There are probably hundreds of things an artist could do before contacting a rep, but I am only going to list the most important ones. If you have accomplished the following tasks, I believe you have a strong foundation for working with a rep.
1. Create a line of at least fifty card designs.
While some reps will look at smaller card lines, the odds of getting picked up are much better if you have a selection of at least 50 designs or more. I would even aim for 100 if possible.
2. Get Store Accounts.
Get your cards into a handful of stores and make sure they are being reordered.
3. Find out if you are making a profit.
4. Make sure you have stock.
Ideally, it would be good to have at least 100 cards of each card design before taking on a rep. For example, if you have 50 designs, that would equal 5,000 cards. If you feel nervous about printing 5,000 cards, then make sure you can manufacture them quickly if you get a large order. This can be very risky. What if your new rep faxes you a $1,000 order? Are you confident you can fulfill it and ship it out right away?
5. Find Backup Suppliers.
Since running out of supplies is a serious problem, make sure you have second source before you start working with a rep. For example, if you run out of cellophane bags, it may take two weeks to get more shipped to you.
If you get into a real jam, it is OK to ask the rep about temporarily substituting a supply. Replacing an envelope flap style may not be as big of a deal as changing a paper color. All businesses can have supply problems, but you don’t want to start your relationship with a new rep by involving her in your supply problems.
6. Put an Office Together
Putting an office together can involve everything from filing systems, zoning licenses to checking accounts. This kind of information is available from any basic business book. I am only going to mention key things I think you need for a greeting card business.
QuickBooks is good for Manufacturing BusinessesI suggest using QuickBooks to keep track of your store accounts since it generates invoices, keeps a historical record for orders, and tracks inventory. Don’t feel like you must learn the whole program before you start a business, but as your business grows, it might be helpful to take a class.
Keep Paper Copies and Computer BackupsOn several occasions, I have found it helpful to keep a paper copy of orders received and shipped just in case I had to regenerate data. If someone snatches your computer or your hard drive fails, having a paper trail will allow you to recreate financial information such as how much money stores owe you and what reps need to be paid.
Some people rely on external hard drives for their backups, but I prefer storing data remotely in the “cloud.” If there is a fire, earthquake or flood, your data is safely stored offsite. Some services, such as Google, Amazon and Drop Box offer small amounts of free online storage. You might use this temporarily for urgent sensitive data, but eventually it might be easier to back up your whole computer offsite.
Remote cloud storage is nice because it automatically runs in the background on your computer and you don’t have to do anything. It only costs about $5 a month.
I recommend two storage services backblaze http://www.backblaze.com/and Crashplan http://www.crashplan.com/ primarily because they offer “versioning” for the Mac. Versioning allows you to go back in time and get 100 different versions of the same document at different stages of editing. There are many times I have overwritten data or art without realizing it. Then a week later, I find the original error and need the 9:00 o’clock version of the document (and not the 10:00, 11:00 or 12:00 versions). With versioning, I can easily go back to a particular time and date immediately before the error occurred, and download the uncorrupted version of the file from the cloud.
Get a Fax MachineWhile technology has moved forward and very few people use fax machines anymore, it might surprise you to learn that most sales reps often send all their orders by fax. This is because they usually write up an order by hand in a store with their own business forms. You will need a way to send and receive faxes.
Create sales support materialsIt helps a rep if you can provide her with support materials, such as a catalog, price sheet and ordering information. If all you can do is give her a 1 page flyer of your best designs, that’s better than nothing, but eventually you will need a catalog that shows all your designs. Reps often give these catalogs to store buyers to ponder over.
7. Get shipping supplies.
Temporarily it is easy to buy boxes at the office supply store, but they can be expensive. It is better to buy in bulk from a manufacturer who sells boxes in lots of 25. They are about half the price of the office supply store.
Free shipping supplies can be ordered from UPS, USPS and FEDEX, but be aware that these boxes often require you to pay prime shipping rates. You will need to do research and see what pricing works for you.
It is helpful to use extra padding when packing card orders because you don’t want the corners to get dinged or bent. I found that by wrapping several dozen cards together like brick or Christmas gift worked just fine.
8. Make sure you have cash.
It is important to have enough money in the bank to pay your rep commissions before you are paid by your store. Usually reps are paid 30 days after you ship the order (independent of whether you received a store payment). Some reps are willing to receive payment after you are paid by the store, but I prefer paying reps earlier rather than later.
As a rule of thumb, I would make sure you have at least $1,000 available for cash flow when you start out. As your orders increase, and checks start arriving, then you can gradually increase your cash flow amount.
9. Make sure you have time to run a business.
It helps to set aside at least 20 hours per week for your business, especially when starting out. You want enough time to follow through on making and shipping orders. I always tried to get orders out in 1-5 days after receiving them.
If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc.