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Everyone and their mother, brother, dog, boss, work associate, or whomever you have regular interactions with has a "side hustle". We are truly living in an age where individuals value happiness in their work or at the very least having a creative outlet, which why not make some extra cash if you can? That being said, as a lettering artist, how do you go about starting a real business, and then how do you grow that "side hustle" into a full time job? Well, there's no one right path, but I am happy to share with you my experience in starting Letters & Dust, as well as using hindsight to tell you what I wish I would've done when I was starting out—and what I should be doing now...





SAY MY NAME...

What's your name? Ok no, not your name, but what do you want to call your business? Honestly I would say when you're just starting out, don't feel like the name has to be perfect—you can always change it as your brand begins to take shape, but you do need some sort of identity to work under. If you are lacking a catchy brand name, using your own name is acceptable, or your initials, and broad terms like "lettering" or "design" or "artist". Using these broad terms allows you the space to decide what direction you really want to go once you are established. One roadblock to naming yourself may be social media handles—you want a good, easy to identify handle, so seeing what's available may help you choose a name. My personal recommendation is also to get set up on social media before spending the time and money to create a web site, I get a huge percentage of my business from social media on it's own, and was able to get the usernames to be cohesive across the board. Once you get orders coming in to off-set the cost of building a web site, then add it on—or if you can build your own, that's great! I have built all my own web sites which has saved money and makes it very easy for me to make updates.


WHAT IS A BUSINESS?

Use your discretion for this next step—I didn't register as an official business until I was sure I wanted to commit to the work and was at least getting a few orders in. Different states have different processes for identifying a business, so even googling "how to start a business in (insert your state / country)" can help point you in the right direction. With L&D, I initially registered under an "Assumed Business Name", however to get my LLC, I had to first dissolve the ABN —so if you know anyone you can turn to locally for advice on this, or a local business resource center, I highly suggest getting help.


I JUST got my LLC, yep, like now in 2020...I have been very fortunate in that nothing has happened and realistically, I would find it very surprising if a client ever had a reason to take legal action against me—but it's not a risk worth taking! My greatest fear that motivated getting my LLC was the handling of rentals—some of my larger pieces easily weigh 50+ pounds, and who is financially responsible if a client falls and gets hurt while carrying a glass mirror? I'm all for my business being held responsible, but I do not want to risk losing my other assets like our house and cars, so having the LLC lets me sleep easier during wedding season.


GET OUT THERE!

After going through the nitty gritty of getting yourself set up as business in the most basic sense, start building your social media presence—even photographing personal projects counts, not just client work. Follow / friend other professionals in the industry you are wanting to join, what do they do well? How often do they post? What of their content seems to get the most engagement? For my own business, sign posts get far more interaction than invitation posts—I don't know why, but it is the reason I post far more sign photos. Also look at professionals in other industries you want to potentially work with—for the wedding industry this would obviously include coordinators and planners, photographers, florists, venues, caterers—anyone who could potentially be able to refer you to their own clients.


Now for the part that the introverts despise—networking. You are your biggest advocate for getting your name out there, and while industries vary state to state and country to country, chances are there are venue open houses, happy hour networking groups, online groups, wedding showcases and countless other opportunities for you to start crossing paths with others in your desired industry. You can also cold email other vendors to introduce yourself—set up coffee or cocktail dates to meet them in person and talk about the services you are wanting to offer, the worst they can say is "no". An even better opportunity is if you can get on board with some styled or inspiration shoots where other vendors will see your work first hand, and you will also get the opportunity to stretch your creativity as well as great photos (be sure you understand what is expected of you for the styled shoot, and further down the road having a styled shoot contract is a good idea as well).





HOW MUCH DO I CHARGE?

The age old question wherein we all undervalue our work as the sacrifice for getting any work coming in. I cannot stress this enough: do not work for free! As tempting as it may be to help "get your name out there" or "working for a friend", this is going to start you down a path of sleepless night and burn out. As someone who is a work-a-holic, I made this costly mistake starting out and deeply regret it as there was a couple years where I really hated everything about my business and was so burnt out I wanted quit. Working for free essentially tells people that you clearly do not value your time and effort so why should they? Let alone, if they are happy with your work, they may refer you to other businesses but tell them as well that you are willing to work for free or cheap, and suddenly those are the only clients you are attracting.


