Building an International Calligraphy Business – feat. Karla Lim of Written Word Calligraphy

November 23, 2021

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Today, we’re bringing on our friend Karla Lim of Written Word Calligraphy. Karla is a calligraphy educator + wedding invitation designer + calligraphy product creator based in Vancouver, Canada. In the realm of invitations, she’s known for creating bespoke, minimal and cohesive suites that feature her modern calligraphy style and illustration, that blend in the love story and style of the couple. She has been published in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, The Knot, Martha Stewart Weddings, Style Me Pretty, People Magazine, and so much more.  Listen in as Karla pulls back the curtain and chats about what it’s like to juggle multiple offerings and to balance motherhood and business. Plus, hear about the systems she uses and how she leverages her team!

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How did you get started in calligraphy?

Karla 4:07

So believe it or not, I started kind of getting into calligraphy because of Instagram. So Instagram was already around when I was starting out, but it was still like in the old, uh, like square format type of photos, like right at the beginning, I think it was around 2011, sorry,

2011. I was on Instagram. It was like a rainy evening in Vancouver. And I just decided to, you know, pick up clear B because one of my, uh, friends on Instagram, Fonzie, she was doing calligraphy and I was just like, oh, how do you do this? Like, how does it all work? And she had her little blog and website and, um, I was just like, she was one of the first few that I chatted with.

Molly had already published her book at that point. And so that’s what I picked up and like, that’s kind of how I got introduced to the world. I always think of Molly as one of the godmothers of the industry. She was like one of the great firsts, her and Laura Hooper and some of these others, you know, like the very first modern calligraphy summit.

What did the development of your brand look like? How do you keep it so cohesive? 

Karla 15:23

It’s hard to explain kind of how that brand came together because it was more organic than it was planned. It’s funny. Cause like, I, you know, I, as you guys know, I’m like building this business course too right now where I talked about how to create a cohesive brand.

But I was telling people that when I was creating my brand, I didn’t go through this extensive process of like, okay, like what are the feelings? Or like the, you know, the thoughts that I want people to feel when they see my brand or like the colors and things like that. I kind of just fell into it based on like what I like or like what I wanted by bread to be perceived like, and for the longest time my brand was more on the invitation spread.

It wasn’t like the courses as well as the shop. Right. So it was a lot more of the invitations were like the invitations kind of. My brand rather than like everything else aside from it. Um, but definitely I think the intention was always there that I wanted my, my work that whenever it was shown that it excluded like, you know, timelessness and de minimalism and also like just like a level of elegance to it. So I guess like that, having that clear vision, but how it came to that definitely came over like time and like knowing kind of, you know, what I wanted and expressing that into words, I eventually created a brand guide.

Like I went the other way, like creative my brand first. And then I went and created a brand guide and sent it. Cause now I have designers under me to help me stay on track because there’s no time for that.

Your packaging is delicious! Tell us about your thought process when it comes to selecting packaging. 

 Karla 38:27

It’s just a big part of my personality. It’s definitely about the aesthetic and the brand.The unboxing experience has to look great and I want people to, receive my product and go like, you know, Yes!! I want them to feel that they paid for it, like, this is worth it. And it’s like a, it’s a full experience that when you get it from me, you know, so that’s, that’s definitely like the driving force of it. Like I want it to be part of the full brand experience and, and that every piece is intentional that you know, that they’ve put a lot of love and effort in each piece. And I think for me, at least that’s the way. That’s the way I express love. I’m a gifter.

How do you leverage your team? What is the first thing you outsourced in your business?

Karla 50:02

My first one was when I was still doing primarily weddings, so it was just my assistant. So she was just helping me assemble. So she was like a crafting goddess. Like I could just give her something and then she’ll know how to tie it. I don’t have to teach her. So, she was like my assistant in terms of assembling things, responding to the initial emails, yourself, definitely an all around your type person, studio manager type who helped me answer emails and helped me assemble the invitations because I mean, we don’t have invitations in the studio. Like all the time at that time, it was maybe like two days a week.

I would have it, but the rest of the time should be answering like the customer service emails, um, or like the fielding, the first line, at least like, you know, just like templates and stuff and the fulfillment of the orders. And at that time there was not that many orders to fulfill the work. It’s just the rack seals.

Um, so like shipping them would, wasn’t a 10. And so the next one was deep fulfillment assistant. The moment when we started growing the, the w once I started having to practice fads and stuff, um, and then I also started the other business alert and as businesses, we started sharing employees. So the fulfillment girl was now fulfilling for both.

What are your goals for the remainder of the year? 

Karla 59:06

Yeah, well, definitely. I’m going to wrap up the calligraphy courses academy world. So my goal, I told my husband give me two years to launch all of these courses because that way, like I give myself the time to, you know, film them, create them and launch them and because I will open them up close to them any time kind of thing, but there’s going to be four courses now in total.

So this last course is launching in August. I’m excited because this is going to be the Denali. The journey, right? People are beginners. They have the beginner course, intermediate course with like designing your own style to an invitation design course. And now this one’s the last one is a calligraphy business Kickstarter, which is kind of what it takes to start a business type of thing.

Um, and then once that launches, I’m going to be very happy. And then of course I decided. Rejig the beginner course. Uh, of course, because after running the beginner course for a year and a half now, and prior to this, I hadn’t really done a lot of online courses aside from like the modern calligraphy summit.

So it was very different. Like I found that teaching an online course in calligraphy is totally different from an in-person one, the type of questions they ask and the problems that they encounter in the 90 days that I support them in is very different from the one day that they get with me. So I decided to rejig that course of the involved, like has all more, more of the troubleshooting and all the, like the problems that they encounter so that one’s relaunching in January.

So I extended my, I thought I was going to be done with the courses. So. The next plan. I am still thinking of launching new products and the line, because that’s the thing about having an ecommerce business, like, at least from my perspective, I don’t know. I wish I could say that you don’t ever have to launch new products, but you do.

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