Work in Progress: My Small Business Growing Pains
Wedding season 2018 is finally here and I have exactly one free day before I'm chained to my desk with my slider writer for at least a couple more weeks. I've done a marathon of random shows on Netflix and finally finding time to enjoy a nice hot bath. So what else can I do? Another blog of course!! So here goes nothing!
If you were wondering why I barely update my website, fail to post on Instagram everyday, and can be horrible with my email reply rate; it's because of wedding season. This time of the year, I'm juggling between day-of orders (menus, place cards, on-site mirror gigs), invitation suites that need to be mailed out (addressing, stuffing, and all the good stuff), designing future invitation suites, mailing out Etsy orders on a daily basis, and trying to stay on top of my marketing to help ensure future projects!
Having a full calendar as a tiny business owner is a dream come true and I don't want to come out as ungrateful. That being said; it's not without its headaches, and heartaches... Along with tearful yet important lessons to learn. So I'm sharing my growing pains publicly so that we can all learn together!
My "Custom Client" Growing Pains
As I mentioned earlier, my plate is extremely full these days! But working on too many projects at the same time means things are bound to slip through the cracks aaaaaaand shit happens. Let's just say I've made every mistake in the book this year.
Did I make a typo and send the wrong Pantone code to my letterpress printer? I did. And that's not the only reprint I've had to do this wedding session due to silly mistakes on my end. Did I forget which stuffing elements go with which client's order because they're kinda similar but slightly different? You bet. Giving my client's anxiety about her deadline? Yeah, that happened too. And despite USPS great delivery rate for US addresses, the few packages that go missing (during peak anxiety-time) which required me to send the replacement via FedEx... All because USPS pretty much lost them in their vortex. Oh, and not to mention sending my client to lunch because I'm still working on her order. Phew!
Some of the mistakes can be easily remedied. Some cost more money than others to fix. Most can be solved successfully ending with happy clients; while on a rare few, I regretfully disappoint my client. Now that all the dust has settled and I'm less emotional about all my mistakes, I understand that some of them are out of my control and all I can do is practice better preparation. That being said, some of them are preventable. In addition to my printing proof sheet, I'm now including my stuffing proof sheet to be signed by my clients too! As for my own sanity, I start my own checklist to make sure I double check the files I'm prepping to print, relay correct information to my vendors and purchase the correct items. You can download my Proofing Checklist, Printing Checklist, and Stuffing Checklist to give you guys some starting point to make your own!
And most importantly, I finally hired a part-time assistant and she's been saving my butt helping out with all the proofing, packing, stuffing, sticking all my stamps and running to Post Office! Alex has been helping with picking up some of my printing orders, helping with USPS errands, and also brews our coffee in the morning. I guess I can't really do everything on my own, but that's okay.
My "Marketing" Growing Pains
Or should I say, my love-hate relationship with Instagram? If you're frustrated with the constant changes, drop in engagement, and worrying about your stagnant growth; rest assured that you're not the only one! I've been second guessing myself on which image/video to post, what hashtags to use, and when to post them because I can see that my impression has been slowly going down. Photos/videos that usually got me a respectable amount of exposure only get a fraction of impression it used to. I can't keep tabs on all the new fancy updates for the stories, IGTV, or insta-live and I definitely do not post enough of them. Since the drop in impressions is affecting a lot of people, that also means being featured by other people doesn't have the same impact as it used to. Of course, the drop in Instagram engagement/discovery means drop in my website traffic too. Which means, it's just a matter of time for this dip in interaction to hit my bottom line.
Sure, the lack of growth can be annoying. But if I have to be honest, what bugs me the most is I'm actually watching my followers go down. Yup, you read that right, I actually LOST followers! It felt about as shitty as getting a C grade in a class I usually ace. At first, I watched my numbers like a hawk. I'm pretty much glued on my phone, constantly refreshing to check my how many followers I have and how my last post did (not too hot, usually). I would constantly google any news regarding Instagram updates to check if Instagram just releases new updates to justify my "meh" amount of likes. I would constantly compare my account with others and feel defeated when I saw other people doing better than me instead of cheering on their success. I complained about how little likes I got to everyone who would listen. Basically, I obsessed over my social media posts and constantly worrying about my numbers. It's draining. It's unhealthy. I don't like the person I've become. And most importantly, complaining is useless and improves absolutely nothing.
