Managing and Scaling Your Custom Merch Business (The Student's Guide to Starting a Profitable Custom Merch Business) - Part 7

Everest Guerra

Everest Guerra

Charts and tables on a bulletin board

Welcome to part 7 of an 8 part guide to starting your own campus merch business. Each week we'll release a new part until the guide is complete. Once all issues have been released, we'll make the complete guide available in PDF form. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please send them to me! Hope you enjoy 👋


Marketing and Selling Custom Merch (The Student's Guide to Starting a Profitable Custom Merch Business) - Part 6Discover effective marketing and selling strategies for custom merch in our comprehensive guide for college students. Explore online and offline marketing, pricing optimization, community building, and excellent customer service. Harness analytics and data-driven decisions to grow your business into a profitable college side hustle.

Starting a custom merch business is just the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. To ensure long-term success, it is essential to develop effective management strategies and identify opportunities for growth. In this chapter, we will explore key aspects of managing and scaling your custom merch business, providing practical guidance to help you maintain a sustainable and profitable venture alongside your college life.

From time management and financial planning to developing partnerships and leveraging technology, we'll delve into various strategies to streamline your business operations and facilitate growth. As you navigate through this chapter, you'll gain valuable insights into the critical aspects of running and expanding your custom merch business, setting you up for continued success. Let's begin by exploring one of the most critical aspects for a college student: time management for your side hustle.

Time Management for Your Side Hustle

As a college student, managing your time effectively is crucial to juggling your coursework, social life, and your custom merch side hustle. Here are some practical time management strategies to ensure that you can efficiently allocate time to your business without compromising your academic performance or personal well-being.

  1. Set realistic goals: Begin by setting achievable goals for your custom merch business. Identify short-term and long-term milestones, such as monthly sales targets or product launches, and break them down into smaller tasks. By setting realistic goals, you can maintain a sense of accomplishment and motivation while preventing burnout.

  2. Create a schedule: Dedicate specific blocks of time to your custom merch business, ideally when you are most productive. Establishing a consistent routine will help you prioritize your business responsibilities and allocate your energy effectively. Be sure to include buffer time for unexpected issues or urgent tasks that may arise.

  3. Prioritize tasks: To maximize the limited time you have, it's essential to focus on the most critical tasks first. Use a task management system, like the Eisenhower Matrix, to categorize tasks based on urgency and importance. By prioritizing tasks, you'll ensure that your business continues to progress, even if you can't complete every item on your to-do list.

  4. Learn to delegate: As your business grows, you might find it difficult to manage everything on your own. Consider outsourcing specific tasks or hiring a small team to support you. Delegating responsibilities allows you to focus on high-priority tasks and strategic decisions while ensuring that other aspects of your business run smoothly.

  5. Eliminate distractions: Identify and minimize potential distractions, both digital and physical, during your dedicated business hours. Turn off notifications on your devices, create a quiet workspace, and communicate your work schedule to friends and family to minimize interruptions.

  6. Take breaks and practice self-care: Balancing your academic life, social life, and your custom merch business can be demanding. Remember to schedule regular breaks, get enough sleep, and engage in self-care activities to maintain your mental and emotional well-being. Taking care of yourself ensures that you can sustain your side hustle without compromising your overall well-being.

By incorporating these time management strategies, you'll be better equipped to balance your custom merch business with your academic responsibilities and personal life. Remember, the key to a successful side hustle is finding the right balance and efficiently allocating your time and energy.

Tracking Your Expenses and Revenue

To manage your custom merch business effectively and ensure its profitability, it's essential to keep accurate records of your expenses and revenue. Tracking your financials not only helps you stay organized, but it also enables you to make informed decisions about your business. Here's how you can start monitoring your expenses and revenue:

  1. Categorize your expenses: Separate your expenses into categories such as inventory, marketing, design, shipping, and production. Categorizing your expenses will help you analyze your spending patterns and identify areas where you can reduce costs or increase investments.

  2. Record all transactions: Keep track of every financial transaction related to your custom merch business. You can use a spreadsheet, accounting software, or a mobile app to log all of your income and expenses. Be diligent about recording transactions in a timely manner to avoid discrepancies and maintain accurate records.

