44 – Designing & Selling Calendars

This week, we’re continuing our series about selling art for the holidays. Nikki shared last week that calendars have been her best-selling item ever. This week we are taking a deep dive into creating and selling calendars, with Laura interviewing Nikki about her experience.

We’d love to hear if you have made calendars or if you are planning to this year. Share your experiences with us in our Facebook group or on Instagram. And be sure to download Nikki’s free calendar resource guide below!

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Topics discussed

  • How Nikki got started with calendars
  • When to start designing and marketing your calendars
  • Nikki’s general process for designing, marketing and selling calendars
  • Different types of calendars you can create 
  • Designing your own vs using templates / online tools
  • Nikki’s fav print on demand company for calendars
  • Pricing your calendar – Nikki shares real numbers!
  • How many to order and if you should offer pre-sales
  • Shipping, marketing, and selling your calendars online and off
  • What to do with your extra stock
  • Nikki’s 2022 calendar

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Laura

0:04
Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

0:06
And this is Nikki May with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:15
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination, that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:30
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Laura

0:38
This week, we’re continuing our series about selling art for the holidays. So what is our topic today, Nikki?

Nikki

0:45
Well, last week in our list of products that sell well for the holidays, I said that calendars had been my best selling item ever. I just briefly mentioned it knowing that I wanted to take a deeper dive into calendars, as I always get a ton of questions about how to make and sell them every year.

Laura

1:03
Okay, Nikki, I personally haven’t made and sold a calendar before, so today we’re going to do something a little bit different and I’m going to interview you as our guest today.

Nikki

1:12
Awesome.

Laura

1:15
I’d love to begin with you sharing how you got started with calendars. And when did you create your first one?

Nikki

1:21
Well, we’ve talked a lot about art challenges that we’ve both done over the years. And a few years ago, I did Inktober. And I decided to do it with digital ink in Procreate on my iPad. And it was really the first time I’d ever gotten serious about drawing something on the iPad. So after a few random things, I decided to draw all the birth month flowers. Okay, so by the end of October that year, I had a bunch of random drawings, but a nice collection of 12 flower drawings in a unique style that was new to me. And it occurred to me that it would make a really beautiful calendar.

Laura

1:56
Oh, yeah, they make gorgeous calendars.

Nikki

1:58
Thank you.

Nikki

1:59
So October, though, is a bit late to start designing your calendar, right? I mean, when should you have your calendar ready to sell? It’s August right now at the time that we’re recording this, and I’m already seeing some artists share images of their upcoming calendars.

Nikki

2:15
Yeah, well, based on my experience, and what I hear from others, you really should be ready to start marketing your products for the holidays three to four months before Christmas. So yeah, October is late to start designing. But it really didn’t stop me from doing it and it becoming the best seller for me, both in local markets and online. So since the first year that I did calendars, which was 2019, I’ve started thinking about the following year’s calendar just as soon as I start selling the current one.

Laura

2:48
Alright, so why don’t you explain to me the general process flow for creating calendars. I assume that you design them, then you have to get them printed somehow, either yourself locally or through print on demand, then you have to market them all in time for the holiday rush, right? So tell me a bit about your personal process.

Nikki

3:10
So the first year, after I had my designs ready, I started doing research online with different companies that make calendars. And as is true with almost any product, if you have them produced in bulk, you can always get your price way down from what it is for print on demand. And so I started looking at companies that print calendars, and what options there were and really the options are endless and overwhelming. So I started by really just narrowing down what I knew I wanted.

Laura

3:41
Yeah, and there are so many types of calendars you can create, right? There’s wirebound, hangable, block stand calendars, dated versus evergreen, you know, printing yourself versus using a local printer versus print on demand. There’s just so many choices that you have to make that it’s definitely overwhelming.

