Getting it all printed
This is the crunch time, and the moment when things could get killed off. Printing calendars is an expensive process, and shaving its cost to the minimum can make the difference between something that is financially profitable, just a bit of break-even fun, or a looming economic disaster. Printing costs per calendar come down as the number of copies you want go up, but of course in the early days you're unlikely to want to print thousands, so the unit cost is likely to be high.
The cost is also exceptionally high if you print in the UK, usually coming down if you go abroad, particularly to the Far East, though again usually only if you are printing large numbers. It is a chicken and egg disaster zone. I've overcome it - for the time being at least - through some very generous help I've been given by one of the UK's biggest calendar publishers, who have consolidated my little printing needs with their vast projects, and getting it all done en masse overseas. It has hugely cut my printing costs, turning what was going to be a hopelessly expensive project into something quite viable. It has also removed all the printing logistics from my desk, everything in that field handled by this large publisher.
The downside to this is that all the designs have to be ready quite early, finished digital files over to the publisher for their final checking and sending to the printer by late March. Once all that is done, all I have to do is bite my finger nails until July when the finished product arrives and I get to see whether the printer has done their stuff and generated a quality saleable product. If they haven't, the project will be an expensive ruin. So far, the results have been great every year.
Selling the calendars
Anyone can publish something. The real trick is in selling it. This is where I struggle. I'm a photographer, an artist, so I can get great images and can design a great product. But - as seems to be so often the case for artistic people - I'm not a natural salesman. By nature, I'm rather shy and I don't have the gift of the gab. Not a good start.
But with each successive year of doing this, I get a little better, and this year I've perhaps been at my best, resulting in a big expansion of my shop database, and consequently number of sales.
The first lesson is pricing. Everyone new to business finds it hard to price their product or service, but eventually you have to nail your colours to the mast and announce to potential customers what you expect them to pay. The surprising thing is that, provided you do your homework first and know what the ballpark figure is for your kind of product, most customers will accept what you say. That said, not only will the larger stores often gouge your price downwards, but also in general we're continually in a race downwards, a constant pressure on prices to go down, while at the same time costs seem to keep mysteriously creeping up. It is a battle that anyone involved in retail work will be familiar with.
Furthermore, no matter how low you allow your price to be driven you will always find someone who complains that you're too expensive. These days, I'm confident that I have my pricing and my product right, so my response is to politely say how unfortunate that is, and to leave it at that. Inside, I want to throttle them!
A second lesson in selling calendars is finding out when different types of shop order. Not everyone orders at the same time. National chains and many of the larger independents tend to order their seasonal stuff for one year in the January or February of the year before. So 2015 calendars will get ordered very early in 2014, probably before I've even completely finished the designs. I still struggle with this one, finding it hard to get designs to such customers in time.
The next group - often the more organised independent stores, tend to order in April, or thereabouts, while the great swathe of small shop owners - the owners of village stores, sub-post offices and so on - will order anywhere from April through to October. To get sales with these people I just have to keep pestering them, sending out a catalogue and then phoning and e-mailing until I get a definitive answer one way or the other.
So there's another cost in time and money - producing a catalogue that describes and promotes the products. Increasingly, I'm gathering together my customers' e-mail addresses and persuading them to take digital catalogues, something that also allows me to send sample page designs. Vastly cheaper than a printed catalogue, of course, especially if I have to send the catalogue to the same shop three or four times before they remember to look at it and come to a decision!
Finally, I come full circle, and by October I'm starting to concentrate on direct sales to the public, making sure the website for Aquaterra Publishing (the name I've given to the publishing side of my business) is working well, that that calendars are well displayed and that the online sales part is functioning properly. Then I have to hope that the buying public are able to find the site and want to buy my calendars.
Meanwhile, friends and aquaintances of my extended family are increasingly badgered. They really need to have at least one of these calendars on their wall at home, they just don't know it yet.
Oh, and suddenly it's time to start the cycle all over again for the following year......
Websites to see:
www.nigelhicks.com to see Nigel's commercial photography and photography courses.
www.aquaterrapublishing.co.uk to see Nigel's calendars, greetings cards, prints and some of his books.
Nigel's 2014 calendar titles are:
Devon Light, Somerset Light, Dorset Light and The Southwest.
Where to buy them:
Online: www.aquaterrapublishing.co.uk (£6.50 each plus postage), plus www.amazon.co.uk.