New Income Streams For Your Teaching Business – Part 1: Selling Merchandise


There are more ways to make money as a guitar teacher than just collecting lesson tuition.  Income from your guitar lessons will probably always be your primary source of revenue, but there are some other cool things you can do on the side that can bring in some passive income for you, increase awareness of your brand and add more value for your students all at the same time. It’s like killing 3 birds with a single stone, and the best part is that once you set something like this up, you can pretty much let it run on auto-pilot from that point on.

Will these additional income streams make you rich? No! But they can bring in enough extra money to cover your operating expenses every month, which means that everything you earn through teaching can be 100% profit. The first additional income stream I want to tell you about in part 1 of this article series is selling branded merchandise to your students.

Why sell merchandise?

Branded merchandise (affectionately known as “merch” or “swag”) is something you see all around you almost every time you open your eyes. Businesses all over the planet sell things like T-shirts, hats and stickers with their name and logo prominently featured on them. I’ve even seen some less-than-conventional swag items out there like shot glasses, “bobble head” dolls and even underwear.

Selling merch is a proven money maker for all kinds of businesses…especially for bands. In fact, according to Rolling Stone magazine, those merchandise tables you see at concerts make even more profit for bands out on tour than the ticket sales do! If it works for bands, it will work for guitar teachers, too.

If you have a few well-designed, cool-looking, useful items in a few different price points, your students will BUY them, WEAR/USE them and take your brand WITH THEM everywhere they go. It’s free advertising for you, plus extra income…and your students will love the items: everybody wins!

What kind of items you should sell

What you should choose to make and sell really depends on your students…you need to do a little bit of “market research” to find out what they want. One good way to find out what they might like is to look at the bands they listen to. For example, are most of your students rock players? Do some Google searches for merchandise related to the rock bands your students like most, and you’ll get a ton of ideas for the products themselves and for designs you might be able to get some inspiration from.

Also, take a look at what your students are already wearing and using…that’s a good indicator of what they might buy in the future. And if all else fails, you can always just ask them what kind of things they would want to buy. If you still aren’t sure what merch items to try first, here are some typical items that should sell well for most people:

  • T-shirts
  • Stickers (DEFINITELY make stickers! They’re cheap and end up all over the place)
  • Baseball caps

If your students are mostly younger, you can try selling items like these:

  • “Hoodie”-style jackets
  • “Messenger”-style bags
  • iPhone cases

If you can find someone to make them for you cheap enough, you can also try selling some guitar-related accessories that everyone uses anyway, like:

  • Guitar picks
  • Straps
  • Lesson plan organizers
  • Etc.

The only limit is your wallet, your market and your imagination. You never know what people might buy…just get some feedback from your students and then try something.

How to get your merchandise items made

There are two pieces involved with getting your merch items put together…design and manufacturing/fulfillment:

1) Product Design

Unless you’re really good with graphics design, I would definitely recommend paying someone else to do the graphics design work for your merch items. These items really have to look trendy and cool…if you just throw some goofy looking logo and your business name on a t-shirt, your students won’t be as excited about buying it. Don’t skimp on this part! Pay someone a little bit of money to come up with a cool design for you, and you’ll sell a lot more merch.

If you don’t know any good designers, Elance is a great place to find one. Just post your design project on Elance and you’ll get bids from people all over the world. Check out their previous work, choose one you like and you’re good to go.

And always remember the cardinal rule of marketing your teaching business: PUT YOUR WEBSITE ADDRESS ON EVERY ITEM YOU DESIGN!!!

2) Product Manufacturing/Fulfillment

This is the time-consuming part of selling merch…making and delivering the actual products. The traditional way of doing this is to use a local T-shirt or printing shop in your town, pay them to make a big batch of your items, and then store them in your garage until you sell them all. That’s one way to go about it, but there are other options, too.

Check out a site called Cafepress. They will take your custom designs, add them to a T-shirt, a sticker, a coffee mug…whatever merch items you want…and then let you sell them to your students from your own website. They make the products, they take the orders and they ship the items directly to your students…all you have to do is set things up and then sit back and collect your commissions. Of course, you have to pay for a service like this…your profits per item will obviously be smaller…but it’s definitely worth looking into just because it’s so easy and convenient. Check out Cafepress and let me know what you think!

Making the sale

Now that you know what items you want to sell, you have a great design, and you have them put together and ready…it’s time to sell your merch items to your students. You can do a few different things to get them excited about buying your stuff:

  • Do a contest! Give away one of your items to a lucky student, and have them all check out what you’re selling in order to enter the contest. For the price of a single item, you’ll expose everyone to what you’re selling and also build some excitement that will make many of them want to buy.
  • Build anticipation! Start dropping hints about your merch items a few weeks before they’ll be ready. Do some sneak previews, and continue building anticipation up to the big day. Then finally let everyone know when they can buy, and you’ll probably get a bunch of orders on your “launch” date.
  • Set up a “store” on your website! Link to all the merch items you sell and give people the ability to buy them online. This works especially well with Cafepress.
  • Set up a small table in your teaching studio with a display of your items on it. Your students will see them when they come in for lessons and they can buy them on the spot.
  • Wear/use the items yourself! Put the stickers on your car, your guitar case and your water bottle. Wear the T-shirts when you teach lessons. Be your own best advertiser!

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head…I’m sure you’ll come up with many more once you get started with your own branded merchandise.

Start small and build from there

This might seem a little overwhelming at first, but it really will help you grow your teaching business. Just START SMALL with one simple item: STICKERS!

Like I mentioned before, stickers are super cheap (both for you to make and for your students to buy), and they’ll get attached to things you’d never imagine. This is also a really cool way to sneak your teaching business into local high schools and colleges: your students will take you there!

Make up an order of 500 or 1,000 stickers to start with and give away a few for free to get things rolling (maybe even give one to every new student when they sign up)…then start selling them for a dollar or two. It might not seem like much at first, but it’ll add up over time, and then you can add t-shirts and other merch items when you have the time and money available to do it.


Selling branded merchandise really is a great way to make some extra money in your teaching business, help spread the word about your brand, drive targeted traffic to your website, and add some extra value and excitement for your guitar students. Even if you don’t make a lot of money selling your merch, these other benefits are priceless!

Got any questions or personal experiences with selling branded merchandise in your teaching business? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!


New Income Streams For Your Teaching Business – Part 1: Selling Merchandise was last modified: November 24th, 2012 by Donnie Schexnayder