biz ladiesinterviewsLife & Business

Biz Ladies Profile: Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop.  After a slew of random gigs and a final job firing, Christine decided to follow her artistic passions rather than apply for another set of endless jobs. Christine launched a print-to-order greeting card business in 2007 and today Yellow Owl Workshop items, including rubber stamps and stamp ink pads, greeting cards and a line of exquisite gold pendants, are found around the US. In this interview, she shares a bit about her journey to becoming a biz lady and the lessons she learned along the way.  Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Christine! —Stephanie

Read the full interview after the jump…

Mixtape Stamp Kit

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I was fired from a terrible job. Because Bachelor of Fine Art degrees are always so in demand, I always had random jobs to pay the bills. I have been a cake decorator, mural painter, bartender, nanny, and sales person.  I just took whatever job would pay me the most with the least amount of commitment. Looking back, each of these “getting by” jobs taught me skills I use now.

My then- boyfriend, Evan, and I had recently packed up our two mutts in a rented Hyundai to manifest some destiny in San Francisco. He had a job. I did not.  Eventually I got a job as a personal assistant to a super rich lady whose demeanor and extreme facelift(s!) earned her the name Skeletor. Entering that faux Pacific Heights mansion was soul-crushing and I hated it.. Every day that weight got heavier and darker and bigger, but I stayed because I prized my self-sufficiency and it was easy. One day I got fired and it was awesome! Rather than looking for another job, I steeled myself to create my own business and Evan was completely on board.  My constant complaining bugged him for sure, but he had faith in me that filled the gaps of my own insecurities. Starting a business costs money and I had to swallow my ego to accept the support.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

People buy greeting cards when they want to convey a message and none of the cards on the market were speaking to me. I figured other people might feel the same way and I decided to print my own cards. I didn’t have to invest in expensive equipment and there was not a lot of upfront cost because I printed to order.  I first stated printing linocuts with a hand-cranked press. As my business grew I moved to screen printing to make larger runs of cards. When I had enough regular wholesale accounts I started making rubber stamps. Most of the stamps on the market were pretty lame and rubber stamping was relegated to the then undesirable realm of “scrapbooking.”  I looked at the stamps on the market and thought I could use stamps in new ways. I created a line of stamps that contained different graphics that could be repeated to create scenes. There were upfront costs and minimum order quantities so I had to have established accounts as income and payments towards this new stuff.

Dots & Dyes Hearts

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

My husband, Evan, gave me this advice: “they can only say no.” The only risk is rejection. And “No” won’t kill ya.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Me. I over-think things until I bleed them dry. The painter Agnes Martin said, “A lot of good things don’t get made because of too much thinking.” I wish I was fearless and never looked back. Instead I just stew ideas in self-doubt until they evaporate.

All Pendants Packaging

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Own Up and Own Out.  When I first I delivered samples to shops, so many said “no.” That made me start second-guessing everything.  I have no skills. I am bugging them. I made those choices that set my business apart on purpose. I have to be true to my own vision.

I also had to own out.  I had to recognize that the business is separate from myself. It is hard, when you are spending every dollar and every minute on your business, not to take things personally. But you have to. Maybe it doesn’t work for your intended audience right now and that is ok. Trends, markets and tastes fluctuate.  Bending to meet market tastes isn’t worth it even if it gets you traction in the short run because creating a business identity means distinguishing it from the pack.

Another big part of “Owning Out” is adopting manners that work for business and not life. In my own life I am habitually and to-a-fault polite. I have learned the hard way that “polite” is too often equated with “weakness” (especially for women). I am never unkind or (I think) unfair but I will contact people relentlessly until I get the results I want. My owning out gives me the confidence I need to demand and persist.  This is especially helpful when you have to sell your products or services. I hate HATE talking about myself, but when I consider the company as a separate entity I can speak with confidence and not take rejection (so) hard.

Beach Stamp Set

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

After our first National Stationery show I felt so good. I took a risk blowing dough getting there and it paid off. We doubled sales and accounts in an instant. I was invited to a meeting with a sales rep group that I coveted. Under the florescent glow of a desolate gift show table, I ceremoniously unwrapped and presented each of my goods and laid them on the bare table like they were precious relics. After deafening silence, they drilled me on my methods to scale-up production, handle the logistics of large orders and packaging concerns for larger stores. I had no answers and they rejected me. I felt so defeated and slinked away dragging my box of samples. As the year progressed we started getting larger orders from more accounts. Slowly we figured out the shipping and logistics and streamlined our making of goods. A year later we had a meeting with the same rep and they agreed to take us on. We have been incredibly happy with our rep group, Keena, for over four years now.  As tough as that day was I needed to answer those hard questions in my own time.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

Two years ago I had just released my book “Print Workshop.” I worked on that for ages and to hold it in my hands was an enormous joy.  I totally cried.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of his or her own?

I haven’t read any business advice books. This business grew organically and we just adapted with the aid of google. When I have practical questions I consult the Small Business Association website (http://www.sba.gov)  and my local small business office.  Both have tons of helpful and free resources.

