ISU alumna: Linda Tong

Tong makes weekly planners that are undated so they can be available year round and not exclusively customizable. 

Sierra Hoeger

When going to the Iowa State Bookstore, most students are on a mission. They’re either there to purchase a newly required textbook, finally getting a TopHat subscription or they’re fed up with a pesky laptop charger and are buying a new one. 

For Linda Tong, she was on a different mission: to see her products among the others the Iowa State Bookstore has to offer. 

Initially, Tong had crafted a bullet journal for herself as a way to stay organized and get in touch with her creative side. A co-worker had seen the bullet journal and asked Tong if she would commission her one. 

“I first discovered what bullet journaling was around four years ago,” Tong said. “I have always been artistic growing up, so I knew it was going to be something I liked to do. I didn’t ever come up with, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to start selling these,’ after I made my first one. It was somebody that wanted me to make it for them and that’s kind of where it started.”

And the rest is history. More co-workers and friends of Tong’s had seen the intricate and detailed planners she was producing, and Linda Tong Planners was born. 

Gaining inspiration from recent and past travels, Tong designed months and weeks within her handmade bullet journals based on experience. Designs included San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and rows of houses in Norway. 

“I took this entrepreneurship class around this time last year, and that’s kind of what really got me interested in the entrepreneurship part of it,” Tong said. “I was getting to a point where I couldn’t fulfill all the orders I had and had to have a waiting list. So that’s where I decided, if I want to continue doing this and I want it to grow and become a career of mine, I need to go into mass production.” 

Tong had made a goal for herself in 2019 that in one year, her planners would be selling in retail locations. Fast forward to November 2020, and Linda Tong Planners are in two retail locations.

In August 2020, one week before fall semester classes began, Linda Tong Planners were stocked in the Innovate 1858 shop within the Student Innovation Center. Three months later, Linda Tong Planners were sold in the Iowa State Bookstore. 

Aside from retail locations, Linda Tong Planners have a heavy online presence, with an easy-to-use and appealing website as well as a large following on TikTok. 

From day-in-the-life videos to packaging ASMR, Tong’s videos expose the behind-the-scenes of owning and operating your own small business and how quickly it gained traction on the app. 

“I initially didn’t get the app at first, it took me a long time to get the app,” Tong said. “But then after I started browsing it and getting a feel for the style and seeing what other small businesses do, I knew it was something I needed to do as well, and it ended up working out really well and I got really lucky, people ended up liking my videos.”

The planners are made with vegan-quality leather, as Tong knows it’s important to be honest about what her products are made of. 

“I think people these days are very aware and they like knowing what goes into all of their products, so I think that’s why it was important to disclose it,” Tong said. “In the future, I do want to step it up to more of a very high-quality, designer kind of planner.”

The trouble with planners, unfortunately, is that they can only be sold during a specific time throughout the year, as they are dated. Consumers aren’t going to buy a 2021 planner in November of 2021, therefore forcing Tong to get creative with other products she could potentially sell. 

Creating undated weekly and daily planners has helped Tong’s business stay relevant and offered consumers a different product aside from dated, customizable planners. 

“I needed another product that was going to be able to sell throughout the year,” Tong said. “Notepads are something that can be bought throughout the year. I know I’m someone that can buy a notepad any time of the year because it’s a little more universal to use. I wanted to branch out a little more into my creative side digitally as well. I wanted to test out what other products my customers would be willing to buy.”

Tong’s goals for the year of 2021 include moving into an office space and expanding her team, which now includes quality checkers, stampers and a social media intern. Tong also wants to double her revenue from 2020, with hopes to set up more retail locations as well as international sales.