Nikki

4:00
Right. So from the beginning, I knew I didn’t want to print them myself, because I had no idea how well they would sell but I had hopes that they would sell pretty well and I didn’t want to be a calendar factory line. So I also knew that I wanted a fairly good size wall calendar with space for writing appointments and deadlines and things so it needed to have pretty big boxes for each day. And I know I know some people like desk calendars and evergreen ones that to me are really just for decoration. And really kind of knowing what day of the week or date it is, but they’re not really great productivity tools. And personally I don’t think people need more things that sit on their – and if they’re like me – already overcrowded desk.

Laura

4:47
Yeah, and then in case anybody’s wondering what evergreen means it just means that it’s a calendar that isn’t tied to a specific year and it can be reused year after year.

Nikki

4:56
Right. So, so I also I had square drawing, so I knew I wanted a square area for the art. And there are, there are some standard calendar sizes and dimensions. I mean, really, you can get any size or shape, but there’s some pretty standard ones. And in my experience, most are fairly rectangular. And I knew that I wanted a square. In doing my research, I quickly discovered that most places had large minimums, some, like 250 or 500, to order enough calendars to really drive the price down to something reasonable.

Laura

5:32
And you never know if you’re going to sell 500 calendars

Nikki

5:34
I had no, I mean, I’d never done it before. I’ve never sold 500 of anything. And a lot of print on demand companies have prices that really sound more like retail prices for me. I mean, some are up to like 40 something dollars, which you can’t mark up from that for a calendar. Right? So I’m not going to go through the list of all the hundreds of styles, materials and printers out there. I will put together a list of what I’ve discovered, as a download to help you with your decisions.

Laura

6:03
Okay, so how did you narrow it down? all these different choices? You went through you reviewed, you know, dozens of websites? How did you narrow that down and say this is what I want?

Nikki

6:13
Well, after my procrasto-researching, between the price, the style, the size, the materials that met the needs that I determined that I really wanted, I settled on a spiral bound vertical calendar, from print on demand company that I love called Gooten. It’s a kind of unusual size, it’s nine and a half inches wide by 17 and a quarter inches tall. And unlike many calendars, it’s not split into pages that fold up where your images on the top and your calendar is on the bottom. It’s one big page, which allows you to completely control the layout. And it really gave me the perfect space to put my square art on the top and a calendar layout with really big squares below. Another thing that I don’t like about the standard calendars that you can find is a lot of them, especially like like the freebie calendars that people send you in the mail that companies send, they have that thin glossy magazine style paper, a lot of them do that you really can’t write on and they just kind of seem cheap, right? But these calendars from Gooten have a beautiful white thick, matte 120 pound paper that’s it’s really like a cardstock.

Laura

7:31
Yeah, that’s that’s pretty thick. That’s that’s definitely like a cardstock. So that elevated the look and feel to you, right, of the calendars that you wanted to produce? So once you selected the size you selected this format, and what type of paper you wanted, what was the next step.

Nikki

7:47
So any printer you choose is going to provide a template for you to get started. Gooten, and actually provided a couple of different styles that you can download. So I downloaded the free templates, and I started putting it together in Illustrator, you can also use Photoshop, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. And so in the template, the calendar part is already laid out. So if you want to just leave it as it is, and they sort of have like, what they call a modern style and like a more traditional style. So if you want to just drop in your art, it’s really simple, you can just do that. But for me, I like to design everything myself. That’s one of my favorite parts of anything that I do.

Laura

8:30
Of course you do.

Nikki

8:32
Well, yeah, I’m a designer. So I started with their template for the size and for knowing like, which day of the week the dates fall on, but I totally redesigned it to match my branding style. And I designed a cover that has a smaller image of each of the 12 designs, and a title and my logo.

Laura

8:55
Okay, so just to be clear, for those of us that are just getting started and may not be graphic designers. Some printers like Vistaprint, for example, I think they offer drag and drop templates that are basically done for you except for dropping in your artwork. And you know, or you have the option to do it like you, Nikki, and you know, basically create an entirely new high definition design with branded fonts, box sizing, layouts, etc, that you upload based on their required overall dimensions so that it’s uniquely yours.

