Whilst the thought of launching a business from home can conjure up images of being cooped up behind your laptop screen with only the postman to speak to each morning (!), for many, going solo opens the doors to a whole new social life.
A fact that thirty-one-year-old Jenna Collier’s story demonstrates all too well.
Having traded the late nights and early starts that came with working on the set of Emmerdale in her twenties, with the late nights and early starts that come with launching a wedding stationery business from home, all the while trying to raise two children under two; I caught up with the Manchester-born, Essex-based stationer at the start of summer, to chat about how she has created a profitable business for herself organically, with the help and support of industry-friends she’s made along the way…
Jenna Collier. So Wonderland Invites is all about custom made stationery for weddings so everything from your save the dates to your wedding stationery on the day! It’s all about working with lovely brides and grooms to create beautiful designs for their weddings and come up with a complete style that can be used across their whole day, as opposed to just their invites.
I also design a lot of branding for wedding suppliers as well as content creation and copyrighting for wedding suppliers too…
She can. She did. Does this mean you’re a hopeless romantic then?!
JC. This is going to sound so bad but no, I’m not! I absolutely love weddings, don’t get me wrong! I love how they bring friends and families together and you’re surrounded by everyone you love but me and my partner aren’t married so it’s an odd one! I don’t do big declarations of love myself (!) but I am passionate about weddings for other people! A lot of my brides don’t tend to be the mushy, mushy types; they’re all very practical, chic, very design-led, very stylish. They’re not over the top romantics…
SC.SD. No princess themed weddings in sight then?!
JC. Oh no! They’re all very boho, hippy, down to earth… That’s the kind of person I am so I do feel like I attract that kind of bride!
SC.SD. Given that Wonderland Invites is only a few years old, talk to me about what your career looked like before launching this business and what inspired you to launch it in the first place?
JC. It honestly came out of nowhere!
Having studied media and television production at The University of Huddersfield, Jenna started her career at ITV after graduating and set her sights on working up the career ladder in TV. After meeting her partner there however, the two went travelling and on their return, she moved into advertising and marketing…
JC. I’d been doing a few crafty bits on the side in my spare time though and one of my friends had seen a few bits I’d made for our house, wooden hearts and stuff, and said, “I’d like them for my wedding, can you make ninety of them?!” so I did! I did think then about going down the hand-made crafty route, but it just wasn’t viable. They took so long and I knew I wanted to make something a bit different to what everyone else was producing and it was only when she asked me to do her stationery too that I realised how much I enjoyed it. I thought, ‘it’s in my free time, I enjoy doing this, it relaxes me…’ so I popped a few ideas together, table plans, place cards etc… and loved it.
I’m lucky because my partner, Rich, is a web designer so he uses a lot of design software and showed me the ropes so I’m a bit of a fake really! I don’t have any design qualifications, it’s all self-taught but it just spiralled from there!
SC.SD. For someone that’s self-taught, you’re so talented…
JC. Thank you but honestly, if I look back now, those designs were awful!! The thing is though, you have to do those bad designs and play around with your style to learn.
SC.SD. Absolutely! I look back at the first She can. She did. logo I designed on one of those crappy ‘do it yourself’ logo websites and it was tragic but I was so proud of it! I think it’s worrying because at the time you don’t think it’s awful do you?! You think you’ve nailed it!
JC. I know! I genuinely thought they were amazing but oh god, they were awful! My design style really started to grow from working with one couple two years ago. They were amazing and wanted everything very floral and boho so I’ve got them to thank for my success now!
SC.SD. You’re obviously full time with Wonderland Invites now but that obviously hasn’t always been the case, so talk me through what the early days looked like…
JC. Well for starters, it was quite a slow burner! I loved my job in London so I never saw this as a business at the beginning. I obviously started an Etsy shop so had a few bits out there but then I got pregnant with my daughter and it wasn’t until she was in my tummy that I thought, ‘after I’ve had her, I’m never going to want to go back into work.’ That’s when I thought, ‘right, let’s see if I can turn this into something!’
