We’ve all got one. That one job that we pretend never happened, because it always makes us cringe. That one job where we made the worst mistake, and things went haywire. They always say that you shouldn’t make the same mistake twice, and I typically don’t, but when it comes to stationery, I’ve found there are still plenty of different mistakes you can make only once. So let me tell you about my most embarrassing and costly mistake so far!
Let’s paint a picture. The year is 2017. Trump was just inaugurated, football players are *GASP* kneeling on the field, and the sun is literally like “this is all too much, I’m gonna hide behind the moon for a bit”. Amidst all of this horror, I was working with an absolutely amazing client. She wanted more bells and whistles than I’d ever gotten to play with at that point - belly bands, calligraphy, gold foil, die cuts, etc. - and she kept asking me to add more patterns and more colors! Basically a dream client for me.
So we get to the print approvals, no problem, and I’m next-level excited for this suite! The digital prints arrive from my printer one evening, all different colors, with a blue-on-blue Ikat pattern on the back to match the envelopes. Or so I had planned. When I held up the back of the invitation to the envelopes, the blue was wayyy too green and wayyyy too light. Not a good match at all.
What did I do?
Naturally, I panicked. I had to take them to my foil printer the next day, and well, panicking was my go-to move at the start of my business. It seemed the only option was to fix the prints at a rush and overnight them. These were double-thick, double-sided printing, and I was 2,000 miles away from this printer. So, this was a fix to the tune of about $500, which was over half of my profit on this order.
I took a deep breath, removed some green from the blue color swatch, and painfully sent that order in that evening. I kicked myself for a full 24 hours for making such a dumb mistake and not ordering a sample.
Finally, two mornings later, the new prints came in. And they were totally and completely off. Not nearly enough green, and way too dark. I guess I overcorrected? I grabbed the first round of prints to compare...and all the sudden, they looked almost perfect. WHAT?!
Okay okay, if you’re a seasoned designer (or have more common sense than I did at the time), you may have realized by this point that the only issue the entire time was bad lighting. I received the first round of prints in the evening, and in my panic didn’t wait until morning to compare.
No matter how many mistakes I make, I can’t imagine that any will live up to the embarrassment of this one - a mistake that wasn’t even a mistake and still cost me $500. Despite these invitations being a favorite of mine (and the internet’s!) over the years, I will always think of them with a little cringe. But of course, being someone who always questions what I could’ve done better, I learned a lot of lessons from this issue - some obvious, and some less so. Let’s see if you caught them all:
Use good lighting.
Well, duh. This is the obvious one, and would’ve helped tremendously. Even if you have to go outside, or wait a few hours, never make color decisions without good, natural light!
Never try to match print colors to paper colors in large blocks.
Especially with digital printing. You can learn a lot more about working with color in our Invitation Design Guide, but one tip is that every type of paper and print method will handle colors slightly differently. So a paper that’s dyed permanently will likely never match 100% with a white paper that’s printed in a color. You can get closer with offset and letterpress printing than with digital, but it’s still a good idea to just use colored paper if you want an exact match on a large scale.
Even if it’s early in the design process and there are revisions later. Even if you have to take a few days extra. Even if it costs money. You’ll never regret it!
Don’t put words in peoples’ mouths.
I thought my client would be livid if things were a day or two later than promised, which is what initially brought on the panic mode (and the $150+ in rush fees). I’d forgotten a basic truth - that people are reasonable. Even if a client has to deal with a delay, having an open and honest conversation with them typically ends in a positive experience.
There is never an “only option”.
You may not all be like this, but my mind tends to latch onto the first disaster recovery option when I’m in a stressful situation. I like to choose a plan, and act immediately. Now that I’ve had more experience, I always try to talk to one other person in the stationery world, and one other person outside of the stationery world (spoiler: this is usually my boyfriend, Alex, and he’s really smart). Usually, three brains prove to be way better than one.
And we come back to the most important business lesson I’ve learned, which is just to breathe. It’s so easy to get swept up in a mistake or issue, and think it’s the end of the world. But if you take a deep breath, and even step away from it for a minute, you’ll likely find a better solution, or see the issue in a different light (see what I did there?!).
We’ve got an awesome video on how to deal with client issues on our YouTube channel! Two and a half years later, I thought it was finally time to unleash this particular embarrassing story on the world and let go some of that icky feeling about this otherwise-amazing job! Tell us about your biggest mistakes in the comments below - and what you’ve learned from them!