Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My Month in Numbers 2011: May

Well hello there. 

Another month has cunningly wriggled it's way past us so it's time for My Month in Numbers ... as always, you're welcome to think about your own and throw them right back at me.

I'll go first ...

T13 + T14 = the  numbers of the seats we sat in to watch Jon Richardson live in stand up for the second time:
Seeing comedians live is one of the best ways to spend an evening. There's something so positive about leaving the comfort of your sofa to sit in a room full of strangers with only one purpose ... to laugh. 

However ... there are times when it leaves me in an awkward position as I have been known to get 'over' someone right there in the middle of their act. It's not that I didn't enjoy their show ... or that it wasn't funny ... something just switches in my head and I smile and laugh ... but I have no enduring urge to see them perform again.

I'm pleased to report that this didn't happen this time around! I came away from Jon Richardson's show with my love for him still firmly in tact. A fact which I'm sure he's thoroughly relieved about too ... I'm sure ...

4000 plus = the number of tweets I've inflicted on the world. When I spotted the number was approaching 4000 I felt a bit like when some people get excited at watching the mileage in the car turn over to a nice, big, round number.

I thought to myself 'Ooh I'll have to say something interesting to mark that particular century.' ... then the next thing I knew it was on 4006 and I'd been rambling on about all the usual.

Ah well ... when that counter hits 5000 [which probably won't be that long] ... I'll be ready with the perfect tweet, just you wait and see ...

19 = the number of years that have passed since James and I first got together: 

2 = the number of notebooks-as-anniversary-gifts that found their way into our house this month:
When I came downstairs to find the gift he'd left for me before going to work my first thought was 'Oh my what a beautiful grey, leather notebook'.

My second thought was ... 'But ... I've bought him a lovely grey leather notebook too ... what the ... how the ... but how????'. 

I guess that's good enough proof that we're meant to be together! 

88 metres = how much tape there is on the 2 rolls I bought for my new ATG gun. After seeing everyone at the crop use one I finally decided to give it a go and take on the almighty piece of sticky-kit. What I won't tell you is how many minutes it took me to learn how to load the tape into the gun ... pathetic really ... ;-)

£33-ish = I'm kind of embarrassed about this number as, once again, it marks the amount I've spent on shoes. My shoe buying habit always seems to make it into my Month in Numbers posts doesn't it?

However I think the following details should partly exonerate me from accusations of extravagance...

Rarely, if ever, do I go out searching 'for something to match' a specific outfit. I prefer it to all just 'happen'. But I have a party to go to and a dress that even I didn't already have the shoes to match. 

I just couldn't find anything for weeks until I finally spotted the only suitably styled, correctly coloured, non-limb-endangering-heeled pair in the entire world [seemingly] ... but they cost £75!

It was tough ... but decided to leave them in the shop ... and to only go back if all else failed. A few shops later I spotted another pair which picked out the colour in my new dress:
 ... then I bought a second pair too [different ones!] ... for good luck ... and even then I paid less than half of what the others would have set me back.

That said ... the ones that got away were soft cream leather peep toes, with a lacy effect cut out of the leather ... with wooden heels!!

So, you know, let's not get carried away in celebrating how I now have no valid excuse to buy them! [I've pinned the actual shoes to one of my Pinterest boards here if you want to see].


OK then, those are my numbers from the last 31 days ... and yours? You're welcome to share your own statistical-snippet in the comments below, in a blog post, photograph, art journal page ... anything of your own. Just let me know about it and I'll edit this post to add a link to your numbers.

Here's who's already playing along:
  1. Mel J from 'Let's Get Scrappy' blogged these numbers ... which contain a seriously impressive amount of sweet-stuff. I mean, a family get together which involves a 'dessert bar'???  ... ooh 'Hello' Mel's family!
  2. Month in Numbers stalwart ClaireLiz from 'The Crafty Alchemist' has battled lack of sleep and a grumpy dog to bring us her May numbers scrapbook page ... so it only seems right you go and reward her efforts! 

So, fare-thee-well May. You're always a great month for celebrations round here ... but next month is already hot on your heels with 2 trips away booked, both to celebrate 30th birthdays! And so June's numbers begin ...

Maybe you'll collect your start-of-Summer statistics and share them with me next time round.


Julie x

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 4. Raising your creative game

Hi again.

Welcome to the half way point of 'Tips for the Design Team-curious' ... who knew I had 8 episodes worth of 'stuff' to say about life on a DT?

[Well, I'd guessed as much ... but I didn't know for sure until I started!]

Today's is another post aimed at a wider audience of creative bloggers, not just DT hopefuls, so do stick around. 

Where Part 3 focussed on attitude and confidence I'm going to move on to some specific practical activities which could be useful for:
  • getting, keeping and making the most out of a place on a Design Teamand:
  • improving the appearance of your blog and boosting your readership.
Either of these aims, as I've mentioned before, could be used as one of those external factors we seek to:
  • motivate ourselves into action;
  • give us permission to sit down and take time to create;
  • tackle something new;
  • develop a skill; and
  • shift our work to another level. 
OK then, whether it's for your DT fitness; blog-improvement; or self-improvement here's your first tip ... use it how you will:
Click image to visit original tutorial on making paper cameras.
  • you've put your time and effort into finishing a creative project which would make a great blog post or DT submission.
  • You want to share it online and to di this ...
  • Taking a great photograph is the best way to do it justice.
Now, I'm no photography expert ... so before I pass on a few of my own amateur tips let me point you towards a fabulous series of [free] tutorials I came across just in time to share with you here:
Click to visit Lisa's photography series.
Lisa Spangler is delivering her 'Card Photography Series' via her blog Sideoats + Scribbles and so far it's been full of great, practical advice for taking better photos of your projects.

