November was the first major product launch of Illustrated Ministry. To say everything went smoothly would be…well, it’d be a major understatement. But I definitely learned a lot and wanted to share some of that with you. So, here are my Top 10 Lessons Learned from my First Product Launch (in no particular order).
1. Make an educated guess about how long you think it will take to create your product. And then double that.
What I needed was a production calendar. I wrote down everything that I needed to do, all of the illustrations I needed to draw, but I just didn’t think through how long everything would take. Case in point: I spent four hours drawing the three wise men. Now, I really like how they turned out, but did they need to take four hours? Nope. Was I planning on them taking fours? Definitely not.
I also didn’t take into account just how long it would take to put everything together once it was all done. Formatting the documents, getting all of the files in the formats I wanted them in and just organizing everything. So, make a guess and then double it. And that should be closer to being somewhat realistic.
2. Expect problems.
I don’t think I was expecting problems. So when I began to encounter them – it kind of freaked me out. Staples was a little late getting me my order of 125 sets (625 sheets of 4’x3′ posters) and when I went to pick up the 6 cases of packed poster tubes, I was so frustrated to find that they all had a dark black line on the bottom of the poster. Someone at the production center apparently didn’t load the paper correctly. So, it took almost another week to get all of the posters reprinted and delivered to me.
I couldn’t have prepared for that, but realizing that things like that are just probably going to happen…it will help you deal with them a little bit better.
3. If you’re shipping something, do your research and know all of your options.
After this initial product launch, I almost want to stick to strictly digital product launches in the future. Having an actual physical item to ship added SO MUCH time to everything. Getting all of the supplies, driving them to the post office and just dealing with all of it was more work than I had imagined. I did some research into the best way to ship, and I thought that the USPS would be the best way and most economical.
I can’t say that I would have chosen something different initially, but I wish I did a little more research. And even if I had still chosen the USPS, I didn’t realize that I could schedule pickups from the post office. I knew you could do that with UPS, but that would have saved me a lot of time and hassle and who knows, maybe the post office wouldn’t have lost 30 of my poster tubes if I had done that…?
4. Don’t use the USPS.
For now, I’m sticking with UPS. Maybe the USPS is better when it’s not November/December and I may try again with packages that aren’t poster tubes, but I feel much better about UPS (although I’m sure that there are plenty of people with horror stories about the UPS as well…).
5. Support local businesses…when it makes sense.
I’m all for supporting local small businesses. Hell, I’m now a small business. But I don’t think it always makes sense. I definitely buy almost all of my stuff with Amazon – and that is primarily because of the prices and the convenience.
In searching for a printer for my posters, I met with a small shop in Evanston, and they initially thought they could give me a much better price than Staples. However, Staples was able to meet their price AND they were willing to print, collate, roll, stuff the posters and tape up the poster tubes. I couldn’t turn that down. And I was supporting a local Staples store – and I was developing some good relationships with the staff and managers of the store.
Especially when you’re starting out with a new business, I think there are just some things that make more sense to get from a large provider who can give you the type of savings and deals that you might need as you get started.
6. Contrary to popular opinion, all-nighters are not super helpful or productive.
I only pulled one legitimate all-nighter, and honestly, it was the first all-nighter I’ve ever done. The latest I stayed up in college was 4am working on an art project. But I thought I could finish up everything I needed to do in one all-nighter. NO WAY.
And then I was absolutely exhausted the next two days. So it was not very productive for me. It probably also didn’t help that my almost 4-yr old son was having problems sleeping and kept walking into the office and scaring the heck out of me!
7. Starbucks Refreshers.
If you do need to pull an all-nighter, let me suggest the Via Refreshers – Strawberry Lemonade. They’re not necessarily the best thing you’ve ever had to drink – but they definitely contain a pretty serious boost in “natural” caffeine. I had two servings of that drink from 10pm-6am and it totally did the job.
8. Get help. No, seriously. Get help.
I needed help. And lots of it. Even just slapping mailing labels on tubes – it would have gone so much faster if I’d had a few friends help me out – or gotten some of the youth from Sarah’s church to make a few bucks and help out.
There’s no shame in asking for help.
Thankfully, I did have help through this amazing community that I’m apart of called Fizzle. I joined this group at the end of the summer at the recommendation of my good friend Kevin (who is also an amazing coach if you’re looking for someone!), and it’s been such a worthwhile $35/month for me. The forum alone has been a huge resource for me. It’s been the place where I could go and share issues I was running into, get support and encouragement, and just have people who have been through launching a business before to talk with.
9. Pay a little extra to make your life easier.
If it comes down to saving a few bucks, or paying a little more to simply make your life a bit easier…pay a little extra. I’m trying to imagine how long it would have taken me to collate, roll and stuff all of the poster sets that I had…and I was actually thinking about doing it myself for a little bit. Next month for An Illustrated Lent, I plan to hire a few people to help me simply get the stuff out the door. Sure, that will cut into the profits from the resources, but I think it will make it a lot easier for me, and it will probably be fun too.
10. Show your work!
I’m a big fan of Austin Kleon’s book Share Your Work. As I was going through the process of drawing the illustrations, shipping poster tubes and everything else in between, I made good use of Instagram to share the process of the creation of the products. It also allowed people who were getting interested in what I was doing to see a little behind the scenes, and get a feel for what this was going to turn into.
Those are my Top 10 Lessons Learned from my First Product Launch. You probably have your own lessons – and I’d love for you to share those in the comment section below.