The ladies of Hello!Lucky are busy moms and stationers based in beautiful San Francisco. These savvy business women are here sharing their experiences in partnering with a printer and expert tips on hiring staff. As a former stationery studio manager myself, I think their advice is so crucial for small businesses looking to attract top talent amongst the big corporations. –Megan
Eunice: I was a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. I was working retail in a boutique pet store on the weekends and designing the store’s windows. I offered to create a line of dog and pet-themed cards for the owners because the existing options were pretty skimpy, and it was from there that Hello!Lucky was born. Searching for a way to print my own work, which would allow for more ability to experiment and keep initial overhead low, I took a class at the San Francisco Center for the Book and was immediately hooked. Having some issues with restraint, I bought a press on eBay the next week and our letterpress card business was born.
Sabrina: I was working as an education strategy consultant having just gotten my MBA from Stanford Business School. I have a degree in Art History and had focused professionally on arts education and helping emerging artists access funding and build their careers. I offered to help Eunice, the most talented artist I knew at the time, start the card business and quickly fell in love with being an entrepreneur and returned to my passion for merging creativity and business.
We’re based in San Francisco, in a studio space in Eunice’s home, a historic Edwardian in the Haight Ashbury district. We’re lucky to have sweeping views of the city, a couple friendly studio dogs, and a few studio babies to keep things entertaining!
Eunice: I am constantly juggling work and kids and everything else. My day starts at 6:30 in the morning (yay, kids!) and ends around midnight. The first order of business is a giant mocha to get the gears turning! A double shot of espresso may be the most critical element in my creative workflow. Most of my time is spent designing new cards and working on other client projects. I’ve been slowly but surely moving beyond just cards, so as of late, there are always a new and exciting things in the works, like designing textiles for a swimwear line (I spent a whole day drawing bitchy looking persian cats on a background of diamonds – it really doesn’t get better than that!). My job is, at times, ridiculous in the best way possible. In between design projects, we are constantly working on bits and bobs for marketing and brainstorming the next batch of card ideas.
My biggest struggle is juggling my kids, life and work – luckily, I’m the queen of multi-tasking and Imogen is a reasonable studio baby (Alex is remarkably tolerant of the endless episodes of Elmo and constant and thorough destruction of the studio). I also have an awesome nanny a couple days a week and a great (and patient!) husband who, at the moment, is at home and spends a lot of time with Gigi so that I can beaver away in peace.
Sabrina: I work weekday mornings and all day on Thursdays; my day typically consists of checking email, brainstorming / reviewing card designs with Eunice and Alex, and then working on various marketing and advocacy campaigns such as Write_On and Share Trade, and the book I am writing. As a busy mom of three, I get a lot of my work done in the “spaces in between.” For example, I “write” via voice memo during my commute, and use any moments of downtime to cross things off my to-do list so that I can be fully engaged with work during work time and kids during kid time.
We work in collaboration with the fabulous Egg Press in Portland, Oregon. They do all our printing (letterpress) and distribution. We used to do all of our own letterpress printing in our San Francisco studio and we also offered custom digital printing through a trade printer in the Bay Area. Once we decided to stop doing custom printing (e.g. wedding invitations) and focus exclusively on our greeting card business and licensing our designs, we realized it made sense to partner. Egg Press is a company that we love and it’s been a great, mutually beneficial experience collaborating with them: they have a large studio, a wonderful production staff, and complementary products, customers, and distribution. We share similar values and vision and have found that, working together, we can grow both our businesses more effectively than they could have developed on their own.
We started hiring employees in 2003. Our first employees were friends, including Eunice’s roommate, Sabrina’s old room mate, Eunice’s cleaner, and Sabrina’s old friend who was living in London and offered to start our London office out of her apartment. We didn’t have a recognizable brand to attract employees, so we relied on hiring people who already knew us and had faith in what we were doing. Later on, we started hiring people for real by posting jobs on Craigslist and using our growing network of business acquaintances to get the word out (this was pre-Facebook and LinkedIn).
