How I Started a Successful
Stationery Business From My Home Office
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Jules Eachus, the designer behind The Inkling Studio based in my home studio on the North-East coast of England. I create luxurious, bespoke cards and stationery for special occasions which I personalise using my style of modern calligraphy, brush lettering or traditional cursive script. All of my work is individually handmade to order, on beautiful G F Smith, Colorplan card using vibrant liquid and metallic watercolours, inks and metallic embossing.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve had many jobs over the past 30 years, always searching for something I could put my heart and soul into. After graduating from Newcastle University in 1989 with a degree in History, I moved to London with hopes of working at The V&A or The British Museum. I soon realised, after a string of rejections, that those jobs were like gold dust! So I took a variety of roles in advertising, local government and recruitment before taking my teaching qualification at Goldsmith’s College (where I must admit to having been envious of the Fine Art students & spent too much time and money in the art supplies shop!)
I’ve always been interested in the handwritten, changing and developing my own style many times since I was given my first fountain pen as a teenager. I also have a passion for beautiful stationery and have always bought (and hoarded!) notebooks, sketchbooks and notepaper.
In 2016 my husband bought me the gift of a modern calligraphy set and I immediately began practising this addictive art form, learning to use a pointed pen dipped in ink and also a fine paintbrush to create a personal style of modern calligraphy, brush lettering and traditional cursive script.
I began making cards for friends and family celebrating birthdays, engagements, weddings and new babies. When people started asking if they could buy my work, I created The Inkling Studio in the summer of 2018, combining my love of handwriting, art and stationery. There are of course other personalised cards on the market, but what’s different about my products is that they are bespoke, handmade to order and use the iconic Colorplan paper range from G F Smith. I also take great care to make them a treat to unwrap by using pretty glassine bags, tissue paper and twine, alongside a personalised handwritten note.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I think my two biggest challenges have been pricing my stationery and making it as environmentally friendly as I can. It can take up to one hour to make each card and is, therefore, not going to be the same price as a ready-made card. I don’t sell anything on the high street, just from my online shop, so it can be a challenge to get across to customers the texture of vellum and card; the tiny details and the sheen of metallic ink which all need to be appreciated in person. However, nearly all of my customers become repeat customers. We just have to tempt them to make that initial purchase!
Stationery might not be the most environmentally friendly item, but all of my cards are original artworks, designed to be framed or kept as keepsakes. I use G F Smith Colorplan card and envelopes, an iconic sustainable paper milled in the Lake District. I don’t use any plastic in my packaging and my cards are posted in glassine bags, which are recyclable and compostable. These are then placed inside board envelopes for transit protection. I reuse the smallest off-cuts of paper by turning them into decorative confetti and even my business cards from MOO are made from 100% cotton recycled t-shirt off-cuts.
Who is your target market?
The majority of my customers are women between the age range of 30-60 and are mostly based in the UK. They often like arts and crafts and are fans of shopping from independent stores and small businesses.
Usually, they don’t mind (and sometimes prefer) paying more for something that has been handmade in the UK rather than paying for a generic product at a cheaper price. They are usually very thoughtful, spending some time in choosing their design and often consulting me about colours or materials before making their choice.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
I market my business on social media and through word of mouth. I have accounts on several platforms including Linkedin, Pinterest and Facebook, but have the most success and enjoyment marketing my work on Instagram as it’s the world’s leading visual platform.
As well as building my following (hopefully some of which become new customers), I also belong to several online groups that support artists and creators. Sometimes this leads to opportunities like collaborations with other artists or small businesses. Since customers buy my cards to send to others, I also gain new customers that way too.
I frequently post appealing photographs of my work, as well as behind the scenes photos and occasionally videos, showing the techniques and processes I use. People always respond well to photographs of my studio and those showing the tools and materials I use, it helps them to see the time, skill and care that goes into creating my products.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
To my mind, ‘people buy from people’ and so I am always authentic and approachable on my social media platforms, sharing facts about myself like my love of Victorian ghost stories or my passion for industrial and interior design.
I offer a very personal service. Whether you e-mail, telephone or message my studio, it will always be me who responds. Similarly, it will always be me who designs, makes and packages your stationery and delivers it to the Post Office.
I pride myself on my customer service. I update each customer with the progress of their order and I contact them afterwards to check that they’re happy with their stationery.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Since I work on my own, I don’t have a company culture as such. I do, however, have a personal ethos of quality, kindness and personalisation that extends to every part of my business. During the Coronavirus lockdown, I’m offering to write to loved ones who are self-isolating. All for the cost of a postage stamp.
I send a friendly, personalised, handwritten letter with a handwritten favourite recipe and an illustration from my 11-year old daughter. We have earned such lovely feedback from those who have received a letter and it means so much to know that I can help to ease someone’s loneliness and isolation through my work.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
I created my website using Wix, which I’m very proud of! They have some great automation tools, enabling me to send emails to customers. Very useful when asking for reviews post-delivery of their items of stationery.
I also use Google Sheets to keep a simple spreadsheet of expenses. I recently invested in an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and the Procreate app. These have enabled me to ensure that the design and layout work is correct before even putting pen to paper. This also means less wasted paper. It’s also great for creating digital lettering for my social media content.
Trello is another useful tool I use for long term ideas. For me, writing things down makes them memorable. Thus, I undertake all of my daily planning/organisation in a Leuchtturm 1917 diary and Lamy Al-Star fountain pen. Would you expect any less from a calligrapher?!
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I started the business because friends and family wanted to be able to buy cards, designed and made by me. At that time I hadn’t established an identity for The Inkling Studio. I was fairly random in my designs, sometimes making cards that didn’t reflect my brand and that I didn’t like! I also found that some relatives and friends didn’t want to pay what I felt my work/time was worth.
This led to frustration at first, until I thought about it. I then created a brand for the business and identified what type of customer would love and purchase my stationery. My designs then became more specific in attracting that target customer and then I set a pricing structure I was happy with. At first, I lost some customers, but don’t be offended if some don’t appreciate what you do. My customer base has been gradually growing, especially over the past year. Most of my customers are repeat customers.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being able to fit my work around my family and home life is very important to me. My husband also runs his own Landscape Architecture business, and we have two children of 16 and 11 years old. I have a chronic health condition which means it would be very difficult for me to return to the workplace. Having a home studio means I can do something I love, but at a pace that works for me.
My mantra is Teddy Roosevelt’s “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job. Especially working from home. Social media and online groups can be a great way to find support and feedback from others in your situation. I am also very disciplined about my working hours. It’d be very easy to lock myself away in the studio with a coffee and an audiobook and lose track of time!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Some amazing online groups support small businesses, artists and makers. I’m a member of Indie Roller, a group led by the wonderful Leona Thrift-Ola. It helps to support creative businesses with lots of great resources including podcasts. I love it because its members are artisans and creatives like myself who are starting on their small business journeys and having similar experiences.
Then there’s Holly & Co, run by Holly Tucker (founder of Not On The High Street). She describes herself as “cheerleading the small business revolution”. Her positivity is amazing, which is especially needed in these strange times we’re living through. Her Conversations of Inspiration podcast features talks with founders of inspirational companies like Mulberry, Green & Black‘s and Lush.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I would love to be busier, making more stationery, expanding my range and maybe branching out into designing calligraphy logos/signatures for small businesses. The personal nature of my business will always remain though. I will happily continue making all the stationery myself as well as managing my social media, packaging and administration. ♡