I chucked a few designs out there and when I started getting people interested on Etsy, I paid really close attention to which designs were more popular and just tried to steer my style that way. Obviously if things aren’t selling, it’s clear people don’t want them! Then when Darla came along, I spent a lot of my maternity leave trying to build up my design portfolio and find my niche and that’s when Nick and Gemma got in touch – the couple I worked with two years ago – and they really pushed me to come up with a design that when I look back at now, just know that’s where it all began.
Having found her niche, Jenna used the remainder of her maternity leave to focus on getting feelers out for more work by signing up to blog directories like Rock My Wedding; and soon enough work started filtering through…
JC. I went back to work after ten months off though because I wasn’t quite ready to drop the job but when I went back in, I got made redundant!
SC.SD. Oh dear..!
JC. I know! I thought, ‘right… well I’m still not quite ready!’
With that realisation, Jenna got a job two hours from home, working in the CRM team at printed.com but quickly realised it wasn’t for her.
JC. I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the commute, I didn’t like being away from Darla five days a week, I didn’t like the job… I just thought, ‘this is not how I want to bring up my child or live my life’ so I just quit. I said, “I’m not coming back, sorry.”
I’d only been there for three months and it’s not what I’d do in a typical situation but my head wasn’t in a good place and I thought, ‘if I keep doing this, I’ll make myself poorly.’ They knew I had a baby, they knew I had a crazy commute, they knew I had Wonderland Invites on the side, so they said it was fine. That’s when I thought, ‘right, now I have to make this work!’
SC.SD. How did you feel in that moment, when it dawned on you that you had to fully commit to this?
JC. Rich had been saying to me for months, “Jenna, if you don’t commit to it full-time and give it 100%, you’ll never see that return, you won’t see it grow and it will never pay off” so I knew in the back of my mind that I had his support and the support of my family and friends. They believed in me, I just had to believe in myself enough to do it so when I did eventually quit, it felt amazing!
Obviously I was nervous! It had to make money and I’ve got to run it all by myself with tax and marketing and all the additional admin that a business entails, but it was really exciting to know that I could see my daughter every day!
SC.SD. You’ve touched upon the fact that Rich specialising in web design has helped along the way but talk me through your experience designing all the nitty gritty stuff at the start… your logo, your website, the name etc…
JC. Do you know, I can’t really remember how I came up with the name?! It’s been a bone of contention recently though because I have gone through phases where I’ve wanted to change it but people know me by that now, so I’ll just stick it out!
Rich kindly did the website for me. He does a lot of user experience and user interfacing work so he understood how customers will move around a website much better than I do, so for him to take the lead with that sat well with me!
SC.SD. A very handy partner to have!
JC. Absolutely! He’s also great with kids so I got lucky!
SC.SD. It’s a win win!
JC. Exactly! I’ve done the logo and branding myself from the beginning though! I’ve just re-branded and launched a new collection, which is so exciting because I’ve spent a lot of time on it all, making it super, super beautiful because if I’m being honest, I didn’t think about my logo as much as I probably should have done originally…
SC.SD. See I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed about! So many people get caught up in wanting their branding to be perfect from day one that they delay launching for months, whereas at least you started! So what if you have to rebrand half way through? If you’re good – which you are – people stick with you.
JC. Definitely! I wanted to get going, I chucked it together, didn’t think about it enough but it did me well to get to this point! The new branding is much more aligned with where I’m at now as a designer and where my clients fit so I feel like it’s a much better identity for me moving forward. As a designer though, you can get so caught up in ideas because you want to get it right, which is what I’ve done this time, but that’s fine because I already had my brand out there and it wasn’t losing traction.
SC.SD. Let’s talk marketing… you’ve mentioned Etsy but I know you’re also really savvy with Instagram. What was your main marketing tool in the early days, how has that evolved since and what was your approach to getting your name out there? Did you share your personal story or has it been a case of letting the designs do the talking for instance…
JC. I mainly let the designs do the talking for me! A lot of my year one sales were on Etsy because I didn’t create a website until last March and I also started promoting my work on Facebook but I just knew that I wasn’t getting the right people on Facebook. I was spending a lot of money boosting posts but not getting much back.
