My Zazzle Success Story

by dustytoes

I've been selling products on the Zazzle site since 2007, and my earnings continued to increase to the point that I was able to buy a home in 2011.

Most people don't lose everything in life and have to start over, but that is what happened to me in 2007. I was living a normal life one day, and was in a dark pit the next. I'm not going to get into that except to tell you how I climbed out of that pit by starting my own business in associaltion with the print-on-demand company, Zazzle.

Because of the this unfortunate turn of events in my life, I was put on a surprising path that led me to a job that I love doing. I now earn a paycheck that is larger than any I had ever previously earned. I work from home, using my God-given artistic abilities, and I am my own boss. This is absolutely miraculous considering that when I began, I knew next to nothing about the internet, except that I could send e-mail to my friends!

I'm guessing that many people who read this page are already far more tech savvy to begin with, which puts you ahead of where I started. No matter how clueless you may think you are, if you want something bad enough, you can learn how to make it happen.

Getting Started Working Online

Making money online seemed like a fantasy to me.

business computer workAll my life I had worked at jobs that paid very little.  I've been a cashier, bank teller, teacher's assistant, flower arranger, and produce clerk.  My ex-husband was the one who earned the big bucks.   Like many women my age, I spent my time being mom to 4 kids while working to supplement our family income.  Now, with the big bad change in my life, I needed to find a way to support myself, but I saw no way to do that without a degree or experience that could bring in good money.  Also, I lived in one of the more expensive areas of the US - the northeast region.

One morning I was watching Good Morning America and a segment came on about working from home.  The woman speaking mentioned some sites that allowed anyone to add photography and / or artwork to products which would bring a small commission once they sold through the site.  They were print-on-demand companies. The only two sites I wrote down to check out were CafePress and Zazzle.

To be honest, I looked at CafePress first but I couldn't figure it out.  So I hopped over to the Zazzle site and with my teenage daughter beside me, we figured out how to add pictures and open a store - for FREE!  I had nothing to lose. Once I knew what I was doing, I kept adding pictures and posting products to fill my virtual store.  It was fun, but I was very skeptical about making any money.


So How Does Working Online Work?

I had a lot to learn about everything computer related!

In August of 2007, when I first opened a Zazzle store, I had no idea what to expect.   I had hopes of making a couple of dollars, and even that would have been quite awesome!  

Zazzle is a different place these days, but basically it was (and is today) a site full of creative people trying to sell their art and photography and graphic designs to earn an income.

Some people have design degrees, or have been artists for years, with paintings, photographs, and drawings ready to advertise.  These people know what they are doing and have a collection of art and images ready to upload and sell.

Many Zazzlers knew (and still know) a lot more about working online than I did.  But the Zazzle forum was friendly (and much smaller than it is today) and super nice people answered all my stupid questions and gave me some good advice.

I don't remember which product sold first, or how long it took, but my first paycheck was small.  After three months, I finally got a payout of $43.42.   I was stunned!   I had made money working online!  I kept at it, working ten-hour days, seven days a week, to pay my bills.  Eventually I made enough to begin saving substantial amounts.  My goal was to buy a house, which I did in 2011, four years after I first uploaded an image to Zazzle.

I Began to Make Money at Zazzle

Surprised, is an understatement.

I began with one store at the Zazzle site and put every type of photography and artwork into it.  When I realized that other designers were opening specialty stores (having more than one store), I decided to expand and organize my products by theme.  My second store was related to seashells because I had a lot of seashell photography to share.  I also opened a Christian store and then branched out to do wedding design using my hydrangea photography and seashell images.  I tried to stay true to my interests, which are gardening and beach-combing, and incorporate that into my products.

(Looking back, I would not have done this - divided up my stores like that.  Sticking with one or two stores is a better idea.  I became spread too thin trying to update them all.)

I had no schooling in this career, so I had to teach myself about all kinds of basics, like isolating images and how to use templates.

I had to find places to get elements for designs that I didn't have.  In the beginning I used only my own photographs.  I had no idea how to find and use an image off the internet.  Now I rely on sites like Pixabay (a free to use public domain site) quite a bit for certain things.  To pay them back, (after all, they offer everything for free!) I upload images to the site for others to use, and I always give Pixabay credit on my blogs for use of their photos.

The making money part was slow and steady.  It was encouraging and inspiring to see my sales adding up.  For years it got better and better, and I was truly amazed at what I had accomplished.

One of My First Creations

My photo of my little dog, Rolly. The text is not even customizable! What did I know?
Hot Dog
Hot Dog

A Free Graphics Program Can Teach a Newbie a Lot

I have never spent a lot of money on a graphics program.

Like many people, I've always taken too many photos.  I had scenic photos of Florida and photos of my new home in New England.  It was logical for me to begin by using photography to create Zazzle products.  And many people, who are new to Zazzle, do the same thing.

