What it takes for success
The path to success is hardly ever traveled alone, and rarely comes without a few bumps in the road. There’s often a multitude of factors that play into one person’s climb to the top of their ranks. We spoke with a handful of determined and successful people with ties to the Fargo-Moorhead area regarding what, and who, they believe helped them find success in the area we’re proud to call home. Join us as we introduce these individuals over the coming months.
Hannah Stelter was more surprised than anyone else when her business began taking off the ground. After going viral on social media at 21, Stelter decided to pursue her passion and launch “Designed by Hannah,” an outlet for her to express her art and talent, while also making a living out of it. Now, at the young age of 23, she’s launching her second business and latest company, Scribble Lady. Opening on November 5th, the company will offer a storefront pop-up location at 214 Roberts Alley through New Year’s Eve for the holidays!
“In just under three years, I have amassed over 32 million likes on TikTok, 854,000 followers between YouTube, Instagram and TikTok and have been featured by BuzzFeed. I published my first book in 2021, which won an ADDY for the layout and design, which I did myself. I published my second book, a children’s book, this summer as well!”-Hannah Stelter
How did you get to the position you are in today?
I started sharing my art on social media in college, selling a few random pieces here and there. It wasn’t until the 2020 pandemic in the spring semester of my junior year that I consistently began to share my work. When everything shut down, I lost one of my two part-time jobs, and my classes shifted to online, so I found myself with a lot of extra time. I told myself I was really going to focus on selling my art. I also started posting on TikTok with the hope that I could grow a following there. One day, after a discouraging phone call from my mother urging me to stop sharing my artwork online due to the “foul language and nude portraits being inappropriate,” I sat down and asked myself what the point of my artwork even was. I decided then and there that I would make the art that I loved. I felt passionate about it, so I decided to share it and let the universe bring the people to me. I made a video drawing a middle finger with a voiceover talking about just that. Don’t care what others think about your work. Instead, create what makes you happy, create the things you love, share it with the world and people who love them will find you. Not only did the video go viral on TikTok, it brought people to my page who resonated with my message and helped encourage me at the same time to continue making artwork that is unapologetically my own.
From there, people started asking if they could buy the middle finger, so I did some research and started an online store with the one print available. I sold roughly 20 prints and made a few hundred bucks, so I said to myself, “Yes. This is what I am doing now.” Over the rest of 2020, I expanded to selling vinyl stickers and increased the number of artworks available. I also started live streaming weekly, as I would take drawing requests to connect with my audience and keep myself creatively accountable.
Over the holidays, I set up a table at a few holiday brewery sales and make a few hundred bucks at each. However, it still wasn’t enough for me to quit my other part-time job. In the spring of 2021, I sold my work at the Annual Unglued Craft Fest and made about $5000 within two days. The next day, I called my boss and quit my part-time job. After that, the rest of the summer was a whirlwind of finding places to sell my art and posting on social media. By the end of 2021, my business had grossed just barely six figures, and after I checked my books, landed at the oh-so-disappointing $99,000. So I went into my second year with a goal to make it over that six-figure hump, officially this time. Now in my second full year of business, I have brought on two interns, with hopes of bringing on at least one full-time employee in the next few months, and my business has hit the six-figure mark already in September! I have huge aspirations for my growing brand, starting this fall with a new company that I will be officially announcing in November!
If someone would have told me three years ago that I would decide to not get a traditional design job after college and instead would be running two companies at the age of 23, I don’t think I would have believed them.
#1 You will never be 100% prepare to start a business, and that’s okay.
My degree is in graphic design, so there was a lot that I needed to learn, but I didn’t let that hold me back from getting started. Since starting my first business, I have spent countless hours watching YouTube videos, reading business books and asking questions to educate myself. I didn’t know the first thing about taxes, business registration, cash flow projections, sales funnels, e-commerce or literally anything other than how to make art and brand myself. Educate yourself as much as you can to get started on the right foot and learn the rest along the way!
#2 Ask Questions!
I attend a lot of entrepreneurs and founder-oriented events to get inspired by other entrepreneurs and also to get connected with other people. I am constantly asking people if I can grab a coffee and get to know them, their business and learn some things. It’s okay to not know everything, and once you admit that to yourself, it gives you an opportunity to expand your knowledge and grow your business.
#3 Expand Your Revenue.
Expanding revenue streams is important, and looks different for everyone, but something worth putting some energy into. I have income from my ecommerce store, in-person shows, wholesale, Patreon/subscriptions, Facebook/Instagram Reels, TikTok, teaching workshops, coaching and more.
