We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin McManness Rodda and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
My work-life balance has shifted with my age, and with the greater discussion happening around work and productivity at large.
I started my business when I was in my mid-twenties, and getting a business up off the ground requires a lot of hustle. “Hustle” used to be a word en vogue a few years ago, and it has since fallen from grace a bit as the world went through a global pandemic, and everyone started to rethink their connection to work. Back then though, when being a “Girl Boss” was a thing, and everyone glorified a no-boundaries hustle culture, I was working full-time as a product designer, and taking my lunch breaks to create designs for my own line. I was also listening to business finance podcasts while doing my paid work. I went home, and worked on my business until midnight or later. I had the gift of being a goal-oriented self-starter, and I put it to use almost every minute of the day.
I have run my business full-time for 7 years, and one of the things I appreciate most about it is that it’s constantly evolving. I started to realize the hustle was no longer sustainable when I hit 30. I wanted a break and I wanted rest. I wanted a balance of white space. My business was hitting 6 figures year after year, and one of the best things I started doing early on was setting aside a week every January to reflect and strategize on the direction of the business. I was determined to prioritize more passive income, so I could lay a foundation of white space and freedom in my business.
Now, I am in my mid-thirties, and continuing to prioritize that white space is a profound goal of mine. I love my work, but I have gone through the process of unlinking my identity from it. Part of unlinking my identity from my work was also unlinking my productivity from my sense of self-worth. It took me quite some time, and I still struggle with completely deactivating this part of my brain, because our American culture reinforces this norm in so many ways. It took me many uncomfortable (but freeing) moments of actively choosing to be “unproductive” (gasp!), to realize that I absolutely LOVED time away – and that that time away benefitted my work. I love my work, but now I have embraced the idea that resting and balance is of equal importance to actively working.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Paper Raven Co. was founded in 2015, after I graduated from SCAD with my Masters in Illustration, and after working several industry jobs as an Art Director/Product Designer, etc. I left the traditional workplace to pursue my brand full-time, after spending a few years building a foundation behind the scenes of day jobs. While I was still in grad school, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Surface Design, and fell in love. I was drawn to the idea of seeing my artwork on a variety of products, and so I started with one of the most accessible: greeting cards.
When I started my Greeting Card line, I had about 10 designs, was cutting and folding every one of them by hand, and was still working a day job. I knew that in order to move to a sustainable freelance lifestyle, I would have to grow my line quite a bit and start wholesaling; which would require a huge sacrifice of stamina as I maintained a 9 to 5. I spent every free moment listening to personal and business finance podcasts and classes, and designing more cards. Fast forward a bit, and I left my job as a Product Designer to pursue Paper Raven Co. full-time, with a line that included over 75 Cards and several gift skus as well. By that time, I had also started licensing my artwork. I quickly learned that, in order to work for myself successfully, I had to diversify my income quite a bit.
Now, after 7 full-time years in business, I have had the pleasure of seeing my line in over 200 stores nationwide, and have had the privilege of working with clients like Target, Anthropologie, Macy’s, Publix, Trader Joe’s, The Happy Planner and Postable, to name a few.
One of the things I am most proud of as a brand is our continued commitment to the environment. In 2017, we made the decision to print all of our greeting cards on 100% Recycled Paper. In 2018, we began our partnership with reforestation organization, One Tree Planted, and committed to donating $1 from every sale to plant trees in at-risk regions of the world. For every dollar we donate, 1 Tree goes into the ground. In 2019, 90% of our products were printed on Recycled Paper. This year (2022), we are sourcing ways to eliminate plastics from our line as much as possible, and are planning the transition to Card Clasps for every greeting card (in place of plastic sleeves).
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite spots in the city are food-based 😉 I would start with drinks at SOS Tiki Bar in Decatur, and then hop over to Beetlecat and sit outside for a great seafood dinner. I’d also recommend spending an afternoon at the Victorian Plant Nursery in East Atlanta, and then head over to Cabbagetown to walk the murals along Wylie street. We could also spend an afternoon seeing the art over at the Atlanta Contemporary, walk the Beltline and grab drinks at Ladybird. There are so many cool things to do in the city!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
One of the best and most informative resources that helped my business in its early years is the community at Proof to Product, run by Katie Hunt. Proof to Product is a community, retreat, bootcamp, and podcast that helps product-based entrepreneurs learn the financial, strategic and business skills to become successful businesses. I was enrolled in Paper Camp in 2016 and I learned so much about running my business. I credit a lot of my success in those early days to Katie’s guidance and the guidance of the community. I also still listen regularly to the podcast – it covers topics like marketing, wholesale, strategy, pitching, tradeshows, etc! (And I am also interviewed on the podcast about how to get into licensing – episode 125!)
All photos © Kelley Raye Photo