Hey, Friends! Here we are again in a new year! With 2019 under way, I thought this would be a great time to talk about Q1 tasks and goals. I know that it is a good sound business practice to discuss the year ahead as a whole, but I thought it might be easier and a little less overwhelming if we could go over what you should be working on and/or working towards during your 1st Quarter. Q1 is a busy time for Stationers. We have products being released, trade shows to contend with, not to mention the everyday minutiae that tends to pile up after the holidays. But don’t worry! We still have plenty of time to get you set up for a successful in the 1st Quarter. Ready?! Ok!
Let’s make this easy by breaking things down into 4 simple categories!
- What should I be maintaining?
- What should I be promoting?
- What should I be communicating?
- What should I be planning?
I like to approach this first because it is usually the easiest category to tackle or at least get a handle on. For me, Q1 maintenance always starts with my website and Etsy shop. Early January is the best time to give your site a good spruce, when it’s a bit slower and people are still getting back into the groove of things. Once trade show season gets under way, you are going to have your hands full, so get some fresh banners up, switch out what products you are featuring on the homepage, whether they be new or maybe even something you haven’t featured in a while. I find that even with a new collection I tend to focus on a few key pieces/products while leaving the rest in the background. So check back and see what you’ve favored in the most recent months so you can pick out some new rising stars among the crowd.
Products also play an important role in this category. Are you going to be retiring any products, meaning if and when they sell out will you be reprinting/reproducing? If you plan on keeping items around that are low on stock, now would be the time to start the reprinting process. This way you know what products to include in your updated catalog or line-sheet. In the past we have always printed our newest edition for the National Stationery Show in May. This has recently changed due to NSS being moved to February alongside NYNOW. So, we are currently making adjustments to our catalog release schedule. But no matter what we do, updating our catalog (digital and print) with new products is a priority.
If you release 3 to 4 times a year then you probably have some exciting new products to promote. New product releases should coincide with trade shows whenever possible. Seeing as January kicks off the trade show season, it’s not unusual for January to be your first product release of the year. From January to mid February there are several big trade shows–AmericasMart, Las Vegas Market & NYNOW. I didn’t mention NSS, but that’s another one to throw into the mix, especially if you aren’t attending NYNOW. Or maybe do both shows if you can swing it! So get out there and start promoting. Get those email blasts ready, show them off on social media and think about sending out some physical mailers. Here at Reyn Paper Co, we are big on sending real live snail mail to help launch our newest products. It can be as simple as a postcard or as elaborate as a box filled with samples and trinkets. Whatever fits your brand the best, just make sure you are getting the buzz out into the world, with both established clients and potential ones. With 4 huge trade shows in Q1 within 6 weeks, there are plenty of opportunities to promote your brand. These shows are expensive, especially when you include travel and hotel costs, but even if you can’t afford to attend one, it’s still smart to strategize your release schedule around the trade show calendar.
Don’t have new product to push? Thats ok. Remember the old saying “If you haven’t seen it, it’s news to you”? Well, that applies to the product world too. Take a look at what others are promoting and promote some cards you may already have that correspond. Maybe restyle some old products in a new way. Most businesses don’t remember what you have. They are likely following and considering dozens of brands, so how could they? It’s ok to refresh their memory. Inform them of your best sellers or see if they would like to restock a product that may have sold out, and don’t be afraid to ask what products have been successful for them recently. Stores like a safe bet! Risking cash on new untested products can be scary for them. The more comfortable you make them with your brand, the more likely they are to spend money with you. Q1 is also a great time to promote cards that could work for a holiday they aren’t specifically designed for. For example, we carry garden themed cards that do great over Mother’s Day. By styling and placing them in the proper context you can spark some new ideas for your retailers.
At first glance this category may seem similar to promotion, but communication is not and should not always be about direct advertising. In the broadest sense, this could relate to anything from upcoming events you are participating in to share your upcoming plans to expand your business. One of the most important things I like to communicate in Q1 is how we plan to serve our customers better throughout the year. Let’s face it, without them we wouldn’t exist. It’s good to acknowledge this. I find that sharing positive updates and news is especially important when you are a small business that has a relatively low profile. Making it personal makes it relatable, and one of the benefits of running a small boutique company such as our’s is that you can provide that personal touch. It helps attract new clients, but also helps you keep those long established connections. People truly value close working relationships, so the last thing you want them to think is you are growing too big to care about the little guys who may have supported you from day one.
In terms of Q1, I like to communicate what we loosely have planned for the next few months. This would include sharing our plans for the upcoming trade shows, new releases to keep a look out for, or even new product categories you may be venturing into. It’s never too early to start the conversation or the hype! Even if you aren’t attending a trade show until the second half of the year, now would be a great time to share that news and keep giving updates leading up to it. Planting that seed now will put you in the back of their mind.
Honestly, in the small world of stationery you will see businesses come and go so quickly. Sometimes it’s nice to say hi and let your clients know you are still in business. Really!
There is always a list about a mile long of things that I need to be planning and strategizing but there are some that are specific to Q1 that can make all the difference in the year ahead. Here are some things that, if taken care of now, will only make your year run smoother!
Product planning: This is probably one of your biggest decisions of the year. This can dictate when you release your catalog, how soon to get products to your printer, and your product photography schedule. Every choice relies on the previous one, so getting this sorted out now will only make things WAY easier down the road!
Ask yourself “How many product releases do I need/want this year?” But just as importantly, “when is the next release?” This will dictate what products you start working on now. Do you have time to get Christmas cards out by your next release? Let’s hope so if you’re starting now! Do you plan on releasing Valentine’s Day cards? If you didn’t already produce them, it would be a little late at this point. They tend to come out with an autumn release for the following year. If you plan on releasing them later in the year then you’re good to go. Or is that one you were going to skip to focus on other holidays or just everyday cards? There isn’t one strategy that works for everyone, but it is important to keep up with the industry’s seasonal schedule of when new products are expected. So, I say start by deciding what’s important to you, and this way you can work the release schedule around your needs and your product plan instead of being caught in a cycle that doesn’t work for your business.
Trade Shows: Yes it’s a little late to sign up for any trade shows that will be taking place in the next two months, but what about all those shows that take place in the back half of the year? If you are absolutely positive you are showing this year, then this is the time you should be planning for it. Figuring out cost, booth size, hotel accommodations (book now!), travel arrangements, and of course what product you plan to release are all important decisions to be made. If you are still on the fence about trade shows, there are strategies you can put in place to make sure you can pivot when necessary. Personally, I like to create to plans of action, one for attending a show and one for not. The “show plan” is the full throttle, 100 % all in with our time and money strategy if we think the investment makes sense, while the other is a softer more affordable version that lets us invest more in product and promotion outside of the shows.
If you are attending a show in the back half of the year, then you should start designing and planning for that release now in Q1. This release might not be as large as you wanted since you may have to allocate finances to show related expenses, but it’s good to plan ahead. Not attending a show? Then perhaps spend more resources on products and a promotional campaign (i.e. a physical mailer) to reach to an audience beyond the trade show. Either route you choose you will be prepared because you began planning in Q1!
If this feels overwhelming to you, that’s ok. Planning like this is never easy. But the more you practice the easier it will get!