The looming decision for Chelsie Tamms, one of Bradley University’s most decorated student entrepreneurs and recent graduates, was a difficult one. Should she stay in Peoria and leverage all of the accolades and awards she earned into a career path she created for herself? Or, should she return back to the Chicago area where she grew up and pursue the traditional trajectory most college grads take of finding a job and working towards the top?
Having followed much of her journey over the course of the last year, I knew it would be a lot harder of a choice for her to make than you might think. However, the Brave Pitch and Project Springboard competition winner has taken it all in stride and is continuing to build off of those early successes as she keeps finding new resources to tap into here in Peoria.
Lettering Works, her startup, is building a brand and a business around her hard work and determination. As a talented graphic designer and hand-lettering artist, creating a product or service someone will buy is one thing, but understanding the in’s and out’s of running a full-fledged business is another.
She’s found community in Startup Peoria, a new residence at the Prairie Center of the Arts, tapped into mentors from her time at Bradley, and has even started to give back as an advisor with the Brave Launch business accelerator. The choice to stay in Peoria may not seem to be that crazy after all said and done, and with the intestinal fortitude it takes to be an entrepreneur – she may actually be the shining example of how we should be grooming our talent from within the Central Illinois region.
While not trying to put too much of that burden on Chelsie’s shoulders, we sat down a while ago and talked about her recent experiences, tough choices, and what’s on the horizon for her and Lettering Works.
So it’s official? You’ve made the decision to plunge ahead as a business owner here in Peoria.
Yes, I signed a lease on a new place to live through May 2017. I’ve also been accepted into the PCA Residency Program so my business will also have a new place to call home as well.
It looks like you’re off to a great start. I see that local businesses have already started carrying your products. Where are some of the places Lettering Works cards can be found?
I started off by sketching out different designs and did one of an ice cream cone and have gotten that and my Peoria postcards in Emack & Bolio’s locations. You can also find Lettering Works for sale at Relics, One World Café, the airport, True Royalty Scents, and Be You Fitness.
After deciding to make a go of it, how did you decide to set up the business end of things?
I got things set up as a Sole Proprietor which was pretty cost-effective, I already had my website running on Shopify, and began to teach myself QuickBooks from day one to stay organized.
Aside from creating cool products, what else have you been doing to grow your business?
I’m also doing design work on the side for clients like Modern Thrive, Hey Lola, and Notionovus‘ Brian Anderson who is writing a book. I do get a lot of requests for different design work, but some don’t necessarily understand what I specialize in which is a bit different than regular graphic design in the traditional sense.
Any other interesting happenings we should know about?
People kept asking me if I was going to do any workshops in the future. I started working with Jessica Ball at the Art Garage to teach a few workshops there and that has gone really well.
It sounds like all of this is pretty demanding. Is this something you could ever just do on the side?
I really enjoy it and there’s still a lot for me to learn. If someone else wants to start a hand-lettering and design business, I’ll wish them luck and I’d support them doing it, but it takes a lot of work and everyone has to have their own style.
Let’s talk about Peoria… how has it been trying to utilize the resources in town?
I do feel like there are a lot of resources here, but trying to pull them all together is difficult. There’s not necessarily one building that has it all.
And how tough was the decision to stick around and do something that others may not understand?
People would ask me what I want to do over the next 5 years and I had always thought that was working at at an agency. But I’m just trying to take advantage of everything in the moment. My first “trial period” was this summer. I stayed in Peoria after school and if there wasn’t the potential that I thought there was, I would have went back home. I’ve participated in events, scheduled workshops, got a website up and running and officially registered my business which were all positive checkpoints.
Do you have any advice to entrepreneurs just getting started or students in college?
I wouldn’t know where the community and assets are in Chicago because it’s pretty daunting. My advice to students at Bradley or elsewhere would be that there are a lot of resources at your school where you went. If people were able to get off campus sooner and experience what’s actually happening in the community they would see it’s a different place.
What was the hook to get you off campus?
In Peoria, it was the First Friday events which I really enjoyed. I also got to meet more people through American Marketing Awards. Then participating in Startup Weekend and winning that led to membership at The Nest Coworking. After time you start to see familiar faces and building relationships. That’s when you start to realize who’s who in the scene.
What’s been your secret to success so far?
I’m trying to turn what I love doing into a business of hand-lettering. I don’t really know exactly what I’m doing. It’s all guessing and checking. There isn’t a guidebook or a set way of doing things. I’ve realized that and so my approach has been to throw myself into it. I’d say it’s harder than it looks, but it’s still a lot of fun.