Courtney Baker was not looking forward to taking Intro to Business.
It was 2014, and Courtney was in her third year at Columbia Bible College. Halfway through her BA in Caregiving & Counselling, she had opted to hit ‘pause’ on her degree to complete an intensive certificate in Applied Leadership.
“I’ve always been interested in leadership roles,” Courtney explains. “I have a love-hate relationship with them, actually. I don’t see myself as a typical leader, but I’m continually thrust into those roles and seek them out.”
So Courtney decided to spend a year focusing on growing as a leader. It meant diving into courses like Leadership & Team-Building, Leadership Sustainability, and Leadership & Culture. It also meant reluctantly taking her first business class.
It turned out to be a transformative experience, in more ways than one. For one thing, her perspective on business underwent radical change. “I realized that living a godly life and business can go together,” Courtney explains. “You can use your gifts to bless other people in a business area. It’s a tool God can use.”
The course also gave Courtney the basic tools she needed to launch her own small business, Paper Heart Calligraphy. When Kurtis Kube, her instructor, asked the class to submit original business plans for an assignment, Courtney struggled at first to come up with an idea. She decided to trust the encouraging advice Kurtis gave her: to create a business that would be an extension of who she is.
That’s when Courtney landed on the idea of turning her calligraphy hobby into a business venture. For years, lettering had been a creative outlet — a way to create unique cards and gifts for the people in her life. Now, Courtney threw herself into the task of turning calligraphy into a viable business strategy. She tackled business modelling, product lines, pricing, and marketing plans. At first, the plan was purely theoretical: a project handed in for a grade. But when friends kept asking if she had calligraphy pieces for sale, Courtney decided to launch Paper Heart Calligraphy for real.
Today, you can walk into stores like Spruce Collective in Abbotsford and The Hand Picked Home Shop in White Rock and find her prints: intricately lettered pieces. Some feature quotes, and some scripture verses. All are messages that connect to her own life journey, words chosen to encourage people and open up heartfelt conversations. It’s artwork with clear appeal — her Instagram business account has an impressive 2,612 followers, and she makes steady direct sales through her Etsy online store. This fall, Courtney rented her first solo booth at a local craft fair and was ecstatic about the response.
Her journey as an entrepreneur hasn’t been without its hiccups and learning curves. With the help of online tutorials, Courtney taught herself Photoshop so she could scale up her production to a sustainable and profitable level. She soon realized shipping costs wouldn’t allow her to sell framed products, which was a disappointment. She’s had to learn skills like search engine optimization and leveraging social media. Time and again, she’s gone back to her original business plan to help her stay on track. She’s also availed herself of Kurtis’ willingness to be a mentor. Pricing her products is one tricky issue that she’s consulted him about: “Kurtis is always excited to help me figure things out,” says Courtney.
Courtney is thrilled with the success of her business. Even more than that, she’s delighted that her business is so close to her passions and heart. “What I want to be able to do in life is walk in relationship with people and encourage and challenge them,” she explains. “My business is an extension of that — to be able to create something with my hands that can encourage people.”
Also exciting to Courtney is the way Paper Heart Calligraphy is opening up so many relationships with other people who are pursuing their creative passions and building small businesses. She hopes to start offering calligraphy workshops — workshops that would include not just lettering techniques but encouragement in creativity and conquering fears. Come spring, Courtney will graduate, equipped with people skills, leadership skills, and business skills. She’s not sure yet whether she’ll try to pursue her business full-time. Whatever she does, Courtney hopes to follow her own best advice to entrepreneurs:
“Do it. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. But also do it wholeheartedly.” A fitting quote for a hand-lettered Paper Heart Calligraphy piece. ■
Columbia now offers a two-year Diploma in Social Entrepreneurship and a two-year Diploma in Applied Leadership. Both programs focus on developing faith and character as well as equipping students with core skills for the marketplace. Social Entrepreneurship emphasizes business skills, while Applied Leadership focuses more on well… leadership skills.
This article was first printed in the January 2017 Columbia Update. Courtney is a recent graduate of the BA in Caregiving & Counselling program. Photos are by Bekah Bielefeld.