Growing up, Aerilynn Tan has always been enthralled by the colourful rows of notebooks and pens in bookstores. “It was my equivalent of being in a candy store,” the 27-year-old smiles. “Browsing through stationery brought me joy in the banality of classes and homework back then!”
Combining her love for stationery and sketching, Aerilynn turned her designs into merchandise before establishing Papercranes Design, a brand specialising in hand-designed stationery and lifestyle products.
From juggling between jobs to handling the business on her own, Aerilynn shares the challenges of a solopreneur and how, with a little adaptation, stationery can still go a long way in the increasingly digitised culture.
Breaking Into a Niche Market
As a student, Aerilynn loved putting her designs onto paper as a therapeutic hobby. It was in 2014 that she came across an opportunity that allowed her to translate her work into merchandise. “After the platform ceased operations, I realised I preferred managing everything independently, from designing and production, to sales and marketing,” she recounts.
This later inspired Aerilynn to produce self-illustrated postcards and keepsakes. Upon realising the demand for bespoke stationery, she decided to set up a store on Carousell a year later before expanding to platforms such as Shopee and Etsy.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Aerilynn was an architecture researcher. “I’ve been operating Papercranes Design on the side and while I enjoyed my full-time work, it was challenging to balance the two. To better focus on Papercranes Design, I decided to seek a part-time job that would allow me to hone my design skills and to build the brand simultaneously,” Aerilynn, who also currently works as a graphic designer at a local beauty brand.
#1 Setting Priorities
Being an entrepreneur is challenging, and having to manage every aspect of the business while holding a part-time job makes the journey even more so. “There are a thousand things on my to-do list that are constantly running through my mind. Some days, it feels like I’m being pulled in all directions at once – and that’s where setting priorities helps with getting you to stay focused,” Aerilynn says.
“For instance, I usually focus on one main launch at a time – from conceptualisation to executing and refining the design idea, test printing to scale, before finally sending it off for production, to help me stay on track.”
#2 Balancing Cost and Profit
As with small-scaled (or most) businesses, balancing between cost and profit is a key challenge – especially when competing with larger, mass-market brands.
“Having to balance the cost of small-scale production and competitive pricing is definitely a challenge. But ultimately, I hope that consumers appreciate the value behind artisanal, locally-designed products that are only produced in small batches,” the entrepreneur shares.
“Customised cards such as wedding invitations can often be printed on demand, but for the other items, the production quantities would be estimated based on a combination of trial and error, experience from past launches, customers’ feedback, and sometimes the suppliers’ minimum quantity requirements – it’s all a learning process.”
#3 Adapting to Your Environment
With the rising
dominance prevalence of digitisation, many entrepreneurs, if they haven’t started in the digital space, are taking their businesses online. Whether it’s establishing an online shopfront or creating social media awareness, being technologically savvy in this digital era has its many advantages.
For Aerilynn, embracing the digital age is not so much the issue – but rather, in the words of the tech-savvy individuals, ‘nobody writes with pen and paper anymore’. Despite this, Aerilynn remains positive.
“Businesses are constantly finding ways to leverage on the digitisation of our culture now more than ever, and I believe that we will always be capable of adapting with, if not benefiting from digital developments. For Papercranes Design, I think that its style and essence can always be retained as long as there is an opportunity. For instance, during the circuit breaker period last year, I adapted some of the designs from our wedding catalogue into ‘Postpone the date’ e-cards as well as wedding e-invites instead for some of my clients.”
In other words, a little adaptation can go a long way, and every crisis can be turned into an opportunity.
Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
While a good majority of us dabble in side hustles, Aerilynn emphasises on the need to take things slow. “This might not be the most popular opinion, but I feel that there has been increasing over-glamorisation of the concept of side hustles. This undue pressure of making your passion a profession and the expectation of overnight success, can kill the joy out of what was once an enjoyable leisure interest. Hence, take things slow instead of jumping the gun. Follow your instincts and things will progress naturally!”
On what keeps her going, Aerilynn shares, “It’s a combination of the little anecdotes – the kind reviews that customers spontaneously send across, or when they show appreciation for the details that go into the design of a product; the returning customer who showed up because she was gifted something from my store one Christmas; seeing my products carried by passers-by; or the mum who brought her little girl to my pop-up booth to say hi, because she aspired to be a designer someday too.”
“I’m also thankful for supportive family members, friends and partner who’ll always have my back,” she smiles. “On that note, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you truly need it. Being an entrepreneur is tough, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.”
Photos courtesy of Papercranes Design
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