It’s funny because I’ve worked in marketing so I should have known better really but it’s a lot easier somehow when you have a marketing plan to stick to in a normal job; when you’re doing it for yourself it’s way more difficult. I found myself gaining followers and seeing business come in when I started Instagram. I focus a lot of my efforts on my Instagram grid and updating my stories and just having a good presence on there. I don’t worry about the algorithm stuff flying around though; I just do my thing and people seem to like it. It’s nice to have loads of followers but if I lose a few, it’s fine.
SC.SD. Absolutely! At least you know the ones that stick with you like what you’re doing…
JC. Exactly! That’s what’s so good about having that social presence. They can choose to follow you or they can choose not to. So yes, Instagram is my main marketing tool now and it’s free. If you make the most of everything you can do on there, it can be a real game changer and bring in so many sales for you.
I do a lot of styled shoots with fellow suppliers too which are covered by the big blogs like Rock My Wedding, Festival Brides, Bride & Tonic…
SC.SD. And for anyone that wants to get into the industry, what do they involve?
JC. Usually, I run my own shoots so I just reach out to suppliers that I like working with and we have a really lovely day shooting and styling. It’s our chance to be free as creatives and not be bound by what our clients want, so we try new techniques and themes. They’re a great marketing resource because you get all the professional pictures, you make great contacts, and I’ve got weddings off the back of those styled shoots from the suppliers that I’ve worked with.
Yes, they cost a bit of money but nowhere near as much as you get back. I’m always really cautious with what I do say “yes” to though because I am a small business and don’t have a load of money to chuck around so I have to make sure that every opportunity is working hard for me.
SC.SD. Absolutely. I was told at the beginning to say “yes” to everything that comes your way which I did but now I’m learning to be more selective over the opportunities that crop up because they cost time and time costs money…
JC. Exactly. I think in the early days it’s good to say “yes” to a lot because you haven’t learnt to be savvy yet but as soon as you have a bit more experience under your belt, you can sniff out the not-so-great opportunities.
SC.SD. You mentioned money and the fact that you’re a small business… was this an expensive business to launch and how did you finance it in the early days?
JC. Erm, I already had my laptop so the costs were things like subscriptions to Photoshop, Illustrator, and just general software that I needed but I use them every day so to me it’s a “worth it” cost. Then I needed to do some printing, not just business cards but print physical copies of what I’d designed for my portfolio but it wasn’t massive amounts by any means. I did it all out of my own pocket so there were no business loans.
The expensive things are when I commit to a styled shoot but I’m happy to pay that as long as I know who the photographer is, that they’re reliable and that the stylist isn’t going to make my stationery look obscene! I’ve done a couple of shoots where I haven’t been able to use the images that come back because the images are too bright, the stationery isn’t visible etc… and it’s just not worth using. Signing up to the blog directories has cost a bit of money too but everything has made money back and more for me so I haven’t lost out.
The biggest investment is time. Time is a massive investment and time is money…
SC.SD. Absolutely. Let’s talk about that more. How did you put a price on your time and worth given that you were entering a completely different industry to that which you were working in before?
JC. Well at the beginning I wasn’t great at valuing myself! I did a few things really cheaply and spent a lot of time on them and that was ok before I had children, but the minute children are thrown into the mix, you automatically have less than half of the time you had before. That’s when you really need to know your worth and that lesson came with time. I just gained the experience to turn down a job if I could smell that it would cost my time for not much return.
In general, I really started valuing myself two years ago I think. I just realised that this is my time I’m giving up, I have kids to raise, I have bills to pay, I have a house to run, I have me to look after too; I really need to make sure that I’m making enough money not just to look after all of that but to be able to pay my taxes, pay for the kit and pay for the random extra expenses that crop up. Every single price had to cover all of that and until you do that, you’re definitely not valuing yourself properly.
