How I Turned My Hobby Making Planners And Journals Into A Full-Time Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Sephora. I am the owner of Seph Crafts. I started my company as a hobby about two years ago and have since transitioned to a full-time business owner during the pandemic.
I genuinely value a planning system that will help me stay on track with my goals and schedule. But before creating my own, I could not find one that spoke to both simultaneously. After getting annoyed with using sticky notes that would eventually fall out of my planner, I decided to try my hand at making one that would work for me. When I designed the first planner layout, I considered anyone looking to purchase a valuable planning system. The journal focuses on brain dump sessions and includes motivational prompts. But I am still working on fine-tuning my journal line.
After much trial and error, all Seph Crafts planners and journals are handmade by me in Cameron, NC. Made with premium bright white paper and wire coiled in hardcover, each planner style is named based on the cover design. The premium paper used allows for any pen to glide smoothly without bleeding through the sheet. I also created an eGuide on how to implement a self-care menu for your everyday lifestyle.
My flagship design is the all-in-one annual planner, Zahrah. Zahrah consists of monthly budget sheets, goal-oriented prompts, weekly plans, a daily to-do list, note sheets, a monthly calendar, and an annual "vision board" sheet. This planner is the most popular as it encourages users to focus on time management by accomplishing three things per day that aligns with their annual goals.
My initial target audience for Seph Crafts was primarily mothers because I was confident that they were the planner community. However, I learned very early on that my audience is much more diverse. I noticed a common thread while communicating with clients through email, social media, and pop-up shops. There was a need to have a planning system that can be useful for various lifestyles.
Today, my client base consists of teachers, event planners, college students, parents, entrepreneurs, and more. Thankfully, I've had clients who ordered planners for their high school-aged children. As a result, these orders opened my mind to consider creating planners for different age groups.
I launched Seph Crafts during the pandemic in 2020. I did not expect to produce any sales since the country was in quarantine. I often questioned, "who is going to use a planner in the middle of a pandemic?" But much of my client's feedback has been based on how helpful the planner is with prioritizing their time, budgeting their expenses, and setting goals that'll help them stay on track despite being "stuck" at home.
Initially, it was easy for me to focus only on the bottom line. But the reviews from my clients were priceless and rewarding. I focus more on the quality and client experience. My passion and thoughtfulness show in every planner created. So, for me, it feels good knowing that Seph Crafts planners are great for increasing productivity in someone's everyday life.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After graduating from graduate school with a Master's Degree in Human Resources Management, I could not land a job for two years. It was frustrating for me because I wasn't used to not having a job. After much prayer and looking within myself to see what I had to offer to the world, Seph Crafts became an idea.
When I launched, I was scared of not reaching my audience and generating sales. But not starting would not have helped me accomplish anything.
Initially, I wanted to create an event stationery line. So I went out and bought a Cricut machine and started fulfilling hobby orders. But I did not get the freedom I was looking for because I was fulfilling orders that had to be very specific. Thankfully, I realized very early on that this was not it.
Then, I had the "ah-ha" moment to create planners after I noticed my planner at the time wasn't meeting my needs. It was the best thing that happened in the beginning stages of SephCrafts. So, I used my quarantine time to dive into the planner industry. I spent a lot of time learning while designing and creating. Listening to podcasts of planner designers and reading "how-to" books and articles was a full-time job. I showed up every day!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My very first planner was not my best work, in my opinion. I still have it collecting dust on my shelf for nostalgia purposes. It wasn't engaging enough. The paper was too thin. I wasted a lot of paper trying to get the correct measurements for the hole puncher. It was quite the experience!
I discovered that I did not want to wait hours only to make one planner per day. After much research, I bought a printer that can print multiple planners per day. Now I have a specific product list that makes up the layout and essentials needed to make the planner. I often play around with cover designs such as abstract art and chic floral patterns that add to the overall aesthetic.
I took my failures as learning opportunities because I wanted Seph Crafts to be a sustainable company from the ground up. As I learned the do's and don'ts about the industry and sourcing products, it was important to me that I studied the business side as well.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching Seph Crafts felt like I was throwing caution to the wind and just did it. It was a scary feeling for me. Yet, I felt the push to launch anyway. I started with only $100.00 to buy products and tools so I can create a few designs. I did not have any resources to receive starter funds or donations for my business. With no money to pay for a live site and purchase an LLC, I started with "free" social media.
With no experience and a lot of passion, I told my family and friends about my idea. Many were supportive while a few had their eyebrows raised.
Before designing a website, I created a PayPal business account to accept payments for the first few orders. Thankfully one of my family members placed the first order. After telling her friends, coworkers, and other family members about hers, more orders started coming in. During the first two months, I had seven orders. At about month four or five, I joined pop-up shops and organically marketed them on Instagram. I also asked everyone I knew to share my products with someone else.
As a result, I had enough money to launch my site and purchase a camera to take great photos of my products. For my first website design, I used a free theme on Shopify. But over time, I wanted it to have a fun look. Since I could not afford to pay for other site designs, I moved my site to WIX and found what I wanted for free.