And, should you need any further convincing to try it out then how about I tell you that Lisa works for Hero Arts and took the cover photo for their latest catalogue ... so ... yeah ... she might just know what she's talking about!

As for me I really don't use my camera to its full potential. I still use the auto settings [maybe when I've finished following Lisa's advice I'll know better!] and I have negligible knowledge of lenses.

In short, I know next to nothing ... and despite that, I know I can take a half-decent photo of my work!

Here's how ...

My tips:

1. Use a tripod!  If you haven't bought one yet - you should!
  • They're not as expensive as you might fear.
I have two: a regular adjustable one and a smaller flexible type, both of which I found in Aldi of all places which set me back less than £20 for the 2.

I've had a quick look around online and I've found quite a few in places like Amazon and Argos for £20 and under. It seems a small price to pay for instantly better photos when compared to the price of a new camera!
  • Not only does the tripod cut out the blurriness caused by wobbly hands;
  • it leaves your hands free to move the object into better light, or at a better angle.
  • It allows you to easily stand back and tweak the scene your photographing ... which is actually my next tip.
2. Photograph your work as if it's going to be in print.
One of the most enduring pieces of advice anyone ever gave me about being successful in a job interview was:

"don't wear a coat or jacket when you go in to the interview room."

Bear with me on this ... it is relevant ... ish ...

You see, apparently, without your jacket on, you look - to the subconscious  mind of your interviewers - as if you're already a part of their office

Like you belong there.

I think that's genius! [And yes, I have followed the advice. Even when I was cold. And I'm always cold.]

So ... getting back to crafting ... :
  • if you treat your work with respect ...
  • if you photograph it lovingly and professionally ...
  • if you present it as if it's already headed for publication ...
... then maybe whoever you share it with will receive it in the same manner.
This could:
  • make it easy for an editor to accept that your work already belongs in print;
  • make a DT recruiter imagine your work making their blog look great;
  • make it more likely someone surfing for inspiration will subscribe to your blog and become a regular visitor'
  • make your photo more likely to be pinned to someone's Pinterest boards, which, in turn drives traffic to your blog.
A few ways to achieve a more magazine-styled shot:
  • Create a scene in your photos.   
  • Dress the 'set' with items which match the theme of your project;
    Click image to go to original post - Guest DT role for LittleMusings.net
  • add a backdrop which compliments the colours or patterns you've used.
Obviously this isn't always necessary, but it does add a professional edge to your work ... and it's fun
Plus if you're anything like me and you spend more time looking at your work on a screen [arranging, organising, uploading, blogging and linking to it etc] than you do looking at it in real life ... then a nicely composed, well lit photo of it is going to be so much nicer to look at for you too.

And you'll be so much more proud to share it when you need to. 

Once you've taken those photos ... if you don't manage to get it perfect everytime [who does?] you're going to want to ...

Master a few simple photo-editing techniques.
But by this I DO NOT mean you have to learn full-on packages like Photoshop.
Does your computer software have in-built default photo-editing package? Mine has 'Microsoft Office Picture Manager' which serves me very well.

If you don't have anything like this you can download either of these for FREE:
  • Picasa [very straightforward, easy to use, some nice additional features]
  • and GIMP [more complicated, but useful, like a 'lite' version of Photoshop. It's what I used to create all the images for this series.]
I'm not going to take up space here giving you tutorials on how to use these as there are many existing tutorials online already for you to Google.

[However, I don't rule out one-off tutorials on anything you're especially interested in. Just give me a shout if there's something you really want to know how to do.]

But, if you learn nothing else I strongly suggest you conquer:
  1. adjusting the 'contrast' levels in your photo: playing around with things labelled 'contrast' / 'shadows' / 'midtones' or 'brightness' can all instantly transform a dull photo into a brighter, clearly defined scene.
  2. 'cropping' your images: this allows you to eliminate any messy backgrounds and to focus in on the actual project.
OK then, now you've got great photos under your belt ... here's an idea for how to use them ...

Develop tutorial-writing skills:
Crafters are seemingly on a neverending quest for developing their crafty skills; collecting new techniques and having the mysteries of a new craft revealed to them and therefore nice, clear tutorials are a big draw.

And if it's blog hits you're after, they're definitely a way to go and DTs know this too ...

More and more they're making it a pre-requisite that you create tutorials during your time with them. So it really makes sense for you to practice this skill ahead of time on your own blog. 
Then, when the right call for you arises, you can simply add links to your existing tutorial examples within your DT application. Win!