Honestly though, I think it all comes down to experience…
SC.SD. Do you ever look to your competition to gage pricing because you have a lot of competition out there?
JC. There’s a LOT of competition and there’s new people popping up every day!
SC.SD. How do you feel about that!?
JC. It used to, not bother me, but I’d think, ‘oh god, not another one!’ Now though, I just don’t care. People come to me because they like my work and if they don’t like it, they go to someone else. There’s a place for us all.
With the pricing though, I’m industry standard. I’m in a Facebook group with about 130 wedding stationers and we all chat about printing, prices, what to do in certain situations if we’re not sure on something, referrals if we’ve got too much work on etc… It’s a really nice community!
SC.SD. Is this the one Lauren’s in? She mentioned how supportive that group is…
JC. Yes! That’s how I know Lauren! We’re such good friends now! I would not be sat here talking to you now if it wasn’t for those people; that’s how amazing that group is. I owe a lot of my confidence now to them. We’re all working for ourselves, most of us have children and we’re just riding this journey together. Really as an industry we want to be maintaining a standard so that we’re not undercutting each other which is so important…
SC.SD. Absolutely! It’s so refreshing to hear because that industry support can be so rare…
JC. Definitely! We all know we’re each other’s competition in the sense that we all provide stationery within the same industry but we also know we all have our own individual styles and are going after different clients.
SC.SD. And surely there are more couples getting married each week than there are of you lot?!
JC. Oh yeh! It’s something crazy like 260,000 weddings a year in the UK. Why do we fight about these things!? Every week someone posts, ‘I can’t fulfil this, I’ve got too much on. Does anyone else want the job?’ It really is a safe space and just so supportive. I can speak all day about community over competition, I love it! You should always big up your fellow business owner because at the end of the day, they’re doing exactly the same as you. They’re just trying to make their business work.
SC.SD. Let’s get the hurdles out the way! On a day to day basis, what’s been the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
JC. My biggest challenge is time. As a Mum, it’s finding the time in the day to do what I’ve got to do. There’s a lot of late nights where I’m up until 2-3am and I’ve got a new baby. I think I’ve learnt to live with tiredness!
Luckily both of my babies have been good nappers though. I mean Rex is asleep now which gives me time to do emails or admin or amendments to design in the day and then I spend my evenings doing new designs for brides and then I’ve got social media to manage around all of that. It’s a lot to do but I have such supportive family which is so helpful. Rich takes the kids out at the weekend if I need to just buckle down for a few hours and two days a week his Mum looks after Darla, so she goes off to Nanny’s and that’s when I get the most of my work done.
I do some kind of work every day whether it’s an eight hour stretch or a one-hour pocket; there’s always something that needs to be done.
SC.SD. Has anything ever gone drastically wrong?
JC. Oh yeh!
SC.SD. Go for it!
JC. Haha! Right, the biggest low point for me was working on a job for a client I had last year. It was very stressful and I won’t go into too much detail but I tried so hard to do everything right but it just didn’t work out that way. It was neither of our faults – it came down to the printer – but it took up so much time and it was so draining. That was probably the point where I thought, ‘why am I doing this? It’d be so much easier if I worked for someone else.’
We had to reprint the stationery three times but every single time, something was wrong with it. Either nothing was centralised or the corners had been folded during delivery so the designs were scuffed or the quantities weren’t right… every time it came out with an epic blunder.
Sometimes it happens and they rectify it straight away but three times?! That never happens. Every time my heart just sank. ‘Why is the universe doing this to me?!’ There’s only so many times you can apologise as well…
SC.SD. Ultimately, you’re the one the client is dealing with and paying in that circumstance so what did it feel like knowing the onus was on you to deal with that situation?
JC. I was genuinely mortified. I kept thinking, ‘I’m ruining this girl’s day. She has this added stress leading up to her wedding that she doesn’t need and I’m the cause of that’. I really did everything I could and in the end it got resolved but it was two weeks of stress leading up to her big day that she didn’t need because the order was for all of the stationery on her actual wedding day. It was awful.
