Ellen had asked me to write this blog at the beginning of April. I said there was plenty of time, what else do we have to do? It is funny how doing nothing can take so much time. This month is the fifth anniversary of my partnership in my wife’s business, El’s Cards.
I remember our friend Marie, looking at me and saying “Well……??” Then I realized what she was hinting at. It was the second week in April of 2015, and we had told people that I was leaving my full-time job to join El’s Cards at the beginning of April. We were behind schedule. We had been waiting on word from the bank about some financial back up, and the time was passing too quickly. Without word from the bank I went into work the following week and gave my notice.
Photo by Melissa Mullen Photography
We were off and running that first year. Ellen had really done a lot to schedule work for us. We had talked about our approach to expanding the business in four different directions. The first and largest part of our business is wedding stationery, so we continued networking with local vendors and event planners to improve our visibility in the community. We purchased advertising in both print and radio. We also participated in several wedding vendor shows in Maine, New Hampshire, and Boston.
This photo is of the two of us at the Lovesick Expo in Boston.
Our next market was the Arts & Craft shows. Ellen has so much artwork, and was encouraged by a local artist (and friend) to participate in one Art show to see how we would do. We started to do Arts and Craft shows together for a few years before I left my full-time job and there was a very high interest in Ellen’s work. So the first year of us working together, we took the show on the road and went from Cape Cod, MA, to Camden, ME, to Burlington, VT-- making some money but having a lot of fun.
Craft show adventures-off to Meredith in the new van, Ogunquit in autumn of 2015, and Camden the following summer.
We were approached many times at these shows with requests for wholesale products, which has become the third direction of business expansion. We have local and out of state shops that carry our products. It has been so encouraging when a friend who is on vacation somewhere takes a selfie next to our product on a shelf in a store. We have had so much encouragement from our friends and family, it has given us strength and confidence. A few kind words are so valuable and yet cost nothing to give away.
We love to take long drives, and this drive in 2017 was to Lake Winnipesaukee to visit one of our wholesale shops in Wolfeboro.
The fourth and largest project was the purchase and set up of a new website. We worked hard with a new website designer. We had so much content to display and we were adamant about getting all of Ellen’s beautiful products on display for people to see and purchase. We originally met with these people around June of 2015 and hoped to have a new site by September. Hope was the operative word. Meanwhile we were working non-stop. So by the time we were able to help the website people get all the things they needed, and then give them all the time they needed to do the job properly, we ended up launching the new website in April 2016. That was a full year from the time I left my old job.
Most people I know in business always say the same thing, "I wish I knew then what I know now." What I take from this statement is that everybody learns as they go through the process. Most people may not even know what they want, until they can see what they do not want. Here we are, five years into this new adventure and I still have that same feeling. We are going to live by going forward and we will learn by looking backward. It does not mean we rush blindly into new situations but try to use our brains every chance we get. When things go wrong or do not meet our expectations, it is nice to be able to see the mistakes as a learning experience and not as the end of our enthusiasm for the work we are doing.
This shot was taken in January at Wentworth Gardens in Rollinsford.
When I left a full-time job, with years of seniority and benefits, it felt like I was leaping of a cliff. What was I thinking, where was my brain, my rational thought? The story behind what looked like an irrational plan was years of seeing my wife work as hard as possible to keep her business going. She had left her Boston area of business to move up to NH when we met, and the business slowed. She stayed the course, trusted in herself and her talent, and the business started to thrive. We had a plan. First, start to save some money for a safety net, then start to acquire equipment, and finally, set up a full-size work area in our house. It all came together slowly, but we put in the work and had faith that we were going in the right direction. Lots of work and lots of faith.
Photo by Melissa Mullen Photography
Every year going forward from my starting at El’s Cards in 2015 has been successful. We have expanded in all four of our planned directions. For the last two years, we have had the majority of our wedding stationery schedule for the following year filling in by the fall. Our Arts & Craft show schedule is typically filled in by early spring. As a small business we had a high rate of confidence that we would be able to do business for another year with great outcomes.
Photo by Geneve Hoffman Photography
So here we are on May 1st, 2020, and what else is there to talk about? Everybody is talking about it, everybody is experiencing it, nobody is getting away from it. I do not for one second have a feeling of "poor me, what will happen to me?" I do have concerns, I have asthma and cannot take a chance on getting sick, it could be dangerous for me. It was easy for us to social distance; we have been working from home for years.
It is the work that is uncertain, and we are concerned about that as well as everybody else. We say it out loud and discuss our fears. We write them down and look at them. Sometimes saying a fear out loud can take away some of its power. It's OK to let the people who care about us know we need their help and support. In the beginning we went forward with lots of work and lots of faith. Now the work is put on hold, but we still have lots of faith. We will be ready for the work when it returns.
We are hopeful that everyone stays well.
We truly wish the best for all of you.