Monday 6 June 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 7: Moving on, branching out, going around!

Hi again.

Welcome to Part 7, the penultimate part of Tips for the Design Team-curious.

It's been really gratifying over the last few days to get more feedback on the series, especially as it has come in from people across the entire Design Team spectrum: from the newly selected to those who've moved on and from DT hopefuls to those who run their own teams.

I'm aware that some people might not want to leave a comment or ask a question here or on Twitter in full public view. So, if there's something you'd like to say, but would prefer to tell me privately, you're welcome to email me instead [there's a link in my sidebar].

Similarly the final installment of the series will be a general round-up post where I'll do my best to answer any questions, or raise any points you'd like me cover. I've already had a few requests via the comments but again, email is fine if you'd prefer [and I won't use your name if I refer to your question in my post].

So ... throw your queries at me, I'll have a net handy to catch them in.

OK then ... onwards and upwards !

Today's post is especially for you if you're thinking:
  • I've been on a DT already ... now what?
  • I'm too independent to follow the DT route;
  • I don't think the DT life is for me ... but I'm still open to new experiences;
  • I want a wider blog readership without the commitment of a full DT role;
  • I can't spend time promoting a DT when I have my own ventures to support ... and so on ... 
Sound like you? Then read on ...
While writing this series I've always been aware that Design Team life isn't what everybody reading this is looking for. Nor should it be. Which is why I've done my best to provide a balanced view of the whole topic.

It's also why I now want to suggest some alternative avenues which you may prefer to stroll down if you're not looking for a DT role but still you are:
  • ambitious;
  • self-motivated;
  • confident in your own abilities;
  • or simply have an undefined drive to do more, try more, be more, make more.
Here's my favourite option first!
1. Become your own Design Team!
You know all of that care, attention and time you are required to put into DT work and DT blog posts?

Well ... call me a crazy heretic if you will, but ... why not concentrate all of that on your own work and your own blog?
It's the main reason I stood down from all but one DT roles. I'd begun to feel like I was diluting myself by doing too much. I wanted - needed - to redirect my energies into my own personal ventures such as taking on more magazine work; setting up an etsy shop and writing and delivering my own classes.

And while I've removed the external pressures I still produce the same amount of work [if not more] only now ... the majority of it is for the Brand of Me, Julie Kirk Ltd ... 
  • I am now my own Design Team.
  • I represent me.
  • My blog represents my best work.
  • In my spare time I use social media to promote myself.
  • I build up my own regular blog features eg. My Month in Numbers and my Overheards.
What I'm trying to say is that wherever you are on the DT-curious scale you can still model your creativity and blogging habits on the DT model:
  • put in the effort to create quality projects - ones you'd be happy to share on a DT blog;
  • learn to take great photos of those projects - which would be expected of you;
  • consistently blog those photos and projects -  as if you were working to someone else's schedule;
  • set yourself challenges as if you were joining in with DT blog segments;
  • set yourself blog features, categories or set up your own blog hops with blogging friends;
  • learn a few ways to improve the look of your blog.
It's not wrong; blinkered; selfish or 'thinking small' to put as much thought into your own blog as you would if you had exposure on a large, established DT site.

Not only do you deserve a professional, attractive online home as much as anyone ... it will pay you back as it can serve as an amazing landing site for anyone you give the link to.
They might be:
  • Design Team recruiters;
  • magazine editors;
  • book commissioning editors;
  • any employer who needs to assess your creative skills.
Time spent building your own blog / brand is never wasted, then, if you feel like branching out from your own site ...
2. How about ... setting up a challenge or inspiration blog?
For 2 years I teamed up the amazing Kirsty Neale on The Copy and Paste Project which began as an inspiration blog where we made projects and posted eye and brain candy ... and led to us delivering online workshops together.
Working on an additional blog to your own definitely takes time. For instance The C+P Project is on an indefinite hiatus while Kirsty and I work on other things.

[Why do I now feel I should be reassuring you that she and I we're still good friends and it doesn't mean we don't love you all very much?!].