But after a while, I just have to stop mopping about my numbers and focus on things I can make a difference on. This is anything from utilizing other marketing channels like Pinterest, working on my SEO, trying to schedule my time to work on more website content and foster my real-life connections with other wedding vendors. I'm trying to use other advertising avenues from Facebook to Pop-Up-Shop opportunities. I recently got my Indigo Fair application approved and set up my online storefront, and I'm working on my vendors' Christmas Presents (in summer)! And most importantly, I need to stop tying how good my work is with the number of likes that particular project gets. I mean, I do more happy dances when my clients tag me on their photos rather than getting 1,000 likes on a post.
My "Etsy" Growing Pains
On a sweeter note, I'm able to add new items to my shop this year and I'm lucky enough to have regular retail sales from my Etsy shop. They help provide a steady revenue stream for me and ease my mind regarding where my money is coming from. That means Etsy's recent announcement regarding their fee percentage hike from 3.5% (merchandise sales) to 5% (merchandise+shipping) wasn't the most exciting news to hear. Although I'm able to complete most of my orders perfectly, it's just a matter of time until I hit some more of those "USPS missing package problems" (especially with international orders). Some other issues include: orders that doesn't survive their shipping trip, mixed up clients' orders, accidentally sending less than perfect items, etc...
Most problems can be solved with a replacement with an "ample dose of apology". That being said, selling more products also requires having to interact with more people. Occasionally, I'll get yelled at because I can't accommodate inquiries regarding custom orders. But recently, I got the ultimate inspirational message I JUST have to write n full calligraphy above. (I'm sorry, Jon, for sneaking my own photo in your beautiful spread.)
Here's the backstory of my very first Etsy Dispute against my shop... A customer purchased 25 of my greeting cards and proceeded to message me on how disappointed she was that my logo was pressed on the back of my cards (that I designed, produce, and sold on my store). Since she purchased my cards as part of her clients' professional gift, she said would only understand if my logo was "if she hadn't paid for it" and if "she was co-sponsor and some sort of cross-promotion". Her whole message made me see red from the blatant attempts at extortion for free cards. After telling her "Nope!" in the longest way possible, she opened a dispute case expecting a full refund because my branding makes my card "not as described" and she should be able to have them for free. I mean, how dare this "small Etsy shop calligrapher" sell a card with her own logo on her own card that she designed and printed? Because according to this lovely businesswoman's insight, "only a huge business with years of experience like Apple or North Face deserve to put their branding on their own product". Her words! Not mine..... Obviously, because the three years I've spent working on my brand thus far definitely doesn't count as any "years of experience". Anywho; Etsy sided with me for refund with return of the merchandise, closed the case because she didn't provide any tracking, and I got a "guarantee 1 star lengthy review on Etsy & all other social media" from her parting message as expected. I still haven't received my return back and it's past her refund window.
So I added another description on my listing that I never thought I'll need to include, took another styled calligraphy photo of the very motivational quote, vented on another blog post (and with a few friends), and moved on. All of my clients will sound like angels sent down from heaven after this one. And watch out world, you guys will have to suffer starring on my logo everywhere in the future (just kidding, but it will be on the back of the merch)!
All in all, this small Etsy shop calligrapher survived her 2018 wedding season and is still chugging along! I'm still the same extra cautious girl who doesn't like to lose money and thinks that people will stop booking me at any moment. So I'm extremely grateful for everyone who trusts me to have a small part on their wedding or their clients' weddings. So thankful for everyone who supports me with their online purchases or by taking my class. And of course every note/comment/message saying the love my work! There's so many more lessons I still have to learn, many more mistakes I will probably make, and a whole lot more pain related to running this business. If you guys have any growing pains you'd like to share; feel free to comment below, shoot me an email, or message me on my Instagram!