Alumni Spotlight: Loudhouse Creative

Alumni Spotlight Loudhouse CreativeWe love to spotlight our TSBC alums because we believe there is always something we can learn from one another’s experiences. Francesca Fuges of Loudhouse Creative recently exhibited at the Las Vegas Market; her second tradeshow in the last year. We sat down with Francesca to get her feedback on the show. But first, her story.

Francesca started Loudhouse Creative in 2013, primarily as a design firm working with branding and packaging clients. In 2015, she stumbled upon letterpress printing and started making greeting cards for friends and family. She fell in love with the process of printing and wanted to expand her design work into sellable products.

Although she was new to the paper business, Francesca signed up for the National Stationery show immediately. Knowing she needed help marketing her new business and figuring out the mysteries of selling wholesale and trade shows, she joined us for Paper Camp in 2015 before her National Stationery Show debut.

Prior to NSS, Francesca spent time developing her product line to include greeting cards, gift items and she added a holiday collection.  She researched retail stores that had a similar aesthetic to her cards and created a mailer introducing herself and her line.  Both exercises are key to creating a solid wholesale foundation.

Las Vegas Market | January 2017

Francesca is freshly back from the Las Vegas Market, where she was one of the Artisanal LA vendors. She used hard-walls for her 7’ by 6’ space, which was located toward the back of the show but on an end-cap giving her lots of space to spread out. She used vinyl signage for her logo and booth number. She utilized two types of shelves to display her cards and also hung an aisle sign to draw traffic into her booth.

“Since my location was less than desirable, I had to hustle for my orders,” she said. “I’m not a natural hustler so it was a growth experience for me. But the retailers were so nice and many from stores I wouldn’t normally think to send mailers to, like pharmacies, clothing boutiques, hotel gift shops, etc.”

The overall vibe of the Las Vegas Market was very different from the NSS as well. While it was a little slow, the cost of doing the show was significantly less than the NSS.

“I felt a lot less intimidated than I did at NSS and therefore it was easier to talk to people. Since there were only a handful of stationers (it’s primarily a gift show), we were able to stand out a bit from the other vendors.”

Francesca was comfortable with her investment in the show and pleased with the results.  Participating in a shared booth lowered her exhibiting costs and Artisanal took care of logistics like ordering walls and lighting removing items from her to do list. Francesca felt that the energy in Las Vegas was slower than New York, yet she received the same number of orders at both shows — but the order in Las Vegas were higher volume and larger dollar amounts. Francesca said that show management was very accommodating and sent a crew to unload her car and bring her boxes to her space!

What I’d Do Different in Biz

“I created and launched my line within a year (while also learning to letterpress and trying to discover my illustrative style). Looking back on it, though I’m glad I created a deadline for myself, I would have taken a bit more time to really craft my line, particularly my illustrations, and figure out my ‘look’ instead of rushing to be ready for a launch date that was self-inflicted. Since NSS, I’ve gone back and changed several cards in order to make them more visually interesting and removed cards that I was unhappy with.”

Biggest Tip for Newbies

“Find your unique voice and style in order to stand out in the market. Be selective with what you put out into the world and make sure your line looks like a collection. Create rules for yourself to follow as a guide—colors (envelopes and overall palette), font style, tone (funny, sweet, snarky). This helps in creating a cohesive line and building a successful brand. That said, don’t let the rules stifle you. They can be broken. It’s your business. To quote Cartman, ‘Whatever, I do what I want.’”

Of course, we want to shout out some of the other alums who were also at Las Vegas Market. Congrats to Cara at Underwood Letterpress, Alex of Chez Gagné, Lisa of Tiramisu Paperie and Julie of Kiss and Punch Designs.

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By |February 21st, 2017|0 Comments|

Packaging Your Products Without Breaking the Bank

product packagingCan we talk about product packaging for a minute? You want your products to look unique and stand out from the crowd, but you don’t have to break the bank to do it.

There are so many packaging options available, and it’s important to know when to follow the crowd and use standard packaging and when to get creative and do your own thing.

