Today’s Biz Ladies profile is of the talented designer behind Rifle Paper Co., Anna Bond. According to Anna, the launch and growth of her popular stationery and paper goods line was natural and organic and based on the principles of quality products and customer service. Today she shares her business process and gives us some insight into her path to success. Thanks for sharing your tale with us, Anna! — Stephanie
Read the full profile after the jump . . .
I’ve always been drawn to the idea of starting my own business, but it was more of an organic process over time than something I had been diligently working toward. I studied graphic design in college and had been working as a freelance designer and illustrator for a couple years before officially launching Rifle Paper Co. through our website. The business evolved out of figuring out what I wanted to do and realizing that I had fallen in love with stationery and product design. Not only that, but I was fascinated with the whole process of developing a product from the idea stage to manufacturing to marketing and so on. I had an itch to be part of everything rather than simply passing off my art for someone else to figure out all of those things.
I had already been used to working for myself from home, so it didn’t seem like a huge step when I did start the business. My thought process was more along the lines of, “Well, I love stationery. I guess I could make a bunch of cards and products, sell them online, and see what happens.” Of course, it didn’t hurt that there was minimal start-up cost compared to many other businesses (for the most part, our initial production run and a website), and I was already working freelance and used to being unsure about the next paycheck or what might come next. But all those risks were worth the idea of being in control of how my illustrations and designs were presented.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
After I knew that I wanted to launch a stationery line, I remember planning out what that really meant. I don’t know how I came up with it, but I decided how many cards that should be, what sort of extras I could add to the line (wrapping paper, invites, etc.). I knew I wanted quality products, so I carefully picked out paper stocks and made sure that we printed locally so I could sign off on all colors. Nathan (my husband) started working with me when we launched, and we would have long talks about what we valued in a good business (great customer service, speedy shipments, well-made products, etc.). As for the products themselves, the art and inspiration was based on my own personal style. At the time, most of the boutique stationery companies were focusing on letterpress design, and I wanted to offer something different with full-color illustrated cards. I knew that beyond quality, great paper, vibrant printing, and so on that I had to create products that were different and unique from what was already out there. All of those decisions were incredibly important in defining who we are as a company.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
The best advice I’ve heard (or at least my favorite) is to be flexible. That goes for so many things in business and sounds so simple, but it’s so important. There are so many unexpected obstacles, and being able to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever comes (good or bad) can make all the difference. Sometimes that means taking on an exciting project that you don’t know how you’re going to manage or picking yourself up quickly after a mistake. It means not getting too bent out of shape when something doesn’t work out just as you planned. Having that mindset has allowed us to step back and make sure we’re growing the business without letting something get in the way.
The most difficult part of starting out was not really knowing what we were doing. We had an idea of what we wanted, we had our goals, we had the products, but there was so much we didn’t know, and there was no one to turn to in most situations (other than Google). Although it was incredibly difficult, it also made us much better business owners. We learned how to figure things out on our own and solve nearly every problem that we faced. Nathan and I have always been stubbornly determined to figure things out and not give up until we find an answer.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
You have to have so much passion and determination for what you do. Running a business can be tough, draining, and demanding. There are days when I feel like giving up, but no matter how hard it can be, I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I didn’t have that passion, I don’t know that I could have gotten through the truly tough times.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Our launch (the day we launched riflepaperco.com) was actually a big failure in almost every way possible! We learned about 500 things in those first 24 hours when everything went wrong that could. Our website crashed, our products got delivered ruined and unsellable, we couldn’t figure out how to ship internationally, we didn’t anticipate the holiday rush, and the list goes on. I remember Nathan and I clicking publish with huge smiles on our faces and in a matter of hours we were both panicking and alternating meltdowns (it’s never good to have a meltdown at the exact same time as your business partner, so we graciously alternated). We spent the next 2–3 weeks solving every problem, reprinting cards, emailing every customer, enlisting friends to help, and eventually getting on the other side of it. Looking back, it’s very funny to think about all of those things going wrong at once, but at the time it was a nightmare. In the end, it was a huge learning experience for us, and we became much better business owners for going through it.
In many ways I feel like I’m still starting out and we’re tucked away in our little Winter Park, Florida, bubble. I continually pinch myself that our products are now carried around the world and that people have responded so well to what we’re doing here at Rifle. My goal is to design products that people love, will cherish and want to give or mail to their loved ones. If I’m succeeding at that, I feel successful in what we’re doing.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
An original idea (a need for your business in the market), an incredible amount of passion and determination, and a solid plan for how to turn a profit.