How to Start a Calligraphy Business
Updated: Jul 7, 2019
Disclosure: some of the links below , denoted by asterisks, are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Starting a business can be a daunting task regardless of your industry, service, or product. But starting a creative-based business, especially a calligraphy business, can present additional challenges and upfront costs. If you're considering starting a lettering, design, or calligraphy business, then read on for my tips, mistakes, and things I've learned as I stumble through entrepreneurship.
Perhaps this seems like a no brainer to most, but as soon as you think you'd like to start charging money for your products or services, start separating your personal expenses from those related to your business. Even if all you plan to do is list products on Etsy, I strongly recommend opening a separate bank account -- or at least make all of your purchases on a card that you don't use regularly for personal purchases. (pro tip: avoid purchasing personal items on the same receipt as business purchases - keep everything separate).
You may need to "loan" your business account some money in order to open your account. That's ok! Just be sure to pay yourself back -- which is not the same as the money you earn on project. Consider that loan a business expense, just like your materials or monthly web hosting fees.
Keeping your finances separate are going to save you A LOT of headaches during tax time. It also helps the IRS recognize you as a legitimate business, as opposed to a hobby. Which brings me to my next piece of advice.
REGISTER YOUR BUSINESS
There are a slew of resources that will walk you through business entity types and how to register a business in your state, so I won't get into those details here. But the key takeaway here is to establish your business as either a sole proprietorship (conducting business as yourself or through a business name, but all liability falls on you personally) or an LLC (your personal finances won't be liable in the case of a lawsuit or tax issue). In either case, you can deduct your business expenses along with your personal taxes each year using a form schedule c.
TRACK YOUR EXPENSES
Once you have your business checking account (and/or credit card) and have registered your business, you'll want to start tracking your expenses. Websites like Freshbooks and Quickbooks* are two of the most popular platforms for business owners. Each have their pros and cons, each are very affordable for small business owners just starting out, and each are easy to get started with. One the greatest benefits to these sites is the ability to invoice clients online and process payments through the websites. Here's a great comparison of the two sites. Personally, I chose QuickBooks Self-Employed* because it had more of the features I needed for a lower monthly cost.
BUILD A PORTFOLIO & TAKE PHOTOS
When you're just starting out, you likely won't have many examples of previous work from clients...but no one else needs to know that! Invest a little money in some materials like a mirror for a seating chart or card stock for place cards. Pretend as if you're creating it for a client and do your best work. Once it's complete, take some photos of your work (pro tip: try to photograph outdoors during daylight, or at home with plenty of natural lighting). Showcasing your work is a key part of building your calligraphy business and will help you build a client base.
GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA
If you have not done so already, be sure to start a Facebook page and Instagram account solely dedicated to your business/calligraphy. The calligraphy, handlettering, and artist community on Instagram is huge! And there are endless Facebook groups dedicated to lettering arts. Get involved in these communities and showcase your work to fellow artists and prospective clients. It's a little intimidating seeing everyone's perfect photos and perfect art (which they all seem to have endless hours and no full-time job to work on), but they all once started out where you are. Don't compare your day 1 to someone else's day 1,000. The most important thing is to put yourself out there and engage!
START AN ETSY SHOP
When starting out in your creative business, you may have trouble finding new clients. I highly recommend creating an Etsy shop - especially if you plan on doing wedding calligraphy. Even if your services are 100% custom to your client's wishes, you can list your service/product on Etsy and set it up as a custom listing. The biggest benefit to Etsy is that they bring you the clients. It would cost you way more money in advertising and marketing to bring in clients outside of Etsy. And be sure to use the photos from your portfolio to building your listings.
BUILD A WEBSITE
Eventually, though, you'll likely want to build your own website - especially as you start taking custom orders. Using Etsy as a way to advertise to customers is a great idea, but taking your clients in-house will help elevate your business to the next level. Fortunately there are tons of great website builders out there like Wix and Square Space to help you get started. You can even add eCommerce to take payments via your website. Building a website is free, though you will need to purchase your domain name and pay for monthly web hosting fees. But by having a website, you'll look more professional to prospective clients. As they say - it takes money to make money!
There are tons of online resources to help you start a business and tons of online resources to help you get started with calligraphy, but when it comes to building your calligraphy business, resources aren't as plentiful. Hopefully this gave you a good starting point in your creative entrepreneurial journey.
Marie Coleman-Johns is the owner of Maiden September Calligraphy.