Starting a 3d printing business can be really fun, once you’ve found out your idea, figured out how to make it (duh!) and now you have something you think people will want to buy.
But, how do you get it out there?
This article is the first in a series where we take a look at the real ways to market your new (or existing) business and drive significant attention and sales to your brand.
First, you need to stop thinking of it as a 3d print business.
Why? Because now you’re running an ecommerce business, that just happens to use 3d printers. You’ll likely be marketing to people who aren’t all that interested in the industry – so although boasting the products are 3d printed will add novelty value now, in the not-too-distant future this won’t be as fascinating anymore.
Due to the industry over-hype, it's not enough to just sell products that are 3d printed. They have to be really good, too.
You need to think about where your customers are going to be, and make yourself available there. To kick the series off, I wanted to address the ‘low hanging fruit’ – where do most people do their online shopping? Well Amazon of course!
It just so happens one of my specialties before setting up a 3d filament company was growing businesses over Amazon. (no seriously, I wrote the book).
This isn't to brag - you don't need to buy my book, it's just so that you know I know what I'm talking about when it comes to Amazon.
Now there are other scalable marketplaces available to you, but the biggest is Amazon. I’d recommend starting there, it is astronomically huge – depending on your niche, you will have a torrent of potential customers waiting ready to buy your product. It's easily the best place to sell 3d models, at least initially.
These kind of marketplaces are also really easy to get setup on, you can have products listed and selling in less than an hour on your very own Amazon 3D printing store.
You can then utilize the two other big ones (NotOnTheHighStreet.com and Esty) which we’ll cover in a future post. Once you’re set up and running there, you can then launch your own website. This of course costs a little bit more money (although doesn’t have to cost a lot) so I’d recommend making sure you’re actually getting business before investing money there.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention eBay, it’s because as a seller marketplace this is essentially a jumble sale. It’s hard to form a strategy for growth, although could be worth being on for some of you, but compared with the other marketplaces mentioned above it won’t be anywhere near as fruitful to sell 3d printed objects.
This guide will give you the blueprint necessary to launch your business on Amazon, but as there’s enough content to fill a book about the topic, I can’t cover everything. I’ll condense a lot of the key information in here though for you to get started. You can learn the higher level stuff to maximize sales later down the line.
I’m not going to cover a click by click guide to setting up your account etc. though, there are plenty of walkthroughs online that do that in enough detail already.
If you don’t already have an idea of what your business is going to sell, head to this article for some ideas. Failing that, read this one. Remember to really do your research. Ask yourself who else is selling similar things to you, are they direct competition – what prices are they charging and what seems to be the sentiment of the customer’s buying them?
Research the demand for your product first, and it’ll save you time later bringing your products to market and realizing there isn’t the demand for it you expected. At least with the beauty of 3D printing is even if this is the case, it’s not like you’ve spent thousands buying stock from China, you can just print something else that will sell. It’s virtually risk-free.
Personally, I think we’re on the verge of a revolution of micro manufacture ecommerce.
Why? Because you have the potential to literally create hundreds or even eventually, 1000's of really niche products (sky's the limit!) for people looking to buy 3d printed objects. You can retail products that before 3D printing could never have been brought to market. An adjustable mount for a GoPro HERO camera on a Nerf gun? Sounds pretty limited, perhaps not worth investing many thousands in an injection mold setup.
But with a 3D printer, they only cost you the price of the filament and a little time. If they only weigh 10g (likely less depending on infill), you can print 100 with a 1KG spool of filament meaning they only cost you £0.30 each.
You might only sell 10 or 20 of these a week, but bring 50 super-niche products to market, each selling 10-20 a week and you're shifting 500+ 3d printed products a week. Make five pounds profit on each - now you're making £2500 a week - with virtually no fixed overheads apart from your printer's maintenance.
Unlimited possibilities, with virtually no setup costs or other barriers to entry? That's why I think we're on the verge of a micro-manufacture revolution. I expect you'll want to get in on the ground floor then...
Before we continue it should go without saying that the quality of the products you’re going to promote should be excellent. You can’t build a great business on a poor, or average quality product. Make sure you're really selling the best 3d printed objects.
It’s really important you’ve taken the time to produce something that’s brilliant, that customer’s will be thrilled to use. It really makes the steps further down the line growing your business much easier.
Notice only the 4 star reviews in the Nerf mount above? Read them and you'll see people love the idea, but that it's just too tight to easily fit onto the Nerf gun. This is easily remedied, the creator just needs to make it a fraction larger in the splicer and now they have a 5 star product. Remember to listen to what your customer's (or competitors customer's) are saying.
So to summarize this section:
- Research your market, what’s the competition like, and where are your customers likely to be shopping around?
- Go super niche. Play to the strengths of 3D printing. Don't start competing with main-stream products that can be made better and cheaper with existing manufacturing methods. Think "mass customization".