Attaching a price to your work seems like a difficult task, but let's approach it logically—what is the minimum working wage in your state? Great, that is the very least amount you should be making on projects. When I began making signs I would time myself to se how long they took to complete, and then assign an hourly wage. The more experience I gained as well as the more clients I took on, the higher this hourly wage number would grow. I finally reached a point about 4 years in where I was able to itemize my pricing, for example: a rental welcome sign is $75, why? Because typically this may be the only sign smaller orders want, and I need making this one sign to be worth the time I could be using for another client who has ordered 10 signs. Another tool I used was Etsy, you can easily find a frame of reference for what your product is worth by looking on Etsy at similar artists, and decide your price point from there.


On site work brings the hourly wage back into play, what number is worth that job to me? In the time I have to leave the house, travel to the location, do the work, and drive home I could have five signs done on another order that didn't require me to travel—so it has to be worth it to get me out the door. I started with $35/hr initially in my business, and this has grown upwards of $50/hr with a minimum of 3 hours work. Be confident in yourself, on site projects like murals are coming to you because people and companies want YOUR work and YOUR style, and they will pay for it.


CONTRACTS, CONTRACTS, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THNGS HOLY, CONTRACTS!

If there is one point you take from this post—let it be this: always have a contract! There are amazing legal services out there that can help you draft amazing contracts for all your services—yes you'll have to invest some money, but believe me the piece of mind is worth it. While your starting out, if you're not willing to shell out the money (I didn't), you at least need to spend the time to write out your own contract. I approached this as "what does this client expect from me" and conversely "what do I expect from them". Consider such headings as:


What is the agreed upon rate?

What is the timeline for this kind of project / service?

What materials will you supply, or what do they need to supply?

What if the project takes linger than originally quoted?

What percentage do you expect to be paid—50% upfront and 50% upon completion?

How long can they take to pay you before a late fee?

What if a product arrives broken or damaged?

What if the postal service loses a product?

What if there are extenuating circumstances (hello COVID-19) / force de majeure?

What if YOU make a mistake, how will you handle it?

What if the client loses or damages a rental?


...yeah, that's just a BASIC list! You need to consider every possibility of what can go wrong and protect against it. I am in no way a legal entity and am not an authority on contract writing, these are just a few of the topics that have come up as I have worked with clients, and every year I review my contracts to see if I need to add in any new clauses. One other clause I like to tell other letterers, especially if you work primarily with weddings—have a clause in your contract outlining who you will communicate with and who can make changes on the order. This has come up when families try to change design elements, quantities or add items without the couple's knowledge—don't fall for it. Detail in your contract that you will only work with the signee of the contract, or if they want you to work with another person, have them sign a section authorizing that communication.




CRMs

Once the orders start rolling in, how are you going to manage them? When I started, I would keep notebooks detailing client info, project details, and then have them sign contracts. This was a lot of extra work on my end to track everything and make timelines, be on top of communication and payments—it was insanity, and things were starting to slip through the cracks. That's when I decided I needed a CRM , which stands for customer relationship management—this is software that will help you track your orders, keep you on schedule and also make contracts, invoicing and payments easy for your customers. I did a few free trials to find a CRM that was intuitive to me and decided on Honeybook—it changed my life. Having all my customers in one place, each in their own workspace with the ability to upload files, send messages, make payments and schedule meetings has freed up my time to do actual work. Most of the inquiry and paperwork process is automated now and the CRM tells me who has signed their contract, who has paid and who's project is finished and can be archived. As someone who can easily have 300 open projects at a time, it is important I have one space to see them all so I know how to schedule accordingly.


A CRM can also track your income, growth, booking percentages, and where your leads are coming from so you can be more strategic about your resources. I have been able to see that my two largest lead sources are Instagram and vendor referrals, so I know it is more valuable to spend time posting and engaging on Instagram and cultivating vendor relationships rather than running print or web ads that have little return on investment. There are also tools typically included in CRMs to help you when tax time comes around—because there is no scarier time as a small business owner! Basically your take away here should be if you can afford a CRM, get one, you'll be happy you did—and if you are interested in Honeybook, let me know and I will send you a referral link!


