For many entrepreneurs and small businesses, social media can be an absolute game-changer! All it takes is one viral post and a business can suddenly take off.
At Like A Voss Social Media, we’re highlighting local businesses and entrepreneurs who are killing the online game. This week’s spotlight is on Marie-Andrée Brisson (AKA Mabz) Owner of ChalkedByMabz!
Marie-Andrée Brisson, or as she prefers, Mabz, is a self-taught modern left-handed lettering artist and calligrapher based in the Ottawa area. Mabz is originally a small town gal from Kapuskasing, Ontario, but says she fell in love with our capital city while studying fine arts at the University of Ottawa and never looked back.
Our girl Sabrina interviewed Mabz about her secret to success in business and in life. We also got some awesome insights into what they think makes social media such an effective tool in business.
A Little Bit About Being a Female Entrepreneur
1: How long have you been in business?
Now that’s sort of a tricky question. (Not really “tricky”, but it’s a two part answer). Technically speaking, I created the Instagram account Chalked by Mabz in October 2015.
I had been creating weekly progress chalkboards to document my second pregnancy (as I had my first) and a friend asked if I would be interested in creating a chalkboard for her pop up cafe. I figured my friends and family were already being bombarded with my weekly pregnancy chalkboard posts, that I should make a new account if I was going to be drawing chalkboards for other people now, too.
So a few days before the pop up I created the account and then made a dozen homemade business cards (on “chalkboard paper” no less. #fancy) juuuust in case anyone wanted to know who had made the fabulous chalkboard menus. (LOL)
After that I slowly began to receive inquiries from other friends, then distant relatives and eventually strangers. For a few years Chalked by Mabz continued to grow little by little and I started to offer new services, but it remained a side hustle that I worked on after my boys went to bed.
When I separated from my ex in 2017, Chalked by Mabz became my only source of income. (That’s the “part two”) Having been a (mostly) stay at home mom since the birth of my first son in 2013, it was really difficult to find work that was both flexible enough to accommodate my co-parenting schedule and paid enough to justify childcare in the first place.
That’s when I realized this was my chance to focus on growing my business like, for real. With the help of family support, I was able to keep my boys with me at home (thus saving on childcare) and then work on the business when they were with their dads. So I like to say that Chalked by Mabz is my full time job, 50% of the time.
2: What do you love most about being a female entrepreneur?
I had to come back to this one question a few times, because to be honest, I don’t totally LOVE being an entrepreneur. It’s hard. It really is…and I have considered giving it up in exchange for a consistent paycheck sooooo many times.
But, despite the scary or intimidating or overwhelming parts (and there are some really scary/intimidating/overwhelming parts) I know that I have grown and evolved so much thanks to the challenges, the opportunities, the mistakes and the triumphs which came from taking this chance on myself and my dreams.
3: What is the hardest thing you have had to overcome as a female entrepreneur? Something you did not foresee when you decided to start Chalked By Mabz?
Though I can’t say that I have overcome this, because it is something I have to continue to work on almost daily…I had (and have) to stop comparing myself to others, because for me, it leads to jealousy.
Comparing myself, my journey, my business or even my body to others (especially other women entrepreneurs) on social media will always, without a doubt, lead to jealousy and even resentment. And that’s no fun!
I know it’s awful (and it feels like such a dirty and shameful thing to admit) but it’s true. I have always had difficulties with comparison and jealousy growing up, so now, if I find myself comparing myself (in any way) to my peers or women I admire in business, I can become jealous.
But I am happy to report that I have recently learned (much thanks to my therapist) that anytime I feel jealousy towards someone it’s likely due to an insecurity I have about myself.
Now, when these feelings start to develop, I try to pinpoint the insecurity within me and then I *gently* force myself to change the narrative in my mind.
Like, in my head I’ll say something like: “The only person I compare myself to is yesterday’s version of me” or “Another woman’s/person’s accomplishments does not diminish my worth”.
Stuff like that.
4: What is one thing about working in the lettering and calligraphy industry that people would be surprised to learn?
One thing that really blew me away was how willing people are with helping one another. I have been rescued countless times by my so-called “competition” and I really don’t know if it’s like this in other creative fields. From sharing supplies, to loaning tools to volunteering to help one another out on projects, I owe a great amount of gratitude to my generous peers and the community I am lucky to be part of.
It’s for this reason that, as much as possible, I try to help others out as best I can, too.
5: As an artist, where do you look to, for inspiration?
I am a lover of vintage things, so I often find inspiration while thrifting. I love looking at old books, artwork, dishware and decor for inspiration. I have found inspiration for colour combinations, typography styles and floral composition from vintage finds.
I also try to spend as much time outside as possible and to work with real flowers and leaves. Which is easy with my boys…but when they’re off fighting dragons on the play structure, I’ll be in the nearby bush picking wildflowers and making sad attempts at mini bouquets.
6: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as an artist?
There are manyyyy…but a recent one is to not let the fear of someone else copying me stop me from showing up.