Ultimately, your product packaging must make it easy for the end customer to understand what your product is and how they can use it. And, from a business standpoint, you want to ensure that your packaging looks great, is scaleable and doesn’t cut into your profit margins. Here’s where to focus.

Keep it Simple

We all want beautiful packaging, but the more elaborate it is, the more expensive it is in terms of both time and money. While that gold twine and foil-stamped tag that are hand-tied to your boxed notes look super cute, they add an extra step and more cost to your fulfillment process. Plus, what happens if you get an order for 1,000 boxes? Can you get that out the door quickly?

In the stationery world, cello sleeves and clear acetate boxes are the norm for a number of reasons. Keep it simple and where there’s an industry standard, stick to what is tried and true.

Keep it On-Brand

You want your audience to immediately identify with your product and recognize that it’s your brand and product when they see it. Think about your colors, your logo, your style and include these elements on packaging. You can dress us standard packaging with custom stickers, belly bands or insert cards, all low-cost items that add personality while not adding huge steps in the fulfillment process.

Keep Costs Down

Remember that you need to factor packaging costs into your production costs. If you don’t know what it costs you to make one single item, run those numbers now. Factor in your hard costs of creating your product, your packaging costs, your time and any labor costs. Run these numbers for each type of product you sell (mugs, art prints, greeting cards, etc.) and revisit them regularly so that you know these numbers well. The higher your production costs, the lower your profit margin and we want high profit margin!

Some Resources

  • Clear Bags gives us a run-down of stationery packaging from the last 20 years, and we imagine that it will continue to develop as our industry’s needs change. How will your business meet tomorrow’s changes? Clear Bags is also a great resource for packaging.
  • GT Bag is another great resource for cello sleeves. If you need bags with flaps, they have amazing non-static strips! Let them know TSBC sent you for a discount on your first order.
  • Digital Lizard is a commercial printer offering all sorts of custom print services that work well for packaging—insert cards, belly bands and stickers.
  • Sticker Giant provides a wide range of custom sticker options for your product packaging or your shipping boxes. You can even get 20% off your offer with our coupon code: TSBC15

Try to find a balance between using packaging that mirrors your brand, makes it simple for you to fulfill and merchandises well for your retailers. Use our Price It Out worksheet can help you get started. Grab it below.

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By |February 14th, 2017|0 Comments|

Wholsaling: Top Tips for Building Your Catalog

building your catalogCatalogs are an important and necessary sales tool for your wholesale business. But they are also expensive and time-consuming to produce so you want to make them as effective as possible.

Whether you’re attending tradeshows or sending samples to stores, a catalog is a must-have. Let’s take a closer look at what to include.

Contact Information

A catalog is meant to generate business, but when your contact information isn’t easy to find, buyers may go elsewhere.

Add your contact information at the footer of every page, without exception. Include your phone number, email address, website and social media handles. That way, a retailer can immediately get in touch with you if they have questions or want to place an order.

Product Descriptions

Product descriptions are an important part of your catalog. You want to clearly explain what the products are, how they are used and provide concrete details that will help the retailer know if they are a good fit for their customers. Don’t leave questions unanswered.

Your product descriptions should include what it’s made of, the size, pricing information and your minimum quantity requirements. Have trouble coming up with the right words? We’ve got some help for you.

Product Photography

Product photography is what separates a catalog from a line sheet. Investing in product photos is a worthwhile investment because you can use the photos across your sales tools and marketing materials, including email blasts, social media posts and press inquiries. Whether you hire a pro or DIY your photos, use a mix of styled photos and direct images so buyers can see the details of your products and visualize what your products will look like on their store shelves.

At the end of the day, you need to make it as easy as possible for your retailers to buy. Having a well-designed and detailed catalog is a necessary sales tool that will set you aparat from the competition. You’ll look polished, professional and accessible to your buyers.

For more information, you can watch my short video or take my CreativeLive course about catalogs.

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By |February 7th, 2017|0 Comments|

Case Study: E. Frances Paper Launch Story

E. Frances Paper Launch StoryPro Tip: Launching your wholesale line at a trade show is not your only option.

In the paper industry, many brands look to the National Stationery Show to serve as their wholesale debut. It’s a great place to meet buyers, get feedback on your products and build relationships with press, reps and other designers.

