Express gratitude. Be sure to let the people that are helping you on this business journey that you appreciate them. Your team, your friends, your family anyone that has played a hand in helping your business grow. Let them know you value them as much as possible. It will make for a better work environment and make your team feel good about working for someone that values them. It’ll make you feel pretty good too.
As part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carla Lyles. Carla is the founder of Carla Sue Greeting Cards & Gifts of Houston, Texas. Carla Sue handcrafts witty, sassy and beautiful greeting cards with messages of empowerment, positive representation and self-care. She is building a business by providing greeting cards for any occasion; colorful cards with colorful language. You can find Carla Sue Greeting Cards in stores around the nation.
Thank you so much for joining us Carla. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I lived a very middle class life here in Houston, Texas with my mom, dad and two sisters. My father died when I was very young, so I was raised by my mother. I was the quiet, creative nerd in the back of the class, always humming a song and doodling. My mom was a teacher most of my childhood and later became a principal. She always encouraged me to dive into the creative space, I’m guessing because I wasn’t the best student academically.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I was just so unhappy. I’ve always struggled with working for someone else. I had spent so many years bouncing from job to job searching for what felt “right.” About five years ago, I fell into a deep depression and was eventually diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s when I made the decision to choose happiness and began working for myself full-time.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
It was definitely a process for me. Initially, I didn’t really take Carla Sue too seriously. I was mostly using my business as an outlet to help me heal through my depression. I make handcrafted cards, so creating them was very therapeutic for me. I knew that I enjoyed creating things that made people smile and that was enough for me. But then the orders began to get larger and larger, and I thought, “OH WAIT! I’m an actual business!” So I researched other cards companies and mirrored some of their business practices. I took some business courses and made a lot of friends with already established businesses to help me along my way. I’m learning everyday.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
If you are reluctant, then don’t do it. You need to be absolutely sure that this is something you want to go after, because once you make the decision, your hobby is no longer just some pastime, it’s a business. Business is not for the faint of heart. I spend so much time on the business of Carla Sue, that I have to schedule in time for me to create. You have to be okay with knowing that this may happen.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I host different workshops and events that help uplift and inspire people. Helping others through my business is my way of making sure I always stay fulfilled.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love the fact that I can bring my ideas to life. I have the power to mold and shift things in anyway that I choose. I make the rules. There are a few downsides, but the biggest downside is all of the time I spend away from my family. Things get so hectic at times to where I have to schedule time with my family. I actually have to pencil in time with my 4-year-old son. It’s the worst.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I was under the impression that I would be able to create and dive into my hobby all day long with no other worries.It’s the exact opposite; the more Carla Sue grew, the further away I got from creating new designs. I wear so many hats now that I can’t really spend a lot of time on creating. I’m constantly working on figuring out ways to balance it all.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Yes. Like every month, LOL. After my most recent meltdown, I realized that this is truly a part of the process. The foundation of the ground gets shaky at times and it can be a little frightening. What helps me is talking to my other friends in business or reading the stories of my favorite businessmen and women. They have all gone through this journey. It helps me realize I’m not alone in this.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
My partnership with Vistaprint and being a part of their Micro Main Street pop-up storefront at St. Louis PrideFest has to be the most interesting and amazing experience in my business thus far. I was one of three LGBTQ-owned small businesses selected to be a part of this, and I learned so much. Prior to working with Vistaprint, I was in desperate need of help with my branding and designs. Through this partnership, I was able to work with a professional designer that really helped me perfect my existing designs and clean up my branding. Working with Vistaprint truly helped take me to the next level in my business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had been up for days working on orders that had a tight deadline. I was extremely sleep deprived, but I kept at it until every order was fulfilled. Two days later I noticed two packages at my doorstep. They were the orders that I shipped out. I realized that I shipped the orders to my home address and not to the customers. I learned that sleep should not be taken for granted. Get some rest, guys, your mind will be sharper and your days will be more productive. Trust me.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Oprah Winfrey. She’s just awesome! She’s a media mogul. Philanthropist. Actress. She is fearless and completely dedicated to helping others grow and heal. She is a shining example of the kind of entrepreneur I’d like to be. I just love her so much.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve learned that there is great power in sharing your story. I speak very frankly on social media about my struggles. Struggles in business. Struggles with my mental health. Struggles with parenting. I’ve found that it has helped so many people find their voice and let them know that they aren’t alone. It’s so important to me. I want to help the world heal.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Business is a roller coaster. Business can be really great one second and falling apart the next. You can try to prevent things from falling apart as much as you can but sometimes it happens even with your best efforts. Make sure you are mentally prepared for the ride. It’s just the name of the game.
- Be prepared to sacrifice. It takes a lot of sacrifice with running a business. If you’re serious about growing your business you will have to miss out on a lot. One of the biggest sacrifices for me is being away from my family. Keep your eye on the prize and always remind yourself of why you are doing this in the first place.
- Always celebrate small victories. You’ll take a lot of L’s in business. Be sure to celebrate the small victories. It’s your indication that you are one step closer to achieving your goal.
- Take care of yourself mentally. Running a business is exciting, but it is also stressful and scary. You will be alone often and that can be hard for some people. Make sure you have a tight support system, therapist or both. If you don’t have those things, be sure to exercise and take your vitamins. Your internal health and mental stability will determine your success.
- Express gratitude. Be sure to let the people that are helping you on this business journey that you appreciate them. Your team, your friends, your family anyone that has played a hand in helping your business grow. Let them know you value them as much as possible. It will make for a better work environment and make your team feel good about working for someone that values them. It’ll make you feel pretty good too.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to begin a movement to help others understand the importance of healing internally from past traumas. I am fortunate enough to have access to a therapist to help assist me through this journey. There are a lot of people who aren’t so fortunate. I would love to figure out a way to provide free alternatives to those that don’t have access to a therapist maybe through art therapy. I honestly just want others to realize that you don’t have to go through life just trying to survive. You can truly thrive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Leadership isn’t something you pursue, it’s something you discover.” — Myles Munroe.
I have had confidence issues all of my life. I never thought I would or could be a leader or owner of anything. The more that my business grew, the more I was shoved into situations where I had to really plan, schedule and manage. I never knew I was capable. I have a clear vision that I share now. I motivate and inspire. I feel all of these things define a true leader.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
John Henry, an entrepreneur and host of Viceland’s Hustle. He is on the Forbes 30 under 30 list and sold his first business at 21 years old. He has launched numerous high-growth companies in Harlem and now dedicates his life to helping change the face of entrepreneurship as a Partner at Harlem Capital. I am so inspired by him and it would be a dream to pick his brain and possibly get some advice from him on how to grow my business. And he just seems like and all-around cool dude!