I hadn't written any crafting tutorials until I began my DT role at Banana Frog but after two years of regular step-by-step posts and full-blown tutorials, by the time I began writing full features for craft magazines, including written instructions, I was more than ready for it.  
Maybe the fact that I've written the series you're reading, plus the Twitter version before it, gives you an inkling that I really enjoy pulling ideas, photos and tips together for a instructional posts ... but, if you're wondering where to begin:
  • You can read through previous tutorials by browsing through my Design Team Projects page [feel free to take inspiration from their structure .. but please don't 'borrow' the whole project ...];
  • Don't panic if you don't generally enjoy writing: Instructional writing is a lot shorter, less 'fancy' and much more about recording information than being flowery with language!
  • Take step-by-step photos of your work in progress, then simply look at the photo and write out what's happening in it. You really don't have to say much more than what you can see.
  • Imagine you're just explaining to friend how you made something.
But, if you're still not happy writing things down ... then maybe speaking's more your thing ...
How do you feel about making video tutorials?
Fast becoming a regular request in DT calls, the ability to create a video tutorial is something which, once again can give your DT application the edge over someone else and also increase traffic to your own blog.

I'd love to have the right equipment or guts to give this a go myself ... but .. well I just plain have neither[I'm someone who can't even pluck up the courage to Skype!]. But, be rest assured, the minute I do ... you'll be the very first to know/see/hear my tiny voice with its North Eastern vowels.
In contrast, if you want to pick up tips by watching someone who does know her way around a video tutorial, swing by Shimelle Laine's site.

Shimelle's videos always make me feel like making something, which surely means they're doing their job?

Whenever I watch them, it's a bit like how flicking through recipe books always makes me hungry ... even if I don't go on to make anything ... it's still given my appetite a prod!  

OK, I'll leave you alone now to go back and think about raising your creative game to a level YOU'RE happy with. All the advice is there for you to pick + mix from.

[Pick + Mix? Mmmm ... I may just have prodded that appetite again ...]

  •  Don't wait for a DT call to kickstart you into presenting your work professionally - do it now!
  • Work on your photography skills.
  • Try writing tutorials.
  • Assume the confidence and actions of someone who's already in the role you want.
  • Great photos make for great blog posts. Sometimes you don't need words. Photography skills are a vital part of improving the look of your blog.
  • Write tutorials. About whatever it is you're good at. [Within reason ... ] :-O 
  • Take up your blogging space proudly.
  • Fill it with fabulous content even if at first only your friends and cat read it.
  • Great content [a bit like water] finds its own level and the right readers, who'll apppreciate you and your blog, will find their way to it eventually.
  • If you've got a job interview anytime soon .... and you give the 'no jacket' thing a go,  [unless there's a strict dress-code! Obvs.] then do let me know how it goes!
  • Whatever it is you want to happen, act like you have it now.
  • Don't wait to be handed the permission, the confidence, the skills to get where you want to be. Chances are  you'll wait a long time.
  • Set off in the right direction now, on your own. Then watch the world try to catch up with you!
Finally ...
  • Does the whole notion of 'raising your game' actually scare a part of you?
  • Are you afraid of hearing 'who does she think she is?' from others ... or even your own inner critic?
If so then this is a good time for you to fetch a pencil to write down a quote I stumbled across a few years ago [from Marianne Williamson]. Because, really, it's the only question you need to ask ... and answer:
  • "We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"
And with that ... I'll leave you to begin your game-raising in peace.

I'll see you soon for Part 5.

Julie x
Please note: During the series I do NOT refer in a negative way to any teams or companies by name. I ask that, if you share experiences or opinions in a comment, you stick to this too. Thank you in advance … you can collect yourself an ‘I Play Nice’ sticker for your cardigan on your way out. 

© Julie Kirk 2007-2011 The images used throughout the series feature the projects I've made and photographed as part of my Design Team commitments over the last 4 years.
Sticky tape digi-image from Pugly Pixel.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 3: Shaping up for selection

Hello you. You came back then I see. 

I'm relieved!

Clearly the criticisms I raised in Part 2 'Finding a balance of expectations' haven't put you off going down the Design Team route. [Either that or you're checking in to see if I've had a meltdown after it ... which I haven't!] No, I'm still here and seeing as how you are too I'm going to get even more demanding now I know you're persistant! 

Even if you're not reading this as a DT hopeful today's post [Part 3], along with Parts 4 and 6, contains tips which lots could be useful to anyone wanting to present themselves with more confidence, promote skills which are complimentary to their craft or to generally just polish up their act!

Right, let's get on with it ... notebooks at the ready ...
Are you good enough?
Right now, right this minute, if a DT call was announced in the next 5 minutes, could you apply with enough confidence to believe you were in with a chance?

If you answered 'No' ... then stay where you are, you're in the right place, because by the end of this session I hope you'll have changed your mind. I'd love it if you were able to reply:
  • "Yes I am good enough" or ... at the very least...
  • "Oh, OK then, maybe I'm not so useless afterall" or even ... 
  • "Hell yeah I'm good enough! Now get out of my way - I've got people to impress!"
In which case I'll consider my work here done ... and go put my feet up. 

Until then, let's talk about the awkward subject of talent and if you've actually got what it takes to get on to a DT.

How do I know if I am good enough?

We're often the harshest critics of our own work so it can be hard to decide on what's 'good enough' and what will impress someone who doesn't know you! But, if you're putting together a DT application, or even if you're still just rolling the idea around in your mind, at some point you're going to have to out your creative neck on the line and send your work for scrutiny by others.

