The Burden of Optimism, Imposter Syndrome and Trying to Make Everyone Happy

Posted by Liz Cooke on

In other words, a recipe for disaster.

Cutting our custom work has been the hardest decision I've had to make as a business owner since starting Lionheart in 2013. But we had to do it. We had to say no so we could start saying yes to what matters most.

It's been such an honor creating custom wedding invitations, hand-lettered logos and social stationery over the years. I have truly loved starting from scratch with a client, beginning with their Pinterest board to get inside their head and interpreting all their inspiration into a perfectly paired paper product.

That being said, when we do custom work, we go all out. We go hard. We go ham. Or whatever the kids are saying these days.

When I design a hand-lettered invitation suite for you, it's completely custom tailored to your special event. There are no albums from which to order, no pre-set price list. No stock graphics or font libraries. You're getting 100% hand-drawn lettering and illustrations executed on specialty printing methods and carefully selected paper stock–– all within your budget. Just putting an estimate together is no small task, it can take a couple hours to calculate the costs from various vendors, printing methods and paper quality. If something minor changes, like say, the client wants to go up an envelope size or change quantity the snowball effect of recalculating everything and problem solving to make it work will make your head spin. But we try not to show that! Because they don't want to know the struggle! Like a waiter during dinner rush, I have to effortlessly multitask with a smile.

When clients come to me for their custom design, they are paying for not only my love, attention and expertise, they are also paying for the opportunity cost of the products I am not spending time developing for our wholesale & retail line.

In August of last year, we tried limiting custom projects to just two per month. Sounds simple enough! I could totally take care of two weddings plus design other new products, teach a workshop or two, and, I dunno, run a business and have a life.

Ha! LOLOLOLOL. Nope. I was wrong.

What always seemed to happen was I would meet with a Client A, and in the time from our initial consultation to when we would begin the design process, Client B would contact us with an urgent project, and not having heard back from Client A yet, we accept the job and start the work. Lo and behold, Client A follows up and we’re already getting a deposit to begin work from Client C.

That two per month thing was cute. Idealism is a bitch sometimes.

Client A felt like they were on the back burner. I felt rushed by Client B’s deadline, and Client C is wondering why it’s taking so long for me to get their stuff completed. Meanwhile, I wasn't doing any of the other things that moved the business forward.

I soon learned that you can do it all, but you can't do it all very well.

It got to the point where I was pulled in too many different directions and none of them were my own. The whole reason I started this business was to spread as much joy as possible. I wanted to make funny and empowering hand-lettered messages that made you laugh and made feel like a damn champion, or at the very least, made you feel understood.

That's the thing about our business. At the end of the day, every greeting card that sits on a shelf makes its way into the hands of a recipient, who feels loved, encouraged and appreciated. We are literally in the business of spreading good vibes.

Come October, I looked around the shop and I had only created TWO new designs for our line, and about a dozen custom wedding invitations, some with hundreds of hand-addressed envelopes and userped all my creative energy. It made me sad. I spread myself too thin to trying make a very small amount of people happy.

Not to mention, the amount of time I poured into each project was never going to sustain the business financially. I spent hours upon of hours on minutia to satisfy my designnerd pride, but would never see the light of day outside of this small, select group of recipients. Now, that being said, each unique project tested my design limits and I learned new tricks on every piece. For that progress, I am incredibly grateful.

Meanwhile, customers and retailers wondered if I was ever going to come out with something new, and surely must have been saying "wtf is she even doing with her time anyway?" (at least this is how my anxiety projected it). When I finally did have a moment to design something new, it felt very rushed, like a cop out, and I was not proud of the work at all.

By December, I was flooded with custom projects. Every product I wanted to be developing seemed to be slipping further and further away. I said yes to everyone except for myself and our company's goals.

Something had to change.

No more custom. I would complete the last ten projects I already committed to and that would be it. No more. Sayonara. Bye, Felicia.

As my dear friend Madeline Ellis of Mimosa Handcrafted so eloquently put it, the feeling of “creative constipation” was so real. I was aching to make the things that would drive our company forward and couldn’t stand it any longer.

It’s really tough saying no to nice people who write you emails sharing their story and you think, “Of course! I can totally knock that out in no time and be on my merry way making awesome things for all the people to enjoy.” And then you find yourself obsessively redrawing the selected quote from Shakespeare for their baby’s new nursery before hand-drawing it onto the custom marbled canvas that she totally did not even ask of you to do but OF COURSE YOU HAD TO, nothing but the best for this little baby who will not even appreciate the level of detail until she’s older, and who knows if this won’t even be in the garbage can by then?!

But you gotta be like Elsa and let that shit go.

Let it Go, Elsa

Here are some gifs that have helped me out along the way:

"My comedy festival is coming up and we would love for you to design the poster, we don't have a design budget, but it'll be great exposure."

Nope, No, No, No

"Can you hand-letter all my grandkids scrapbooks for me?"

Minions No

"My multi-million dollar software company is mildly interested in a rebranding, *hands over his business card* why don't you send me a few logo designs to get started and I'll see if we want to use you." 

"We love all your witty cards, can you make a custom card for our company with a brilliant tagline? We'll need like 20."


All this so when it comes to messages the world needs to hear most, I can be like:

Amy Poehler Yes

With love and gratitude,


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