Emily Ley couldn’t find her dream job, so she decided to make it.

“I was climbing the ladder and doing the things you are supposed to do, but I wanted the flexibility my own mom had as a teacher while I was growing up. I knew the corporate lifestyle wasn’t going to fit the lifestyle I wanted,” she explains. 

In 2008, while working full-time in nonprofit management, she began designing greeting cards and wedding stationery and selling them on Etsy.

It took two years before Ley could quit her day job. Without social media, she probably would have never gotten to that point. She grew her audience by sharing her products and her personal story on Facebook and Twitter. 

“From the beginning, I was transparent about the backend of my entrepreneurial journey. I was just a girl with a corporate job, trying to live the life I wanted to live. People found that interesting,” she says. 

The same week Ley left the corporate world, she learned she was pregnant with her first child. “Keeping up with a business baby and an actual baby was really hard,” but Ley says the experience helped her to define her core values - values the brand still embodies today: simplicity and the beauty of embracing a lifestyle that isn’t frantic and exhausting. 

The balancing act also inspired Ley’s best-known product, The Simplified Planner. “I was overwhelmed and looking for a tool to manage my business and family life. All the organizers I found had so many boxes to check and things to fill out. They made me feel like I was always failing at something. I wanted a planner that would give me a fresh start every day,” she explains.

So, she grabbed some paper and a Sharpie and sketched what a simpler planner would look like. It was “underwhelming in all the right ways.” Turns out, she wasn’t the only one looking for “simpler.” The Simplified Planner was a near-instant success.

Champagne problems until they aren't

In 2016, Emily Ley Paper & Gifts got big - too big. “Our products were carried in 800 stores around the world, and we were selling tens of thousands of orders via our online shop. I was overwhelmed. I decided it was time to get back to what we are most passionate about and remember why we started in the first place.”

Ley picked a few strategic partners and closed down the rest of the wholesale program. “Financially, it was scary, and we let some people down, but by making this decision to be small but mighty, we are more profitable and better balanced. We can focus on what we are really about: our community and selling directly to the end user.” 

Fueling growth through automation

Today, Emily Ley has 250,000 combined Instagram followers, 65,000 Facebook fans, and 10,000 Twitter followers. Ley explains that building an organic audience online is more challenging than it used to be, because social media networks have reconfigured their algorithms. For the first time, Ley is experimenting with social media advertising. She is also focusing more on email marketing. The brand has 115,000 email subscribers and counting.

“Social media algorithms have changed, so you don’t always show up in someone’s feed, but if you have someone’s email address, you will always show up in their inbox,” she says.

Ley uses Mailchimp for all her email marketing because it is effective and simple. “It makes it easy to whip up an email or make changes quickly. We also use Mailchimp Automations a ton,” she says.

For example, after Ley closed the wholesale shop, she wanted to roll out an incentive for buying directly from the online store. She developed a monthly coaching program in which customers receive tips for organizing their lives. “It is all through Mailchimp automations. Someone buys a planner, and then every four weeks they automatically get this in-depth, awesome email from our team on how to simplify their life and get the most from the planner. We are finding it is turning one-time customers into repeat customers,” she says.

Emily Ley has been a debt-free company since day one. That would not have been achievable without savvy digital marketing and a well-defined brand voice. Ley advises other business owners to leverage digital tactics, and to be true to what drives them. 

“Understand why you do what you do so you can better connect with your customers,” she says. “People trust and believe in brands that have heart.”