Objectively judging your own talents is hard and rather than  just hide your crafty-light under a bushel you could try this method:
  • select a few of your latest / favourite pieces of work and set them out in front of you;
  • open up the blog/gallery of the team you're trying out for;
  • compare your work to theirs;
If you still don't trust your own judgement, repeat the process with a friend or relative whose opinion you trust ... but who isn't just trying to be kind. 

  • if you don't think you're quite there yet, maybe take some time to work on new skills, pay attention to small details which add to a more professional feel to projects or try out new techniques.  
  • if this comparison process surprises you / wakes you up to your own qualities ... then please ... allow yourself a victory for a change!
 However, when you are in that place of working out if you're good enough, don't forget to ask ...

Am I good enough for WHO?
In DT life as in romance ...  there's someone out there for everyone. You just need to find the right match.
This much I know to be true. Mainly because ...

During my time on the Gauche Alchemy DT I made scrapbook pages about some fairly unusual things and got away with it. Take, for example, the layouts featuring: 
And not only was I not banished from their blog they were actually delighted with it ... because, after all, they were the ones who put a playboy image in my ephemera kit to start with!

So, you see, there really is a team:
  • for everyone
  • for every style of crafting, [from cute-in-a-good-way, to grungy, to clean and simple, to cute-in-a-bad-way ... etc etc]
  • for every attitude and outlook. 
  • and for every lifestyle [there are Faith challenge blogs; challenges where you only scrap the males in your life, challenges for kraft-addicts ... all human life is out there!].
You just need to look around and focus your energies into applying for teams you feel are already a good fit for you ... so you don't end up bending your style just to get on a team:
  • don't get hung up on getting on the most well known manufacturer's DTs;
  • there are smaller companies out there, with specific, niche products who are eager for team members who 'get' them and their style. 
  • If you already belong to the kind of online communities that someone niche wants to expand their market into, then that can only work in your favour.
  • Plus there are many, many online stores who set up their own DTs, tailored to reflect the mix of products they sell.
And don't forget about challenge blog Design Teams:
  • while the founders of these don't generally offer any form of payment - neither are they receiving any themselves, so .. you know ... fair's fair;
  • they're often seeking fresh talent and friendly contributions - rather than full-on 'commitments' and perfection;
  • there are a lot of them ... which means more opportunites and vacancies!
Be realistic ... 
There are manufacturers out there whose products I really really like and part of me would like to think that I could be a part of their team. But then equally, I doubt I'd stand a chance as my work isn't like that of their existing DT. 

I suppose there are two ways to process that way of thinking:
  1. I could go for it anyway - hoping they'll appreciate that I'm offering something different from their usual branding OR
  2. I could decide not to put myself through it when I don't ever imagine I'll get in. 
To me, both options seem valid. 
But I think that, if I truly wanted to be on that team above all else, I'd try-out anyway ... possible dints to self-confidence be damned!
... but don't be put off:

Even if you don't consider your work to be on par with that of the members of your favourite DT ... you still needn't be be deterred. 

It's not all about who can create the most amazing scrapbook pages; the most creative multi-layered cards; the most altered of all altered items.

It can be about those things ... but it isn't ALL like that DT recruiters are also interested in you beyond the projects you submit.

Remember that list of requirements from Part 2? It shows that, just like recruiters in the job market, DTs are looking for more than just raw talent. They're also seeking:
  • commitment;
  • availability;
  • reliability;
  • communication skills;
  • social media skills;
  • presentation skills and so on and so on ...
You have more to offer a DT than your creative talents and if your application can convey your competence in some of these 'transferable skills' alongside your creative work you'll be giving yourself an extra edge.
Also, seeing as how DT recruiters are real, living, breathing humans too ... they're also looking at whether you'll fit in, whether they feel they can talk to you ... whether they like you. And as there's no way of working this out in advance, you've just got to be yourself as far as possible. 

In fact ... as with any job application:
Creating confidence:
I don't want to deliver this next part as 'advice' per se. Because, frankly, it's personal preference and I have no evidence that it works! This one is  purely my opinion!

Email is your friend!
Being able to introduce myself to people via email means:
  • I get to 'speak' at my own pace; 
  • I have time to select my words carefully; 
  • I can take breaths in between phrases; 
  • I can state my case without stumbling.
All of which provides me with my best ever opportunity to come across as a normal, capable, grown-up with a brain and a voice. 
What happens when someone subsequently meets me in real life is their problem ... ;-) 

So, whenever I have this calm, collected, 'virtual' opportunity apply for jobs or DT roles; invite people to guest blog for me; write cover letters and proposals or brazenly introduce myself to people whose work I admire I always aim to be:
  • respectful, friendly, polite, open, real.
Meanwhile I'm able to edit out anything remotely:
  • awestruck, apologetic, self-deprecating, self-doubting.
I bear in mind that DTs - as with editors etc - are looking for someone:
  • able;
  • reliable;
  • practical;
  • able to represent their brand online ... unmonitored ... unscripted ...  
Therefore, it makes sense to leave out ...: 
  • anxieties about how your work might not be up standard;
  • explanations why the photos you sending aren't the best you've ever taken;
  • excuses about why your blog isn't up-to-date;
  • unneccesary flattery;
  • going for the sympathy vote;
  • And anything remotely like 'I'm not worthy'!
The last thing you want to do is make a recruiter uncomfortable or have doubts about you ... use the joys of virtual communication to put your best you forward.

