I don’t think that there is a stationer, calligrapher, or any business owner for that matter, who has not made some big mistakes on their journey.
If we are lucky, we will be able to learn from others’ missteps as they share their experiences and will be able to avoid some of the big mistakes that they have made. I have been very fortunate to have learned many lessons this way, but I have also made plenty of big mistakes on my own!
The first big mistake happened with my very first invitation client. The mistake was a bad one and, honestly, it shook my confidence for years afterwards. Let me tell you that story.
This particular client was a bit of a challenge in several ways. In this case, I was actually working with the mother of the bride rather than the bride herself. She was very particular in what she expected and she insisted on paying less than what I was quoting her.
She also insisted on seeing a physical printed proof of her invitation suite before the entire set was sent to print. I told her that that I could not provide the printed proof, but after her continued insistence, I caved in and agreed to do it.
I should have seen these as some warning signs to not even take this job on in the first place, but this was the first order that I had received and I was too excited – and desperate - to turn it down. Have any of you been there?
Proofing & Production
We went through the proofing process, including the printed sample of the suite that I sent to her so that she, her husband, and her daughter, the bride could see it in person. They approved the sample and I set to work on her pieces.
At this time, I was doing all of the production in-house. That involved printing the fronts and the matching backers, duplexing - a fancy way of saying that I spray mounted the fronts and backs together in my garage in the Phoenix summer heat, and then cutting out each piece by hand. I then affixed the envelopes liners, stamped the return and response addresses and calligraphed all 120 envelopes. Finally I packaged all of the elements to send off to the client.
For a first time stationer, all of the production and assembly seemed like a lot of work and needless to say that when I dropped the package off at the post office ( that is another topic for a separate post ) I was happy and excited to be sending off my first order!
About a week later I received an e-mail form the client that made my heart sink. There were not one but two spelling errors and they were each on a different card! Panic set in and I think that I immediately burst into tears.
In all of my preparation, I had neglected to spell check the files and I had not caught the fact that I had indeed mistyped a word on both the invitation and the enclosure card. My client was quite upset and was instant that I reprint everything immediately and at my own cost.
Now, the mistake was mine. I am the one who mistyped the two words, however through all of the proofs – including the physical proof that had been mailed and looked at by several members of the bride’s family – no one caught either of these errors. I also had the client’s e-mailed approval that things looked good and to go ahead and print.
I humbly apologized and admitted my fault in the matter. I then mustered all of the courage that I could and I brought up to the client the fact that at they had also failed to notice the misspellings and had approved the physical proof for printing. Upon doing so, however, she told me that she had not thought that that was the final proof and that she assumed that I would have a professional spell check everything.
That hit me really hard because I struggled with feeling like an imposter early on and I was so upset about the blunder and the situation that I now found myself in.
Now this in and of itself is a bad error, but what was worse is that I also did not have a contract in place at that time. Pairing that with my immense insecurity, and my lack of experience left me almost paralyzed as far as what how to handle this.
After spending over an hour on the telephone with my client, she became increasingly upset and refused to acknowledge any part in overlooking the error. I kept it together during our call, but was nearly hysterical when I hung up. I knew that I was probably going to have to go through the entire process of the full production again and lose money in the process.
Thankfully, at that time I was working with Victoria of Design House of Moira and she graciously stepped in and helped me negotiate with her to cover the cost of the paper for the reprinting.
The Resolution & What I Learned
Once I had a day or so to let things settle, things were a little calmer and I set to work re-printing the corrected cards and off they went to the client. She was appeased with receiving the corrected cards, however she then told me that she was also unhappy with the color of the calligraphy ink – which she had also seen in the physical proof. Perhaps I will share that part of the story in another post.
Although this was a tough learning experience for me to go through early on, and it truly did shake my confidence for over a year afterwards, I learned a few invaluable lessons. Of course, to spell check, and have a contract, but also the importance of being explicitly clear about responsibility when you have the client sign off on anything that is going to print.
Even now, typing this story and recalling this situation stirs up emotions. I got a tense and uneasy feeling remembering how demoralized and powerless I felt. I feel for that girl that I was then and how embarrassed and discouraged she was.
At the same time, I feel grateful for the lessons that I have learned over the years and that I have grown to become a stronger person. Though I am not perfect and still make mistakes sometimes as we all do, I no longer fall apart when a problem arises and have actually become quite skilled in how to handle issues with clients.
What about you? What was your first big mistake and what did you learn from it?