Q&A with Lara Henning, Founder of Hen Pen Paper Co.
HELLO LOCAL: What inspired you to start your own small business?
HEN PEN PAPER CO.: I started Hen Pen in 2011 pretty much by accident. I had been working in a corporate design job for a couple of years after college and was beginning to feel suppressed by the design restrictions while working there. I’ve always loved creating greeting cards and sending them to family and friends, so I thought opening up an Etsy shop and sharing that work online might be a fun outlet for my bottled up creativity. I had no idea the positive response I would get from doing so! Within only 2 weeks of “winging it” and opening, Etsy began sharing my work on their social media platforms. I had also opened my shop in the busiest time of year (right before Christmas) so I had more orders than I was prepared to have. Always good problems! From that point on, I haven’t looked back. I keep pushing on & building my business to work for our family.
HL: I love that you consider your business a family venture. Can you explain how your husband and daughter are involved as well?
HPPC: When I began building Hen Pen, I knew right away that I wanted to build a business that would allow me to stay home with my daughter (and now our little one due next month). Doing so means business can get intermixed with everyday living. I try to do the bulk of my business during the week while my daughter is in preschool for three days and then I spend the other two days having fun with her. That wasn't always how it was in the beginning (when my daughter was just a baby) and I would often find myself working late nights and/or early mornings. My husband is a lifesaver and will help me with accounting, paperwork and other sorts of "behind the scene" tasks so I can focus my time on creating new products. My daughter has watched me over the past five years and has begun to help me with small tasks. She loves mail days and putting out the mailing packages for me to prep orders. She will grab the shipping labels off the printer for me and will patiently wait for me to prep orders before we head to the post office where she proudly carries as many orders as she can to be mailed out. Having their full support and understanding is how I'm able to continue to push our business forward. Like I always say, it's all hands on deck around here!
HL: You sketch and draw design inspiration from camping and family trips in your vintage camper?
HPPC: Yes! My husband and I bought a vintage camper about five years ago. It was rotting away in a field in Michigan but had potential with a lot of hard work and dedication. My husband, with no background knowledge of restoring campers, researched his heart out and rebuilt it back to its glory days using as much of the original components as possible (no easy task!). Camping in it is now one of our most favorite things to do as a family. I have had some solo trips in it where I spent time creating and painting new products. But we love to go as a family and I’ll use those relaxing times and fresh air to help inspire me. Camping gives us a chance to get out as a family and enjoy ourselves without being tied down to me working in my office.
HL: Your products are also earth-friendly?
HPPC: Yes, our greeting cards and paper products are all created using post-consumer paper and most are 100% recycled. I have been very intentional about the paper that I use and have stuck to that for the last seven years that we have been in business. We even try to use recycled items for our mailing materials.
HL: What surprised you most about running your own business?
HPPC: As a creative business, the most surprising part of running my own business was ironically the amount of time I spend NOT creating. This was a hard pill to swallow in the beginning and has taken me many years to come to terms that running a creative business doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to be creating art every day. In fact, I have sometimes gone months without creating new work. Nowadays, I have a better system in place to help with that, but it took me a long time to get here. I used to work for hours on end to try to fit everything into my work day, but I realized very quickly that by forcing my creativity, I was only hurting my business. I now try to be more intentional with my time and block large chunks of time for creativity only. Then I’ll block off time for answering emails only or creating new marketing only... you get the point. I learned this was a much more efficient way for me to work and I was dedicating my full energy to each task rather than giving just a little piece of myself to each item on my to-do list. This took me many years to figure out!
HL: What advice do you have for other small business owners or someone considering starting a small business?
HPPC: Just start! You will never, ever be 100% ready. You may think you're not good enough, you're not prepared financially, you don't have the proper working equipment or working environment. I started from a spare bedroom with a laptop, about 10 random designs and no actual business plan for my future. Talk about being ill-prepared (haha)! Look, putting yourself out there can be a scary thing. I’ve always compared my own business to the example of opening up my diary for everyone to see my thoughts and ideas. Then after you open your diary for everyone to read, you wait and hope everyone likes it. That can be a very vulnerable and scary thing to do. However, I promise you, if you always dreamed of opening a small business, the biggest critic that you will EVER have is yourself. If you really want to start your own business, you need to address all of the reasons that you think are preventing you from starting and get rid of them. Don’t let them hold you back from your potential.