a cupcake; a cupcake and crossbones — and marketed them to customers whose e-mail addresses he had collected.

On Broken Wings signed with a record label and toured the U.S. After concerts, Earle sold his shirts — wrinkled and reeking of gas fumes from the band’s van — out of a suitcase. In cities they visited, he stopped by boutiques; a few bit. Meanwhile, customers who were also in bands dressed à la Cupcake onstage and in videos. A cult following grew.

Back home, Earle signed up with an inexpensive webstore called and upgraded his vendors, paying $7 for shirts and selling them for $20. He lived and stored inventory at his parents’ house. He also trademarked the Johnny Cupcakes name and logo and began copyrighting designs for $750 a pop.

To improve quality, Earle began sourcing shirts from American Apparel in 2003. The next year, he laid out $10,000 to rent a booth, print a catalog, and travel with some friends to a large Las Vegas trade show. Stores in Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Canada placed orders. He also had meetings with U.S. chains such as Urban Outfitters and Macy’s.

Then Earle had an epiphany. ‘I thought, People want something that no one else has. If I put my shirts everywhere, they would just be a fad. I wanted something that would last a long time.’

Earle severed relationships with large customers. He redesigned his website with better graphics and customer service features and issued numbered shirts in limited editions. The company has introduced 300 designs and retired all but half a dozen. The average price is now $35; some go for as much as $75.

In 2005, Earle rented a boat garage down the street from his parents’ house in Hull, Massachusetts, for $700 a month — the first Johnny Cupcakes retail outlet. A year later, he took a pole-vault-scale leap by opening a store on Newbury Street, Boston’s fashionable shopping promenade. It was a huge investment: 1,100 square feet at $6,500 a month. Earle, a big believer in shopping as entertainment, spent $100,000 designing the space and fitting it with vintage stoves, industrial refrigerators, and baking racks. (He had a $90,000 bank loan and a $50,000 line of credit.) The opening was an event. Earle made 300 percent of his rent on the first day.

‘It’s impossible to tell from the outside that we don’t sell food,’ says Earle. ‘When people find we don’t have cupcakes, some get mad. But even the ones who get upset tell the story about how some stupid kid tricked them into going into his store. Everyone talks about us.’

Company Dashboard: Johnny Cupcakes

Founder Johnny Earle, 27

Location Hull, Massachusetts

2008 Revenue $3.8 million

Employees 30

Start-up Year 2001

Start-up Costs About $6,700 for T-shirts and printing until 2003, when he committed to the business full time

Breakeven Five years out on sales of $1.2 million

Biggest Expense $10,000 for a trade show

Qualifications As a kid, Earle was a master out-of-the-backpack retailer, selling candy and practical jokes.

Red Tape Piracy is rampant. Once Earle got serious about the business, he trademarked his logo and began copyrighting designs.

T-Shirt Business 1-2-3 Focus on t shirt business startup checklist

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Like any other business ventures, knowledge of the T-shirt printing business is a must if you want to succeed in this endeavor. It is also recommended that you have a hands-on experience about T-shirt printing, some fashion sense and a keen eye for artistic designs.

Here is a checklist of basic requirements to get your T-shirt printing business up and running.

  1. Know your merchandize. Make your self an authority of the product that you sell. Get to know well and master your merchandize and all its types and variations if any. You should know by now that there are various types of fabrics used in clothing industry. Knowing them all is an advantage for your business.
  2. Procure your equipment. Printing used to be dominated by big businesses with deep pockets. But with the advance in technology, cheap printers were made available to individuals. You can also enter into contract with a silk screen business to do the printing for you. Make some calculations as to which method saves you money.
  3. Open supply and distribution lines. Contact suppliers and select the one who offers the best price and quality. You should also have a plan on how and where to sell your merchandize. Opening a physical store is good but online stores dramatically reduce your overhead expenses by more than half. With the popularity of online shopping, website for your merchandize is a must.
  4. Offer wide selection of designs. Know what is the fad at certain times and ride with it. But you must offer unique designs as well to keep your bases covered.
  5. Set up variety of payment methods. With your physical store, cash and credit card payments would be good. With your online store, cash payment method is obviously difficult to implement. You can replace cash payment with paypal or another form of online payment. That way, there would be less reason for not buying online.
  6. Open a shipping account. Sold merchandize online needs to be shipped quickly. You should contact various shipping companies and select the one that gives you the best service and rate.

These are some of the basic and general requirements to help you make your business take off. Of course, launching a business is just the beginning. There are other things that you need to do if you are to make your business profitable. Those business strategies will be covered in the next blog.

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