Laura Hooper got her start with calligraphy at an early age, and her career has been blossoming ever since. Her passion and talent has helped her business thrive, while also cultivating an impressive Instagram following of over 316K! We're excited to feature Laura on the blog where she shares her expert tips on growing a business, creating content for Instagram, overcoming the algorithm, and so much more! Read on to discover Laura's journey and her advice for aspiring calligraphers.
I started practicing calligraphy as a teenager, but I was doing broad edge calligraphy, which is a bit different than the modern, pointed-pen style that I specialize in today. I had a weekend job personalizing caricatures, so technically I've been getting paid for calligraphy for over 20 years! When I was in my early 20s, still in college, my best friend was getting married, and I forced my "services" onto her. She had over 200 inner + outer envelopes, and it was my first experience with the pointed-pen style I had seen online and wanted to emulate. My next few clients were word of mouth, and it took off from there. After doing envelope orders on the side from my 9-5 office job for about two years, I decided that I had a steady enough workflow to take the leap, and I've never looked back even though the industry and my business have both evolved so much over the past 16 years.
I love the meditative quality that calligraphy has once you get into a groove. If I'm addressing envelopes, without distractions, I can sit for hours and hours just going through a list. You can simply get lost in the art, and everything else fades away. It's important to me that people around the world, at all age levels, be exposed to the art. When I first started, calligraphy was a dying art. Regarding weddings, it was an extra expense that usually our bride's mothers or grandmothers were insisting on for the invitation suite. Today that has completely changed. Calligraphy and lettering are key elements to so many weddings, and we are honored to play a small role in the exposure and celebration that it has received over the past few years, due in large part to social media.
Well, in general, I think it is really important to consider the purpose of your IG feed and what you are trying to achieve. Are you using it as a portfolio for your work? Are you using it to keep yourself on task with practice? Are you trying to promote yourself and your work/product? Do you strive to be an inspirational source for other calligraphers? It can't be all about likes and followers. Sometimes we post something, and it has very few "likes" but the purpose was to sell our workshop seats, and we got five signups within a day or two of posting. That would be a successful post even though it doesn't get the same likes as when I share flowers from my @foxhillgarden.
Another tip is, of course, to look at your feed as a whole to create something aesthetically pleasing. This is where PLANOLY comes in for us. We would literally never post without seeing how a photo or video fits in with the feed overall. You could have an account with a huge following share your IG handle and direct people to your feed, but if their first impression is a cluttered mess, it's unlikely that they will stick around to see what you have to share. For artists selling their products/services, a helpful tip is to share what you want to continue selling. We hear from a lot of people just getting started in their business who are unhappy with the style or type of orders they are receiving. But when looking at their IG feed, it's exactly the work they are sharing. We don't share everything we work on, but instead the products, services and styles for which we want clients to hire us. Your Instagram feed doesn't need to be a running stream of everything you've ever created whether you liked it or not. You are in control of what you share and can somewhat steer the direction of your business accordingly.
We were lucky to get onto Instagram fairly early and already had name recognition in the business, so we grew our following fairly quickly. While we also have great SEO on our website and an active email list, if there's a quick sell of a product we want to clear out, we can generally share on Instagram and get traffic to our shop immediately. Instagram, in conjunction with our email list, has been paramount in the promotion of our workshops and online education for calligraphy as well.
I'm not going to lie. The algorithm has certainly stalled our growth. We were fortunate to get in front of a really large audience for years and year before the algorithm was even a blip on anyone's radar. I also think accounts selling a service or product are at a distinct disadvantage compared to an account that is predominantly inspirational. I would say that we have more accepted the algorithm than that we've overcome it. It was really hard to see likes and comments decrease significantly, but people are still responding to our posts by signing up for classes, booking our services, purchasing the products... so if we can still get the bottom line outcomes we need, while also inspiring other calligraphers in their journeys, I'd say it's still a success even up against the algorithm!
Well, it's funny, the best content regarding likes is always my flower photos! I feel like they are universally loved, whereas otherwise our audience is somewhat divided into a few groupings: wedding clients (who phase out once the wedding is over), aspiring & fellow calligraphers, and then a general audience that enjoys art and beautiful calligraphy/imagery in general. If we notice that a certain product gets more traction in a lifestyle photo versus a flatlay photo, we will try to focus on that for that specific piece, but in general, I pretty much share what I find beautiful.
I'd say the toughest challenge has been continuing to evolve with the business over so many years. The industry looks nothing like it did when I first started, so it's been vital to the success of my business to continue growing, changing our offered services, trying new things, etc. It would have been easy to just stick to only addressing envelopes for 16 years, but my business would never be at the level it's at today if I hadn't continued to expand and truly create a brand. My advice for aspiring calligraphers is just to keep going. Calligraphy is not an easy skill to master and owning your own business, in any field, is incredibly time-consuming, exhausting, and a crazy roller coaster all around. You must have the determination and the will to put in the hard work. Though I have yet to meet a small business owner who doesn't think it's worth it in the end.
My trick here is allowing myself to rest. When I'm constantly working, I'm just thinking about the project at hand and don't have time to think "big picture" or what could come next. So instead I intentionally allow time for my other creative hobbies, like gardening and sketching, and then also set aside for actual strategic planning to think about how I could put my creative skills to good use.