How I Started a Bespoke
Greeting Cards and Gifts Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Joanne and I run Joanne Hawker from my home office in Somerset, UK. I am a self-employed designer and maker who creates and prints special occasion greeting cards for those special life moments, some of which can be personalised with a message and in some cases hide special surprises. More recently, I’ve added cotton pouches and pennant flags to my range of products! But that’s not all you’ll find in my shop. I also have prints, keepsake decorations and pins too!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I left university in 2010 with a first class honours degree in Graphic Communication. However, not wanting to move to London, I struggled to find opportunities to apply for and I was unable to secure a job in the field that I had spent so long training to be in. So I went back to my old summer job full time, which was working as a crop worker on a pepper farm. I then spent my evenings drawing and working up my ideas into illustrations.
As a means to not let them go to waste, I opened an Etsy shop to try and make a bit of extra money and to give me a reason to keep drawing. It took over a year to get my first sale! I then went on to join a few print on-demand services online, and eventually saw a tweet asking for submissions to a site called ‘NotOnTheHighStreet‘, which is an online gift shop for unique greeting cards and personalised gifts. I applied (even though I thought I’d have no chance of getting through) and to my surprise, I was accepted. From then, I realised that there was a possibility this could become my career!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
When working a full-time job, time management was always going to be an issue, especially as my business grew. However, being efficient and realistic about what I had to achieve in the set number of hours I had available made it easier to work through my lists. Finance was also a little tricky, as the only money I had to put into this business was my own. This means I had to be careful about every small purchase!
For example, when it came to buying my first printer, I spent hours on Google comparing all of the different models, and reading hundreds of reviews before I finally settled on the one that would best suit my needs. My thinking was ‘If you’re going to invest in something you need to do everything you can to make sure you do it properly.’
£150 is not particularly a lot of money, but when you’re starting and have spent so long saving for it, it’s a scary amount to be parting with! There is also no shame in buying second hand.
A little later down the line, I started saving again. I really wanted a badge making machine, but they were just too much money . After a bit of research, and again reading lots of reviews, I realised that I couldn’t afford the model I wanted brand new. It was more than I was willing to risk on something that I didn’t know would sell. I subsequently spent weeks on eBay scouring the listings and eventually my model came up! It served me for years and I’d do it all again if I needed to!
Who is your target market?
My typical customer is usually someone looking for gifts or greeting cards for special occasions. My main gifting occasion is Christmas, but I receive a lot of orders around Father’s Day, since most of my customers are female and have children or are expecting! They also often seem to be looking to celebrate a milestone such as announcing a pregnancy to family, asking friends to become godparents or sending their other half some love on behalf of their baby bump.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
The primary method I use for promoting my greeting cards business is social media marketing. More specifically Instagram. I have invested in the occasional sponsored post on Facebook and Pinterest, but at the moment they’re not platforms I know enough about to maximize the benefits from them. They are definitely on the list of things that I need to learn and experiment with further!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
This is not something that I am actively monitoring so I’m unable to say. I get a few repeat customers through social media which is always really nice to see and I’m always really grateful for.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Since it is only me that works in my business, there isn’t really a culture per se! However, for myself, hard work, passion and enjoyment are the things that drive my business.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
I subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud so that I can have access to Photoshop and Illustrator. I couldn’t run my business without these! All of my new products are brought to life in Adobe Illustrator and all of the photos that I use to show off my newest products are edited, tweaked and cropped in Adobe Photoshop. I also have a subscription to QuickBooks through my accountant. It’s been such a time saver in some aspects and means that when I have a few minutes, I can pop in and do a bit of tidying up so it’s not all done in a mad rush at the end of the year!
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
There is not very much that I would do differently because it’s been a part of figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. To begin with, there were choices I made which may not have been correct, particularly in terms of technology that I invested in. Having spent hours talking to their customer services on the phone and via email, I learnt about the kind service I wanted to provide to my customers, and it was nothing like what I had received! They were cold, not particularly helpful and weren’t keen to find a resolution. So from then on I knew I wanted to be friendly and helpful.
Most recently, I added a new line to my product range, in which I also invested a significant sum of money. After a few months of research, parting with the money and working up the designs, I decided that it was no longer for me. I simply didn’t enjoy doing it and the initial enthusiasm had vanished and so, I sold off the stock. The joy had gone and I was out of pocket. That avenue simply wasn’t for me. Still, I believe that giving it a go was better than not trying it and later wondering, what if?
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I really enjoy the freedom that it gives me both creatively and personally. In the creative sense, I can design how and what I want to with no boundaries or rules. I am free to pull ideas out of my head and pursue them to the end, with no-one standing over my shoulder.
Running my own business also gives me a lot more freedom in my personal life. I can book a holiday when I like. If I need time off I don’t have to ask. If I want to attend creative events, I can just organise my workload around them and attend. I don’t have to ask for permission from a manager.
I probably work more hours being an entrepreneur than I did in my previous job, but I wouldn’t change that. It’s something that I love doing. I’ve met so many other brilliant creatives since I started running my own business, and it’s a great community to be a part of.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Admin, paperwork, accounts! The boring but essential things. I’d love to spend all day drawing and making greeting cards and gifts, but sadly that’s only one aspect of my business. I didn’t really have an interest in maths at school and, to be honest, it was my most difficult subject. So finding a good accountant who could help me was a no-brainer! She has made my life a lot easier and less stressful.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I love Jen Sincero’s – You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. And her second book – You Are a Badass® at Making Money. She makes a lot of sense throughout, and helped me to stop being my own worst enemy.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I’ll be content if I’m still creating new greeting cards and gift designs and bringing out new products. I have a few other avenues I’d like to explore but I’m happy to keep it as just me. I don’t want take on lots of employees and take over the world! Some may see it as unambitious, but if you’re happy then why go out of your way to change that?