GOING FULL TIME...HOW?

I feel that the number one question I get across all platforms is: "how did you make the transition to full time?" This was a delicate balancing act for me—I do not like unknowns, and especially financially, I do not like taking risks. When I started lettering, I was working two other part time jobs and essentially began to realize as I grew my lettering business, I could quit the one bringing in less money. That baby step gave me an extra two days a week to work on networking, marketing, and growing my lettering business. When I truly made the leap to lettering being my sole income and doing it full time, was when I ran the numbers—I realized I was still not making the full amount I was making in my "actual job", but I felt that if I had the time, then I could grow it to that number (I also had enough money saved that if this venture failed I could support myself until finding another job).


You have to decide what the risk / reward is for you to make the transition to full time. Yes it is terrifying, and you are betting on yourself. I am writing this while quarantined during the COVID pandemic of 2020, and one other key element that makes me very lucky is having a partner with an income that during this break in my work, covers all our living expenses. I know this is not something everyone will have when growing their business. Having a safety net of money in savings was my key to feeling like I could go full time without (total) fear, and I highly recommend for you as you make the switch to full time.


Once I quit my other jobs, I worked non-stop to grow my lettering business and was quickly at full time status of 40+ hours a week and more like 60 hours a week during wedding season. These hours included actual lettering, spending time marketing and networking, refining my services, and exploring other pivot points for the off season as well as passive income. A word of caution—it is so easy to burn yourself out when you go full time, this is your business and you are doing all the things. Be open to scaling up and spending some of the hard earned money to get help. In my first year, a $40 / month CRM system was too much money—by me third year, spending that $40 / month was allowing me to take on hundreds of more dollars in work per week, you have to invest in systems that allow you to grow and to make your life easier. I was also able to hire a virtual assistant in 2019, which has given me more time to focus on the creative side of the business and less on answering emails and the administrative side of my business—it has been bliss!


In short, you will probably reach a breaking point where you know you need to go full time—balancing two full time or even part time jobs can be too much, and you will be able to make more money in your side hustle if you can devote more time to it. Have a safety net, and have a plan. Set an expiration, if you're not making a reasonable increase in your creative business within 3, 6, 9 (or whatever number you are comfortable with) months, maybe you need to pick up another part time job to keep your finances in order—you don't have to give up, just regroup.

STARTING CHECKLIST

This has been a lengthy read, and I plan on continuing these types of posts that look more at the business and management side of Letter & Dust, so check back often, but in summation if you are just starting your lettering business:


Come up with a name

Research how to set up a business in your state / country

Start networking and building presence

Set your pricing

Create your contracts

Get a CRM


...and then get to work! So much of this business has involved me just doing trial and error of how I want things to run, and then asking "how can I make this more efficient?" The internet and google are your friend, use them in excess—it is almost a guarantee someone else has had the same question or experience and has shared it. I always try to answer questions when I can, so feel free to reach out to other artists as well! There is plenty of work to go around and it is much better to be a community than to be competition, and above all be doing this work because it makes you happy, that in itself is the greatest payment!




Signs at weddings have become a necessity to not only convey to guests what they should be expecting for the evening, but also to reflect your personal style as a couple. Being that every wedding these days is unique, providing your guests with the "what to do next" to keep the night moving smoothly keeps everyone happy, whether it be directing them to their seat, what to order at the bar, and how to tag your photos on social media. Below is what I consider the core list of wedding signage that nearly all Letters & Dust couples order.



1. WELCOME SIGN



Starting with a welcome sign, especially if your venue is at a private residence or is not well marked, a welcome sign lets guests know that they are in the right place and heading down the right path. Welcome signs also make for great photos so guests can commemorate your special day.


