Usually, when we think of being frugal we think of saving money. I like to think that making a little money on the side is just as frugal, if not more, than saving money. I call it the Frugal Hustle, and it’s where you find ways to make a little side cash or beer money.
Just like with all my good ideas I got my latest Frugal Hustle idea by accident. I’ve found a way to make money from a vinyl cutter for a super selective niche. I’m going to give you the step by step of how and why I did the side hustle and show you how much money I’ve made doing this on the side.
I work in the boating industry selling new and used boats. Every boat is assign a boat registration number from the state just like how your car gets a license plate. Many customers would buy the pre-made boat numbers that look like mailbox numbers for about $20. These boring looking mailbox numbers are hard to put on and time-consuming. Many of our customers would get some custom made numbers instead and we would sublet it out to our local graphics shop.
We soon ran into a problem with the local graphics shop not being able to do the numbers in a timely manner and if they did do them we would have to find time to pick them up. It got to a point where getting custom numbers made was just a little too inconvenience for everyone. The local graphics shop didn’t make much off of them so they were never really top priority for them, can’t blame them for going where the money goes.
So I got to thinking and found out that these Vinyl Cutters are not even that expensive! I spent the weekend trying to figure out what I need for cutting boat numbers and even figuring out the cost per number.
I took the plunge and bought a small vinyl cutter and a ton of supplies. I got enough supplies to last me for years and was everything I needed. When I say everything I mean all the replacement blades adfor the machine, Exacto cutting blades, transfer tape, cutting pad ad, and even Extra Long Blade Scissors ad.
I opted for the USCutter 14-inch Vinyl Cutter since it was the cheapest vinyl cutter of them all, but looking back I kind of wish I went with the Vinyl Cutter USCutter MH 34in BUNDLE ad instead. The bigger vinyl cutter could let me do bigger designs which pay more than the little stuff.
Get the Software
I never really liked the software that the cutter came with but I did find SignBlazer 6.0 Basic for free and really love it. The software looks and feels very basic and old but I find it the easiest to use.
Setting up the software
For connecting and running the software from my desktop PC running windows 8 I opted to use the Serial port since my computer had one instead of the USB. I did use the USB for awhile so it does work fine. For the cutter type, I use “Razor 24” since it seems to be the one that can talk to the USCutter vinyl cutter I have. The Screen Shot below shows all my settings to get the cutter to work.
How to design your numbers
At the top left of the program, you’ll see a button with a big A and a little a with the words “text” under it. You’ll want to select that button and you’ll get a box asking for what font you want to use. You’ll want to go through all the fonts and select the ones you like and the ones your customer might like. I was able to select the top 20 fonts I liked and printed them out on a piece of paper so that I have something for my customers to select from.
Once you have selected the font you want to use just click inside the pink square and start typing the boat numbers.
Then go back up to the top menu and select the cursor tool that is to the left of the text tool you selected earlier.
At the bottom you’ll notice the area for object size, this is set up in inches for both vertical and horizontal. The minimum vertical is 3 inches for most states but you might want to check with your state to make sure you get the correct size for both vertical and horizontal. Also, you want to check with your customer to see how much room they have to work with on their jet ski or boat. My defaults for Jet Ski is 14 inches wide and 3.1 inches high and for boats its 16 inches wide and 3.2 inches high. I like to keep the “keep proportional” button checked so that it doesn’t look too out of place.
To make it work with my smaller cutter I have to rotate the image 90 degrees. To do this you need to right click the black block above the center (red circle). A new window will pop up and you just need to rotate it 90 degrees.
Now we can start cutting the image out on our vinyl cutter.
At the top, you’ll see a button label cutter. Go ahead and press the cutter button so that it can bring you to a new menu for cutting. Also go ahead and turn on your cutter and insert your vinyl into place. Make sure your vinyl cutter has good tracking and plenty of vinyl to cut.