Nikki

9:29
Exactly. So yeah, so I started with their template for the size. But I changed the size of the boxes and the weight of the lines around the boxes and the fonts and the layout of the text so that the design is now totally mine. And although I’ve tweaked it a little each year, I now have my own template with my own design and it’s just a matter of uploading the files.

Laura

9:54
So you don’t have to start from scratch each year, at least with Gooten.

Nikki

9:57
Absolutely. But if I wanted to use a different company, I would still use the template that I created. And I would just modify the size and proportions. But I still have my files with my own branding and style that I set up.

Laura

10:10
Awesome. Okay, so you’ve created the layout of the design, you know what you want. Before you go order 100 of these things, or 200, or however many, how do you know how they’ll look in real life. And if there are any printing or color matching issues or things like that?

Nikki

10:28
Yeah, so you can immediately see what it’s going to look like in the calendar design tool. But I think it’s always smart, no matter what you’re doing, to order a proof for yourself. So you can judge the quality of the paper, the ink, the printing and your layout, you might find a typo, a placement issue, a sizing issue, any number of things that you really can’t tell just by looking at it online. So I ordered a proof, it came in a bit less than a week, at the time that was pre-COVID, when things were a bit more predictable. And I was totally blown away by the quality of it, it was better than I even expected.

Laura

11:06
I imagine it was awesome holding it in your hands the first time and seeing this product that you created with your artwork on it. And I think that’s a super smart way to approach it. Basically, to order a proof first and hold that thing in your hands.

Nikki

11:21
Yeah. And I got to admit, when I ordered last year’s calendar, since I’d use the same template as the previous two years, I got a little cocky and didn’t review it as well as I should have. And there’s actually a typo on the first round of calendars that went out to like 50 people. Nobody seems to have noticed that one of the states in my state flower and insect calendar has an extra A at the end. Shhhh…. oops.

Laura

11:44
We won’t tell anyone you know, that’s gonna be super valuable one day Nikki, like when you find a coin or a stamp that’s misprinted and it’s worth like $100,000.

Nikki

11:53
Yeah, when I’m dead.

Laura

11:58
Okay, now, one thing that is confusing to me is to know what price point to use? I mean, what is the best price for a calendar these days? And I guess, I guess that also kind of depends on the cost of the calendar itself to you, depending on the service and the printer that you’re using. But when you look at the customer, you don’t want to have that price too high. And you also don’t want it too low.

Nikki

12:22
Oh, yeah, pricing is always the hardest part of anything that I do from fine art to products to design services. So the things that I looked at for this are what is the cost for my calendar, which I’ll get into in a minute. What are other similar size, shape, styles of calendars selling for by other artists that you admire or people who are kind of in similar stages in their careers? And what does your gut say? I always I always find that I do my research, crunch some numbers, but then my gut gets final veto or approval power.

Laura

12:59
That’s totally the way to do it. I mean, we should all trust our intuition more.

Nikki

13:03
Absolutely. You kind of get that feeling that like even if your numbers say your price should be x, if that makes you kind of cringe inside and go, nah, that just doesn’t feel right, you should really listen to that.

Laura

13:15
Yeah, not that we should ever undervalue ourselves. Because sometimes we have a tendency to do that, because we’re not ready to, you know, have a higher price on something. But I also think there’s way our guts kind of know what the right, the right level is.

Nikki

13:27
Well, and sometimes that gut goes, oh, no, that number came out right on the equation, but that feels way too low, I know I need to charge a little more. So…

Laura

13:36
Yeah, it can be the opposite, too.