Photo credits ( left to right): Emily Grant Photography, Deyla Huss Photography, Casi Yost


2. CARDS & GIFTS / GUESTBOOK SIGNS



After the welcome sign, typically guests will pass by a table for cards and gifts, as well as a guestbook to sign. Having these small signs remind people that the table is for those activities, otherwise you may have people who are just dropping off a card but who may forget to sign the guestbook. Many couples are also opting for a more fun version of a guestbook such as a photo or map for guests to sign, or writing a message to be placed in a bottle which is broken on anniversaries—there are endless possibilities, and some may require explanation which is where the sign comes in handy.



3. CHOOSE A SEAT





Nothing will cause your guests more anxiety than not knowing if seating at the ceremony is open, if they are supposed to choose a side, and if there are any reserved rows for family. Current trends seem to be allowing guests to sit wherever they would like, but giving them a heads up on this makes the process much smoother.


Photo Credit: Jessica Heron, James Hays, Simply Splendid


4. UNPLUGGED CEREMONY SIGN



The other popular sign for ceremony spaces is the unplugged ceremony sign, just reminding guests to please put their phones away and join you in the special moment—no one wants their wedding photos to come back with guests holding up cell phones taking their own photos. This sign is not absolutely necessary, couples can have their officiant make an announcement before the ceremony starts, but if you do feel like they’re going to be some people in attendance that need multiple reminders, having a sign is a great idea.


Photo Credit (from left to right): Laurken Kendall , Deyla Huss Photography, Lucas Rossi Photo


5. ORDER OF EVENTS SIGN



After the ceremony, guests will suddenly be looking for somewhere to go—having an order of events sign will help them navigate if they are going for a cocktail hour while the couple has photos, if they are heading straight to dinner, or if you have another activity planned. It's also good to include this sign so guests know when they can leave—yes that sounds like a downer, but some guests may be wanting to make their exit after the cake cutting, then the real party starts for those that stick around!


Photo Credit (from left to right): Justin Lee Photography , Laurken Kendall , L&D


6. BAR SIGNS



Bar signage is another fun inclusion of the cocktail hour or the reception space or both! Cocktail signs are also we are adding personal touches or a fun color keeps guests interested and excited for the evening. Whether it be naming a cocktail after your pet, coming up with funny names, or including an anecdote about how they may not remember the next morning, these signs are where it’s fun to be personal!


Photo Credit (from left to right): Monique Serra, Alexandra Pallas, Dylan Howell


7. SEATNG CHART



The next stage of the evening is usually when guests are ushered to the main reception space for their formal dinner, which, depending on your style of wedding you may or may not need to include a seating chart. If you have your guests write in a meal option on their RSVP card you will need a seating chart as well as place cards. If you are doing a buffet style or family style, a seating chart is not necessarily needed. Seating charts are also a fun place to create a statement piece being that every guest will have to stop and look at it. In terms of organizing a seating chart, I typically tell my couples that if they have more than 120 people attending, it’s better to do the seating chart alphabetically rather than by table, just to keep the flow of traffic moving so everyone can find their seat efficiently. Coordinating place cards also help this process go more smoothly, or you can opt for individuals to simply find their table and take a seat.


Photo Credit (from left to right): Yasmin Khajavi Photography, L&D, Bridal Bliss


8. TABLE NUMBERS



Table numbers obviously correspond to those including a seating chart, however if you are having open seating, table numbers may help guests remember where they are sitting after they've had a few rounds on the dance floor.


9. PHOTOBOOTH / HASHTAG SIGN



If you plan to include a more D.I.Y. style photobooth or photo guest book at your wedding, having an instruction sign is helpful so guests know they can use the camera, and also to leave a photo for the couple as well as take one for themselves. The second part of this is a hashtag which allows couple to search social media for the photos their guests took of their wedding day—extra points for witty hashtags!


Photo Credit (from left to right): The Marshalls Photography, Elli Lauren Photography, L&D


10. FAVORS SIGN



And lastly a favors sign if you are items for guests to take home so they know how many to take per family.


Keep in mind, the amount of signs you have at your wedding is basically how much instruction you feel you need to give your guests—it’s always better to air on the side of more instruction rather than less. Giving directions prevents guests standing around scratching their heads and holding up your timeline, but depending on your style of wedding and ceremony, many of these can either be condensed onto one sign or omitted completely. There are also plenty of additional signs such as a program, dinner menu, dessert menu, chair signs, as well as special quote signs that are meaningful to you and your partner that can be added onto any sign set—there are literally endless possibilities, and we'd love to help you create them!

