For Jo Eleanor, it’s all about the hands and feet. The mother of three was working as a podiatrist when she noticed her handwriting deteriorating. On a whim, she signed up for a calligraphy class. She was heavily pregnant with twins at the time and through her subsequent maternity leave, she found herself practicing calligraphy during their nap times (yes, while the rest of us were watching reality TV and deciding whether to brush our hair or eat a block of chocolate)…
Despite every intention of returning to her podiatry practice, Jo’s story was truly written in the stars – or to the stars, more accurately. With an Instagram page to share her new-found hobby, her talent was spotted and she welcomed a calligraphy client: a little brand called Chanel.
Jo now counts brands including Dior, Givenchy, and Vogue among her list of clientele, along with her thriving on-site activations and bridal work. It hasn’t been without its challenges, of course. “By far the most challenging thing is often being alone when it comes to the decision-making”, she tells us of being her own boss. “Ultimately, even with all the advice in the world, you are the one that knows your business best and you need to follow your gut with big decisions. It can be a scary prospect when the buck stops with you.” But it’s worth it. “The wins get to be all your own”, Jo explains. “Nothing feels better than landing a dream client or getting to see the joy on a customer’s face when they receive their calligraphy. My business now truly doesn’t feel like a ‘job’ 90% of the time. I get to wake up every day and create things that light me up.”
We stepped in to Jo’s beautiful world and rediscovered an art we’d nearly forgotten about. Plus, she tells us the secret to working from home with kids…
You were working as a podiatrist when you noticed your handwriting deteriorating. You decided to do a calligraphy class and the rest is history - what was that first class like?
It was so much fun! I was heavily pregnant with twins at the time and rarely got a chance to do anything for myself. I actually couldn’t believe how quick it was to pick up the mechanics of the pen, but it definitely wasn’t as free flowing and easy as I had seen on Instagram!
Did you know immediately that you wanted to do a major career pivot, or did it take time?
No, I would never in a million years have foreseen a change in career at this point in my life. I just wanted something I could do to enjoy myself, and I loved writing handwritten notes and cards, so I wanted pretty writing for that. I had no intention at the time to change careers, I just started doing calligraphy regularly while I was on maternity leave while the babies were sleeping. Then I started an Instagram account to keep me motivated, and share my work with my family and friends.
While you were working in podiatry, did you have enough flexibility to balance your career and motherhood? Or was that part of the appeal of starting your own business?
It’s funny because on the surface you would say I could set my own hours and had flexibility, however anyone that runs their own business will tell you that even if you can set your own hours or days you work, there is always so much out of ‘paid’ hourly work in the form of admin, staff and marketing. I was living 1.5 hours away from the clinic in traffic, so the travel was also taking its toll. I loved my job and the business, but it just was no longer feeling sustainable with the amount of hours I was working, and with 3 children in the mix.
Podiatry is also a difficult business model when it comes to paying other professionals. Having somebody else work in your clinic can make it difficult to see a profit when you have limited clinic availability, which also meant I still needed to be seeing at least 50% of the patient load.
What's been the most challenging part of starting your own business?
I’ve had my own business since I was 23, so I don’t really know life any other way. I love the drive that comes with being your own boss, and being responsible for your businesses success.
By far the most challenging thing is often being alone when it comes to the decision-making. Ultimately, even with all the advice in the world, you are the one that knows your business best and you need to follow your gut with big decisions. It can be a scary prospect when the buck stops with you.
And the best?
The wins get to be all your own! Nothing feels better than landing a dream client or getting to see the joy on a customer’s face when they receive their calligraphy. My business now truly doesn’t feel like a ‘job’ 90% of the time. I get to wake up every day and create things that light me up. I even love the marketing and content creation side of it, so I’m really happy I went against the grain of what is considered ‘normal’ for a calligraphy business and found my true happy place.
Tell us how you managed to grow your following on Instagram...
I got onto Instagram quite late, so it is definitely more difficult than it used to be. I think the key is to make your account about your followers. I like to think about how I can enrich their lives and experiences. I also mix in topics that don’t necessarily have anything to do with calligraphy, but will appeal to my audience, with lots of bridal and inspirational fashion chats. My number one thing with Instagram is if you are in a creative business, you need to have good quality images that communicate a story to your followers.
Who was your first 'pinch me' client, and how did that come about?
My first pinch me moment was by far my first luxury brand client which was CHANEL! I was lucky enough to have a beautiful calligraphy friend refer me to them, as she thought I would be a great fit for the brand. There was definitely a happy dance after that phone call. While I believe in lucky breaks, I also think it was equally important to have branding and a presence that would appeal to my ideal client, so when they did come across my business they would consider me a perfect fit.
After your twins arrived and you were in the newborn phase, did you manage to keep working on your calligraphy? Or did that take a backseat?
Really that was the only thing I was doing at the time. I was on maternity leave and had every intention of returning to podiatry. My calligraphy had no pressures or expectations, and the business had this really organic evolution from something I did for fun into something I could potentially turn into a business.
Do you have any work from home hacks you can share? How do you keep your office space and all that beautiful work safe from little hands?
I am a messy artist for sure. Nothing feels better than having a clean and tidy office, but sometimes I have so many projects on at the same time it just doesn’t happen. My biggest advice for those working from home is to have a set routine you follow everyday. To keep you on track, use a work scheduler such as asana and set an alarm for blocks of time where you focus on one goal or project. I find Instagram and Pinterest such tempting distractions and when I don’t have structure in my day it’s so easy to waste a whole day.
What does a day in your life typically look like now?
I am so thankful that we are seeing life at the end of the tunnel with the COVID-19 situation. Normally my life would be about 50% in studio work and 50% on-site events, but currently on-site events are non-existent. However, all 3 of my girls are back to school and daycare, so it’s given me time to focus on passion projects such as beautiful styled shoots, and a personalising partnership with Moet, and a few other surprises that I have in the works.
What's next for Calligraphy En Vogue?
I would love to expand our offerings to a wider audience of brides who can access our services through in-store activations, in the form of perfume engraving, alcohol personalising and card writing. However I would love to see this adapted more regularly to an online offering. We have one perfume personalising event which was an online offering with Bulgari, and it was such a wonderful success, I would love to see brands offering our services to a wider audience outside of Sydney.
What's your favourite part of what you do?
Of course the calligraphy, but a close second is the content creation and styled shoots that just bring forth so much creativity, and allow me to work with other wonderful creatives. I also love the marketing aspect of the business – whether it’s discussing a marketing strategy with our brand clients or with other bridal businesses.