Nikki

13:37
It works both ways. For sure. So okay, so I know that everybody likes to get into the nitty gritty and hear the real numbers. So I’m going to share my numbers on my calendar. In 2021, at least, the calendars from Gooten are $11.90. And, you know, that’s comparing them to all kinds of other prices that, you know, if you order hundreds of them, you can get them lower, but some print on demand calendars are like, upwards of $40 each. So I think that this is a really good price. Yeah. Shipping for the first one is $9.99. And then it goes down to around $4 for additional calendars in the same order.

Laura

14:21
Okay, so $9.99 that sounds like that’s the US only right?

Nikki

14:25
Yeah, that’s for the US. International shipping is definitely higher, but it can be so varied, that I’m really not going to get into it now. But most sites including Gooten will list what the prices are for different countries so that you can build that into your shipping cost. So when I’m talking about prices for me, I consider my cost to be $16 each, which includes the cost of the calendar plus $4 shipping, when I order them in bulk for when I sell them locally myself.

Laura

14:56
And for international listeners, the cost would be the price of the calendar plus whatever the bulk international shipping cost is per piece, right?

Nikki

15:05
Right. So I’ve experimented with pricing them retail at both $28 and $32, which gives me $12 to $16 profit on each. And we’re not talking wholesale here, we’re just talking retail, I am absolutely not an expert at wholesale. But I can tell you that print on demand is not the ideal way to go for that, because you’d want your cost per unit to be lower. You can still do it, but your margins are going to be a lot smaller. So I definitely sold more the first two years at $28 each. But last year, during COVID, I didn’t have any of the local holiday markets where I tend to sell a lot. So I tried it at $32. And I still sold well, but nowhere near what I had done the previous years. So I don’t know if that’s my price point. Or if that’s you know, situational, but I imagine it’s a little bit of both.

Laura

15:58
Probably and, and the example, because you’re using print on demand, the example that you just gave us was for calendars that you order yourself, you receive in bulk, and then you sell locally from your studio or at those markets.

Nikki

16:11
Right.

Laura

16:12
So how do you know how many to order? Do you, do you offer some kind of pre-sale to know how many to order?

Nikki

16:19
Yeah, so again, this is an issue that’s really hard to plan for if you haven’t done it before. I had no idea. I’m just, I had wild guesses. So the first year I think I started out ordering, I think I ordered 20 just for myself to have in my studio and to take to a local market that I was doing. And I took pre-orders both on my website and at this first in person event for people who didn’t need them right away because it was still early on in the season. And I quickly sold out of the ones I had on hand, I think I kept one as an example to make more pre-sales. But I took a ton of pre-orders. So I then ordered the number that I sold in person plus another 50. And I quickly ran out of those too. But when the turnaround been about like a week to 10 days, I just ordered more when I started running low.

Laura

17:11
Okay, so I’m a bit confused about the presale concept. So I get it for selling locally. But if you have to turn around and send it to someone, like a pre-sale on your website for someone who may not live in Paducah, wouldn’t your price need to be higher for the increase shipping cost?

Nikki

17:32
Yes. So what I did on my website, I offered two options. I offered first to pick up locally, with no shipping costs. And then I had a second option where I tacked on $8 for shipping throughout the United States. And what I did was, I didn’t have to order them myself and ship them myself. I could order straight from Gooten and have it shipped right to the person. And in some cases, I might have had to pay more in shipping, and in some cases less. But it averaged out overall. And for international customers, I had a note that just said contact me directly for shipping costs. Because it really tends to be cost prohibitive for some locations.

Laura

18:17
Yeah, I know that’s tricky, especially for some of our listeners in places like Australia. If they’re trying to source something from the United States, it can be pretty expensive to ship.

Nikki

18:27
Yeah.

Laura

18:28
I know we’ll talk more about marketing your products in a future episode. But how did you go about marketing your calendars? And where all do you sell them?