#4 Focus on Profit!
Profit is so important in running a successful business. I started my business as a junior in college with no money to personally invest, and I only reinvest 30% of what my business earns back into the business. This allows me to pay myself, set aside money for taxes and grow my business all at once.
#5 Always have a contingency plan.
This one is specifically applicable in the art realm but will work with many other business models too. If you find yourself with so much work that you never seem to have enough time to do it all (too many commissions, constantly booked schedule, etc.), you can either hire someone, raise your prices or both. For a while, I was doing so many custom pieces that I didn’t have time to focus on anything else, so I raised my prices. Now I only do one or two pieces, still make the same amount of money, and actually have time for other important things.
What are some struggles you faced that helped you become the professional you are today?
The first struggle is that I had a lot of skeptics when I started my business. Entrepreneurship itself is no small thing, and a career as an artist tends to have a bad reputation. I got a lot of advice that sounded like, “Well in case your little business doesn’t work out, at least you have a degree,” or, “Here is a job opportunity to look into in case your business fails,” and that can be really discouraging. There were also a lot of people who didn’t take me seriously, including my parents and some professors, until I told them that my business was making six figures. It’s so hard to power forward when you have so many people in your life telling you they don’t think it will work out, so I surrounded myself with people who were supportive instead. I started attending networking events, listening to other founders’ stories and getting inspired. I then asked my friend to be my accountability partner and to get coffee with me once a month so we can talk about my progress, goals and work on my business.
Another struggle was money management. My cash management was horrible during the first year of my business. I had income and was giving myself distributions as needed, and I was spending the rest on the business without a specific plan. When Q3 rolled around and my accountant told me I needed to pay $10,000 to the IRS, while my business account was sitting at somewhere around $2,000, I knew I was doing something wrong. In a panic, I started researching the best money management for an art-based business and came across “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz. It helped me regulate my incoming and outgoing expenses, properly set aside money for taxes and learn the importance of not putting everything back into the business. Educating yourself on money management and taxes is so boring and complicated, but so important in making sure that your business is successful.
The last struggle was and still is making sure I am taking care of my mental health while running my business. During my first summer in business, I worked every show opportunity I had, pulling late nights prepping and succumbing to “The Grind.” I was on the road to burnout, but thankfully in the art field, January and February are inherently slow months and forced me to take a break. During those two months, I began planning for the next summer season, focusing on how I can optimize my sales with fewer shows, and really focus on a healthy work-life balance. A lot of entrepreneurs will joke that they quit their 9-5 to work a 24/7 job and that it’s always a grind. First of all, I don’t like the word grind because to me, it implies burnout. After all my late nights and last-minute prep of my first summer, I knew I didn’t want to be working 24/7 because it’s not sustainable. This is something I am still working on, but now, two years in, I actively ask myself how my mental health is doing and how I can continue to grow my business without fear of burnout. I also have a small team of people now working with me which has been incredible as well.
A Growing Business
Stelter is finding so much success that she had to bring two more employees onto her team!
What did you learn from those struggles?
I learned that you don’t need to listen to everyone’s advice, especially the negative critics. I also learned that the boring stuff is so important (money management, etc.) and work-life balance is key. Entrepreneurship is not easy, and most entrepreneurs will tell you that. But the hardest thing about entrepreneurship for me is setting myself boundaries and actually giving myself the time off that I deserve.
Have you had any notable mentors?
While I don’t have any specific mentors I can attribute my success to, my friend Chase agreed to be my accountability partner three years ago. He has been an integral part in keeping the momentum going. We still meet regularly, now more like weekly, as he is growing his photography business at the same time. I also follow a few amazingly talented artists on TikTok who helped me understand the business side of being an artist and inspired me to do the same.
I also took an online business class hosted by Sophia Amuroso. She’s someone who has inspired me since I was 16 when I first read her book #Girlboss about how she built the clothing empire, Nasty Gal.
The local art community has been amazing to me. I’ve learned so many things from my fellow artists. I also have a huge appreciation for Emerging Prairie and everything they do to inspire and uplift founders.
Lastly, a huge inspiration of mine is Ashley Morken, owner of Unglued. Not only was Unglued the first big show that I participated in, giving me the courage to quit my job, but they continue to uplift artists and inspire them every day. If you’ve never attended any of their events, their business model is so fantastic and something I look to for inspiration.