Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Lisa Hladish. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Hi Lisa, thanks for joining us today. Folks often look at a successful business and imagine it was an overnight success, but from what we’ve seen this is often far from the truth. We’d love to hear your scaling up story – walk us through how you grew over time – what were some of the big things you had to do to grow and what was that scaling up journey like?
I love this question because quite honestly, I never wanted to have a business, let alone scale one up. I accidentally started Paper Daisies when I got married and could not find an invitation suite that fit the vision I had in my head. My mom, Glory, and I decided to design and make our own wedding stationery. Little did I know, that by mailing the invitations we’d designed ourselves, we would create interest in my friends and family about who created them and if they could also have their invitations made. So a business was accidentally born, and I knew nothing about running a business. I was an ex-high school art teacher with no graphic design or business experience.
The first years of Paper Daisies seem a blur to me now. I had no idea how to scale a business and mine was growing rapidly and a bit out of my control. I worked off a $30 greeting card program called Print Shop and wasn’t able to hire anyone to help me with designing, as every other designer in the industry worked off the Adobe Creative Suite. I didn’t know to invest in better equipment so for years used small hand-held crafting tools instead of equipment that would have helped me scale. I averaged 3-4 hours of sleep, usually working until 2:00 – 3:00 am every night, waking back up at 6:00 am to start it all over again. I never told anyone “no” and took every single job that came my way. I would sometimes spend the same amount of time on 15 baby shower invites as I would on a wedding invitation job for 200 guests. I was also raising two small boys and trying to be a good wife, daughter, sister and friend. It was not a smart way to run a business and it was literally breaking my body down. I remember I knew I needed to change things when I wound up in the hospital with kidney stones and the Swine flu. I had run myself absolutely ragged and my body was shutting down. That’s when I knew things had to change.
My brother was visiting and woke up one night to go to the restroom. It was 4am and he noticed I was up working in my home office. He asked what in the world I was doing up and I told him I had 200 programs that needing folding and he had to come in and help me. The next morning he ordered my first 2 pieces of equipment (a corner rounder and a hole puncher) and helped me hire my first official employee. Up until then, my mom and a neighborhood friend had been the only help I’d ever had. He pushed me to create some basic systems & processes. I signed up for my first work conference, Engage Summits, where I ended up hiring a business coach. I was finally taking the first steps towards growing Paper Daisies and I was scared to death!
Fast forward 7 years and we now have a 5,300 sq ft design studio/print shop, 13 employees and a set of core values we run the company by, We have more processes and systems than I can count and have spent countless hours figuring out who our ideal customers are. I have a business partner, Windsor, who is our COO and our integrator. We have a company vision and mission that was created by our team and a mapped out corse of how to hit our 5 year goal. I never thought I would enjoy any of this, all I wanted to do was meet with couples and design wedding stationery. Now I absolutely love being an entrepreneur!
One of the most important things I’ve learned to successfully scaling a business is having a set of core values that you and your team live by. I used to think this was hokey bs and didn’t understand how integral core values are when it comes to making almost any decision in your business. We sat with our team and a big white board and hashed out a total of 7 values that define us as a company. Our top 3 are building trust, creating personal relationships and being passionate. Those values come into play when we hire new people on, when we build a new website, when we bring on new vendors…they literally help us make the most mundane and the most difficult decisions and give us a clear direction of where to go.
Figuring out how to bring on the right people and put them in the right seats is another difficult challenge that we are constantly looking to overcome. In our business, we’ve come to learn core values outweigh skills and talent. Someone who possesses the right skills, but does not share our same values, is inevitably not going to be a good fit in the end. We’ve learned to take our time when hiring, interview based on our values and bring the person in to meet with every member of the team. We now live by the advice of “hire slow, fire fast” and even though at times it can be very painful to let someone go, we’re seeing the benefits from following this wisdom.
Windsor is an amazing COO who collects our data, runs our meetings, manages our finances, records our processes and systems, and documents ongoing issues we need to explore. She helps us set goals and with the help of the team, creates a road map of how we’ll work towards completing them. She created an accountability chart so everyone in the company knows their role and how they’re measured. We have employee reviews and continue to work on bettering our communication.
