Today I’m telling you how to start a stationery business. There’s not a lot out there specifically for invitation designers, and you know that’s my passion!
The way I got started was a lot of trial and error! But now I run a 6 figure stationery business and want to help you get there too.
I run a monthly membership for stationery designers – Stationery School -full of art and business courses that will help you achieve huge things!!!
In teaching you how to start a stationery business, I’ll reference a lot of videos and blogs that go more in-depth into individual topics. You can explore those as you like. This post will be a general overview of what you can do to create a successful stationery company yourself from scratch. I hope you’ll join Stationery School for continuing art and business education!
First, everyone wants me to let you know that the paper goods type of stationery is spelled stationEry, not stationAry. With an A, it’s like a Stationary Bike. I like to remember it by saying don’t be an A-hole.
Stationery generally just refers to paper goods – think greeting cards, invitations, thank you notes, etc. Stationery shops generally sell other things like candles, planners, gifts, but the actual stationery is just the paper goods.
Now there are 3 types of stationery businesses you may want to start:
It’s all about what you like best!
What I do is wedding stationery. That’s typically the luxe end of the market, with larger invoices and a more hands-on experience. Plus you get to deal with all the emotions of wedding planning over and over again (if you like that!). Wedding invitations come in a few varieties – custom, semi-custom, or pre-designed, but all fall under that same umbrella.
Personal stationery gives you more freedom. You can work with business clients on branding strategy and long-term marketing goals, or you could work with individuals on personal projects.
If you enjoy selling greeting cards and art prints, you’ll be coming up with a larger product line most likely, and selling directly to retailers or individual consumers. There will be a lot of smaller sales but at a lower price-point. If you’re a commercial stationer, volume will be your friend.
It’s important to niche down, so you’re speaking to one specific customer instead of trying to speak to all customers at once. Consider who the ideal person you want to sell to is – this is called your ideal client (read more and download our free worksheet) and it’ll help determine where you should be in the market.
Ask yourself who this person is, what they like to do, what determines their buying factors? Where do they shop? How much do they make and what makes them spend money? This will all help you determine where you can market. If you want to sell to an older audience, you may market more on Facebook or in retail stores, for instance, whereas a younger audience may be found on Instagram or even places like TikTok!
Once you determine your ideal client, you can use those qualities to develop some good branding. I have a video you can watch with the designer who actually designed my recent re-brand! These tips will help you get started.
It’s all about your internal message of why you’re doing this and who you’re doing it for – that ideal client. In all of your posts, marketing materials, etc. you’ll act like you’re speaking directly to that client. Use language that makes sense to them, touches on their pain points and the solution that your product will provide.
When you’ve decided who you want to serve, you should definitely become familiar with your design programs. The industry standard is the Adobe Creative Cloud, specifically Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop.
If you’re familiar with a different program, like Procreate on your iPad, you can technically use that for design. However, eventually you’ll get to a point where that is limiting and you’ll want something more robust.
The Creative Cloud has been the design standard for many many years for a reason. If you’re designing in standard programs, it’ll be easier for you to find tutorials, ask questions, and work with printers as these other people will be more familiar with your programs.
My favorite thing about Adobe is that there are MILLIONS of videos out there on how to use it! I have a ton of free videos on these three programs on my channel as well as an intro course to how I use them in the specific context of stationery design that you can sign up for as well.
As you get familiar with designing – you’ll also want to get familiar with printing and papers! I have a video on invitation print methods you can watch for an overview:
There are 3 that are most common which are:
I recommend starting with digital and watching this video about how to set up your files before printing your first project. Nothing will teach you more about stationery design than printing your first project. There’s a lot that goes into the process of getting your design to look the same on-screen as it does on paper!
Should you print your work at home or outsource it? I outsource almost all of my printing, but have 2 printers in-house that I use when needed. Here’s a look into laser printing vs. inkjet printing:
The truth is that there are people being successful doing both. Your decision will depend on the quantity you need to print, the size of your space, and your costs!
I have a video that talks about pricing printing in-house – it often turns out to be more expensive than outsourcing, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.
When making this decision, I’d focus on whether you want your time to be spent printing or doing other things? If you don’t mind printing, then that could be a good place to start, but if color corrections and cutting paper sounds dreadful to you – then it’s worth it to purchase your prints elsewhere.