To save you time and to help you keep a clear, rational head when you hear the perfect DT call for you, then you could:
  • have a carefully, confidently, drafted cover letter already saved on your computer;
  • edit it once you've read through the particular team's requirements;
  • prepare a crafting CV/resume containing your successes or ventures to date;
  • consider having this online somewhere - I have my Crafting CV up there ^^ as a page on my blog - as this enables you to send someone a short link, rather than a long document.
Also think about storing your work in an online gallery [ie: Flickr] as well as on your blog. 
  • Arranging your projects into sets/folders makes it easier for you put your hand on those favourite projects you would most likely offer up in the event of an application. 
  • Even when they don't ask for it I include a link to my Flickr gallery in DT applications ... it opens up my entire visual archive to them in one click.
  • And if they don't click on it ... I haven't lost anything, it only took me the time to paste a link into an email.

  • Don't get disheartened;
  • Keep an open mind about the kind of team you want to be on;
  • Try to be objective about your work;
  • Be confident when applying ... even if you're not. It's all conducted online. Who'll ever know?
  • If you've ever wanted to guest blog for a site you think you'd be a good match for - email them - ask! 
  • Building a loyal blog following is also about finding the right niche for you. Finding those readers who match your attitude, style etc.
  • Look around for who you feel comfortable with, leave a comment, visit the blogs of their followers and commenters too.
  • We can't all be [insert name of super-super-popular-blogger-here] but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for us and whatever it is we blog about.
  •  the pre-prepared updated CV, cover-letter, assuming / faking confidence ... it's all taken from real life career's advice anyway!
  • On and yes ... there probably is someone - romantically - for everyone ... but I'm not about to add 'match-maker' to that CV ... I'm steering well clear! 

Join me for more tips aimed at presentation and getting you selected to a DT in Part 4 and check out the 'Tips for the DT-curious' page where I've added the full list of upcoming topics, so you know what to expect in the next posts. 

Thank you to everyone who's already left a comment and who's tweeted me and re-tweeted links to the series. Really ... thank you.

Julie  x


Please note: During this series I do NOT refer in a negative way to any teams or companies by name. I ask that, if you share experiences or opinions in a comment, you stick to this way of doing things too.

Thank you in advance … you can collect yourself an ‘I Play Nice’ sticker for your cardigan on your way out.

© Julie Kirk 2007-2011 The images used throughout the series feature the projects I've made and photographed as part of my Design Team commitments over the last 4 years. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 2: Finding a balance of expectations.


Welcome to Part 2 and a discussion of topics which, if you follow me on Twitter [@notesonpaper], you might have already seen me raising before. 

If I’m honest, it’s the subject which has given me the most pause for thought within this whole series, making me question whether or not I, as someone wanting to continue building relationships within the industry, am stupid to point out any of its flaws?

Maybe I am.

Of all times I’ve mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook I’ve only ever had two responses!

Both were in fact supportive but noteably they were both from well-established industry figures.

I guess it's understandable that people whose goal is to get a place on a DT, or those already happily recruited to one might not want to be seen joining in a critical debate about them!

But for this series - how could I truly offer up advice about how to spread your creative wings … if I neglected to warn you about the possibility of flying into plate glass doors?

The thought of getting a place on a DT can be so absorbing and exciting ["Ooh. Yay! Pretties! Popularity! Free stuff! Go me!] I just wanted to offer you a wider picture to help you focus your energies and avoid frustrations from the start!

NB: I MUST be clear here ... or else they may disown me! But ...
  • None of the following applies to any of the teams I’m currently on or have been on in the past.
  • It's all drawn from time spent browsing DT calls and requirements online and discussions with other crafters over the last few years.
So, now that I've got that clear ...

What does a DT want from you? What do you want from them? - Balancing their expectations against your own.

You're going to need to get that notebook out again in a minute ... Got it? OK.
  • Maybe I'm lucky;
  • Maybe I chose well;
  • Maybe I've never actually applied to any team who I though wanted more from me than they were offering in return.
Whichever it is ... I've only ever experienced teams who asked for what I considered a reasonable amount of work in return for a generous DT parcel.

However each of us has to decide  our own balance of what is reasonable and what is generous and what we're happy to work for.
Assess your availability before you begin.

Before you begin looking into which DT you'd like to be on, before you get swept up in the thrill of possibilities which a new call can spark, before you decide you want to work for XYZ so badly that you barely read through their list of expectations ... you might want to ask yourself:
  1. How much time can I realistically set aside each month to  create new DT projects?
  2. How much time can I have to spend photographing, editing and subsequently blogging the finished items? 
  3. How happy am I to use spare time in the promotion of my projects and the team I'm on?
  4. How much 'payment' would it take to make this worthwhile?
  5. Can I live happily the balance of rewards / effort?
  6. How long can I keep it up?
Once you know [roughly] what you're happy with, you can view DT requirements with a more rational eye.

