Updated: Aug 31, 2018
There are so many pieces that came together perfectly that led to starting a successful screen printing business. Starting at an early age, I was always more artistically inclined and also enjoyed working with my hands, but at the time I didn't really know there was much potential for that in the working world. In college I studied graphic design, this way I got to work with art while still having a secure chance for a career past graduation. While I was in college I joined greek life, and as one of the only artistic people in my chapter, I quickly became the person in charge of designing shirts for our various occasions throughout the year. As I started working with the sales reps from the companies when we would order our shirts, I slowly started to understand how the shirts were actually made. I started to really enjoy designing shirts so I figured I would learn more about how they are made in an attempt to supplement my skill as an apparel designer. Fast forward several hours of binge watching screen printing videos on Youtube, I was hooked and I thought to myself "Well I can do that" and this is where things started.
I finally bit the bullet and spent a whopping $200 (I was a broke college kid, this was like buying a Rolex to me) on a DIY screen printing kit. A week later the kit showed up and I set up shop in my apartment bathroom by duct taping the printing press to my nightstand. The first thing I printed was a simple one color design of the Jack Daniel's label but replacing it with the name of my fraternity, and I sold these shirts for $10 a piece. I was now hooked on entrepreneurship.
At the end of the semester I brought my equipment home and set up in the basement of my parents house, where it then collected dust for probably close to a year. I was still very interested in screen printing and continued to learn more about the process and the business behind it. But being busy with school kept me from actually getting my hands dirty and printing. Eventually a friend of mine asked me to print some hoodies and tank tops to promote his photography business, and after that a few more small jobs for friends of mine. But at this point I was doing the work for free just to get some practice and experience under my belt.
Shortly after college, I landed possibly one of the most boring jobs a graphic designer could get, I started working for a company that drafted patent illustrations. This place was basically a cubicle job for designers, clients sent in poorly hand drawn images of whatever boring device they were filing a patent for and we would illustrate it to look nice and meet the patent office's standards. It was a pretty laid back place, we could watch Netflix while we worked, so that was pretty cool. While my coworkers were binge-watching The Office or How I Met Your Mother, I was watching video after video of screen printing tutorials and business development advice. After a few months of working and saving my money, I felt comfortable enough that I was ready to start building up a screen printing business on the side. I ended up spending my holiday bonus on a new and bigger screen printing press and some cheap Chinese made equipment. I finally had everything I needed to start taking on real customers.
Over the next few months, obviously I didn't get any customers, I naively thought that my pre-made template website would bring the customers flowing in. I knew that I really wanted to get this side business up and running so I started to do research on business development. I shortly started implementing useful SEO into my website and using social media and other platforms more effectively to drive traffic to by business. I started to get a few hits here and there, but nothing crazy. Then one day I took a shot in the dark and posted an ad on Craigslist for custom printed t-shirts. A few days had gone by and I got a response from the owner of a business just down the road that needed a line of merchandise printed for their grand opening in a month - I had my first real customer (I plan on writing a blog post in the future about how my relationship with this customer has really evolved since that first order). Some orders kept coming in here and there, just enough to keep me busy a couple nights a week after work.
In August of 2017 I finally decided it was time to be official, and registered my business as Blackout Screen Printing, LLC. Within the first year of business, with the help of all my amazing customers, I was able to move my shop from my parent's basement to an amazing space in downtown Old Ellicott City.