I had to learn to resize my images to 300dpi for good printing quality.  Personal photography is what many Zazzlers use to sell products, but certain products don't look as good with a rectangular photograph.  I needed to learn how to do design work and use isolated elements to enhance my work.

I downloaded a free graphics program, and began messing around with it, and it was fabulous!  I never realized such a fun thing existed.  My creativity gene exploded....and I spent many hours teaching myself about how to work with layers, change colors, create textures, and so many fun things.

These days I use Pixelmator, which is an inexpensive program I've downloaded to my Mac.  I would love to have Illustrator or Photoshop but finances won't allow it.  I do okay with what I have.  And Zazzle has improved their design tool also which is a great help.


Photo Christmas Cards in my Holiday Store

I've been designing for Zazzle for 10 years now, and my designs have improved.
Photo Templates Christmas Cards
Photo Templates Christmas Cards

A Growing Paycheck From Zazzle

Patience and perseverance paid off as my paycheck began to grow.

I figured that if I could make $40 selling products I could make $400.  I'll, be honest, in the beginning I believed that more products meant more sales. It's what people in the forum were saying.  I had never taken part in a forum, but that is where I went often for information.

As time has passed, I don't believe that. Well made, interesting, and trendy products, which are promoted and advertised often, bring sales.  This has been my experience.  I was never a fan of Zazzle's Quick Create for exactly that reason.  I think the Quick Create option at Zazzle was detrimental. People overloaded the site with lots of junk, hoping to make a quick buck.  Zazzle has obviously realized that recently, because now they have asked us to clean up our stores and remove items that are not selling.

When I started out, I had read that it was possible to make thousands of dollars a month, and I couldn't for the life of me imagine how.  But it gave me hope, because I thought that if it was possible for some else to make that kind of money, then it might be possible for me.  

Seaside Garden Wedding is One of My Popular Selling Wedding Designs

I grew the white hydrangea and took photos with the starfish tucked inside. The design is completely original and available only from me.
Seaside Garden Design
Seaside Garden Design

Zazzle is a Wonderful Site for Artists

floral artThose who paint and draw can use Zazzle to gain exposure to their artwork.  I do a little drawing myself, and recently opened a new store "Clara's Desk" where I upload my own drawings.

It doesn't matter that I am far from being a fabulous artist.  If I draw something that someone else needs, they will buy it.  Maybe the color is exactly what they were looking for.  Maybe they think my artwork is cute.  Whatever the reason, I have been making sales.  More than anything else I sell, the sale of any of my art touches my heart.  

If you are an artist, don't let thoughts of "I'm not good enough" stop you from tying to sell at Zazzle, and elsewhere.  Any POD site provides a great opportunity to become seen.

Ballet Slippers Artwork For the Little Ballerina

One of my drawings featured in my art store at Zazzle. This little bag is a good seller.
Ballet Slippers Art
Ballet Slippers Art

Free Images Sources

Be careful when using images to sell, not all free images can be used that way.
An exhaustive list of the best online resources for copyright free cliparts and photos for commercial online and offline usage.
Kozzi Review - Are Kozzi images free to use or are there restrictions? Read on to learn all that there is to know about this new image resource! They do videos and clip-art also...
High-quality images, no royalties or attributions required, totally free for personal and commercial use. No sign-up necessary!

My Zazzle Paychecks Kept Increasing

It took three years before I was earning what I would call "good money"

My first paycheck at Zazzle was $43.42 and it was issued in December 2007.

In 2008 my pay for the year was measly, but I spent most of 2008 learning the basics.   I've never taken any type of computer or design class, so I had a lot to learn.  I studied how to make links (html) and how to begin blogging.  I learned to isolate images and then layer them to make a unique design.  Everything was new to me.  I had to earn money, but I had to know what I was doing in order to get to that point.  I had to know what the good designers knew!

The year 2009 was better, earnings wise, and by May 2010, I became a Silver ProSeller (qualifying is different now, but at the time it meant earning at least $1,000 a month.)

Guess what?  It's now many years after I uploaded my first picture to the Zazzle site.   I am still working from home and making a pretty good living by sitting at my computer!  No one is more surprised than I am.

I Made Enough Money Online to Save Up and Buy a House!

It took years of saving, but finally I had my own home once again.

When my life fell apart in 2007, no one was going to come to my rescue.  I had no home and barely enough money to pay rent and buy food.  I did not have parents to live with while I got back on my feet and I had two kids to provide for.  Talk about a mid-life crisis!

I wanted financial stability for myself and my kids.  And what I wanted more than anything was a home.  I found that I never really appreciated the fact that I had my own home for so many years.  It's tough to go from being a home-owner to being a renter.  For me it has been like being in prison.   I wanted to know that I could take care of myself financially and I wanted the freedom to live in a home that belonged to me, instead of paying the way for someone else to live well on my earnings.

Once my Zazzle paycheck allowed me to save money, I began to seriously consider buying a house.