Many thriving businesses are introducing their product line to buyers outside of shows and doing it successfully. Take E. Frances Paper, for example, one of Paper Camp’s 2013 alums.

After attending Paper Camp that February, owners Ali Flippin, Jenni Laundon and Pippi Roberts knew they weren’t ready for a big launch at the NSS that May. They wanted to spend time further developing their product line, building a marketing strategy and refining their sales tools before they reached out to retailers.

The E. Frances team traveled from their home base of Newport, Rhode Island to New York to scope out the National Stationery Show. They walked the show, took some pictures and made the decision to ease their way into the business.

“We were still figuring it out back then,” says creative director Ali Flippin. “We are grateful now that we didn’t rush it and launch because the NSS is a whole bundle of figuring it out.”

Instead of a big-bang launch at the show, the group focused on perfecting their product and developing business systems as they worked on their mailing list and soft-launching the company.

After Googling and researching stores they thought might be a good fit for their product, the team sent out packages to introduce themselves. They used a tier system, with the biggest packages going to those stores that were the best fit. The gifts included a balloon, samples and more information about E. Frances.

“We wanted to bring on new customers and encourage social shares to introduce our name to retailers. It worked well and we built on that,” says Flippin.

As those new customers came on board, the team was able to develop and refine systems for fulfilling orders. They figured out what size boxes they needed, how to package the product, how much time it takes and what kind of inventory they’d need on hand. They started small, gradually adding handful after handful of new customers.

E. Frances participated in its first NSS in May 2014, and by then, they were ready. The company doubled its wholesale accounts while there, proof that their hard work and preparation had paid off

Today, E. Frances is found in the national chain Paper Source as well as specialty and boutique stores across North America and in Europe, Asia and online.

The Low-Down, from Ali Flippin

“We should have hired a bookkeeper way earlier than we did. I thought we were too small, we couldn’t afford something we could do ourselves, etc. But it changed our business drastically—organizing our books, preparing us for taxes, giving us general advice about organizing our banking. It’s the absolute best money you can spend. You can start off pretty small with a freelance bookkeeper, for only a few hours per month. Running a company, no matter how small, is still running a company, and requires a lot of accounting and organizational skills. If you don’t have these skills, outsource!”

Ali’s Thoughts on Paper Camp

“We could not have done it without Paper Camp. When we started, there wasn’t any information online about starting a paper business. The things I learned from Paper Camp were invaluable, from preparing for the show to standard processes to business standards.”

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By |January 31st, 2017|0 Comments|

Client Relationships: Management Tools for Creative Entrepreneurs

CRMs for Creative EntrepreneursEmailing prospects.

Following up with retailers after a show.

Tracking who you’ve sent catalogs and samples to in an organized fashion.

These are all good business practices that shouldn’t find you scrounging through old business cards or digging into your inbox. With the right customer relationship management tool, you can do all of these things (and so much more). And many of our favorites have added benefits too.

Here, we have a short review of some of the CRMs used by Paper Camp alumni, and resources we’ve found to really help you have positive client communications and relationships.

Podio

Podio is one of the more popular CRMs favored by our alums. It’s a project management system and contact management system rolled into one.

From a CRM standpoint, Podio allows you to track clients, their purchases, add notes and upload files to company profiles or specific contacts. When you send a retailer a catalog and a few samples, you can mark it for follow-up in a few weeks.

For project management, Podio enables you to create systems and project workflows for things like order fulfillment and other internal processes. Everyone on your team can see what tasks have been completed and what items still need to be tackled.

Depending on the level you choose, you can create visual reports, sync contacts with other tools, automate your workflow and more. Packages start at $9 a month for the basic plan.

Insightly

If you like to keep your contacts in your inbox, Insightly is a free tool that integrates with a number of accounting and business tools. Track leads, enter notes, create projects and milestones, know where a potential customer is in your sales funnel.

Additional benefits are available in paid versions of this tool, which starts at $12 a month per user.

