I have quickly come to realize that the range of possible market avenues that I could explore far exceeds my time to do so. Plus, I’ve learned that this whole marketing and sales thing can be learned, but doing it on the job is a slow and painful process.
I’ve reached out to family and friends across the US and Canada. To a person, they were happy to learn of what I was doing and encouraged me. While several offered posts on their Facebook page or offered to show the Sample around, in the end no one had an interest or the time to do more. Totally understandable.
Since launching this effort, I knew that I’d need someone with real business experience if this was ever going to be more than a “hobby business”. At every opportunity, I’ve sought such a person or persons. I’ve been approached by an occasional earnest and talented recent college graduate already interested in marketing, advertising or sales. A few others have taken calendars to show when they headed south for the winter. I’ve also begun to look for actual independent sales agents with only partial success.
The most often repeated advice from people, who know such things, is that once I am selling in the range of 1,000 to 2,000 a year, the help I need will appear. It is all about showing that real money can be made with this product.
So now that it looks like sales of the 2018 edition will hit that mark, I’m hopeful that a team member or even a partner will soon be found.
Towards the beginning of the 2016, I was informed of an upcoming event called BizPitch. It is put on by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in this area, a very helpful organization. If you were selected, you could present your small business idea or actual start-up to a small group of local business-savvy people from various sectors. It was presented like the TV show “Shark Tank”, but without any money being offered.
I submitted my application and was one of 3 folks selected. The director of the local SBDC office who alerted me to the opportunity, drove me to the event. Fortunately, I wasn’t the first presenter because it showed me how it all worked. It took place in the classroom of the local community college. Tables ran around 3 sides of the room with the panel, observers and the other presenters sitting on the outside. The first presenter was a young man with some kind of mobile app idea. As he spoke from behind the lectern, it became apparent that the fellow was known to two of the panelists. The feedback was basically, “yes we’ve heard all this before, what have you done with the advice we gave you last time?” An awkward moment. So I was prepared for some tough love.
Since no one said not to, I had already spread out all of my stuff on the tables on the 3rd side of the room. So I was more or less ready when they said it was my turn. I stood near my materials and talked about the situation people face who are dealing with vision loss as they try to manage their daily schedule. I ran through my experience with seeking a product I could use and the path that eventually led to me starting my business. That story is on my website if they wanted even more information.
Over the next 20 minutes I showed them the original, partial-year calendar that got so many people to urge me to start the business. I showed them the 2016 version that I was selling and the Sample I created and sent out to prospective quantity buyers. Then at the end I passed out the profit and loss statement that the accountant I had recently hired to had created. I finished up describing how my first year went and my plans for the next year.
The time went by quickly and I heard little or nothing from anyone during my talk. So I was unsure what they’d say. With a smile growing on my face, I heard one positive statement after another from the panel. Some assumed that I had a business background because they approved of all I had done. One panelist was a numbers person and was thrilled to see actual figures on sales and expenses. One panelist took a Sample to show in a near-by city to the entrepreneur support group there. A young man who had come to watch took a card to give to someone he knew would be interested.
The most ironic part of the day came when the 3rd presenter promoting a summer camp at an unused nearby facility, bought a calendar on the spot. She was having increasing vision trouble and this was the first weekly planner that would work for her. That had to be my favorite part of the event.
During the first year, I had several retail outlets offering the calendar. As the second year started to roll around, I spoke to all of them. It appeared that those who best displayed the calendar sold them the fastest. Most of them agreed that if they could stand up the calendar rather than laying it flat, more people would see it and possibly buy it. Thus I was launched into the enormous world of “point of purchase” countertop displays. After this experience, I will never look at product displays in the same way.
After hours of store visits and online research, I narrowed down the options to two methods. One was a fold up display made of white cardboard that could hold about 10 calendars. The other option was a clear heavy plastic stand that would hold 3 calendars at a time. Each had their advantages and disadvantages.
