Photo credit: Persimmon Development
Papercraft Miracles makes eco-friendly paper and stationary, from greeting cards to books, wedding invitations, seed bombs, and paper flowers – and they do it all from a solar-powered studio on the west side of Buffalo. They create their paper from scratch, using 100% recycled materials from scrap paper, garden plants, and weeds, and their seed bombs are completely biodegradable.
Q&A with Janna Willoughby-Lohr, founder of Papercraft Miracles
What inspired you to start your business?
I always wanted to do something creative for my career. When I went to college, I had aspired to be a writer, but as soon as I arrived there I felt driven to create more. I signed up for a bunch of book arts classes, and at the end of the year I met with my advisor and said, “Here are all the classes I took this year, what major am I working towards?” And he said, “Well…those are all electives…so….nothing.” When I asked him what I should do, he simply asked me, “What do you want to do?” I told him, “I want to make paper and books that make people happy and I don’t want to be broke. How do I do that??” And he said, “Do that.” I ended up creating my own major in college to study Entrepreneurship and Creative Art integrated together, and I came up with the idea (and the name) for my business while I was still in school. I’ve been building it up ever since.
Why did you decide to launch a business in Western New York?
Buffalo is my hometown. The only time in my life I ever lived elsewhere was during college. While I was still a student, my mother passed away and I inherited her house here in Buffalo, so it really made sense to come back home after graduating. I’m so glad I did because everything seemed to fall into place once I did.
What was it like when you were announced as an Ignite Buffalo winner?
Oh my god, I freaked out! I’m pretty sure I screamed, “F**K YEAH! THAT’S AWESOME!” right into (43North’s) Nate Benson’s ear. I knew it would be a complete game-changer for my business and my life, and it has been just that.
What has been your proudest moment since starting your business?
This is a tough one. Of course, winning the Ignite grant was up there at the top of crowning achievements, but I would have to say something else. This needs a little backstory to make sense. I was raised by a single mother who worked upwards of five part-time jobs at a time and rarely took home more than $12k/year. She somehow had a house, two kids, and a car, but also had a boatload of debt and no health insurance. When I had my first child, I quit my full-time job to stay home with my son and work on building this business. In that first year of being a full-time business owner, I made more money than my mother ever had, and I was only really working during my son’s nap times and the occasional evening or weekend. Knowing that I am making a living doing what I love is my proudest moment, and I know that my mother is grinning ear to ear in heaven at all I’ve achieved thus far.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a small business owner?
The biggest challenge I face is work/life balance. Being a mompreneur from home with my two little boys who are not yet in school is very difficult. Managing my household, working around my husband’s work schedule, and spending a TON of money on childcare just to work a few days a week has been stressful for me and for my family. There are days where I leave my kids with the babysitter and they are crying for me as I go downstairs to work and I wonder why I’m doing all of this…but then 5 minutes later, I hear the kids giggling upstairs and I get an email from a new client who needs my help to make something truly special for them and I remember why it’s all worth it. And seeing my kid pretending to be a business owner when I get home at the end of the day? That’s the icing on the cake. I know that I’m teaching my kids to follow their dreams when they see me doing it day after day as they grow up.
What advice would you give to other aspiring small business owners?
Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help…and then take it. So many entrepreneurs are such Type A people who feel like they have to remain in control of everything and are very reluctant to ask for help or to accept it when offered. I would never be where I am right now without the help of so many people…not just help with childcare or moving something really heavy, but people in the business community who have given me contacts, referrals, advice, you name it. And I do whatever I can to take it all in. Also, never stop learning. I am constantly going to workshops, taking webinars, and going to professional development events and networking events to build myself up personally and professionally. It takes work to be boss, and learning from others who have already done it is clutch.