One of the many reasons we adore paper goods is the way they let our creativity run wild. Beautiful paper creations range from practical crafts like glam party hats to decorative art like DIY flower crowns, and in-betweeners like mini coloring book zines. If you spend your spare time perusing indie paper goods shops with dreams of one day running your own stationery company, then you’ll want to read on about how this #girlboss made her creative dreams come true. In this week’s entry in the How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Leela Hoehn — founder of Native Bear — about how creating a single rubber stamp of her dog inspired her to open an Etsy shop and ultimately develop her own entire brand of paper goods.
Meet the Paper Goods Pro: Leela Hoehn
Leela, like most budget-minded brides, wanted to DIY her wedding favors. She made a stamp of her own dog, which she ended up loving so much she decided to carve a few more and stamp some card stock. After several attempts, she felt ready to start selling her work online. “I had been itching to open an Etsy shop after reading about dozens and dozens of Etsy success stories,” shares Leela. While staying employed full-time as a marketing assistant, she expanded her Etsy shop with hand-printed cards, art prints, tea towels, and custom-carved wedding stamps. When she had a regular flow of orders coming in for custom stamps, she decided it was time to quit the marketing job to focus on her own business. On her blog, Leela recounts how she started working on Native Bear with only $500 in her savings account, taking a leap of faith that paid off.
1. You don’t need a lot of money. Though Leela acknowledges that before jumping in to start Native Bear she would’ve written a business plan and created a marketing calendar, she believes that you don’t need a huge cash flow to get started on your dream gig. “Oftentimes creative people won’t make the first step toward developing their career because they think they need a lot of money to get started, but it’s just not true. I realized I could start with what I had, which was a couple of linoleum blocks, two carving tools, and 100# card stock.” Don’t let money matters completely scare you off from starting your passion project.
2. Jump right in. Leela quit her day gig at the end of the summer and prepped for the holiday season. She signed up for every local holiday craft market, fine-tuned her Etsy shop, and learned how to self-promote. “I suggest saving a lot more money than $500 (LOL), so that you’re not making so many reactive decisions, but I do suggest jumping in 100 percent,” Leela encourages. “The timing is never right when it comes to starting your creative business, and ‘now’ sounded pretty good to me.” Definitely think about how you’ll get there, but when you take the leap, let yourself dive in with everything you’ve got.
3. Offer a specialty item. Etsy shoppers love to customize pieces, and Leela quickly realized that she couldn’t make a living from intermittent greeting card sales: “I needed to come up with something at a higher price point that had a low material cost.” She had several requests for hand-carved return address and wedding invitation stamps — though she’s evolved Native Bear into a paper and gift brand, those custom stamps were integral to the success of her Etsy shop. “By offering a specialty item like this, I was able to create brand recognition and develop a relationship with my customers, and it afforded me the ability to play around with new product ideas,” explains Leela.
4. Ask yourself the right questions. As a product-based small business, Leela knows that each item she offers in her shop must be profitable and not overly labor intensive — otherwise it’s not worth the effort to create it. Every year, Leela launches two collections, in the fall and spring. She carefully considers the goods she will offer by asking herself a series of questions: “Does it reflect the Native Bear vibe? Is it moving the brand forward? Are the numbers sustainable? Does it get me pumped?” When she’s found an item that fits all those needs, then she’ll add it to her collection.
5. Listen to your truth. When starting a new business, there are risks involved. Leela shares that her friends and family have been supportive by purchasing products or getting excited when she hits milestones for her company. But occasionally, people will ask questions and voice their concerns: “Other people’s fears will come out when they see you’re doing what you want to do, and it’s okay.” Leela suggests channeling your inner rebel to prove those doubters wrong.
6. Turn your fear of failure into motivation. When starting your own biz, a million questions and fears might come up. Leela thinks it’s most important to think about why you’re starting this business in the first place: “Are you willing to do the hard work to create a brand that is authentically you? What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to get to your next goal?” When Leela thought about what made her the most happy in her life, she realized that she wanted to work from home and focus on her artistic development. Any fears she had about starting her Etsy shop — and later opening Native Bear — were her inspiration to work hard to make those dreams happen.
7. Be prepared for your growth potential. For product-based companies, you always want to be slammed with business, especially during the holiday season. But Leela emphasizes the need to be ready for the onslaught of orders, saying, “It’s so important to be prepared for it instead of constantly playing catch-up.” A new takeaway from 2016? “Not asking for help ahead of time has been a big lesson for me, especially over the holidays.” Take some steps to ensure that you can meet demand when your products start selling like gangbusters.
Perfect Your Skills
1. Custom Stationery Online Class ($19): Liz Maute Cooke, founder of Lionheart Prints, will show you how to apply watercolor paint to blank cards. Plus, you’ll be dip-dying, using heat-embossing techniques, and adding pops of color inside envelopes for a truly unique set of stationery.
2. How to Sell at Craft Fairs Online Class ($29): Before you sign up to showcase at your local craft fair, take some time to learn how Katie Dean, owner of Katie Dean Jewelry, perfected her skills at top craft fairs. She’ll share tips for prepping your best-selling products before you attend, designing eye-catching displays, and engaging customers.
3. Build an Online Store (Free): ArtLifting founder Liz Powers will teach you how to build a site with Shopify, seamlessly integrate your brand into Shopify, set up payments, and ship out orders via FedEx. You’ll want to learn these basics before starting any online store.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!