- Choose where to spend your time efficiently, which 3d printing marketplaces to launch on first, or a website? Hint; 9 times out of 10 I'd strongly recommend starting with Amazon.
- Make sure the product you’re selling is the best quality you can make it. Try to source some nice packaging and make sure it’s in-line with your customer’s needs and wants. Read reviews or competitors product reviews, research and learn what the customer does and doesn't like about their products and improve yours accordingly.
Now let’s look how to get selling:
If you’ve not already created your Amazon account, head to Amazon.co.uk, or Amazon.com and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click the “Start selling on Amazon” link and follow the instructions to set up your account. I’d choose the cheaper account to start with, while sales are slow to start off with – you can always upgrade later.
Choose a ‘brand’ name for your business if you’re not already trading. Ideally something concise, that hints at what you do. Something people can remember, not something generic like “3dprintedvases.com” – and while you’re at it, try find something that fits into a good URL. Ahem, like ours: www.rigid.ink.
There are lots of new alternative domains available beyond the regular “.com” or “.co.uk” now.
To list products on Amazon, you need a UPC or EAN barcode number. This is because Amazon likes to keep each listing unique, so one listing for each product. Unless you’re looking at multi-listings where you might have several products in one listing (like various sizes of a t-shirt in the main parent listing). You can buy these numbers from lots of places, personally I use: www.nationwidebarcode.com – remember you’ll need 1 number for each colour/size variant of each product you want to sell.
For people to buy your stuff, they have to be confident what they’re expecting is exactly what’s going to be delivered. Later that will be proven in the most part by the customer reviews that you’ll gain over time, but to start off with customer’s will have to take your word for it.
Luckily a picture tells 1000 words, so to back up your description you’re basically going to need really nice, professional looking high quality images.
I recommend splashing out and paying a professional with a photo studio to take the product photography. It’s really worth the extra money to set the bar of your images high. Customers naturally make the assumption that excellent quality images will also make for an excellent quality product.
You can usually skimp on a lot of other areas, but product photography when you want to sell 3d printed items just isn’t worth it.
Now you could get a cheap light tent and photography lights off eBay for around $100 and take the photos off of your camera phone if it’s good enough quality. If you absolutely don’t have much money to get started, then this will have to do. As soon as you make enough sales to afford a professional (you can do a 2 hour shoot for around $250-$350) you should.
When we’re spending a day at the shoot, it’s a manic, blisteringly fast long day of product shooting. We really get our money’s worth out of the time we the photographer.
Unless the product you’re shooting is white or very light coloured, I’d recommend you just go for white background shots. And try get enough angles, with close-ups on higher detail areas. Amazon loves really big, high quality images that customers can zoom in on.
Top tip: Don’t have any props in your photos for your Amazon thumbnail image either, Amazon don’t allow that. Just keep it clean, the focus on the quality.
Here's a seller who are doing a lot right, although they've left plenty of room to improve. Foremost is the images, unfortunately they look a bit amateur. This seller could have invested on some much better images (with a grey background to show the lighter colours better).
I'd also have recommended including some example shots of the barrels and crates painted to give an idea of how good they'd look.
This in essence is how to sell 3d prints:
While you’re waiting for your images to be edited to visual perfection, or close enough – you’ll want to write a compelling title for your product listing. Try not to go for too long of a title, it’s bad practice to cram all the keywords you can into a title and make it barely readable for a human.
Amazon allows you place keywords separately, so you don’t need to cram them in the title. Still however have your top 1 or 2 most searched for keywords in your title.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, keywords are the words or phrases a potential customer uses to search for your product. We sell filament on Amazon, so as an example a keyword for us would naturally be “3d printer filament” and variations of this.
Next, you’ll need a write a great description and bullet points. For this, you really need to ask yourself who is likely to be buying your stuff. You need to properly understand your customer before you can speak to them directly, in their language.
What do they want, or need? What are their expectations? For this you need a build up an idea of who they are. Do they want to buy 3d printed objects, is this a fun novelty factor or do they not care how they're made?
Are they fashion conscious, or tech nerds, are they mostly women, men – what’s the approximate age group? For example in my last article, making sure your 3d printing business is creating a brand, not a commodity – I used the example of a company that print’s retro gaming styled cases for raspberry pi.
Do you think their target audience is 16yr old girl guides? Unlikely, far more probable is the 30-45 year old male age group who love tinkering with electronics projects yet reminisce of the now retro games consoles they used as teenagers.
If your product is simple, you can keep your description brief, as long as you answer the main customer’s questions while they read it. The bullet points are a great opportunity to explain the main benefits of your product for those that like to skim over before investing more time reading in detail.
Depending on what you’re selling, Amazon asks you to fill out other information such as weight, and warranty terms etc. Once you’ve chosen which category your 3d printed stuff will be displayed in, it’s time to save and enable your product on Amazon and start selling!
