From Doodles to Dollars
How I Sold Over 200,000 Greeting Cards in a Country Only Twice the Size of New Jersey
My story is one of failure and disappointment…and ultimately, success. I now have a steady income out of my greeting cards. To get there, I’ve had more rejections in my inbox than offers to enlarge my penis.
Here’s one from 2005:
I called every greeting card publisher out there. I called and emailed and I sent them artwork over and over again.
It took three years, but finally I sat down with a major publisher who sells greeting cards throughout Europe. They said I could start instantly and so I did. There was one teensy-weensy thing that I found out a little late in the process. The publisher wanted to have the right to modify my designs. I told him he’d have to find somebody else for the job.
There was this one publisher that I REALLY wanted to work with and in 2011, they asked me to design 36 cards. They promised to present my line at the biggest stationery conference in the Netherlands. If there was enough of a positive response, they would publish my collection.
I got to work! For more than a month, I worked every minute that I could spare. I arranged for extra days of daycare for our son. I hosted a feedback party at my house. I printed and cut sample cards, put them in a display rack to look at them for hours and took them out to make changes until I was a 100% satisfied. When it was done I was proud to present the best I had to offer. Times 36.
Long story short, after the conference I got another rejection.
Was I disappointed?
No. I felt like burying myself in 36 tons of M&M’s, munching my way out of my misery only to to find a job as a mail carrier so that I could wipe my boogers on every NON-Betje.com greeting card before angrily stuffing them into mailboxes.
But I took a deep breath. I pulled myself together and I decided I could publish the cards myself. How hard can it be?
Then I heard about Greetz.com. It’s a cool concept: you can pick and write a greeting card online and Greetz sends it directly to the recipient through old fashioned snail mail!
I decided to give it a try and a few short months later, my collection was online!
In the meantime I had also found a sales rep, which meant I didn’t have to go to stores myself to peddle my cards. But the logistics of printing, storing, and sending the cards was still too time-consuming. Thanks to my sales rep I learned about a yet another publisher. Even though they were based in my hometown at the time, I had never heard of them. They mostly published calendars, as well as greeting cards in styles that were completely different than mine. For that reason, and because I had gotten used to rejections, I wasn’t expecting them to want to publish my work. But why not introduce myself, since we were neighbors?
I sent them an email and got… a very enthusiastic reply! They wanted to make calendars together right away and over time they started to publish more and more of my greeting cards.
Am I done now? Nope! I moved to the USA and no doubt, I will find a publisher here!
What did I learn?
- Focus on your goal. I could have sold my greeting cards throughout Europe nine years ago. But I would have been the tool of a large publisher. I’m not saying that’s wrong, it’s just not what I wanted. The publisher wanted me to work for them exclusively, so they got in the way of my goal.
- Invest. You can use your savings, take a loan, find an investor or, like I did, invest your time. I would never have searched for a publisher so obsessively if I hadn’t invested so much time in my collection. So while investing is part of being an entrepreneur, it’s also a great incentive to work even harder.
- Accept help. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who were willing to help me by going to stores to see if they wanted to sell my cards. Some of these people I never met in real life. They were a huge help — not only for sales, but more importantly, for moral support.
- Find other solutions. This may seem like I’m contradicting my first point, but working with Greetz didn’t get in the way of finding a publisher for retail. It also turned out to be the best thing that could happen to me. No other publisher would sell over 200 different designs from one designer (as Greetz does). Now customers can personalize and mail any of these Betje.com cards without even getting out of bed.
- Deal with disappointments. Anyone who wants to get anywhere will have to do this. Don’t take it personally, just keep asking how you can improve.
- Enjoy it! Writing all of this down, made me realize I keep forgetting this… I was already thinking about finding American publishers before I ever got to celebrating all that I have achieved already. Go after your dream, but make sure you take time to enjoy the ride.