SC.SD. What did you learn from that experience?
JC. You had to be very direct and clear when I worked in advertising and marketing, be it in emails, on the phone, during presentations, whatever it was so I think I had that covered but I learnt to make my contracts better and deal with confrontation. As a business owner, you’re the only one that can deal with it, so you grow a thicker skin instead of taking it to heart. It becomes a case of, ‘this is a practical issue that only I can resolve’ and now, I’m better at distancing myself from the emotional side of the job.
SC.SD. I think you learn to fight the fires along the way don’t you, but the first fire is always the hardest?!
JC. The first one is definitely the hardest! It’s a steep learning curve and I’ve had things go wrong since then, it’s inevitable, but I’m much more confident dealing with that now.
SC.SD. Flipside then, what makes all of the tiredness and the stress and the late nights worth it?
JC. Being at home with my children. There’re so many milestones that I could have missed with Darla. If I was still working two hours away, I probably would have missed her first words, her walking, a whole lot of stuff that I’ve been so lucky to see. It’s the same with Rex. That to me is the most magical thing and they’re 100% who I’m doing it all for.
SC.SD. I have so much respect for how you all juggle running your businesses with children… I guess it goes back to the fact that you’re used to being sleepy 24/7 now but to me, you all go into super woman mode and I take my hat off to all of you!
JC. It’s definitely not easy! There are some days where I realise that I’m not going to be able to get anything done today because one of them is poorly which means tomorrow will be a way bigger ‘to do’ list but it’s just how it goes. When I get emails from my clients and they’re so happy with what I’ve made makes it all worth it too. I had a client squealing down the phone to me the other day and I loved it.
There are people out there that think stationery is a waste of time and it just gets thrown in the bin but I disagree! You know, a lot of brides don’t keep their dress these days, I love the flowers – if I was getting married, I’d spend all my money on the flowers – but they die (!), the cake gets eaten and so the only thing that you’re left with are the photos and the stationery. It’s a big deal and it’s sentimental and I’m lucky that I get couples that really understand that and know its worth!
SC.SD. You’ve said that you can sniff out the dodgy shoots and opportunities but have you ever had to seriously question whether you could work with a couple for twelve-eighteen months?!
JC. Oh yeah! I do get a lot of enquiries where people say that their budget is £200 for invites and they want a bespoke design, but if they’d looked at my website, they’d have seen that my collections start from £200 so I’d never be able to do a bespoke design for that price.
Automatically, my response is, “can you up the budget? If not, I’m so sorry but I can’t help you” to try and wriggle out the people that I can’t work with. I always try and help every bride that contacts me though providing that the aesthetic they’re looking for fits with my style. Sometimes I get people asking for lace designs and glitter and I have to say, “I’m sorry but that’s not what I do.”
SC.SD. Let’s move on to life outside of the business… we’ve spoken a bit about friends and family but have you seen any relationships evolve for the better or worse since launching your business?
JC. Well I’ve obviously got my really close stationery pals who I absolutely adore and a really close group of friends in Essex who are all wedding suppliers. I would do anything for them because they’ve done so much for me and more, just by being my friend really. My world has become a lot bigger since launching this business…
SC.SD. Which is incredible considering you work from home on your own. It has the potential to be so solitary…
JC. It could easily be but I don’t feel on my own at all. Talk about ‘pocket power’ but at the touch of a button, I can contact so many people and have so many friends from doing what I do now which is so great because I didn’t grow up in Essex. I’m from Manchester so yes I have my NCT friends and people I know through Rich here, but my business has created so many friendships for me too.
I’m probably guilty of not spending as much time with some of my friends around here as I should do because I’m so busy but to be honest, some friends are buying houses, some have children too, none of us have a lot of time to play with anyway. It’s just difficult isn’t it?
SC.SD. Absolutely! Everyone has different priorities that they’re juggling… Do you go to any networking events?
