Profile: Chelleline Cards
Michelle Lin of Chelleline Cards has had slow but steady growth of her stationery business – alternating with law school! Here’s her story about following her passion while taking her time to make sure she was doing the right thing at the right time.
I started Chelleline Cards as a hobby in 2007. It was the summer before I started law school, I was temping sporadically, and I really wanted to start working with my hands again. At that time, my main hobbies were reading and writing. It had been years since I’d done any drawing or art. I considered drawing and painting, but when I stumbled on a greeting cards blog online, I knew I’d found my new hobby! I bought cardstock from Staples, and I had a lot of paper sitting around from BookExpo, and voila! One day in June, I sat down and created my first four cards. I showed them to my friends, who encouraged me to try to sell them, and a month later, I listed my designs on Etsy.
I was interested in expanding the hobby into a business and turning it into something full-time, but I was scared and with law school, it felt like things were going full speed ahead, in a direction I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. For the next few years, business development nearly screeched to a halt: I made the occasional sale on Etsy, sold at craft shows, and got a few wholesale accounts (one through an email asking for an appointment, and the other found me at the Brooklyn Flea). Then, at the end of 2009, one semester before my law school graduation, I confessed to my friend Lorina of Beadscarf that I wanted to do Chelleline Cards full time after graduation. She encouraged me to grow the wholesale side of my business, and to do so by walking into stores. So in January 2010, I followed her advice and gained 2 more wholesale accounts. Then law school and studying for the bar took over, and then the job search, although I was frequently wondering why I was trying to hard to look for a position I wasn’t sure I wanted. Although I graduated with good grades, the only thing I was able to find was a part-time position as a research assistant with a professor at my law school. I then picked up a second seasonal part-time job at the Stewart/Stand Design Store (which also sells my cards), which, although it was immensely helpful to me in many ways, left me little time to grow my business.
Finally, at the beginning of 2011, I decided to pursue a two-pronged strategy: I would continue to look for jobs in law, but would also grow my business as well, so that I would have that in case the law job search fell through. My plan was slightly upended in February, though, when my then-boyfriend and now-husband found a job in Montreal. I found out that if I wanted to practice law there, I would have to take 1.5 to 2 years of classes. From that point on, I focused all of my energy on building Chelleline Cards. I focused on the wholesale side of the business and pursued wholesale accounts mainly by walking in, although I was able to gain several by phoning or emailing for an appointment, referrals from friends, and participating in craft fairs. When my position with my professor ended in July 2011, I had a sufficient client base that I felt comfortable leaving – and in fact, I was eager for the position to end because I felt that it was interfering with the growth of my business.
As far as law school goes, I have found the education useful for my business, especially with regards to deciding what corporate structure I wanted for Chelleline Cards and with regards to intellectual property strategies. I discovered that while I liked the study of law, I wasn’t quite as enthused about law practice. I think the firms I interviewed probably picked up on this as well. (For more detail on this, you can read this post on my blog.) While I am keeping open the possibility of returning to the law, however slight, I also think that once you start creating things, it’s dangerous to go back to anything else because you’ll always feel that there’s something missing.