  3. Calculate your profit margins: Calculate your profit margins by subtracting your total expenses from your total revenue. Understanding your profit margins will help you determine if your pricing strategy is effective and if your business is financially sustainable. Monitor your profit margins regularly to identify potential issues and make necessary adjustments to your strategy.

  4. Conduct regular financial reviews: Schedule routine financial reviews to assess your business performance. During these reviews, analyze your income and expenses, and compare them to your goals and projections. Use this information to identify trends, pinpoint areas for improvement, and guide your future financial decisions.

  5. Establish a separate bank account: To make tracking your business finances easier, consider opening a separate bank account for your custom merch business. This will help you distinguish between personal and business transactions, making it simpler to manage your finances and prepare your taxes.

  6. Set aside money for taxes: As a business owner, you're responsible for paying taxes on your business income. Set aside a portion of your revenue for taxes to avoid surprises and ensure that you're prepared to fulfill your tax obligations.

  7. Consider hiring a professional: As your business grows, managing your finances might become increasingly complex. If necessary, consider hiring an accountant or financial advisor to help you manage your financial records, provide tax guidance, and offer expert advice on improving your business's financial performance.

By tracking your expenses and revenue, you'll have a clear understanding of your custom merch business's financial health. This will enable you to make data-driven decisions, optimize your strategies, and ultimately, improve your business's profitability.

As you build and scale your custom merch business, it's crucial to comply with the legal and tax requirements applicable to your business. Addressing these considerations will help you avoid potential issues and ensure that your business operates legitimately. Here are some key legal and tax considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Registering Your Business: Depending on your location and business structure, you may need to register your custom merch business with the appropriate government authorities. This may involve choosing a business name, registering a domain for your online store, and selecting a legal structure, such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or limited liability company (LLC). Registering your business provides legal protection and enables you to operate under your chosen business name.

  2. Understanding Sales Tax and Income Tax Responsibilities: As a business owner, you are responsible for collecting and remitting sales tax on taxable sales and reporting your business income on your personal tax return. Familiarize yourself with the sales tax regulations in your state, as well as the income tax requirements for self-employed individuals or small business owners. Make sure to keep accurate financial records to simplify your tax reporting process and avoid penalties.

  3. Obtaining Business Insurance: Acquiring business insurance can protect your custom merch business from potential financial losses due to unforeseen events or accidents. General liability insurance covers third-party claims for property damage or bodily injury, while product liability insurance protects you against claims arising from product defects or issues. Consider consulting an insurance agent to determine the most suitable insurance coverage for your business.

  4. Trademark and Copyright Laws: When designing your custom merch, ensure that you are not infringing on any trademarks or copyrights. If you use logos, designs, or phrases that are protected by intellectual property laws, you may be subject to legal action. Conduct thorough research to ensure your designs are original, and consider registering your business name and logo as a trademark to protect your brand identity.

  5. Obtaining Necessary Licenses for Collegiate Merchandise: If your custom merch features college or university logos, mascots, or other trademarks, you will need to obtain a license to use these protected assets legally. Most colleges and universities have licensing programs that outline their terms and fees. Contact the respective institution's licensing department to apply for a license and adhere to their usage guidelines.

  6. Adhering to Local and Federal Regulations: Depending on the scale of your business and the products you sell, you may be subject to various local, state, or federal regulations. Stay informed about the regulatory requirements applicable to your custom merch business, and seek legal counsel if you're unsure about specific compliance matters.

By addressing these legal and tax considerations, you can ensure that your custom merch business operates within the boundaries of the law. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the applicable regulations will help you avoid potential legal issues and build a strong foundation for your business's long-term success.

Supply Chain Management

Effective supply chain management is crucial to the success of your custom merch business. It involves coordinating and optimizing the various processes required to get your products from suppliers to your customers, including procurement, production, inventory management, and shipping. In this section, we'll discuss some key aspects of supply chain management to help you streamline your operations and ensure customer satisfaction.

  1. Inventory Management Strategies: Proper inventory management is vital to avoid stockouts, overstocking, or wasting resources. Consider implementing inventory management strategies, such as the just-in-time (JIT) system, where you order products or materials only when needed. Alternatively, you could adopt a safety stock strategy, maintaining a small reserve of inventory to accommodate fluctuations in demand. Using inventory management software can help you monitor stock levels and automatically trigger reorders when necessary.

