Back in August, I was lucky enough to interview Gia on Instagram so she could share her product experience with us. I originally met Gia last year and we instantly bonded over our love of hand-lettering, so I knew we had a lot in common, but was truly blown away by her honesty and focus as an artist in this industry.
And today, I’m excited to highlight a few of the gems she shared in our hour long conversation. If you’ve ever considered selling products or building your own product line, they listen up – she’s gonna knock your socks off!
Know Your Why
Before you even start considering selling your designs, whether that means licensing them to companies or creating your own products to sell directly to consumers, you need to understand your WHY because it will really inform every decision you make. So before you dive in head-first, really get clear on what fuels you and what you hope to accomplish.
Because surface design, and especially running a product-based business, is about 10% creative time and 90% nitty gritty, running the business. And if you’re not sure of your WHY, you’ll have a really hard time sticking with it for the long haul.
Treat it Like a Business
Gia and I both believe that if you want to eventually have a full-time business, you should treat it as such from day one. That means getting all the “boring” business stuff in order first – things like deciding between sole-proprietor and LLC, your EIN number, business license, and your sales tax exemption number, if you’re selling goods. I think Gia hit the nail on the head when she said:
We [creatives] like to just start making the stuff and just go, go, go, but you really have to get your business stuff in order because it will help you as you’re moving forward.
Because the last thing you want to happen is to suddenly be forced to put things on hold and rush to get your paperwork together. So if you work on these things at the beginning, your growth can have fewer roadblocks.
How to Sell Your Own Products
I don’t have any personal experience selling my own physical product, yet I always get asked about the best way to move forward. That’s why I was SO happy to be able to ask Gia – who had her own greeting card business for almost a decade – this exact question. And she offered up two different approaches:
1. Dip Your Toes in with POD Sites
If you’re not sure that selling product is something you want to do, starting with the low risk option of putting your designs on a POD site like Society6 or Spoonflower is a great option. It allows you to test out different ideas and find your niche. And if it works out well, you can slowly work towards opening your own online store.
Obviously since this is the slow route it can take several years to ramp up and get to the point where you want to wholesale, but that slower growth allows you to learn the business overtime.
Still, I know it can be frustrating to put in a lot of work and not immediately reap rewards. Gia said something brilliant about this and I agree with her 100%: I don’t think people give themselves enough runway…
If it’s something you really want,
don’t quit too early.
2. Deep Dive with Wholesaling
This second option may be riskier and require upfront funds, but it also has the opportunity for faster growth. So if you’re confident that creating your own products is what you want to do, this might be the way to go.
In fact, this was the route Gia took: she developed a full range of art prints, cards, and stationery, launched it a the National Stationery Show in 2014, and started selling to retail stores with help from wholesale reps she met at NSS. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, but also incredibly complex and overwhelming at times, or as she said:
You have to become a master juggler when you have a product line.
A few years ago, Gia decided to move away from developing her own product and focus more on licensing her artwork. It was a tough decision, but moving away from wholesaling gave her more personal time and allowed her to focus on her family while also retaining a larger percentage of her earnings (because you make very little on each product you make after factoring in all your costs).
Some might see her moving away from manufacturing as a failure, but Gia doesn’t see it that way and neither do I. Because life circumstances can change over time which means your business will likely change with it. Or as Gia so brilliantly put it:
What is success to you?
Meaning, you should never gauge your own success based on what it looks like for others. It’s important to always follow your own path, no matter what other artists are doing around you.
I hope you enjoyed these few takeaways from my chat with Gia, but there’s a LOT more that we covered in our time together like how many designs you need to start wholesaling, what cards subjects are best sellers, and tips for copywriting cards. Here’s a link to the full interview.
Gia is also a fantastic teacher and has several amazing Skillshare classes – my personal favorite is her How to Create a Perfect Color Palette class. And if you join her mailing list, she’ll send you a new color palette every month.