I want to talk about the time when I thought I was a genius for wanting to sell hand-illustrated notebooks.

Specifically, Game of Thrones illustrations.

A little background info: At the time, I just finished the first couple of books and the first season of the TV series was about to come out.

My geekiness convinced me that it would be great to buy blank notebooks (I bought 50 pieces BTW), draw sigils of the Houses on the covers and sell them.

Just imagine a normal brown notebook with a three-headed dragon on the cover. I also had a lion one for Lannister and a wolf one for Stark. (Like I said, geek)

So I had 3 notebooks ready, and objectively, I knew my illustrations were pretty decent. But guess what? Nobody bought my notebooks.

(In the end, a friend took pity and bought all 3)

To be honest, the lack of sales made me pasta-spiral into self-doubt for a few months. I thought that it was such a brilliant idea. And to have that idea -- my first business idea -- fail was a pretty disturbing thing.

But a few months after, I had an epiphany. Why not sell personalized notebooks? I could draw people's names on the covers using hand-lettering.

So I went with that. And the remaining 47 notebooks were all sold. I also restocked and sold about 100 more notebooks. :)


Your product isn't supposed to be about you!

If there's one thing I learned about my time selling notebooks, it's this:

If your product is about you, instead of the people you're selling to, you're going to have a hard time selling. You're going to have a hard time making money. A brand that's not making money is pretty useless.

Don't let your own preferences and desires completely influence the product you want to sell. In the end, you have to convince other people to buy, not convince yourself.

So creating a profitable product isn't easy. Can a person just "stumble" upon a money-maker? No. There's no stumbling, only lots of research and upfront investment.


Using a skill to kickstart your own brand

If you're like me and you can't spend RM5,000 - RM10,000 to research and develop your own product, there's a simpler path to build your own brand.

That simpler path is the Path of SKILL.

This basically means that you focus on developing a skill, offering that skill as a service and ultimately become known as an expert in that skill.

A little recap here:

  • The Game of Thrones illustrated notebooks = PRODUCT
  • Personalizing notebook covers using hand-lettering = SKILL

You don't have to start your brand by releasing products that are expensive to produce and frankly, could be totally wrong for the market.

"You don't need to have a product to start YOUR own brand. Use your skills instead!"

Remember when my GoT notebooks were all about me and obviously, were never gonna make me much money?

Offering a skill as a service is the OPPOSITE. A service is personalized to the customer's requirements. It's all about the customer.

And you will find that customers love the personalization factor, just like I realized it when I started offering my hand-lettering services.

It's also a great way to start making connections with customers AND money without you having to drop thousands of Ringgit on your suppliers.


For example, it's easier and cheaper to be known for being able to bake really good cakes than to manufacture your own line of cake mixes. Right?

It's easier to build a reputation of being an awesome MUA by taking on jobs than to research and manufacture your own make up products. Right?


You can have your own product, eventually!

Once you have experience in what the customers want and good reputation from being consistently awesome, it will be so much easier to create and sell your own products.

So the Path of SKILL and the Path of PRODUCT will merge someday. It's just that the Path of SKILL is safer and more beginner-friendly.

So find / identify a skill, practice it, and offer to do it for someone in exchange of money. You don't have to have a product to start building your brand.

Next week, we're going to look at how you can find a skill you can make money from AND build a brand that you want at the same time. :)


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