Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Written by Vivian Song
On July 26, we had the pleasure of having Dina Lu, a young calligraphy workshop instructor and business coach who mentors young calligraphers around the world, speak at our monthly speaker event on entrepreneurship. Dina shared an inspiring story about her path to cultivating a successful business in calligraphy while providing some insightful advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs.
As a quiet and introverted teenager, Dina was unsure about where her path would take her during high school. “I didn’t have a business in high school, I actually had no idea what I wanted to do,” Dina commented about her experience as an adolescent. This phrase may sound familiar to several high schoolers and young adults. As young individuals, the vast majority of us are likely trapped in a state of uncertainty and figuring out what to pursue. Hearing Dina’s narrative provides youth with much needed assurance and visibility regarding their post-secondary endeavours.
Dina then continues to elaborate about her shyness during her high school years claiming, “I was one of those people who would do a presentation and then the teacher would be like, ‘Dina please speak louder.’”
“I think a misconception that people have sometimes is that if you want to start a business, you need to like, promote yourself and put yourself out there and you need to be like, super extroverted but I don’t think that’s true. I think introverts can also start a business.”
Dina’s statement about extraversion and its correlation with the ability to pursue entrepreneurship couldn’t be a more accurate depiction about her own personal journey.
Dina ended up going to UBC and specialized in finance and international business where she learned practical workplace skills and partook in exchange and co-op for 5 years. Her first real job was as a Business Development Associate at the British Consulate in Vancouver (UK’s Department for International Trade). It was during her work there where she first learned calligraphy which sparked her interest in starting her own business. Before then, Dina began to develop an interest in starting a side business and volunteered with an organization called, League of Innovators, a Canadian-based charity that helps youth get started in the field of entrepreneurship and start-ups.
“I started to volunteer for them because I was really interested in the idea of having a side business and I did have several ideas, like, I wanted to start a cake shop at home… and my other idea was to do resume and cover letter editing ‘cuz I was pretty good at that. But, I never went ahead with that.”
Dina then stumbled upon calligraphy art on Pinterest and decided to try it out herself. It was then when she began to cultivate an interest in creating elegant designs.
Dina began learning calligraphy using platforms such as YouTube and Instagram and launched her first side hustle in selling handmade greeting cards earning $500 within a month. After the success of her initial gig, Dina began hosting calligraphy workshops and eventually quit her job to allocate more time to further develop her business. “I’ve always wanted to quit my job and do my own thing,” Dina commented about her substantial decision.
After her departure from her job, Dina continued to teach calligraphy workshops and taught 60 calligraphy workshops in 3 months. Her success pivoted slightly when the pandemic struck which caused Dina to cancel all of her workshops as they were held in person. Dina didn’t give up too easily however as she used the global shutdown as an opportunity to start an online coaching business for calligraphers all around the world on how to start a calligraphy business. Not too long afterward, Dina started a YouTube channel focused on business and art-related topics as a long-term strategy to make passive income.
After telling her story about the growth and progression of her calligraphy business, Dina then provided the following advice for youth who are interested in pursuing their passions and leading a life of entrepreneurship.
Tip #1: Start small
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is there a skill that you can monetize?
Do you have unique skills?
Based on these questions, you can outline an idea of what you want to curate with your business.
Business examples related to monetizable skills: tutoring, freelance graphic design, social media management, services, blogging, product-based (e.g. reusable bubble-tea holders)
Tip #2: Take it one step at a time
There are a lot of procedures and steps to starting a side business so try focusing on one thing a day relating to your business.
E.g. watch a Youtube video on the first day
Tip #3: Acknowledge you can’t do it alone
Starting a business can be overwhelming so it’s beneficial to network and establish a community amongst your peers or other entrepreneurs.
Tip #4: Take care of yourself
If you’re going to start a side business, make sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a good work-life balance.
To wrap things up, we held a Q&A session with Dina and asked her some questions regarding the evolution of her entrepreneurship pathway and allowed her to provide some insight about turning our passions and skills into marketable businesses.
Q: “What is one thing you would tell your past self before starting your journey?”
A: “Don't care about what other people think. I think that’s the one I struggled with the most because I was always worried, especially I think when it comes to like, an art business, I was scared that like, my calligraphy was bad or my paintings or my art was just bad, so I didn’t want to show anyone and I was following a lot of advanced calligraphers so I always felt bad but I think when it comes to starting a business. Just start. Don’t care what other people are doing ‘cuz you are going to grow, so don’t care what others think, especially your competitors. It’s just going to make you feel bad”
Q: “What advice would you give to help find your niche?”
