How do I get people or businesses interested in getting buttons made or using buttons for fundraisers? November 05 2012

Faisal asked

“I’m interested in button making and I design fanart too. How do I get people or businesses interested in getting buttons made or using buttons for fundraisers?”

Thanks for the question Faisal, it’s a big question and I will try to answer it here in short form and at the end I will link to other related articles that I have written.  Cheers!

How do I start my custom button making business?  How do I market my buttons? How do I start a button making business?

1. Create your tools.

2. Identify your market.

3. Create your marketing plan for your launch.

4. Consider timely or seasonal and ongoing strategies.

1. Create your tools:

Your tools are what you need when you walk in the door the first time to meet a potential customer.

Samples and Business Cards.  Keep samples handy, that way when you see your friends, family or meet new people, you can give them one. They’ll probably compliment the design, at which point you can say “Thank you! I made it myself. If you ever need buttons for an event or business, let me know”. They might not need them right away, but they’ll have you in mind for when they (or someone they know) do. Better yet, make your samples double as your business card: put your contact info on a button and voila! You’ve got a button business card. It can be round, square, or whatever shape and size you want. If you make them as magnets instead of pinbacks, you have the added benefit of the free publicity you’ll get when they put it on their fridge, locker, etc. The 1-3/4” x 2-3/4” rectangular button maker makes great business card sized magnet or pin-back buttons. BUT REMEMBER: if that’s your card, people may ask for the same shape and size, so be ready to buy that machine – or limit your business cards to the size of the button maker you own.

You need a price list.  That means an easy to read, single piece of paper with your prices.   Give price breaks for larger quantities, but don’t go too cheap.  No point making 100,000,000 buttons if you’re going to lose money (and time) on every single one!

You need a website. This can be a free site (such as WordPress). To start, make sure you have 2 pages: one that says who you are and what you do and the other with your contact information so potential customers can get in touch to place an order. Having a website with your address, phone, etc. increases trust while publishing prices online assures customers they are getting a fair deal.

2.   Identify your market:

You have, in your question, identified fundraisers as a potential market.  Who raises funds?  Community groups, Non-profits, church groups and activist organisations. Start with a list of local groups that you wish to contact.  Send them samples (5 buttons or magnets, or a mix of both, is more than enough) and a pricelist.  If you see an excellent potential client, make them a personalized button and go and meet with them face to face (perhaps at one of their events!).

If you want to sell CUSTOM buttons (meaning, you use or create designs specifically for your customer):

Any local business is a potential customer, canvas your local business area or drop a business card button through the door whilst taking the dog for a walk.  Local small businesses are your best bet when starting out, as big chain stores often buy at head office and not at branch level.

Don’t forget your friends: they are your biggest supporters, probably your first customers, and will be the happiest to tell other people that their friend is in the button making business. Create a personalized button for each of your friends (if they like Godzilla, give them a Godzilla button with their name on it). They will wear it, go forth and spread the word.

If you want to sell YOUR buttons (meaning, you want to sell your own art in button form):

Set up a booth at local farmers’ markets, flea markets, or one-of-a-kind shows.

Create an online store on etsy, ebay, or other online shop.

Do a “crowdfunding” campaign. Rockethub is a great company to help you with this and can give you more information. Simply put, you set a goal for the amount of money you want to raise (which can go towards establishing your button business: maybe you don’t have a machine yet, maybe you want to get another one) and then you promise your donors a product in return for their donation (which you give to them once your campaign is complete). This is a great way to a) get the funds you need to purchase your gear and, b) start establishing a word-of-mouth client base before your business even begins!

Identify potential resellers. Look for stores in your area that could resell for you and take it a step further: ask the local bicycle store if they want to sell bicycle buttons, ask the computer store if they want to sell nerd buttons, ask the pet store if they want to sell animal buttons / fluffy animal buttons / animal rights buttons.  Then use your creative genius to design a set of buttons for them to sell.  Either they buy a box of buttons from you or you negotiate a cut of consignment sales. Talk to them, get their ideas. For example, you could create 5-30 designs for them, laid out on a clean, professional looking board (or in a counter top box or jar) in the store and split the sale 50/50 with the store owner.  You may have to settle with a consignment deal – meaning, you get paid when they sell (so you’ll have to keep an inventory and check in from time to time).  But if the store owner allows a small add on the board that says “I Make Custom Buttons” and contact info, then it could be the beginning of something good.


