We had the good fortune of connecting with Joanna Tan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joanna, how do you think about risk?
Taking risks is like driving a car– the car is my waking life and I am the driver with no sense of direction. When I think about risks, I think of my own journey to self discovery. I was like every other 20 something year old living in California trying to find her place in world, looking for a sense of purpose and fulfillment. I had a whole different life then, which consisted of a decent paying job, a cozy place to live, and many supportive and caring friends. Just when I thought I had life figured out, I realized I actually did not, and I wanted change. I was a few steps away to a promising teaching career when I found out it wasn’t my true calling. In 2018, I hit the reset button on life and moved to Phoenix to not only advance in the next step in my relationship, but also with the hopes of obtaining a clean slate or a second chance to start over. It was one of the biggest risks I have taken in my life thus far but, I prefer to call it a “leap of faith”.
What should our readers know about your business?
Ice Cream Jo started in February 2020 as a hand-lettered script shop, where I would hand write phrases, words, or names, and produce them into stickers for people to use in their planners and bullet journals. Although I started a small online business close to the time when the world was about to be filled with so much uncertainty, taking the risk to start with little to no income was actually not a difficult choice for me. I am an extremely passionate person when it comes to my work and I can be very determined once I set my mind to an idea. I do think the hardest part for a lot of people when it comes to owning a business is actually getting started— letting go of that fear and bringing your ideas into action.
As to how I got to where I am today can honestly go back to my early school days; doodling pretty headers on my study notes, color coding my school planners with highlighters, an owning an excessive collection of pens, notebooks, and stationery. I wasn’t aware that people planned with stickers until late 2015. where I discovered the planning community on YouTube. Heavily inspired by people who would upload videos called “Plan with Me’s”, where they would talk about their plans for the week while putting together a spread with decorative stickers. There was an appeal to planning that I loved— the creative aspect, and I initially found this to be a fascinating hobby to get into.
I spent the first few months settling into Arizona, and I had a lot free time to myself. Calligraphy and brush lettering was very trendy at the time, and still is. I watched many of my favorite planner content creators on the regular, followed tutorials, and even taken a couple of online courses to improve my own handwriting and lettering skills. I knew I wanted to do more in life than just the restaurant industry, and even through others had concerns of whether this specific industry was going to offer me enough financial stability, I was set on my passions for once in my life and chose for the first time to pursue it.
The launch of my new business was off to great start but, I was faced inevitably with new challenges in how to keep the shop running. Starting any business from the ground up is no easy task in itself and can take several years for one to become fully established. The external challenges of building a business can initially be overwhelming and confusing. It requires an immense amount of time, dedication, and research but, at the same time, it can also be rewarding and fulfilling once you find your flow.
There is so much artistic talent out there in the world, and the internet is saturated with millions of creative people. A way for artists in the planning space are able to make income is by selling their digital work commercially for other sticker shop owners to use in their products. What sets me apart is the fact that I both design and produce my own artwork. I introduced selling stickers featuring my own exclusive art a year after launching the shop and I was blessed with such a positive response and amazing support. By adding this new layer to the business, I did not foresee the amount of workload I signed myself up for and, without a doubt, took a huge toll to my mental health. It is already challenging enough to start your own business, but to identify yourself as an artist to the world at the same time was even more intimidating. It was a huge role I deeply wanted to live up to.
The most challenging part of running Ice Cream Jo for me was understanding my own self worth and how much I value myself. My own mental health is my biggest battle I struggle with in life. I am huge advocate when it comes to the importance self care and well being. It is so necessary for me as an artist and a small business owner to remind myself to take plenty of breaks, hydrate, eat more fruits and veggies, sleep well, and go outside for some fresh air every now and then. It is a balance I try to maintain in order to function. Planning itself can also be considered self care, but I personally love videos games and cooking too.
Not everything I create is a masterpiece, and there are always going to be people who will do better than you in your own game. You can’t let it get it you. It so easy to fall into self doubt and imposter syndrome in this industry. I learned and am still learning, to prioritize my own mental health as I continue to learn and believe in how valuable my skills, time and work really are. It is so crucial to have a support system or to have people around you who actually believe in what you’re doing.
The biggest lesson I have learned thus far was from my mentor, who reminded me that you have to be your own #1 fan or else you yourself will be your own downfall. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can others believe in you? You have to truly know your “why”. Overcoming my internal struggles was all down to a change in mindset, giving myself grace, letting go of pride and ego, asking for help when you need it, and being more open minded to the opportunities that come.
I carry some fundamentals of what it means to be entrepreneur like self discipline, time management, and tasking risks. I continue to keep myself inspired in any way I can by drawing daily and immersing myself in everything I love to do. Being part of the planner community has provided accountability for myself in ways that if I desire to start a project, a business, an occasion, or a certain lifestyle, I create plans in order to achieve it. We already share so much of our own lives to the world already, sharing our creative plans is just another medium.
You would think not many people these days in the land of iPhones and virtual reality, that people have abandoned paper planners for good. But I’m here to say that the paper planning culture is very much alive and well and has evolved into something much more beautiful. The creative and community aspect of planning on social media is has inspired me to build a business the represents that. I want to inspire and guide people to be the best person they can be, and pursue in their passions by bringing joy to others with my art. I am blessed for the people in my life who have shown me their support and have inspired me to keep moving forward, even in moments of self-doubt.
I want people to know that you don’t have to be a creative person in order to be a planner, and there is no such thing as a right or wrong way to plan. Planners should be seen as a tool to be used to supplement your life. They are meant to work for you, and not the other way around. No matter what form of planning you decide to use, I cannot say enough on how helpful it can be for other creatives, business owners– anyone, to implement in their lives. Planning is unique to the individual and it should be embraced.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There are so many options in Arizona, here are a list of places of where we would go to…
✧ Little Miss BBQ, their fatty brisket is mouth watering, just have to get there early!
✧ The Hot Chick, tasty friend chicken sandwiches and chill place to hang out
✧ Pho Thanh, quality pho noodle soup, your perfect hangover meal.
✧ Tasty Pot, my favorite hot pot spot, reminds me of hometown in Cali
✧ Crumbl, is a must for some freshly baked warm cookies
✧ Milk Run, cute shop that serves ice cream and boba milk tea, next door to Pho Thanh
✧ Tastea / My go-to tea spot
✧ Barsmith, good place for drinking and great music
✧ Old Town Scottsdale, great for barhopping and nightlife adventures
✧ Stardust Pinbar, a semi-hidden bar with a dance floor and pinball machines–here for the ambience.
✧ Artopia, or any art exhibit in Phoenix, perfect for photo-ops
✧ Sedona, the perfect place to go hiking with friends, I would definitely recommend checking the energy vortex locations.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to make a special dedication to my mentor, Tony Dang. He has helped me rediscover my love and passion for art again and I am incredibly grateful. I would not be where I am at with my skills if it weren’t for him.
Another loving dedication to my significant other, David Truong, who has supported me throughout all the ups and downs and for taking care of me when I couldn’t myself.
A shoutout to all my friends for believing in my passions, especially my bestest friends, La Vonne Centeno and Linda Herr, my biggest motivators in life.
Last but not least, my planner friends and the planner community who made Ice Cream Jo, my dream, into a reality. I cannot thank you all enough.