A: “That’s a good question ‘cuz I think it depends on several things like if, for you guys, if you are already good at something and you want to start a business and you want to do it fast, then you can do the business based on what skills you have already. So maybe you are really good at… playing piano and you can start a piano teaching business. But if you have like, some other idea, so for me, when I wanted to start my calligraphy business, I didn’t know calligraphy yet so I had to go out and learn it and I watched YouTube videos and I practiced by myself so that took me a bit longer. But the reason why I picked that niche is because I knew I could monetize it easily. Like, calligraphy is a type of art that is more easily monetizable compared to like painting, ‘cus with calligraphy you can teach workshops, do wedding invitations, sell cards, you can offer custom commissions, like you can write quotes for people and then like they buy it and put it in their house as home decor. So I thought it was more monetizable, a way to make money. So it kinda depends on if you want to do it fast and like, what are you good at.”
Q: “Can you describe a typical day in your life?”
A: “Hmm, every day is different, but a typical day is, I’ll get up at like, 8 o’clock, I’ll go outside for a run if it’s a summer, and then I’ll start working at 10 o’clock and most days I’ll have like, one or two meetings, so these are meetings with either my clients or like a business friend or maybe it’s like this kind of a presentation, or maybe I met somebody at a networking event and I’m having a follow-up meeting. So maybe I’ll have like 1-2 meetings, and then I’m pretty much working at my computer the entire day. For example, today I planned out 3 YouTube videos and then I recorded a bunch of videos for YouTube. And then that’s pretty much what I did today. So it’s different every single day but most days I’ll do something for social media, I’ll have a couple meetings, and yeah, or like work on my coaching programs.”
Q: “If you were to choose again, would you make the same decision to pursue this career?”
A: “I definitely would, I love this way more than working in a job. But, I think a job is still really good, I don’t know if being self-employed is for everybody. Like, some people really love their jobs, I just, I didn’t like going into an office and reporting to somebody and not setting my own schedule. So that’s what like, that’s the reason why I really wanted to be self-employed, ‘cus I wanted that flexibility and freedom. But, some people don’t want that. I love my life right now.”
Q: “Are there any tips you have for high school students?”
A: “I would say don’t let your age stop you, even if you’re like 15, I think you could totally start a business, as I mentioned there’s a ton of resources for people who are young. There’s actually a lot of like, really really young YouTubers, like 18 year olds or 15 year olds or 20 year olds, there’s a lot. And when I see them I’m like, omigosh I’m like 27 already, how is this 18 year old doing it? But yeah, I would say, if you have an idea, try it out ‘cuz you really have nothing to lose and I think when you’re in school, you have more time than if you were in a job, so use the time, try things out.”
Q: “What was one of the most difficult challenges you faced when you first started your business?”
A: “I think one of the biggest things was… it was hard to manage my own time in terms of like, setting boundaries ‘cus I would be working at home and, there’s really no separation between like, my work and like, my actual life, and then I think around that time I also stopped hanging out with friends. So my social life kind of... disappeared, which is not good haha, but yeah I would say the time management was the hardest, like I didn’t know how to manage my own time.”
Q: “Did you expect yourself to be where you are today?”
A: “I had no idea I would do this, I think in high school, I thought I would go into science but I decided last minute to go into business ‘cus the more you go into science, the more you have to like, specialize, but the more you learn about business, the more you can do. So that’s pretty much why I went into business and at that time I also thought that after doing a business degree, I could just get a job right away versus if I went into science then I would have to probably do more further education, um, but yeah I never thought I would, I thought I would have a side business, but I didn’t know I would quit my job when I was in university ‘cus I was following a lot of, like people who talk about side hustles and stuff so I really liked that idea. And then I never thought I would do YouTube, like in high school I was so quiet, like I hate public speaking haha. But now it’s okay!”
Q: “What is the first step to becoming an entrepreneur?”
A: “If you have an idea, try it out. And, okay I think… it’s really hard to like give you guys a first step but I would say… well first thing is to have an idea of what you’re gonna do in your business. Have an idea, and then tell a couple friends about it ‘cus they might be able to help you. And then, try selling it, try selling the thing that you want to sell, I know that’s very broad, just try it out. And also like, you can watch YouTube videos on how to start that particular business.”
Seeing the slow and persistent growth of Dina’s business from a small side hustle to a successful business greatly portrays a realistic and motivating narrative that many young entrepreneurs tend to follow. Hearing Dina’s progress and comparing her thought process from high school to her present day self helps to inspire young people and youth to discover their passions and see how they can monetize and make an impact with such aspirations.