Monday, January 28, 2013

Jackie and Mike's 2012 Holiday Card

Before the holidays are too far behind us, I wanted to share the cards I sent to friends and family this past year. With Designers Care and my busiest Believe Notes holiday season ever, there were a few weeks there that I just didn't think I'd be able to send cards at all. Luckily, inspiration struck and not only did I get to send cards, but I absolutely love the way they came out. I've been trying to practice my hand lettering lately, so I thought the holiday cards would be the perfect opportunity to test out my new skills.

I like for our cards to be really meaningful. but still fun and good-looking. Since a huge part of 2012 turned out to be Designers Care, I decided to go with a clean black and white design, and the backer pattern has a "stamped" effect. Something else that I do every year is create a pattern that features objects that were important to us throughout the year. Since this year marked the year of renovation (we did all of our floors plus the kitchen over) I decided to include hammers and stoves, along with paw prints (for Miss Juliet) an NYPD shield (for Mike's job) and apples since my husband and I are die hard Mac lovers.

I had my heart set on black envelopes, and since the only way to write/print addresses on them is either by hand (with a white, silver, or gold marker) or with an address label. I'm not typically a fan of address labels - they make me thing of those God-aweful ones that people print at home and then slap on cards. Since I was too lazy to hand write each address, I knew I needed labels, and so I though some round labels with hand lettering would spruce things up and turn them into an added design element. They also shaved a ton of time off, which was awesome, because these cards went out late. The labels were placed a little off-centered, which is exactly how I wanted them, and I love the way they came out! The finishing touch was the gold stamped return address (I used this stamp) and a little gold washi tape.The cards themselves were printed on super thick recycled stock with rounded corners.

The photo was taken by the super talented Jainé, of Brklyn View Photography, during my head shots for Believe Notes. Mike was there to help me keep Juliet out of the way, and Jainé was kind enough to snap this super fast family shot. I love the way the lighting fades off, and the beautiful NYC sky line in the background makes it even better.

I know it's a little late, but from my family to yours, I hope you had a great holiday & are off to a wonderful start in 2013!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Story of the Failed iPad Cases

Today I'm going to open up and share something that I really wish I didn't have to share. But I think I do, no, I know I do. This is an overdue post, and I apologize for that, but it’s been the most difficult post I’ve ever had to write to date. It’s also long – and while I tried and tried to edit and scale back, I just felt that I needed to share this story in its entirety. So here goes the story of the iPad cases.

One of the highlights in 2012 was when I launched my line of iPad covers. I found a vendor at the 2012 National Stationery Show with the nicest covers I had ever seen and I knew immediately I wanted to work with them to launch a line for Believe Notes. I poured my heart and soul into all of the designs, and was thrilled to have them represent Believe Notes. They first hit my Etsy shop in late August, my mom purchased the first one (thanks mom!) and then friends, family and customers followed. Everybody loved the covers – they were gorgeous. My mom loved her case so much that she even bought a second one, so that she could switch things up depending on her mood.

But then, in October, after using my own case for only few months, I noticed it was starting to split down the spine. I reached out to my vendor immediately to let her know what happened. She replaced the case, swore nothing like that had ever happened before, and we moved on. Then, a week later, my mother called to tell me her case was splitting down the spine. She had only been using hers for about two months. Again, I emailed my vendor with the bad news and she replaced the case. I was reassured that my experience was rare, and encouraged to continue selling the cases.

Regardless of the reassurance, I knew in my gut that I couldn’t continue to sell the cases until I was positive the issue was a fluke. So, only a few months after their launch, I removed the iPad and Kindle cases from my Etsy shop. When I pulled the cases from the shop, I had only experienced the two issues – mine and my mothers. I was optimistic that the rest of the cases I had sold would be fine. I told myself that I would continue to use my new case and that if it lasted more than six months, I would be in the clear and able to sell them again. I mean, I was getting dozens of emails, blog hits and editorials for these cases – they were going to be featured in an upcoming magazine editorial, they were going to be HUGE. For sure, this had to be a fluke.

