Unpopular opinion: You don’t have to have a competitive mindset to run a successful creative biz. In fact, we believe that your “competitors” can be your biggest asset in business. That’s why today we’re bringing Kelsey Kelley of K.Kelley Designs on the show to chat about how valuing community over competition propelled her forward in her stationery business. Kelsey’s abundance mindset is contagious and after listening, there’s no doubt away feeling grounded and assured that there is room for everyone at the table.
What did you do before you became a stationer?
So before I started doing this full time, and even before I kind of was doing this as a side hustle. I worked at a mortgage company for almost 10 years as a loan processor. I was there pretty much right out of college. I wasn’t even like 20 years old yet when I started working there, and I had been there ever since. And then you know, I started this business, but that was my home. I love that place.
When did you start considering this as a field you wanted to get into?
So a big part of our story is that we were hardcore about paying all of our debt off our student debt. We had taken out some like consumer debt, we had a car and a little bit on a credit card. So we were huge Dave Ramsey fans, and We were just trying any way to find extra money. And so I really did. I mean, I kind of knew I was a creative person, but I had never done anything for other people. It was just little things for myself, like around our house little, you know, signs and silly stuff. But yeah, I think I just had said to a couple of friends like, Hey, I’m trying to, you know, they knew our journey and they knew our story and I was like I’m trying to make some extra money. Is there anything like that I can paint for you or do for you?
And so it just kind of grew from me talking to my friends and I had a couple of friends that were getting married. And I offered to do their envelopes like envelope calligraphy. And I had no idea what I was doing. But I was like, I’m just gonna try this, and I’m not going to charge them anything at first, and I’m just gonna do this for free just to get some, you know, traction and to see if it’s even something that I think I could do because I knew there was an audience there for envelope calligraphy just because I had seen it on Instagram. And so I did it for a couple of friends. And they ended up paying me even though I told them not to, which was so sweet. And it just grew from there. And really, I had no plan. I just kind of did stuff and the envelope calligraphy really stuck. And it was really popular. And that’s kind of how it launched me into this business.
How many years have you been full-time? Have you worked any other jobs since, and if you have, do you want to share?
So this August, August of 2021. It will be three years
What steps did you take to prepare for going full-time?
So I knew obviously what I was making at the mortgage company. And so I would have liked to get as close to that monthly paycheck as possible. So the steps were just to set goals to, you know, what I needed to do in order to bring that income in, like, back then I wasn’t, when I first started, I wasn’t really doing wedding invitations, it wasn’t a huge part of my business. And thankfully, that’s changed now, because of the A to Z directory and all the knowledge and stuff that you guys have just been so generous with helping people, you know, realize, but I was mainly doing like the envelope calligraphy and then watercolor portraits and paintings for people. So I just knew like, this is how many I need to sell for this month in order to move that boat closer to the dock. And, you know, thankfully, it just keeping my eye on my sales month to month and seeing that growth. And it’s like, you know, I’m not trending down, I’m only trending up. So there would be no reason if I keep doing what I’m doing. Especially if I can do it full time that I wouldn’t continue to trend up it just that’s how it works. So it was just setting those goals each month and you know, doing my best to execute and make it happen.
How did the transition to full-time feel to you? Was it liberating?
It was very liberating. You know, for us, our goal was to become debt-free that went above everything. I felt like, if that wasn’t as important to us, I could have probably quit a lot sooner just because it was so much. But we had the goal and we wanted to get there. So yeah, as soon as I was able to quit and go full time I was I was ready, I was more than ready. And I felt very liberated and free. You know, in the chains of debt was gone. And so it was like, that was very freeing. And this knowing that as soon as that was done, I could totally propel into what I was passionate about and actually enjoy doing. And now I have no income cap. Like I’m not in this box of a corporate job. I have control and it’s just very liberating.
Yeah, I totally felt the same way. Like when even though mine was like being kicked off instead of like, making the decision for myself. But I never would have made the decision for myself because I did love my job at the time. Yeah, so I was like, oh, like the literally the first thing I thought when they were like everyone in this magazine is let go., except for Cami, She’s here for two more weeks. But anyway, they were like, I was like, Ah, thank God, I finally have time to work on all these wedding things I’m doing. Like I was like excited about hearing that I was fired. And I think it was like, this was the Lord like being like, Okay, this is what you’re doing now. Like, I know, you can’t do it on your own. So I’m gonna literally fire you. And I was like, thank goodness. And it was like, nonstop since then. But yeah, that was like a really, really good sign.
And you’re so right about like, the control thing. You’re like, I can make as much as I want or as little as I want. It’s not like a 2% raise every year. It’s like you can be like, I really want to make more money this month or whatever. What can I do, like, move that needle? Like you can kind of I don’t know, play with it, and it’s really fun.
I was gonna say, y’all are both lucky in the way that you felt at least. Okay, I will say I felt the freedom to but I ultimately was like, half terrified what I had done the first day and I was like, just at my desk in my office, which at the time was like, literally a desk and a chair and me because, you know, we hadn’t been in Georgia that long like but a year and still have it. You know? Newly married having collected a lot of furniture just being like, what have I done? And what am I supposed to do today? I think that’s the biggest I think it was, like list anymore that’s been given, kind of, like train yourself out of that, like, how to strategize your own day, as opposed to somebody else presenting it to you with like a list of tasks.
How have your “competitors” been your biggest asset?
I love this question. I would say it’s, it’s because you know, there’s always going to be people that are going to be competitive and not a good way. But, you know, I have tried to be intentional about surrounding myself, especially starting this business with people who aren’t intimidated or scared of the quote-unquote, competitors, you know, that, like, you guys are so generous with your knowledge of just like, you know, because you guys are like a step above me or a couple of steps above me. And it’s always good to seek out counsel and learn from people that are where you aspire to be. And it only helps you grow. And so yeah, like, I guess you can consider you guys my competitors. But I just think that that’s not a good mindset to have and viewing other people as competition.
