Stationery Academy Recap – Part 1


I just returned from the best business investment I’ve made since my first pack of sparkle paper in 2009. Two weeks ago I joined 20 other amazing women in Dallas, Texas for Stationery Academy.  Hosted by the incredible Whitney English and fabulous Natalie Chang, I expected this adventure be worthwhile, and I was not disappointed.

I don’t think I can summarize in one blog post all I learned by being immersed in a room bursting with creativity and support. When I boarded the plane for Dallas, I thought I had my act together. That maybe I’d pick up a couple tips on where to buy paper and swap some stories with other like-minded paper-preneurs. I knew I’d learn some stuff, but I also thought I knew a lot. After all, I’ve built a business from scratch and make enough money to pay the bills. That’s success, right? But Stationery Academy was so much more than that. We delved deep within to find our core values. We explored our fears and dreams. We analyzed our personal styles. We questioned every design decision we’ve ever made. (Or at least I did!)

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I found myself in tears early in the two-day intensive workshop. Emotions run high in rooms full of women. It only took a short time for my classmates to become my friends. By the end of the workshop, I had 20 sisters. When one of my new sisters showed how vulnerable she was by sharing a fear of putting herself out there for the world to judge, I couldn’t help but cry. By the time it was my turn, I was a wreck.
This business has been my baby for over three years. So much so that sometimes I let it cloud my priorities. Sometimes I ignore my real live baby. I often find myself being a better worker than wife. A better marketer than mom. That breaks my heart. A lot. And at the same time, I know in my core that I am meant to beautify the world! If I ignore my passion for paper, I’ll lose a very important part of myself. Finding a balance between work and home is my greatest challenge. It may be every working mother’s. Nice to know I’m not alone. Sucks to know no one’s found the secret yet. But at least now I feel like I’m about to head in the right direction!
I think everyone who attends Stationery Academy leaves with some sense of, “Oh my gosh, there’s so much to do! I’m going to do it all right now right away on the plane. Watch out world!” Then we get home and take a hundred-hour nap. Then we open our email and we’re slammed back to the daily realities of running a business. Well that’s how it was for me, anyway. So I need to somehow break down the crazy to-do list I wrote in a manic, caffeine-induced, brainstorm session on the plane. (In my swagalicious Jonathan Adler notebook, obviously.) I let things simmer for a few days. Then I broke it all into 3 parts:

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My Core – This is where I have to start. I have to get at the heart of who I am and why I’m doing what I’m doing. Not just in business, but in life. What are my values, my strengths, my passions, my purpose? Whitney talked about finding the white space in her life. I love this idea so so much. As artists we all know about the importance of white space in design. I forget how important it is to have white space in my life. I tend to do a lot of running-on-empty. My first goal is to get my white space back.

My Brand – The timelessly elegant Emily McCarthy spoke to us about defining our Signature Style. At first I took it to just mean in our stationery designs. But it’s way bigger than that! I had a huge epiphany on Day 1 of Stationery Academy. I have lost my style. Those of you who know me pre-pregnancy know that I used to be cute. I was the go-to girl for fashion advice. (This is not hard when you’re a teacher. Any competitors for best-dressed were wearing embroidered vests and stretch pants.) I was actually a cute pregnant lady, too. Changing size means getting to buy new clothes. But I do not consider myself to be a cute mom. I am a tired mom. I am a mom who wears pajama pants. And it’s not just my clothes that suffer, it’s everything. I don’t decorate the house anymore, I don’t surround myself with pretty things, I’ve sort of just let it all go to hell. I think this has spilled over into my design work. My true style is clever, surprising, bright, and well-taylored. Lately I feel like I’ve fallen into creating designs that are easy, comfortable,  and kind of boring. Brand goal #1–ditch the sweat pants. Figuratively and literally. It’s time to get my cute back.

My Business – At first glance, it’s difficult to separate brand and business. But I needed to separate them to make things manageable. So for the sake of this post, when I talk about my “brand” it’s the overarching style of fresh paper and of my life! When I talk about my “business” it’s the nitty gritty details of running a business. Choosing an e-commerce platform, refining the order fulfillment process, bookkeeping, stuff like that. I feel like this is the area where I have my ducks at least somewhat in a row… but as my business grows and thrives, I’m at the point where I need to make some changes. I’m running at full capacity right now. I can’t really take on more than I already do. Plus, I’ve totally neglected social media! (So thank you Rachel Shingleton for being incredibly inspiring and motivating me to start up blogging again!) I was blessed to sit next to Jen Fraught during our first dinner who so generously shared her sales tips and organizational strategies. She was a student of Stationery Academy last year and came back to present this year–a true inspiration and a blast to hang out with! (If she wasn’t so busy running her own amazing business, I’d hire her to come run mine!) She made me realize that if I’m ready to take this business to the next level, I need to simplify some processes, outsource some busywork, connect with customers in new ways, and probably find myself a cool assistant!

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The tricky/beautiful thing about all of this is that these categories are not isolated from each other. Each one spills into the next and swirls together to create one big, gorgeous being. It’s always tempting to start with the nitty gritty stuff. I think because that stuff is tangible and more accessible than doing serious soul-searching. But I think it’s wise to start on the inside and work my way outward. I mean what’s the point of editing my website if I make huge branding decisions later that require me to redo everything on my site? And how can I make real branding decisions if I haven’t figured out who I am at my core? My hope is that if I get the whole “core” thing solid, everything else will start to make so much sense.

That said, it’s not perfectly linear. (Which is good because I’m not perfectly linear!) There are processes I want to improve immediately, brand work I can do now, details that need to change so I don’t lose my mind. So I’ll be working on every area a little bit here and there, while trying to simultaneously improve Fresh Paper from the inside out.

First task on my To Do list? Follow all the blogs of my new stationery sisters  so I can support them as we grow together. Stay tuned for updates on all the great changes that are happening around here!

What about you? What have you learned lately that has changed your life? Comment below!


6 thoughts on “Stationery Academy Recap – Part 1

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