Nikki

18:36
Well, so it’s, it’s really the same as marketing anything. The key is to do it consistently and frequently. Consistency is not my middle name. We’ve already established that’s Bourbon. Anyway, so, many of us are guilty of just sharing something once or twice and being confused as to why hardly anyone bought our product. So share it on social media more than once and in more than one way you can. You can tease the calendar while you’re still working on it, show bits and pieces of it before it’s available. And when you have your proof in your hot little hands, film a video of you flipping through it that you can share in your stories and your reels or on a live and definitely pin the product page from your website to Pinterest.

Laura

19:27
Yeah, I actually love the idea of flipping through it live and then saving that as an IGTV on your profile.

Nikki

19:33
Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. So the other thing is, when it’s time to start selling calendars, I make it the first thing that you see when you come to my homepage.

Laura

19:44
Like you have a little pop up or you have a banner or something at the top.

Nikki

19:47
Oh, I’ve done a couple things. So I put a little bar across the top that says it, but I’ve also made like the hero image on my homepage just announcing the calendars with a link right to the product page.

Laura

19:59
Awesome, that’s smart? Okay, so you mentioned when it’s time to sell calendars that you make that the first thing. So when is it time, quote unquote, time to sell calendars?

Nikki

20:11
Well, probably by the time you’re listening to this, it’s time. I would start in September for sure. But October at the latest. Of course, you know, the first year that I did it, I didn’t even get it going until the end of October. And so I didn’t start marketing it till November, which, you can still do that, but it’s much smarter to start in September or October. And then you can also share about it in your email newsletter. And I haven’t done this yet, but consider Facebook or Google ads. This might be the year I experiment with that. And if I do, we will definitely do an episode on that.

Laura

20:51
Yeah, the whole Facebook ads, things, it’s like a mystery to me.

Nikki

20:54
It’s intimidating and it’s a lot. But yeah, there are classes on that and professionals you can hire to help you. Not us, but… So I also sell them in local venues here in Paducah. Currently, I sell my work and a gorgeous little boutique called Raven & Moth. And in a coffee shop, that’s just a block from my house called the 505. And I make sure that both of them consistently have a big stack to sell for me. One other thing I’ve done a few times is offered businesses a batch of calendars to gift to their clients. I did it for a realtor and added her logo to the cover along with mine. And she purchased a big batch of them to give to clients as gifts.

Laura

21:38
That’s awesome. What a great idea. It’s like a win win for both local businesses.

Nikki

21:42
I wish I could take credit for that idea. But she actually approached me about it. But it’s brilliant. And it’s a great thing that you can consider offering to other local businesses.

Laura

21:53
Okay, so here’s the big question. What do you do with any physical leftover calendars that haven’t sold after the new year starts? I mean, do you use them for giveaways or?

Nikki

22:05
Well, I don’t usually have very many leftovers. But there’s always, there’s always a few. So the first thing that I do is I give them as gifts myself. I’ve brought them as hostess gifts to holiday parties. In fact, I think that’s probably the only reason I get invited to holiday parties. They’re like, Ooh, I need a calendar, let’s invite Nikki. I also give them to friends. And it’s a great gift to give to some of my clients or my best customers. And giveaways are always a great idea too. In addition to helping you get rid of extra stock, it’s a great way to give back to your followers and to grow your following. Another thing, if you cross over into the new year, and you still have a few left, you can sell them at a discount for the first couple months of the new year, you can market them by pointing out that, hey, there’s still nine months left of the year. Or more, especially as the one that I do goes through the end of January of the following year.

Laura

23:06
So it’s like a 13 month calendar.

Nikki

23:07
It’s a 13 month calendar. Yeah. And additionally, you have 12 or 13 beautiful prints that you can just trim off and frame.

Laura

23:15
That I think is the biggest value that people miss out on because I’ve actually seen a few artists create these really cool hangable wire bound calendars that they actually have perforated edges on them. So you can get 12 beautiful 8 by 10 prints that you can frame. And I mean, the value of that is pretty phenomenal. If the calendar for example, cost 35 bucks and you get 12 frameable prints.