And then a coworker of mine, who only had her case for three months, came cautiously to my desk at work to let me know her case split too. Then my mother told me her second case split, and then the emails from customers started creeping in.

Once again, I reached out to my vendor – but this time, she changed her story. She told me that the cases were “art” cases and not meant for daily use, and that they should really be treated as if they were coffee table books. She told me that the cases wouldn’t really stand up to being used every day, and that going to and from a coffee shop would be too much “wear and tear” for the case.

WHAT?! These cases are marketed as being durable, waterproof and made with “the same materials as race cars”.

I was outraged, heartbroken and guilt ridden. The guilty feeling was the hardest part for me – I felt like I was misleading my customers without ever knowing it. I sold them products that were bad quality. I was heartbroken.

Part of me wanted to scream at my vendor, and part of me wanted to just close down the shop and crawl up in a corner. However, I felt, that to my customers, I was responsible for making the situation right. I swore to myself that I would politely push back to my vendor in a professional manner, which I did, several times. After a week or so with no return email, I got an email from a somebody else at the company explaining that my original contact person was no longer with the company. OK, now what?

The new person was sweet, and expressed concern about my abnormally high fail rate. She said they’ve typically seen a steady 5% fail rate with all of their resellers, and she seemed genuinely baffled as to why my rate was so much higher. I was told that the cases had a six month vendor warranty, and that she’d replace all of the cases that were failing.

I don't know what other business owners would have done, but I knew I needed to reach out to all of my customers that purchased the cases to see if they were having issues. After a lot of thought, and sleepless nights, I sent an email to every person that purchased a case from me to let them know what was going on. With a heavy heart, I pressed “send” and then crossed my fingers that maybe people would write back and say they had no issues at all.
Unfortunately, my gut was right, and within days I had a mailbox filled with images of broken cases.

But then, something I didn’t expect happened. I also had a mailbox filled with words of support and encouragement from my customers that really appreciated my honesty and proactivity in trying to right the wrong. Even though I was so heartbroken about the cases failing, I also felt incredibly empowered and appreciated by the very people that I sold bad items to. It was such a defining moment for me. It was my moment of “I can do this, I should do this, I am meant to do this”.

So here I am, at the end of January, and I am working to replace the last of the cases. At this point I have replaced every single case I sold. That’s right, I had a 100% fail rate. And, in fact, the new case I've had for less than 2 months is already splitting, again. I have learned a ton from this experience, about vendors, about ethics, about being a strong business owner when I’d rather eat a cookie over the sink and cry. But, I'm a better business person for it, and I can only go up from here. I’m working now to try and find a different vendor with a product that better fits my expectations around quality and durability, while still being beautifully designed.

I hope you’ll all stick around and hear more of the lessons learned, and follow me as I try to find a new and improved product. And thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of my customers that have supported me and gotten me through this challenge. You make me a better business owner, and you remind me why I’m working so hard to make this business succeed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 Future Letter

It’s the middle of January and I’m reading about everybody’s resolutions and goals, and I can’t help but feel a little intimidated. I thought that I would really be in the mood to write my 2013 future letter, but the end of 2012 was such a struggle that I feel like I started the new year beat down and defeated. While I would love to say that I hit the ground running, the truth is that I totally didn’t. I wanted to sit and write my 2013 future letter sooner, but I knew that I was in no mood to be able to sit and write the optimistic and upbeat letter that I knew I deserved. I put a lot of thought into writing my goals, so instead of trying to force myself to write something I didn't feel connected to, I decided to give myself some time to relax, recharge and reconnect. There are also some really big personal goals that have been tossing around in my head that I’m not completely ready to share in such an open forum. However, I decided to let go of those issues, and share them when the time is right, and instead dive into the things I know for sure.

So here I am, and I’m excited to say that I’ve got my mojo back. I am so ready for 2013 to be the biggest year of my life.

