For our next Behind the Stationery feature, I’m excited to have Cheryl Sutherland’s share her empowering story behind PleaseNotes. Cheryl’s journey is rooted in realness and self-discovery, which is an important part of the business that isn’t always talked about. She talks about everything from exploring her manufacturing options to exploring herself to discover what she wanted to her line to become. Take it away, Cheryl! —Megan Soh
From Cheryl: I would’ve never thought that I would be interviewing anyone, especially not an internationally acclaimed speaker like Les Brown, but as I was adjusting the lighting rig in his hotel room in Toronto it hit me. My life had unfolded in a way that I could of never expected based on one decision to follow my inspiration.
Growing up my family unit was pretty ordinary. My parents were from St. Vincent, a small island in the Caribbean, and had divorced shortly after I was born. The youngest of three, I noticed how much emphasis my parents put on working to support themselves and additional family back home without regard for their own personal enjoyment in their work. When it was time for me to go to university, I wanted to be different from my parents and to choose something that interested me, that aligned with my personality and gave me the ability to grow. That decision making process is what got me through school, into some great positions, and drove my decision to move to Los Angeles from Canada.
I got the idea for PleaseNotes after reaching the end of the road with my last employer. At that point I wanted to work on something I was really passionate about, learn new things, and feel excited and confident when I spoke about work. I had always seen myself as a great second in command, but not good enough to actually run a business or even have a good idea for one. I knew in order to level up I needed to make a huge shift. I took a leap of faith, quit my job and focused on changing myself. I knew I had something important to contribute, so I worked with affirmations, read amazing books, and started journaling. I had taken and supported tons of personal growth courses in Canada and the USA, and journaling allowed me to realize what thought processes I had that were detrimental, and replaced them with ones that encouraged me to believe in myself and see myself in a bigger, bolder way.
I wished there were a way to surround myself with reminders of who I really was and stay positive, and that’s when I got the idea for the PleaseNotes Sticky Notes which had a different affirmation or sweet message on each page. After a couple months, I realized that I had another really great idea to take the work a little bit deeper through a guided journal. I poured processes and exercises that I loved and used when I was “finding” myself into it and added tons of secret messages, affirmations, and extra love and care into it. I decided to launch it as a Kickstarter and it was an amazing success—shipping to the US, Canada, UK, Spain and Asia! A couple more ideas flowed in to round out the whole product line. I wanted to make my line tailored yet inclusive, so the products outside of the Journals are color coded and fall in one of three themes.
Since people have different things they want to work on I called the bright blue Carefree, and filled with messages of “I Am Living With Grace and Ease” and “ Life Loves Me” that are great for those struggling with anxiety or that want to have more fun every day. The bright pink is Cheeky, filled with messages that are more sarcastic like, “I Am A Gift The World Gets To Unwrap” and “ I Am Amazing At Everything And Anything I Do.” Lastly, the Confident collection is black and gold and is filled with grounding messages of “I Am Powerful Beyond Measure” and “I Am A Magical Manifestor.” These are reflected in the sticky notes, the mirror decals, and these really cool dual-sided water bottle labels. The thing I love about my company is it’s not just aesthetically beautiful, it has the ability to catalyze someone into changing the way they feel about themselves and their world. Being able to go into a situation and say “I can do this” versus “ I can’t do this” is literally the ability to change the whole course of someone’s life, and I feel so grateful that I get to do this.
My creative process is pretty holistic. I’m really grateful that I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” because it helped me set new expectations and grow as an entrepreneur coming out of the corporate space. I get an idea and then ask myself if it is something I can do or not, which the answer has always been yes! If it’s a brand new item, I start sketching, decide on the medium and logistics, and send it to my amazing graphic designer friend for feedback and revision. After I get it back, I tweak it until I feel really good about it usually in InDesign or Illustrator. At the same time, I look for a manufacturer. Since the Journal and Sticky Notes are highly customized, it took a while to find manufacturers I liked who also had the ability to scale and maintain the same level of quality. My favorite part of working with manufacturers is getting samples and going back and forth in the creative process. That’s allowed me to see, experience, and notice nuances like paper color and texture, ribbon and elastic characteristics and different textured covers. I want people to have a authentic, safe, luxury-like self care experience, and it shows itself in the details. You may notice little things I’ve tucked in like sacred geometry and symbolism, and there’s a bunch that only myself and my manufacturers are aware of. It’s like a little blessing for the user and based on feedback, that feeling comes through.
When I found out about the National Stationery Show, I thought it would be an amazing chance to really get my name out there. I walked it in 2017, exhibited in 2018, and I loved the experience of being there, seeing what other companies were doing, and getting great feedback about the line from “real” stationery people that my line was as great as I thought it was. I really wanted to connect with people who “got it” such as stationery reps, wholesale buyers, retailers and media. There were some really great contacts that I connected with and I’m excited to build great relationships.
My day is pretty go with the flow. I primarily work from home or a co-working space like WeWork or Make Lemonade here in Toronto. This allows me to go to the gym, meditate and eat properly. I usually have a list of things I want to complete this week or month and knock them out or add to them. I tend to work best between 10am – 7pm. Right now my main focus has been marketing. I’m still figuring out how to best convey and connect people to the magic, so I’ve been playing a lot with influencer marketing, videos on IGTV and YouTube, and creating new exercises that people can download. I really enjoy working on custom journals and right now I just started a new project with one of my influencers that I know people will love that is super authentic for both her brand and mine! I use a fulfillment center in California to ship out the goods since they get a better rate then I would.
Flashing back to September 14, 2017, I was setting up my booth at an E-Women Network event in Orange County and I was feeling great being there. I always loved the women that attended and the vibe. That day shouldn’t have been any different, however they ended up having a surprise last minute attendee. I heard whispers about Les Brown and I thought it was hilarious because I actually have a couple of his quotes included in my Journal. When he came in, the room became his as he walked around, shook hands and took pictures. Eventually he ended up at my table and I was able to tell him about my line. That day was one of my proudest moments because someone who was such a noted icon in the industry that I respected not only loved my brand, gave me a endorsement, he also offered to do a Facebook Live with me to share PleaseNotes with his followers!
This was just one of the amazing things that have happened to me because I chose into following this dream and I’m so grateful for all the things I’ve been able to see and do as a result of building PleaseNotes. If I had to give advice to anyone thinking about going down this path it would be to expect great things to happen to you, dwell on the positives and breathe in the great moments.
All photos courtesy of Cheryl Sutherland.
Want to be featured in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details.