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The Business of Planners: How to Create Products and Return Customers

Founder of Chasing Planner Peace, Jessica Yasuda.

Jessica Yasuda was heavily involved in the planner community and enjoyed the art of planning but had a hard time finding the ideal layouts and refillable inserts for her notebooks. What started as a personal project of creating her own designs and inserts led to the production of planners for the wider community and the creation of her business, Chasing Planner Peace. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Jessica Yasuda shares how her personal frustration led to the launch of Chasing Planner Peace, how initial custom orders allowed her to develop evergreen products, and how she markets on Facebook.

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    Show Notes

    From personal frustration to creating products 

    Felix: The idea behind this business came out of frustration. What were you trying to do and how did the idea come to be? 

    Jessica: About six years ago, I fell into planning as a hobby. There's a huge community of people who love using their planners as a memory keeping or scrapbooking type hobby. Decorating it with stickers, washi tape, and making it beautiful as well as helping keep yourself organized. At the time, I was using a Filofax planner, which is a ring planner where you can take the pages in and out. I was buying a lot of downloadable printable planner refills from Etsy and printing them out at home because the paper that comes with your Filofax is pretty thin and boring. A lot of people like to take it out and put something a little bit more creative inside. I was so frustrated with these printable downloadable inserts because they were so hard to print at home, I would waste so much paper, so much ink on my computer, and I couldn't find a layout that actually worked for me either. I ended up saying to myself, "I'm actually just going to sit down and design my own layout. I'm going to design my own perfect planner inserts just for my own use."

    Felix: Very cool. Did it surprise you that no one had designed a better solution for this issue that you were facing?

    Jessica: Well, I'm based in Australia. There was one other company that was doing these planner inserts that you could buy already printed. There are lots of people in the United States that do it, but postage to Australia from the United States is just really expensive. I guess I was surprised that no one else was really doing it in Australia. I could see that a lot of people were doing it overseas.

    Felix: Did you notice anything different about your local market in Australia that was different than what's more popular around the world?

    Jessica: I guess the good thing about Australia is our planner community is very active on Facebook. We have a group called Planner Addicts Australia that has I think maybe around 10 thousand members. I'm very active in that group every day and I've come to know a lot of the other people in that group. I think what's been really good is that through interacting with other like-minded people, I've been able to figure out what people would like and what products people want to see.

    A planner with inserts by Chasing Planner Peace.
    Jessica Yasuda started to design planner inserts because there wasn't any that matched her needs. Chasing Planner Peace

    Felix: What gave you the confidence to say let me just do this anyway even though I don't have the perfect situation?

    Jessica: That is how I have done everything. I have just gone, "I don't know how to do it, but I'm just going to have a crack anyway." I'm a big believer in progress over perfection. If I had waited to have beautiful photos, a perfect logo, a beautifully designed website, I probably would have never started. Sometimes, you need to get out there and do it to see if anyone is actually interested in what you're selling anyway. The whole way through, I have just gone with just do it. It doesn't have to be perfect, just get it done.

    Customization lead to evergreen products 

    Felix: What do you think made people buy your first products even though you didn't have the best photos to take or the best logo? 

    Jessica: I really don't know, but I think it might have had something to do with the fact that my products were priced way too cheaply. I was also really willing to take on custom work. I don't take on any custom work anymore, but at that time, people were like, "I see you've got these planner inserts, could you design me something that works for me?" I was like, "Sure, I would love to do that." I actually became quite busy just taking on custom work in that first year. Some of those designs have actually gone on to be our best sellers. It was probably a good way to get started even though it wasn't really worth my time in terms of how much I was getting paid for it. It was probably really worthwhile in terms of growing the business, getting my name out there, and getting more products in my shop.

    Felix: Do you recommend taking this approach of doing custom, almost service-based work first before scaling out into products?

    Jessica: I think there are so many different ways you can grow a business. If I was to do it again, I'm not sure if I would do so much custom work, but it definitely worked for us at the time. I think telling people there's a certain way you should do something is maybe not helpful for everyone because everyone's business is so unique. For us, doing custom work really did help to grow our client base. Some of those people have come back every year for five years to buy their inserts from us. It did work and it was a good learning experience for me on how to design because when I started, I was doing my inserts in Microsoft Publisher, I wasn't a graphic designer, and I guess that really helped to expand my skill set.

    Felix: Once you moved on to selling the products instead of doing this custom work, where were the customers coming from at this point? 

    Jessica: A lot of our customers came from Australia from the planner addicts Facebook group. People would ask, "Where can I get beautiful printed inserts in Australia?" People would recommend my shop. Most of our customers at that stage came from Australia and came from the Planner Addicts Facebook group, or from our own VIP group.

    Once people had purchased from us, they would be invited to join our VIP group where we stay in touch with our customers. Those people would continue to buy from us. The great thing about our product is it's not a one and done product. People will buy some inserts for their planner, and because their ring planners are so customizable and you can put all sorts of pages in there, they might come buy some calendar inserts from us, then come back a couple of weeks later, buy some online shopping trackers, some lined paper, or some contacts and addresses pages, or whatever. We've had people that have come and placed 30 or 40 orders from our store because they just like to keep adding to their planner and making it work for them.

