We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelli Cross and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelli, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
In 2015, I discovered and started following some hand lettering artists on social media. I’ve always been pretty creative and crafty and loved letters, drawing, doodling – basically any kind of crafts. So I would use my budding lettering skills to create things for my home or gifts for friends, and before I knew it, I had a handful of friends and family asking, “Hey, could you make this for me?” My husband, along with some close friends, encouraged me to open an online shop and I took the plunge! Back then, I was a stay at home mom of three – ages 5, 3, and 1 – and was craving something for myself…outside of changing diapers and tackling laundry piles! It’s grown and changed over the years, but it’s been an incredible journey so far!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
It’s funny how you think you don’t really have a story to tell until you sit down and think about all the things you’ve experienced and how they made you who you are! In the last 5 years, Lettered Grace has been a source for just about anything lettered you can think of. I started with craft-style projects and wood signs then transitioned through chalkboards and event signage, wedding stationery (including custom invitations), envelope addressing, art prints, logos, and lettering art products like stickers, koozies, tees, and tote bags. I’ve taught local lettering workshops to over 200 women, sharing my love for lettering. More recently, I’ve been enjoying designing graphics and lettered designs for businesses, organizations, or friends with goals to give back and do good, taking on a few copywriting clients as my schedule allows (homeschool mama here – hey 2020!), and being intentional about building writing skills because my big dream is to write to encourage others. Whew! That’s a lot! When I read that list, it’s easy to think “Geez, girl! Just pick something!” It’s easy to forget that 5 years is a long time, too. I didn’t do all those at once or even in the same year. The beautiful thing about owning a business is that it’s 100% okay to let it grow and change as you grow and change. Each season brings new circumstances, new lessons, new people, new routines, new inspirations and goals. When someone asks you where you want to be in 5 years, no one ever says “Right here, I don’t want to change at all.” One of my favorite authors, Emily P Freeman, hosts a podcast called The Next Right Thing and authored a book by the same title. A quote I heard in one of the episodes said, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it as a job. And just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.” Aside from lettering, it may not seem as though there’s a common thread in all those ventures, but there most certainly is! My heart when I launched that first Etsy shop is the same as it is now: to create beauty, spark joy, and do good…for myself and for those in my audience. Success for me is connecting with others, encouraging them, creating something that says “I see you, you are loved, and your story matters.” And also, at the end of the day, being a present and healthy wife and mom and friend. Lettered Grace has afforded me the opportunity to check all those boxes and I can’t imagine doing anything else! If you dip your toes into entrepreneurship of any kind, you’re likely to hear the words “know your why” or “find your why”. I used to roll my eyes at that phrase, but looking at the progression of my own story, my why is the one constant. It’s reflected in or behind every single product or service that I’ve offered and would offer in the future. Know your why and you’ll have your common thread, too. In actuality, it’s not just a thread, it’s the very foundation of what you build your business on. Don’t be afraid to pivot. I still remember the day it hit me that custom wedding stationery and bridal clients weren’t my “thing.” Artist and friend Erin Kendrick was leading a session on finding your voice and I realized that my heart was to create a cozy, comfortable, hospitable brand – like a friends having coffee feel – and there is nothing formal or fancy about my personality or dreams, The realization quite literally left me speechless, until I embraced the fact that my business and brand could transform with me. Pivoting doesn’t equal failure, it’s just evidence that you have the strength and determination to make your business work for you – not the other way around! If you feel the pull to pivot your business, your goals, or style – just do it! Don’t neglect the people you love in the process of growing your business. Whether friends or family or friends who a practically family, make time to connect. If you have to schedule it in on your planner, do it! Meet a friend for lunch, have a shopping day with your mom, or host a dinner at your house. Find a place to meet with other creatives – to learn, to vent frustrations, to brainstorm, to collaborate. Don’t let distance be an excuse for distancing relationships – one of the best investments I made was a subscription to Marco Polo! I get to see the faces of friends in Virginia, Illinios, Washington, Texas, and Florida every week (sometimes daily!). Your community is pivotal in your health and longevity as a business owner! Don’t do all this work just to get to the end and have no one to share your challenges and successes with!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m probably a little old-school with these, but let’s just start with the obvious: If you’re in Atlanta and you don’t do the Tomahawk Chop, you wasted your visit, right? I’ve been cheering on the Braves since my little brother was obsessed in the 90’s and I married a big Braves fan, so a trip to Truist Park is an absolute MUST! I grew up visiting what I consider the “classic” tourist spots, so we’d head to Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium, and Coca Cola Museum for a few more fun adventures. My kids would revolt if we didn’t spend a day at Fernbank, too, so we’d go get all the hands-on, science fun their little hearts could handle – IMAX movie included! We’d scoot over to Ponce City for some food and shopping and find grab some tickets to a musical at The Fox – has to be a nighttime show because it just feels more magical. Now I need to go create a real itinerary and make this happen!
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?
There’s no doubt I wouldn’t be where I am or doing what I do without the support of my 3 incredible kiddos and my husband, Jared! Through all the transitions, trying new products, testing new ideas, or navigating finances, they’re there to cheer me on or tell me when an idea or design needs improvement or to be scrapped completely. (Kids have no filter and will tell you the hard truths. If you know, you know.) We’re blessed to have encouraging and supportive families, too! The saying “It takes a village” is true for a lot of things, and running a business is no exception. I’m incredibly grateful for my community – both online and in-person. I have a phenomenal circle of close friends – some I’ve had for over 20 years and some I met more recently. I can’t let the opportunity to shoutout to the Society for Creative Founders to pass me by, either! I joined this group of talented creative entrepreneurs back in 2018 and it completely changed the small business game for me. It’s provided me with opportunities to connect with other creatives, collaborate with friends, and even return as a speaker for their 2020 Conference Experience. I’m convinced that a huge factor in whether we endure and see success (whatever success looks like for you) is influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. Never underestimate the power of taking the time to intentionally connect with those you cross paths with and really investing in the people who make you the best version of yourself!
First headshot (on front steps): Anna Robbins of Anna Filly Photography