2012 was a fabulous year, despite the rough ending. I grew leaps and bounds and I really view the year as one where I began laying the groundwork for future big things. From finally creating a website, to getting my Tax ID, I feel like I'm entering 2013 with a legit business on my hands. I’m anticipating 2013 to be my biggest year thus far – kind of my make-it or break-it year. I’ll be more strategic and business minded, with a genuine focus on my goals and my brand. I feel like I have little tiny egg in my hand, and I can either take that egg and nurture it into a beautifully majestic bird, or I can drop it and never see what it might have become. Fingers crossed that I don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Without any further explanation, I give you my 2013 Future Letter. (and if you don't know what a future letter is, find out about them here)

Dear Jackie,

     This year was one that stuck out in your mind as absolutely life changing. You're business grew, your life grew, you grew (but not around the waist, please God, no), and you worked hard to lay the foundation for many years to come. I'm proud of you and the way you approached everything this past year!
     You really figured out your personal direction and made sure that your business aligned with where you knew you needed to (or wanted to) go. Instead of trying to cut corners, you spent what you needed to spend – in time and money – to invest in the future of your business. You still get giddy every time an editor or something pops into your inbox with a wonderful “opportunity”, but instead of taking all the bait, you made sure to only take the lines that were best for you. It was hard to say no, but you always had your business in mind. This was the year that you finally turned your hobby into a business.
     You were able to grow your wedding line substantially, all while continuing to find your voice as a designer. You’re finally comfortable in your own skin and have confidence in your talent and abilities. While it’s so easy to see other designs styles that you love, you’ve realized that you don’t have to be like everybody else, you just have to be like you. One thing that you’ve continued to do is stand by your product and ensure great quality. It’s hard to swallow your pride and admit that something failed, but by showing that you’re human, you were better able to connect with your customers. On that note, you resolved the issues you had with your iPad case line, and continue to use that experience to guide the way you launch and test new products. You've finally figured out which vendors are the ones that match your business values, and you are comfortable counting on them to help you move forward.
     Some of your most comfortable habits were challenged on purpose, and you even got yourself an email address. You also worked up the nerve to migrate your blog off of blogspot. It was sad, since you really hate change, and felt so loyal to the service you'd been using for years, but your business is more professional because of it. You've also worked on some of the other professional, but not-so-fun things like contracts, invoices, accounting, bookkeeping and yadda, yadda, yadda. It's still a struggle, but with the help of a good accountant and adviser, you're able to keep everything in order and you are no longer worried about the IRS knocking on your door. In fact, if they were to knock on the door, you might even have a loaf of banana bread ready to greet them with.
     Instead of guarding your business, you’re opening doors and continuing to network with the larger community. You’ve collaborated with some amazing professionals and you have a network of people that you rely on and trust. It’s refreshing to have done away with the “me against the world” attitude and to have embraced the “us against the world” partnership. It’s still uncomfortable to be in networking situations, and you may never be a master mingler, but as you gained confidence in your business, you also gained confidence in yourself during social situations.
     Moving away from Believe Notes - you've also had a new venture to take care of, Designers Care. It's been so rewarding to have a project which such a worthy cause, because that's something you believe in from the bottom of your heart. Instead of letting Designers Care be a one-and-done project, you've grown it into a business. You spent a lot of time working on making sure it's a legitimate and sustainable company, which was both challenging and rewarding. You've got a process in place for new designers, donating to a variety of organizations, and a way to maximize donations while still earning enough to keep the business growing. It still makes your heart warm to know that amazing group of people that have rallied with you to make this project successful - and who knows, maybe someday you really will be on Ellen!
     Even though you carefully planned out each of your goals for 2013, there were a lot of unexpected turns in the road. You may have felt stressed, but you never lost your composure and you were able to learn from each new experience. At the end of the day, it was all of those little unplanned things that really made you proud of how far you've come. Each challenge you faced also presented you with the opportunity to make something right – and you continued to follow a business model that is warm and trustworthy for your customers.
     It's amazing, isn't it, how much can happen in just one year? Every year seems to have been full of learning, growth, and challenge, but this past year was the one that was groundbreaking for you. You may be ending the year with a lot on your plate (and mind), but you are so ready for everything that's coming your way. I know you’re scared, because you’re pretty much always scared, but you’ve worked your ass off to get where you are, and I am so proud of you!

