All the "stuff" | Case Study | Small biz resources
09 July 2021
Candace Lam is a financial planner by day but runs a thriving calligraphy business in her free time. With a lifelong passion for art, she’s put her skills to good use — creating a side hustle that delivers beautiful, custom calligraphy to customers everywhere.
Candace’s journey home to art
Candace’s road to becoming a professional calligrapher wasn’t a straightforward path. When she was just in Grade 3, Candace discovered her passion and talent for art. She began taking art classes where she learned the basics of sketching and drawing, and she continued to develop her skills until the end of high school.
As graduation was quickly approaching, Candace knew she had to make a decision: pursue art or take a more traditional path? With external voices telling her that art was a risky choice, she chose to study social sciences and now works as a financial planner at one of Canada’s top banks.
Yet, her passion for drawing and sketching never faded.
In 2012, when Instagram was really picking up steam, Candace stumbled upon a community of artists online that were doing incredible things with calligraphy. She was instantly hooked. Candace started following many of the top calligraphy Instagram accounts and began trying her hand at her own creations.
At first, Candace was simply having fun with it. Calligraphy offered a creative outlet and it combined drawing with design — an exciting combination with endless possibilities.
However, in 2017, she started getting more serious about it. Having seen many of her beautiful creations, a close friend of hers planted the idea in her mind that she should consider teaching calligraphy to others. Her partner also supported her and suggested that she turn her passion into a business.
After much thought, Candace decided to take the plunge. In October 2019, she registered her business and officially opened up her online shop.
Candace started off by focusing on wedding stationery. She did custom creations for weddings of all shapes and sizes — from invitations and programs to custom logos and stickers. However, she didn’t feel a huge connection with the wedding industry.
Next, she pivoted to focus on creating custom stationery using modern calligraphy designs and hand drawings. This is where she continues to focus her business today, and she’s built a loyal customer base who come to her for custom stationery, stickers, and her popular washi tape.
Lessons learned along the way
While Candace’s business is thriving today, she’s had some bumps along the way. She’s learned three key things about running a small business that she thinks could help others who are in the beginning stages of starting their own business:
1. You never know until you try
In the early days of her business, Candace worked with a business coach, who encouraged her to test out her ideas.
“If you want to start a business and you’re serious about it, nothing will happen until you try,” says Candace. “You need to simply get started.”
Along similar lines, Candace’s business coach encouraged her to choose a niche and narrow down the specifics as much as possible.
“If you try to do everything and be everything to everyone, no one will know what to come to you for,” says Candace. “If you love drawing pineapples, then double down on pineapples. You’ll be doing what you love and everyone will know who to go to when they want pineapple art.”
2. Don’t ignore admin, love it!
Candace admits that one of her biggest mistakes was ignoring admin for a whole year. She had an overall sense of her income and expenses, but she hadn’t filed anything or kept her receipts organized. When it came time for taxes, it was overwhelming and she didn’t know where to begin.
“You know when your house is so messy that you don’t know where to start? That was me. My admin was out of control and it was incredibly daunting,” says Candace.
With a lot of hard work, Candace got the admin side of her business cleaned up and she now follows a tight process. Tax time is much less stressful, and she knows the pulse of her business at any given moment.
“I’ve learned that admin is the backbone of a successful business, and I prioritize doing admin at the same level as creating. I think creatives are scared that if they put a process in place, it will dampen their creativity, but I’ve learned the exact opposite is true.”
3. Find the tools that feel right, and use them
Candace has tried out a lot of different tools and processes over the years but has found two that she loves: her planner-notebook combo and her Charli app.
As a visual artist, Candace is drawn to keeping a beautiful planner where she records her week at a glance. Here she artfully writes down her meetings, appointments, meal plan, and more. She likes to keep it uncluttered and beautiful. That’s why she also totes around a notebook — so she has a place to scribble down all of her rough ideas and notes without worrying about what they look like. Together, she finds her planner-notebook pair to be a winning combination.
The second tool that has become a lifeline for Candace is Charli. Every time she gets a receipt, she snaps a picture of it and sends it to Charli for auto-filling on her Google Drive. Every time she receives an email with an invoice, she sends that to Charli too. And, Charli keeps all of the photos she takes of her work organized and easy to find again.
“I’ve even started using Charli to organize my brand rep contracts,” says Candace. “As I expand my business, I can find what I need by simply asking Charli to locate it in my Google Drive. It cuts down on so much wasted time manually filing, organizing, and searching.”
With several years of business experience under her belt, Candace is looking forward to the next stages of growth, as she continues to expand her team and her calligraphy product lines.
You can learn more about Candace’s calligraphy by visiting: website/social handle
Candace’s ultimate advice?
“Get friendly with the idea that you can’t have a business without having admin tasks. The sooner you put an admin process in place that works, the more time you’ll have to focus on the creative aspects of your business.”
Candace’s MVP feature in Charli?
“I love how easy it is to send everything to Charli. It’s great to know that all of my important documents and photos are organized and findable — with very little effort on my part.”
What are you excited about with the future of Charli? “It’s a feature that already exists, but I love the expense spreadsheet tool and I feel there’s, even more, I can do with it. Now that my expenses are in order, I’m looking forward to how else I can use Charli to get organized.”
Need more inspiration for how you can get more organized with Charli? Learn about the product here.