  2. Working with Suppliers: Establish strong relationships with your suppliers, such as manufacturers, printers, and shipping partners. Evaluate suppliers based on their reliability, quality, pricing, and lead times, and maintain open communication to ensure timely deliveries and prompt issue resolution. Collaborate with multiple suppliers to mitigate risks and maintain a flexible supply chain.

  3. Evaluating and Adjusting Supply Chain Processes: Regularly assess your supply chain's efficiency and effectiveness by tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), such as order lead time, order accuracy, and inventory turnover. Use this data to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or areas for improvement. Adjust your supply chain processes as needed to optimize costs, reduce lead times, and enhance customer satisfaction.

  4. Leveraging Technology: Utilize technology to streamline and automate various aspects of your supply chain. For instance, you can use an order management system (OMS) to track and process orders, a warehouse management system (WMS) to manage your inventory, and shipping software to generate labels and coordinate deliveries. Integrating these systems with your e-commerce platform can further improve efficiency and provide a seamless experience for your customers.

  5. Sustainability and Ethical Practices: Prioritize sustainability and ethical practices within your supply chain to appeal to environmentally conscious customers and demonstrate social responsibility. Source eco-friendly materials, work with suppliers that prioritize ethical labor practices, and minimize waste throughout your production process. Promote your commitment to sustainability in your marketing efforts to differentiate your brand and foster customer loyalty.

By implementing effective supply chain management strategies, you can ensure that your custom merch business operates efficiently and delivers high-quality products to your customers. A well-managed supply chain will not only help you maintain customer satisfaction but also improve your business's profitability and long-term growth potential.

Developing Key Partnerships

In the custom merch business, cultivating key partnerships can contribute to your growth, boost your brand recognition, and enhance your product offerings. Building strategic relationships with various stakeholders, such as designers, manufacturers, influencers, and other brands, can propel your business forward. In this section, we'll discuss some strategies to develop key partnerships for your custom merch business.

  1. Designers and Artists: Collaborating with talented designers or artists can help you create unique and appealing merchandise that resonates with your target audience. Connect with local artists or design students, attend design events, or search freelance platforms to find individuals with relevant skills and styles that align with your brand. Forming partnerships with designers can lead to exclusive designs, co-branded collections, and increased brand recognition.

  2. Manufacturers and Printers: Establishing strong relationships with your manufacturers and printers is essential to ensure consistent quality and timely production. Consider partnering with multiple manufacturers to reduce risks and maintain flexibility. Regularly evaluate their performance based on quality, pricing, and turnaround time, and maintain open communication to address any issues promptly.

  3. Influencers and Brand Ambassadors: Partnering with influencers, brand ambassadors, or student leaders can help promote your custom merch to a wider audience. Identify individuals who are popular within your target market, have a genuine affinity for your brand, and can showcase your products in an authentic manner. Collaborate on promotional campaigns, sponsorships, or co-branded merchandise to amplify your brand visibility and credibility.

  4. Retailers and E-commerce Platforms: Developing partnerships with retailers or e-commerce platforms can expand your sales channels and increase your revenue. Evaluate potential partners based on their customer base, reputation, and alignment with your brand values. Approach brick-and-mortar stores or online marketplaces that cater to your target demographic to discuss potential partnerships, such as consignment agreements or wholesale opportunities.

  5. Event Organizers and Local Businesses: Form alliances with event organizers or local businesses to increase your exposure and sales opportunities. Participate in campus events, fairs, or trade shows to showcase your custom merch and interact with potential customers. Collaborate with local businesses on cross-promotional activities, such as offering discounts, hosting joint events, or creating co-branded merchandise.

  6. Nonprofit Organizations and Charitable Causes: Partnering with nonprofit organizations or supporting charitable causes can bolster your brand's reputation and generate goodwill. Collaborate on fundraising initiatives or create custom merch that supports a specific cause, with a portion of the proceeds donated to the organization. Such partnerships can help you tap into new customer segments and demonstrate your commitment to social responsibility.

By developing key partnerships, you can expand your reach, strengthen your brand, and foster a supportive network for your custom merch business. Invest time and effort in nurturing these relationships and exploring mutually beneficial opportunities to drive long-term success and growth for your enterprise.

