My hand-lettering business had humble roots. Like, very humble roots. I was a rookie in every sense of the word. Everything I knew about creative business came from my sister, a talented sales gal herself, and my mom, who had learned a bit about Etsy during her stint selling mosaic crafts. I depended on my jack-of-all-trades brother in law for everything technological. Everything else came from Google. I lived in a pattern of trial and error.
In the fall of 2013, when my Etsy shop was still a side-hustle, I rolled with the punches. I was eager to take on any job. I didn't know my style yet. I didn't know about pricing, I didn't know about boundaries. The most obvious of all, however, is that I had no formal design training. There were so many things I didn't know about the basics of running a creative business, but those things came so much faster to me than the wide world of design.
Might I remind you that this was back in the day when I sold my rubber stamps for an embarrassing $16 and sent TEN hand-lettered design proofs for clients to choose from, making a final profit of about $4 per stamp. YES. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. Craziness.
I started my business at the iceberg tip of the explosion of hand-lettering and calligraphy on social media, so I entered at a very convenient time. For all the things that went wrong, the timing surely was right, and I had one secret weapon: I was RELENTLESS. I would do anything to secure a sale; I lived and breathed customer service. My business grew and grew, and so did my skill set.
Are you familiar with StrengthsFinder? My top strength is Learner. This makes sense for a former teacher and instructional coach, and this strength has served me well. Equipped with a huge heap of self-criticism, I embarked on a crazy journey to learn everything there was no know about creative business and lettering. I attended workshops, I took calligraphy classes everywhere, I bought online courses...the list goes on. I was like a sponge. But the thorn in my side was that I couldn't quite wrap my head around the tools needed digitize my work. It's the magical unicorn of the hand-lettering world. It took me the good part of a year, but I finally got the hang of things. (Note: I'm still learning!)
When you can digitize your work, you can take a 2" sketch and turn it into thousands of dollars of profit. You can reproduce your work one trillion times if you choose to, and if you're like me and want to inspire and encourage people with your art, the doors of opportunity fling wide open. When you can digitize your work, you can design wedding invitations and serve clients more fully. You can create your own online courses, you can create your own instructional products, and you can more effectively market your own work without investing thousands of dollars in outsourcing. You can choose to pursue lettering as a sustainable, full-time career.
This is the reason why I am so passionate about Becoming an Online Artist, the course that I built with the gals of Think Creative Collective. It's all about growth and access and provides a window into the most foundational digital skills for folks like me, with tons of great hopes and intentions but with a HUGE stumbling block in their path.
There's an internal battle happening in the creative world, as more and more people have access to "inside" information freely in networking groups and business forums. Some entrepreneurs are heated about this: Why should I freely offer up all of my insider secrets? I worked SO FREAKING HARD to get to where I am. Everyone must pay his/her own dues. I totally empathize with that, and when I'm having a particularly jam-packed day, I admit that I sometimes roll my eyes a tiny bit when I get an email asking for help that could be easily researched with a quick Google search. I get it. However, I lean more to the other side. I am energized by the idea of supporting other letterers. Read on to learn four reasons why:
1) IT'S ALIGNED TO THE DEEPEST TRUTH OF MY FAITH
Personally, all of my business steps are rooted in my faith. I view my business with open hands. If you ever want to hear a crazy story, come to Tulsa and have a cup of coffee with me and I will tell you all about the truly WILD path that landed me where I am now. The long and short of it is this, though: absolutely nothing that I have now came from my work alone. I look at every single success or gifting as an intentional blessing, one that could be taken away at any time if I use it unwisely or purely for my own gain. It's dazzling to me to think about all of the circumstances that had to come together to bring me to the many people who've opened doors for me. None of it is purely mine.
2) I DON'T BELIEVE IN A TOO-SATURATED MARKET
People often lament that the world of hand-lettering has become too saturated. If I support others in my field, won't I see a dip in my opportunities? Not from my point of view. If more hand-letterers emerge on the scene, and lettering becomes more of a "household" thing, the demand increases. Hand-lettering for weddings, for example, becomes more of a staple than a luxury when people view the personal touch of calligraphy as a special and enduring way to honor their guests.
3) MY LOAD IS LIGHTENED
Some of my in-person workshop attendees are business owners themselves, or have gone on to start their own lettering businesses. Having an army of talented letterers around me is a great way to further specialize in only the projects that bring me joy. For example, I do very little hand-lettered signage. It's just not my thing. I do the occasional wedding signage for close vendor friends, but I choose not to take on decor projects as a rule. One of the attendees of my advanced calligraphy class and an alum of Becoming an Online Artist, Keely Gilbert, is an outstanding sign painter. She loves decor and I have loved watching her grow. When one of my favorite and oldest (in terms of years of our relationship, not age!) clients asked me to create a sign for her baby girl's room, I got anxious about saying no. I thought about how I created all the lettering details for her coastal South Carolina surprise elopement when my business was just a few months old and how special she is to the story of my shop. I thought about how beautiful it would be to create something for the baby girl she loves so much. And then I started thinking about getting wood stain on my fingers, sniffing varnish, and stressing out about finding the right size box and shipping price. I referred my client to Keely, and my client was absolutely delighted by Keely's work. We all won! Keely has had time to create a system best suited to fulfilling wooden signage orders. She seems to love it, and doesn't mind getting her hands dirty, literally. I am blessed to send work her way. I have dozens of stories like this one.
4) LIVES ARE IMPACTED
I get a little teary eyed thinking about how supporting someone in their business path could impact their life, their marriage--even the lives of their children. I'm not a mom, but I know plenty of mamas who want to find enjoyable work that they can do from home with their littles. I know wives who have had to pick up the financial burden for their families and find extra work. Aside from wives and mamas, single ladies like myself may believe the lie that they have to work themselves to death in a field they don't love, all in the name of security. When you've experienced the type of freedom that allows you to say no to the conventional "safe" career in order to take risks that could have amazing returns, you want others to have that, too.
CHECK OUT BECOMING AN ONLINE ARTIST!
Are you a hand-letterer or artist who wants to learn more about how to advance your skill set or business by learning to digitize your work? Pretty please, check out the course that we have created to help you along the way. You'll have an opportunity to access some fun freebies when you click the link:
And just for fun, here is me feeling like a proud mama bear and shouting out the work of some of the amazing letterers who have come through our course:
From @abbittcollective; the caption makes my heart so happy.
and last but certainly not least, @lettersparrow
There's something magical about WE, not US. If this mission speaks to you, don't forget to check out the course page for more info!