FreshBooks & QuickBooks

FreshBooks and QuickBooks are both accounting programs, but they’re also handy for maintaining your customer lists and notes. You can also track revenue by client so you know which clients order more frequently and who places the highest volume orders.

If you’re doing custom work or collaborations, these tools also offer time tracking and reporting systems for revenue and expenses by project. Added bonus: Many accountants prefer QuickBooks for bookkeeping and organizing your finances for taxes. QuickBooks and Freshbooks are easy to use if you’re doing your own bookkeeping and taxes too.

Postable

While Postable isn’t a CRM service, they sure make it easy to build strong relationships with clients through snail mail. Their address book feature makes it easy to manage your mailing list and ensure your contact list is up-to-date. Simply send your contacts a link requesting their physical address and Postable will collect and/or update them in your address book for you.

You can also request birthdays of your contacts and Postable will send you a reminder so you can choose a card, type a message and they’ll print and send it for you. It’s a great resource for staying connected to your personal and business contacts. You can also export the list and move it to a full CRM at any time.

Whichever direction you decide to go, we recommend choosing something that helps keep you organized and efficient. We don’t know what we’d do without our own systems!

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By |January 24th, 2017|0 Comments|

Booth Brainstorm: Signage

Booth Brainstorm: SignageThe sign you hang in your tradeshow booth is your “address” for the show. It’s how people find you and it’s up to you to make sure that you’re easy to find!

There are a lot of options when it comes to signage and we encourage you to weigh several considerations when choosing:

  • How much does it cost?
  • Is it easy to transport?
  • Is it easy to install?
  • Can I reuse it?
  • Does it match my brand aesthetic?

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular signage options and their pro’s and con’s to help you as you make the best decisions for your business.

Vinyl

Cut vinyl is, by far, the most popular signage option for several reasons. It’s cost-effective, easy to transport and install and it comes in several colors so you can match your branding. Because it’s inexpensive, we recommend ordering a few extra duplicate pieces so you can practice installing it at home and have a back-up at your show.

The downside to vinyl is that it’s one and done. Once you install it, you can’t remove it and reapply it somewhere else. If you’re looking for something you can use for multiple shows, this isn’t the signage for you. But vinyl is a great option for elements that change over time, like your booth number, reps wanted or even the names of your product categories.

Pro Tip: Check your vinyl when it arrives to make sure it’s the right color and style. Don’t wait until the show.

Wood or Acrylic

Wood and acrylic signs look great and can be customized to your brand style and colors. These signs are sturdy when transporting and can be easy to hang. If the sign is large, you’ll want to consider shipping it and factor in more time for installation.

The biggest downside to wood or acrylic signs is the cost. These types of signs are a larger investment, so you’ll want to use it for signage that will have a larger lifespan; your logo, for example. You may not want to use it for things like your booth number, which changes every year.

The best part about wooden or acrylic signs is that you can reuse them at future tradeshows, craft shows or hung in your office, which saves you money in the long run.

Fabric Banner

A mid-level sign, the fabric banner is relatively inexpensive and can also be used multiple times before the wear begs for a new one. Being made of fabric, the banner is lighter than most, travels easily and is quick to display just about anywhere.

The drawback with fabric banners is that fire code requires that it be fireproofed, an extra step you have to go through to be up to standards.

Aisle Signs

While not allowed at every tradeshow (check the guidelines first), an aisle sign is an additional sign placed in the aisle of the show, hanging off your booth wall. It draws more attention to your booth than just the sign at your booth, increasing foot traffic as potential customers and partners wander the show.

Of course, because this would be an additional sign, there’s an added cost involved. Consider going a more conservative route on sign style for this secondary sign.

Your booth signage is just one thing to consider when budgeting for your next tradeshow. Keep your eyes peeled as we help you brainstorm other costs in future Booth Brainstorm posts. And for budgeting help on your booth, grab our budgeting worksheet.

 

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By |January 17th, 2017|0 Comments|

How to Time Your New Product Releases

Timing New Product ReleasesCreating new products and tinkering with new design ideas is why many of you went into business. It’s the draw of the creative process. You love to brainstorm, create and then create some more. And it keeps your business exciting and alive—for you and for your bank account.

