Diane Ross
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Can you make money with a Cafepress store?  Definitely.  Will you make money if you open a store?  That depends mostly on you.

I opened my store in September of 2003.  I upgraded to a premium store in November of 2003 even though I had not made a single sale to that date.  Initially I planned to stay with a basic store until I made enough each month to pay for a premium store.  However premium stores really are very inexpensive.  When someone at work pointed out that eating at McDonalds once a month cost me more than the premium store cost each month I decided I was being silly and went for it.

What does a premium store cost?

$18.45 for 3 months
$34.95 for 6 months
$59.95 for 12 months (only $5.00 per month!)

What do you get in a premium store?  You get the ability to customize the look of the store. You get to add more than one of each item.  You get framed prints.  If you decide you do not want a premium store you can open as many basic stores as you want.

Basic Store         Premium Store

I only made one sale in November 2003 and one in December 2003.  I did not make enough to even cover the price of my store.  Since then my worst month still covered the cost of the store.  My goals for the store constantly change.  At first I just wanted it to pay for itself.  It has done that since January 2004.  Then I wanted it to cover the cost of my website, my store, and my internet access.  It has done that since September 2004.  Then I wanted it to make at least $100 per month.  It has done that since November 2004.  Now I want to average $500 per month.  I have a long way to go to meet that goal but maybe someday.

So, what does it take to make money?  Decent designs and good marketing.  Notice I said decent designs.  Out of this world designs will not make you money if you don't market your store.  With good marketing average designs can make you money.

Before I tackle marketing there is one thing that many new shop owners do wrong.  They do not make their designs fit the product.  This results is white bands on the sides of a product.  When you are looking at your products you need to think like a customer.  Your customer does not really care about your art.  Obviously they like it or they wouldn't be looking at it.  However, they are not likely to buy a calendar were the image has 2 inches of white space all the way around it or a mousepad that has a white strip on the top and the bottom of it.  Artist hate to crop their work but if you are going to create a saleable products you will have to do exactly that.  I upload 11 different versions of each design to create all the products in my store and avoid the unsightly white strips.

How do you market your store?  To be honest, I am still trying to figure that part out.  Marketing is not my strong point.  The first place to start is with good search engine optimization.  This means giving all of your products names and descriptions.  Many new shop owners neglect this very important part of their shop.  Without product names and descriptions search engines will not list your products well.  Since I haven't figured out how to market my store all of my sales currently come through search engines.

One place to check on your keyswords is at Overture.com.  You can type in your keywords and see how many people searched for it during the last month.  This will help you in naming your products and in creating your descriptions.  You don't want to name your product with something that no one ever searches on.  You also don't want your name or description to be misleading.

Once you have created your products (with names and descriptions in place) you are ready to submit your store to the search engines.  There are many free submission services.  One free service is addme.com. You do not need to pay to have your site submitted to a few hundred search engines.  Just submit it to the major ones and eventually other search engines will find it.  Once you submit your store it can take four to six weeks to actually get listed so be patient.

Once you get listed you can start optimizing your keywords.  Having your store come up on page 300 of a Google search does not help much.  However, I was surprised to find that some people actually click through 70 to 80 pages of a search.  Personally, I never make much past the 5th page.  (If you have a premium store you can add tracking code from places like statcounter or extreme tracker.  These trackers allow you to see where your customers are coming from.)  Back to the point, by tweaking your keywords, product names, and descriptions you can improve your search engine listings.  I do not know of an eay way to do this.  It is mainly trial and error.  Although antoher good reference site is selfpromotion.com.  It has excellent advise on how to create a search engine friendly site.

I wish you success if you decide to build your own store.