Although today Seph Crafts is not where I know it will be in the future, in the meantime, I will continue to find ways to grow the company. The biggest lesson I learned from starting Seph Crafts is that perfection does not equal ready. Everything was not perfect, and I had so much to learn. But I knew that I would learn over time, and perfection is a false reality. So, keeping that in mind, I just started. Yes, I was scared of not reaching my audience and generating sales. But not starting would not have helped me accomplish anything.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I put a lot of emphasis on providing good customer service to anyone I interact with concerning Seph Crafts. I am a firm believer that the level of customer service will have an impact on their experience and company reputation. I do my best to respond to client emails or direct messages within 12 hours. When speaking with clients, I am welcoming in my delivery. I avoid coming off as sales and focus on the benefits of the planners and journals. Connecting with customers is one of the best parts of the process because I meet new people and build rapport. They seem to appreciate that as well.
Since I did not have a lot of startup capital, I stayed away from social media advertising. I rely heavily on driving organic traffic and sales through hashtags on Instagram until I have enough to pay for Facebook ads. Another means of increasing sales is through Pop Up Shops. It helps me bring in revenue faster than social media.
Using my email list encourages repeat and new sales as well. Since I am not a fan of spam emails, I only send out one or two newsletters per week. I do not want customers to feel desensitized when my email pops up. So, I try to avoid bombarding them with a bunch of emails.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Through sales and Pop Up shops, Seph Crafts has generated enough income to meet the functional needs. Whatever profit is left over, I often use to reinvest into the company for enhancement.
Offering quality planners and journals at a premium price requires more convincing to build that "trust-to-buy" from customers. So, I continue to focus on the quality of my products. I also emphasize how they'll meet my client's needs to confirm their interest.
The future for Seph Crafts includes finding a manufacturer to produce some of my products. I am looking to grow my team this year with two new members. I would also love to sell my products in boutique shops, be a household name, and partner with more entrepreneurs.
I look forward to all the opportunities that are coming.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting Seph Crafts has taught me to pace myself as an entrepreneur, do a lot of research and be patient. I learned that every idea that comes to mind doesn't need to be executed. Some things will work by helping Seph Crafts move to the next level, while others may not move the needle at all. So I often research the idea before implementing it into the business.
In the initial stages, I wanted to frontload a lot of sales before having a specific plan. I wasted a lot of time and money joining memberships that did not do much for my business. I was more focused on bringing in sales rather than creating a holistic experience for customers. I also wasted energy comparing my products to other successful planners in the industry. It caused me to lose confidence in my vision for Seph Crafts. But I was reminded to walk my path. Everything that is for me is already mine. It did not serve me to focus on what others were doing. Instead, it took time away from diving into the business to make it more successful.
After revamping the culture within Seph Crafts and being more intentional with every interaction, I began to notice an uptick in sales and positive feedback. Owning a business became more enjoyable for me as well. I have not had the chance to partner with another company yet. But I'd love to do so!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I currently use PayPal business, Quickbooks, WIX, Instagram, Square, and
PayPal business and Square are great payment systems to use for PopUp Shops and invoice billing. But I use Quickbooks to track Seph Crafts' finances. It is pretty straightforward and helpful for filing taxes. WIX is the only website that I was able to afford during the initial stages. It works well for my business, and I can operate the online store smoothly.
I use Instagram as a photo gallery sales channel. Post photos and videos, engage with customers through comments, direct messages, and participate in live chats with other Instagrammers. It's great for visibility!
When shipping my products, I only ship through FedEx. I have a business account with them which allows me to ship products at a discounted rate, and the service is more reliable than USPS. I used USPS in the beginning. A lot of the packages were delayed. That was stressful for me because it reflected poorly on my business. Since I've been shipping through FedEx, the mishaps have been minimal.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential book I've read so far is Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. I read this book during a time in my business when I wasn't sure if I had what it took to be an entrepreneur. Nothing was working as I wanted, and I did not see the progress I was looking for in a speedy timeline. It reminded me of the fine line between being successful and giving up. That is grit.
It taught me why quitting can be premature, and I can be one thing away from achieving my goal. But if I choose to throw in the towel, I will never see how successful Seph Crafts will be. Staying committed to my vision when things are not going as they should help me appreciate the process more. I believe in my goals, and I am open to the new opportunities that will be available to Seph Crafts.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I understand the power of believing in my vision and that my company will be successful. Some days are not as bright as others. But in those moments, I push myself harder to achieve my goals. I believe rejections reroute me to my next opportunity. I refuse to stay down because someone said "no".
I encourage anyone looking to start a business to understand their "why?" and use it as a reminder to keep going. Hurdles will come with the experience. But using them as learning opportunities will make a difference in how you move with your vision, company goals, and confidence within yourself.
Product knowledge and how it'll meet the customer's needs is paramount. Have the three main points about what you offer ready to share with anyone who asks about your company or idea.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I would love to work with someone on the logistics side of the company. It would involve responding to email and social media direct messages, and managing Seph Crafts Instagram account. At this time, the position would be more like a part-time internship until the company can financially hire someone full-time.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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