In 2015, I sat down and designed my very first greeting card. It looked something like this:
Okay, that wasn't technically the first card that I "designed," but I chose it for this post for a few reasons. First of all, HOLY COPYRIGHT. Frankly, I was just really stupid thinking making cards about pop culture would be a good idea. And while I've surely tip-toed (and lost) with references since I opened shop, the majority of Knotty Cards were heavy on the pop culture back in the day.
So what changed? The first time I applied to be a part of Etsy Wholesale, I was denied for this very reason. Too much pop culture. So I read up on all that fun legal schmegal stuff and figured out that, yeah, that's dumb. Since then, I have received a cease and desist from a sex store who had claimed Good Vibes paired with an illustration of a vibrator belonged to them, but other than that things have been great on that end of business. So if you're thinking of including some sort of pop culture reference, I'd urge you to reconsider, or at the very least do some research to make sure you aren't going to potentially get sued.
Another thing about this particular time in my life was that there was literally nothing interesting about the aesthetic of my line. I was using free fonts, simple illustration, and there wasn't a whole lot of thought behind the concept. It took a big kick in the pants from someone higher in the industry to tell me to stop doing that. And that's why about a year into running Knotty Cards, I shifted from fonts and simple illustration to hand lettering and actually drawing. Oh, and I stopped designing literally everything that came to mind and got picky. That was a good move...here's why.
The second biggest mistake I made was assuming I had good quality materials. When I first started making and shipping cards, I was using an inkjet printer and high quality paper. The only thing is, the paper was high quality, but the print job was not. It took me being denied by the first boutique I ever approached to really accept the fact that the quality could and should be better. My reviews on Etsy were good, but they weren't great. I had some 1-3 stars saying they expected better quality. Here are a few from back in the day:
Annnd these types of reviews would keep me up at night. They still give me a lot of anxiety now even though I know things are better. But back then, I would get so mad and refuse to believe what my customers, the people spending their money, said. It made me furious because they were totally right. And that sucked. So I had to make a change.
It was a long road of researching printers and inks, and ultimately I decided to outsource to a local printer who I love and am forever indebted to. Seriously, he's the bomb and saves my ass almost every week. But the thing about outsourcing compared to printing yourself is you have to all of a sudden become selective AF about what you're designing for your line. Because now you're paying someone else for it. It was a huge adjustment, but it was perfect in that it helped me focus more on creating quality cards and designs. Don't get me wrong, I still have duds ALL THE TIME that never sell. But having that sort of middle man that I'm paying has made me think more about what I'm creating instead of just throwing stuff into the void hoping people like it. Because now if I'm "just throwing designs out," it looks like this:
So yeah, not doing that.
My third and last mistake I'm going to let you know about here (because there are tons), was that I was trying really hard to grow as fast as I could. I would look at other companies and think that I was just as good as them, so why wasn't I getting anywhere? I was stubborn, and I fought everything all the time. Customers, the post office, my own creative process. Everything. And that looked like creating products that didn't last or I didn't research enough beforehand, an adventure into gold foiled cards with some cheap machine that barely worked, and not realizing how long custom illustrations really take. It was a mess that first year. Was I even a stationery company? I really don't even know.
But last year, I finally started my journey into the land of acceptance. Acceptance that I really don't want to be like anyone else, that my process is unique to myself and my personal experiences, and that this journey is unique in and of itself. Don't get me wrong. I'm the least Zen person you're ever going to meet. Each week, I am freaking out thinking I've made the worst business decision ever. But I'm learning to accept that things will (or won't) happen in its own time for me and for Knotty Cards.
But just because you asked, here are a few other things I screwed up:
- Sending out wholesale orders without using cello sleeves or individually wrapping at all (See cover photo) -- Like did I just think cards magically stayed clean always? There was a gelato shop next door, like am I stupid
- Always responding to bad reviews. I had to have the last word. I've learned to pick my battles and the customer is usually always right.
- Not really figuring out my pricing. It's your money. Pretty important.
- Saying no to designs that weren't working even if I loved them. Not selling? Say goodbye. Move on. I still have a hard time with that one.
Overcoming those mistakes early on and learning to pivot has been the best lesson of all. Once you do it a few times, you sort of start thinking that no matter what, you can change things around and move forward in some capacity. So if you're just getting into this handmade small business world, here's my advice. YOU ARE GOING TO SCREW UP, AND IT'S GOING TO SUCK REALLY BAD SOMETIMES.
It's just business.
But you'll figure it out. And once you do, you'll feel super accomplished and ready to take on the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, until you realize there will always be things and mistakes and learning. And that's all okay because everyone else is still learning too. Even those big companies we're all looking up to :)