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How to Create Your First Product Catalog

by Marcia Yudkin

When you’re shipping any tangible items to customers, whether it’s CDs, books, course manuals, electronics devices or cosmetics, it’s time to create a product catalog to enclose with the order. The catalog takes advantage of customers’ buying momentum. They open your shipment and feel happy to see what they ordered. That positive feeling leads them to flip through an enclosed product catalog in a good mood, inclined to buy more. All in all, the catalog helps set up a dynamic where you and the customer are building a long-term relationship instead of transacting a one-time sale.

Likewise, if you sell services, a catalog helps you earn extra revenue from each client. Why simply recommend items they need in the course of implementing your advice when you can earn a commission from vendors you present to clients? This strategy doesn’t require you to keep any inventory, since you can forward orders to the vendors, who fulfill them for you. 

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Don’t have additional (or any) products yet for a catalog? No problem! Simply find products that have a thematic relationship to yours and that have an affiliate program. For instance, if you’re a financial planner, go to sites like or and find affiliate programs for other financially related products like budget organizers, commercial or real estate loans, a course on how to raise capital, custom-designed checks and more that you can offer in your catalog. 

Five Steps to Creating Your First Catalog

When you’ve decided on the products for your catalog, follow the steps I recently took to make my first catalog a reality.

1. Create a rough mockup. Because of the size of the products I most often ship, I decided on a 7” by 8½” format, which is legal-sized paper folded over and stapled in the center. A 8½ by 11” format would have required me to use larger shipping envelopes than I’d otherwise need. With eight information bundles, which each needed one or two pages of descriptive copy, along with an order form, front and back covers, etc., I figured a 20-page catalog would give me sufficient selling space. 

After folding five sheets of legal-sized paper to the size of my 20-page catalog, I penned in “front cover” on page 1, “table of contents” on page 2, “blank” on the back cover and on page 19 just before that, “order form” on pages 17 and 18, and product names in the middle according to which products I thought needed a two-page selling spread and which could be sold on one page.

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2. Create product descriptions. For most of my products, I already had product descriptions at my web site that I edited to fit my catalog layout. For one new product, I created copy from scratch for the catalog, then reversed the adaptation process so that I transported that copy to my web site as well. In a few cases, a lot of fiddling was required to make the text fit the available space. 

Where you have too little copy to fill your layout, insert tips, testimonials, excerpts, photos, graphics, quotations from famous people, special catalog offers or other sidebars. These help make your pages look more visually varied, in addition to plugging up blank spots.

3. Finish the “front matter.” I put numerous teasers on my front cover and a more traditional table of contents on page 2, which also contained my bio and contact information. Many catalogs begin with a letter from the founder or company president and his or her photo. Be sure to make this section both inviting and informative, suitable both for first-time buyers and for long-time customers.

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4. Create the order form. This can be much more challenging than you’d imagine, because it forces you to anticipate not only all the information you need to fulfill orders, but also everything any type of customer needs to know to place their order. For instance, did you make it possible for people order more than one of each item? Some people have a billing address and a different shipping address. You might need to charge some customers sales tax. And what about rush shipping?

I placed my order form on a right-hand page and all the ordering policies, such as shipping fees and guarantees, on the left-hand page beside it.

5. Get it printed. Though I proofread the catalog several times, I started with a few hundred made up at my copy shop so I could correct any mistakes that turned up. At my local copy shop, the catalogs emerged from their machine folded and stapled for just 81 cents each. When I’m ready for a bigger print run, a print shop should be able to reduce that price.

Now when I ship products, I’m not merely fulfilling orders. The enclosed catalog invites new ones. And with its prices ranging from $147 to $897, just one or two bounce-back orders more than pay for all the catalogs I’ve printed so far. I only wish I’d gotten this done sooner! 

Copyright 2007 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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