    Felix: For anyone out there that is just starting a business, what is the best way to gracefully present your product? 

    Jessica: Don't be one of those people that just drop your link all the time. That makes you look really desperate and people get annoyed. We have rules in the planner group—you can promote your shop once a week. Lots of people in that group have a planner shop, it's usually selling stickers. That's fine to drop your link once a week and say these are our new releases. Try and share something that's of value, something that people might find interesting. I guess just participate in the group, join in lots of conversations, not just ones about your product. Just actually provide some value to the group rather than just sharing your shop.

    Refillable planner inserts by Chasing Planner Peace.
    Initally creating custom oders allowed Jessica to find the right components for some of her evergreen planner products. Chasing Planner Peace

    Felix: What is the most successful channel that brings in new customers to you?

    Jessica: 80 percent of our traffic comes through Facebook. People often complain about Facebook and how it's a massive time-sucking website, but we wouldn't have been able to build our business without Facebook. It's almost entirely built from Facebook. Now, we're looking at other channels as well. We're a bit more active on Instagram, Pinterest, and that type of thing, but still, most of our traffic comes from Facebook. We spend about 300 dollars a month on Facebook ads, but I would say that most of it come from Facebook groups. There's the planner group, there's our VIP group, and then there are other groups.

    Felix: How’s your approach in groups that’s not planner focused? 

    Jessica: It's two completely different sets of customers. The planning people, they just want the inserts. The people who are in the organizing groups, they want the whole planner with and don't want to have to go through all the hundreds of different types of inserts that we have on our website because it's just overwhelming. When we opened our Shopify store, we actually started to manufacture our own range of planners. Instead of people using Filofaxes or kikki.K Planners, they could buy a planner from our store and we found that what we've done is we've put together different bundles.

    Felix: How do you know that it's going to be worth your time in terms of having enough customers that are willing to pay for a product like this before you invest your time into it?

    Jessica: That's really where our VIP group comes in handy. We have a VIP group that has about three and a half thousand members. It's quite active. People will often post in there asking for if we could create a product for them. They also share pictures of their planners arriving and can use this little space to interact with other people who also are customers. Sometimes, people will say, "Can you create a package for people who are using this disability scheme or for pets?" People said, "We'd love you to create a planner to track our pets' health, training, and that type of thing." I would just see if that's validated in the group because other people were interested in it as well. We did a teacher planner this year and we had so many requests from different customers over the years that we had a good idea it would be a popular product. 

    We have learned over the years though that just because people say they would be interested in it doesn't mean they actually will be when it's available and they need to spend money on it. It is something that I'm quite cautious about now when it comes to designing new products. The time to design products is so minimal now as well. I really need to make sure that if I'm spending time designing, that it's worthwhile because most of my time is just actually taken up on printing and processing orders at the moment. It's really a matter of just asking in the VIP group and validating it with more than just a handful of customers.

    Felix: Are you getting better at recognizing when people are more serious in the sense that they are going to actually pay you for something that you're building? 

    Jessica: I guess it's a matter of looking to see if there is an actual community of people out there that will use the product. For example, someone might ask us if we could do trackers for pen pals, people who write letters to each other. I might think to myself, there's probably not that many people that are really going to use those inserts. We do have them in the store, but they haven't been a big seller. If people ask for a teacher planner, there's a whole community of people out there that are teachers that would likely use it or a pet planner. There's lots of people that have pets. It's a bit of a community. Same with the disability inserts, there's a big community out there. That's really where we're going and where we're looking to go in the future is designing things for people where there's a whole community of people that would be interested in the product. Not all teachers are going to use our teacher planner, but at least we know there's a population there that we can market the product to.

    The design process and not aiming for perfection 

    Felix: When you have decided that it's worthwhile to invest in designing a new planner, what are all the steps that you need to take to make sure that it's going to be successfully designed?

    Jessica: I've put a lot more effort into making sure everything's really perfect these days. I used to just whip things up quickly in Publisher and now I use Adobe Indesign. I will really take the time. Usually, on a Wednesday, my kids are at daycare or at school, I've got the house to myself, I'll sit down, and I'll spend a lot of time on it. We ask our customers to review the products as well before they are finalized. Especially something that's complicated like a teacher planner, the disability inserts, or a pregnancy planner, I will come up with a design and then I will ask if there's some customers who might be willing to have a look at a PDF and provide some feedback. Then, we do test print, check that everything lines up properly. I have an assistant, Cleo, she's got a really good eye for detail and she'll have a look over it as well just to make sure that everything's just perfect and really attractive to look at.

    Felix: Do you get early prototypes? How do you get feedback early on before you finalize a product?

    Jessica: When I release it, I want to make sure that it's like the final version. I don't want to have to go back and release a product to the public, then have to go and make more changes, take more photos, upload the product again. Before I release it, I will actually contact some customers in the VIP group who have expressed an interest in the product and I'll say, "I'll send you a free copy if you are willing to have a look at the draft version and provide some feedback." I'll make sure I get lots of feedback from everyone, take it all on board, create multiple drafts until everyone's happy with it. Then, I will finalize it and upload it to the website.

