Are you thinking about starting a stationery business? Or maybe you’ve been doin’ this thing for a few years now and are scratching your head and wondering: Can a stationery business be profitable?!
When I started, I was just doodling with a calligraphy pen and some old, crappy paint brushes from my kitchen table. I knew NOTHING about what I was getting myself into. Untrained in both business and design, let’s just say my first few years of providing work to clients was a bit rocky! There were definitely ups, but there were SO many downs.
I felt like every time I would take a step forward in terms of exposure and working with a client who had a bigger budget than the last, there would be a looming mistake or loss waiting for me around the corner. It was exciting, but it also kept me up at night researching and making up for mistakes that I didn’t foresee in my business. I had to work EXTRA hard to just keep up with paying the bills.
I remember my second year of business, things were SLAMMED. I was so thrilled that people were hiring me, but in that year alone I took on over 40 CUSTOM wedding stationery jobs. This isn’t just the invites, people. This is addressing, save the dates, day of items, the WORKS. I was overworked, underpaid and completely out of my element. I had no clue how to scale a business in a way that allowed me to NOT work 80+ hours a week. And I was making mistakes left and right that were costing me financially, just so I could please clients and make it through jobs.
Then, I got smarter. After all the mistakes I’ve made and the amount of time I’ve spent on Google, I finally made the decision to take my business AND my life more seriously. It’s not about doing anything you can to please people. It’s about providing the best product or service possible, within your abilities, all while protecting and growing your business. It’s a juggling act, for sure, but I want to show you the exact lessons I’ve learned in growing my 6-figure profitable stationery business.
5 Lessons I Learned in Growing My Profitable Stationery Business
Master Your Craft
Yep! This is coming from the girl who had job after job in the beginning that was riddled with mistakes. For example, I ordered the incorrect amount of postage for an invitation suite and mailed it out for the client, only to have each invite returned to the client because of not enough postage…I had print job after print job needing to be reprinted for silly mistakes (i.e. not outlining fonts or realizing that the colors I chose for the client were ending up illegible.) I was a mess, but I was figuring it out. All of these mistakes were huge learning lessons for me and the thing with mistakes is, you never forget them, so you’re likely to not make them again! These mistakes helped me become better at what I do and master the art of custom stationery. Not just the art part and the design, but understanding printing and paper and why cotton works so well with letterpress, etc.
Less IS More
When I was overworked for those first few years, I was also underpaid. My prices were great, so everyone was booking me! This felt amazing in the beginning because I was finally getting a steady amount of clients coming in, my portfolio and reputation were growing, life was good. But then I quickly realized that the amount of clients I had booked for my year were way too many for me to handle. Because of this, this is when I started training an associate designer and calligrapher to help me take on the workload. So, now I was training someone AND working overtime. Great! When you’re trying to race the clock to get work done, you are not able to tap into your best creative work. You just aren’t. And, along with this, I was so busy that things like bookkeeping and looking at how to grow my business each month, etc. were pushed to the side. So, in a way, yes. My business grew that year in terms of how many clients we booked, but I was unable to actually grow my profits because I was just trying to get through each client job and was able to actually see that I wasn’t making money.
Stay In Your Lane
There was a point in my career a few years ago, where everyone was starting to come out with semi-custom invitation suites. Because I was so overworked at the time, this sounded like an amazing idea! Create a few pre-made designs and build out your site so that people can just change little bits like ink colors, text, etc…you get rid of the custom timeline and process and shrink it down to like 2-3 weeks, vs. 2-3 months! The artwork is already done, you just have to adjust text and send to print! Brilliant. So, I created some designs that I thought would reach a wider market of couples and a few of my designs were just not what I was known for. I went for what was trending at the time, which was minimal design and windswept looking calligraphy. No watercolor. I sold ZERO semi-custom invitation suites. ZERO. I spent so much time and money on having samples, styling and putting together a photo shoot to have images for the site, creating and doing all of the backend myself on the website…SO MUCH TIME. But, no one wanted the designs I created, because my audience was following me and looking for work that I was putting out on my Instagram and everywhere else, which was very heavy watercolor and not at all what I put out for this collection.
Don’t Let Fear Make Your Decisions, Let It FUEL Your Decisions
This is a big one, you guys. There are so many “what ifs” and fears that come with starting something. A new career, a new hobby, etc. and something I constantly heard from people is, “I wish my work looked like…” or “I’m nowhere near where I should be to start a business…” etc. Well, newsflash, I was horrible at watercolor, never opened a design program and didn’t know a thing about running a business when I took on my first clients! Was I naive? Absolutely. But the thing is, there will always be someone that looks like they have it more “together” than you when they start, but we’re just seeing the snapshots! If you’re able to harness that fear that creeps up when you are nudged to start something new and instead of letting it hold you back, let if FUEL your decisions! Let it become that push that makes you work harder, practice more and devote yourself to your craft and business! Mistakes are a part of the game! Don’t be afraid to make them.
You Are Your Biggest Selling Point
This final lesson I’ve learned over the last six years of growing my 6-figure business and income is huge. This doesn’t just apply to your clients, but to how you are on social media, in emails, etc. Humanize your brand and it will bring greater connection and trust with your prospects and clients. Are you a new mom juggling your business? Share that. Are you battling with health problems while finding therapy in painting? Share that! People are looking for ways to connect and engage with people through their screens. I’m not saying, tell every client inquiry email that comes through that you’re a struggling new mom and business owner and give them your sob story…but on social media, stories and more vulnerable posts do SO WELL with connection and people will want to connect with you, building engagement and community. Be more than just your product or service, be your story! And not for the sake of growing more followers, which I definitely believe this will help, but make it about leaving behind an impact and actually having a purpose behind why you create something and not just creating something. The “why” connects with people, not the “what”!
There have been SO many lessons that I’ve learned over the years from starting at my kitchen table doodling with a calligraphy pen, to running a successful multi six-figure stationery business that has allowed me to have a freer life and pivot with ease in my business. If you’re wondering about the ins and outs of stationery business, how to work with clients, attract more work and design custom stationery that’ll stop people in their tracks, check out my online course Pen to Press! It’ll teach you everything you need to know about designing, printing and all that goes into being a stationery designer!