Releasing these new products is your ticket to business growth. It sets you apart from the competition and shows retailers that you’re serious about your business and your product line. But it’s important to realize that timing is a major factor with new releases, particularly when you’re selling wholesale.

At Paper Camp, we talk a lot about scheduling and timing, but we’ll give you the quick and dirty version here.

Timing

It’s important to recognize that the wholesale buying cycle is very different than retail buying schedules. Retailers are buying product months in advance of the season.

For example, holiday cards should be ready by May; love and Valentine’s Day cards should be ready by October. And calendars and planners need to be ready for market a whole year in advance. Buyers are currently looking at 2018 calendars and planners and we’re not even a month into 2017!

If you’re late to market, you’ll miss out on sales. So know your production timelines and work backward from your intended release date to make sure your products are ready. Knowing and abiding by these wholesale buying cycles will enable you to maximize your sales and ensure you’re not leaving money on the table.

Frequency

In an ideal world, we’d like you to release new products three to four times a year. Most companies new to wholesale release products once a year, commonly in May to coincide with the National Stationery Show. If this is you, don’t stress. You’re not alone! But make it a priority to add more frequent releases throughout the year. It will be worth it, we promise.

Reorders

Buyers want to see that you’re serious about developing your product line. Paying attention to buying cycles and releasing new cards are two positive ways to get their attention.

Samantha Finigan of Gus & Ruby has told us, “We love longstanding partnerships and are committed to developing strong relationships with our vendors, but we do expect commitment from them to continuing to develop their line and keep us interested.”

We’ve heard repeatedly from retailers that they’re more likely to place reorders with manufacturers that release new products regularly.

So know the buying cycles, build out your production schedule and work your way up to three to four release schedules per year. You can also keep our handy sample release schedule guide nearby to keep you on track.

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By |January 10th, 2017|0 Comments|

What to Pack for Paper Camp

Paper CampOur February Paper Camp is filling up fast, and we’ve started getting requests for packing lists. Paper Camp isn’t your traditional industry conference; it’s truly an opportunity to learn and grow your business alongside some of your new best friends.

But to have the best experience possible, you’ll want to be prepared. Use our list of packing tips to make sure you have everything you need.

Product Samples

During camp, you’ll have at least two opportunities to talk one-on-one with a camp speaker. This is a great time to show off some samples, ask follow-up questions after their presentations and get to know industry leaders a bit better. Having samples handy will give you a starting ground to talk about your business and any plans you have down the road. And you can get some great feedback from those who have been in the trenches for a while.

Business Cards

You will meet your new biz bff at Paper Camp. We’re sure of it. And you may even meet a new collaboration partner or two. No matter who you’re connecting with, you’ll want to stay in touch. Bring a stack of business cards to hand out so you can find one another again, once you get home.

Questions

Paper Camp is all about getting you the information you need so you can move your business forward. We know that it’s easy to come up with questions when you’re working your business, but it’s equally easy for forget them when you’re away. Be sure to come to camp with a list of questions ready. Keep them with you during the presentations and when you’re mingling with other attendees and speakers so you can clear up any confusion you have before you pack up to leave.

Planner/Notebook

This is less a “what to bring” and more of a “what you’ll use” while you’re at Camp. You’ll receive a Paper Camp binder, complete with handouts, a quick reference calendar and planning tools, and we’ll also provide you with a notebook to capture all your big ideas and amazing plans. You’ll be armed with a playbook to help you create or refine your wholesale program and prepare for your tradeshows, and be able to plot dates on your calendar.

If you are joining us for Paper Camp, welcome! We can’t wait to dig in. You’ll be joining a stellar list of Paper Camp alumni who are doing amazing things in their businesses. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, what are you waiting for? We’re almost sold out. Sign up today!

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By |January 3rd, 2017|0 Comments|

3 Rules of Processing Wholesale Orders

Wholesale RulesSelling wholesale is a great way to scale your business, but it is a whole different ball game than selling direct to consumers. There are important rules you need to follow when wholesaling, specifically surrounding shipping orders and processing payment. Rules that you may not know when you’re new to wholesale (I didn’t!) but when broken may hurt your relationships with buyers or impact future sales.

