Will Your Great Idea Translate into a Great Business?

by Carolyn Edlund

You’ve got it – a new twist on an old concept that will really work. Or will it?


Greeting card display


I once received an email from an entrepreneur who had what he considered to be a great idea. He wanted to start a greeting card line, but it would be focused only on “break up” and divorce cards. He meant to develop a kind of bittersweet collection of sentiments for messed-up relationships.

Would it have worked? No. Not by a long shot. Although he thought that he had a great concept, he actually had no understanding of the greeting card business, why customers shop for cards and the motivation that leads them to make a purchase.

When you come up with a concept for a collection that you think might sell, test drive it against reality. Although it might sound like a fantastic idea to you, it must also align with what customers want. Because after all, it’s all about them.

I often tell my consulting clients to take a look at each piece in their line, and answer these questions: “Who will buy this? Why will they buy this?” If your concept truly resonates with the customers you want to reach, that’s wonderful. But if not, you may end up with nothing but wasted time, money and dreams.

If you mean to enter a certain existing market, keep in mind that you shouldn’t be trying to reinvent the wheel. There are time-honored ways of selling and buying that won’t be changing any time soon. For example, greeting cards usually come in packs of six of the same design with envelopes, although high-end cards may be sometimes be offered in packs of four. This is a standard practice, and wholesale buyers know it. If you try to sell cards singly, or in threes, or nines to retailers, you’ll get strange looks. In addition, the buyers will know that you have little experience, which won’t make them confident in buying from you.

Having a great idea is fine. But it doesn’t mean that you can influence major trends in the way that business is done. This is why you can’t just invent a new holiday or other new reason for people to buy greeting cards and expect any success. You must understand human nature and how consumers behave.

Sometimes a “great idea” doesn’t work simply because you are thinking too small. Into this category falls that card line that was only for break ups, and the potter who only wanted to offer brown pots, and the dollmaker who only wanted to make doll heads, but not bodies. Turn that around and start thinking big, and working on coming up with a concept that can be turned into an entire brand with multiple products that work together, and can be cross-sold.

When you work in isolation, and stumble on your big idea, it can seem terrific at the time, but you need to do your research. This means getting input from other sources, and feedback from the marketplace. You need to hear from people who might be your next customer.

Some questions to ask yourself when you are brainstorming for ideas for that new line:

  • Who is the target customer, and why will this appeal to them?
  • Is the offering too narrow, or too general?
  • Are you solving a problem for the customer? Name it.
  • What is the emotional connection that you can make between your line and your prospective customer?
  • What makes your concept special and appealing?
  • Who is your competition? How is their line different from yours, and how is it similar? Why is yours better?
  • How will you brand your line to be recognizable and memorable?

Then, get out in public and test your new concept before you invest too much in production or inventory. Ask questions, listen to the feedback you get, and make note of the objections people have to buying what you make. Use what you learn to tweak your line, or even to retool everything and start again.

It wasn’t long ago that I spoke with a greeting card entrepreneur who had already printed 32,000 cards that would ultimately would go to waste because the product wasn’t developed enough before it went to press. Don’t be that person. Dream big and come up with great ideas, and then make sure they will work before you take the next step.


Artsy Shark founder and author Carolyn Edlund works one-on-one with artists and creative entrepreneurs to launch and build successful small businesses. Find out more about consulting services here.


  1. The greeting card idea may have worked… as a gag gift. From what I gather he meant for it to be something serious, correct? Yikes!

    In general it is best to observe existing models — and figure out a way to add something unique to it.

    • Oh yes Brian, he was very serious. Divorce cards do exist, but they are probably .0001 percent of the market. I repped 21 different lines of cards at one time, and think I sold in about two pockets of “Divorce” over the years. But I couldn’t tell you the sell-through, because I never reordered them!

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    Do you still work as a sales rep for greeting cards? I have a small collection of about 35 cards and I’m looking for someone to sell them for me. If not, Can you recommend where to look and how to find someone who is the right fit?

    Thank You!

  3. Hi Carolyn,

    I have been a wholesale handcrafted gift designer and illustrator for many years but most of our stores over the past 5 years closed. Recently I have been working on card lines that I would consider high end because of all the added materials…charms, ribbons ,cut board etc. The retail price is around 6-8 dollars.
    I am presently at the NYNOW giftshow along with my other items that all go with the cards. We are selling some but not enough to carry a business. The other booths are a lot busier with their card selling. We get great responses but the retailers don’t buy . Any suggestions?

    • Lisa, Without looking at your business deeply, I cannot say why you aren’t experiencing sufficient sales. As you said, booths at the show are busy, so you know that the buyers are there. What feedback do you hear? Is there price resistance? Do you have a good spread of titles and price points? Does your card line offer enough value? Many times small changes in your strategy or marketing approach make a difference in the perceived value of a line. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in speaking about it personally.

  4. I almost made the same mistake as the card entrepreneur who printed 32,000 cards. Fortunately, I only printed 5,000 cards I was able to sell within 3 years. The cards sold well, but there were design changes I need to make to improve their commercial value, but I had to wait until I sold the lot. It is so easy to get carried away with your idea especially if folks are telling you how much they like your work. I hope this person will recover and is a lot wiser than before. Cheers.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jeanetmarie. Yes, the fatal flaw can be that you need a slight design change, and if you have tons of stock, it becomes a real problem. Rather than polling people to see if they like the product, I would rather stay lean on inventory while seeing how actual sales go, and work out the flaws as you learn about them. Then, when you know you have a solid bestseller increase production.

  5. Shalisa Humphrey says

    Interesting article. I’ve had challenges finding US based production houses that can print cards with beautiful embellishments. Are there resources that share vendors that can produce high end cards?

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