By Steven Hoffman
As a small business owner, the mother of three small children, and the wife of a college professor, Leslie Sleesman leads a very busy life.
It's a good thing, then, that she owns and operates a business that specializes in helping people to stay organized. Limelife Planners is celebrating its second anniversary this month, and the business has been attracting customers from all over with customized planners and other products that are as beautiful as they are functional.
During an interview at the retail store and production facility on Market Street in Oxford, Leslie talked about the usefulness of planners as people look to stay organized with an ever-increasing number of items on their daily “to-do” lists.
“Today, there's really an emphasis placed on being busy,” she explained. “You have to do everything and be everything. People are looking for a way to manage it all.”
Sheila Rupp is a military spouse and a freelance writer who currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska. She talked about how useful her Limelife planner has become since discovering the products.
“My planner is my life in a book,” Rupp explained. “After using another brand for a few years, I heard about Limelife. The bright colors and layout options are what drew me in originally, but Leslie's genuine customer service and caring for her customers is what has made me a customer for life.”
Planners are very popular right now, but Leslie’s decision to start her own business did not come about because she wanted to capitalize on a hot industry. It was much more personal than that. She readily admits that she's a list-maker, a planner, someone who appreciates order over chaos. In other words, she's exactly the type of person who appreciates a good, functional planner.
“I like my planners to be colorful, but clean,” she said, explaining that many of the planners that are available on the market today are colorful, but usually very cluttered. “I couldn't really find designs that I liked.”
Back in 2011, Leslie was living in Michigan and working as a freelance graphic designer while her husband, Dustin, was finishing up his graduate school coursework. A friend of Leslie's came to her one day with a request: Could she design a planner that would be not just beautiful, but functional as well? The friend had been unable to find a planner that she liked, and knew that Leslie was a talented graphic designer who loved planners herself, and had years of experience working at a scrapbooking store.
Leslie enjoyed the challenge of creating a customized planner for her friend, and the friend certainly liked the resulting product.
“It really grew organically from there,” Leslie explained. “My friend showed her family and friends. I showed my family and friends.”
As more people learned about Leslie's work on the planners, more orders were placed. It wasn't quite a small business yet, but Leslie certainly enjoyed creating planners that fit the needs of the people who would be using them.
In 2012, Leslie and her family relocated to Oxford as her husband accepted a position as a professor at the University of Delaware. As demand for her products grew, the Sleesman family's home was filled with the products necessary to run the business—a computer, laminators, paper punches, stacks and stacks of pre-printed content, a shipping station and more.
“It was taking over our home,” Leslie explained with a laugh. “I just wanted a production facility that was not my house.”
That led her to open the retail store and production facility in Oxford in 2015.
The planners come in four different sizes—A5, personal, 8 1/2-by-11, and 7-by-9, which is the most popular size. Each of the planners features a beautiful cover. There are ten core designs and approximately 50 interchangeable cover designs that customers can select from.
Paper quality is a very important feature of the Limelife planners, and because Leslie chooses each item that is used during the production process, she only uses high-quality paper that will hold ink well and meet the expectations of her customers. The designs on the interior pages can match the cover, which many people like.
Most people who carry planners rely heavily on the weekly or monthly pages to keep track of their appointments. Leslie prefers the monthly layout, but most of her customers select the weekly layout. There's even a layout for customers who like to plan their day hour by hour. The planners include yearly overview pages through 2019 so that people can look ahead at important dates, as well as a perpetual calendar, a list of special dates and holidays, a page for important contacts, and even a place to write down logins and passwords.
Customers have the opportunity to make several important decisions about their planners, including the design, layout, and the add-on pages that are included. For example, you can choose a planner in a floral design that will have monthly and weekly pages, as well as pages that will help you track budgeting and finances.
Each planner also comes with a habit tracker page so that people can mark off each day that they've incorporated a new habit into their schedule and a page on goal-setting that will include tips on how to work toward achieving goals.
Health and fitness pages are very popular.
“We're not just talking about working out—it's water intake, mental health, sleep, steps taken, and meal-planning,” Leslie explained.
Leslie likes her Smartphone just fine, but her planner is indispensable to staying organized with so many different things going on. Her customers feel the same way.
“I need a pen and paper to plan,” Leslie explained. “Research shows that you need a pen and paper, that you need to write it down, to remember it better.”
Because the planners are customizable, customers can start out with any month that they like—there's no need to wait for August or January to start being more organized just because mass-produced planners typically start with those months.
“If the organizational bug strikes you in October, you should be able to start with October,” Leslie explained. “I want people to get something that works for them on every level.”
Some of the ideas for new add-on pages comes from customers, while other times it's just Leslie coming up with an idea for something that would make her own personal planner more useful in her life.
“If something is beneficial to me, I think it might be helpful to others,” Leslie explained. “I cater to the people who want to form habits, or who want to set goals. I want to give people as many choices as possible.”
The colorful planners appeal more to women, but there are some designs for men, including a blank slate planner that was recently introduced. Leslie is constantly coming up with exciting new ideas, and then she lets her customers and friends decide if she is on to something.
“I can't get a grasp on what people will like until I offer it to them,” she said. “I will design something and then ask my friends what they think. I am fortunate to have friends in my life who will tell me the truth.”
All the individual pieces that are used in the production of the planners come from somewhere in the U.S. Leslie said that's very important to her, and she likes to be a supporter of small businesses.
She now ships her products—mostly planners and calendars—to all 50 states in the U.S. and 40 countries around the world. The popularity of Limelife products soared as a result of a strong online presence—the business has more than 15,500 Instagram followers, and another 10,500 people who like Facebook page. There's even a Facebook group, created by customers, not the business, called “We Love Limelife Planners,” that has approximately 1,500 very loyal members.
“Her attention to detail and her care for things like the paper quality and listening to customers' ideas are obvious—and appreciated,” said Rupp.
The customized planners earn great reviews from customers.
“There are so many layout options that you are bound to find one that works for you,” said Debbie Crowder of Kokomo, Indiana. She uses add-on pages to plan out a menu.
“It is so nice to plan my menu as I plan my week,” she explained. “It is so important to have that readily available. It also includes an area to make out a grocery list as well.”
Nicole Gaspar said that she recently purchased her first Limelife planner after getting to see them in person at a social held for New England planners this past spring.
“Leslie also spoke at the event,” Gaspar explained. “I didn't buy a planner simply for the amazing quality—the vibrant colors, buttery paper, and beautiful designs. I bought one because Leslie inspired me. She spoke so passionately about purpose.”
Leslie said that it takes a real team effort to make the business a success. She is assisted at Limelife Planners by Katie Poppe, a New Jersey resident who handles social media and works with the media and creative team, and Becky Goldie, who is the production manager at the Oxford facility.
The retail shop has some products on display that can be purchased immediately, but overwhelmingly customers want to customize their products. That’s what Leslie prefers, too.
“Typically, we want to customize everything for customers,” she said, explaining that the online process of ordering a planner is very user-friendly. The goal is to usually deliver the planners about two weeks after they are ordered, if at all possible. This effort is helped because Limelife Planners works with another local business, Godder Printing in West Grove, for the printing.
One of the best aspects of the business for Leslie is all the wonderful ways that customers have been able to utilize the planners.
Crowder, for example, has a small Etsy shop so she included a social media add-on in her planner.
“Scheduling blog posts and what I planned to share on Instagram or Facebook was very helpful,” she explained. “It's honestly the best planner I have owned. The value of this planner, with all the customization you can do...is worth every cent. And Leslie goes out of her way to make any request you have a reality, if at all possible. I really love all of Limelife's products.”