Scaling Your Custom Merch Business

Growing your custom merch business requires strategic planning, effective execution, and constant adaptation to market trends and customer demands. As you scale your enterprise, it's essential to maintain high-quality products, efficient operations, and excellent customer service. In this section, we'll discuss key aspects of scaling your custom merch business to support sustainable growth and long-term success.

  1. Hiring and Managing a Team: As your business grows, you may need to expand your team to manage increased workloads and responsibilities. Carefully assess your business's needs and hire individuals with relevant skills, experience, and a strong fit with your company culture. Delegate tasks, empower your team members, and invest in their professional development to ensure high levels of motivation and productivity.

  2. Streamlining Operations: Optimize your operations by leveraging technology and implementing efficient processes. Use order management, inventory management, and shipping software to automate tasks and minimize manual intervention. Continuously review and improve your supply chain, production, and delivery processes to maximize efficiency and reduce costs.

  3. Diversifying Your Product Offerings: Expand your product range to cater to different customer preferences and increase your revenue streams. Experiment with new product categories, designs, or materials, and assess their performance to identify potential growth opportunities. Consider seasonal collections or limited edition releases to capitalize on specific trends or events.

  4. Expanding Your Market Reach: Tap into new customer segments or geographic regions to grow your custom merch business. Conduct market research to identify potential niches, and tailor your marketing strategies to resonate with these target audiences. Partner with influencers, retailers, or event organizers to extend your reach and enhance your brand's visibility.

  5. Investing in Marketing and Advertising: Allocate resources to promote your custom merch business through various marketing channels, such as social media, email campaigns, influencer partnerships, and offline events. Use data-driven decision making to optimize your marketing efforts and maximize your return on investment (ROI). Continuously refine your marketing strategies based on customer feedback, market trends, and performance metrics.

  6. Enhancing Customer Experience: Prioritize customer satisfaction as you scale your business by delivering exceptional products and service. Foster strong customer relationships through personalized communication, prompt issue resolution, and an intuitive online shopping experience. Encourage customer feedback and reviews to identify areas for improvement and drive positive word of mouth.

  7. Monitoring and Measuring Performance: Track key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess your custom merch business's growth and success. Monitor metrics such as revenue, profit margins, customer acquisition costs, and customer lifetime value (CLTV) to evaluate your performance and make informed decisions. Adjust your strategies as needed to maintain growth and achieve your business objectives.

By implementing these strategies and focusing on continuous improvement, you can successfully scale your custom merch business and position it for long-term success. Stay agile, adapt to market changes, and maintain your commitment to delivering exceptional products and experiences to your customers as you grow.

Adopting Technologies for Business Efficiency

Embracing technology is crucial for streamlining operations, improving productivity, and scaling your custom merch business effectively. By leveraging various tools and software, you can automate processes, optimize resources, and enhance decision-making. In this section, we'll explore some key technologies that can boost efficiency and support the growth of your custom merch business.

  1. E-commerce Platforms: Choosing the right e-commerce platform is essential for creating a seamless online shopping experience for your customers. Platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce offer user-friendly interfaces, customization options, and a range of integrated tools for inventory management, payment processing, and marketing.

  2. Order Management and Inventory Systems: Implement an order management system (OMS) and inventory software to automate order processing, tracking, and fulfillment. These tools can help you manage stock levels, monitor sales data, and streamline your supply chain operations. Examples of popular solutions include TradeGecko, Orderhive, and Cin7.

  3. Shipping and Logistics Tools: Efficient shipping and logistics are vital for delivering products to your customers promptly and cost-effectively. Shipping software like ShipStation, Shippo, and EasyShip can help you manage shipments, compare carrier rates, generate shipping labels, and track packages.

  4. Design and Mockup Tools: Leverage design tools like Adobe Creative Suite, Canva, or GIMP to create high-quality graphics and mockups for your custom merch. These tools offer various features to streamline design work and can be utilized by your in-house team or freelance designers.

  5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software: Use CRM software to manage your customer data, track interactions, and segment your audience for personalized marketing campaigns. CRM tools like HubSpot, Salesforce, and Zoho can help you enhance customer satisfaction and increase sales.

