How to Start a Profitable Handmade Card Business

For over 15 years I ran a handmade card business with over 2,000 accounts and dozens of sales reps.

People often ask me how to make a living selling handmade cards. There is a big difference between making cards to sell in a craft market, and creating a handmade card manufacturing business. There is also a big difference between a commercially printed card business and a handmade card business. Craft cards are usually one-of-a-kind that can't always be repeated, and printed cards don't require as many supplies and hand skills as handmade.

Many designers have very different experiences in beginning a business, and here are some suggestions, of steps I took when starting out.

Step 1: Create a Handmade Card Line

  • Develop a line of 25-50 cards.
  • Order swatch books, envelope, paper and bag samples from suppliers.

Step 2: Get Feedback

  • Take cards around to local stores to get feedback. Don't try to sell them, just ask for professional advice.
  • Don't rely on feedback from just friends, relatives, classmates, or anyone who doesn't work in the industry.
  • Communicate clearly that you want brutal honest feedback, and that you won't get your feelings hurt if they don't like them. Be ready to accept rejection and learn how to deal with rejection.
  • If they don't like the cards, make sure you never leave that meeting without taking notes on how you can improve the line and recommendations on what direction you might pursue.

Step 3: Refine and Adjust

Readjust your designs according to your feedback. If line needs to be completely redone, start at phase 1 again. If only minor adjustments are needed, perfect them. Expand designs you do well with, and drop cards that received negative responses.

  • Learn about handmade card production and how to make a handmade card factory.
  • Think about how to simply your manufacturing.
  • Make sure your cards are profitable. If they aren't profitable, make adjustments.
  • Keep receipts for all your supplies.
  • Research suppliers and find several suppliers that carry the materials you need. Compare prices and find the most reasonable one.

Step 4: Get Your Business in Order

All of the following activities may be done earlier in the business development process, but about this time is when you need to start thinking of these things.

  • Get a PO Box. Unless your home address is very stable, get a Post Office Box. This will help keep your business separate from your personal life.
  • Get licenses. A business license is obtained in the city where the business is located The zoning license is usually obtained with your business license, in the city where the business is located.
  • Do you want a fictitious name? If you create a name for your business, you need to get it approved with the county clerk.
  • Get a resale license so you don't have to pay sales tax on manufacturing supplies. A resale license is obtained at the State Board of Equalization.
  • Get a bank account. Open a checking account for your business, separate from your personal account.
  • Set up credit accounts with suppliers. Submit your resale number with suppliers you think you will be ordering from. Apply for a credit line.
  • Research Stores. Start searching for the types of stores that you feel your cards will do well in. Collect their names and addresses on index cards or a database.
  • Create a one page business plan. Make an outline of how much money you plan to spend and how much income you hope to make for the first 6 months. 

Step 5: Get Your Paperwork in Order

  • Design a logo and create stationery letterhead. Include your business name, your mailing and shipping addresses, a telephone number and a one line slogan of your card line. An example of a description might be: "Greeting cards for a New Age" or "Handmade cards with a touch of humor".
  • Design a simple brochure that can be put into a loose leaf binder. Create an inexpensive brochure with all your card designs. Include a price sheet and ordering information.
  • Decide what stores you will approach first. Clarify specifically what stores you will approach and be prepared to sell.
  • Make sample deck. Prepare your sample deck with codes and prices per dozen/half dozen on the back.
  • Print or buy invoices, mailing labels. Order invoices and mailing labels with your business name, address and phone number on them. 
  • Set up your books. Keep track of your supplier names and addresses, expenses, income, what cards sold per month, and any other information you need to refer to.
  • Create a bill. Design a simple form for billing labelled "Overdue Notice". You will have to remind stores when their 30 days are up, in case they forget to pay on time.

Step 6: Practicing Selling on a small scale

  • Make sure you have all your manufacturing supplies for at least sales of at least 2,000 cards.
  • Familiarize yourself with local sales trends and what kinds of card people buy. Sell cards to at least 5-10 stores in your community and learn the lifecycle of a card sale. You will also learn what your top sellers are, which will help you plan your card line for the future.
  • Get shipping boxes. If you are on a shoestring budget, find stores that throw out small boxes (make sure they have not had food in them) and start collecting them. Otherwise find a local supplier. You can order free priority tape, mailing labels and boxes from the post office, and they will also pick up your packages for free at your doorstep when you register online. Once your business picks up, you may want to investigate other shippers such as UPS and FEDEX.
  • Go around to local stores and try to sell your cards. Set a goal to get at least 10 accounts.

Step 7: Find Reps

  • Contact reps. Once you have determined that stores are buying and reordering your cards, you may be ready to contact reps.
  • Learn how to work with a rep and set up rep paperwork. Set aside a file folder for each rep. Keep records of your correspondence, commissions paid, commissions due, pre-printed labels of their mailing address (you use these a lot!).

Step 8: Prepare to Grow

  • Make sure you are ready to grow and that your suppliers are dependable. Are you able to order larger quantities? Do you need to readjust your line of credit? Can you manufacturer two, three or four times as many cards? Stock up on emergency supplies that are hard to find.
  • Evaluate workspace. Set up your workspace for assembly line work. Determine where you will store large amounts of supplies and how you will organize and label different boxes of cards.
  • Investigate or invest in computerized record keeping. Evaluate record keeping programs such as Quickbooks. Look for programs that track inventory and commissions. Take a class at a local adult school and see which program you like.
  • Design new cards every three months. Get into the pace of putting new cards out in the market about every three or four months.

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Books on The Greeting Card Business

Get Your Greeting Cards Into Stores: How to Find and Work With Sales Reps (Updated 2017 paperback) If you like to make greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them nationwide.  Learn about changing trends in the indie card market and niche opportunities available for artists. Book includes detailed guidelines on pricing cards for a profit, getting professional feedback on your designs, finding sales representatives, pitching your card line to them, approaching stores, and the industry standards you should follow. Information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals and calendars.

Start and Run a Greeting Card Business From a British author, whose country has a long history of greeting card design, she takes you step-by-step through the process of starting and running your business with lots of useful practical advice to help you, including: - Deciding what type of cards to produce - Finding your market - Dealing with printers - Copyright and licensing - Pricing and profit. Kate's note: Some specs are different (card sizes) since it is UK standards.

Pushing the Envelope Things the small greeting card manufacturer needs to know about finding, recruiting and retaining a winning sales force can be found in this easy-to-read handbook. Written from both the manufacturer and sales rep perspectives, this nuts and bolts guide is full of industry information, sales tips and guidance for building successful and profitable rep relationships. Kate's Note: This book was written by my top selling sales rep in the country.

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