How to Start a Print Shop – Step by Step Print Business
For those who are already in the print business or own one this article is not for you. If you’re considering starting your own print shop or printing business then it’s likely that you have identified some type of opportunity in the market, you are breaking away from the current print company you’re working at or you are a highly creative person that is looking to put your design skills to work by having your own print & design shop.
Regardless of the reason, you made it here and we’re going to share with you a step by step guide to starting up a new printing business.
The Steps we’ll cover to start a print shop are:
- Choose the type of print business you’ll start
- Decide on your printing business model
- Estimate start up needs & costs
- Decide on a print shop name
- Set up a legal entity
- Purchase the domain of your print business name
- Build a Website for your printing business
- Buy print equipment & inventory (if applicable)
- Sales – Reach out to your target print customers & network
1. Choose The Type of Print Shop to Start
This first step may already be decided since you’re thinking about starting a print shop, but choosing the type of printing you’ll actually be doing is very very important. Below is a short list of the types of printing you may be thinking about.
- General Print (you’ll take anything that comes your way)
- Commercial Printing (higher volume, business only customers)
- Screen Printing (mostly apparel and some promotional items)
- Industrial Printing (this is more specialized and the barrier to entry is typically higher)
- Offset Printing or Digital Printing or Both (presses & plates vs inkjet)
- Art Prints (fine art, limited prints & posters)
- 3D Printing (we all know what this is)
You could go much further and deeper on the types of printing but these pretty much cover the major choices for what type of print business you’ll be conducting. And as we said before, you likely already know what type of print company you want to start so this step may be the easiest for you.
2. Pick a Print Business Model
Like every business a printing business must also operate under a business model. The question is what business model will your print business operate as? Below we’ll list the 4 most common types of models that print shops operate under.
- Direct to Consumer / Direct to Buyer
- Trade Printing
- Ecommerce / Web2Print
- Print Broker
Each of these has advantages, disadvantages and differences. And to be honest you could have a hybrid of any two or even all three, but in most cases print companies will primarily operate using one of these single business models.
Direct to Consumer / Direct to Buyer Print Model
Under this model you are selling directly to the end users. The buyers could be a business needing brochures for example or an individual in need of invitations as another example. Depending on what your value proposition is, this model typically delivers the best margin because you have full control over the markup on your products & services.
As a trade printer you will be printing on behalf of another print shop. This model essentially operates under this type of a scenario: An end users puts in an order with Print Company X, then Print Company X comes to you with the specs for the print job and pays you to print it, you print the job for Company X and deliver it to them, then Company X delivers it to their customer passing the work off as if they printed it.
Now this is only one example and there are a large number of other scenarios that fit this model, but the one we listed is the most common.
Ecommerce / Web2Print
This model is what it sounds like. You will be operating as an ecommerce retailer selling to anyone who chooses to purchase your print services from your website. Under this print business model you’ll likely be selling to mostly end users, but in many cases you’ll be selling to marketing agencies and occasionally other print shops.
As an ecommerce and Web2Print printing business you’ll need to operate more like an ecommerce retailer and have to focus heavily on website user experience to ensure customers can do what they need to get done. You may also find more pressure on pricing under this model as most print buyers of online print are conditioned to price quote / shop due to big competitors such as Vistaprint, BannerBuzz and Uline.
Using this model you are basically a middleman focused mostly on customer service.
A popular move for designers today is to become print brokers as they have the skill and creativity to make beautiful designs, but don’t have the knowledge to operate the manufacturing side of printing. Doing this has a lower barrier to entry, but typically has the lowest margins of all.
3. Estimate Startup Needs & Costs
A big part of starting a print company is ensuring you can afford to get it started. This step is focused on understanding what you’ll actually need to run the business, market the business and figure out how much all of that is going to cost you.
Listed here is a list of items to identify so you can be prepared to start your print shop:
- Do you need printing equipment?
- If so, what equipment do you need?
- How much consumable product will you stock? (paper, ink, etc.)
- Will you have a building?
- If so, how large will it be and what are the rent costs?
- How much will the utilities be?