    Planners and refill inserts by Chasing Planner Peace.
    Participating in communities allowed Chasing Planner Peace to have a base to market to when their products were ready. Chasing Planner Peace

    Felix: Are there any specific questions that you try to ask to pull out whether you need to make any changes or not?

    Jessica: People were pretty forthcoming in their opinions. With a teacher planner, it was quite complicated. We did actually contact a number of different teachers and we found that every teacher has different needs. It was just a matter of balancing that, not creating a planner that's perfect for every teacher, but just to make the best that we could out of everyone's different requirements really. That's how it is with all our products. You're not necessarily going to be absolutely 100 percent perfect for everyone, but so long as they're good enough for most people, that's the best we can do. I think that's going back to that progress over perfection. You want to create a wonderful product that people love and people are going to buy. You want to do your due diligence in making sure that it's as good as it can be, but you can't get caught up in just endless improvements and endless redesigning to the point where it just never gets released. Trying to make every single person happy, you have to just go this is as good as it's going to get and I'm just going to release it.

    Market products in respective and receptive ways 

    Felix: What are some ways to get more people to join a Facebook group?

    Jessica: We have invitations to join it basically everywhere. I think there's a link on the website. When they order, they get an invitation in their order confirmation email. When they get their package, there's an invitation in their package to join as well. We always put a link in our emails and our direct marketing like that. We also have in the past, which has been really successful, is say in the bigger planner groups, like in the Planner Addicts Group, we've released a new planner, we've released something really exciting, or we're running a discount at the moment that’s only available if you join our VIP group. 

    Felix: How do you spend your time differently in your own Facebook group versus a group like Planner Addicts Australia where it's someone else's group?

    Jessica: In the VIP group, I want to provide value for people. I like to ask the customers' opinions on, what do you think of this new design? What would you like to see? I let them know about things before I would perhaps go and advertise it in another group about new designs that are being released or sales that are coming up. I just feel like it's a lot more conversational, feeling almost like these VIPs are my friends. Interacting with them on a much more personal level. In the planner group, I'm not wearing my business hat unless someone's specifically asking for where they can buy planner inserts. It's more just sharing tips on planning or where people can buy stickers from. That type of thing. It's different. I'm not just in the Planner Addicts Group as Chasing Planner Peace, I'm there as Jess.

    Felix: You share a lot of videos on Facebook, how do you produce them? 

    Jessica: Just on my phone. Facebook loves videos. If you share a video, they will show that to more people. The algorithm really favors videos. In some of these Afterpay groups that have got so many members, I don't know, hundreds, thousands of members, showing a video can be a really good way to actually make sure that people are more likely to see it. I just shoot it on my phone, I don't have any good equipment at all. I literally have my phone attached to a stick that is attached to the ceiling above my desk. I will just do a little flip through of whatever our new product is. Our Christmas planner inserts for example, I'll just do a flip through so you can see what's in there. Then, I just use Windows Movie Maker, speed it up, and put some music over the top so it turns into a little one minute clip. Then, I'll just share that. That works really well. It doesn't take a lot of effort to do. I'm not spending heaps of time creating these videos and then people can actually see what's involved because it's a bit tricky with products that have got lots of different pages to actually show that in a photo as well or just some written information.

    Felix: What are your successes with this business since you've started?

    Jessica: In about 2016, my husband actually became unemployed, which allowed me to work on the business full time because he was home and could help out with the kids. That's when things really began to take off. We've noticed in the last 30 days, our sales are almost double what they were this time last year. Things just keep improving and we keep doing things here in the office to make ourselves more efficient. We batch print things, we just have different ways of doing things to how we used to do them so that we can get more orders out faster. Now, we're really looking at scaling it more, bringing on employees, so we can continue this success.

    Felix: What kind of apps and services or tools do you rely on to help run the business?

    Jessica: We do use a few Shopify apps, we have a subscription service, like a subscription box that people can subscribe to every two months, and they get a box of goodies in the mail. We use ReCharge for that, which has been wonderful. We also use Judge.me, which is really valuable because it sends an email to the customer two weeks after we've fulfilled their order, and says, "How are you liking this product?" Then, they can post a review. That is really helpful in terms of social proof on the website in terms of people actually seeing that we have all these five star reviews and people love our product. 

    Felix: What was the biggest lesson that you learned so far this year?

    Jessica: I guess the biggest lesson that I have learned this year, that's a tough one. I would say that you can't do it all yourself. You should do it all yourself to begin with, you need to put in the effort, and you need to get across all the different aspects of the business, and you need to make sure that you know how to do everything. At some point, you can become so busy that you actually need to say if this is going to continue to grow, I need to get someone else to help me with it. About a year ago, I brought on my assistant, Cleo. She's a school mom, I've known her for years, and she's always been super interested in the business. She now helps with a lot of social media, the newsletters, and things like that. We're looking to bring on more people and grow the team because at some point, you've only got so many hours in the day and I didn't start a business to work 24 hours a day. That's the thing. At some point, you need to outsource, and you need to just say I can't do it all. That would be my lesson.

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