How a 43-year-old entrepreneur turned her hand-lettering hobby into a 6-figure business

  • Mye De Leon is a published author, hand-lettering maven, and mentor for creatives. 
  • She grew her business to six figures by charging her worth and using email lists and Facebook ads.
  • Her biggest advice is to start a business from a “place of abundance” and not scarcity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Mye De Leon’s policy in life has always been, “Work smarter, not harder.”

De Leon, 43, who owned a scrapbooking business that earned her $2,000 to $3,000 a month, took an interest in hand-lettering — a form of drawing letters by hand — after her son’s birth. Having been born with Down syndrome, he required attention, and De Leon found she was unable to work on her business. She started feeling “just deep sadness inside me,” she told Insider.

She experienced a “wake-up call” when her husband followed her to the bathroom one night to make sure she “wasn’t doing anything crazy,” she said. The following day, she picked up a notebook and started lettering. 

She started out by drawing variations of the alphabet and eventually moved on to asking for the names of her Instagram followers. Six months later, Carina Gardner, the CEO of Mini Lou Kids, a creative toy company, reached out to De Leon about creating an alphabet coloring book.

De Leon has since created a lettering guide called “Styling the Alphabet” and a hand-lettering course called “Mastering the Hand-Lettering Program” and published a book called “Mastering Hand-Lettering,” which came out in 2017.

She pivoted to offering coaching classes in 2019 when she developed myofascial pain syndrome, a chronic muscular pain condition. She offers both one-on-one sessions and group sessions for artists and creative business owners.

De Leon made over $148,000 in 2019 from her course, coaching programs, commission work for Penguin Random House, and influencer work with Pilot Pens US. In 2020, she earned over $104,000. She shared her strategies for building a six-figure business with Insider.

Say no to low-ball offers and charge your worth

De Leon decided early on in her career to turn down work that paid $100 or $200 per project, and instead set her starting rate at $500.

Her second project with American Crafts in 2016 paid $2,500 spanning over four months. That was worth her time, she said, because she was working on it whenever she was available and not eight hours a day. Another client in 2017 was willing to pay $1,000.

“I said ‘no’ to a lot of low-ball projects, and saying ‘no’ allowed me to say ‘yes’ to proper projects that are giving me a high rate,” she said. Eventually, low-paying clients stopped coming in and she began attracting bigger clients, like publishing companies.

De Leon was once invited by an agent to co-author a book for one of their publishing clients — Hinkler Books Australia — but she turned it down. She then agreed to co-author the book, “The Great Big Book of Amazing Creative Lettering” published in 2017 for a flat four-figure fee in return for also publishing her own book. 

She was offered $6,000 as an advanced fee for drafting “Mastering Hand-Lettering.” She suspected that the offer was low and sought advice from an art agent. Her agent recommended asking for $15,000 and charging for the book cover separately. De Leon finally negotiated a five-figure deal for her book.

“I have built and established my brand as somebody who charges a little bit higher,” she said. “I was not even as famous as other hand-lettering artists that were already making their names during that time. That probably helped me propel the business a little bit faster.”

A client that’s keen on working with you won’t mind if you take a little longer to deliver than the other artists or if you’re priced higher, she added. But to confidently charge higher, you have to back it up with quality work.

Curate an email list

De Leon had over 12,000 subscribers to her email list during her scrapbooking days between 2009 and 2014. She started over with 2,000 subscribers to her email list for the hand-lettering business. But she needed a strategy to make sales.

“I know how important [an email list] is when I was in scrapbooking,” she said. “That’s where I made my sales every week. But as a business and a freelancer doing lettering, I did not know that it was that important.”

When De Leon made the new email list, she announced it on her Instagram by way of a 26-day lettering challenge — which eventually became her ebook, “Styling the Alphabet.”

She started building her email list on the side at the same time as planning her hand-lettering course. She hadn’t emailed her scrapbooking subscribers in a long time and needed to gauge if her audience was engaged enough.

To revive the list, she decided to create 12 blog posts spread over 10 weeks. She also used Facebook ads and acquired about 6,000 more subscribers within three months.

“Nurturing my audience is super important to me. If they’re not primed enough, they might not buy the product,” she said. She sent emails twice a week: One email would offer tips, strategies, and techniques on hand-lettering or time-management. Another would direct them to the blog post to develop the “know, like, and trust” factor, she said.

Pre-sell your product before building it

“The strategy that I have learned early on is: Do not build the course until you have sold it first,” De Leon said.

She pre-sold her course, “Mastering Hand-Lettering Program,” to 73 people in August 2018. She collated the synopsis, table of contents of her book, and a few additional details and sold it to her email list. The course was priced at $297 and she earned about $21,681 during the one-week pre-sale.

She moved forward working on the course with the help of her husband. It officially launched in February 2019 at $547, and 162 people bought it, she said.

Show up consistently for your audience

De Leon recommended artists build their audience on free platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

“It is not always self-serving posts: You also have to be able to help them,” she said. “People always think, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and when they do, the post becomes about them.”

It was important for her to show up consistently. She developed calluses in her hands from hand-lettering every day. “I wrapped my fingers with washi tapes because it hurt, and I still did the work,” she said. “I wanted to prove to everybody that there’s no overnight success.”

De Leon’s work got noticed within six months of being active on Instagram, but she knows that people get noticed after a year, two years, or even two months. She advised individuals to be patient, and added that everybody has different circumstances, experiences, and skills.

Consider budgeting for social ads

De Leon realized quickly that she wouldn’t be able to organically reach a bigger audience given how many other famous hand-lettering artists there were at the same. She didn’t know a lot of people in the industry or have any connections. 

She eventually connected with someone in a mutual Facebook group for female entrepreneurs, who went on to act as De Leon’s virtual assistant, Facebook advertiser, and copywriter.

Initially, De Leon budgeted $5 a day, or $150 a month, to ad campaigns and then increased it to $15 to $20 a day. She then aggressively ran $100 ads for three to five days at the time of her course launch. She said the ads helped to generate leads that turned into paying customers.

She’s currently still running Facebook ads for her evergreen course and most recently ran Black Friday ads. For her second course, “Art of Selling,” that launched in 2021, she budgeted $1,000 a month for ad spend.

Her biggest advice, ultimately, is to start a business from a “place of abundance” and not scarcity.

“You need to secure yourself first, have food on the table, a roof over your head, so that you can start the business on the right setting,” she said.

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