- Will you have employees or operate on your own at first?
- Will you pay to market your business or organically grow through networking and referrals?
- What licenses will you need to obtain to register and open the business?
- How much will all of this cost?
- How will you price your products & services?
- How much of your products and services will you need to sell each month to cover the cost of operating your business?
While the estimate will not be perfect, it will give you a minimum understanding of what it will take to get everything up, running and sustainable.
4. Choose a Name for Your Printing Business
For the majority of business owners this is one of the more exciting parts of starting a new print business. Choosing a name for your business is not only fun & personal, it’s actually critical and strategic.
For example, picking a name that you really like and means something to you can help motivate you in the present and future of your business. But also choosing a name that stands out and isn’t competitively saturated will help you differentiate in the marketplace.
We recommend coming up with a list of ideas and names you think you might like and then head to your best friend Google to see what shows up when you search those names. If few to no businesses come up you may have just picked a winner! If many other businesses show up or search engine results are heavily listing things that show your chosen name actually means something else you may want to start looking for a different name.
Being unique will help you stand out, as well as rank easier in the search engines which will be critical to your business growth.
You’ll also want to check that the name isn’t registered as a business in your state and that some version of the business name is available for purchase as a domain.
5. Set Up a Legal Entity (register your business)
Now that you know what kind of print shop you are going to start, what type of print business model you’ll operate under and what your business name will be you can set the business up legally. Depending on how you plan to start you can begin as a Sole Proprietor, LLC or Corporation.
You’ll need to register your business with the federal government / IRS to get a Federal Employer Identification Number and register the business with your state and in many cases your city. This may require you to have a DBA (or Doing Business As or Assumed Name) if the Legal Business Name is different from what you’ll have as the brand name of your business.
You’ll also want to choose the best NAICS ( North American Industry Classification System ) code for your print business as well.
We won’t go into all of the details about business registration, but you can look this up and a lot of information about it exists online. You can set this up yourself or use an Attorney. The choice is up to you.
6. Purchase the Domain for Your Print Shop
Next you’ll want to immediately secure your domain name so the brand can be established online with a website and company email address. There are many different companies that will allow you to buy a domain name from them, but we’ll list a few of the most popular ones with some considerations for you as well.
The most popular domain selling sites
- Network Solutions
- Google Domains
- Host Gator
There are actually thousands of domain resellers, but those listed are trustworthy and have been in business a long long time.
While you can buy a domain name anywhere you may want to buy the domain name for your print company at the same place you’ll host and build your website. This makes connecting the domain to the website much easier.
You will also want to have a branded email address. Think email@example.com.
This makes your business more professional looking and can help build the brand.
The most common and arguably the best email services out there are Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google’s Workspace (formerly G Suite). This will cost you about $10 to $15 per month per user.
Domain name costs are annual and vary, but most companies sell them for $15 to $20 per year. You may find websites giving the first year free, for $0.99 or $10 for year one, but after that it will go back to the standard $15 or $20 per year.
You really really should also purchase an SSL for your domain (Secure Socket Layer). This is what allows a website to show up using https://www instead of just http. It will give your web address that little lock icon to show that it’s legit and secure to website visitors. This is a major SEO factor as well. These will typically run you about $75 per year.
7. Build Your Print Website
Now comes the fun of building your print company website.
This is where the brand comes to life, but you need to make sure that it educates your customers, clearly explains what you do & sell and that it is optimized to get found online as well as it’s user experience to ensure customers can easily convert by contacting you through the site, submitting a quote or purchasing online.
While there are a number of platforms out there to build your website such as Squarespace or Wix, these limit your ability to truly optimize your website. We recommend building your website using WordPress. If you put in the time you’ll be able to easily build the site yourself, but even if you can’t do it on your own WordPress developers can be found online for very affordable rates. WordPress is the most popular CMS (content management system) for building websites. It’s intuitive, versatile and adaptable.
If you are having an ecommerce part of your website then either use a pre-built cart that has been designed for printers & print workflows or use one of the popular ecommerce engines like Shopify or BigCommerce.