NOTE: Match the buttons you create to your personality and the personality of the store (and owner) you choose to work with.  If you’re an avid cyclist do cycle stores.  If you’re a tech wiz do computer stores.  YOU WON’T CREATE GOOD PRODUCTS IF YOU’RE NOT INTERESTED!   Example: If you’re allergic to anything furry and hate animals it will be harder for you to identify with animal lovers, likely your buttons won’t be so good.  If you’re an animal rights activist and want to make anti-cruelty buttons (and I’m 100% with you), there is still no point going to the local pet store that sells Chihuahua’s with pink bows if the store owner isn’t an activist.  Put a Chihuahua with a pink bow on a button and you will win that customer.  (Disclaimer:  Here I apologize to all animal activists that have Chihuahuas with pink bows – I have a Pitbull that behaves like a Chihuahua and wears pink bows sometimes.)

3.   Create your marketing plan:

A marketing plan for a new business usually means a $0 budget but there are still free online notice boards, free classifieds, crowd funding possibilities, trade/swop ideas and tabling event possibilities. Follow this simple list, add your own ideas and work through the list. That’s a plan!

Free classifieds: There are many local online noticeboards such as Craigslist and Kijiji. Just go in, use the free option and place some ads. Search for free classifieds online. Some newspapers allow free classifieds but keep it local to start. You can get into shipping, returns, credit card payments etc. later. This may bring an order or two but it’s a good place to start, you begin to formulate in your own mind why you are better, why people should use your service and primarily that will be because you are “local”. People like to deal with neighbours. Don’t just be cheap! Underselling products is a key reason for small business failures.

Tabling, Festivals, Street Parties, Yard Sales:  Tap into your local community, what’s coming up? Setup a table at your neighbours’ yard sale. What about the Christmas fundraiser at the church. Does your local business community run a festival? Talk to the Business Improvement Association. Even if you go there and stand all day and sell just $50, next time your neighbour talks to someone they may just say, “I know someone who makes buttons.”  Do not underestimate how much money you can make at a school or college lunchtime break if you can setup a table. What about a “Make your own button table.” Basically any public event is a potential button marketing event.

Birthday party events for kids:   What about doing birthday party events for kids with your button maker?  It’s simple to organize coloured pens, markers and pre-cut circles for kids to draw on.  Don’t forget to take a few magazines or comics so the kids can cut out the stuff they’re into. Create a craigslist (or other) post specifically about your birthday party services and see what happens!

Trade / Swop: You’re starting out, you have no cash – what if the local church wants $30 for a table – offer them custom buttons instead.  If a local business is willing to trade products or advertising in exchange for buttons, that could be a good way to get the ball rolling and lower your start up costs.

4.   Consider timely / seasonal and ongoing strategies.

Whether it’s for the launch of your business or for ongoing business you’ve got to be timely and seasonal.  As I write, Christmas is looming. So why not offer to put family pictures on a button for people to give out as Christmas gifts or include with their yearly Christmas cards?  In the Spring you want to be thinking about Summer events/festivals and planning ahead.

Here’s a simple framework – I know it’s not rocket science – for how a button maker should be thinking and preparing:

Spring:     Summer events, street festivals, beer gardens, yard sales

Summer:  Back to school

Autumn / Fall: Halloween, Harvest Festival, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah,

Winter:   Christmas, Holiday Season, New Year, New Year Resolutions, Valentines

All year round:  Birthdays, Marriages, Funerals, Graduations, Births.  Also new movies, trends (QR codes), comic books (any new Marvel release) and then the humdinger of them all: ELECTIONS at every level: local school or National Presidential elections all need buttons!

Some final words for reflection and advice:

Starting ANY business takes a lot of legwork to get it up and running.  The most effective advertising is ALWAYS word of mouth.  Do a good job for each customer and they will become your ‘sales representatives’.  It may go wrong occasionally (don’t ignore it!), do what it takes to win that customer back (but remember that once in a while you’ll run into a client that can never be pleased. Don’t take it personally).  Go a step further for your customers: Under promise and over deliver. Establish your customer base and as long as your service and product is good (and fills a need) it will grow naturally without expensive advertising.  Be creative. Don’t try to get too big too quick, steady as she goes and I wish you luck with your new button business!