If you’ve been hesitant to sell wholesale because you don’t know what to expect or you’ve been unsure how things work, we’re here to help.

It’s time to brush up on some rules for wholesale order processing so you look professional and polished–even if you’re faking it until you make it! We’ve even included a list of 23 wholesale terms you need to know if you’re just starting out. Find the download at the end of this blog!

Ship on the Requested Date

Buyers carefully choose their ship dates based on a variety of factors that you are not privy to: credit card cycles, turn schedules in the store, other orders they have coming in and available storage space. If they request a specific ship date, ship on that day–not a day sooner; not weeks early or late.

But we’re ready early. They’ll love to have my products a week early. Not likely. When you ship, that messes up their schedule and makes you look unprofessional. Stick to your agreed-upon ship date to avoid any issues.

Process Payment When Orders Ship

Charging the buyer’s credit card before the ship date (see above) is a red flag that you’re new to wholesale. Run the payment when the order ships, and send your customer the shipping details so they know the order is on the way.

Communicate Clearly

Things happen in business, and your customers understand. But only if you communicate with them to let them know what’s going on. When you run into backordered items or shipping issues, talk to the buyer about what’s going on. If possible, have a solution ready when you communicate so your customer knows you have her best interest at heart.

Creating a profitable, sustainable wholesale program is our main focus at Paper Camp, and one that we talk about often here on the blog. If you haven’t already registered for Paper Camp, we’re almost full. Get your ticket today!

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By |December 27th, 2016|0 Comments|

Beyond Bootcamp: Deciding What to Delegate

Deciding what to delegate

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” – John C. Maxwell

There comes a time in most businesses when you’ll want to start hiring a team. You simply cannot do it all, and if you want your business to grow, delegating is key.

I recently did a webinar with Heather Crabtree about delegating, where I identified four steps to figuring out what you need to delegate.

Track Your Time

Before you can hire someone, you need to know where you’re currently spending time in your business. Spend a week tracking everything you do—how much time you spend on social media, talking to clients, checking email, engaging with your clients, etc. You can use a time-tracker like Toggl or use a spreadsheet to check off what you are doing throughout the day. It’s up to you how detailed you get, but don’t try to analyze the time just yet. Just track. And as you’re doing this, you may see some habits that you can adjust to save yourself some time (too much social media, maybe?).

Get Organized

Next, you’ll want to organize your time into “buckets.” Create some high-level buckets of where you spend your time—client work, marketing, accounting, administration and even family/personal are good places to start, but feel free to add any others that work for your business. You will use information from your time tracking to help you decide which buckets you need.

Then, within these bigger buckets, try breaking out some of the smaller tasks. In the accounting bucket, you might find bookkeeping, taxes, payroll, invoicing, etc. In the marketing bucket, you’ll find content creation, content scheduling, research, advertising, etc.

Analyze

Now that you know where you’re spending your time and how those buckets fit together, it’s time to analyze. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • What is taking up the most time in your business?
  • Which tasks do you love doing?
  • Which tasks feel like they drain you?
  • Which tasks are revenue-generating?
  • Which tasks do you not need to do yourself?

Keep in mind that what works for one company may not work for yours. Don’t jump on the bandwagon and hire someone for a task just because someone else hired her. You may not need help in that role and she may not be a good fit for your business—through no fault of her own.

Once you’ve determined where you’re spending your time and which tasks you may want on your plate, it’s time to think about bringing people onto your team.

Hiring

It’s important to hire people who have a specific expertise. You wouldn’t hire a general virtual assistant to take care of your books for you; you’d hire a bookkeeper or an accountant. And you wouldn’t hire a social media manager as a full time employee without first trying her out as a contractor.

Focus on hiring the right people for the right roles in your business to make delegation more comfortable for you and a road to success for your new team members.

I encourage you to watch my free webinar for more on how to delegate. This is the perfect time of year to start thinking about what kind of team members you’ll need so you can hit the ground running at the beginning of the year!

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By |December 20th, 2016|0 Comments|