Networking and building new contacts is easy for some people, and a chore for others. Danielle Sweeney, owner of calligraphy businesses Design in Words and Calligraphy Supplies Australia, reveals her approach to contact building.
Danielle has always had an eye for aesthetics, but she didn’t start her working life with her visually pleasing handwriting.
“I was working as a jeweller ... in Sydney, and I had friend who said, 'Hey, you've got some nice handwriting, can you do something?',” she says.
“She was working for one of the big Sydney law firms in events, and I helped her out doing some work on one of their particular events, and then became their calligrapher. That spun off to the next, to the next, and what started as a hobby became business.
“Now I teach and have this little design business, and then the calligraphy supplies business has spun off from that.”
Modestly described as Danielle's “little design business”, Design in Words mainly sees customers in either weddings or corporate settings, where she supplies either finely written words or calligraphy classes.
It’s the latter that inspired her other business, Calligraphy Supplies Australia, out of frustration that the right supplies weren’t readily available.
“That was just from teaching and not seeing supplies that we needed available here,” says Danielle.
“I taught a workshop in Sydney ... and I was saying, 'You have to go online and order things from the US!', and again, the cost of shipping is just so astronomical, and the timelines for shipping.
“I used to order things from the US [and] I thought, 'Here's an opportunity'.”
Since that opportunity arose, Danielle has been sourcing products from all over the world, offering one-day or even same-day turnaround.
“No one's ever offered [this] before in the calligraphy supplies world, and as far as I know, the art world,” she says.
“It's pretty exciting to be able to be a part of that, and to have some exclusive suppliers' ranges that we haven't seen here.
“We've got, surprisingly, a huge community of calligraphers here, and it's only growing, so it's a pretty exciting time to be a part of that.”
Despite being in business for over five years with Design in Words, Danielle still finds it difficult to manage cash flow for Calligraphy Supplies Australia.
“Obviously Design in Words ... I'm just providing a service. In terms of growth ... it's really just a question of time for me. The cost is time,” she says.
“But with Calligraphy Supplies Australia, purchasing stock and bringing that in from all parts of the world is really tricky, and I wish I could give you a definitive answer.”
Danielle says she goes over her books and accounting software on a regular basis to get an idea of how she can keep the business growing.
“We're still in the first six months, just looking at my sales goals for each month, and if I'm meeting those, and what sort of things I can do to promote my growth.
“Working on a shoestring is tricky, because you can always put so much money into all the different pieces of the pie, until the pie's finished.
“I haven't quite figured out how to make that work yet.”
When Danielle started Design in Words, she took the plunge by moving states, with no contacts.
“Getting a foot in the door [was difficult]. It can be tricky just to introduce yourself,” she says.
“Having moved from Sydney to Melbourne, it's a whole new cast of characters and a whole new group of people to deal with.”
Making connections with that new group of people has been vital to Danielle's business success.
“I would probably say that collaborations and networking would be the number one thing that have been driving my businesses for the last little while,” she says.
“Getting out there and meeting people, especially in this space with the Design in Words business, where ... half the work is business-to-business work, so working with corporate clients and luxury brands, and that's just getting out there and meeting people and offering ideas for new events ... for signage, for things that could help promote them a little bit further.”
Every small business must eventually face competition, no matter how unique its idea, which is a problem that Danielle has had to deal with in both of her businesses.
“Design in Words does have a lot of competitors,” she says.
“There are a lot of calligraphers, especially in Melbourne, and lots of people doing hand-lettering, so there is a huge range of people to choose from, and that is growing throughout Australia as well.
“There's certainly a need to differentiate myself, and I think that's one of the things where that business can do it on its own, if you will, because everyone has their own style.”
Even though she started Calligraphy Supplies Australia only six months ago, Danielle is starting to see others pop up in the calligraphy supplies sector.
“In the last probably three months, two competitors have cropped up and gone, 'Hey, this is an interesting idea'.
“We're just trying to stay true to who we are, focus on ourselves and keep moving forward.”
In order to stand out from her competition, Danielle tries to give Calligraphy Supplies Australia “a really personal process” by talking to clients directly, maintaining expedient and affordable shipping, and trying to create a calligraphy community.
“These are people who haven't had access to some of the supplies that I'm offering, so by making it seem like a community and by really trying to build the community, I feel like that's ... differentiating me from the people who are just buying from a nameless or anonymous art [store],” she says.
Business names: Design in Words, Calligraphy Supplies Australia
Industry: Calligraphy services, calligraphy supplies
Location: Melbourne, Vic
Customer base: Australia-wide, as well as international
Number of employees: Sole trader
Opinion: Why do so many claim to represent small businesses?
By Adam Zuchetti
Opinion: House prices not all doom and gloom
By Adam Zuchetti
Analysis: How can SMEs realistically stay competitive?
By Adam Zuchetti