How Sam Shannon turned her passion for art and creative communication into a successful hand-lettering business
by Hanna Nicholls
You’ve probably come across the hand-lettering business Better Left Said while scrolling through Instagram, perusing Halifax-based shops like Inkwell Boutique and Duly Noted, or through the introduction to hand-lettering event, the Lettering Social; an event that has sold out seven socials to over 200 students since 2017.
Sam Shannon, who is currently based in the U.K., is the 28-year-old entrepreneur and self-described “not an artist” behind Better Left Said. Shannon grew up recreating fonts and making cards for friends, so when she was asked to design something to go on shirts for a friend’s family event in 2015, she jumped at the opportunity, despite not knowing what she was in for.
“I really [didn’t] know how to do that, and then I figured it out, started tinkering with illustrator, and then I started sketching out ideas for the shirts.”
Not long after, her roommates asked her to create something for their apartment. Shannon reluctantly posted a photo of the project on Instagram and someone asked to buy it. From then on, it was craft shows and custom projects; all of which led to Shannon developing her brand and creating a niche for herself within the local art and design scene.
During the early stages of what would grow to be Better Left Said, Shannon maintained her full-time job at an ad agency, despite being “full into” her hand-lettering business.
“I was basically getting up in the morning, working, going to work, coming home, drawing – it was all I did – it was all I wanted to do. When I was at work, it was all I was thinking about.”
So she created a business plan and quit her job to see where her skills and passion for art and creative communication could take her.
“I had a good job as an account manager, but I really wanted to do this and try the craft show scene. For the first couple weeks, I was like, ‘what did I just do? … How am I going to pay my rent?’”
But it worked out, and Shannon started to forge a path for her business by working on custom projects and prints, participating in craft shows like Halifax Crafters, and working with local businesses like Lululemon Halifax and United Way Halifax, as well as work with St. F.X. and Cape Breton University.
In creating her business and carving out a niche for her brand, Shannon says it was important to create a model and a business that didn’t pigeonhole her into a specific field of art and design.
“I’ve always been very passionate about creative communication…so I was like, ‘what’s a name so that one day if I wanted to make it into something bigger than hand lettering, that I could have as an umbrella name?’”
Shannon eventually came up with Better Left Said, which comes from the merging of two ideas.
“Part of it was ‘women should be seen, not heard,’ but the opposite of that, and ‘better left unsaid,’ because I’ve always been a big advocate for sharing how you feel. All those things kind of came together.”
Rooted in these two ideas is Shannon’s mandate to help people communicate with confidence, which circles back to her own experiences in starting Better Left Said, and the advice she has for other women hoping to start their own business.
“For me, putting myself out there was really hard to do, especially because I don’t see myself as an artist, but I wanted to do this, and as cheesy as it sounds, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one’s going to pick it up.”
Shannon says that starting her own business has helped her grow in more ways than one.
“Quitting my job and starting Better Left Said made me resilient … I’m able to get into things that I’m really passionate about and work in that field. I like to do everything, not just one thing.”
Shannon continues to grow Better Left Said, and running her own business gives her the freedom to continue to freelance as a brand strategist, and most recently, in data analytics, which is not something she expected to be doing.
For Shannon, her willingness to reinvent her brand and have the confidence to try new things is, in part, the key to the continued success of Better Left Said.
“I’m always doing something different; it just kind of grows as I grow. It’s not the same as when I started, but as I get older and interested in different things, it moves along with me.”
As part of the growing process, Shannon has shifted to the card making business where she creates cards for all the different events one might experience, from the loss of a beloved pet and having a serious case of FOMO, to the excitement of starting a new adventure, and even to the loss of a testicle. As part of this “card challenge,” as Shannon calls it, she creates the cards, posts an accompanying backstory on Better Left Said’s website, and encourages people to embrace cards for all of life’s moments, even if it’s just to say hey to an old friend.
Although Better Left Said continues to evolve, there’s always one constant for Shannon, and it’s the same as the advice she gives to young women just starting out.
“Work hard and be confident.”