I’ve never really shared about how I got into this small business of mine. I thought I’d share this with you today, as some of you may need a nudge to start that small business you’ve always been dreaming about, especially with the current uncertain situation. It’s good to diversify your income sources.
Frankly, I’d never thought about owning a business. It seemed too big and scary a venture. It’s only for the brave and talented. Definitely not me, I thought.
So how did I get started then?
A single word – DESPERATION.
Our family left everything in the US and headed for my husband’s PhD studies in Manchester, UK in 2014. It was scary but exciting at the same time. Both my husband and I were already 40 then, the age when most of our peers were already stable in their jobs and lives and starting to enjoy the fruit of their labor. But we chose to use up all of our savings and start from scratch.
Much to our dismay, I couldn’t find a job for 6 months when we arrived in Manchester. I was a teacher by profession and also worked as a youth worker in the church for a number of years, so those were the jobs I applied for at first. But… no responses. Soon, reality set in as our savings started to dwindle as the days went by, I started broadening my search to include openings at museums, stores, the post office etc. And still, none of them got back to me. I didn’t even get an interview. Something had to be done.
In desperation, I decided to start an Etsy shop – Ellemon Designs. ‘Ellemon’ (pronounced el/luh/mon) is a combination of parts of my name and my daughter’s. I originally intended to sell digital paper and journal cards for scrapbooking. Digital because it didn't require any capital from me. I had no experience in design or any of the designing softwares, so I invested in an online course and learned how to design surface patterns. That was also how I learned to use the software, Illustrator.
How did I get into the planner business then? I’ve always enjoyed reading homemaking and home improvement blogs and some of the bloggers sold printable planners on their websites. While learning about surface patterns, I decided to start selling my very first printable daily planner in Letter and A4 size. At that time, it seemed easier for me to create a planner than surface patterns and we needed some income fast. I had to learn how to use InDesign from scratch for that and Photoshop to create listing images. YouTube videos were my teachers!
I remember making my first sale after a week. Oh, the thrill of hearing that ‘ka-ching’ notification when a sale is made! The number of sales rose slowly and the turning point came when a customer asked if I could create printable inserts for her personal size Filofax. I'd always just bought what was available in the stores and wasn't active on social media, so it was an eye-opener for me to find out that there was such an active planner community out there. And the rest is history.
When I finally got a job as a teaching assistant in a primary school, I couldn’t find the time or energy to create any new designs for my Etsy shop. However, passive income still trickled in from the shop over the next few years.
After an enjoyable few years in Manchester and the chance to travel and see Europe, my husband finally finished his studies and we returned to the US. We had originally thought that when we returned, we’d just pick up life from where we left off. However, it was not to be so. My husband’s income was much lower than what he'd received before we left and we had incurred A LOT more debt than we anticipated while in the UK.
So to supplement the family’s income, I started working on my Etsy shop again in June 2018, rebranded it and changed the shop name from Ellemon Designs to Ellemon Paper Co. I began with what I was familiar with – printable inserts, even though my interest has always been in graphic design.
After a while, I started printing inserts upon some customers’ requests and finally took the leap of faith and started selling printed products in August 2019. And it just so happened that Mady was looking for someone to create some custom inserts for her at around that time and that was how our collaboration came about.
My original intention of being a surface designer has evolved. I have fused my love for creativity with my desire to build people up. My dream now is to create inspiring and encouraging products that will help people live fulfilling lives. It’s my small way of making a difference in this world.
This is my entrepreneurship story. No intricate planning. Just born out of pure desperation. No design qualification. Just self-taught and lots of experimenting.
So don’t be afraid to try new things, to keep learning. It’s never too late to start. If you’ve been contemplating about starting your own small business, just do it! If I had listened to the negative self-talk of not being good enough, that I knew zilch about designing and all those fancy softwares (my husband told me he would be happy if I could just earn enough to cover my monthly Adobe subscription), there would be no Ellemon Paper Co. today. Never in my wildest dream did I ever think I’d own a small business and that people would actually pay for my creations!
I’m thankful for each and everyone of you. Without you, Ellemon Paper Co. will not be here. I know I keep repeating this, but really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for believing in me and for your support. Your love and support not only made my dream come true, but also supports my family.
And I'm also eternally grateful for Stina (@stina_plans) and Mady (@madyplans) who have helped me so much when I first started out with Ellemon Paper Co. Thank you sooooooooo much! <3
I hope all will be well with you during this time, my dear friends. Keep your spirits up and keep hoping. And I hope my story will help those of you who need a little encouragement in starting a brand-new business or a side hustle. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!