You're recently engaged, congratulations! You've found the perfect venue and made some of the basic decisions such as the time you would like to get married and what kind of reception you would like to have—now how do you go about inviting your loved ones to this party? Pinterest is an endless deep dive of inspiration that can quickly become an overwhelming rabbit hole that leads you to feeling even more confused about what your wedding invitation needs to be: what the heck is a belly band? Do I actually NEED an envelope liner? There are no dumb questions when it comes to wedding invitations as more than likely, this is a beast you have never encountered before. Fret not, we are here to hold your hand and make this process much easier—and more practical.





Let's start with the basics: What is an invitation suite?

The term "suite" seems to be intimidating to most—it's really just a dressed up word for "set", and each suite / set is unique to each love story depending on needs, desires, and amount of information that needs to be delivered to your guests; it can very well be viewed as the most important piece of your wedding, no pressure! Your invitation sets the tone for your wedding day: is it formal, casual, indoors or outdoors, a sit down dinner or happy hour party? Your guests need to know these details so they know how to dress, whether bringing children is appropriate, and overall what to expect for this awesome party!


SAVE THE DATES

The beginning of the suite is typically your save the date, however you do not have to have the same designer create your save the date and your invitations. Couples who want to utilize a photo from an engagement photo shoot with their photographer typically order save the dates from a resource like minted.com and why not, they do beautiful work! This means if you approach a different designer for your actual invitations, there may be a design discrepancy from your save the dates—seriously this is not a big deal, save the dates are a quick glimpse for your guests to mark their calendars and have all the happy feelings for you. Invites are where you can really dig into the overall vision for your big day. If you do have your eye on an invitation designer (hope you're looking at us :) ), be sure to ask them if they also do save the dates—more than likely they do, and can help create a save the date that will flow into your invites.


INVITATION CARD

Now let's look into the real superstar—the formal invitation and it's accompanying components. Obviously if you are wanting to do a mailed invitation, you start with the invitation card (yes, duh we know). The wording of your invitation card conveys the where and when, who is hosting, and appropriate attire if that needs to be communicated. The invitation itself tends to be the most elaborate card in your suite—it's the one piece your loved ones will probably hold onto as a keepsake, so if you are going to opt for upgrades like letterpress and metallic foil, this is the card to start with.


REPLY CARD

Your reply or RSVP card is how you will collect the names and headcount of guests coming to your wedding. This is also where guests can choose their meal selection (if applicable) and also where you can communicate if children are welcome at the wedding or if this should be an adults only affair. Guests can also include their recommendations for music choices (if you want to give them that power)—you've been warned!





MAILING ENVELOPE

This seems self explanatory, but of course there are options—you can choose to do an inner and outer envelope, or just the outer. The inner envelope typically has just the guests' names and serves as an added layer of protection while your beautiful invitations are at the mercy of the postal service. Inner envelopes are more typical of a black tie event, but whatever your heart desires is doable in the world of invitations. Another key component of envelopes is addressing. Calligraphy, digital printing, and white ink printing are all options L&D offers, with calligraphy being the more expensive option, and digital printing the more budget friendly but still beautiful alternative. Digital addressing can include the same font choices, or even a fun image on your envelopes carried over from your physical invitation, and covers your return address, guest address, and RSVP envelope address.


RSVP ENVELOPE

If you are wanting to do a mail back RSVP card, you can either opt for a traditional envelope, or you can have your RSVP card designed as a postcard, just be sure for both options you account for the postage you will include for your guests to mail them back.


The add-on pieces

The pieces referenced above make up the "core" of an invitation suite and they may be all you need, but maybe not. Below are other pieces to consider to up the wow factor of your invites, as well as if you have more information you need to convey.



DETAILS CARD

If your ceremony and reception are in separate locations, or you have specific info you need to distribute to guests such as accommodation information or dress code, this is a great card to have, especially if you’re providing transportation to and from each location. A details card can also include your wedding website as well as the RSVP information if you are choosing to have guests RSVP online.


