Tessa Worley knew early on that she wanted to create art to express her individual style and personality. So, from her studio apartment in Eugene, Oregon, she started doing just that with her handmade stationery business.
We asked Tessa to share her experiences (and struggles) with us and how she's learned to set milestones in her business.
What inspired you to create Fox and Bear Paper Company?
I'm currently a part-time student here in Eugene, Oregon. I've worked in a lot of retail jobs because, unfortunately, it’s really the only thing I can get. But, I’ve never really been satisfied at those jobs. When my husband and I moved to Eugene, I was at a crossroads in my life.
At the time, I was really unhappy with my job and I was struggling with depression. Art was something that I was passionate about, but until that moment I had never really thought I could make a business out of it. That was when I decided that I wanted to startFox and Bear Paper Companyand work on it full-time.
I started with justan Instagram accountto build awareness, sharing sketches and paintings of what I would be selling in the shop. Then, I used that space to announce to my followers that I was openingmy Etsy shopand things took off from there!
Who was your very first customer?
My first customer was actually my sister-in-law, which was such a surprise. She bought some bunting from the Etsy shop, which I sell in addition to my cards and paper goods.
When did you know your business was going to work?
It can be hard to know if it’s really working, especially at first. There are still moments when I feel discouraged, but right from the beginning I had a lot of faith in Fox and Bear. I was so excited to start this business and I knew that I had a decent shot at it because I was doing what I loved.
I’m good at photography and I'm also a really meticulous person, which you need to be when you're running your own business.
Everything else has been in little moments, like when a fan would tell me how much they love my work on Instagram or my husband and family say how proud they are of me. Then, getting my first wholesale order, hitting 200 sales on Etsy in a year... hitting those kinds of milestones is when I knew things were working.
Getting my first wholesale order was a big deal. It was with a local shop here in Eugene that I connected with on Instagram. The owner saw my pictures and told me she wished she had known about my cards sooner and that they would do really well in her store. So, I sent her a catalog of my products and the next thing I knew I had my first wholesale order!
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
I'd say it's definitely a surprise that people really like and are inspired by what I make. I never would have thought that my art would create such a positive reaction, but when someone tells me that they love my work or that I've inspired them to paint, it's such an amazing feeling. I'm so grateful for every comment or review that comes in.
How do you price your products?
I based my prices on similar Etsy shops selling the same kinds of cards and products. I didn't want to try to sell for higher than my competition, but at the same time I didn't want to price my products so low that I wouldn't be making any money.
I find the best price is a balance between what I would be comfortable selling something for and what I think people would be comfortable buying it at.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I work in a 500 square-foot apartment, so the first thing I do in the morning is set up my workspace — which is usually a little Ikea coffee table.
Then, I'll look at what I need to do for the day. Usually that's either packaging orders, getting started on a customer request or posting on Instagram. I always need breakfast and coffee first, otherwise I get cranky and can't focus.
Considering the variety of things I do, every day is a little different for me. If I don't have any packaging or customer orders to do, typically I'll sketch or work on my own designs for a while in the morning. Then break for lunch and continue until my husband comes home in the evening.
We'll hang out after that and I'll call it a day. I try not to carry on working after a certain point in the evening because otherwise I'd just keep going and going.
If you love what you do, it can be hard to make yourself stop and take some time for yourself and your family. So, it's important for me to set limits and learn to balance my work with my family life.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I think a lot of people look at small businesses and think it must be so easy, but it can be really tough. To make a business successful, you can't just do it in your spare time. You have to be devoted and work through all the problems that come along.
I always like to hear about where people struggle. That might sound strange, but it really helps me get through the tough times with my business, and I think by sharing we can all help each other grow.
Social media makes us present ourselves and our work in the most positive light, but when we actually share the moments of struggle, that's when we become real.
Do you have a story to share with Tessa about where you've struggled in the past or encountered challenges in your business?
This is a safe space to vent, share your frustrations or ask for help!
We're all in this together, so feel free to share *your* stories with us below in the comments. :-)
Working for myself has been the most challenging yet rewarding journey. It can be scary to take the leap of faith and leave a stable job. Overcoming fear has probably been the biggest struggle thus far. Also, figuring out pricing and limitations. Keep up the wonderful and inspiring work, Tessa!