Some example requirements.
The following is list of some typical, not-so-typical and becoming-increasingly-typical requirements DTs are combining in their calls.
  • 3 - 4 projects per month / per kit
  • 4 - 5 items per month
  • Blogging on the manufacturer's / team's blog
  • Weekly blogging a new project on personal blog
  • Maintain a fresh, regularly updated personal blog
  • Participation in blog challenges and blog hops
  • Commenting on the work submitted by blog readers to any challenges
  • Frequent contribution to the site/blog's in-house message board / forum
  • Uploading projects to online galleries eg. Two Peas
  • Regularly submitting work for publication in magazines
  • Interaction on the site/blog's Facebook page
  • Answering queries on product etc on Facebook
  • Promoting blog posts / competitions etc via Twitter
And my all  time personal favourite:
  • 'Daily interaction on our message board'

The less I respond to this particular criteria here the better for all concerned.

[I'll save that treat for James who has to suffer my rants on some of the, quite frankly ridiculous, expectations some teams have of people who they pay in supplies. And ... breathe ...]

Over time, after reading through increasingly demnding criteria, I've almost come to the conclusion that there'll come a point where a DT requires from you:
  • 4-5 creative projects per month;
  • plus custody of your first born;
  • and first refusal on any of your vital organs should the need ever arise ...  
But, joking aside, apart from the obviously onerous requests, much of the list of requirements is perfectly reasonable if the benefits offered to the DT member are of equal value.
Which is purely down to you to decide for yourself. 
I'm not here to say you're decision is wrong. In fact, in later posts in the series I'll be backing your decision 100% and highlighting ways in which you can improve your chances of being selected.

... but ... daily interaction?


Are you sure?

I'm raising all of this in the hope some of you will realise your worth, your value, what YOU are offering to a DT.

Because sometimes creative people need to place themselves and their work on the same level as the Design Team they admire. It's not like they're doing you a favour.
Without you working for them, manufacturers would have to invest heavily in paid promotions and adverts to give them as much exposure as you and your team mates are offering them.

Remember that for all DT work may fun, interesting and challengingit is still work!  It's still a contract based on supply and demand.

A few last minute grumbles.
After you've worked-out the level of work/compensation you're happy to work for, you can then throw yourself wholeheartedly into the application process.

[1] The Application Process 
The broader topic of making a good application and even gaining the confidence to apply is actually something I'm going to be covering in Parts 3 + 4 so stick with me until then.

However, as those posts are more upbeat in attitude than today's, I thought I'd squeeze in this minor point of note here instead!

Briefly: many DTs ask simply that you email them images of a few of your best projects or else send links to your blog / gallery etc. Which, to me, is ideal for those of us who don't like to broadcast that we've applied for things in case we don't get selected.

[I did afterall mislead my entire family about the date on which I'd find out my Degree results ... just so I could collect them without feeling any pressure!]
However, I've noticed a recent trend for increasingly public applications:
  • In these, you're asked to apply via a post on your own blog.
  • You present your chosen projects [sometimes even with a tutorial to boot!] and state your intention to be in the running for a place on the team.
I don't judge anyone who's done it. But I'm not sure it's for me.

I'm simply putting it out there so you now know everything I know. Forewarned is forearmed ...
And finally ... I'll leave you with one bug-bear which I know for certain I share with many others out there.

[2]. Lack of communication
Some DTs openly state in their recruiting blurb that they will:
  • Neither acknowledge your application
  • NOR inform you if you've been unsuccessful.
When I read that I hear not simply that "We're too busy" but also "We're busier doing more important things than you".

Maybe that's just me being touchy, but really ...
  • they decided to issue the call at this particular moment in time; and
  • they are the ones seeking assistance in the promotion of their company/blog.
  • I too have other things to do [amazingly!] yet I put myself out to carefully follow your application process;
  • I would appreciate the common courtesy of a response.
I'm not expecting a personally addressed -  'Sorry you didn't make the cut this time Julie, but hey, stick with it kid, one day you'll go far' - message here.

But is a BCC email sent out to all of the unsuccessful applicants in one go - or even several batches if there's that many - really too much to ask? 

  • Be clear on what's you can offer and what you expect in return;
  • Know that there will always be someone who doesn't mind any of the points raised in this post who will happily take your place and accept having to do more work for less.
  • Decide if you can live with that - and if you can, don't take the role, find something more suitable to you. 
  • But if you can't - and you want to be on that DT no matter what ...
  • Plan to capitalise on your time there as much as is humanly possible! And watch out for the rest of this series where I'll be backing you, come what may!!
  • How much of your content are you happy for another blogger to use?
  • I know of cases where whole tutorials have been used without prior persmission - with only a link to the original post.
  • Similarly I know of people who've had their projects just pop up on someone else's blog with not even a friendly heads-up about it.
  • Also you may get asked to contribute existing posts or guest-blog on other sites.
  • When any of this occurs consider what your blogging time is worth and what you'd like in return.
  • Personally, if I know another blogger is, like me doing it as a hobby [i.e not a salaried blogger] I don't mind the exchange of my content for the chance to promote myself and share my work with their audience.
  • If you want to make it clear to others how you expect your content to be treated - consider having an 'etiquett'e type page on your site spelling out what is and is not acceptable to you.
  • For examples see this from Crafterminds and this from Kelly Rae Roberts.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying no one should work for free! I have done it myself and it was either:
  • for a charity;
  • to gain experience or
  • on the assurance it was as a one-off / trial-run and that the next time I would be compensated. Which I was.
And on each occasion I accept that I was indeed 'paid' ... it just wasn't in cash.

