Hey ladies, it’s Anna here from Fash Boulevard with another edition of our interview series, Ladies Who Laptop. In the past few years, a new archetype of what it means to be a modern businesswoman has emerged and I couldn’t be more pumped. In this digital age, where marketing ourselves is just a click away, more and more ladies are rising from the throes of dreamland and becoming mini moguls. This month’s spotlight embodies everything that inspired me to create this series…
Emily Ley, the self-taught graphic designer and creator of the extremely sought after Simplified Planner started with a dream and built a fast growing planner business that is now carried in over 300 retail stores across the U.S. With the help of social media, the mom of three has created an impressive following on her blog and Instagram, where she shares her inspiring journey of developing a successful business and her oh-so-relatable struggles of finding balance.
What made you decide to start your own company?
My husband and I were newly married and I was working for the University of South Florida in Tampa managing the fundraising efforts of their Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program. Day after day, I was surrounded by women making enormous impacts within our community. I deeply desired to get out from behind the desk and become my own impactful woman. I craved creativity and loved design (though I had absolutely no idea how to bring my ideas to life). I started slowly – making mistakes, picking myself up, dusting myself off and trying again. I spent hours upon hours (days, and weeks and months!) learning how to design my own website. I researched paper types and learned the lingo. I spelled stationery wrong on my first website and I fixed it and kept going. I sold monogrammed cards on Etsy for $5. I’ll never forget what it felt like to see an email come to my inbox that read, “You’ve made a sale!”
I saved those dollars little by little and built my company from scratch working two full time jobs into the wee hours of the morning. My first purchase was a $495 printer that used ink that cost more than the machine itself. I printed everything at home and spent more time unjamming the printer than I did designing the first year. Slowly I got the hang of things, developed relationships with professional printers and earned enough money to continually reinvest into my website and brand. It was slow and fast and exhausting and exciting and exhilarating all at once.
As a college English major with little experience in the design world, can you tell us a little about your journey to learning the necessary skills to run a successful design business?
I started with a PC and Microsoft Publisher (EEK! All the designers reading this are squirming) and designed a lot of really terrible stuff that no one ever laid eyes on. After I realized I needed to invest in the right tools, I played around in Adobe Illustrator until my eyes hurt. I have a specific taste in terms of silhouette and style but knew nothing about how to get from idea to finished product. I watched a ton of YouTube videos and Googled a lot of really basic questions. Slowly, my skills developed. I still have so much to learn, though. These tools are always growing and changing!
For those who aren’t familiar with The Simplified Planner, can you tell us a little about the product and how it came about?
I started my business designing wedding invitations and personal stationery. And in early 2011, shortly after the most transformational day of my life—the day I became a mama—I found myself pacing circles around my house cradling my newborn baby boy in one arm, holding my phone between my cheek and my shoulder trying to take client calls and soothe a tired baby at the same time. As a creative, driven and passionate woman, I wanted to do it all. Surely I could have a made-from-scratch dinner on the table at six while running my company with one hand and rocking my angel baby with the other, all in six-inch heels with perfectly curled hair…right? I mean, everyone else was doing it. Perfection was what I chased and frustration, disappointment and heartache was what it got me. It was that day that I tearfully spilled my heart to a friend and decided to hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection. From that point forward, I devoted my creative energies towards tools that empower and encourage women like myself to do just that.
The Simplified Planner brings together five key elements (calendar, to-do lists, notes, dinner and inspiration) to give women a clean start every day. I started shipping these planners out of my dining room, with my toddler pressing “YAY” stickers to the outside of each box, and now I’m working with a team of incredible women managing worldwide distribution. It’s been my honor for the Simplified Planner to be welcomed into so many homes and families.
Can you tell us a little about your blog? Why you started it and how it’s helped your business?
I started my blog the same day I started my wedding invitation business back in 2008. At first, I wrote about business-y stuff (in a sort of advertisement way) because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. But I quickly realized I desired more than just sales: I wanted to build a community and connect with other women. I started writing about my life—my challenges and growing pains and my journey as an entrepreneur in this creative industry. After a while, the blog grew to reach more than just friends and became a place of community. It still serves as a great tool for our brand to share behind-the-scenes details and thoughts on my own journey as a wife, mama and designer. I think it’s been successful because women like to know they’re not alone.
What is your favorite part about owning your own company?
I love the freedom to create from my heart. I’m not a desk-girl (believe it or not, as a graphic designer). I love working with my hands—making, creating, building. I often draw things out (on a giant piece of poster board with a Sharpie—my husband thinks it’s hysterical) while we’re working. I love being able to create products for women that help them get back to what matters – to the people and the things that really bring them to life.
We’re all about creating a digital footprint here at LaurenConrad.com. How has social media helped you grow your brand? Do you have any social media tips?
Social media is a funny thing. Remember when Instagram didn’t even exist? I remember putting it on my iPhone and thinking the filters were weird. I had about 10 followers. My friend Lara Casey says this about social media (and I believe in this wholeheartedly): Whether you have 10 followers or 100 followers or 1 million followers, imagine that you’re standing on a stage in an auditorium. The seats of the auditorium are filled with your followers and they are listening intently to your words. When I think of our social media platforms that way, it brings me back to the important stuff and makes me think carefully about the content we are adding to our social media community’s feeds. My favorite author, Bob Goff, says “God didn’t give you influence so you could lead people better. He gave you influence so you can love people more.” I have that on a post-it note taped to my computer.
So, yes, having a big social media community with lots of followers is great, but only if we consider our images and words showing up in their feeds a privilege and a responsibility. We have very specific missions for our social media platforms: to encourage and inspire an inclusive community of perfectly imperfect women who deeply desire more of what matters in their lives. That’s it. I really believe having a specific purpose for social media is key.
How have the skills you’ve learned from being a mother helped you succeed at your business?
Honestly, being a mama has taught me how to hustle. It’s taught me to work hard and love relentlessly. We get a ton of customer service emails on a daily basis. Most of the time the emails are questions or ideas. But every now and then we receive emails that are challenging. I really believe customer service is a ministry and this theory has snowballed in my heart over the past few years. It’s hard to receive a complaint or dealing with a challenging shipping situation, but they happen from time to time. These opportunities give us the chance to not only grow and improve as a brand, but also a chance to love on people in a big way. Oddly enough, I love that part of my job. I love being given the chance to over deliver and pour love on people.
As a successful business owner and a mommy of three, how do you find a healthy and productive balance?
Whew! My husband and I laugh and say we are the ringmasters of our own little circus over here. It’s a crazy, beautiful, amazing circus. Getting it all done isn’t easy though. And I’ll be the first to say, I do not do it all by myself. I’m grateful to have an amazing team as well as incredible friends and family.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to follow their dreams and start their own company?
Go for it. Starting a business and pouring your heart into it is SCARY. But you’ll never know what your life could be if you don’t try. Put one foot in front of the other. Ask all the “dumb” questions (they’re actually the BEST questions because they’ll help you get from point A to point B and so on). Love on other people and find community. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Carve your own path. And remember that being authentically you is beautiful.
Who would you like to see me interview for my next Ladies Who Laptop?
Let me know in the comments below!