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I have no idea what I'm doing. Do you?

Updated: Nov 15


BOAC Boeing 707 passenger airliner. Funny joke about not being able to fly a plane.

You’d think it would be easy to set up and build a greeting card business. After all, it’s only dealing with folded pieces of card. You design them, you print them, you sell them, you post them. Nothing could be simpler. Except it isn’t, of course. A successful business never is.


Like me, and probably like most other independent card publishers, you bemoaned the lack of original and funny cards and decided you could do better. So you bang off a few nifty ideas on your tablet, or as in my case, on a tatty A4 pad with a half-eaten HB pencil. You’re then armed with what you think are fab cards. People will love these! you enthuse. They’ll sell in their millions! you whoop with delight. I’ll put down a deposit on that Aston Martin first thing tomorrow morning! Wooo!


If only.


So what are customers looking for? I have no idea


What makes a funny card sell? I have no idea. Retailers don’t know either. I’ve asked them. I’m not sure even their customers know what they like. I suspect humour cards, in particular, are difficult to judge as they’re highly personal.


I was in a garden centre a couple of years ago doing research by leering over people’s shoulders to see what cards they were picking up. It’s a wonder I wasn’t arrested. One elderly woman howled with laughter at a card. She couldn’t contain herself. Her Tena pants were probably bulging under the pressure. She beckoned her friend over, who read it and sniffed, and walked off unimpressed. I found this interesting, as despite these friends having lots in common, when it came to a humorous card, they were poles apart. What works for one, doesn’t for another.


This very personal aspect of humour cards makes it hard for us independent publishers, so we’re constantly second-guessing and lobbing designs out there and hoping for the best. This is neither clever nor efficient and is a weakness.


But this also can be seen as a strength. Being free to have a go and not give a damn can lead to unforeseen successes. It’s not the designs that fail that matter, but the ones that succeed.


How do you run a greeting card business? I have no idea


There are other aspects of the business I have no real idea about. These include:


  • Website design and maintenance - if learning how to use Adobe InDesign or any other design software wasn’t tiresome enough, you’ve got to learn how to piece together a blasted website. Then sort out the SEO. Then keeps tabs on it every so often. Then tweak it, again and again. I have no real idea how Google Search Console and Analytics work. I don’t believe anyone at Google does either. An hour on them is as exhilarating as enduring a chartered accountants’ weekend seminar without any alcohol

  • Social media and promoting - as someone who worked in advertising, I can tell you that when it comes to self-promotion the most useless at it are the ad agencies themselves. It’s odd but true. I can tell other folks what to do, but I have no idea how to do it for myself

  • Spreadsheets and admin things - it’s not within me to leap into an Excel spreadsheet and jump with joy. That’s what Excel stands for: EXcitement CELibacy. I’m an educated man with an attention span greater than that of a gnat, but when it comes to stuff like this, I do find my mind drifting off to more important things like making another cup of tea or wondering if the window frame needs sandpapering

Among other things that I have cocked up because I had no idea include getting the wrong postage on a wholesale order, ordering too many of the most expensive envelopes when most customers actually aren’t bothered as long as it’s white, and printing far too many trade catalogues that are now out of date. What a waste.


Of course, what isn’t going to waste is the knowledge I gained from all this. And this is the point of admitting to having no idea and making mistakes: you learn and get better at running your business.


What’s in the future? I have no idea


Getting this business moving forwards is a journey of failures and false starts, so persistence is the key. I do have a plan of where and what I want the business to be. I’ve got to keep developing every aspect of the business. Start, then finish. Then start again.


I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. Who does? Knowing my luck, as soon as I’ve created that million-dollar card, I’ll be hit by a bus. But that’s life. And of life, I have absolutely no idea what that’s about.

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