The cardboard ones were cheaper but when shipped were quite large. Meaning they would not fit into the carton with the calendars. This meant both additional shipping cost, hassle and the store had to do some assembly to set them up. Although the acrylic display was more expensive, it would fit in the carton with the calendars. Lastly, I had to come up with a way to decide on the text that should go on the display and how to get it on either display without costing an arm and a leg or looking like a middle school art project.
So much effort exerted to encourage a few additional sales. But I choose not to look at it that way. If my goal was and still is to get these weekly planners into the hands of people who need them, then I need to do what I can to support these retailers. I chose the acrylic displays. I used the computer to print out another slogan, “Finally a calendar you can see”. My wife is far better with scissors and tape. She affixed it to the small panel across the bottom and taped it so it almost looked professional. Now we’ll just sit back and hear if it was worth all the effort.
Why did I add the slogan to the cover, “The calendar with the edge”?
Actually it started out, “The calendar with an edge”? Was it too “gimmicky”?
I kept hearing positive things about the benefit of the black edge around the weekly pages. That simple feature really helps those who share the same challenge that I have. I do not clearly see the edge of the page, especially when it rests on a white work surface or on top of other papers. So I decided to trademark this slogan and put it on the cover. I’m proud to let people know that this calendar might help those who could use an “edge”.
After the first year, it was time to consider what improvements were in order. For example, what about the location of the monthly pages; keep them up front, or slip them within the appropriate weeks? The cover raised several questions: alter the design, make it more durable, should it be a dark color? What about the holidays? Who knew there were that many to choose from? Because the design-print-sell cycle is so demanding, there was only a few months to make all of these decisions.
With the help of a new graphics person, I updated the appearance of the cover. Working with the printer, we found a way to both stiffen the cover and make it moisture-resistant and yet keep the cost down. For now, I decided that a white cover is fine and we’ll keep the monthly pages up front where they are.
All of these plans and decisions took much discussion, research and some agonizing. I listen closely to the feedback I get and continue to try to make this the most usable and accessible product of its kind.
I don’t know about you, but I am not fooled when something is priced at $9.95. That always means it costs $10 to me. Frankly I wonder how many people are fooled by such psychological manipulation. Why did businesses first begin doing this? I’m sure some very serious market research went into what seems a nearly universal practice.
So how do I price my product?
I’ve run this question past both friends, family and business professionals. Based on what I heard, here’s what I’ve decided to do at least for now. For the full-box order, don’t mess with the few cents less. But for individual buyers the “few pennies less” price.
I had to come up with a way to know how many EZ2See® Calendars the resellers would want before telling the printer how many to print. It is vital to know this number. While I hoped that individuals would find and buy my calendar, I was more worried that I’d print too many than too few.
I’m told that’s why we put the “reorder reminder” page in late summer or early fall in calendars.
How do I incentivize individuals and large companies to commit in time? Obviously it is by offering a price discount. What I’ve struggled with is how much of a discount to offer. Then there is the fact that the discount to a person who buys one planner and pays shipping needs to be a different discount than the one to a company who buys them by the box load and I pay for the shipping. These are things I have to consider.
Sadly, I’m still not on the radar by many past buyers or being found on the internet. No big deal, it is really the big orders that will guide my print decision. Each year, in order to encourage those early resellers to submit a purchase order in the summer, I offered “early bird” pricing. Then I work the phones and reach out to dozens of both old and potential new resellers, and I get a good number ordered in that window. But that last week in July really had my attention.
Why would I want to write for a blog? Who would even read it?
My web person tells me that having a blog raises my webpage ranking. When that happens, possibly more people will discover my calendar. So yes, I do want more people to learn of this calendar. Yet, doing a blog would mean I have to get comfortable inviting strangers into my “world”. It begs the question, why would anyone be interested in what I’m doing to make and market these calendars, let alone anything else going on in my life.
Then there is the very real fact that I barely can get done each day what needs to be done. Now I’m supposed to write about it as well? If I do this, I should sign it, “The Reluctant Blogger” So how do people who Blog find the time? I suppose it comes down to the old adage, you make time for what you want to get done. I will think seriously about this, especially if the posts can be short.