So She Did Diaries #1: Lucy Edmonds, Founder of Quill

For the first of my So She Did Diaries I met Lucy Edmonds, founder of Quill, a stationery store and creator of waiting-list-popular modern calligraphy workshops (of which I went to recently and they are   ACE). This lady is responsible for the swirly, beautiful influx of calligraphy you see on everything from wedding invites to furniture ads. She spotted the trend in the US and made it part of her business here in the UK setting up Quill in 2012, and hasn’t looked back since (she’s so busy, she literally hasn’t had time!). She’s even got a book out this June.

I enjoyed our cuppa immensely in what is an absolutely gorgeous stationery haven.  Spending just an hour with Lucy tells you she’s a very special person. She’s so humble and unassuming about her success but there’s a real bravery and grit to her attitude to life and to business. I wanted to start these interviews to inspire others and share some of the nitty gritty ‘HOW’ of starting something for yourself. You won’t be disappointed, she’s basically everything I wanted in my first So She Did Diary, and I’m so excited to share this with you.

How is business at the moment?

Very busy, which is good! It would be nice to be able to take some time to evaluate how it’s going. I think it’s going alright, but I haven’t had much chance to take stock. I think the fact that we’re so busy is a good sign! The calligraphy and art workshops are so popular and we have lots of lovely client enquiries coming through.

A busy business is good! You’ve clearly had huge success with Quill, what have been your ‘pinch me’ moments since its launch?

Until very recently I was packing and posting all the orders myself – I was much closer to that side of things so every order that would come in was a pinch me moment because I handled each and every one! The fact that people still continue to like what we do and like it enough to part with their money is just exciting every day.

Was it always what you wanted to do, to be your own boss and own a business like Quill?

I don’t think so, but I also never really had anything that I wanted to do. I definitely never envisaged myself being part of a huge company and being a number on a floor of employers. I guess starting Quill was a natural end to my career as an employee [working for an interiors brand] but it was never a game plan to be my own boss. But then I’ve never had a game plan so it’s rather lovely it’s turned out this way!

Absolutely! With that in mind, do you ever take time to think “I did that” and pat yourself on the back?

Not really. I don’t deliberately take the time to but things do happen that cause you to have those lovely moments of being proud of what’s happened.

Things like knowing we have workshops with long waiting lists and knowing my calligraphy is on people’s wedding invites and out there in the world – that’s lovely. Writing some parts of the book where I’ve had to summarise what we do and promote why people should be reading our book was a ‘moment’ – very surreal to be writing that! We’ve also been featured in national press – these moments force me to assimilate our achievements which is always fun!

Us Brits are known for being rubbish at accepting praise, do you find it hard?

I don’t think I take much notice but it’s definitely nice when people see the hard work that goes into doing your own thing. When you own your own business you are always thinking about the next thing that needs to be improved and so it’s nice when people see what’s going on under the surface. I’m like a duck pedalling underwater – I’m always thinking about what’s going on under the water even though it’s really nice to know that people appreciate what’s going on above the water and that it’s all looking good to them. That’s really reassuring.

Do you ever battle with any negative thoughts? Especially when you were starting up?

Oh I’m sure I did, absolutely. I don’t remember the specifics, but I can’t imagine I didn’t. I spent a long, long time working on my business plan so I had a lot of time to get used to the idea of the business. It sounds cheesy but if I didn’t have such a good support network of family saying “you should do it – this is a good idea” and a partner agreeing to financially support it then I think starting the business would have been exceptionally difficult. That would have put me in a position of having to evaluate whether it would be a good thing and the doubts would have crept in even more then but yes I’m sure I had my doubts about it.

What was your ‘She Believed She Could So She Did’ moment? Was there an ‘I’m doing this’ moment that you remember or was it more of a slow burn?

It was more of a slow burn for me – there wasn’t a big key eureka moment and I think I work better without those. I work better when I don’t even know it’s happening! Suddenly I have a business, suddenly I have a shop…

In another interview you talk about learning how to merchandise your shop and not having any experience, or having been on a merchandising course, you just learn by doing which really struck a chord with me…

Absolutely! There is no day that goes by where I haven’t learned something or been challenged by something. At the end of the day if you don’t continue to grow in business then you will die. You can’t ever keep it level, you’ve always got to be pushing forward and sometimes you instigate that and sometimes you don’t have a choice because it’s going to move forward without you anyway. I never feel like ‘I’ve Got This’.

