Oh boy! First of all, 2017 has not been a good year for blogging. I am an inconsistent blogger, and for that I am sorry. But I still want to recap the year, because it was an incredible year.
Some highlights and lowlights from this year, in no particular order:
Watched tennis live for the first time ever! Truth be told, I’m not really a sports person, haha. But Jethro is.
Sold my cards at 7 craft shows (I did 12 in 2016, and boy this was a much better balance in my life.. shows are a lot of work!)
Taught 11 calligraphy workshops (at Cafe Latte Cino, Maker House Co., Oh So Good, Craft Night Out, Craftfest, Freewheeling Craft Market, Calligraphy Society of Ottawa, and Satin & Snow!)
Lost my grandmother (婆婆) this year and went to her funeral in Vancouver (it was both heartbreaking to say goodbye but also encouraging to hear about her faith in her later years. I look forward to seeing her again one day!)
Had countless friend dates (filled with board games, coffee, donuts, and ice cream)
Celebrated Canada 150 and tried to go to as many of the free events in Ottawa this year (Mosaicanada, Kontinuum, La Machine)
Went to Toronto for 3 weddings (the best excuse to travel!)
Donated proceeds to the Cancer Society and United Way in an attempt to give back to causes I care about. Still figuring this one out.
Met many dream clients (some who have since added me as a friend on Facebook and follow my personal life, too — ultimate badge of awesomeness)
Was featured in Ottawa Wedding Magazine and a number of other online publications (will always be surreal)
Got nominated for best wedding stationery in Ottawa (especially since calligraphy is not my full-time job, I am seriously honoured!)
Learned to listen to unhappy clients and unhappy mothers-of-clients (can honestly say this is my least favourite thing about doing custom work, even if it’s only 1 in many)
Got engaged to Jethro! (I can’t wait to design our stationery pieces!)
Visited Jethro’s family in Calgary twice (seriously, so much flying this year. I was at Pearson 6 times for 3 return trips)
Met a couple Instagram friends in real life! Let’s do more of this in 2018, k?
I presented an academic poster at a health conference in Toronto, and it had my name on it!
Invested in Dubsado for my client management, and fell in love with it (get ready for the best client experience, ever! Already have had so many happy clients go through using the awesome online contracts and payments)
Actually got my Christmas cards out on time (whew!)
Thank you for being a part of my 2017!
According to Instagram, here are my #2017bestnine:
Many people around the world are taking on the card and letter writing challenge to write 30 letters in 30 days. I am one of these crazy people, except I know myself, so I am challenging myself not to write every single day, but to write multiple times a week (I’m aiming for 3 to 4 times a week, just being realistic with myself).
There are plenty of cards in my shop if you want to stock up on your collection and share some love notes with your friends! I think my favourite cards to send are everyday hello cards, and birthday cards.
April is also Daffodil Month
But that’s actually not the reason I’m writing this post. April is card and letter writing month, which I’m wholeheartedly supporting. But it is also Daffodil Month. Daffodil Month is one of the Canadian Cancer Society’s fundraisers (they only do two! Relay for Life, and Daffodil Month.. that’s it!).
And I, and maybe you, have been personally affected by cancer in my family. Cancer sucks. It drains the life out of you seeing a loved one go through chemo, not having enough energy to do the things they love, and be in pain for no clear reason (well, other than the cancer). The feeling that you can’t do anything for them? That’s the worst part.
I know all the statistics, in fact, my day job required me to make infographics for cancer statistics (I’m a health analyst!). Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, and one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime. That’s a lot!
1 in 2 Canadians will get cancer at some point in their life.
– Canadian Cancer Society, 2016
And now that I have seen firsthand what it looks like to live with cancer (it’s not pretty.. it’s tough, and requires so so much courage), I want to do all that I can to support those living with cancer, and support cancer research so we can understand more about it and help those who are unfortunate enough to face it.
I am supporting cancer research by donating my proceeds to the Daffodil Month campaign
I have donated my hair a couple of times (and will continue to do this), and I have pledged my support during Relay for Life. And now I am extending my support to include Simply Steph Ko, too.
Etsy: Made in Canada day was September 24, 2016 all across Canada. In most major cities across Canada there was an Etsy show happening on the same day! Every seller at every show also has an Etsy shop, so you can check out the vendor lists at each show and shop online from the convenience of your home. Within the national capital region, we actually had two different shows – Etsy Ottawa, and Etsy Outaouais over on the Gatineau side. I participated in the Etsy Ottawa show in Kanata at the Bell Sensplex.