I have a deep internal need to be unique and original (if you’re into Enneagrams, I’m a 4) so when it became apparent that a fellow artist was copying me (my calligraphy style, some of my designs, how I wrote and formatted my captions and parts of my website to name a few) my response was to stop giving them things to copy altogether.
For a really long time it greatly affected how I shared (slash didn’t share) my work. I stopped sharing sneak peeks, I stopped sharing my process, I stopped posting completed projects I was really proud of because doing so would give them other things to copy from me…
And quite honestly, I am still working to regain the confidence I lost from this experience.
It took so much out of me emotionally, mentally and creatively, and being the least confrontational human on the planet my only options were to reach out (which is so scary and I could never) OR to see it as a sorta-kinda compliment and stop letting it bother me.
So, right now, I’m trying to let it not bother me.
Well, for the most part. It doesn’t really work all the time…but until I’m brave enough to reach out and address this matter properly, I am comforted knowing that there’s a reason they’re copying me and it’s because I am talented as fuuuuck.
7: What advice would you give someone who is looking to start a side-hustle with calligraphy and lettering?
Don’t sell yourself or your craft short. Hand lettering and calligraphy are luxury services and should be valued as such, even if you’re just starting out.
Though undercharging may seem like a good way to expand your clientele, your skills and your portfolio, it negatively affects and devalues the community as a whole.
If you’re not sure how to charge, reach out to another local artist and ask them if they would be willing to chat and share some information about pricing. Personally, I would MUCH rather help my “competition” land a job knowing they are being paid accordingly, than find out that they undercut themselves and our industry.
Bonus: I saw in your insta stories that you loved the 3 of hearts and that you collect them, can you tell me a little more bit about that and how that started? That sounds so freaking cool! I’m a sucker for a good story!
The whole 3 of hearts thing started wayyy back in highschool. A friend of mine and myself were wanna-be rebels but were way too soft to do anything really bad (lol), so we would borrow (*cough* steal *cough*) insignificant items from the house parties we attended. Things like a plastic cookie cutter, a tealight candle or a magnet. It was stupid, but entertaining.
Then at one party there were people playing a drinking game (or maybe it was poker because that was a big thing for a while) and I decided that this time, my little gift would be a card from the deck.
3 is my favourite number and of all the suits, hearts are obviously the cutest (yeah, I’m that girl) so the 3 of hearts it was.
After that I realized that literally every house has a deck of cards in it somewhere, so that became my go-to thing.
My goal is to reach 52 and have a whole deck.
And Now Onto The Social Media Questions!
8: Do you have a favourite social media platform? Why?
INSTA!! It has allowed me to connect to people, (some of which are now some of my most cherished friends and whom I otherwise would have never met), it’s where the majority of my clients find me, and it’s where this whooooole thing started for me. I’ve been on Instagram for a while now and I have some followers who have encouraged me and cheered me on from the very start. It’s where I feel most comfortable and supported.
9: What made you decide to start using social media as a way to promote your company?
I can’t say that it was a “decision” per se, because I do feel like it’s now a “must-have” for any business.
I’m obviously not an expert, but I believe that social media is 1. pretty necessary if you want to reach your highest potential and 2. has become so common that not participating seems like a wasted opportunity.
Well that, and like, everyone is doing it and I just would not want to be the odd one out. (Is FOMO still a thing?)
10: How has social media impacted your business? Would you say that it’s an effective marketing tool?
I really don’t know if I would have a business if not for social media. If I had kept my non-pregnancy chalkboards for my personal (private) account, I probably would not have landed those first few gigs from people who just so happened to stumble upon my work.
Though I don’t think you should rely solely on social media (which is literally what I am doing because I can’t be bothered with the extra work atm hahaha…do as I say not as I do much?) it has been the number 1 way I have landed clients.
I try to ask all of my clients how they came across my work and a good 7 or 8 out of 10 found me on Instagram.
11: What advice would you give to other businesses and entrepreneurs who want to use social media as a way to connect with customers?
People want to connect to people, not perfectly curated squares.
Remember that you are a person first, and a business owner/entrepreneur second (or third or fourth or wherever it lands on your scale). I know that there is much to be said about professionalism and presenting yourself in a certain manner, but in my experience, my business really started to flourish when I decided to put more of ME on social media. The messy haired, swearing, long-winded ranting, single mom of two who is forgetful and makes mistakes and constantly mispronounces words. That me.
Though it has actually caused me to lose out on opportunities and jobs, the positive outcome of being an imperfect person (as we all are) has allowed my followers to relate and connect to me in ways and on levels that would not have been possible if I played it safe.
A Little More About Mabz!
If you hadn’t guessed already, Mabz is an acronym of my initials + an added zed for flair…not that I needed any.
Along with lettering, modern calligraphy and floral illustrations, I love a generous slice of cheesecake, Leonardo DiCaprio (*swoon*), when a sticker comes off in one clean swoop (*double swoon*), and the 3 of hearts.
Connect with Mabz
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Do you know a female entrepreneur who loves social media as much as we do? Contact us today – we’d love to tell her story!