Ellen Weldon received her first and only “F” in handwriting in the 6th grade. She then taught herself calligraphy and continued to perfect it throughout her education career. Her passion for art and the beauty of handwriting and tangible design eventually led her to open a bustling New York City based custom invitation and calligraphy studio, Ellen Weldon Design, LLC, offering creative design for event industry leaders, private individuals and corporate clients from around the world. Today she’s chatting with us about how no job is too small, the power of a kind gesture, her recipe for success and sprezzatura! – Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I was inspired by my father. He had always been his own boss so I thought it would be amazing if I could do the same. Things were different when I was in college; nobody came to campus to recruit art majors. I was so passionate about my art that I knew I had to make something of it. I worked multiple freelance positions, the longest at Cartier. The first job I had was finishing my senior project at the Hebrew Home for the Aged which led to other opportunities. The projects kept coming so I was never looking for a new job. I was ecstatic to be making money doing what I loved.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
It wasn’t so much a conscious decision to start my own business. It was a product of the work coming my way; one job into the next. My main focus was putting out the best work I could while perfectly capturing my client’s vision.
I was always open to learning and I did what was asked of me well enough so that I’d be asked to do it again. I had a ‘no job is too small’ mentality which has propelled me throughout my career. I took on any project related to my expertise. One day, Mrs. Estée Lauder walked into Cartier and became my first personal client. She opened many doors for me. I met most of my first clients working with her; it changed my life.
I will never forget my first large order; it was to design and produce 80,000 holiday cards for Saks Fifth Avenue. I had 10,000 clear plastic boxes in my living room fulfilling orders to 54 Saks locations. Upon completion, I had an epiphany; never again would I do this type of production alone. That moment was the real start of my business.
My business continued to grow organically. My drive and passion were inherent in my work and that attracted new clients. The invitation design and production industry was just beginning and I was fortunate to be at the forefront and to help shape the way modern society expresses itself through social stationery.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Two mantras that I still carry with me are ‘never say no’ and ‘the customer is always right.’ It brings me great satisfaction to deliver exactly what my clients are dreaming of. While this isn’t easy, it will force you to expand your knowledge. And remember, there is no crying in printing! Advice I have to offer is always give credit where it is deserved. I know every UPS and FEDEX delivery person in my neighborhood and make a t-shirt for each one when they move on. Make it a point to know everyone your company comes into contact with, at every level. They are all essential to your success. Lastly, a word I keep on my inspiration board: Sprezzatura – In Italian this means making what is created appear effortless.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
When I am faced with a challenging situation, I remember this quote: ‘A woman is like a tea bag – only in hot water do you realize how strong she is.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt. Just do your best and deliver what you promise. If you can do those two things, a great reputation will follow.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The #1 lesson I’ve learned is to build the right team. Surround yourself with passionate and excited people who enjoy what they’re doing; it’s priceless.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I’ve encountered a few situations that felt like failures at the time. I took each one as an opportunity to learn and expand my skill set. I believe how you manage your failures makes you a resilient business owner. If you can turn a failure into a success, you will continue to grow.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I am a very driven person; I love to work because I am so passionate about what I do. When you love what you’re doing, it isn’t really ‘work.’ I also love my family and cherish our time spent together. My life is full and incredibly busy; I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
The ingredients in my recipe for success are drive, determination, talent, and a little bit of luck! My business became successful as it grew over the years. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have projects flow in constantly.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I encourage a creative entrepreneur to join professional organizations that directly relate to their line of work. You can often join groups of established professionals who would love to mentor a passionate entrepreneur. Also, attend relatable trade shows and events to become familiar with top industry professionals and brands. A crucial tool is networking; network face to face as well as digitally.
It’s also important to ensure there is substance to back up your marketing and social media outreach. You can have an amazing plan but it needs to be properly executed. People need to be engaged so they return to you and refer their friends.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
The top three things you should consider before starting your own business are:
1. Do you have the energy to sustain your ambition throughout the growth of your company?
2. Do you have or can you get the resources to start your company?
3. Do you have a clear sense of direction and philosophy?
I’ve worked for celebrities, media giants, and professional athletes. I’ve also worked for America’s most illustrious corporations and private individuals. My clients return throughout their lives to create visual records of their milestones. Nothing pleases me more than creating a 16th birthday party invitation for a client and then doing their entire wedding suite, 10 years later! I look at my business less as a product and more as a service – the service of bringing beauty into the lives of my clients and helping them to express their vision at the pivotal moments in their lives.