How to build an online brand

Success stories

Case Study: Obscenity Cards

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I’m Jolene Phillips Howells and own a novelty greetings card and gift supplier online called Obscenity Cards Ltd. I started the business in January 2016 and run it alone from home.

Did you have a ‘day job’ prior to this? If so, what was it?

Yes, I was previously working as a payroll manager for an engineering recruitment agency. I’d manage the weekly wages for hundreds of contracted engineers for Tata steel.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

Thomson Local. Trying to sell advertising space in an already dying telephone directory. I hated this job as I couldn’t sell it, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve had lots of previous telesales roles that I’ve excelled in, but this really was rock hard!

What gave you the idea of setting up on your own?

I had no intention of going it alone with Obscenity Cards, I thought it would be something on the side to my main ‘day job’. As I was on maternity leave, I spent all of my spare time on the business, more so because it was so much fun. It quickly got popular and after a few months, I realised that I could actually make enough money to pay my wages and cover stock, postal costs etc. 

I was very fortunate in that I had time to test this and make sure that I could do it alone. Had I not had that extra time during maternity to plough into marketing the business, I don’t think I would’ve been able to make the shift across.  

How did you manage to achieve it?

Share share share! The content of my posts/products got shared far and wide which enabled me to gain a lot of new customers and sales. I was fortunate to have a few big pages share my posts as well which really helped me get seen.

obscenity cards
Jolene has learnt not to rely on one specific social media platform

How confident were you that it was going to work?

I wasn’t confident, not until the point I could see I was achieving a liveable wage, as well as managing other business costs.

What has been/what is your biggest challenge?

When Facebook changed its algorithms on business pages posts. 

Due to the profanity on my website, Facebook red-flagged my business and still to this day, they will not let me advertise with them. So when they changed the way people see posts, it affected me badly as my posts weren’t getting seen anymore.  This encouraged me to look into other social media platforms and increase the SEO on my website so I could draw new customers in from other platforms. This made me realise not to rely on one source!

Working from home has huge financial benefits

jolene phillips, obscenity cards

Also, every man and his dog has opened a sweary card company. There were just four of us like for like companies when Obscenity Cards started; now there are hundreds. One opened up 7 miles from me and used exactly the same company name as mine! So that has been very challenging, but it gives me huge confidence that I am still going strong after all this time.

What have you learnt along the way?

To keep an eye on your competition, but don’t obsess over them. Time is much better spent focusing on your own business than being nosey and wondering what others are up to.

What has been your biggest achievement with your brand?

The fact I have kept Obscenity Cards ticking over and built up the brand to where it is now, all by myself. Looking back 5 years ago, I would never have thought I could’ve gone alone and survived. I’m in no way making lots of money, but my children are well fed and happy, and that in itself is a huge achievement to be proud of.  

What has worked well for you?

Posting shareable content. Whether it’s a funny meme, or a sweary product, I’m very lucky that this type of content gets shared a lot within a certain type of audience.

Find out how to use social media to sell merchandise online effectively here

What has not worked well for you?

Lack of space limiting me from expanding my product range. I work from home which is currently full to the brim of stock, printers and heat presses. I have looked into premises but business rates are way too high to make ends meet, and working from home has huge financial benefits, but if I wanted to go into clothing, for example, I haven’t got the space for another press and extra stock. 

Are you making more money than you did in your day job? Is that important?

No, and no! I am earning way less money, but, I don’t have to commute, or buy lunch each day, or socialise with work colleagues so that in itself is a huge saving.  And no, it’s not important to me, as long as the bills are paid and my family aren’t going hungry, then I’m doing something right.

Visit Jolene’s site here

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