How do you find a good printshop? Two of the most common starter printshops in our field are StationeryHQ and Printswell Fulfillment. They both offer a wide variety and easy online ordering. I also think it’s valuable to have a local printer on deck, for rush jobs or things that need more customization. Google stationery printers in your area, and find one that’s willing to chat and show you their work. If they’re not familiar with the type of printing you want to do – that’s probably not the printer for you! So move on to the next one.
Want the inside scoop on the printers and suppliers I use? Get our curated Print + Paper Vendor Guide with over $200 of exclusive discounts included!
Creating samples not only gets you familiar with the process of printing your work, but it also gives you something to take photos of to develop a portfolio! If you want to know how to start a stationery business – samples are key! You can use stationery mockups, but clients will want to see photos of your work in real life. And they’ll neverrrr be able to tell if they’re fake (unless you use celebrity names, so don’t do that).
Here’s a video showing you how to style stationery photos – include some of your branding elements to keep things cohesive:
Flatlay photos perform better online than angled shots, but those are valuable if you want to put them in a product listing, so take a variety of shots.
Yes, this will all cost you money, but both of these printers have small minimum quantities. Plus, any business will require investment to get started. Spending a little now will give you the experience to avoid major mistakes and issues on larger jobs in the future. Not to mention the money these samples will bring in once you’re able to accurately showcase your work!
You’ll also learn firsthand about pricing your work – I have a full course on stationery pricing. My main tip today is to cover your design time and your production costs.
Typical markups in stationery are about 2.5 – 3x the cost of the goods. If you’re selling a custom item, you also should add on an hourly rate for your designs. If they’re not custom (art prints or greeting cards, for instance) then you can build in a little extra margin to cover that design time, or rely on the volume you sell to cover that!
An important part of how to start a stationery business is how to find your first “real” client. Most stationers will find that their first jobs are free jobs for friends and family. I am a HUGE fan of this concept because it gives you a chance to work with a client who has opinions and feedback, without investing TOO much into it.
I’d ask your friends if they have upcoming smaller projects you could work on. Instead of a full wedding invitation, for instance, I’d recommend a birthday party or shower. Have them pay for materials but design this work for free.
If you’re selling greeting cards, art prints, or personal stationery, you should ask for a photo of the product in use that you can use for marketing later. And always get a nice testimonial of this “client’s” experience working with you.
Once you’re able to show work and talk about projects you’ve completed, you’ll be able to share your work with the world. I highly recommend using your own website, even if you keep it simple right now – here’s a video on what you should add to your first website! I used Squarespace when I first started, and it’s a great platform for beginner designers. This will make you look professional and give your clients a view into your work and process.
I also love Etsy as a beginner platform – here’s a video on it for you. The biggest benefit to Etsy is that it has a built in user base of millions, and the interface is really familiar to people, so they feel comfortable trusting sellers on Etsy. My advice is that custom work isn’t meant for Etsy, but anything that’s repeatable will do well on Etsy.
Other places to look for clients are at local networking events. If you’re selling into the wedding industry check out your local Tuesdays Together chapter on Facebook for upcoming events! Then think back to your ideal client – what platforms are they on? How are they shopping for products like yours?
It could be local retail stores, where you could sell your products wholesale, or it could be as simple as Instagram or Facebook or Pinterest. I make 70% of my income from Instagram, and I’ve got a ton of videos on YouTube about it!
The main idea is that you’re putting your work in front of that ideal client as much as possible. So if that person goes to book clubs, you should go to book clubs too, or get your work into the local libraries. If that person hires a wedding planner, you should be networking with wedding planners to have them refer your work. The more you can get in front of those ideal clients, the more jobs you’ll get!
Now that you know how to start a stationery business, what’s next? There are so many different steps you can take based on the goals you set for your business! I hope you’ll check out some of the other blog posts, videos, and resources to explore these topics further, and that this video got you started on the right track for a successful and profitable stationery business.
Tell me in the comments what type of stationery business you’re hoping to start and where you are in your journey!!! And I hope you’ll join Stationery School for full courses, deep dives, and live trainings with me every month!
Wedding invitations to tell your story, and business education to help you write your own.