Shopping at Etsy Ottawa
The Ottawa show ran two days – Saturday, September 24 and Sunday, September 25. The official “Etsy Made in Canada” day is Saturday only. Check out the #EtsyMIC and #EtsyMadeinCanada hashtags on Instagram to see everyone shopping from Etsy sellers across the country. And the #Etsy613 hashtag for the Ottawa show!
As a shopper, I recommend shopping on Sunday at the Etsy Ottawa show, as the crowds are much smaller.
At the Etsy Ottawa show, the first 100 shoppers each day got a swag bag filled with goodies from the vendors. On Saturday, the line up for the swag bags started as early as 6:30 AM when the show only started at 10! On Sunday, the line up for swag bags was much calmer. Only 5 minute before the show started, there were still 20 spots in line for swag bags! Last year, I lined up for the swag bags an hour early on Saturday, arriving at about 8:50, and my boyfriend and I were 101 and 102 in line. Nothing fun for us. So if you want a swag bag, go on Sunday.
Another good reason to shop on Sunday is that crowds are much smaller, so you’ll get a chance to talk to the vendors and ask them about how they make everything. You can do this too on Saturday, but it will be much more difficult if there is a crowd in front of each table.
Etsy Ottawa has the best choice of local goods in Ottawa
The Etsy show is the best place to find all of your favourite Etsy sellers under one roof. Lots of shoppers were already getting Christmas shopping done – wow! Talk about planning ahead.
There were over 150 vendors in the field at the Bell Sensplex, so budget a couple of hours if you want to circulate and check out everything there. There is everything from jewellery, to baked goods, to stationery (oh hi!), to kids apparel, to ceramics, to coffee, and more. It is a mixed bag, so you will find something for everyone. Come with an open mind, and lots of cash. And leave with an empty wallet and a happy heart. You are supporting local! That makes it all worth it.
Emily Arbour is the champion and Etsy team captain for Ottawa sellers. She also runs a shop in Almonte called Cheerfully Made, and creates candles under the brand Campy Candles. All this to say, she knows what it takes to be a vendor. And she knows what it takes to curate a good selection of goods that shoppers will love. She is all around superwoman, mother, and somehow juggles it all with grace.
Applications for the Etsy show open in June for the show in September. The show is the biggest show of the year in the Ottawa area, that’s for sure. If you’re thinking of applying next year, follow Emily at Cheerfully Made to find out exactly when the applications will open!
The lovely Emily!
Getting started on Etsy
From chatting with others, I found that most sellers at this show had been active on Etsy for 1-5 years. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I recommend Etsy for anyone who wants to get started in ecommerce. Because you don’t need to deal with any back-end stuff, you don’t need to know how to code anything at all. If you are thinking of starting a shop, let me know if you have any questions! And if you use this referral link, we both get 40 FREE listings!
I love and appreciate you if you came out to support local Ottawa (and surrounding area) talent. I can tell you love Ottawa, because my bestsellers all weekend were the Ottawa map print, and Ottawa map card (online soon!). Lots of love to go around this heart-shaped city!
Reduce, reuse, and recycle, right? But when it comes to custom work, is it okay to reuse it? The short answer: it depends. You can and should ask the artist who is creating the custom work, and he or she would be able to answer for you.
As an example, Julia reached out to me about creating a chalkboard sign for her wedding. The boards are re-purposed for this project, and she wanted to create something that she could pass on for a friend to use in their wedding too. Julia asked me if this was okay, and I said yes.
Pay attention to your contract.
The standard clause on intellectual property in my contract states that “Calligrapher grants to Client a non-exclusive license of designs produced with and for Client for intended use in displaying chalkboard signage at Client’s wedding and personal use only so long as Client provides Calligrapher with attribution each time Client uses Calligrapher’s property.”
Translation: I can reuse this design again (it’s not exclusive to you), and I’m letting you use it in a personal capacity (you cannot resell it or charge other people money to use the design). Basically, you are paying to use the artwork in a personal capacity.
By default, the artist owns the artwork.
Unless the artist licences his or her work to you, he or she still owns it. You should not reuse their work without their explicit consent, even if you are paying for the work.
Contracts are for both the creator and the user. A good contract lays out very clearly what is and isn’t allowed, and what each party is responsible for. If you read the contract and follow it, then everyone is happy!
It is never okay to copy.
If you’ve worked with me before, then you know that I ask for inspiration images so I can get an idea of what you are looking for. I want to do my best to get in your head and see what it is that you’re thinking! But I will never, ever, copy another designer’s work.
