Meet the Maker: Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters
The U.S. has been in a frenzy lately, with women’s issues at the forefront of our minds (and on the tips of our tongues). We couldn’t think of a more fitting time to introduce you to Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters, a line of women’s history trading cards and gifts that celebrate trailblazing women and provide inspiration, motivation and education for girls of all ages. Now that sounds like something we can all agree on. Take it away, Ellen!
Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters
LBC: What inspired you to take the leap as an entrepreneur?
Ellen: My background is in non-profit community arts development. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of entrepreneurship, but instead about how to develop a network of sharing around the topic of women’s history.
After the 2016 election I had a strong desire for my then 11 year old daughter to have a deeper understanding of how long and hard women have been fighting for equality in all fields, including the political. My son collected baseball cards and consequently developed an impressive knowledge of athletes, and a network of similarly interested friends around the country.
Trading cards seemed like the perfect medium to spread the word about trailblazing women throughout history. But I had never developed a product before. After creating the initial set of cards, I had so many women saying to me, “We need this!” I decided to go all in, and launched a Kickstarter campaign in the fall of 2017. I then found myself knee-deep in packaging, pricing, shipping and, of course, hours and hours of research. I drew a lot of energy from the enthusiasm of the Kickstarter backers that took the leap with me.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Ellen: Persistent Sisters is an ever-expanding line of women’s history trading cards so that girls can see who they can be.
LBC: Where can we find your products?
Ellen: Online at www.persistentsisters.com, on Amazon, and in many fantastic museum stores and several boutiques around the county.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Ellen: Simply as a needed and accessible resource to empower and inspire both women and older girls, and something to be collected and shared between mothers (aunts, grandmothers, etc.) and daughters. Pocket-sized sheroes!
LBC: Walk us through a typical workday.
Ellen: Recently I went back to work full time in the non-profit world, and my typical workday with Persistent Sisters is now very early mornings and late evenings and the weekends. It can be a challenge to find balance.
I have some fantastic graphic designers that I work with, and have brought in other illustrators for a few sets of cards. However, the day-to-day is just me. You might find me researching, running numbers, checking inventory, packaging, illustrating…all the things. Sadly there are many days when I feel like I am so enmeshed in the minutia that I lose sight of the big picture, and don’t take enough time to spread the word about Persistent Sisters. I’m always striving to find ways to manage my time more effectively.
LBC: What are 3 things entrepreneurs should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
Ellen: Everything BUT the creative. Learn what the tax implications are for an inventory based business. Choose and be very familiar with your accounting system (or find someone to do it for you). And find a way to absolutely love spreadsheets! Literally every penny counts. My life would have been a lot easier if I had taken the time to develop some systems before I was elbow deep in product development.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Ellen: I try to think about why I started the business. I pick up a few Persistent Sisters trading cards and reflect on women that have helped changed the world, often facing tremendous obstacles, without support, and on their own. A couple weeks ago, my daughter and two of her friends each submitted papers for National History Day about women’s history, inspired by the Persistent cards. This is what keeps me going on the hardest days, reflecting on the impact the cards can have on young women. The future is female!
LBC: Tell us about the best business decision you’ve made to date.
Ellen: I joined the Museum Store Association early on, and found an amazingly supportive group of both vendors and store buyers that were willing to answer my many questions along the way. For anyone with a product that fits in the museum store market, the Museum Store Association is a small investment with big returns. (side note from Lela: I whole-heartedly agree!)
LBC: Please share one misstep or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back or overcome it?
Ellen: Oh, so many to choose from! In my first Kickstarter campaign, I wasn’t careful enough when I calculated shipping and went way over budget. I made it work, and am careful not to repeat the same mistake.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
Ellen: Microsoft OneNote keeps me organized. And the library! I try to include lesser-known women, and sometimes that takes a little digging. Lastly, I would say my daughter and her access to other middle-school aged girls. They’re my ad hoc focus group and their feedback has been invaluable.
LBC: Imagine that we had a time machine. If we blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Ellen: My dream has always been for the Persistent Sisters trading cards to spark a little network of girls sharing their own dreams and visions for their future. Recently I started including blank make-it-yourself trading cards, encouraging people to share those on social media and maybe trading them with each other. There are so many more trading cards to make, but I’d also love to find ways to build and engage a community.
LBC: How have your interactions with Lucky Break influenced your business?
Ellen: Lucky Break provided me with some invaluable resources. I learned so much, from product descriptions to pricing strategies to line sheets. And I know there’s a lot more that I haven’t tapped into.
LBC: What benefits have you seen from taking classes, working with a mentor, and/or building community around your business?
Ellen: There has only been an upside. Finding resources for all of the aspects of the business where I lack knowledge allows me to stay focused in the areas that I feel more comfortable. Additionally, objective feedback is so important. Because I am primarily a one-woman show, I have sought out workshops and other learning events that allow me the opportunity to hear what others think.”
Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your talent with us. We absolutely love what you’re doing with Persistent Sisters, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!