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I am 20 years old and have started my own business designing and producing offbeat trading cards. I have a business license and a website and have had good interest when I put some of the cards on eBay. I'm not really sure how to go about marketing them further. Can you help?
—R.L., Los Angeles
The first task in marketing a product is finding your target customers. You've got a niche product. Now you need to answer some questions about it: Are your cards primarily going to be purchased by kids or adults? What kinds of trading card enthusiasts will be interested in your cards? Are they for sports fans, fantasy fans, or pop culture fans? What other "offbeat" collections are out there—and how are they marketed?
Immerse yourself in trading card communities and get familiar with who is involved, what they are buying, what they pay for the cards, how they trade with each other, and which collections are the most popular. Between hobbyist websites, card bloggers, fan forums, and social media, your research should be fruitful.
Develop a profile of your ideal customer, making it as detailed as you can in terms of age, income level, and interests. Then plan your marketing messages around that profile. Use social media, including a Facebook fan page, to attract and measure your customer base.
Set up an e-commerce platform on your website that includes a catalog of high-quality photos of all your cards. Include your photo and a brief bio, says artist and card designer Steve Lowtwait, who markets his designs at CampSteve.com. "Say something about yourself on your site. People who like buying from artists like to know a little something about them," he says.
Joel Wishkovsky, co-founder of greeting card website Card Gnome, recommends BigCartel.com, which offers shopping cart software specifically for artists.You'll have to decide whether you want to hold inventory and ship it yourself or direct traffic from your site to a print-on-demand site such as Zazzle.com or CafePress.com, he says. "These sites have the added benefit of being able to put your trading card designs on other types of gifts without any extra effort," Wishkovsky says.
If you are already carrying inventory, eBay (EBAY) and Etsy are obvious marketing venues for you. You may find low-cost advertising opportunities on blogs that cover trading cards. Depending on how "offbeat" your cards are, you might also try DeviantArt.com, Lowtwait says. "I've not posted anything there since my work doesn't fit, but it's a community site for alternative style artworks," he says.
Another marketing venue you shouldn't ignore is the trade show circuit. "They are still the best way to network and break into an industry. There are a number of great shows where you can find people to license your work or find a distribution deal," Wishkovsky says. He recommends general card shows, such as the National Stationery Show and SURTEX.
You can also find more specialized shows. TradingCardCentral.com has a listing of card and memorabilia conventions.Another good source for you—for resources and perhaps as an advertising venue—would be Non-Sport Update, a magazine that covers trading cards, assuming that yours are of a non-sport variety.
It's always a good idea to go to a show first for an idea of how the show operates and who attends before you take on the considerable effort and expense of exhibiting. Good luck.