If you like something enough to want exactly that design, then you should contact the original designer and hire them, not me. But if you like my work’s style, then hire me.
In the same way, you cannot copy my work either. I am more often than not generous with my work, so please don’t hesitate to ask me. We’ll find a solution together to meet your goals, give you value, and not copy anyone’s work.
As you can see, the wording Julia and Jeff chose for their signs doesn’t include their names or the date of their wedding. This is because Julia knew from the start that she wanted to make a welcome sign that a friend could reuse.
Julia checked with me first, and I am totally a-okay with her sharing this sign with her friend. So please, please check first!
I turned to Stephanie for help with a few decor pieces for our wedding. She was super responsive and patiently helped me nail down my vision before she got down to business. The end result? Fabulous. Stephanie is professional, talented, and as sweet as ever – I’m so glad we found her!
A discount or a sale is an excellent way to market your work. And it works ah-mazingly well. But I choose to not regularly discount my products and services. If sales and discounts work so well, then why don’t I do them?
Offering a discount makes past customers feel dumb for not waiting
I hate shopping. I still do like going to the mall or browsing online to see new things and get new things. But I passionately dislike the mental process.
A sales shopper enters a store with blinders on, and heads directly for the sales section. I’ll be honest, when it comes to clothes shopping, I am a sales shopper. Once, I found the perfect, lightweight, striped summer dress. And it was on sale! SCORE! Only to find out that a week later, it went on sale at an even deeper discount. Ya, I thought I was being smart by shopping sale, and now I feel dumb.
The same goes for buying just about anything. If you buy something at regular price, only to find out that there was a sale the day after you bought.. you would feel dumb for buying early. Why didn’t you just wait? And from experience, I know that if you are buying early from me, that is because you are my tribe. You are my friend, my Internet fam, my #1 supporter. I don’t want you to feel dumb. I want to thank you for supporting me!
So to avoid the process altogether, I just don’t offer any weekend flash sales, or anything of the sort. Lots of greeting cards are seasonal, but I try to avoid trends so that the cards stay relevant. A mother’s day card that I create in 2016 is just as meaningful in 2025. The only reason I can see myself doing a big sale is if I’m moving and need to move stock fast. So, not anytime soon.
Sales undervalue my services and products
I value my purchases at the price at which I’ve paid for them. If the original price is $250, and I bought it at $100, I value that thing at $100. I don’t even look at the original price.. who cares how much I saved, I want to know how much I spent! So I price my service and products at the right price so I don’t need to discount them.
Be so good that they can’t ignore you. – Cal Newport
The only way to keep up this thinking is to increase the value of my work. So even when the price stays the same, the value of my products and services increase over time. I invest in my work, and I am constantly learning how to be a better artist, a better entrepreneur, and a better person. I am by no means perfect, but I am willing to learn, grow, and be so good at what I do that you can’t ignore me.
Instead, I reward loyalty by offering coupons to email subscribers and past customers.
Free shipping on your first order for email subscribers. So easy, sign up here!
15% off coupon for posting your purchase on Instagram, and tagging me. I say Instagram, but if you post it on any social media and flag me, I’ll send you a coupon code. Just make sure your account is public!
If I add any other deals in the future, they will look very much the same. I want to reward you for following me, for buying from me, and for supporting me. I don’t discount my products, because they are already priced at the right price. The amount of work that goes into each design, the materials used to create, pack and deliver, and the mission that you are supporting.. I’m not artificially inflating my prices, so I don’t need to artificially discount.
So thank you so much for supporting Simply Steph Ko! I hope that I am able to spark some joy and inspire you to share love and encouragement with your loved ones.
P.S. here are some awesome resources to check out on the topic:
“I don’t want to discount my products because it’s a slap in the face to my loyal buyers—the people who buy from me early.” – Sean McCabe, seanwes
“I don’t believe in sales, but I do believe in nurturing the people who are there for you.” – Kathleen and Emily, Being Boss
A styled shoot is a photoshoot that has been styled.
Yeah, I hate definitions that use the words in the term I want defined. Let’s try that again. In the wedding industry, a styled shoot is an event where wedding professionals come put together a fake wedding.
It results in beautiful pictures for portfolios and publication submissions.
Styled shoots are a chance for wedding professionals to show what they can do.
Styled shoots are an opportunity for your wedding professionals to flex their creative muscles without any constraints. So, this is their chance to do some blue sky thinking and dream up something that they want to create that a couple may not necessarily propose.
