Headshot of Nicole Alesi, Founder of Nicole Marie Paperie.
Through Nicole Marie Paperie, illustrator-turned-entrepreneur Nicole Alesi aims to brings more diverse representation to the greeting card industry. — Nicole Marie Paperie

Aspiring entrepreneurs may hesitate to start their businesses for many reasons, including a perceived lack of capital. Though entrepreneurship is an investment, it doesn’t have to be a significant financial output up front, according to illustrator and business owner Nicole Alesi.

“You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars up front to start a business,” she emphasized. “Start small, stay focused, be patient.”

Alesi gained this knowledge firsthand with her own company, Nicole Marie Paperie. The NYC-based stationery design studio began as a hobby back in the early 2010s. That hobby turned into a passion (and business) when Alesi couldn’t find a same-sex engagement card for her friend — inspiring her to make one of her own.

“I realized that there was a need for more representation and inclusivity in stationery,” Alesi said. “[The same-sex engagement card] is still one of my most popular designs.”

She soon started creating her own designs on greeting cards, stationery, buttons, and other paper goods in her NYC studio to bring greater BIPOC and LGBTQ+ representation to the greeting card industry.

Leveraging social media to showcase products, connect with customers, and expand reach

To showcase her products and connect with customers, Alesi makes full use of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

“As a business owner, your Instagram page is the first thing people want to see,” she noted. “[And] as a designer, it’s like a portfolio on demand.”

In addition to posting and engaging organically ⁠— “I like to have fun with it,” the entrepreneur added ⁠— Alesi also uses social media to cross-promote local shops that feature her cards, as well as to expand the reach of new launches through paid advertising campaigns.

“I’ve also taken advantage of Meta’s free online tools [on Facebook] that help set up my e-commerce business all in one place,” she said.

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars up front to start a business. Start small, stay focused, be patient.

Nicole Alesi, Founder, Nicole Marie Paperie

Nicole Marie Paperie has a Facebook shop, ensuring customers can purchase products with ease through social media. In addition, Alesi leverages Facebook Messenger to answer customer’s questions.

“If it’s a quick question, such as, ‘How much does a greeting card cost?’, I’ve set up automatic messaging to quickly service my customers,” the entrepreneur mentioned. “[This gives] me more time to focus on the creative aspect of my business.”

[Read: How to Use Hashtags to Promote Your Small Business on Instagram and TikTok]

The e-commerce business doesn’t just live online, however; Nicole Marie Paperie also leverages relationships with brick-and-mortar shops.

“Working with brick-and-mortar shops like Ladyfingers Letterpress (@ladyfingersletterpress) is great because they have close relationships with their customers,” Alesi stated. “It’s always great to receive the feedback, which gives me a better sense [of] how to improve my line.”

‘Work, life, be present’

Work-life balance is challenging enough to achieve for anyone in the workforce. These lines can become especially blurred for entrepreneurs, and even more so for those with families.

“My greatest business challenge has been time management of balancing my life as a single parent and business owner. [It] just doesn’t seem like [there are] enough hours in the day to do it all!” Alesi admitted. “Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted is a creativity killer.”

Instead of aiming for the often-touted (and sometimes hard-to-achieve) “work-life balance,” Alesi practices a slightly different philosophy: “work, life, be present.”

“With this mantra, I’m able to center and allow myself to not only do things at a slower pace, but also take the time to enjoy the moment,” she explained.

[Read: 5 Essential Things Small Business Owners Should Do Each Day]

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