It seems so many businesses are born out of that full-circle moment when you’re finally able to do that thing you’ve been meaning to do. For Danielle, getting let go from her day job as a graphic designer meant she was able to dive into her passion for letterpress, one that she had daydreamed about for years. After ample research, Danielle and her husband Joe, a sculpture artist, invested in some letterpress equipment, a humble studio space and opened Wishbone Letterpress, where they create their gorgeous (and unexpectedly snicker-worthy) paper stationery.
For us, too, their story is a full-circle moment: A few months ago, Danielle and Joe gave us a peek inside their studio and we were so drawn to their story and down-to-earth approach to business that we’re excited to have Danielle back today to chat more about their business, the importance of a contract, sacrifice vs. fulfillment, and what you need to ask yourself before starting your own business. –Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business?
In 2007, I designed a wedding invitation for a friend’s wedding. I had it digitally printed, and when I got the proof back, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much better it would have been if it were letterpress printed. I quickly decided to take a letterpress class and fell in love with the process. My husband, Joe, and I went to art school, and I had always been interested in printmaking, so it felt pretty natural. Over the next few years, while working as an on-air animator and graphic designer at CBS, I did some printing at community print shops while daydreaming about quitting my day job. I also did some serious research on what it would really take to start a business. In 2010, I was laid off from my job at CBS, and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to start Wishbone.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I always knew I wanted to create great design and pair it with high-quality printing. That hasn’t changed at all. In general, I would say our business is a good balance of problem solving, creativity, craft and fun.
People always ask if we come up with our own ideas for our greeting cards; yes, we write, design and print everything ourselves. Joe and I both love contemporary art and design, bright colors, and pop culture and I think that comes through in our designs. We also love to make people laugh. In a lot of ways, our work is an extension of ourselves. It keeps us pretty connected to our customers. If a card makes us laugh while we’re designing it, we feel pretty confident it’s going to make other people laugh, too.
When you start a business, your goal is to STAY in business and having different product categories helps. In addition to our stationery line, we also do a lot of custom work: wedding invitations, business cards, baby announcements. I work very closely with our custom clients. I love the challenge of designing from someone else’s vision — especially when it’s so personal for them.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
The best piece of advice was to keep our overhead and debt low. Instead of taking out loans, we emptied our savings accounts to start Wishbone. We were careful to only buy equipment that we could afford and truly needed. And we didn’t make a lot of extra inventory. It was important that we didn’t get in over our heads. As we grew, we had more money to invest back into the business.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Very early on, we did work without a contract. Whenever you do this, the chances are very high that you will run into problems. It might be during the project or, as it was for us, it might be at the end, when you try to collect payment. But mistakes will happen and you can’t dwell on them. We learned so much of what we know about running a business through trial and error.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
We love what we do, so we don’t really think of it as a sacrifice, but yes, we have we have made trade-offs. We haven’t bought a house. We don’t go on a lot of vacations, go out to eat a lot or have many days off. But we have gained a very fulfilling career and we know that, eventually, we will get all of those things as a result of our hard work. Another reason it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice is that we’ve made a ton of great friends within our industry. It’s nice to be part of a community of makers and entrepreneurs who are going through many of the same things that we are. They inspire us and help to keep things in perspective.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
We’ve been in business for 3.5 years and I’m really pleased with how much we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve come in that amount of time. We have done a lot of work that we’re really proud of. And we continue to be busy and excited to design new products every day.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I love Biz Ladies [now Life & Business]! There are also some great online webinars; I took a bunch with Tradeshow Bootcamp. It’s a stationery business-based webinar that educates new businesses on wholesale, setting up for tradeshows, accounting, etc. I found it to be really helpful because I was able to ask questions at the end. I also met with a representative at my local Small Business Development Center when I first started, and they helped with my business plan and projections.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Can you afford to start a business? I wouldn’t be able to do this without savings and my husband, whose full-time job really gave us peace of mind during those slow times in the beginning.
2. Are you really passionate about what you want to do? Starting a business is really exciting, but can also be really discouraging. You’ll work really long days and probably harder than you’ve ever worked. So you really need to love it.
3. Is there a need for what you do? How is your business different from other companies that are similar to yours? What makes your business special?