7 Years of 20 Questions : The Story on How This Kids Birthday Tradition Came to Be
In the fall of 2011, I created a small scrapbook for my daughter, Morgan, that I called 20 Questions.
Before she turned three that June, I wrote out a 20 question interview for her to answer on her birthday. Really simple but fun questions asking her what some of her favorite things are - like color, books, snacks, games. I printed several interviews and attached numbers to each page to label ages 3 through 11. (Because there were 10 page protectors in the album, I had enough for 9 spreads.) I slipped the interviews in the right side of each spread while the left remained blank to include a nice big photo from that corresponding birthday. Here’s a peek at that first spread and her interview answers :
It’s hard to believe that was 7 years ago!
(If you don’t care to read the full story, but you do want a deal on the 20 Questions printable pack, all colors are 20% off now until 11/11. No code required. Click the button below to shop.)
This was also a time when Pinterest was HOT. I don’t remember if there was still a waiting list or if you needed an invite, but I remember it was insanely popular and I had just joined. My blog traffic exploded because of these two blog posts - the initial Q+A when she turned 3, and the scrapbook. At the time that I’m writing this, those two posts have resulted in over 1,100,000 page views, which is huge to me.
I loved the project myself and had no idea that other people were going to enjoy it as much as me.
Moms from all over began leaving comments and emailing me wondering where I had gotten the supplies, how I made the cover, and if I would make one for their kids or grandkids. After a little research to see how do-able it would be to recreate these albums, I bought some supplies, opened an Etsy shop in less than two months and stocked it with a modest number of albums in one design. I started really small because I didn’t want to invest in something people said they were interested in, only to hear crickets.
Quite the opposite happened. That very small first run of 20 albums sold out in just a couple of days. Because customers could choose what age they wanted to start their album at, I put them together as they were ordered. I didn’t promote the books as a custom product, but they very much were.
It was a time consuming process, but luckily I was well aware of that when I first published the listings and gave myself a generous amount of time to get them prepared to ship.
I was staying up late every night because productive work was not happening during the day with a one- and three-year-old at home. I assembled each and every album by hand. I printed the interviews on the smoothest, thickest, brightest white cardstock I could find and trimmed them all down to 8” x 8”. I replicated the cover of Morgan’s book as closely as I could in a way that could be reproduced, and borrowed my Mom’s Silhouette to create diecuts. I hand-punched the ages for each page so they were centered, just right. I adhered each little piece, slipped the book into a protective plastic sleeve, carefully bubble wrapped and sealed it in an envelope before sending it off to its new home. It was a labor of love and I believe the handmade factor was a big part of the appeal.
I learned a lot after that initial run and realized I needed to simplify the book even more to make it more efficient to assemble so many albums in bulk. At the time, I didn’t know much about forecasting demand on a product like this, so for the second run, I opened pre-orders for customers that wanted to pre-purchase an album while I waited for the materials to arrive. While the black albums were simple and gender neutral, people wanted options. So, I added a few colored albums to the mix while increasing my quantities 4x in an effort to not sell out so quickly.
After we got through the holidays and 2012 was in full swing, I changed a couple of things, including the design of the diecut on the cover as well as the interview pages so there weren’t so many pieces. I also ordered as many red, pink and blue albums as I could get my hands on. At the time, my father-in-law worked at a paper and print shop and he would cut down reams of cardstock for me with their massive professional paper trimmers. His help alone saved me hours.
The new albums were well received and sold at a steady pace. Looking back, I was sold out again within a couple weeks and kept busy filling the orders as they came in. I was happy but also tired. I loved seeing how other people were using their albums and yet, my perfectionist mind was still thinking of tweaks that could be made to make the 20 Questions book even better.
Since opening pre-orders was very successful, I did that again with the third big release in March 2012 when I added two more colors to the shop - green and the original black. I increased quantities a bit more and now had 5 colors for customers to choose from. Again, I assembled albums as the orders came in, but admittedly, I was stressed out. While I was (and still am!) insanely grateful for the success of these 20 Questions albums, all of my free time was consumed with working on them and I hadn’t given myself a chance to breathe and really think about what direction I was headed, what wasn’t working, and how to make more changes beyond making the physical album “perfect.” As I packaged this last batch of orders, I promised myself I would process what was happening once the books were out the door.
In hindsight, there are so many things I could have done at this point. I could have increased the prices significantly (which I was doing a little each release, but not as much as I could have because I was essentially selling a custom product). I could have slowly released the albums I had available so I wasn’t going from fully stocked to nothing so quickly. I could have reached out to friends or family, or hired help. And many more. Regardless, it was such a great learning experience that still influences many of the decisions I make today.
After revising and revamping that original album, trying to make it easy to create but still personal and unique for each customer, I was ignoring my biggest production problem of all - getting my hands on the actual albums that I was purchasing to assemble them. I quickly learned that sometimes wholesale ordering is inconsistent and a total pain in the neck and what you order isn’t always what’s going to show up at your door. Regardless of how I improved my processes or how quickly the albums were selling, this problem alone made it impossible to maintain sufficient stock in the shop. After my last release of preorders in March, I started exploring my options. I began researching pre-printed books.
It didn’t take long to stumble upon Blurb Books. After a little tinkering with InDesign (and the help of my husband), I uploaded the 20 Questions softcover books in five colors. Since their release in June 2012, they have been included on their bookstore bestsellers page, and Blurb even interviewed me about the evolution of this idea.
Back in my Etsy shop, I created printable packs for those crafty DIY types who wanted to make their own handmade book, as well as my fellow scrapbookers who wanted to incorporate these annual interviews into projects they are already working on - like Project Life or a school/childhood album.
One thing I know is incredibly important to my customers is the ability to get a 20 Questions book for a new child that matches what their older siblings have. Of course! Even I made an album from my son (who was only one at the time) at the same time I made my daughter’s, because I wanted them to be similar. It didn’t dawn on me that other parents would want the same thing. Offering these books through Blurb, where they have the ability to print and ship on demand, has made that so much easier for families to create a matching set for multiple children. Something that wasn’t possible when I was making them by hand.
When I think back on this whole experience, it’s interesting to note that I never went into it thinking, “People are going to love this and want me to make one for them!” I never shared this personal project with the intention of creating a business out of it.
The idea began and grew very organically as a solution to one of my own problems through a topic that I am very passionate about,
Creating a tradition around documenting my children’s lives in a simple and sustainable way.
And there were other parents that felt the same way! It has been so cool to see people from all over share their child’s interview, how their family celebrates the tradition, and their adorable, hilarious answers.
Our 20 Questions Tradition :
Each year on their birthdays, we pull our albums off the shelf and let the kids spend a few minutes answering the questions. Because my kids birthdays are only 2 days apart, I usually interview them together. Then, we head outside to take a few headshots - both serious and funny - and I print a photo to slip in their album. It’s that easy.
Morgan turned 10 this past June and it’s crazy to see that her original album is almost full! Both her and her younger brother Parker both love looking at their books and comparing their answers from “when they were little” to now. We love seeing what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same.
I’ve been keeping up with both the original scrapbook and softcover book for each of my kids because I plan on giving them one of their books on their 18th birthday. Assuming they let me ask questions that long.
Other things I’m working on :
- a “favourite” option for those who prefer that spelling.
- an editable version where you could change the questions, because, options.
If there is anything you’d like to see, I’m all ears! Contact me here.
If you value ease and simple, intentional memory-keeping like I do, I think you and your family would adore this tradition.
Celebrate with us and save 20% off your printable pack order (for one color or more) now through 11/11. No code required! Just click the button below to shop.