Future Jackie

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Believe Notes + The Wedding Chicks - A Hand Picked Vendor

I'm really excited to be kicking off the New Year by announcing that I've been selected as a Hand Picked Vendor by the Wedding Chicks! I've been following the Wedding Chicks blog since I got engaged, practically 4 years ago, and it's so excited to be partnering with them this year. Hand Picked Vendors are hand selected by Amy and Jocey (the Wedding Chicks, themselves) and it's an invitation-only honor.

If you've never been to the Wedding Chicks website before, you should visit it - and be prepared to see lots of beautiful wedding inspiration for dresses, locations, invitations and anything else you can dream of. It's seriously addicting!  While you're there, head on over to my vendor page and check it all out.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 Revisiting the Future Letter & A Year in Reivew

I first read about the idea of a future letter from Jess Lively, who has been writing herself letters for over 6 years. The idea is to write a letter to yourself in the beginning of the year, as if it were already the end of the year and you knew what you had accomplished. It's a fun way to set goals and expectations for the year that's coming.

Last year was the first time I sat down and wrote myself a future letter, and now that 2012 is over and I'm able to look back on what I predicted vs what I actually accomplished, I am really amazed at how productive and growthful 2012 was for my business.  Here is the letter I wrote myself last year, and here are the milestones I hit:

  •  We finished our flooring and kitchen remodel. I'm not done with the home yet, but I love how it turned out.
  • I did get my Tax ID number & am officially an LLC
  • I put together a thorough pricing list, and I update it regularly
  • Believe Notes grew tremendously - new products were launched, the NSS was attended, and staging photos has become a whole lot easier (and prettier)
  • Networking is still a challenge, but I reached out and made tons of new friends and contacts this year, including the awesomely awesome Jainé, of Brklyn View Photography, who snapped my gorgeous new head shots (which were also a goal of mine!)
  • Mike and I did not get to travel nearly as much as we wanted to. We went to Vegas for your one year anniversary, and we had an amazing one year anniversary dinner at home. I don't know that Mike will ever be able to outdo himself. We still aren't thinking about kids, although all of our friends seem to be popping them out lately. Peer pressure ain't got nothin on us
  • I've grown a lot on my corporate profession and still hate flying
  • And yes, I think I definitely do deserve to congratulate myself! What an amazing year!
I had some other HUGE accomplishments in 2012 that I didn't even know were on my horizon, such as launching Designers Care. Obviously, nobody could have predicted Hurricane Sandy and the damage she would have caused, but I am so proud of myself and the designer community for coming together and creating something awesome! After tackling so much in 2012, I cannot wait to see the huge things that are bound to happen in 2013!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hello 2013!

 - image from Oh Hello Friend -

2012 is over, and 2013 is here. I have to say I am happy about that, thrilled actually. While so many people felt that 2012 was their best year yet, it was a year of struggle, challenge and disappointment for me. There were plenty of highlights, don't get me wrong, but unfortunately those highlights are not how I define the year. From challenges with my day job, to home renovations, healthy scares, broken down cares, and product failures here at Believe Notes, I am definitely happy to see 2012 bite the dust. 

On the business side, I ended the year with a bang - I had my busiest ever holiday season for Believe Notes and Designers Care was a huge success. I was so busy that I decided to close both shops down to focus on family during the holidays. That being said, on a personal note, my husband and I ended 2012 and started 2013 on a rocky note, with a family member in the hospital, and while they'll be OK, it was still a scary experience. 

With all of that in the past, I'm confident that this is the year of great things to come. I have big plans for Believe Notes, and I'm finally getting more clarity around my business and personal goals. When I look back on my future letter from last year, I am amazed at just how much I accomplished, and with loftier, clearer goals for this year, I am sure that I'll have a continued successful path. (I'll be writing my future letter later this week or next).

I hope you all enjoyed your New Year festivities, and that you're finding yourself on the right path for this coming year!
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