Over the years, we’ve hired dozens of people and been fortunate to get great employees across the board. The process typically has was handled by Sabrina and consisted of putting together a job description and posting it / sharing via email with friends and acquaintances.
Here are 5 things we’ve learned about hiring and attracting great employees:
1) Have a compelling vision for your business.
Communicate where your business is going and the values that you stand for.
2) Have confidence in yourself as a small business.
Small business owners often lack confidence because they can’t afford to pay big corporate salaries. The reality is that there are tons of people who *want* to work in a small business environment where they’re not just some replaceable cog in the wheel, and will have opportunities to see how running a business works up close and wear multiple hats.
3) Give your employees a lot of responsibility and treat them like co-owners of your business.
This is totally win-win – they get great leadership experience and a sense of ownership and engagement that leads to higher productivity, creativity, and commitment.
4) Make your small business a fantastic stepping stone to bigger / better opportunities by giving your employees lots of responsibility.
Many of our employees went on to great jobs at large companies like Paperless Post and Williams-Sonoma, started their own small businesses, or got admitted to top-tier business schools (Cornell and Kellogg).
5) Make up for what you can’t pay in salary with an awesome work environment.
Encourage people to have fun, be positive, and be a flexible and compassionate manager. Liking the people you work with and looking forward to going to work every day is harder to find than you think – that alone will attract great candidates and get them to stay.
In the interview process:
1) Pay attention to passion, intelligence, communication skills, desire to learn, and self-awareness.
If someone has these attributes, their past work experience becomes practically irrelevant since they can quickly learn what needs to be done on the job and will be a great team player and contributor.
2) Find out why the person made the key decisions in their life.
How they chose their college and major, or how and why they chose their past jobs and/or chose to leave them reveals a ton about whether their values and motivations are aligned with those of your business and the rest of your staff.
3) Get to know the candidate on a personal level as much as you can during the interview.
Their personal character traits will matter more in the long run than their most recent job experience. If the person is someone you’d want to be friends with, or who you might have a professional crush on, that’s a great sign.
4) Trust your intuition.
Don’t pay too much attention to surface level resume details like working at sexy or well-known large corporations, fancy-sounding job titles, etc. Hire the whole person, not the image they project on paper.
We count ourselves so lucky to get to spend every day doing what we do. Doing the creative work is definitely the most interesting part of the business! There has been more than one occasion when we’ve stopped to laugh at the fact that we spend a good part of each day trying to come up with butt and unicorn related puns and marveled at the ridiculousness that is our job. Working out new concepts and figuring out new collaborations keeps things interesting. We love exploring new outlets for our designs and collaborating with other cool and inspirational brands.
Eunice: We get inspiration everywhere! I love to travel and do as much traveling as two kids and our crazy busy lives allow. I’ve done some of my best work on the road. I’m a sponge for texture, pattern, color and trend inspiration. Valencia Street in San Francisco is one of my favorite places to pick up on visual inspiration; there’s so much creativity happening here right now. I’m also heavily influenced by French and Japanese style and culture.
That being said, I think our most creative space is really our studio – the three of us get together, bringing our individual influences to the table and the creative juices really get going. I do my best work when I have Alex and Sabrina around for feedback and brainstorming!
Sabrina: I get a lot of my inspiration from reading and writing. I read a new book every couple of days. I also do a lot of brainstorming while driving, and I keep my phone with a dark screen (so I don’t wake up my husband) by my bedside so I can capture ideas in the middle of the night in Evernote
We also love figuring out new ways to connect with and inspire our customers. The Write_On campaign is a great example: it’s a campaign to challenge our fans to write 30 letters in 30 days for National Letter Writing month in April. The campaign has inspired our customers and fans to connect with friends and family and to give thought to people that they might not normally stop to thank. It’s also great for our brand and greeting card sales – this year we brought on Paper Source and a handful of our independent boutique customers on board, and it’s been great for their businesses as well.
All photos by Hello!Lucky
Interested in participating in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at [email protected]