Finally, here's the best advice I received when I was debating an uncertain offer around unpaid work:
"Do you think they pay for their office furniture in 'product'? Do you think they get a plumber to work for them by putting a link to his blog in their sidebar?"

If we don't respect the value of our creative work how can we expect the non-creative world to?


Right ... I'm carefully stepping down from my soapbox now ...

Join me later this week for Part 3 of 'Tips for the Design Team-curious' where we'll be looking at preparing yourself for success and basically making yourself irresistable ....
Julie :-)

Please note: During the series I do NOT refer in a negative way to any teams or companies by name. I ask that, if you share experiences or opinions in a comment, you stick to this too.  Thank you in advance … you can collect yourself an ‘I Play Nice’ sticker for your cardigan on your way out. ;-)
© Julie Kirk 2007-2011 The images used throughout the series feature the projects I've made and photographed as part of my Design Team commitments over the last 4 years.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 1: So you want to be on a Design Team?

Hi and welcome to the first round of ‘Tips for the Design Team-curious’.

If you’ve just landed here for the first time you might want to quickly read through the introductory post for a broader idea of the topics I’m going to be covering.

But basically … I’ve kicked into shape everything I’ve experienced; reflected on; formed opinions of; read around and tweeted about regarding creative Design Teams over the last 4 years and condensed it into an 8 part series which I’ll be delivering to you across the next few weeks.

Using this series to help you reach your Design Team goals:

I think you should set aside a notebook/ journal/ scrap of paper specifically to jot down your responses to today's post and actually ... to the rest of the series.

It might not surprise you to know that I find making notes on paper a useful method of clarifying your thoughts and it should help you identify your Design Team inklings and track how your expectations and motives change the more thought you put into the whole process.

If nothing else … I'm giving you a legitimate reason to break open that a crisp new notebook you've been saving for a special occasion. [i know you have one!]

Plus you could turn your journalling into an fascinating reflective scrapbook page
when you do get on a DT!

So, now I've set out my stall for you, you tell me …

Who are YOU? For now, allow me to assume that you are indeed the DT-curious!

You're the DT hopefuls, the creative-types out there who’ve never been on a Design Team but are now hearing that little voice daring you to branch out, take a risk, share with the wider world!

If that's not you ... hang on, don't click away, at the end of the post, I’ll reinterpret my advice so it applies to you too!

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, let’s start from scratch …

What is a Design Team? A ’Design Team’ / ‘DT’ is a group of people recruited by a manufacturer, retailer or challenge/inspiration blog to promote their products and services. Payment, if there is any, is usually in products which the DT members are expected to create with, photograph and blog about to spread the word. 

In Part 2 [Wednesday 25th] I look what Design Teams expect of their members - I scrutinise those apects which a DT member or hopeful may [rightly?] feel are beyond their control. But today ...

...I'm focussing on YOU, and you should too ...

Why might anyone want to be on a DT? And, more to the point ... Why do YOU? Without a doubt, being on a creative DT offers you opportunities beyond the end of your own blog’s back gate.

So let’s start with what I believe are the 2 most discussed, but not necessarily the most rewarding, reasons people seek out a DT role: exposure and free products.

1. You gain exposure to a new, wider, audience: So, you’re a blogger, you’ve built up a loyal following, you enjoy the interaction with your readers, you're proud of your creative work and you'd like more people
to see it.

Firstly - good for you! Being proud of your own talents is half the battle when applying for a post on a DT especially when there's a chance you won't be selected.

It's vital to stay certain of your own creative worth so that if it's what you truly want, you can try again ... undeterred. 

Secondly - I don't know if this is a peculiarly English/British trait but I think we should all be more open about wanting to be on a Design Team for, for want of a better word, the glory / the attention / the 'fame'. To show off.

Of course you do. Why not be open about it?! There's really nothing wrong with being confident in the quality of your projects and wanting more people to see them. Being popular is alluring. No doubt about it. But ...

... do look carefully into your own reasons for wanting to get a place on a DT. Because if you really want this just to be popular and you get overlooked your confidence could be shaken.

I'm not saying don't try out for a DT spot if you're not 100% confident in your work. Sometimes pushing yourself to take on new things can give you that boost toward becoming happier and more confident, with your output.

A challenge such as applying for - and being successful in - a DT role can be the nudge you need to raise your own game. On your own terms.

But I would advise is for you to be in a position where you already believe you're pretty great BEFORE you offer yourself up.

Because if that's how you approach your application, even if you do get turned down you'll stand a good chance of believing in my Dad's advice [given when I've failed in job interviews etc] that the situation was 'their loss'.  Not yours.

Then you can move on.

2. You receive free products!!! And what's better than 'free'?:
In the next installment of 'Tips for the Design Team-curious' I'm really going to explore this notion of DT members receiving 'free' product to work with ... but until then ... let's go along with the idea ...

I'm not denying that it IS great getting products delivered to your door which you haven't had to pay hard cash for. It's fun. It's like a gift when it's delivered, it's exciting to open the box and see what you've been sent .. but ...

But, we all know that in return you have to spend time blogging and promoting any projects you make with it. So, perhaps it's more useful to be interested into a DT not for the 'free' products [because they're not] but for ...

