Opinion, advice, and analysis by the TNW community

8 ways small businesses can tap into 3D printing

3d printer
Scott Gerber
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Scott Gerber

Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members rep… (show all) Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

YEC

3D printing, while still a developing technology, has immense potential for helping small businesses. From creating custom items to marketing and design, 3D printing offers a number of benefits in terms of efficiency and establishing connections that make the purchase of a 3D printer viable.

To find out what small businesses can do to efficiently leverage 3D printing services — and what challenges teams may face when doing so — I asked a panel of YEC entrepreneurs the following:

What is one thing small businesses could be doing to tap into 3D printing? Why would this approach be effective? What could go wrong?

Here is what they said:

1. Create merchandise

Many businesses that operate online sell services instead of physical products. If you’re in this boat, you can create merchandise for your customers to buy with 3D printing. Imagine seeing your company mascot in a real-life 3D model! – Blair Williams, MemberPress

2. Offer customized on-demand products

Business is becoming personalized at an increasing rate. To separate your services from competitors, offer customized products. Allow customers to choose exactly what they want. 3D printing allows a build-on-demand business model. Just don’t offer too many product options because confusion results in inaction. – Brian Greenberg, No Exam Life Insurance

3. Provide 3D printing services

A 3D printer will allow your company to create prototypes, customized products, and marketing materials, but it could also be another revenue stream for your business. You could offer 3D printing services to other local businesses in your area to make extra money and create more business connections in the community. While the extra money is great, it may be difficult to manage a side business. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

4. Create cheap prototypes for marketing

3D printing can be a great way to add some simple and cheap small prototypes for trade shows or marketing in general. Having a small sample of a product or even just a 3D example lets potential clients get a physical feel for your product, which will stand out from people who just have photo or video. 3D printing is a great way to stand out from the rest of the competition. – Andrew Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings

5. Collaborate with students

Whether your company has a 3D printer or your business is located near a university with a 3D printer, this is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with students. In addition to garnering goodwill in your local community, this can help you find talented new hires in the future. – Bryce Welker, Beat The CPA

6. Create items during a trade show

An affordable way for any small business to gain visibility is to bring a 3D printing machine to a trade show. Use a bright color filament and print a variety of branded objects. One problem is that some may assume you are in the 3D printing business. Avoid this by creating themed objects that represent your business. Moving machines and bright colors always catch attention at trade shows. – Reuben Yonatan, GetVoIP

7. Promote your business

You could use 3D printers to create unique promotional materials for your business. For example, you could create a 3D business card to give to potential big clients which would impress them, last longer, and show that your business is creative and innovative. This could even help you cut down on advertising costs. – John Turner, SeedProd LLC

8. Increase customer loyalty

A small business can install 3D printing at their location and allow it to be used for free by loyal customers. For instance, a restaurant can reward customers with a free 3D print after they’ve had lunch at their venue at least five times. This can be a new technique to generate customer loyalty. Just imagine if a customer could 3D print for free at your restaurant, bar or retail place. You could get a lot of viral marketing. – Piyush Jain, SIMpalm

Published August 9, 2019 — 09:00 UTC