ADDITIONAL INSERT CARD

If your details card is full and you just need to add your wedding website, registry information, or another small bit of information, this is a great way to do that, or it is a great place to include rehearsal dinner information or an invitation to a welcome party. Your guests will be impressed that everything you’ve sent them goes perfectly together!



ENVELOPE LINERS

Your envelope liner is a fun place to add a little surprise within your invitation suite. It is a great place to include either a pop of color, a metallic shimmer, or even a custom printed pattern or monogram! If you have inner and outer envelopes, traditionally the inner envelope would be the one that is lined. If you’re feeling really fancy, you can also opt to line your RSVP envelopes—however you are the one who receives this back in the mail, so if you need to cut cost, this is a good place to start.


BELLY BAND

Belly bands are typically reserved for invitation sets with multiple cards. The function of the band it to package all the pieces together as the guest pulls it out of the envelope—it definitely adds to the overall “experience” of opening the invitation as well as adds to the “wow” factor. Belly bands can be printed or solid card stock, vellum, or ribbon. Bear in mind ribbon tied in a bow can add to higher postage costs.


You're so extra...

For those looking for the luxury experience for their guests, these add ons create show stopping invitations that will leave your guests in awe and in anticipation for what is to come on your wedding day!


WAX SEALS

Custom wax seals are a fun surprise to seal your inner envelopes or pocket-folds. Designs can range from monograms, to botanical drawings, or even pup portraits! You can also have a keepsake wax seal press made that you can use for your future mail, a fun keepsake!


CUSTOM / VINTAGE POSTAGE

Including custom postage is another level of personalization that is available in invitation suites. This allows you to incorporate illustrations, a photograph, special flower or monogram to the outside of your envelope. Another unique option for postage is to curate vintage stamps to collage on your envelopes. Vintage postage must be a collage because vintage stamps only come in lower denominations and will not meet the current USPS postage rate unless you add multiple stamps on the envelope. Vintage postage can be curated to fit within your invitation suite design through color, location, or imagery, however bear in mind this can again lead to higher expenses to source and procure these stamps.



VELLUM WRAPS / ENVELOPES

Vellum is a semi translucent paper that can be wrapped around your invitation suite, attached as an overlay, and can be printed on. vellum envelopes are also available, which are stunning for a modern wedding and give guests a peek at what’s inside.


POCKET-FOLDS

Pocket enclosures essentially act as the inner envelope as well as the belly band. Guests have the experience of opening the clutch style pocket which typically has the invite mounted to one panel, and a pocket containing all additional pieces in the next fold. You also have the option to create a tri-fold invitation, which even includes a perforated RSVP card and reduces the amount of paper in the suite.


LETTERPRESS PRINTING

Letterpress printing is a beautiful option to give your invitations depth and a luxury feel. It is created by using plates to create an imprint on each individual piece of paper. An important point to note is that each color that is letterpressed = 1 plate, so the more colors you use the higher the cost will be.


METALLIC FOIL

Whether you are looking for a glamorous statement with gold or silver, or something funky like blue or green, metallic foils are a great option for a little glitz and glamour—as an added benefit, foils show up on dark as well as light paper stocks. This process does add some cost onto your wedding invitations, but worth it for the added “wow” factor!


DOUBLE THICK CARDSTOCK

Double thick options are a classy and luxury option for your wedding invitations, however they are typically best for letterpress or foil stamping, which adds significant cost. As implied, double thick cardstock is twice the thickness of already thick cardstock so you

essentially must pay for double the paper as they are layered to create this effect.


DECKEL EDGE / HANDMADE PAPER

At L&D we use a cotton rag handmade paper which has a beautiful, romantic quality about it. Deckel edge paper limits designs as it can not be digitally printed to the edge, so think more simple designs if you are wanting to use this luxury paper.



Remember, your wedding invitation suite should reflect you and your partner and what you value for your wedding day. Whether you choose to go completely baseline with your invites or over the top, they will be beautiful because they represent the two of you. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions about invitations or the design process—we now offer digital invitation design for those who like us, would love to see reduced waste in the wedding industry!

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