Try and build your website on the host that you purchased your domain if possible. This makes it very easy to connect the domain and get the site up and running quickly. Hosts like GoDaddy for example can facilitate the domain purchase and have specialized hosting just for WordPress websites. Hosting costs for a website are typically in the $10 to $20 per month range depending on which host you choose.
When building out a WordPress website you can save time and money by using a pre-built WordPress theme. These are fully customizable, but out of the box look just as good as any major corporations website like Apple, Nike or Ford. You can find themes like this on sites such as ThemeForest.com. They even have Print Company based website themes you can purchase.
Typical theme costs are around $60.
8. Purchase Equipment & Inventory (if you’ll actually be printing)
You may choose to be a broker, but if not you’ll need some equipment and consumable products for printing. This is going to be your biggest cost of starting and running the business. When sourcing equipment you have a few options for buying.
- Buy Used Print Equipment
- New Printing Equipment
- Pay it all up front
- Get a Loan
- Or Lease the equipment
Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages to total cost, cash flow, maintenance costs, etc. You’ll need to decide which is best for your print business when starting up.
The good news is you’ll have a large range of products to choose from. Trusted manufacturers like Epson, HP, Canon, Heidelberg, Mimaki and more all have many types of presses, cutters, and other finishing equipment that can meet a large spectrum of price points and capabilities. The costs for this equipment can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to Millions if you went all in on everything (which isn’t usually possible for most print business startups).
Do your research, get what you can afford and then you’re ready to start printing!
9. Sell Your Printing Services
Lastly you need to sell your printing services and print products.
There are an infinite number of ways to sell your print services & products, but we went ahead and broke it down into two categories. Marketing and Sales.
Marketing and Selling Your Print Services & Print Products
Essentially this is the way you’ll get attention, build your brand and drive in leads for your new print business. This is very important! In the beginning focusing on the creative elements of the brand will be less important, you’ll want to spend more time on lead generating activities in your marketing to build the foundation for the business. And once those leads come in you need to close them!
The marketing can be summed up under two marketing segments. Digital and Offline.
These channels are getting in front of customers online, in apps, etc.
The typical and most successful ways of doing this are from implementing SEO for your print company (Search Engine Optimization), Social Media Marketing, Email Marketing, Ads (LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads and Google Ads), as well as creating Articles / Blog Posts with valuable content you can share with customers and prospects.
Doing this will drive a flow of traffic and leads into your new print shop website.
These channels are tried and true. These are basically anything not online.
This would include using Direct Mail, Trade Shows, Local Meetups, Organizations, Clubs, Sponsorships and more. The goal is to generate awareness and create a network of referral sources to flow new business your way.
Sales is just as important because you need to actually close the leads that are generated by the marketing you’ve put in place. In some cases there can be a hybrid of marketing / sales because some salespeople do a lot of cold calling / email and networking on their own, which technically can be classified as marketing as well.
Another method of filling your pipeline is to buy sales leads. To be honest we don’t really recommend this, but some print companies have found success when doing this.
To effectively close your newly generated print leads we recommend creating a sales process. This can be as simple as when a new lead comes your way…
- Email them
- Call the lead
- Find out what they need
- Prepare a quote
- Send the quote
- Follow Up
- Closed Won / Closed Lost
You could get more and more detailed with that process, create templates and automations, but the fact is that you need one to make sales easy, consistent and scalable.
A tool to make that process very easy to execute is a CRM (customer relationship management) platform. These are built to house prospects and customers, build sales workflows, measure results and make selling more organized so you can close more deals.
Good platforms for this are HubSpot, ActiveCampaign, and Keap (formerly Infusionsoft).
We hope that this helps you in getting started with building up your new print shop. There really is so much more that we could talk about and share, but the biggest determining factor for your success is you! How much time and dedication you put into the business will play a huge role in how successful your print business will become.
**As a little plug for us, we can help you start your print business very easily, help an early stage print company grow or generate more traffic, leads and sales for a veteran print company by simply signing up to work with us here at Pryntbase. You can start today for Free by signing up at the link below.