Somedays it can feel like everyone who owns a camera is suddenly a photographer and everyone who has a pack of sharpies is now a hand letterer. Starting your own small business is the new black! In a world where we are all trying to do our own thing, it can be really hard to shine in an over-saturated market.
I am a calligrapher. When I started learning and selling my calligraphy, I didn’t know a single other calligrapher personally. I knew calligraphy had been around forever, but seemed like a lost art. I took an eight week course and made new calligraphy friends and as soon as I started sharing my work on Instagram, that little calligraphy community continued to grow. Just a few years later, it seems like calligraphy is everywhere! From magazine covers, to logos, to coffee mugs and throw pillows! It is easy to be intimidated when someone starts a new business doing exactly what you do every single day, but not if you know how to set yourself apart.
Be YOU! Some of the best business advice that I ever received was from my friend Caroline Birgmann of Posh PR. She told me, “If you are true to yourself, you have no competition in the world.” Don’t be a copy of someone else. You are the best you around, so just be you. If you are truly authentic in the way that you present yourself, your business, and your original work, then you are already ahead of the game. I did not invent calligraphy or hand-lettering, but I did carve my own niche in a crowded space.
I took an eight week calligraphy course and actually couldn’t stand the formality of the letters! It didn’t feel like ME on the page, so I threw their font out the window and developed my own style. I didn’t want people to think of calligraphy only for weddings and save it like fine china for a special occasion! I wanted my calligraphy to be used freely and frequently to make people smile. I wanted to be known for spreading happiness through my handwriting.
If you are doing what feels right to YOU, then you will never be out of style. If you are always developing something of your own, you will never be competing with anybody else except an earlier version of yourself.
Tell your story. Find out what makes you different and roll with it! Was videography in your family for decades? Did you grow up hunting antiques with your grandparents? Did you hand-write every notecard you sold because you didn’t have a computer (only me?, okay)? All of us have a “why” behind our business. My “why” isn’t the same as every other calligrapher. Dig deep and tap into what really makes you tick and WHY you love your craft so much. What do you want to make a customer feel when she works with you? This is different for all of us, and highlighting that difference, will help you shine.
Share your secrets. When I first started teaching calligraphy, people were constantly asking me if I was worried someone was going to try to copy my style. My response has always been, “I couldn’t write every envelope in North Carolina if I wanted to, I hope they do!”
If you decide to give away pieces of your craft, you position yourself as a leader and not a follower. Make yourself a trusted resource and offer to share whenever you can. I have recently started offering one-on-one mentoring sessions, and while they are a paid service, I am an open book to clients and will answer any question they have in our time together.
With the growing popularity of groups like Savvy Business owners, the Rising Tide society, and the hashtag #CommunityoverCompetition, sharing isn’t going away anytime soon. I love the thought of giving a present to someone and hate the icky feeling in my stomach if I feel like someone “ripped off” my work. Put yourself out there and just give some of it away.
I share all of my favorite calligraphy supplies on Pinterest. Yes, it took me years of trial and error and lots of trips to the store to choose which pen is my favorite, but it costs me nothing to give that information away.
Lighting another candle does not dull your own sparkle. In fact, I think it makes you shine even brighter.