Where do you get your best ideas?

I don’t know – it’s really hard to know if they’re your best ideas until you have hindsight. This is going to sound really silly but I am not sure that I even have great ideas! Some of the best things haven’t happened intentionally for example our whole calligraphy side of our business was not intentional whatsoever and it’s now a huge part of what we do. It was a happy accident! Some of the greatest things that have happened, important business changing things that have happened have not been intentional. You just have to go where the opportunities seem to be and trust your gut. I have hunches and sometimes I have the right judgement to know whether to act on those hunches and do my own thing with them. Not all of my decisions have been the right decisions.

I’m a big crafter and credit art and making stuff for keeping me calm – are you a big crafter and do you get time to practice your calligraphy?

No to both, I’m not a big crafter and I don’t get enough time at the moment to sit down and do calligraphy for myself. I run workshops so I get it in that way.

If not crafting, where do you find your calm?

Having a sense of normality I find really calming so just having a normal Saturday to do my washing and sort out my bills is calming. It reminds me there’s some sense of normality to my life which is reassuring. I think I’m quite a calm person anyway!

I’m definitely getting calm vibes! How do you stay organised?

[Points to sister and assistant] – These two! They are my human Filofax! And paper lists, not digital ones.

Who’s been the biggest support along the way?

My then partner, now husband just for allowing Quill to happen unquestioningly and supporting me financially when I couldn’t. He never questioned whether or not it would work.

Sounds like a keeper! What women do you have in your life that inspire you?

My sister Jen [points to her sister again] – she has recently started her own florist business which is so successful. We don’t come from a business-minded entrepreneurial family really so I don’t have role models in the business sense. It’s really interesting that both of us have chosen to do that and the fact that Jen has made a success of it in such a short space of time is something I find really inspiring.

Even though my mum doesn’t have her own business or anything I think she’s very smart, very, very smart and the success she’s made of her life is inspiring but not in a business way. She has an incredible work ethic and I think that has been instilled in both of us from the get go. That has been SO useful. You honestly can’t run a business without working hard. You’ve got to give it everything and more.

Is there a phrase or mantra you use to keep you motivated?

*Thinks*. Something simple like “Try it and see” or “Just do it”

Those people at Nike are clever aren’t they?!

Aren’t they just! But I do live by the idea of “What’s the worst that can happen?”

When you really think about it you can live through most things…

Yes! Those situations where the outcome of an event is life or death are rare.

In PR we say “It’s PR not ER” Do you ever say: “It’s just stationery”?!

Yes, I do actually say that all the time. It is just stationery, it’s not life or death and sometimes you have to remember that.

If someone is reading this with an idea, but they don’t know where to start, what would you say?

If it’s a business idea I would say: research. Get all your mistakes out on paper rather than making the mistakes in real life with real money. The business planning was something that was incredibly valuable and I wouldn’t skip it. In fact the more you do in planning, research and preparation (it’s not rocket science) the more luck and success you’ll have.

From a practical point of view I would say preparation is key but from a mental health point of view maybe it just goes back to “What’s the worst that can happen?”. Try not to worry.

Do you feel worried about failure?

I don’t feel worried about failure. Some days I feel worried about letting people down. I’m not worried the business will collapse suddenly or that anything can really happen to make that real. I have a responsibility to lots of people personally and as an employer and I definitely feel that.

What’s next?

A ‘how to’ book out in June which is an assimilation of our workshops and should be lovely. The book is just so unexpected and unfathomable, as is the fact that calligraphy is so popular!  To think I have my name on a book is bonkers though. I’ve got no idea how bookselling actually works! I suppose there might also be a second shop somewhere.

It would go down really well in Brighton.

Really?

Absolutely, the city is full of creatives.

Watch this space, you never know! We do courses down in Brighton but it would be amazing to have a temporary space there. It’s really hard when you don’t know an area.

Well, if you want someone to show you around…

I might well take you up on that!

***

And with that, Lucy heads back to her team, to discuss something cool like neon ink wedding invites and I leave hoping she takes me up on the offer of a Brighton recce. I tried to play it cool, but she’s such an inspiring woman it’s hard not to want to be her friend, and drink up her can-do, unassuming attitude along the way. I can’t wait to see where Quill goes next!

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