Nikki

23:38
Right. I mean, the cost of the entire calendar costs what a lot of people will sell for just one print.

Laura

23:44
Exactly, exactly.

Nikki

23:46
Um, yeah, I love the idea of the perforations. But I, and I looked for it, but I personally haven’t found a source for doing this affordably. It’s really more of a custom bulk order. But it’s not that hard of a cell to get somebody to see that they can just trim them themselves.

Laura

24:02
Yeah, that’s true. I have also seen some great woodblock calendars that sit on a desk with you know, it’s a wood block that has a groove at the bottom that holds either square or small rectangular cards with art at the top half and the calendar at the bottom. And usually these are ones that just have the dates on them. They don’t have like boxes, but they can make really pretty accents for someone’s desk if you don’t need to write anything on the calendar. You can even go big. I have seen artists design evergreen calendars that are basically huge acrylic wall pieces, like clear acrylic wall pieces with empty boxes for the date that you can use over and over by writing the month at the top and the days in the boxes with a dry erase marker and they add their artwork or surface designs around the edges of the acrylic panels. I know that Bonnie Christine did this one year and sold them and I imagine it’s a pretty big endeavor. But there’s got to be some companies that might be open to working with designers on that kind of process and offering, you know, a really cool big scale calendar like that.

Nikki

25:10
Yeah, I loved the one that Bonnie did, it was beautiful, but it’s definitely a custom job. Yeah, so if you have the budget for it, go for it.

Laura

25:20
You can also look at unconventional surfaces. I know Spoonflower has a, they have a tea towel calendar contest every year. And that could be a really cool way to sell a calendar that is both beautiful and very, very functional. Now let’s talk about getting your artwork licensed on other people’s calendars. So Nikki, you were talking about, you know, making your own calendars to sell. But I know that Blue Sky and Golden Coil are a couple of companies that have both had Instagram challenges in the past where you submit your artwork on a mock up. And then they select several to go into production. And what I love is that the Golden Coil example this past year, had a winner that had less than 300 Instagram followers.

Nikki

26:03
That’s awesome.

Laura

26:04
So you don’t have to be an Instagram Rockstar to get licensed if your work is good. Are there any other companies that you know of that offer these types of contests?

Nikki

26:15
I’m not personally aware of any other ones. But you know, we love a good challenge.

Laura

26:19
We do. So Nikki? When will your 2022 calendar be available for people to purchase this year?

Nikki

26:26
That’s a really good question. If I was really organized on last year’s calendar, or this year’s calendar, I’d have it marked off. But I’m going to say that by mid-September, I should have it at least available to pre sell. With the pre-sales, once I have the design done, even if I don’t have a proof yet, I can start offering them for sale on my website.

Laura

26:51
So by the time this episode goes live, you may have a pre-sale calendar available.

Nikki

26:57
Yes.

Laura

26:58
Awesome, Nikki. Well, thank you for sharing all of your expertise today about creating your own calendars will definitely include links to services that our listeners can use to create their own.

Nikki

27:09
Thank you for having me on your podcast, Laura. It was super fun to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer this time.

Laura

27:18
Well, that’s so you could get the most words in.

Nikki

27:20
Oh please, I never let that stop me.

Laura

27:25
Now it’s your turn. Have you ever thought about putting your artwork on calendars? Or do you have any experience already doing it? We’d love to hear what’s worked for you, or what is keeping you from creating them in the Startist Society Facebook group.

Nikki

27:41
And if you have any questions about calendars that we haven’t answered today, feel free to contact me within our Facebook group or on the Startist Society Instagram or at @nikkimayart, my own Instagram. For today’s show notes and the download I mentioned with resources to get your own calendars printed. Go to startistsociety.com/calendars.

Laura

28:04
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review. Reviews help us reach more Startist like you and keep us inspired to continue creating new episodes.

Nikki

28:16
Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

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