  6. Marketing Automation: Marketing automation tools can help you streamline and optimize your marketing efforts across various channels. Platforms like Mailchimp, Marketo, and ActiveCampaign offer email marketing, social media scheduling, and other marketing automation features to engage your audience more efficiently.

  7. Analytics and Reporting: Use analytics and reporting tools like Google Analytics, Tableau, or Microsoft Power BI to gain insights into your custom merch business's performance. These tools can help you monitor KPIs, analyze customer data, and make data-driven decisions to optimize your strategies.

  8. Project Management and Collaboration: Implement project management and collaboration tools like Trello, Asana, or Slack to organize your team's work, communicate effectively, and ensure tasks are completed on time. These tools can help you manage your growing team and keep everyone on the same page as you scale your business.

By adopting the right technologies for your custom merch business, you can improve efficiency, reduce manual processes, and make more informed decisions. Evaluate each tool's features, costs, and compatibility with your existing systems to choose the best solutions for your specific needs. Investing in technology can help you stay competitive and better equipped to manage the challenges of scaling your custom merch business.

Diversifying Your Product Offerings

As your custom merch business grows, diversifying your product offerings can help you reach new customers, increase sales, and mitigate risks associated with market fluctuations. By introducing new products or categories, you can capitalize on emerging trends and customer preferences while enhancing your brand's appeal. In this section, we'll discuss strategies for diversifying your product offerings to fuel your custom merch business's growth.

  1. Expanding into New Product Categories: Research and identify potential new product categories that align with your brand identity and target audience. These could include accessories, footwear, or even tech gadgets. Stay attuned to market trends and customer feedback to gauge demand for new products and make data-driven decisions about which categories to pursue.

  2. Collaborating with Other Brands and Artists: Form strategic partnerships with other brands, designers, or artists to create unique, limited-edition products that can generate buzz and attract new customers. Collaborations can help you tap into new customer segments, showcase your creativity, and benefit from the combined expertise and resources of the partnering entities.

  3. Seasonal and Limited Edition Collections: Create seasonal collections or limited-edition products that cater to specific events, holidays, or themes. This approach can drive urgency among customers, encouraging them to make a purchase before the items are no longer available. Additionally, seasonal collections allow you to experiment with new designs, materials, or techniques, helping you stay innovative and relevant.

  4. Adapting to Market Trends and Consumer Preferences: Stay up to date with emerging trends in fashion, pop culture, and design to inform your product diversification efforts. Analyze customer preferences, conduct market research, and monitor social media to identify potential opportunities for expanding your product range.

  5. Customization and Personalization: Offer customization and personalization options to provide added value and appeal to your customers. Allow customers to personalize their merch with unique designs, names, or messages, which can help differentiate your products and create a sense of exclusivity.

  6. Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Products: Cater to environmentally conscious customers by introducing eco-friendly or sustainable products into your portfolio. Use recycled or organic materials, adopt sustainable production practices, and promote your brand's commitment to the environment to attract customers who value eco-friendly options.

  7. Experimenting and Testing: Test new product ideas on a small scale before fully committing to diversifying your offerings. This approach allows you to gauge customer response and gather feedback before investing significant resources into production, inventory, and marketing.

By diversifying your product offerings, you can appeal to a broader range of customers, capitalize on new opportunities, and reduce your dependence on a single product category. Experiment with different product types, materials, and designs to create a diverse, dynamic product range that resonates with your target audience and supports the growth of your custom merch business.


In conclusion, managing and scaling your custom merch business requires careful planning, adaptability, and a keen focus on efficiency. By implementing effective time management strategies, tracking your expenses and revenue, navigating legal and tax considerations, optimizing supply chain management, and embracing technology, you can build a strong foundation for your business's growth.

Diversifying your product offerings, forming key partnerships, and adopting the right technologies can propel your custom merch business to new heights. As you scale your operations, it's crucial to maintain your commitment to quality, customer satisfaction, and innovation. Continuously evaluate your strategies, learn from your experiences, and stay responsive to changes in the market to ensure long-term success.

By following the guidance provided in this section, you'll be well-equipped to navigate the challenges of managing and scaling your custom merch business, transforming your side hustle into a thriving enterprise. Stay focused on your goals, seek continuous improvement, and embrace new opportunities as you embark on this exciting journey.

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