When Christine Traulich started working on the details of her wedding, her creativity was sparked. She wanted to make something that was personal, artistic and expressive. The response from her guests was overwhelming and encouraging. This positive feedback fueled Christine and her sister, Dori McDonald, to team up and start a stationery line, RedBliss Design. The sisters started from scratch — and with very few resources in the wedding industry that they were jumping into. Now 15 years later, Christine and Dori are once again transitioning into a new realm with their recently launched home goods product line, RedBliss at Home.
Christine’s business testimony is inspiring and approachable, and both women have a unique perspective on tabletop decor, home elements and stationery. Today, Christine shares how she started without contacts, connections, or time, and now runs a successful design company alongside her sister. –Lauren
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
In a word, burnout. After 11 years in high-tech marketing during the Internet heyday, the insane hours left me drained and uninspired. I wanted to make things. Tangible things. Beautiful things. Funky things. I wanted less corporate politics and more creative expression. And then one day, I made my wedding invitations. I didn’t use ivory paper. I didn’t mail them in envelopes. I didn’t apply love stamps. I broke the mold. I designed something that was personal and distinct and unconventional (a barn shingle wrapped in twine and placed in a box).
In that moment, RedBliss Design was born. It was created not only to fuel a passion, but to bring personalized creativity into others’ lives, too. Of course, anything worth doing is even better when you do it with someone you trust and admire. My sister, Dori McDonald, and I became a team with a shared vision to build a creative lifestyle. Fifteen years later, the insane hours haven’t changed, but the level of joy has!
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
After the feedback and encouragement I received about the invitations I designed for my own wedding, I took two years to make the leap into doing it full-time and starting the business. The support of my husband afforded me the luxury to explore this new passion. I was as green as it gets. I didn’t know a single thing about the wedding industry. And I didn’t have single contact, not even a friend of a friend. The strong desire to have a creative lifestyle and an empty Rolodex are huge motivators.
And now as we enter into the world of retail with our new product line, we find ourselves in a similar situation. While we have a network of friends now and much more business acumen, we are still learning the dynamics of a whole new industry.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
“You can’t just build a website and expect people will flock to it.” Yep, so very true. One of the best things we did after about two years in business was focus on public relations. PR is paramount for exposure, credibility and branding. It takes a village, a big village, to sell enough products and services to become a viable business. Awareness is everything.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
No income and low confidence. If there was ever a recipe for failure, that would be it. But wait two years. Work so hard they can’t ignore you (my favorite quote from Steve Martin). And find people who believe in you, breed confidence in you, and are your biggest fans. If there is one thing you can’t afford in the beginning, it’s negativity (which is different than constructive criticism).
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Table your fear. Seriously, ignore your fears and be persistent. When we started RedBliss, we did not know a single person in the wedding industry. So we scoured wedding magazines for names of event planners and cold-called them requesting “twenty minutes” for a meeting. Almost no one took the meeting on the first request. In some cases it took years to secure a meeting. However, we kept at it. And of those initial meetings, we still work with many of these same people today. And we still cold-call!
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Find out who has your back. You are only as strong as your weakest link. Seek out loyal and attentive creative partners and treat them well. Both the design and retail industries are competitive and while price matters, customer service matters more. In return, be a strong partner to those you serve. To me, this is the foundation for finding success in such a fast-paced, high-expectation business.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Get a massage. Watch a documentary. Have a long lunch. Honestly, we work so hard already that I know we would cherish more time to relax, entertain and enjoy life. While balance seems impossible, three more hours a day would sure tip the scales in favor of more time off.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 proposition. It requires ’round-the-clock care. You don’t check out at 5 pm and vacations or days off are a luxury.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
To build something from nothing. Hands down. It takes time. The key is to start. If you never start, you will never know. A perfect example is one year ago we started brainstorming about a new product line to expand our business. Today, our collection is debuting at one of the most prominent home goods stores in New York City. We never dreamt we would create a product that is now sold in Manhattan. And it only took one year. You just have to start.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Forget books. Talk. Talk to as many people as you can. Friends, clients, competitors, mentors, family, arch rivals, anyone that can share their experiences with you through an honest dialogue. Ask questions and listen.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
The Pink Toast. This was a blog we started about six years ago as a way to expand our business. We had big ambitions. But we soon learned that to do it right and to do it well meant it needed our full-time attention. And we didn’t have that to give. After one year, we closed it down.
Our core business is invitation design and the blog was not a natural extension of that. What we learned is that we needed to find an offering that allowed us to leverage our expertise and parlay that into another product offering without a huge investment in time or staff. It took a while, but the idea for RedBliss at Home was born a year ago and it launched in October. It is designed from materials we use every day for our invitation work, allows us to work with our existing vendors, and required minimal start-up expense. So far, so good!
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Your desire to succeed and your willingness to fail should be synonymous.
2. Continually and competitively innovate. Never stop.
3. Be grateful. Even on your hardest day, find gratitude and your sanity will prevail.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Instagram. It’s an addiction.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Patience. Waiting for a sale. Waiting for publicity. Waiting for them to take your meeting. Waiting to post your latest work on Instagram. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for affirmation. Waiting for likes. Waiting to launch. Waiting to be invited. Waiting for payment. Waiting to make it big.