In a world where online shopping is the norm, starting to sell your cards online seems like an obvious first step when launching a greetings card business. With relatively little (to no) initial investment, it can be a great way to test the water and see if your cards really sell.
There are a number of online companies offering a print-on-demand service, that will print and ship your designs direct to customer, paying you royalties for every sale – sites like thortful.com, cardly.net and Fy! Some high-street retailers, for example Scribbler, also offer this service, enabling designers a chance to feature on their website without first being trialled as a wholesale supplier.
Sites such as these are a great way of seeing whether the greetings card market responds well to your designs. These platforms allow you to upload designs to a unique profile page and then all you have to do is wait for a sale, at which point the company pays you a royalty, usually in the form of a % of the final sales price.
For someone starting out in the industry, these sorts of online sites are perfect: no upfront investment in stock and the chance to get your cards in front of hundreds of potential buyers using sites that already have great SEO and are known by many. You can also use their quick-upload and turnaround times to explore trend-led card designs, depending on what is currently being talked about in popular-culture and the news. These sort of designs might have a shorter shelf life, but can do wonders for your sales figures for the duration of the trend (in the case of Brexit, it’s a very long one).
Another avenue to consider as a greetings card start-up is selling through platforms such as Etsy.
Whilst the start-up costs for opening an Etsy shop are a bit higher (you of course have to have your own stock printed in advance of opening your shop and you may not sell items that you list, and listings also expire after a few months, which is a downside), it still remains a relatively useful platform in getting you those initial sales.
Etsy has a high amount of traffic visiting the platform every day, with people looking for a unique product for made by an independent creator. Once you’ve got yourself noticed and made those precious first few sales, things will start to gain momentum, especially around the main card-sending seasons. Typically, sales to begin with on Etsy are slow and you may find that it takes weeks to get noticed and so investing in paid ads on a small daily budget that you can easily tweak is often a good way to start. It is important that upon opening your shop, you make sure that your shop settings are optimised, and take the time to get visually appealing product shots that really show-off your brand.
As a review-based business model, it is important that when selling on Etsy you make sure you go the extra mile for your customers. Consider freebies (they don’t have to cost the earth, but a little surprise in the order really makes a difference), as well as handwritten notes and making sure your packaging is on-point. If a buyer has a question – or a problem – then make sure you respond quickly. Remember: the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. Yes, you might lose out on a bit of profit, but it’s better than a stinking review that might drive away future business. You’ll always get people determined to leave negative feedback (sadly), but thankfully, the majority of people I have dealt with on Etsy have been really quite lovely and understanding when it comes to admitting you’ve made a mistake… so long as you do admit it, rather than ignore it and hope the problem goes away!
The downside of selling on platforms such as Etsy is that you need to take fees into account – Etsy charge listing fees and take a percentage of the final cut. This is why it is so important to make sure your items are priced right. Spend some time researching what similar businesses charge for their items and do not undersell yourself. Especially with cards, people will pay for the item because they really like the design – 50p here or there won’t make much difference to someone who has invested so much time finding the ideal design. That said, it is important not to overprice your items, or compensate for a low item price with high postage costs. There have been many times I’ve gone to make that perfect purchase only to have been stung by a whopping £2.50 postage fee for an item costing the same if not less. It almost always puts me off buying the item, and I am left feeling bitter towards the seller.
Promotion is key when maximising your Etsy sales. Consider sharing all of your designs to social media – Instagram is a great tool for sharing attractive visuals, as is Pinterest. When you create a new listing on Etsy, pop it on Pinterest as a new pin immediately so that your promotion starts straight away. Additionally, spend time analysing your Etsy stats, working out where your traffic is coming from and then focussing your advertising on these areas. The more you understand about your traffic, the more you can drive it.
The other option when starting your own business is to sell your cards through your own website. This is most certainly the hardest way to start out in the greetings card industry, the main reason being that if you’re a new business, no one knows who you are. And if no one knows who you are, no one is going to be looking for you. Unless you are an absolute SEO wizard (I, for one, am not), then selling through your website is going to take a lot of time and will only increase once you have invested a lot of time in getting your brand into the big wide world.
If you are determined to sell your cards through your website, consider linking a third-party app, such as Etsy, to your account. That way you won’t have to pay expensive e-commerce fees that you will invariably be charged. If you are determined to open your shop straight away, make sure you invest a lot of time into promoting your brand and make it clear to customers that your designs are available for purchase through your site at every opportunity. Spend time optimising your website SEO (thankfully, some user-friendly website builders such as Wix offer handy SEO guides to help you with the basics) and make sure that you’re as visible as possible to your customers. If you are one of the lucky ones to make your website a success, it will be worth all of the effort.