- Choose a great unique brand name for your business, ideally register a domain name for later when you have a website.
- Buy some barcodes for each product you want to sell on Amazon
- Get some incredibly good photos shot. This is the one area you really don't want to skimp on.
- Research your target market and make the title and description speak clearly and directly to them.
- Fill out the rest of your Amazon listing and sell your 3d models.
Now sit, back & relax. The sales will come rolling in.
Sorry, unless you’re selling a completely revolutionary product that changes everyone’s lives, that just happens to be picked up by every major news outlet – you’re going to need to do some work to generate sales. Without stimulating your product you might get a sale or two a week to start with. For me, this is much too slow.
This is where the fun starts.
While Amazon is arguably the best place to sell your 3d prints, you still need to promote your product first, because you’ll likely not have any reviews on it. You’ll need to work hard to generate those first 20-50 sales. Once you’re getting those initial sales though, the (hopefully brilliant) reviews will come rolling in.
Then when you’ve got some traction with some sales and some reviews, it’s then easier to generate more (of both) which helps build your ranking in Amazon.
You need to start doing two things now your 3d prints are available for sale. First, you need to prepare yourself for those first orders, because they might come in sooner than you first expect and catch you off guard. The last thing you want is to not be prepared and your first orders are dispatched late because you’ve either not made them yet or you’ve not thought about how you’ll package them sufficiently and then your first feedback and reviews are negative.
Make sure you’ve produced enough of your products in advance to buy you some time, and have sufficient packaging materials on hand to ensure you can get them to your customers in perfect condition quickly.
Send your orders quickly and offer great customer service. Sounds obvious, right? But a lot don’t prioritize this. You’ve got to make sure you do everything in your power to truly delight your customers, surprise them and they’ll come back and recommend others.
Disappoint them (and they can be unforgiving) and they’ll rightly suffocate your business with bad feedback.
Now you’re prepared for those initial orders – let’s look at what you can do to increase them. You’ve got to be careful when promoting your business. There are so many efforts that can just be a complete waste of time, you have to focus down on a couple of areas that will work for your business and produce results in a respectable time frame.
Unfortunately there are no quick fixes. You’re going to need put the effort into getting your brand known and out there.
One of the most effective ways to quickly gain traction with a new ecommerce business is to find people that are likely to be interested in what you’re selling and that have a following. These can be any influential people on Youtube, Twitter or any other social media channel where people have a following.
Are you 3d printing customized egg timers? Then find people who run food blogs or similar niche cooking interest social media accounts. Anyone with a following where people are are actually engaging with them.
A good word or review from one of these influencers can bring much needed attention and even sales to your brand.
Gary V (social media marketing legend) is convinced that leveraging micro-influencers is the future of product marketing.
Treat contacting each influencer like applying for a job. This is not a numbers game – don’t spam these people with a generic email. You want to spend some time looking at each one, learning what they like and what they don’t. Do they have pain points you can sympathize and connect with? Perhaps your product addresses these pain points?
This is your angle. Once you know a little about them, send them a very short email or message introducing yourself.
Don’t ask too early – build a little bit of rapport first. Even though you’re sending them something for free, you’re still asking them to do something for you. So be courteous and offer value first.
These people get needy requests all the time. Show them you’re different.
Do this enough and within a few weeks you’ll be building traffic up to your listings, you’ll be gaining some initial reviews and that will get the ball rolling. Don’t forget to wow each customer, so when you ask them nicely for a review (once you know they’re happy) they’ll oblige.
It’s better to do one or two things really well, than 20 things and not scratch the surface. So although it’s tempting to do everything everyone tells you with marketing your business, I would strongly suggest working on one or two main strategy’s to start with. Once you’ve nailed the technique and you’re getting results, you can build on this to new forms. We’ll cover this in more depth in future articles.
Once you start seeing success with your first product, repeat the process with new products. Ideally you want to create a theme for your business. All your products are linked, at least in part by a specific theme or super-niche. That way customers that are interested in one of your products are likely interested in others you do too.
Competitors are never far behind - I see it all the time where someone gets great success with their business initially, then 12 months later they're complaining they're getting overtaken. You've got to innovate to stay ahead. Relying on one product line just won't cut it for the long term.
So to summarize:
- Prepare for your first sales, and give the best customer service you possibly can.
- Research influencers in your industry and provide value first. Then ask them nicely to review your products.
- Ask customers for reviews if they're pleased with your product. If they're not, make sure you listen and improve it.
- Repeat the process with a new product line. The more super-niche products you can create, the more likely you are to release a line that really resonates with customers. Refine your products using your customer's feedback and over deliver.
In a future article I’ll be revealing why if you’re not using Shopify to run your ecommerce site, then you’re really missing out.
As always, if you have any feedback or questions for this article please comment below. I need to hear if this information is useful to you – and your questions will help me to improve and know what guides to write next.