In most states you’ll need numbers on both sides of the boat to be legal, so be sure to check with your state to see if you need both sides done. The vinyl I get is 12 inches wide and with the margins and each number being 3.1 inches tall I can usually squeeze 3 rows of numbers. The reason why I like to do 3 is that if I don’t do 3 I’ll just be wasting vinyl anyways so why not do 3? Also giving the customer the extra one really gives the feeling of extra value and also if they mess up or I mess up putting it on we have another one to put on. Another little fact about the extra number is if they accidentally run against the dock and rip the numbers off they have a new one to put on.
I set the number of copies to 3 and have x and y spacing set at 0.10. Make sure you have “Easy Weed” on to make your life a lot easier. Check out the picture below for my settings.
Once all the setting are correct and the vinyl cutter is set up and on go ahead and press the “Cut!” button at the top to start cutting.
Don’t expect to get this right the first time around. It took me several cuts to really get the hang of this but when you do you can really make some neat stuff.
Once done cut the vinyl free from the roll and start weeding the vinyl.
It can be hard to write about how to weed vinyl so instead, I’ve found some videos that really do a good job of showing how to do it best.
When you are ready to apply the vinyl numbers to the boat you must keep in mind that you want to avoid bubbles. The best way to avoid bubbles when placing on a boat or even a car is to use a spray bottle full of water and heavily coat the area with water. Some people like to use soap and water but I never been a big fan of soap since it requires longer dry time than just using a lot of water. You can get spray bottle just about anywhere.
How to track orders
To keep track of orders I use a spreadsheet with all the details like customer name, type of vinyl, type of font, size, and how much I made. This will allow you to keep track of orders and what they got. This will also allow you to keep track of how much you make.
How much can you make?
This is probably the part you really wanted to see. How much money you make from it really depends on how much you want to charge. When I did the math for how much it cost to make a set of numbers with my long rolls of vinyl which is the white and black ones since I use them the most I found that it cost me under $1 to make. Yes you heard me correctly it can cost as little as $1 and that does factor in replacement blades, transfer tape, Exacto knives, and many other wear and tear items.
From my image above for my spreadsheet you’ll see that I charged $25 per order. The colored vinyl does cost me more since its on a shorter roll but at the worst case it only cost me $3 to use them. So at my worst case, I have at least a 700% markup. This is not always the case as I offer unlimited redos, for example, the numbers start to peel off I make a new set for them at no charge. Its rare that I do redo’s but its these little touches that brings people back.
I don’t want you to think I’m scamming people because I’m not. Most of it has to do with labor and spending time to learn how to do it. This is not for everyone and the ones that are good at it can make some really good money. I also feel like I’ve stumbled across a really profitable niche for vinyl cutting. Spending $25 on a set of custom made numbers that are super easy to put on is a great bargain since the boring mailbox numbers cost around $20 and you have to manually align them. If you wanted to, you can go as high as $50 if the customer wants you to put it on at their dock.
Get some business
Some great ways to advertise this is to go to your local boat dealership and ask them if they have someone to make their numbers for them. Sometimes they do and ask them how much they charge and either match the price but offer next delivery to the shop (best to stick with local dealers) or undercut them. On average I would charge $10 to boat dealers so that they could tack on a little for themselves because they would need to pay a tech to put the numbers on. Even at $10 it’s still a 200% markup on the worst case scenario.
Another way is to go and post on craigslist that you do custom boat numbers. Take some pictures with your email or phone number in the picture and post it on craigslist, you’ll be surprised by how many people you’ll get.
Also, don’t stop at making boat numbers. I’ve even done mailbox numbers for people at $5 and another $5 to install. Most of the time people only want the black mailbox numbers so it only cost me under a dollar and if they want it installed I end up making $9 minus gas and time. Even if you need to mail it you could add on $2 and make a killing that way.
Like printing money
Having a vinyl cutter is really like printing money and the more you do it the more people’s word of mouth will get around and soon enough you’ll have tons of business.
This is not for everyone, you must be patient and willing to make mistakes often. If you have the drive to do this then why not give it a try? You really don’t have much to lose, you have 30 days to return most items and if you don’t like it you can always sell the cutter to someone on craigslist. If you really wanted to you could create a package to sell to business that include the vinyl cutter and free lessons on how to use it.