Digital Decorating:

Sublimation Business Basics: Part 1

Purpose, people, goals and milestones are a few aspects that must be clearly defined.

By Aaron Montgomery, Contributing Writer

Even if you don’t plan to hire employees, you most likely will have partnerships among vendors, consultants or contractors.

June 6, 2019

To plan or not to plan? That’s an important question when it comes to your sublimation business.

Developing and maintaining a business plan is easy. Anyone can do it and it requires no special skills. You only have to have an idea, which then gets put into writing. A study referenced in the Journal of Small Business Management found that 71% of fast-growing companies have business plans. They create budgets, set sales goals, and document their marketing and sales strategies. These companies don’t always call their plans “business plans,” but instead often refer to “strategic plans,” “growth plans” and “operational plans.” Regardless of the name, forward-looking planning is key to a healthy sublimation business.

The real value of creating a business plan is not in having the finished product in hand; rather, it lies in the process of researching and thinking about your business in a systematic way. Instead of buying extra cases of iPhone 5 cellphone covers for sublimation, your business plan will help you understand that you should be considering socks instead. It may take time now, but it will help avoid costly — perhaps disastrous — mistakes later.

Planning Basics
Five segments are crucial for planning if you want to have a successful sublimation business. They can be arranged as a backbone to a full-fledged business plan with the additional financial data and operation plans, or it can stand alone as a one-page plan. Honestly, it can and should be exactly what you need to guide the business; there is no correct or incorrect format. Just do the planning and it can help guide you to success.

1. Start with “why.” Too often, we approach things thinking about the “what.” For example, we say “I’m going to start a sublimation business, sell products and make a fortune.” But why are you doing it? What are your core values?

Maybe you are into youth sports and you love supporting local teams. Clearly define your company’s reason for being and the core value you hold close so you then can determine how your “what” matches up with your “why.” In this example, you would say, “I enjoy supporting local youth sports, so I’m going to offer personalized products they can sell to fans as a fundraiser.” This gives you a much better direction for how to set up and run your business. It also gives your potential business partners (customers and other stakeholders) something with which they can connect and get excited about.

If you already have established a sublimation business, what decisions have you made that, in hindsight, did not align with your why? Did they eventually succeed?

2. Define the people. Employees are your most valuable asset and, thus, can have the biggest impact — good and bad — on your business. No matter how small your sublimation business is, it’s hard to successfully operate it alone. Even if you don’t plan to hire employees, you most likely will have partnerships among vendors, consultants or contractors.

Defining all the people involved with your sublimation business can result in multiple benefits. First, it helps your current team members get on the same page with clear expectations. Encourage them to be a part of this process; not only will they help define their roles, but they also may provide details about what they do that can help improve the process.

Defining the people in your organization gives you a job description to use when it’s time to hire. If possible, hire for a role when you don’t need someone so that you can be discerning about whether that person meets your needs. This will give you and the new employee plenty of time to figure out whether the fit is ideal, thus increasing the probability of long-term success for your business.

Finally, the most important part of defining the people is to clearly define your role in the sublimation business. Even if your sublimation business is a part-time, one-person show, you should define your role as if it was at the peak of success. Consider the parts of the business about which you are passionate about and love the most.

3. Clarify your goals and milestones. Without goals, you likely would turn away from the first challenge you face. Having a bad day or week is inevitable. Some mistakes may cost your company big money, but you will learn some tough lessons about why setting expectations with your customer is important. Maybe you just had a string of bad luck with some “bad-apple” customers. Either way, don’t let fear — whether it’s of challenges or success — deter you.

You can’t have a successful sublimation business without clear goals. But our brains don’t think in terms of words; rather, they are influenced by all of our senses. For example, upon hearing the word “Thanksgiving,” your brain probably recalls images of you with your family, perhaps sounds of football in the background, the smell of your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal and how you felt after eating too much.

We also have to think this way about goals, as our minds don’t differentiate between what is real and what’s not when thinking about things in vivid detail. Once your goals have been vividly defined, then you should implement milestones, which are slightly different than objectives. Milestones are the specifics of how you will get to the steps on the path to success.

For objectives that everyone working in your business can follow — allowing you to see the finish line — they must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, trackable, elevated and revised (SMARTER).

Let’s say your vivid goal is to make your sublimation business a full-time money source. Here is an example of a SMARTER objective that can be used to achieve that goal:

Specific: Earn $3,000 per month in net profits.

Measurable: Calculate true costs in order to tabulate the monthly net profit.

Achievable: Based on the ideal customer and order, you need 10 teams.

Relevant: Your community has at least that many teams that want to raise money for themselves and you can handle the production volume.

Trackable: Your business must earn $3,000 per month in net profits for three consecutive months.

Evaluated: Each month, you will record your progress by tracking specific metrics.

Revised: After reviewing what has been tracked each month, you can adjust the strategy. This includes making a judgment regarding whether you need more teams, increased efficiency in production, or whether you should offer different items.

Use such a strategy to reassess any part of your business that is keeping you from achieving your goal.

Aaron Montgomery has been involved with the garment-decorating and personalization industry since 2000 and the digital-printing industry since 1997. He co-hosts the 2 Regular Guys industry podcast at, and you can find blogs about a wide range of topics at