I remember when I first started out, I really looked up to people that were really just like excelling in the industry like generating. And she was kind of like the one that propelled my like love of watercolor. And then joining like the calligraphy summit way back when I first started, you know, investing in you guys’s ABC directory and your contracts, just kind of helped my business go that one step further. And so all of these people could be considered competitors. But that’s not really going to benefit. But having my my mindset is looking at people like competitors. I look at it, you know, asset is such a great way to look at that because as long as you have people around you that don’t have that mindset as well. We can all help each other out and I mean, there’s like 7 billion people in the world like, we’re gonna be fine. There’s enough to go around.
Is the market really that saturated? Why is there room for everyone at the table?
I think that’s just going back to what you guys were saying about, you know, scarcity mindset. It’s so interesting. Whenever I’m out and people are asking, you know, what do you do? And I tell them, and they are so fascinated. They have like, never met anyone that does what I do. So I’m like, Oh, really, because that’s all I see all day online. You know, everyone’s doing what I’m doing. But that’s just because that’s the little bubble that I’ve surrounded myself with. But what I’m out in the wild, nobody has ever met a stationer or watercolor artist, and they have so many questions and are just like, this is so cool. Hey, look what this girl does just live alone. It’s like mind-blowing to me. But yeah, so I don’t think we’re really that saturated. I think that it’s just because we’re in this little bubble. fellow artists, which is great, but you tend to just kind of get blinded.
I completely agree. Like we are literally just like looking at a bubble all day. And then we’re out in the wild, people are like, wait what do you do?. like they’ve never heard of it. So, I mean, and you think of like, how many clients you can actually take on a year, like, there are so many clients available to you like you only take on so many, there’s, there’s plenty that are not going to be a good fit, and plenty of them aren’t going to be a good fit. And there’s never like, I never feel like, oh, Kelsey got a client. I could have had her like, I never felt like that, you know? Yeah, but we are just stuck in that little bubble of everything we do. But once you’re outside of it, you know, it becomes like a whole different perspective. So it’s just like, this, like understanding that too.
There’s so much to go around. And we all have different audiences, too. It’s not like we all have the same followers or the same sphere of influence like we’ve everyone touches different people. So even if the market is quote, unquote, saturated, we all have different audiences. So it’s not like everyone’s saying the same thing.
Yeah, exactly. And we all do, like, totally different work. You know, like, yeah, you and I are both watercolor artists. But our work looks totally different. So I, if someone’s like, hey, I want watercolor, like it can come to this like little watercolor section, but then they’re looking around, all these artists are like, oh, there’s so many different types of styles available to me. And like when you start to like hone in on your unique design perspective, like, then it just means even more like, you lose that mentality of like, Oh, it’s saturated, cuz you’re like, there’s no one else like me. Right? So that kind of like, falls off once you become more confident in what you’re offering.
How has the BBB community and the A-Z Directory group helped you in your business journey?
You guys did like an ideal project challenge. And it was so like, groundbreaking to me. And it’s such a simple concept. But it was just like, oh, why have I never thought to do this, to create the ideal project that I would want to do. Even if it’s not for a client, create your ideal project for your ideal client, and just put that out in the world and it will attract, you know, your ideal client. And I was like, That’s brilliant. And so, whenever I did that challenge with you guys, and everyone in that community, it was so much fun to see what everyone was like, what their ideal project would be, and all this and when I did that, I just had so much fun with it. And after I like, put it out there, you had like an end date of when everyone was gonna share their projects. I booked three clients from just sharing those, it was like the first save the dates I had ever shared.
And that challenge experience just pretty much propelled me into what I’m doing now, and which is what I love to do. And I have always loved wedding invitations, I have a drawer full of all the wedding invitations I’ve ever received. But my problem was starting out, I had no idea like where to start, I had no idea. Like how to do anything, how to create it into a final product. You know, just so many questions, the envelopes, how do you do the envelope printing? How do you create liners? How do you even format what an invitation looks like? To be printed? How do you format it for printing? Like all these questions and so you guys in the best birthday bash community and the A-Z directory has seriously just helped answer so many questions. And like, unknown and fear that I had and just made it you guys kind of just like made it into little bite-sized chunks where it was digestible. And it was easy to understand. And you guys gave me the confidence to just be able to just do it. And even if it wasn’t going to be perfect, at least just trying and having those resources just was a huge, huge part of you know what I do now and it’s just been such a great journey to be honest with you guys.
What’s your favorite thing about the group? Have you found vendors you love?
My favorite thing is just how easy it is to hop on there and find what I’m looking for. Instead of googling for hours instead of having to bug other people and ask them Oh, what did how did you do this? Or where’s this? Or where did you source this? I can just go to the directory. And look, I was telling Elizabeth the other day, I was on a phone call with the client. And she was just asking, asking questions about de of goods and options for different kinds of things. And I literally just hopped on the directory as we were on the phone. It was just giving her ideas of things I could do. So it’s like things I don’t even know are possible. And she doesn’t even know is possible. But it’s just because we don’t know what we don’t know. And once we are on the directory, and I’m like looking through, oh, we can do this, or we can do like little matchboxes as Thank you gifts or, you know, gift tags or, you know, literally like hand towels, I don’t know, like literally anything. So enamel pins, I mean, just so many things. And so it’s just exciting. And it’s hard to pick just one thing that I love about the directory because I haven’t even I’ve been a member for this year will be three years and I feel like I’ve only used like half of it. There’s still so much more I could use and I’ll be able to as I continue to grow.