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How to Source Suppliers for Your Small Business

Written by Annie Dornan-Smith

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Posted on August 01 2018

That’s right, I’m finally putting together a blog post for every person who has ever sent me an email, a insta DM, a tweet, etc, asking where I get “x” made.

 A shipping box full of wrapped up "cool to be kind" notebooks

Ok, so just to clear things up – this post will not be a list of my suppliers so if you’re only here for literally exactly where I get my products made you’re in the wrong place. (And, ahem, you can keep wondering. Sorry!) I feel like our little small business community is split into two camps – those that share their suppliers and those that don’t. Personally I’m in the latter camp.

BUT

That’s why I put together this blog post! I don’t want you to walk away empty handed, and quite honestly, I don’t see the gain for any of us if we’re all creating identical products from identical suppliers. I may not be keen to share the “who”, but I’m more than willing to share the “how” (and ok, maybe one or two "who"s to get your started) So, let’s stop faffing about and get onto those tips.

 

1. Girl, Google it!

Sorry if this sounds a lil bit sassy, but google is your friend. Google is my friend. It’s where I start the hunt for pretty much every product I’m hoping to get made. (Remember my absolute flop of a doormat idea?* Google my friends. Notepads, Notebooks, Pencils? GOOGLE.) I hear you reading this and screaming “but I HAVE googled it, Annie!”, to which I say, maybe you’re not googling the right things. So, here’s some phrases to get you started:

“get notebooks printed”

“custom printed notebooks”

“notebook manufacturer”

“bespoke printed notebook”

“perfect bound/stapled notebook printed”

And so on from there! If you search these phrases and switch them out for whatever you’re looking for, you’ll be a lot closer to finding the supplier you’ve been dreaming of. Anyone who tells me they have searched for “custom printed cards” and have come up empty handed, I’m sorry but I don’t believe you. Which brings me to my next point.

*If you don’t remember, it’s probably a good thing.

 

2. Order Samples

So, when people tell me they can’t find what they’re looking for, I tend to suspect that they have but they’re scared to commit. Sometimes the pictures suppliers put up leave a lot to the imagination and can be a bit dull and office-like. I understand people are afraid to commit their own real-life money to something that they can’t really see or picture (and it’s custom so trickier to return for a refund) so when in doubt, order samples. Lots of places offer samples of their products so you can get an idea of quality/size etc, and with a bit of creativity you can even get an idea of how your products will look printed, too. (I often print off the design for my notepad pages, cut it to the right size and just glue one to the top of a notepad) Not all companies will shout about it, so it’s worth it to ask.

Also, if you’re feeling a bit more established, some suppliers will let you order custom samples of your design to really see how it will look. However, this comes with a price tag, and some places may not offer it at all.  It never hurts to ask.

 Holding one british bee jot pad, from a cardboard box full of them

3. Join Facebook Groups

There are loads of groups on Facebook full of creative people like us designed to create a community where everyone helps each other. Often, people request help finding suppliers, or leave their recommendations of great suppliers in the group. I personally think this approach is much less awkward for everyone involved. I feel guilty and kinda crappy when people ask me directly about stuff that I don’t want to share. This way, it’s up to the individual whether they share or not, and nobody is “on the spot”. Try UK Freelance Creatives just for starters.

 

4. Make Friends

Short and sweet – make business pals! Obviously it’s easier to make friends when you’re already selling products, going to markets and being more present on the ole Social Media. BUT I am personally more likely to share secrets with people who are my actual friends (and probably shared secrets with me, too) than someone who I have never spoken to before in my DMs. Start building relationships with other creatives (although not with the end-goal just being to scoax their suppliers from them, that's just shady) and you'll find people are genrally supportive, welcoming and generous with their insights. 

 samples of prints for the By the Beach collections spread out on the edge of a bed

5. Start Here

Any other stationery/print designer out there who’s been running their business for a while will now be nodding along at these links. It’s time for me to share a few places where you can get started! I have used all  of these suppliers in the past, and I think they are great for people who are not sure what to make, how many to get, how much to sell them for, etc. They offer small quantities, so you don’t have to commit tonnes of cash to 1000s of products you’ve never made before. Nearly everyone I know started here (they’re always in the first few results when googling the phrases I listed above – funny that isn’t it?) and they’re what I started my business on. 

Printed.com – great for business cards, greetings cards, stickers and other stuff to get you started.

- Awesome Merchandise – great for virtually anything you can think of. I have used tonnes of their products in the past.

- Made by Cooper – I cannot tell you how many people have asked me where to get pins made. This company is based in the UK and will take any of the confusion of creating a design out of it, and allow you to order smaller quantities. 

packing up bee prints into cellophane sleeves at my desk

I also wanted to add a little disclaimer on the end here to say that, not everything will be google-able. Please don’t tell me off if you googled “custom printed 37ft lead dinosaur balloon” and didn’t get the results!! Oftentimes you might have to email people who manufacture similar stuff, to see if they’d also be able to make what you envision. For most products that people come to me asking about, they are easily, easily googleable. Sometimes, it takes a little time, a little bravery to pick up the phone or send an email (nobody has ever made me feel stupid after calling their company asking about printing.) and honestly, a little financial commitment to find what you want.

It’s taken me years of switching suppliers, combing through google and curating an enormous folder of bookmarks of suppliers to try to be anywhere close to happy with my products. As I’ve spent more time building my business and more confidence in my products, I’ve been able to invest in larger quantities (so I’ll be taken seriously by snazzier companies with more manufacturing capabilities) and generally reached products that are closer to “perfect”. Don’t try to run before you can walk – start small, test things out. It will all happen eventually.

The end! I hope you found this helpful and it inspired you to go out and find some fab new suppliers that I can be jealous of, too. Good luck! Enjoying this little sneak behind the scenes? I'm always chatting business stuff over on Insta, come join me over there for more chats, rants and behind the scenes. 

 

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How to Source Suppliers for Your Small Business | Annie Dornan Smith | anniedornansmith.co.uk

 

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