The usual thing to do in the inaugural blog post would be to introduce one's self, including a well photoshopped picture, a bio on my education and how many dogs I have, and a sunny description about why I love what I/we do at Seliz. I promise I will do all that in blog post #2 or #3. But, for now, I want to write about THE WHY of this blog. Many people write blogs to gain a following or start their sales funnel. I won't be mad if that happens, but the reason I want to blog is that I am truly passionate about knowledge sharing.
Like MANY others, I've been toying with the idea and researching on transitioning a hobby into a business over the last several years. Doing that takes, TONS of research, followed by thoughtful executions of logistics, a good product line, getting contacts and buyers, developing relationships, manufacturing, packaging, bookkeeping, marketing, etc.....There is TONS more. That is A LOT for one person to understand, let alone do. (Of course you can contract out some of that, but let's be real...Who in their first year or two of business has the money to pay for all the things they should contract out? We are going to contract what is important or what we can afford, and put on many hats for all the rest.)
Now, I read a lot of blogs of peer stationers and stationery bloggers who all say that one of the things they love about the stationery community is that they are welcoming to newbies and that they are extremely supportive of each other. #communityovercompetition I'm glad they are saying that. I sincerely want that to be true. And, I HATE to be 'Debbie Downer'! Sincerely, negative people are a drain to my soul, and that's just not me. But, if I am being really honest, I have not found that to be true as a rule (YET.) in my first hand experience. (I know all those great stationers aren't lying. I just haven't seen it as the general rule, yet.)
I'll give you some examples, without naming those involved, of course. In the last few years, as part of my research, I've reached out to a few peer letterpress printers, very casually over social media or email to ask NON-Trade Secret questions.
Example #1: Three years ago, when I decided I wanted to buy a larger, floor model press, I wanted to do some research on the best fit for me, keeping in mind my current skill level, my ambition, and my business goals. I only had a tabletop Chandler & Price Pilot at the time. I reached out to a letterpress printer in my area that indicated on their website that they had several different types of presses. I emailed them through their website to ask if they did any type of group or individual letterpress workshops (for a fee, of course) as many other print houses do this. Letterpress is an artisan craft, that most printers want to teach and share so that it isn't a dying art. I explained that I had a small press but wanted to learn more about letterpress printing and the different types of machinery available. Their email response to me was essentially that teaching me more about letterpress would be making me into a competitor, so 'No.' Ouch.
Example #2: I paid for a took an online class about how to develop a stationery business. In the content, the instructor says that she will not disclose the name of her printer essentially because for them to get new business might negatively impact their turnaround time on her orders. In truth, I didn't really even understand this hoarding of information. If she didn't want to disclose her printer, she didn't need to even disclose that sentiment. She could have avoided saying the entire sentence and the audience would have been none the wiser. Second, I didn't really think that it was fair or nice to be depriving her printing partner of clients for her own agenda. Who is to say that they couldn't have taken on more clients and still had capacity to offer the same timelines...? Maybe they want to grow their business too...? Let's be reminded that in this instance I had PAID for thorough information on the industry.
Example #3: A peer printer had a gorgeous picture of a new card on Instagram. I was seriously in rapture with this card, the design was beautiful, the sentiment was quirky, it had it all. It also had, in its design, a large area of printed color. Anyone in the letterpress world knows that letterpress is better with line drawings, text, and smaller areas of color. Large areas can be difficult to get good ink coverage. So, I commented on this photo and first praised it for being such a cute and funny card. Then I asked something like "Do you have any tips for good ink coverage?" A few days later, still thinking about that gorgeous card, I went back to look at the picture of it on Instagram. I knew the person hadn't responded to my comment, but I didn't mind that really. That happens all the time, and even I do it. When I got to the picture, though, I noticed that my comment wasn't even there anymore. This person DELETED my comment. Why? It wasn't offensive. Again, letterpress is an artisan craft that most people want to teach and share. How to get good ink coverage is not a trade secret. I obviously wasn't one of those spammers or likes/follows chasers that randomly (and sometimes inappropriately) writes a 'cool' 'amazing' 'awesome' on strangers posts. (I once posted a picture of my dog's wounds after he had been attacked by another dog and got an 'Amazing' from someone in Russia. Um...no. That's not amazing. Nope.) I again didn't understand this behavior from a peer stationer.