Je T'aime and Triangle Pendant

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Be Original: what are you offering that nobody else is? Would a different material or method of creation or action or delivery set you apart? Would your packaging make you stand out?

2.Know your own limitations and ask for support. If you are finding yourself moving away from your concentration to take care of  business maintainace (like accounting, web site or shipping)—ask a pro for help. It may cost you but you will work better with good focus and you will be happier.  Also ask for emotional support from friends and family. Running your own business can get lonely. You don’t have to give people all the details but people that love you will appreciate your sharing and then they delight more in your success.  I struggle with knowing my own limits and sharing all the time.

3. Will this give me more than it takes away? This seems like such an obvious question but it is crucial. Running your own business presents the possibility of rewards and the certainty of negatives.  The yin always has the yang here and it can consume your whole life if you let it.  Is it worth it? For some very smart and talented people I know the answer has been “no.”

I didn’t think much about this until I had my baby, Emmy, last year. I always loved my work and felt lucky to be able to make my own way. Long hours were a mandatory and both the highs and lows ate most of my waking and dreaming hours. But when that girl was born all the work just fell away. I honestly felt like quitting and getting a 9-5 with no commitment (even though getting a 9-5 is hard in this economy.)  In my brain I wanted to hold that baby forever and nothing could ever change that.  Slowly my work thoughts started creeping back in because, and I know I am lucky to say this, my job is also my passion, my necessity.  I need this work to make me happy and complete. Now that I have gone back to work (with the help of childcare) I view my workday much differently.  I realize that every hour I spend at work is an hour I don’t spend with my kid so it better be ****ing worth it.  I am not saying you have to have a kid to realize this- just realize that everyday you live is YOURS and running your own business has to give you more than it takes away.


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  • this is the most honest interview about small business ownership i’ve ever read. thank you for the opportunity. love this series!

  • This is such a valuable and inspiring interview. It really sounds like Christine found her niche and worked hard to get where she is today. I love how her business grew organically and she made it happen her way. Great advice too for anyone who want to start their own business!

  • Thank you, you rock Christine! Made my day to read your words. I can totally relate to what you’re saying, and it’s refreshing to know others have been in the same boat. I’m so glad you’ve come out on top and followed your heart throughout. Much deserved!

  • I am in the very beginning stages of starting my own business, and reading this interview was very inspiring to me. Thank you! I hope that I am able to pass along my own advice to others once I get to the stage that Christine and others have gotten to. Thanks again!

  • Your color wheel necklace is one of my most cherished accessories. I’m so glad you put in the hard work because you are original and amazing. I’m a work from home mom and I agree–whatever I am working on has to be well worth the time I am giving up with my babies!

  • I love this woman’s work! I’ve always admired the bright colors and shapes Christine uses in her work- she makes everything look like so much fun! And her answers to the last question were relieving to hear- I have trouble with #2 & #3, it’s good to know that there are other creatives out there wresting with the same problems.

  • Great interview, I love Yellow Owl Workshop and is’t really insightful. I did spot 5 glaring typos though, maybe needs another proof read.

  • Thanks Christine for such an inspiring and honest interview. So many great tips. I especially like the one about seeing your biz as a separate entity when promoting it. Love your work and fun stamp sets. It really shows through that you love what you do.

  • Thank you for interviewing Yellow Owl Workshop (a company I’ve loved for awhile). It was great to read about how the business grew and some of the challenges that were faced.

  • Thanks for sharing your story! I love learning about mistakes people have made, because those are so important to a story. Congrats on your baby, and on your success. Well earned!

  • What a lovely inspiring and honest interview! I am a year into setting up my own paper goods business so this was a really useful read. I also work part time in a little shop in Edinburgh, Scotland, and where we sell Print Workshop, as well as some of the Yellow Owl Workshop stamp sets and ink pads. They are my favourite products in the whole shop and I always move them to the best spots on our shelves so our customers can see how amazing they are!

  • This refreshingly candid interview really resonates with me. Thanks for being so honest, Christine! Also, loving your Get Wise 2013 series on Instagram!

  • Christine is amazing! We were lucky to have found her to make our wedding invitations back in 2007 and she is such a great person and a great artist. Congratulations, Christine!!!!

  • Well… of course, Chris would give a fresh, funny, honest, informative, and helpful interview. She rules. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this – thank you!

  • THANK YOU ALL for your comments! I was grateful to have this interview as a time to pause and reflect. Hoping you fledgling or maybe business owners take the dive because fear and regret lingers and stings longer than failure. If you know somebody that is starting a business give them a hug and but them a drink! Thanks for having me Grace!

  • Love this lady – definitely worthy of applause. And I empathize with having “ideas stew in self-doubt until they evaporate.” I’d better get moving on some then, eh?

    Another great note you will soon find out, Christine, is how your daughter will look up to you and emulate your work ethic. Mine loves to “work” with mama and has some inspiring ideas of her own, even at 3 going on 16.

  • I agree, great, honest, real interview. Thank you. I can totally relate. And as for the typos, either they were corrected already or the content was so good that I didn’t notice! (Funny that there are three typos in the typo comment!)