JC. I haven’t been since Rex was born but there’s a local group here in Essex, ‘The Wedding Creatives’ we’re called and we meet once a month for breakfast and workshops. I ran one about ‘ideal clients’ and it’s really lovely. It’s run by Karen Whybro and Laura Celiz who run Rock The Frock Bridal and Rock The Day Styling who are such smart and intelligent women; we all bounce off each other.
SC.SD. And I suppose it brings you together in person too doesn’t it? It’s all well and good having a Facebook Group and a network on social media but it’s always good to get out from behind your laptop!
JC. Exactly! We get to actually see faces!
SC.SD. Rounding up then, what have you learnt about yourself since launching Wonderland Invites?
JC. That I can survive on very little sleep! Last night I was up until half 1 and then got up at half 5! No, in all seriousness, I’m a Sagittarius so I’m determined by nature. If I want to do something, I’ll do it but looking back, this is something I never, ever saw coming and even now I can’t believe I’m doing it and I’ve built it myself from scratch.
I always say this to my friends but for me, imposter syndrome is so real, especially for creatives. Sometimes I think that someone is going to knock on the door one day and say, “this isn’t a proper job Jenna, you need to go back to work now” but in the end, I’m the master of my own destiny, this business is still growing, and I love it.
SC.SD. Looking forward then, how do you see this business growing? That is of course, if you want to grow it?
JC. I would absolutely love to have someone help me because some days I just don’t have enough time as I said but I’ll wait until Darla is in pre-school for that next year. I know that when the children are in school and I have the day times to work, I can really push this business to grow properly. Right now, I’m floating along, I have enough business coming in that allows us to do the things we want to do and I’m not feeling overwhelmed by it all yet but I know that point is coming. That’s when I will seriously think about getting someone in. Even if it’s a couple of hours a week to help with admin so I can focus on design but like I said, that’s all on hold until the kids go to school!
SC.SD. Can you see yourself doing this forever?
JC. See I think about this a lot. Realistically, is a bride going to want a sixty-year-old designing their wedding stationery?
SC.SD. Why wouldn’t they!?
JC. I guess it depends on how current I stay!? I suppose I have to make sure that what I’m designing is still fresh and current but still fits with my style. It’s a really difficult one to answer. I’d love to do this forever but who knows? The end goal really is to have a nice life with my family, go on a few holidays a year, live in a nice house… you know, the usual stuff! I don’t need a yacht, I’m never going to be a millionaire from stationery, unless of course some nice Sheikhs want to buy my stuff!?
SC.SD. Shall we do a little shout out!?
JC. Can we!? No, to be honest, I just want to have a nice life for me and my family!
What I love about interviewing creatives is that so many are self-taught and prove that it is possible to launch a business from home if you set aside the time and commit to its growth, and Jenna’s story was no less inspirational in that sense.
As far as reactions to reading an interview back go however, it has to be said that hers was up there with the best!
JC. Well I don’t sound as much of a cock as I thought I would!
From not being afraid to admit as a designer that she didn’t think her branding through properly when launching, opting to just get going and rebrand later down the line once she’d established her style; not glossing over the fact that being a business owner with babies can be tough as it becomes a constant battle to find pockets of time to work on the job at hand and focus; to learning to sniff out apparent opportunities that won’t reap the rewards over time and learning to draw a line under her emotions when dealing with challenges that arise; there’s no pretence with Jenna, she says it how it is, and as a result her story provides some really valuable lessons for us all.
Namely, the importance of making friendships within your industry for advice and support (as opposed to seeing them as competition despite there being enough work to go round); as well as refusing to settle within a job that makes you unhappy, by building a career on your own terms centred around what matters most to you in life.
Her start-up story is about as organic as they come in my opinion. A view that her favourite quote embodies well:
JC. “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” If you stop and take your eye of the ball, things will pass you by but if you carry on moving and carry on working then that momentum will always stay with you. Keep on pushing; it’s a quote I live by!
For more information on Wonderland Invites, visit the website here, find Jenna on Instagram: @wonderland_invites or follow her new blog that is launching on 1st October for all kinds of boho wedding inspiration @wedinthewild