My New Home

I had my home, but Zazzle had decided to make some changes that would effect my life longterm. I ended up having to move to a more affordable area of the US.

homeAfter four years of paying rent, and wondering if I'd ever see the day I would be approved to buy a house, I finally signed the papers on my new home.  It's difficult to convey how thankful I was, and still am, for that miracle in my life!

I lived in the northeastern United States and the cost of living was high.  I saved (thanks to my work at Zazzle) for a down-payment and to do some much needed up grades on the place I bought.

My income was really good back then, and the mistake I made was in thinking it would continue to stay that way.  That didn't happen.  Zazzle made some changes to it's site in 2013.  They also changed our ability to earn Volume Bonus money, which dropped my paychecks by two-thirds.  The worst part was that they gave us designers very little warning and time to adjust.

That scared me into making another big life change.  I had to get out of that expensive New England  area and move back to Florida.   Also, I can no longer trust in my Zazzle income to continue indefinitely.  I love what I do, and right now I am making enough to get by.  But my plans for the future are to NOT rely on my Zazzle pay as much as I have been.

What I've learned about selling and making money with Zazzle.

If you are just starting out and know next to nothing, my advice is to visit the Zazzle forum and find your way around the Zazzle site.  Look at what the successful designers are doing as far as setting up a store.  There is a lot to learn.  It's best to know what you are doing before you jump in and begin.  Good designs that fit correctly on products is only half of it.  Titles, descriptions, tags, and promoting go along with that.

Finding my way around Zazzle is easy for me now.   Even with their continuous changes, I'm able to keep up because I've been doing it regularly since 2007.  I don't get crazy designing on every one of the products they now offer.  I stick with what brings sales for me.

Every day I get out of bed, make coffee and sit down at my desk and begin work.  I love the fact that I can earn a living from my home.  It's so great that I don't have to set my alarm and get out the door and go to a regular job!  I did that for a long time.  I am doing work that is interesting and rewarding because I get to be creative every day.

Parts of my work-at-home lifestyle I like better than others.  I can get very distracted making new products using a new design I have created.  And I never know (usually for months) if that design will be something customers want.  

Along with the designing part, I also "pin" products to my Pinterest boards, Tweet about them, add them to my FaceBook store page, and write a blog post on my website.  It all has to work together so that my new design get out there for potential buyers to find.

By the way, don't count on Zazzle to promote you.  If you keep searching the Zazzle front page hoping to see your product there, don't be disappointed if it never happens.  I am a Platinum ProSeller and have access to the Elite forum, and truthfully none of that has given me any advantages that I am aware of.  My sales come from my efforts, and from affiliates who choose to promote my items.  (Thank you to any and all affiliates who do!)

In my opinion, it has become much more difficult to earn a living through Zazzle.  They now have lots of big brand names competing with the independent designers.  And there are many, many more people trying to sell on the site, and some are professionals with a lot more knowledge and design education than I have.  In fact, the Internet overall has more people selling things.  You must be unique to stand out, and have lots of patience and determination.

My income went way up over the years, and then it came back down.  Nothing is guaranteed when you do this type of work, and that is the hard part.  Zazzle can spring changes on us that affect our income, and we can't do anything but learn to deal with it.  

Help and Ideas for Growing Your Zazzle Business

Zazzle has been a wonderful business opportunity for me, and I want to share some ideas for running a successful store at their site.
Pixabay is an online site that offers high quality photos and clipart images that can be used as you please - even to sell in your Zazzle store.
Updated: 08/26/2017, dustytoes
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dustytoes on 08/30/2018

I have products up at Amazon Merch. I will message you.

Mira on 08/30/2018

I'm back on Z. creating things. I wish I had come sooner to check on my categories, because some products were set to hidden, including some which have sold in the past. Quite a bummer.

By the way, have you tried Merch on Amazon?

Peter on 10/18/2017

Nice story.

dustytoes on 08/29/2017

True! Thanks for adding your perspective.

kimbesa on 08/29/2017

You are so right about things changing. Us small fry can be nimble, and need to be in a changing world!

dustytoes on 08/26/2017

Thanks for reading @CorbinHenry, and best of luck with Zazzle.

CorbinHenry on 08/26/2017

Terrific articles and advice, dustytoes! I've had zazzle shops for about 6 years now, and the changes Zazzle has made has been a big challenge, as you described in your article. Glad to see you're able to overcome them! Here is my latest shop design in case you or your readers are interested

Best wishes to you and all the Zazzlers out there!

dustytoes on 07/03/2017

Good luck Misty.

misty on 07/02/2017

Yes I have zazzle well trying to be.

dustytoes on 06/01/2017

I believe it's much more difficult to make money at Zazzle these days. Many more people are trying to sell than when I began. Also Z now has big brands competing with us little guys. A lot has changed. Promoting yourself - your art and products - is the best way to get sales. It must be constant, and takes time to find those buyers.

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