Building any kind of startup can be challenging, and starting your own 3D printing business isn’t any less so. But knowing what challenges to anticipate, having a roadmap of common pitfalls, and notes on proven strategies, can all help steer you through that crucial first year.
The recipe for success will be different for every entrepreneur, but with luck, these proven tips and tricks can help your business succeed, whether you’re focusing on PCB design and manufacturing or fabricating jewelry and home decor.
One of the beautiful elements of the 3D printing industry is its ability to be flexible and embrace new ideas. Don’t be tied down to a specific model if there are large opportunities out there for you. For example, working with other entrepreneurs and product-makers needing custom fabrication can open a whole new business segment for you, or you can work with designers of all manner of products, from decor to tech hardware, to help bring their prototypes to life. Not only can this help you groom new potential clients, but being able to put the beta version of a new product in the hands of its creator can help you generate a lot of positive buzz and word of mouth.
With the right printer and software, you can print anything from circuit boards to invisible braces.
Ease of Product Validation
For most traditional startups, there’s a large cost barrier between an idea, a prototype, a first run of production, and testing their product for the market. But having a 3D printer cuts down the most onerous step: the first run. And with great platforms like Kickstarter around, not only can you gauge potential interest in your product, but you can have interested parties help to cover beginning costs.
There are thousands of great examples of businesses who have used this model. Drinkmate, for example, tested consumer interest in a smartphone-based breathalyzer on Kickstarter, and after raising $90,000, were able to easily cover costs of manufacture and marketing.
Product and Service
Even if you’re using your 3D printer to create your own products for sale, you can also capitalize on your printer and market it as a service. Not only can this provide another revenue stream, but it can be remarkably easy to tailor this service to any industry.
From simply hiring out your printer to individuals or companies wanting to print their own, pre-made designs to allowing the custom fabrication of everyday items like insoles, headphones, or phone cases, you can easily corner unique niches no matter where you are.
Capitalize on Social Media
Marketing is important to any business, and one of the most cost-effective vehicles for marketing is social media. And the best part is, you don’t even necessarily need to pay for ads. Boosted posts, pre-recorded webinars, and even videos of your printer at work can quickly build an interested audience.
One 3D printing company, Pinshape, gained a lot of immediate traction on social media by holding ‘best design’ contests, with the prize being prints of the best design. But this tactic helped them grow a dedicated audience of individuals interest and likely to use their services.
The Bottom Line
With 3D printing, as with any business, you need to consider what your primary market is, and how many revenue streams within that market you can create. Even if you’re using your printer to create your own product, in its downtime you can charge other individuals to bring their products back to life… which can dramatically increase your printer’s ROI.
That said, for your own products, consider using platforms like Kickstarter to gauge consumer interest and help pay for production fees. And of course, never forget to engage in marketing your business, and engage in social media marketing to improve your marketing ROI. Clever marketing shouldn’t cost you much!