Behind the Scenes: Small Businessisms March 15, 2018 05:00

UPstudio has been around for a few years now, but we're continuing to grow in our knowledge as small business owners.  There are of course, lots of responsibilities that come with a small business that are no brainers, like taxes, hard work, and endless hours.  But there are plenty of blog posts that go through the basics of starting a business - what we're talking about today is the opposite side of the spectrum, the sometimes fun, mostly quirky, maybe helpful things that have we have learned as UPstudio grows.


  • We're friends with our local post office workers.  With a time sensitive product like a planner, we make every effort to ship out orders ASAP, which means that we're making daily (sometimes multiple!) trips to the post office.  Inherently, we see the same people every day and get to know them.  We even gave Christmas gifts and share baby photos with our local PO workers, because they're so great!  (Thanks Jackie and Allen!)
  • We know way too much about shipping rates.  Another reason to spend time at the post office was to get as much knowledge as possible about shipping rates.  After researching USPS vs UPS, the overall rate for our products was better with USPS, so we ship through them exclusively.  Shipping is the fastest way to lose money as a small business, as it can get very pricey depending on the option.  We offer both priority and priority express as shipping options.  On occasions where free shipping has been offered as a coupon incentive, we've had to eat the cost of the substantially more expensive priority express shipping.  We also frequently price shipping rates to areas outside of the US for specific customer questions.  
  • We barter with other local businesses.  Don't get us wrong, we are big fans of supporting other businesses (see next bullet point) but sometimes there are opportunities that present themselves, and it doesn't hurt to take advantage of them.  For example, our day jobs are located just upstairs from the best sit down or grab and go lunch spot in downtown Raleigh - Manhattan Cafe.  Because we're in there so frequently (especially MB!), we've gotten to know the owners.  They've catered for our parties in exchange for a planner or two or design services.  Win win!
  • We aim to pay cash whenever we can to other small businesses.  Especially if you're at a show and not ordering online, cash when possible is the best way to ensure that the small business owner is seeing the most profit.  Credit cards are incredibly convenient and of course we use them, but we know how much a 3% charge can add up over each transaction, so try to help out others too!
  • We work the system to fulfill bank card requirements. As a small business, and especially one with a seasonal product, sometimes we struggle with enough getting the required number of transactions on our bank cards that are needed in a month.  For our bank, 10 are required, which seems totally doable until you realize how many things are automated within larger accounts.  For example, our website is hosted through Shopify.  Shopify offers a slightly discounted shipping rate for products, so we use them instead of paying for shipping individually from the PO each time (which would otherwise be on our bank cards).  So, instead of multiple transactions, we just have 1 through Shopify.  Whenever we are purchasing multiples of something, we try to do as many transactions as we can!  We're not the only ones that do this either, as cashiers have asked if it's for a business bank card.  If we still fall short, around the 28th of each month, we're buying a pack of gum or a drink to get a transaction, and reimbursing the company, just to make it work.
  • We research free apps to install on our website.  Unless you're initially really successful or going through a crowd funding site, you're probably putting in some of your own money to fund your small business.  Because of this, we try to save any money we can wherever we can.  We take the time to research free apps to make our website a little bit better than the standard, and research any coding that is required for things we can fix ourselves (read: MB does all this - she's an engineer and knows coding and is completely running the show on this stuff.  After she learns what to do she gives me the short version in terms I can understand, and we work together where we can.)  Here's an example of one genius thing she's fixed.
  • We are genuinely excited when people comment on blog posts.  This one has the most comments by far and we LOVE them!  One of the reasons we started a "lessons learned" series is for other small business owners who are out there struggling with the same issues that we are.  If we find a solution, or learned something the hard way, we're happy to share it. 

Behind the Scenes: Everyday Cards July 20, 2017 05:00

Mary Beth and I are kind of old school.  Of course, we use technology everyday and definitely appreciate what it can do, but we also love reading a real book with paper pages, writing in a physical planner, and sending some old fashioned snail mail.  Designing and developing a line of Everyday Cards fit right in with our product line of high quality paper products. In fact, when we launched the UPstudio website, the only products we had were 4 varieties of Everyday Cards, and a calendar set (my how we've grown!).  Today, we're giving you a behind the scenes look at what happens to make a run of Everyday Cards.

It might not seem like it, but A LOT of thought goes in behind the scenes to develop a product.  As you've heard us say before, we like to get involved and understand all aspects of what we're making.  This means that we had countless conversations and visits with our printer (local Raleigh, woo!) to get a full understanding of paper types, colors, thicknesses (weights), sizes, printing methods, and economy of printing.  Believe me, this is a lot of work, and a lot of decisions.

The design concept of each card came first, but the final layout and cropping was decided after understanding what type of paper would be used, and how it would be printed.  We went in depth about paper weights and the differences between offset and digital printing in this blog post, which if you're in to paper is a pretty interesting read.  The UPstudio Everyday Cards are offset printed on 160 lb cover stock, which in layman's terms means that it's printed on really thick paper with a very even matte black finish.

Once we decided what size the cards would be (mainly determined by standard envelope sizes), our printer could figure out the size of the paper that they would be cut from.  It's not something you think about every day, but a card isn't printed on the size paper that it ends up being, instead there are multiple cards printed on one larger sheet of paper.  The overall design size is greater than the final cut size, and crop marks are included in each print, so that the cuts will be precise and the ink will print full bleed and look clean when cut to size.  The UPstudio Everyday Cards are sized to print 8 cards from a 13x20 sheets of paper.  This sheet is cut in half from a 20x26 sheet of paper in order to work with the size of the printers.  So, to simplify:  large paper is cut to print size, designs are printed, and cards are cut to final size.

Depending on the thickness of your paper and the amount of ink that is applied, sheets may need to be laid out to dry for several hours before cutting.  The very first run of Everyday Cards from our printer turned out to be a bust after the sheets weren't allowed quite enough drying time.  Once they were stacked and cut, the still slightly-wet ink bled onto other cards and made them messy and unusable.  Talk about lessons learned!  Many of the UPstudio Everyday Cards have a very saturated black design, which means they require EXTRA drying time.

Once the reprints were dry, our printer contacted us to come view a proof and approve before the final cuts were made (even though we've printed out tons of cards with them, they understand our level of pickiness and always make sure we're good with everything before finalizing!  They're the best!)

(above: an example of a proof sheet ready for approval)

After we gave the thumbs up, it was time to cut. The sheets were stacked up and placed on a cutting machine.  The crop marks were aligned on the cutter and once set correctly, the sheets were secured in place and a large sharp blade cut a big stack at once, kind of like a paper guillotine.  Check out this video for a good example of how this works (disclaimer: this is not our printer, but you get the idea).

After the final trim, the cards are QC'ed (checked for quality control to make sure they're all trimmed and printed correctly), then packaged up in stacks ready for pick up.  We pick them up, then take pretty pictures and package them up for purchase, just for you!  

(above: stacks of cards wrapped in plastic from the printer)

We currently have a line of 8 Everyday Cards, 2 seasonal Christmas cards, and approximately a million more designs in mind.  We have an open invitation for anyone who wants to send a card to an active duty or retired military service member to request a free card, so don't hesitate to take us up on it.

We hope you learned something with this blog post!  Happy letter writing!