Book Review on Starting a Card Business

You may have missed this posting earlier, but I want to let you know about this book again, since I think it's the best book on how to run a greeting cards manufacturing business.

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Years ago, when I taught seminars on the business of making and marketing greeting cards, I wish this book had existed: Start and Run a Greeting Cards Business: Lots of Practical Advice for Help You Build an Exciting and Profitable Business. I would have handed it out to my students to use as a textbook, instead of taking the time to create hundreds of pages of handouts for my them.

When I opened up the first page of this book, the author had made a fundamental statement about the card business:"[the card] business is the type of business that can be started at the kitchen table and end up in the global market."

From my years of experience in this business, this statement is absolutely true. I am one of those people she is talking about: I started on a table in my living room, and in a short period of time acquired a national account with Barnes and Noble. That’s what makes this business so accessible and approachable.

The book covers the gamut of the greeting card business, from the beginner to the professional, and it includes a variety of topics such as: handmade cards vs. printed cards, pricing, presentations and marketing. As I began reading it, I knew I was in the U.K, because of the writing style. The words were sometimes unfamiliar, ( "carriage" charges vs. shipping charges) along with the frequent discussions about selling items in the U.K, the local tax laws, VAT, etc. But if you are not from the U.K., don't be discouraged, because 90% of the book is applicable to almost any market.

It is clear the author has seen all sides of the business from the inside out, and she is not afraid to brush away any romantic notions one might have about it by including excellent pro/con sections on vaious topics. She tells the truth of what problems you might encounter depending on your design style, the materials you use and your marketing. Other craft books often leave you hanging after telling you how to sell at craft fairs, and they don't often explain how to go national and sell wholesale. The author of Starting and Running a Greeting Cards Business is very aware that if you want to make a living in the card business, you aren't going to do it at craft fairs.

There is a good chapter on pricing, which is critical, since cards need to be scalable. The author gives this topic it's due attention and breaks down figures in detail: for time, materials, and overhead, and she explains how to do a time study to determine how much it costs to make a card. But be forewarned, many of the figures are in pounds, so they need to be adjusted in dollars if you are a U.S. reader.

There is an excellent customer survey that covers the critical questions you should ask a store to get feedback for your market research. This will ultimately prevent you from overprinting a weak card design. There is a great section on how to write a press release, along with instructions on how to come up with an elevator pitch for your line. There is also an insightful chapter that overviews things to consider when making an eco-friendly business, such as materials and transportation.

If it were up to me to make changes in the book, I might make two. First, I felt the three chapters on business topics, (business plans, cash flow, and financing) could have been reduced to one, since this general information can be found most anywhere. Secondly, I also felt there was a missing chapter on how to work with sales representatives (books refers to as "agents"). Although it is addressed briefly, the author does not go in depth about how to work with reps . There could have been more information on this, and how critical reps are to success in this business, along with problems that can develop ( territory conflicts, managing rep groups) and office practices (commission statements, rep forms, incentives).

My motto has always been "without sales reps, you have no business," and it's almost impossible to grow your business without them. It is very difficult for a designer to accumulate and service thousands of accounts without using reps. Reps do a variety of things to support a designer besides sales, such as stock and straighten card racks, and provide free displays at trade shows. A card designer may need at least 40 reps to really have a thriving business. And although the book did not address these things, it did emphasized one of the most important practices: PAY THEM ON TIME! I was always flabbergasted when reps reported to me that very few designers pay them on time. I believe a designer should pay reps before they pay anyone.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Starting and Running a Greeting Cards Business, because I do believe if you follow the guidelines, you will see results and you will go into this business with a strong education and your eyes open. There are very few places where you can get this type of information and most of it comes from experience or talking to other designers. I am surprised that with so many card businesses in existence, no one has really put this information down on paper. Yes, there are a lot of books on making cards or designing them, but this is the first one I've seen that really tells you what is required to run a professional card business. And because her experiences were so familiar to me, the U.K. references did not feel foreign; rather, they only made me feel I was reading about the card business while on vacation in England!

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5 comments :

Deb Gallagher said...

From your very thorough review, this book looks like an excellent resource. I'll check it out for my own business and will also forward this link to a few acquaintances who might also be interested. Thanks Kate!

Anonymous said...

This book seems difficult to find...
$200.00 for a used copy?
Any suggestions?

Kate Harper said...

I just sent a note to the publisher about that: Joanne.Salt@howtobooks.co.uk

Kate Harper said...

UPdate from publisher. Reprint is due May 2010. Here is the link
http://www.amazon.com/Start-Run-Greeting-Cards-Business/dp/1845284151/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268132321&sr=8-1

Kayleen West Cavill said...

Hi Kate,
I have just discovered your wonderful insightful blog via a business week article comment. Thank you for sharing your experience. Could I ask one thing please? I am looking at focusing on Children's book illustration, card illustration and children's illustration for magazines etc full-time this year. I really want to be spending my time mostly illustrating rather than ending up yet again in a management/office type roll? I understand the necessity of marketing but is this book aimed at the artist/person creating the imagery or the agent side please? Thank you

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