Now, we always want to try to see both sides of a point and we certainly want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe #3 really did think I was one of those creepy 'likes' chasers. Maybe #1 was having a rough time in their business and had a family to feed and was just so stressed out that they couldn't see past their own critical needs. Maybe I really was asking trade-secrets in their minds or maybe I approached them in a way that they thought was unacceptable. And, I know that there are copy-cats out there and people want to guard against intellectual property theft. So, maybe they were just on their guard in general. I will never know.
But, what all of these 'maybes' fail to address is that the piece of information that I was asking for or that was withheld in these situations was not even a grain of sand on the vast mountain of knowledge that anyone would need to build a successful letterpress stationery business. Answering the question or giving the information was not going to sky rocket anyone into Anna Bond (Rifle Paper Co.) over night. And, no one else's established business, anywhere, ever, was going to suffer. There are still a million more hurdles for a new stationer to get over than these simple questions, a million more things that I would have to figure out and do right, before I was in the same league with these entrepreneurs I had asked.
I think any successful stationer, and even my-yet-to-be-successful-self, would tell you that it isn't any one thing that can make your business successful. It's your personality, your brand, your special sauce, your fresh ideas, your frugal and miserly margin hunting, the way you balance everything...that is going to attract and keep your ideal clients and/or make your business successful.
So, there was no harm in sharing these minuscule details with a fellow stationer. The only harm was to the reputation of the stationery community, because truly, what I was reading and what I was experiencing did not match up.
To share knowledge & promote inclusion. (To be the opposite of everything above.)
I want to be a knowledge sharer, not a knowledge hoarder. I would answer any question that I thought would be helpful to the person asking. Knowledge sharing benefits the stationery community as a whole and promotes innovation, not to mention actually helps other human beings. I certainly don't have it all figured out yet, but I have learned a few things along the way, and I'd be happy to help someone else skip steps, or at least shorten their path by pointing them in the right direction.
To attract other like-minded people.
I don't want to make it seem like it's been all doom and gloom. I did say that I haven't found the community to be welcoming/sharing as a general rule because I have had more bad experiences than good. The ones listed above were not the only ones. But, I have definitely run into some good too. And, I do believe that the kindness/welcoming/sharing culture that people are writing about is out there. So, I want to find it!
I think Adina of Bunny Bear Press is like-minded, and she is extremely candid about her efforts and results in developing her stationery business over on her blog. I've followed her and connected with her on Instagram for a while now and she strikes me as such a genuine and inclusive person.
I also found this blog post by Emily McDowell of Emily McDowell Studio to be incredibly candid, genuine, humble, and a learning experience, as she teaches us all how to take ownership of unintentional copying, with a lot of class. It could not have been fun to admit that mistake to the world, but she's just that awesome that she did.
Finally, I am obsessed with the 'Hello Brick & Mortar' column over on Oh So Beautiful Paper, written by Emily Blistein of Clementine. She is an owner/retailer who shares everything that is in the minds of wholesale buyers. Invaluable information for wanna-be wholesalers! I think many would charge for this information (Don't get me wrong, she likely gets paid something.) but, we get it for free. Knowledge sharing at it's finest.
Ok. So, our first blog post, we led with the bad & the ugly. But, this was only to make way for the good. It was important to me to paint the picture some of the negative out there, to make a stark contrast to what I want to experience and to, in turn, promote as a small creative business owner. I sincerely, without a doubt subscribe to the #communityovercompetition school of thought. So, from here on out, we are all going to 'put our big girl pants on' (I say that because I am a girl, but do not want to exclude any gender. So, insert 'big boy pants' if appropriate.) and seek out other genuine, like-minded creatives to share, laugh, and thrive together.
I welcome your comments below on less than friendly experiences you've had as a creative entrepreneur. But!!! There are rules: 1. NO NAME DROPPING! We've got a ton more class than that! Am I right? 2. While we can certainly visit 'Mad & Hurt Land' (We are humans, after all.) we can't put up a tent and live there. Sorry. It's just not what Big Girls do. (Remember, negativity drains the soul!) So, I also want to hear about what you learned, how you grew, or how you reconciled a bad situation.
In Our Next Post
Now that we have unclogged the pipes, I promise the next post, and every one after that, will have pictures! But really, was I going to put pictures of these people and put them on blast? Lol. Um, no. I want to promote inclusion. Our next post will be a proper introduction to the people/pets that run SelizDesign & Letterpress. The 'WHY' will be the only one out of order, because it was the most important, much more important than me talking about myself. But, the 'WHO', the 'WHAT', the 'WHEN', and the 'WHERE' will all be in there correct order going forward!