We’ve recently implemented our first mid level management team at Paper Daisies which will allow us to continue to scale. My priority as the CEO is to reduce the amount of time I spend designing and meeting with couples and focus on bigger picture growth. When I first started Paper Daisies I did 100% of the printing. Over the years we’ve had to outsource our printing to amazing local vendors who have had a huge impact on helping us grow. We are currently re-evaluating this and realizing the need to purchase new equipment to bring printing back in house in order for us to scale further.
I joined an entrepreneur group in 2018 called EO Accelerator, a learning program based on the Scaling Up concept for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business past 1 million in revenue. In January, I was excepted into EO, a global business network of entrepreneurs with revenues of over 1 million. I meet with an intimate group of other entrepreneurs for 4 hrs every month to share insights and learn from their experiences. These organizations have been life changing to me as a business owner with their support and wisdom.
Over the years, I’ve read my fair share of business books. I never thought I’d have the attention span to get through even one, but I’ve found many of these books are narrated like a story with characters to illustrate their ideas. Those are my favorite kinds and they really help me to comprehend all of the concepts.
What I’ve described above and what we have been working to implement is called an EOS, Entrepreneurial Operating System. I was introduced to this model through my EO group and have enjoyed learning more about it by reading the book Getting a Grip, by Gino Wickman & Mike Paton. It’s story version of the book Traction, also by Wickman, and has taught us so much about the advantages of this system in helping to run a great, profitable, and healthy business. I couldn’t recommend these books enough. My other favorite books are Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute. These books have been game changers for me and my role as the CEO at Paper Daisies.
The number of mistakes and failures it has taken to get me where I am today are too many to count, but I’ve found the most amount of growth usually comes right after a huge failure. I now tell myself when I’m in the middle of a pretty big fail, that with time and perspective, the reward will be more than worth the pain, as long as I can endure, reflect and learn from it. We spend a lot of time as a team reflecting back on our mistakes and creating new processes that will ensure we don’t have to relive the fails. We then share any of our findings with our vendor partners so they too can be successful and learn from our mistakes.
I am most proud of the culture we’ve built at Paper Daisies!! We genuinely love coming to work on Mondays, we enjoy each other’s company, we take care of each other, cook for one another, laugh a lot, cry sometimes and basically just have each other’s backs. This has been the most rewarding part of scaling the business. Our team works together towards the same goal, we share the wins, comfort through the losses, build each other up, teach ourselves by sharing our experiences with an outward mindset. I love our team, they are family to me.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I spent the first years of my career as a high school art teacher and absolutely loved it! I love connecting with people through creating beautiful things. A huge part of Paper Daisies is building relationships with our couples, wedding planners and vendors. It’s my favorite part of my job.
We design and create beautiful and unique invitations for our clients. I always say we have one job and that is “to make people want to come to your event.”. We want our invitations to make them want to go out and buy a new dress! We put a lot of love and hard work into everything we do, from our designers, to pre-press, our printers and our production team. Everyone takes ownership and has so much pride. We also strive to make Paper Daisies an inviting place to come to. We absolutely LOVE when a wedding planner comes to an appointment early or stays behind because they want to visit with us.
Paper Daisies offers a lot more than just invitations. We offer save the dates, programs, menus, table & escort cards/seating charts, signage, cups, koozies, napkins, matches…we’re basically a Pinterest page come to life! We also have a pretty extensive rental program including frames for signage, unique table numbers and so many other fun elements to make your event special.
Our website features pre-designed suites, all designed by us, that can be ordered a-la carte. Our clients can add on high-end features like letterpress and foil, wax seals, envelope liners, ribbon and custom art/watercolors. We love working with wedding planners and strive to create a high touch experience for their couples. We invite customers who order from our website to visit our design studio for a 30 minute browsing session where they can meet with one of our online designers for some help and guidance. Our custom experience begins with a complimentary consultation where a designer will walk the couple through all of the endless options, high-end printing techniques, unique embellishments to make their suite unique and any custom art that could be created for the project. There is a starting budget of $2,000 for invitations for the custom experience.
