If you’ve been within 10 feet of me in real life or on social media for the last month, I’m sure you’ve heard me natter on about what is probably the most awesome/ridiculous project of my professional life: the 2014 Puss In Books calendar. While this is not my first calendar/rodeo this year I really, really went all out. A separate website. A professional photographer. The whole nine.
And here’s what I learned (and don’t worry, these are lessons any business can benefit from, cat-related or not)
1. Ridiculous, just-a-joke ideas can lead to awesome stuff
I work on a lot of Serious, Important things and I have some clients who even intimidate me a little bit - six-figure building industry recruiters, healthcare leadership consultants, fancy, complicated apps. On Yes and Yes, I interview people with major medical issues and really tough jobs. With stuff like that, I wrote off the idea of a calendar based on cats, dressed in literary-themed outfits, accompanied by quotes from famous literature. That’s silly! Shouldn’t I be banging out sales pages for entrepreneurs? Or working on my book proposal? Why should I devote time to something so silly and fun and easy? Because I wanted to.
Your lesson: Sometimes easy = right. Just because something is fun or feels natural, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You’d be amazed at what happens when you stop believing that only hard work is good work.
2. Add little, personal touches to your products
I add a spoonful of confetti to every calendar I send out. (That’s not a metaphor. I literally sit at my dining room table with a tupperware container full of bulk confetti and drop it into those envelopes.) I also include a thank you note from my cat and a handwritten request that customers take a photo of their pet with the calendar and send it to me. Is this stuff time-consuming? Of course. Do people notice it and appreciate it and buy the calendar again the next year? Also, yes.
Your lesson: Get on your packaging game. And your thank-you note game. And your ‘tiny extras’ game. People notice.
3. You can be more creative within boundaries
When I decided that I was going to create this calendar, I made a list of my favorite books and then spent an inordinate amount of time googling “Ponyboy costume for a cat.” Shockingly enough, said costume does not exist.
So I changed my strategy. I planted myself in front of Amazon’s pet costume section and started scrolling. As I looked at the costumes, I thought about the books I’d read in high school and college and thought about what I could make work. What books involve sailors? Could I do something with a lobster costume? The second approach worked a lot better.
Also: I was able to find a use for this costume.
Your lesson: If you’re feeling overwhelmed by possibility or you don’t know where to start - narrow your view. Instead of thinking “I want to make jewelry” think “I want to make vintage-inspired jewelry that incorporates foreign coins.” Instead of “I’m a health coach” think “I’m a health coach for women over 35 who work full time and live some place with long winters.”
Things actually get easier when you create creative boundaries.
4. How long do you think it’ll take? It’ll take longer
One of my travel rules is ‘everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much and you’d expect” While that didn’t quite hold true for this project, I probably would have been happier if I’d mentally doubled my estimated costs and time. Any time you do a project involving other people or even a self-contained project with lots of moving parts (photos! layout! website! marketing! printing!) there are lots more things to screw up.
Your lesson: Pad your budget and time frame. Be pleasantly surprised when things come in faster or cheaper than you’d expected.
5. Involve your readers and followers
In previous years, I involved my readers none in the calendar process - or follow up. This year, I asked them to take photos of their pets with the calendar and the results have been hilarious. It’s hard to track exactly how many more sales I made through those photos, but I’ve really enjoyed captioning them and sharing them - and that’s just about as important as sales.
Your lesson: Ask your readers to get involved! Offer them discounts if they send you photos of your products in use! If they have a social media account, @mention them when you post their photo!
Tell us about your biggest product launch! What did you create? How did it go?