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My first failed business: Greeting Cards

I made all the mistakes they tell you not to make when starting a business. Try not to scream when you read this.

I officially started my greeting cards business in July 2019 and ended it in December 2020. It lasted for almost a year and a half but never turned a profit. The story doesn’t start here though, let’s go back to how and when I decided to start a greeting cards business.

I should warn you, while you are reading this, you might feel like grabbing me across the screen and slapping me no less than 10 times. I made all the mistakes you could possibly make when starting a business.

How did I come up with Greeting Cards?

By January 2019, I was certain I would be moving to Nigeria for the next NYSC batch and stay here afterwards. What was on my mind was what I would do after NYSC was over. I just didn’t want to move without having a way of making money. I was going to be working in a hospital or school during NYSC but had no intentions of staying after the year was over. So, what to do? At that time, I had quit my customer service job at a finance company in exchange for working part-time as a cook at Denny’s (this is probably going to be a story for another time). We were just two on my shift and both of us talked a lot about what we enjoyed doing outside of work…Well, she did most of the talking while I listened, and listening paid off. I found out she was really into handmade crafts and was also really good at it. It really piqued my interest and I decided to delve more into the handmade crafts community to see what I could do. How exactly I stumbled on greeting cards, I don’t know for sure. What I do remember is that it seemed like the easiest craft for me to do and was also fun. I discussed my choice with my co-worker and she encouraged me to go for it. I also talked to a secondary school friend of mine who used to create and sell greeting cards in Nigeria. I asked her about the pros and cons, and also how the market for greeting cards was in Nigeria. Thinking back, I should have really thought about all that she said instead of glossing over some serious points she made. That’s perhaps Mistake Number 2Mistake Number 1 is basing my choice on conversations I had with a colleague, not on proper research into market trends.

What Happened Next?

I have somewhat of an obsessive personality. When I get fixated on something, I go all in. I watched hours upon hours of card-making videos, convinced myself I was going to be extremely successful doing it right from the beginning, spent my free time going to Michael’s to window shop and write the costs of items and things I would need. The more videos I watched, the more I was convinced I just had to have certain things to be successful. Mistake Number 3. I should have started small by buying just a pack of cardstock paper and a few inexpensive materials to practice and see if I actually liked it and was good at it. I should have practiced for some months, given out free samples to friends and families, seeking their honest opinions, probably started small on Etsy or something, and most importantly, which would be Mistake Number 4, given myself more time. Do you know what I did instead? I wrote a long-ass email to my dad asking for a loan of $5,000 to get all the card-making equipment I would need and also to ship them to Nigeria. I dove in headfirst. In fact, it was as if I left my brain somewhere and then dove into whatever I was diving into. I’ve made stupid decisions in my life so far, but I honestly think that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done to date. I should also probably take a moment to congratulate all the card-making Youtubers I watched on the marketing strategies they used in their videos. They displayed products so well that you always felt that you needed them. I’m not one to easily cave to marketing pressures, but when you have your mind set on something, it’s very easy to let go of your senses and wallet. So yea, I purchased thousands of dollars worth of card-making equipment barely a week or two after finding this new “passion” of mine.

Okay…after that?

As I stated earlier, I was working part-time at Denny’s (and also H&M) so I had quite a lot of time to myself each day. Additionally, my shift was the night shift (4 PM to 12 AM), so if I didn’t have to go to H&M that day, I had mornings and afternoons to myself. I would do some language study in the morning and then spend the rest of the day making cards and working on new techniques. My first attempts were hideous but I kept going, nothing that time and practice wouldn’t solve. By the time it was time for me to move to Nigeria, I wasn’t any better than I was the month before but I still had hope. For time reference, I made the business decision in late January and moved to Nigeria in late March. So let’s say all this happened in three months.

When I got to Nigeria, I went for 3 weeks of camp, shuttled back and forth between Lagos and Osun State for about a month until I was able to be relocated to Lagos, then luckily the stuff I shipped arrived in Lagos sometime in June. Side note, going to Tin Can Island yourself to pick up anything is not worth it at all. It’s best to just pay someone to deliver it to your house. It was a horrible experience all around. 0/10 would not recommend.

So June right, I was in high gear. I planned on launching the next month, so I had to have my samples ready. One thing I can say for sure is that my business did not fail because of a lack of effort, I worked tirelessly for it. Coming up with new ideas, trying to figure out how to iterate it, reading “Creating a Business Plan for Dummies” daily (I finished the whole book with 300+ pages of informative content). I had all these cards ready, but no marketing strategy. I completely ignored a crucial part of the business process. Mistake Number 5, you have to have a marketing plan. No matter how good your product is, if people don’t know about it, you’re not going to make a sale. This proved to be an extremely difficult process because marketing is not my thing at all. I can’t even stress that enough. I had a very hard time trying to figure out how to market it. Instagram was my main marketing tool but even then, I wasn’t using it to its full potential. In fact, I didn’t get a proper hang of social media marketing till my third business attempt. Throughout the year and a half that I made greeting cards for a profit, I had only 3 customers. 2 were my friends who I had told about the business and wanted to support me, the third was my partner’s workplace. They bought cards from me for every occasion. I was really grateful for their support. I still am.

As I was reading the book for Dummies and figuring out the true cost of producing the cards, and also how many I would need to make a reasonable profit, I soon realized that selling just greeting cards won’t do. That led me to Mistake Number 6, pivoting too earlier. This can tie into a lack of patience/vision. I really didn’t give the business a chance to thrive before I jumped off the ship. I didn’t do proper market research, figure out my target market, and get better wholesale deals. I did none of it. The only thing I did well from the book and the many articles I read about starting a business is having the proper excel sheets to track expenses, figure out the cost per goods sold, my profit margin etc. Everything else fell on deaf ears. My obsession completely took over my decision-making process and it took a while before I came back to my senses.

Once I decided to pivot, I landed into my second failed business. Don’t facepalm too hard. The second one wasn’t as disastrous as the first, you’ll see.

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