My favourite thing to make for styled shoots is a full calligraphy menu. I don’t do this for clients often, because as beautiful as it is, it can get pricey. For the average 100+ person wedding, it can be unattainable. But I would recommend this option for a small wedding, or if the budget allows it. So designing handmade menus for a styled shoot is a treat for me.
Photos from styled shoots are a great place to look for possibilities. It is possible to use calligraphy for table signs, for menus, for place cards, and for seating charts. You can drape flowers over your seating chart, across the table, or in your hair. And if you get married at a barn, you can take pictures with a horse in the stable (but you should ask the venue/property manager first!)
Styled shoots are filled with the best of the best.
You see all the styled photos on your wedding photographer’s website, and you’re browsing Pinterest and pinning all the beautiful magazine worthy images. You want this, and you want that.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your wedding must look exactly like the images you see. Your wedding is as unique as you are. Styled shoots are a great place to collect inspiration, and see what your wedding professionals are capable of doing. But sometimes the items translate better at a small-scale than at a larger scale. Consider your wedding when you’re deciding what you want to see on that day.
It may not be practical to have full calligraphy menus for each guest. But you can use calligraphy in smaller ways, such as on the headers on your menu. Or maybe you can’t afford to have an elaborate floral setup on every table. But you can play around with a bigger setup at the head table, and something simpler at the guest tables. It’s your wedding, and you can do what you want.
Wedding professionals are not paid to produce styled shoots.
This is the big kicker. We put on a big show for our styled shoots, and they would make the perfect setup for a real event. But nobody is paying for it. Wedding professionals give their time, their materials, and their skill to the shoot. And we do it all for you!!! So I know I love it when you reference a particular item that was created for a shoot. It reminds me that it’s worth it.
Wedding creatives, you don’t have to say yes to every styled shoot that comes your way. Say yes when you can, and give your all when you do.
If you’re new to the wedding industry, I highly recommend partnering with other creatives to put together a styled shoot. It will help you understand what it is like working with others in the industry, and get a chance to connect with other people who will become your creative community.
Even when you build your base and have enough photos for your portfolio, they are a fun opportunity to flex those creative muscles and hang out with your industry friends. But don’t say yes if it hurts your self or your business. Styled shoots are not a necessity, but a blessing.
Earlier this Spring, Tabitha approached me about collaborating on a waterfall styled shoot and I said YES immediately! Waterfall? I’m in. One of my favourite vacations was with my family out west through he Canadian Rockies, when we hiked around waterfalls and just hung out to listen to the water run. It’s so soothing, and nature’s splendour is so mesmerizing.
But for this shoot, my paper products went on a little adventure into West Virginia, where Tabitha shot this scene. Everything about this shoot is organic and perfect for a nature lover.
Inspired by the waterfall, the invitations I created for this shoot feature soft flowing watercolour in different shades of blue.
Every piece highlights the organic and natural beauty of the setting. From the beautiful bouquet, to the flowing table linens, and from the textured cake to its slightly off kilter cake topper. Each piece is beautiful on its own, but they all paired together so well!
If you are in the wedding planning process now, and you love the organic outdoor look of this shoot, you can use natural and organic beauty into your own wedding, too. Even if you don’t have a waterfall. The free-flowing blues in the stationery and in the linens are a perfect example of refreshment, without the waterfall. And if you are getting married near a waterfall, consider me jealous.
If you want to spend money on only the necessities, then the answer is no. You should not spend money on calligraphy and paper goods.
All you need to get married is you, your partner, an officiant, and a witness. No dress, no cake, no ring, no photographers, no calligraphy, no nothing. But these luxury items make the day special. Can you imagine a wedding without the ring? That’s how I would feel about a poorly designed invitation suite. How else will you guests know where to go?
Decide what is worth splurging on, and what is worth saving on. I cannot rank your priorities for you, but I do know that personally I love stationery pieces. So my wedding will definitely feature beautiful paper items. Would you expect anything else?
An elegantly designed invitation sets the tone for the event months before your guests have arrived. Event signage welcomes your guests as they arrive on the day-of. Place cards and seating charts tell your guests where to sit, because they are VIPs. Favour tags tell them thank you, personally, as they leave the event. And thank you cards extend past the event day to share your gratitude to your guests for joining the celebration.
Paper goods are keepsakes.
We love seeing our names written out. Paper goods, especially ones with our names on it, make the best keepsakes. I keep my favourite cards, letters and envelopes in a box that I call my happy box. It’s full of encouragement and things that make me smile.
Pro tip: as a wedding guest, tuck your place card into your pocket or purse before the meal ends. Otherwise, when the lovely staff clean your table, they may remove your place card. Don’t remove it until after the food is served though! Often your dinner choice is on your place card to help wait staff serve you your food. Definitely snag any paper things you want to keep before the dancing starts!