Any advice for growing your clientele? What’s been most effective for you?
We really rely on partnerships when it comes to growing our clientele. When we first began, the automatic response for who our ideal customer was “brides and grooms”. It was common sense, those were the people ordering the products and paying the bills. In my EO Accelerator group, they had us do an exercise where we had to define our ideal customer. Even though we thought we already had the answer, Windsor and I decided to do the exercise with our team. By doing the exercise, we realized the our ideal customer was actually a wedding planner. A large percentage of our couples engage with a planner to help them navigate through the planning process. We realized if we focused our energies on creating systems and processes to help make things easier for our planners that it made a huge difference with all of our customers. We started anticipating when we would have an anxious mother-of-the-bride and how we could alleviate some of her concerns. We created forms, check-lists and tried so hard to help set expectations up front so they would have a meaningful experience when it came to choosing their invitations. When venues would recommend us, we tried to think through ways we could support them and make them look like rock stars. If we hadn’t worked through that exercise on Defining Your Ideal Customer, then we’d have never had that outward mindset of trying to help our customers other than brides and grooms. Through this, we even created a Wedding Planner seminar that was a catered brunch with multiple industry vendors that lasted 4 hours. The goal of the seminar was breakdown the stationery process, share experiences to help make ordering invitations easier, and to learn from our planners how we could better support them. It was a huge success! This led to more business by new planners starting to use us, as well as established planners feeling more confident in our working relationship. All of this attention on our planners only fostered better relationships with our couples who were planning solo. We were able to be more effective stationery partners and help them plan and stay on track. Overall, it was one of the best strategies at gaining more business and we’ve had our largest revenue to date since that planner seminar. And it all boiled down to having an outward mindset!
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
Oh the Porsche story…this story still haunts me!
We had been hired to create 400 invitations for the grand opening of the new Porsche dealership in Atlanta. A fellow vendor recommended us and I had to present in front of their teams at a chance for the job. It was very exciting when we officially got the job and the invitations were so fantastic.
I’d done a rendering of a the new round building and had it foil pressed in gold and red on thick black card stock. The back of the invitation was duplexed to another thick card stock that had a blind embossed/raised Porsche logo on it. It was gorgeous! It took me forever to find the perfect deep red suede paper for the envelope liner that looked like the inside of a high-end sports car. I designed custom postage stamps with the rendering and Porsche logo. The invitations were going to all of the VIP customers and executive team of Porsche. I was SOOOO EXCITED to say the least!
The team worked diligently to get them finished on time. They were all stuffed and ready to be mailed. I had left our studio to take about 20 of the invitations that were going to the president and executive team at Porsche to the dealership. When I left, I remember asking someone on the team to do one more address check before all of the invitations were mailed. We had addressed each envelope using mail merge from an excel spreadsheet they’re provided to us.
I remember sitting in the office of the dealership on the 3rd floor, with glass windows everywhere…just gorgeous! I looked down on the desk where some of the invitations were laid out and I noticed something strange. There was a 5 at the beginning of every street address. It wouldn’t have caught my eye, except it was a group of them and that seemed really unusual. Then I remembered this weird issue we had with excel a little while before where it randomly generated an additional number at the beginning of a field. I immediately broke out into a sweat. I quietly pulled the invitations off the desk and told the woman I wanted to triple-check one last time before sending and she was totally fine with it. I calmly walked out of her office while dialing Windsor. It was 6:03pm. I knew what had happened. EVERY. SINGLE. ENVELOPE was wrong. Every single address had a “5” added to the front. And I knew that they’d all been dropped off at the post office. Once something is given to the post office, it is illegal for them to give it back to you.
