In planning any calendar printing project, the most obvious fact to pay attention to is that every calendar is a time-sensitive product with a built-in distribution deadline. For a standard 2014 calendar, if your calendar is not in the end user’s hands before January 1, 2014, they may already have found an alternative. For a non-standard calendar that deadline may be sooner (eg., a school-year calendar needs to be in the user’s hands close to the start of school if it is going to be useful to them). Working backwards from this absolute deadline can give you a good timeline for the entire project.
Calendar printing can be broken down into four activities: planning, production, marketing, and distribution. Since we are working backwards, we’ll start with distribution.
Distributing your Printed Calendars
How are you getting your calendars into the end user’s hands? Are you giving them away? If so, then it should be relatively straight-forward to figure out the distribution logistics and determine by what date you will need to have calendars in hand. Or maybe you are mailing them out to your customers or members; in that case you just need to make sure you allow enough time for inserting into envelopes, adding a cover letter, addressing and mailing. Or consider having the printer or a local mailhouse handle mailing the calendars – it will probably be cheaper and easier for you. Just make sure you find out from the printer or mailhouse how much extra time they will need and factor it in.
If, on the other hand, you plan to print a calendar and sell it, either as a nonprofit fundraiser or as a profit-making venture, then distribution is a little more complicated. How much time you need for sales depends on your sales strategy. Are you selling at a local festival or other event? If so, then that gives you a deadline, but keep in mind that you’ll be better off if you can sell at multiple events, in case attendance or sales at one event are not what you expect. Or maybe you are having volunteers sell calendars to friends and family or door-to-door. If so, you should allow at least two weeks, and preferably up to four weeks, since volunteers all have their own different schedules, and some will need reminders and encouragement.
Calendars make great Christmas gifts. If that is part of your sales plan, then remember that if you make your calendar available the week before Christmas, many people will already have finished much of their Christmas shopping. If you can start selling right after Thanksgiving, however, then you can catch the early shoppers as well as the last-minute gift-buyers. Of course giving yourself even more sales time is always a good idea. Many of our most successful fundraisers begin selling the calendars as early as September.
Are you selling calendars online? (We can help with that!) If so, then you will need to allow for shipping time. That means that for Christmas gifts, you will want to have most of your calendars sold by about December 15th, otherwise your buyers will have to pay for expedited shipping. You need to allow enough time for people to find your calendar online, so you would probably want to have your calendar available for sale online by about mid-November.
Or maybe your are selling calendars in retail locations. If so, talk to your retailers early. You will probably find out that they prefer to have their Christmas merchandise in hand by the 1st of September or even sooner. That way they can keep shelves full as they remove Summer items. Chain retailers such as the major booksellers may want calendars in hand as soon as July, so that they can warehouse them and distribute them to their own locations. Also, check with retailers about packaging and labeling requirements – they may need your calendars to be shrink-wrapped and to include ISBN barcodes.
Marketing Your Calendar
If you print a calendar that you plan to sell, you should be sure to develop and implement a solid marketing plan. Marketing does not have to add to the overall duration of the calendar project – you can and should begin marketing during the planning and production stages of the project. However, if you wait to start marketing until you have the calendars in hand, then you will need to allow at least a few extra weeks, maybe more, for your marketing message to reach the intended audience and motivate them to buy.
Calendar Print Production
The production phase of a calendar printing project starts when you hand off all of the images, text, logos, advertising, etc. to the printer, and the printer turns it into calendar artwork for you to approve and then puts it on the press and delivers to you the finished product. Make sure you talk to your printer early on to fins out how long this takes. In our case at Yearbox, it is usually about three weeks (sometimes sooner if you have a particular deadline). If you anticipate last-minute changes or additions, or if you will be proofing by committee, then you should probably allow a little extra time – maybe a month in total – for production.
The Calendar Planning Stage
The calendar printing planning stage includes everything that comes before the handoff to the printer. Some planning items will take time. First and foremost, assemble a team. The more people who invest their time in your calendar the more successful it will be. You will need to gather artwork. If you have photos already and you just need to sort through them, that’s great. If you need to solicit photos or hold a photo or art contest (we can help with that!), then you will need to allow extra time for that. A contest may need time to run as well as time to market so that you have adequate participation. You also need to gather everything else that goes in the calendar, possibly including date information, captions, logos, mission statement, letter from the director/president/minister, etc.
Will your calendar include advertising? If so, then you will need to make sure that someone (or better yet a team) contacts businesses to sell them advertising space and collects advertising artwork from them. Sometimes advertising artwork is as simple as a business card, but other times it can take longer than expected to collect all the advertising artwork. Make sure you allow plenty of time for this.
So, how soon should you start working on it if you need to print a calendar that is customized to your specifications? That all depends. If you have everything ready for your printer and distribution will be a simple hand-out, then three to four weeks lead time may be sufficient. If, however, you have to assemble a team, collect photos and text, sell advertising, plan a marketing campaign, organize sales teams, and/or place calendars in retail stores, then you’ll need to work backwards and figure out how much time you really need. It may turn out that May or June is the right time to start planning your calendar project.