I love Charm and Gumption and am so inspired by the owner and designer, Holly Casto. I have a few things from her store but my favorite is the “The Best Is Yet To Come” print she made with Mackenzie Horan of Design Darling. I reached out to her and she was kind enough to let me interview her for my career series!
What was your first job out of college?
I worked in retail all throughout college, then immediately after college I did a copywriting internship at a marketing agency in Austin, Texas.
What inspired you to take the leap and start your own company? Was this something you always planned on doing?
My “career path” was totally weird. Basically, I wanted to do something artsy like go to a performing arts school or study some type of design, but my parents insisted that I go to the small private college near my hometown. I majored in marketing because it was the only thing that slightly interested me, and I hoped that eventually I would be able to work in a creative department for a brand or agency. I realized after doing my internship and working at another marketing job that it wasn’t creative enough for me and that I didn’t really like the environment. I have always had the desire to be my own boss and have a flexible schedule – it just seemed like it would fit my personality. I didn’t really do much formal “planning,” I just started teaching myself graphic design while I worked my day job and then, once I felt like I had the skills down, I started designing stationery. I started out designing wedding invitations and such, but over time I realized that my real passion was in every day products like prints and office accessories. Basically my career path was all trial and error and the most complicated route to get from A to B!
What were the first steps you took to starting a company? What logistical advice do you have for other people who want to start a business?
I started just designing wedding invitations for fun, for practice. I wasn’t very confident in my ability at first because I didn’t go to school for it, but over time I got better and I felt like I had the eye for it. I think offering items for a huge discount or for free in the beginning is a good idea because you can gauge interest and build your confidence. When I decided to start Charm & Gumption, the first step that I took was defining my target market and brand as much as possible. If you have a very clear idea of who you’re selling to, it makes it easy to know what that person would like. In terms of E-commerce, I started on Etsy and I think it is the best place to start because you have a community of people already built in – you don’t have to start completely from scratch.
How would you describe Charm & Gumption in a few sentences?
Inspiring, pretty, and fun!
You are so good at promoting your business on social media! What advice do you have for self promotion, PR, and social media?
Thanks so much! I think the most important thing in terms of blogging and social media is to be consistent, which isn’t always the easiest thing and I fail at this a lot actually, but if you only post one thing every six months, people are going to forget about you. I think it’s also important to be real and not super “sale-sy” because obviously that turns people off.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out?
I wish I had known more about outsourcing production. Sorry, that’s a super boring answer but in the beginning I was trying to do everything myself and the result was a very stressful situation and a somewhat inconsistent or “just okay” quality of product. My advice is to do what you do best and get the pros to do the rest.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting your own business?
I would say the biggest challenge has been overall time management. In the beginning, I had trouble stepping away from the computer and would continue answering emails and messages until like two in the morning. I’ve gotten better at that for sure but I still am constantly tweaking my schedule to find what works best. The biggest reward is when I get emails from customers saying that my product inspires them when they’re working at their desk or in their cubicle. That was the vision that I had for my business in the beginning and it’s so exciting that it happens sometimes!
What is a typical day like for you?
It varies, but the general schedule goes: workout or do some kind of exercise first thing (or I won’t do it at all), get ready for the day, three days a week I fill orders and the other two I work on the blog, then I answer emails and Etsy messages and then any leftover time is spent filming or editing videos for my YouTube channel, designing new stuff, working on the website, or other various things that need done. I try to keep my evenings free to spend time with my husband. Obviously some days are just crazy or something will happen that takes priority which is why my blog isn’t always consistent and my inbox is sometimes overflowing, but I do the best I can to stick to that schedule as much as possible.
You are a self-taught designer. What tips do you have for other people who are interested in design?
I think that being formally taught would definitely be the easier way if you can do that, but honestly I don’t think that you necessarily need a four year degree. I think that having a few basic classes would get you started. To me, design is something that you either have an eye for or you don’t and once you have the basic skills you can take it as far as you need to on your own. With that being said, I’m not designing corporate logos or websites or anything too complicated so if you wanted to do that type of stuff you would need much more education.
Where do you see yourself. and your company, in the next five years?
Those are the kinds of questions that stress me out! Haha! Just kidding – I would hope that Charm & Gumption would continue to grow. I always pray that I make good decisions with the business because I feel so blessed for how well it has taken off so far and I just want to see it keep going. I think in five years time I will hopefully have at least one or two people helping me run the business and the day to day tasks so that I can focus on designing new stuff consistently and blogging, which are the most fun to me. Personally, I think I’ll have a baby by then, God willing, and be living in my hometown with my family.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from college and enter “the real world?”
My sister is actually about to graduate in a year, and I feel like I’m always giving her tons of advice that I’m sure she totally appreciates and/or is super annoyed by. Everyone is different and it depends a lot on your major and such, but I think that something I would tell myself if I could go back is that you don’t have to do exactly what you planned on doing. There’s nothing wrong with trying new things – don’t feel like you are limited by your major or background. You’re 22. If you start out in one thing and see yourself being pulled in another direction, just try it! Better to try things and get it figured out now rather than working in something that you hate for thirty years and trying to switch then, right? There is no “perfect” job in my opinion, but I don’t believe in spending every single day doing something that you absolutely hate.
What is on your desk right now?
My computer, Dymo shipping labels printer, planner, a Charm & Gumption notepad (yes I use my own!), coffee mug, cell phone, random papers and pens, and my iPad. At the moment, it’s giving me anxiety because it’s on the cluttery side.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
I get online inspiration from Pinterest, probably the most. But some of my biggest inspiration comes from conversations with friends, actually! Since I design for women around my own age, sometimes I’ll just be talking to a friend about something that they are feeling right now in their lives or a fear that they’re dealing with and it will trigger an idea for a print or other product.
Who is your mentor?
Sadly, I don’t have a mentor – I wish I did! I think it is because I moved to Nashville not knowing a soul other than my husband and I just didn’t really know many people who was doing this type of thing. I read a lot online about the industry though and I’m part of a Facebook group with other Nashville stationery designers and those ladies offer great advice.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
You can’t be everything to everyone.
What advice do you have for other young professional women?
Work hard and trust your gut!
Holly has a fantastic blog – I am a huge fan. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube!
Thanks for the great advice, Holly!