Rose Hodson is the owner of The Ink Slinger – a boutique creative media agency. Rose studied English Literature at Queen Mary College, University of London and successfully completed her master’s in creative writing at The University of Sydney, Australia. She began her career in business specializing in marketing and media, and has now extended her services to include stationery and gifts which range from Post-It Notes to personalised pens. During the last year, Rose has enjoyed steadily increasing a now strong customer base and an extensive range particularly in stationery and bespoke gifts and prints.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
A few years ago, the idea of owning a business would have been a really daunting prospect. I don’t think it would have even crossed my mind – (it doesn’t help that my math skills are ridiculously bad and even working out a quote now makes me semi-cry).
But because of social media, particularly Instagram, new businesses began to fill my feed and the majority of the owners were around my age too. It opened up a world where I knew if I could do it, I could combine all of my passions and write myself the best job spec ever.
(One of the requirements is to listen to a lot of Celine Dion and really enjoy it too – got that nailed).
Tell us about your business.
I describe the business as a boutique creative media agency (boutique meaning small and very cute). I offer everything from copywriting and marketing to wedding stationery, but have found that the stationery side of the business is where I get the majority of my customers – which is lucky because I absolutely love it.
I’ve been weirdly obsessed with stationery for a long time. In my 20’s, I’d visit stationery shops once a week to buy cards that I would then stick up on my bedroom wall. I was the Norman Bates of the stationery world. I offer everything from cards to prints, wedding stationery and even personalized tales.
My favorite has to be the bespoke orders though – it’s nice to know that the customer is getting exactly what they want. It could be an anniversary card or a personalized tale that ends up being the length of a novel, but it’s nice to really get to know the customer. Don’t ask them if they feel the same though – sometimes I put too many kisses on emails.
Business wise – no awards as of yet, but I expect the HFSA (Hollywood Foreign Stationery Association) to be in touch any day now.
I got my undergraduate degree in English Literature and my master’s in creative writing, but what does that matter if the HFSA doesn’t beg you to host the Golden Embossed Awards?
Where is your business based?
It’s based in Warrington, a northern town in England. Most of my supplies come from the North-West of England, but I do have prints in Canada and Australia, which I really love the idea of.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
When I made the decision to start the business, the majority of the work was copywriting – I thought that’s where I belonged because of what I’d studied previously. I even wrote a rugby testimonial for a player, but somehow turned it into some sort of fantasy novella and it was never used, (obviously).
I continued with the copywriting, but always looked for work that involved design. Luckily for me, my friends started to get engaged and married, and it meant I could do their wedding stationery. That’s when I started building a portfolio of design work, and it’s been non-stop since that point.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
It’s probably been a combination of social media and markets.
A few weekends a month I take a selection of prints and cards and sell them around Manchester with a market called The Makers Market. It’s a brilliant opportunity to talk to customers and discuss products with them in person. It’s also really lovely to meet other sellers and get advice from them about different aspects of business. I’m also lucky enough to be placed next to a man who sells cheesecake most weekends.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Probably having my rugby-themed fantasy novella turned down – took me a while to get over that.
I think every day there’s something that feels like a big challenge, and the majority of what I’d find challenging wouldn’t seem like anything to someone else. I think when you start out in business, you want to make sure everything is perfect because onus is on you and only you. It might be something as small as thinking I’ve chosen the wrong font for a card, as daft as that sounds, but it’ll keep you up at night! You have a customer who trusts you to create something that they’ll hang on their wall or give to a loved one and you don’t want to mess it up – if you do, you know it’s only a matter of time until you have to change your name and flee the country.
Taking the first step to start out in business has to be the biggest challenge. And trusting yourself too.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I don’t think I’ll ever stop worrying about certain things or certain jobs, but I’m really happy with that. It means that I love my job and the customers.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
A lot of Celine Dion. And advice from Celine Dion.
But – the customers definitely keeps me motivated. I don’t know how it happened, but I have the best customers in the world. I might be having the worst day (scratched my Celine Dion CD) and I receive a really lovely email, or have a really nice phone call with a customer, and I’m excited all of a sudden by an upcoming project.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I’ve always been really worried about this. It’s not just the competitors in the stationery world, but other businesses who might have a brilliant angle – especially on social media.
People follow businesses who are interesting, who offer good stories day to day, who don’t just hammer you with what they want to sell. I follow these people; I wake up in the morning, lie on my side and read what they have to say.
For a while I struggled with this. I did weird things like take photographs of candles to put on my business page. It made no sense. Who wants to read that a stationery supplier really likes a particular candle? It wasn’t even a good candle!
As I became more confident with the business, my angle formed itself. I supply stationery, but it’s not your typical ‘Happy Birthday, I really love you’ kind of thing. It’s a bit daft and sometimes slightly offensive, but the customers seem to like it (because they’re obviously evil – but you have to take what you can get.)
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I receive brilliant advice daily. I usually text images to my friends and family and ask if they like a certain card or print.
I’m really lucky because each friend and family member is amazing in different aspects of business. I don’t know when they developed these skills, which freaks me out slightly, but they instantly know the answer when I ask questions like ‘should this flower be two shades pinker?’
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
If your family and friends aren’t business savvy like mine, you can take them, for a price (and I won’t go Liam Neeson on you).
But, taking advice, bouncing ideas off people constantly, an outside perspective really helps me. Otherwise, I’d only be designing prints that I like and it’d be a load of Barry Manilow lyrics.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Can I class my designer as a tool/resource? She’s amazing. She knows everything there is to know about design and print, advises me constantly; she’s unbelievably talented and works relentlessly too.
She’s the Beyoncé of the design world. She doesn’t smash cars up with baseball bats and definitely doesn’t write albums about sugary drinks either.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I’d love to brag about the latest stationery book I’ve read (and I do have them). But I’d say it was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Her work ethic is inspiring and she’s so funny and honest about it all. I really love that.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
One thing I’ve learnt since starting the business is how vital customer service is. I’d love to keep developing this so I can always give my customers what they want and more.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
I feel like my targets are really realistic and not too Richard Branson flamboyant, even though an Ink Slinger space shuttle would be amazing.
I’d love to continue as I am, steadily building up my customer base and getting to know more people out there, who like me, love a good bit of stationery.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.