  • Thank you so much for this interview, FULL of wisdom!!!! Helpful, sensible and sensitive, and many more adjectives! (all good) All the best for you!

  • Awesome interview! I am selling MY PEACE of jewelry on Etsy and want to take the bold leap of selling my handstamped cuffs in stores. Thanks for outlining that you must push forward and not take “rejection” personal. If one store does not like your stuff move on to the next and the next and the…next. Thanks!

  • I have been a fan and a customer of Yellow Owl Workshop for a while now. I loved her sweet stamps and was happy to add them to my collection. I was bummed to read that this is what she had to say about both rubberstamps and scrapbooking. “Most of the stamps on the market were pretty lame and rubber stamping was relegated to the then undesirable realm of “scrapbooking.” This is unfortunate as both rubberstamping and scrapbooking are a significant part of the papercrafting industry and employ many many “biz ladies,” myself included. I still liked the interview, even if I do disagree with her opinion.

  • Reading this was right now is so perfect. I have dreamed of and am working toward starting my own creative business, and just today came home sobbing to my husband because I hate my current job so much. This gives me hope that things will get better.

  • literally feel like these are my exact thoughts. so nice to know someone else is in the same world and has gone through the same crazy, stressful, rewarding, roller-coaster of a ride to get there! thanks for the honesty!

  • Thank you for one of the most honest and inspiring business interviews I have ever come across. I’m going to print this one out and put it on the wall, it validates how I run my business and the constant ups and downs that you encounter. It’s all so true! Thank you!

  • Good grief, finally someone telling it like it is. You would think most people that get interviewed walked on water and became successful by snapping their fingers. Props to the author for asking the right questions and to Christine for being so honest.

  • This is sooooo inspiring, it gives me the push I needed today. Setting up your own business is quite challenging……

  • Fantastic interview. I always leave these Biz Ladies wanting more specific advice – like, what should I do personally to make my business successful? I think that’s good – the posts inspire me to work harder to figure things out on my own.

  • Wow, this post really nailed it for me. Bookmarking this to return to when I need inspiration in the future. Thank you so much for sharing, Christine!

  • What a fantastic post. I was especially interested to hear of her experiences with the National Stationery show, and what actually happens when you get the meeting you hope for–the kinds of questions they will be asking.
    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • I’m a big fan of Yellow Owl Workshop — all their items are cute and covet-able! Hooray for all Christine’s success. Her story is truly inspiring. :)

  • I LOVED this interview. Way to be up front and real about the process! Very inspiring and just the kick in the breeches I needed.

  • Thank you, I have just been searching for info approximately this subject for a long time and yours is the
    best I’ve discovered till now. However, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the supply?

  • This is so honest and inspiring! I don’t know what else to say but my heart feels warm. I wish her happiness above all!

  • Thanks for sharing. I’ve loved your work since I first saw it in Mystic, CT in a shop near my parents’ house, and, as someone who has been “stew(ing) ideas in self-doubt” for a while about starting my own business, I really appreciated the honesty and found it inspiring!!

  • This interview was so insightful and her points of view on business and life were so mature.

  • BEST BIZ Ladies interview yet! My life rite now just resonates with this story… graduated in architecture but working as a paper pushing gofer for a sports club.. Why AM I HIDING!?! I dream of drawing all day… So inspired to OWN UP and start my business!

  • Great interview! I love following Christine on instagram (@yellowowlworkshop) for her honest and funny posts about life and running her business.

  • Christine, you’re a clear-eyed badass. Keep on it, girl! Thank you, Grace, for posting this interview. This series is helping me take the mental baby steps towards starting my own small business and I am so grateful.

  • what a wonderful interview – one of the absolute best in this series. Thanks so much and all best wishes to Christine!

  • I’ve loved Yellow Owl Workshop’s products for years! So great to hear her story and fresh, honest perspective.

  • love this interview! christine gives great + down to earth advice + it’s encouraging to read a profile of a business that’s made it work in the long term, ever growing!

  • Wow… learned a ton from this interview. Now, to put them to practice and DO and try not to overthink! thanks DS & Christine.

  • Great interview – love the honesty, especially the articulating and facing of insecurities and faults.

  • I was a big fan of YOW until I read a blurb about Christine in 7×7 a few years ago that started off… “Christine Schmidt is a little suspicious of second-career craftspeople—the new slew of former desk jockeys who have decided to make things for a living. “What about those of us who never considered any other option?” says Schmidt”. This seems very judgmental from someone who considers herself “to a fault polite”.

  • Very interesting and intriguing read! I’ve, for years now, considered starting my own business and loved the insight! Thanks for sharing!

  • Solid interview with great insight and advice. I am going to apply that thinking, “does this give me more than it takes away” to my own business and see how I do. Branding and packaging are also something I will work on – thanks for the inspiration!

  • I had the pleasure of meeting Christine at “The Makerie” with SweetPaul a few weeks ago. Reading this interview makes me feel that I just had a conversation with her.

    Thank you, Christine, for your transparency and your words about separating oneself from your work-biz identity. Never thought about it that way.

    It makes sense that thinking like this makes it easier to talk about the biz. I don’t like talking about myself either… ;)