The greeting card industry has always had the reputation for being an easy entry industry for small businesses, with it’s relatively low start up costs; and in recent years this has never been more true, with the rise of digital printing and the ease of online selling. Understandably, in a desire to print and sell their own cards and have, seemingly, total creative freedom, it is no surprise that many artists are tempted to take the leap from licensing their artwork to setting up their own card company.
But what are the pros and cons of such a different way of working, how easy or difficult is it to make the transition, can you continue to do both? To obtain some “Know your onions” quality information and answers to some of these questions I asked Creative Card Collective member, Amanda Mountain, of Lola Design, to share with us her experience of taking such a leap.
I first got to know Amanda, many years ago, when I was the creative director for an established card publisher and she supplied us on a fairly regular basis with amazing artwork. Always very professional, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Amanda decided to set up her own card company. Catching up at various trade exhibitions over the years I have seen her company grow and go from strength to strength. So here in her own words is Amanda’s journey from freelance artist to publisher.
Amanda, before I ask you about this brave move you made from being a freelancer to setting up your own card company, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what you do now?
I grew up in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, a place where thermal underwear and cups of tea are essential. With beautiful rolling hills and an abundance of wildlife you can see where the inspiration for some of our cards has come from. I live with my husband, Frank (who is also my business partner) and our little Frenchie, Rocky in the historical city of York, UK, where I work in a home studio (which is really an organised mess). There are always lots of scribbled sketches and glitter scattered across my table and I’m often streaming David Bowie…always good to dance about to. I spend most of my days drawing, working on my Mac or looking at different swatch books and incoming trends. Thankfully my days are also interspersed with breaks walking Rocky the Frenchie.
I discovered my love for art at high school and carried this through to university where I studied Illustration. I’ve drawn many different things, which I guess have all contributed towards my style, ranging from scientific sketches of bones through to children’s character illustration which is really what set me on the current path. My first job was as an in house illustrator for a fashion company where I would draw fun pictures for children’s pyjamas! After an amazing two years there I was offered a job in London as an in-house artist for a leading greeting card brand which I loved, spending the next 10 years developing and learning about greeting cards.
I then went freelance when we relocated from London back to Yorkshire, licensing my designs to a variety of different brands before launching our own brand with my husband called Lola Design.
It’s crazy to think that I’ve been in the greeting card industry for over 18 years now and I haven’t looked back at such a wonderful industry filled with very talented people who are all so lovely you will never find a Industry like it.
I haven’t looked back at such a wonderful industry filled with very talented people who are all so lovely you will never find an Industry like it.
I understand you spent three years licensing to other large publishers before setting up your own company, how did you license your work during this time?
I had an agent when I left my full time design job, Hannah from Bright. If I’m being honest my agent was my cushion into the freelance world where I would still feel like I was part of a big company/ community. I was terrified when I took that leap but fear is something that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you have to do & love.
What led you to taking the leap from licensing to publishing?
October 2014 was a big turning point for myself and Frank, my Dad was very ill with kidney failure, spending most of his time in the hospital, so I offered my spare kidney to him. After the op it left us thinking life was too short and made us re-evaluate what we wanted to do and is why we expanded into the publishing side together. I’m a firm believer …
” if you don’t try you will never know.”
Tell me about Lola Design and what it was like at the start of your business journey … did you continue to license artwork alongside publishing your own designs?
Lola Design is now entering its fifth year of publishing. I really can’t believe where the time has gone.
I’m not going to sugar coat these five years it was very very hard, in fact we can honestly say it has been the hardest thing we have ever done but also the most satisfying thing we have ever done. I completely take my hat off to those publishers that are one man bands. They are amazing!
The first five years (at least) are about learning as much as possible about the business and how things work, pricing, price codes, what paper /card to use, finishes if any are needed etc…. the list goes on and we are still learning everyday things you would never even have thought about. We have made mistakes along the way however have learned from them and moved on to make things so much better.
I don’t think I could have gotten this far without Frank working on this too, he really is the brains behind the business and with his background in FMCG has been essential .
I was juggling doing a bit of freelance here and there with our own work for the first three years but it had got to a point that I really couldn’t take on any more freelancing briefs which was really sad for me as it was a big part of the journey we have been on, however it was a natural progression. I now work solely on designs for us to publish.
What would you say were the biggest advantages of publishing your own designs and what are the major disadvantages?
The Biggest advantage is you get to do what you want to the final designs but the disadvantage is you still have to rein it in a bit when designing by making sure it is still commercial and stays within budget.
What was the hardest thing you found in making the transition from freelancer to publisher?
Learning the business side of things, although I’m lucky as Frank ( the Brains) does all that now; however I still have to get my head around it. It’s important to know how it all works even if it does blow your mind. Also I’m not going to lie, the money you get from freelancing/ licensing is brilliant but with publishing your own work you have a LOT of outgoing cost
What do you wish you had know or understood before starting your own publishing company?
I would have wanted to know how hard it really was going to be starting this and how much realistically it was going to cost. There is still so much for us to learn and we are very lucky that if we have any questions we have some very good publishing friends we can ask.
What do you love most about what you do and having your own company … is there anything you miss about being a freelance artist?
We both love what we do and we wouldn’t change a thing. We love running our company and the responsibility we have with everyone who works with us. We have a great team! I do sometimes miss the range of different briefs I used to get when freelancing. However I wouldn’t change a thing.
With many thanks to Amanda for sharing her experiences, please let me know in the comments if you found that helpful or interesting. And if you want to see more of the wonderful cards and product created by Amanda, then follow the links below.
Click here to visit the Lola website