3. You receive unexpected, interesting and challenging products!
Now you're talking my language.

Not having paid [in cash] for the products you'll be working with is one thing ... but not having chosen them is something else entirely. And the challenge those unexpected items present to your creativity is one of my favourite parts of DT life.

As wonderful as all those supplies we've collected for ourselves are ... the sheer amount of them and 'baggage' they each contain can have a debilitating effect on our creativity.

In contrast you have to use the contents of your DT package. You HAVE TO. And it's amazing how creative you can be when you have limits set on your supplies.

Ironically, it's the limited supplies you have to work with in during your DT life which can actually offer you the most creative freedom.

This 'free' stuff exists purely to be USED! You cannot save it, squirrel it away or 'save it for best'. Therefore the DT supplies can offer you freedom from the
 tyranny of your own stash!
Similarly your productivity can increase if you're working to someone else's schedule ...
4. It imposes order and discipline on your creativity!
When you're part of a DT you agree to create and contribute work regularly and on time, a structure which you might not otherwise set for yourself. 

Clearly this has pros and cons but for me personally ... I know I work better, quicker, with more purpose when there's a deadline to get me motivated: 
While none of us should really need an external 'excuse' to ignore the ironing pile and pick up a craft knife ... I can't deny that having an obligation to make something for a DT has helped me justify my crafting time to myself from time to time ... and it might just work for you too!

And finally ... for now ... you might want to join a Design Team as...

5. You get to meet new people, broaden your network, make new links. I can only speak for myself here, but I've been fortunate to come out of DT life with some wonderful relationships under my belt.

As creative people **sweeping generalisation alert** we're often not used to the camaraderie of group activities while growing up. We were often the ones chosen last when the sporty-types were picking the teams - [yes, I am speaking from personal experience!] - and being part of a team of arty, creative, make-y types can be a real treat.

My time on the Banana Frog DT gave me something immediate and clear-cut in common with
Hannah Milburn and Kirsty Neale both of whom I knew before we all ended up recruited to the same DT, but who I got to know so much better through that initial connection. The DT gave us something to talk about until we truly got to know one another and while none of us remain on the Banana Frog DT, we've remained close friends.

Furthermore, you can get to know the people who run the Design Team.
Having a close connection to someone in the industry who knows you're not only talented, but reliable too, can be of benefit to you in the long run if you're ambitious, forward-thinking, planning ahead for a future venture, branching out, developing your own creative industry ideas.

While there are no guarantees it can't hurt your future chances of having them co-operate, give advice, work alongside you, accespt a proposition,  if you've been showing your best side throughout your DT term for them.

OK, that's enough thinking and making notes for you for now. Let's see if I can help clarify some of today's ideas:
  • Before you ask how to get on a DT, think about why you want to be on one. This should help you deal with your expectations of DT life.
  • Ask yourself if you most drawn toward: the camerarderie; the free stash; the discipline or the opportunities.
  • All are available to you to a greater of lesser extent, but again, working out what you'd be happy with now, will help manage your expectations and decision making in the future.
  • Make some notes on what it is you feel being on a DT could bring you and which aspects of your personality it would appeal to.
  • This will also help when it comes to identifying which kind of team you'd be happiest on [which I'll cover later in the series].
  • Have you ever asked yourself why you blog? [Ironically I started mine as Design Teams expect you to have one!].
  • Knowing why you blog can help you become more focussed in your content or your tone while posting.
  • Consider adding some of those motives to an 'About Me' page or in a text box in your sidebar. I have both. Go look! 
  • This can help clarify to your readers what they can expect from your blog and therefore why they should stick around post after post.
  • If you need discipline and deadlines to help motivate you, why not set yourself a regular blogging feature and get your readers to help hold you accountable for creatively and regularly 'showing up'?
  • You too can crack open a shiny new notebook ... in factI positively command you to! [That's just in case you needed an excuse!]
  • Analysing the motivations behind any of your goals is never a bad thing.
  • Being clear why you want what you want is not only useful in helping you achieve it ... it might actually reveal gaps in your thinking.
  • Is there another way you can achieve that feeling you're seeking ?
  • Is that thing you are focussing on [i.e getting on a DT] really just a distraction?
  • Sometimes this kind of thinking can lead you away from what you thought you wanted .. into something you really need!
In a later post I'll be looking at precisely this point in relation to Design Teams where I'll be suggesting where else you can look to satisfy the kind of drives which are right now pushing some of you down the DT route.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a no holds barred look at some Design Team expectations.

But until then ...
Until then I'll give you a chance to wade back through this post. I threw a lot at you so I'll give you time to go back and pick it all up.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments so if you get time to leave me a message that would be great. Thank you.

If, after reading this first post, you think it's worth passing on to friend, then please spread the word.
And if you use Twitter you can give me your feedback and general reflections over there too. I'm @notesonpaper there. I'll be using the hashtag #dtcurious to discuss it. [And if you want to know more about that you might want to visit 'Tips for the Twitter-curious'  while you're here!]
See you soon.
Please note: During the series I will NOT be referring in a negative way to any teams or companies by name. I ask that, if you share experiences or opinions in a comment, you stick to this way of doing things too.

Thank you in advance … you can collect yourself an ‘I Play Nice’ sticker for your cardigan on your way out.

© Julie Kirk 2007-2011 The images used throughout the series feature the projects I've made and photographed as part of my Design Team commitments over the last 4 years.