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My baby girl Luna was born in January of 2020—about 12 weeks before COVID 19 really hit the US and the shut downs began. She is my first child and as a new mom, it was a bit rough to be home 24/7 with a new baby—I wanted to take her out to see the world! We did go on walks, but the majority of the time was spent at home. When she was only a month or so old, I would watch Schitt's Creek white she was nursing or just being a snoozy newborn—I don't know if it was all the black and white outfits, or Moira's voice, but something about it always caught her attention.

Fast forward a year, we are still in quarantine—but this little lady needed to be celebrated; I needed to celebrate her. So we arranged a smash cake photoshoot, Schitt's Creek style. I made all the signs, and the balloon garland as well as picked her outfit. By far my favorite was a tiny leather jacket with custom art for her, and the stuffed crow—do you have any idea how hard it is to find a stuffed crow? She's a sassy little soul and the Moira vibes made me so happy.



I have lovely, amazingly talented friends who made this possible: all photos by DRB photography, and the David sweater inspired cake by Just a Dash—it was banana with vanilla buttercream and she LOVED it.

So glad we could give you a happy birthday Luna girl, your second bday is going to be a rager complete with all our family and friends!

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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!




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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!

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