I shared my big dream earlier this year. I want to have my own shop, be my own boss, run the show. I have a long way to go and I'm going to need a lot of advice. So I thought I'd start by asking a few creative business owners to share a bit about their journey, what they've found surprising about their jobs, as well as any advice they can in part on someone hoping to follow in their footsteps.
First up is one of my bosses, Jennifer Wilson of Simple Scrapper. Jennifer is awesome to work with and for. She's a true leader and one smart lady. Jennifer has a direction and a focus which is so admirable. She knows where she wants to go and I have every faith that she's going to get there.
I was so excited to read her responses to my questionnaire and I know you will be too! You'll find Jennifer's responses below.
I consider myself an educator for today’s memory keeper. Life is so busy, but you deeply want to record your story. At Simple Scrapper I share ways to make that happen, plus offer tools and support to facilitate and personalize that experience.
This year I’ve been trying to emphasize that “simple” is much more than a style of scrapbooking. Simple is a method to tell your stories with joy and ease.
How did you start? What was the first business decision you made? What was the first step you took?
I started Simple Scrapper in late 2008 as a blog, but I knew I wanted it to become a business. I was working full-time then, so it was a side project for me that took a lot of my evenings and weekends.
The first decision I made was to not sell anything in the first year. I focused all of my energy on creating valuable blog content in order to grow traffic and a following.
How did you initially market your company?
For the first 9 months I commented on 50-100 blogs every day. This was 2008/2009 and really before we were on social media all the time. It was still the era of forums and blogs were just beginning to take off. Independent of platform, I still believe that building relationships is the very best and fastest way to grow. Focus first on giving.
Describe a day in your work life.
My day really starts the night before, when I make a mental note of the first thing I need to accomplish tomorrow and get to bed at a decent hour. It’s not always easy to pass up Jimmy Fallon, but it makes my 6am alarm feel less abrupt.
I always check email from my phone first thing to make sure any emails went out and customer messages get forwarded to my customer service manager. Then I get ready for the day and transition into mommy mode.
Once my family is off for the day I will make breakfast and sit down at my computer. I briefly check Feedly for any industry news and monitor Facebook for any urgent requests. Then I close out distractions and get to work. I use Asana to manage all of my work projects and tasks. I always know what’s most important to be working on and what’s due next. Often I’ll have a Spotify playlist going in the background.
I’ve been saving my coffee for a mid-morning break, so I will go downstairs when I find myself becoming unfocused. Taking “reset” breaks has become an important part of how I stay productive. Usually around 1pm I will make some lunch and watch half an episode of The West Wing on Netflix while I eat.
Even though my business is in scrapbooking, the vast majority of my work is actually writing. Blog posts, course content, marketing emails, messages to my team, Facebook posts, Instagram captions – I write a lot and often. I also play the role of “chief technology officer” for the business, designing and managing multiple websites.
I start wrapping things up at 5pm and head downstairs to start dinner. I’ll check in on my phone throughout the evening, but I’ve been trying to be more present and not be so tethered to it. After my daughter goes to bed around 8:30 my husband and I will check in with each other. We both love our work, so we try for a healthy balance of down time together and squeezing in more work time.
What’s the best part of owning your own creative business? What’s the worst part?
I love the process of having an idea, creating a plan, and seeing it through. I’ve been fortunate to have managers in the past that also supported being a self-starter, but as a business owner it’s the ultimate in freedom.
The worst part of having a business is crunching the numbers. While I do eagerly invest in my business, at the core I hate spending money. I scrutinize and justify every dollar that goes out the door.
What has surprised you about owning a creative business?
I’ve been surprised by how hard it is to be taken seriously as a business owner in a creative industry, especially living in a smaller town in the Midwest. I am never quite sure how to respond when friends or family ask: “How’s your little scrapbooking thing going?” I’ve definitely turned to the online community to find more like-minded friends.
In business, what motivates you?
I am motivated by service and sustainability. Above all, my work needs to be about serving others, else there won’t be any work. I am always thinking about how I can improve the experience of every reader, every customer, and every member at Simple Scrapper. In the end though, this is a business. I am not one who feels bad about selling, which you often seen in the creative world. This is my job and I want to have a comfortable lifestyle just like everyone else. So I am also motivated by creating something that’s truly sustainable.
Is this your dream job? If not, describe what is.
Yes, most definitely!
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a zookeeper or a teacher.
If you went to university, what was your degree in?
I have a BS in Geosciences and an MS in Soil & Water Science. At each step in the road I considered taking the path towards writing, but science felt like a safer bet. I didn’t need a degree to spend my time writing. This educational path helped hone my skills in analytical thinking and problem solving, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
Do you have an exit strategy?
I think a lot about the future, but with technology changing so rapidly it’s hard to see what my business might look like in 20-30 years. I have to believe that people will still be creating with their hands, but will we still be printing photos? I’m really not sure. Right now I am focused on growing the business and creating systems to both facilitate and support that growth. This is with an eye towards making larger contributions towards my retirement. I’m also always trying to stay agile and not box myself into a corner. I very much believe the key to long-term success is being willing to evolve and ensuring you’ve built in flexibility to make those transitions natural.
If you have any additional advice for new creative entrepreneurs, please share!
Start building an email list from day one.
Jennifer, thanks so much for taking the time to share a bit about your business, your philosophy and your background.
For more information on Jennifer's business visit www.simplescrapper.com.