As I was dialing her number, I noticed her name pop up on my phone. I answered in a panicked voice, “Oh my god, they’ve all gone out and they’re all wrong!”. She confirmed nervously. While I was at the meeting, one of our production contractors had dropped off some last minute additions she had stuffed. She’d noticed the “5’s” just like me. Unfortunately, it was too late. 400 had already been taken to the post office, which was now closed for at least an hour.
I almost passed out and just wanted to die. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but let me lay it all out and how it would have gone down. The invitations would have been processed. Some of them would have made it through, depending on if the carrier was savvy enough. Some of them would have been returned to the dealership that week. the majority of them would have trickled back, day after day, reminding the clients what a catastrophe it was. While others would just disappear into thin air, compliments of the post office. I thought of the vendor who had referred us and how this would reflect on them. I thought of the dealership trying to impress all of the higher-ups at Porsche. I thought of the confusion of the customers, some receiving invites while others didn’t. All of this passed before my eyes in a matter of seconds and I drove to the post office. My husband called and told me he would come, he was so worried about me. I went into the part of the post office that stays open 24 hrs. I could hear people back behind the door. I beat on the door, sobbed under the bottom, begged with money and other things…I would do absolutely ANYTHING if they would just please give them back to me. I sat on that dirty ground and just broke. I was tired, exhausted, beat up, broken, hopeless…I cried for at least 30 minutes. Then, the most beautiful thing that could have ever happened, happened. The door opened and a foot kicked out a huge box of invitations. The door slammed shut and no one said anything. I scrambled out of that building like a dog finding a steak on a plate.
Most of the team had left for the day, it was almost 7pm. One was even visiting a friend in the hospital who just had a baby. I started calling and EVERYONE came back. What I thought was an impossible task, became possible because of our incredible team. I will never forget them and I was always be in their debt. The next 20 hours was spent disassembling the 400 invitations. We had to painstakingly pull out each envelope liner being careful not to rip any of them. This was special ordered paper that I couldn’t reorder. I’d already ordered all there was in the world of it. It was irreplaceable. We had to pull off each of the 3 custom postage stamps without ripping them. Just try to pull off a stamp without ripping it and let me know how it goes. We had 1,200 to do. The back of the envelopes were gold foil pressed by our awesome printer. We worked through the night without a break and I drove 2hrs (he’s located near Lake Burton) to bring our printer new envelopes at 5am so he could do another print run. He was ready and waiting for me. Once they were finished I drove them back to our studio. While this was all going on, my husband called to tell me about an incident with my 10 year old son. I couldn’t believe the timing, but I had to go into “mom-mode” and work though some pretty difficult situations with him. All the while, needing 100% of my attention at Paper Daisies. I just wanted to give up. But I got back and the team all started working. We had to correctly address the envelopes, reline all 400 of them, stuff them, re-stamp the rsvp and mailing envelopes and get them in the mail by 5pm. This was a process that initially took the team a few days with multiple people working on them. We got them all done and to the post office at 4:58pm.
The client never knew. I eventually told our vendor partner, but it took many, many years for me to share. I collapsed that night with my kid in my arms and didn’t even have time to reflect until the next day. That simple little “5” could have ruined our reputation, deeply hurt our vendor and their relationship with their huge customers, and caused so much pain for months and months as the returned invites would have been daily reminders to the customer of our failure. But what that simple little “5” did instead was propel us into a whole new mindset of processes and systems. The resilience our team showed that 24hrs paved the path for a continued appreciation and regard of what solid processes and systems can do for your business and what a lack of those could result in.
We are excellent as a team when it comes to creating new, revising existing and revisiting unnecessary processes. Our business thrives off of it. I acknowledge that I used up a lot of karma that day at the post office. In most cases, they are our arch nemesis, but on that day, they were our savior. And now, we have solid processes when it comes to mail merging addresses, sending proofs to our customers before we print them and checking the full address during quality control!
- Website: www.paper-daisies.com
- Instagram: @paperdaisiesstationery
- Facebook: @paperdaisiesstationery
- Linkedin: @paperdaisiesstationery
- Youtube: Paper Daisies Stationery
Dina & Paul Sign – Amanda Olivia Photo