If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you are thinking about having calligraphy at your wedding. If this is you, then my answer is yes, you should spend money on calligraphy. It is absolutely a good idea to invest in calligraphy for your big day.
There are many reasons that we naturally love calligraphy: it is luxurious, personalized, and unique!
If you want calligraphy at your wedding details but it is outside your budget, then I’d be happy to work with you to find a happy medium. I can help you create a full wedding suite, from save the dates and invitations to day-of details to thank you cards. Or I can help you create just one thing.
If after reading this, you’re thinking that calligraphy is awesome and you should learn it to DIY all your wedding pieces and if you have time for that, then yes, you should! It would be fun for your and your bridesmaids to learn together. But if you don’t have the time or the patience, I am more than happy to free up your time and address your envelopes for you.
Brunch is my favourite meal of the day, and it is best shared with friends. Don’t you think? This ended up being the theme behind this styled shoot with fellow Ottawa wedding industry creatives. We met through the creative entrepreneur group, The Rising Tide Society, and in June, the leaders at the Rising Tide Society challenged us to come up with a styled shoot that celebrates community and collaboration.
We settled on a Southern theme, because it’s not something you see often in Canada, and especially not in Ottawa. After all, we’re not south at all. We’re true north strong and free! But with the snow gone and summer just around the corner, we wanted to play with the pink colours and celebrate a little Southern hospitality.
The Ottawa TuesdaysTogether group formed in January 2016, so we were still fairly new to each other in June. But as we started planning for this styled shoot, a team of over 30 creatives jumped right on board! Kudos to the planners for managing such a giant group. It was so much fun to collaborate with my new creative family.
I worked closely with the stationery team, made up of myself, Becca of The Happy Ever Crafter, Liz of Ivy Stripe, and Christine of LaFabère. Becca and I are both calligraphers, so the first task was to split up calligraphy work. She focused on signage, and I focused on the stationery details. In the end, I ended up creating the place cards, menus, table number, envelope calligraphy, and digitizing my calligraphy for the invitations (which Liz put together) and gift boxes (which Christine put together). It was neat to see everyone’s various styles shine, and fit together so well at the same time.
I loved being able to do calligraphy in the comfort of my home, and then see Liz and Christine transform my work into beautiful works of art! If you like our various styles together, we would love to work together again to create something custom, just for you. Seriously, I would jump at the opportunity to collaborate with these girls again.
I was not able to attend the shoot in person, but I followed the behind-the-scenes of the day on Snapchat, and I loved the opportunity to work with this incredible team. If you want to meet us, why not join our group? We meet every month in the Westboro area of Ottawa, on the second Tuesday of the month. Join the Ottawa TuesdaysTogether Facebook group for more info!
My cards are in a handful of stores in Ottawa (wholesale and consignment) — big yay! Although I still don’t feel ready for wholesale, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel ready. As I continue to develop my line of paper products, I will continue to reach out to retailers. So if you want to carry my line of greeting cards in your shop, let me know!
This is where I haven’t made much, if any, progress. I have a bunch of half-written blog posts, and have taught a couple informal workshops with friends. But I haven’t intentionally pursued this avenue yet. This is on the back burner, although I really want to finish those blog posts and get that content out for you to use. I hope to find time for this in the coming months!
4. Giving back
I regularly give my time and calligraphy work for church projects. But I also want to explore setting aside money earned from my biz for charity. I also haven’t put much thought into this category. So we’ll see what happens..
Yes! I joined a local creative meetup group and the connections have been transformational! I love online, but you really can’t beat in-person.
6. Brand & Business
Each time I post or share something, I ask myself if it aligns with what my brand stands for. I’m being more particular about what I curate. I don’t know if it is outwardly obvious, but inwardly I have more clarity.
There have been some changes in my personal life since setting these goals, so I recognize that I’ve had to pull back from some of them. And I’m okay with it. I’m still moving forward in my biz, but ultimately my family comes first.
Whether you’re knocking it out of the park with your goals, or you haven’t quite lived up to what you had hoped.. as long as you’re keeping up forward momentum, and showing up every day, then you’re doing well. Plans change and circumstances do too. I have accomplished some goals that are not listed in my original 6 goal categories, including setting up a standalone online shop and joining Snapchat (follow me at ?simplystephko!).
Show up every day to keep up forward momentum.
We’re only halfway through the year, hence the midyear followup. So I can’t wait to see what the next 6 months will bring!