But despite the additional time factor, such blogs can be a great way to indulge in something different to what you might feature on your personal blog.
  • have you noticed a niche in the market for a particular kind of challenge site or style of inspiration?
  • don't wait for someone else to deliver it - jump in there now - you never know wher eit might lead you!
  • you can even take on your own 'just for fun' Design Team to help you with the posting duties;
Speaking of Design Teams ...
3. How about ... setting up your own Design Team?
You don't need to run your own international craft supplies business or be a large scale online store to set up your own Design Team.
  • do you have an etsy shop?
  • do you sell from your own blog / site?
  • do you sell items which another crafter could use in their work, which they can help you spread the word about?
  • have you written any tutorials which you could package and sell online which you could give to a DT to demonstrate?
Why not take on all of the pointers both positive and negative touched on throughout the series and become the Design Team you want to see in the world! ;-)
Click to visit SJ's site.
 SJ Dowsett, the owner of Little Musings began by sharing her illustrations on her blog but when this developed into a digital image and acrylic stamp business she moved on to the next steps: setting up a Little Musings webstore and recruiting her own Design Team to help promote her work.
If you're thinking of taking a similar leap into become a recruiter SJ has the following advice:

"Deciding to ask people to design for me was a daunting yet exciting task, I did it through a mix of DT Call and direct emailing to people who's work I admired and showed great skill with stamps.

My advice to small businesses looking for a DT is to be upfront about what you need from the team in your emails, and also what you can offer them in return, that way everyone is on the same page from the start :)"

Done well, a DT search can create a buzz around your blog / Facebook page / Twitter profile and bring new people to your product. After all, I was a guest designer for SJ's DT and now look ... I'm telling you about her now ...

If you've been wondering what the next step to 'upscale' your business might be ... taking on your own DT might just be the boost it needs.

But if it's your blog traffic and your profile you're seeking to boost ...
4. Have you thought about ... Guest Designing?
A guest designer is someone who works for a DT for a limited time only - often for a single month or with a single kit.

For example: I'm Guest Designing for the Crafty Templates Quirky Kits, a team I once had a full-time commitment to, whereas now I'm just working with a kit just throughout June.
A Guest DT roles offer you:
  • some of the benefits of DT life, without the need to commit yourself full time;
  • exposure on a blog other than your own;
  • new, interesting supplies to work with;
These vacancies are usually advertised on the company's blog and all of the sources of DT news [eg. the Scrapbook Calls blog] which I listed in Part 5.
I find guest roles a really nice, contained DT experience, so don't rule them out even if it's a full time spot you're seeking.
Similarly ...
5. Have you thought about ...  Guest Blogging?
Like guest designing, guest blogging is a low commitment, short, focussed way to be seen by a wider readership.
That said, you've got to do a lot of work to get it right!
  • Decide what you think you can offer a blog by way of new, interesting content that their existing readership will be interested in;
  • Look around for a blog which is a good fit to your style and subject matter and which you'd like to contribute to;
  • Look around that site for details on how/if they accept submissions, expressions of interest in guesting for them - many of the larger crafting or indeed blogs of ANY SUBJECT AREA will have something like this for you to read;
  • if not, simply email the blog owner [if they want to be contacted they'll have an address you can reach them on];
  • Politely but confidently put forward the idea for your guest post. What's the worst that can happen?
  • Some larger blogs pay for guest contributions, a fact that will either be made clear on their blog or during initial communication with them.
OK then  .... how about Guest Blogging for Shimelle Laine?
Are you a scrapbooker or someone whose work would be of interest to scrapbookers? If so then you could consider proposing yourself as a guest blogger for Shimelle  Laine:
Click to drop in on Shimelle.
Shimelle accepts submissions especially if they fit with her regular Tutorials and 5 Ideas posts [a feature I've contributed to earlier this year here.].

Even if you have no prior experience of Design Teams, guest blogging or being published don't let this put you off!  Shimelle says:
"If the design is useful to my readers I'm happy to feature all types of scrappers in all stages of their 'careers' as it were."

And, gratifyingly her criteria for guest posters is very close to the advice I've been setting down throughout this series regarding: the quality of your existing blog, your photography skills and confident communication.
Here's what Shimelle herself will be bearing in mind when she receives your proposal:
  • When I link to my guest posters' blogs, I want my readers to find something relevant. If your blog isn't about scrapbooking at all, perhaps it would be better to include a link to your page gallery. I'd be happy to look at that!
  • I'm looking for someone who can write their guest post clearly and will look to see if your existing blog posts convey someone who thinks clearly, proofreads their work at least a little and can communicate well.  I don't expect it to be perfect, I'm looking for posts that show passion and thought, and I'm okay with imperfection with that!
  • I'm looking for well photographed work or at least photography which seems like you took time and care over and which I could give tips to improve if necessary.
So if that sounds like something you'd like to offer Shimelle and her [many] readers ...
Here's how to apply:
  • send Shimelle an email [follow the link on her website]with an idea of what you'd like to write about;
  • include a link to you blog or gallery.
  • if your post is accepted you will receive the details on deadline and requirements and anything else you need to know about.
 Personally I'd like to think you told her that I sent you ... but that's an entirely optional criteria! ;-)

And finally ...

6. How about getting your work published?
Appearing before a large readership; producing quality work; writing tutorials; taking photos; illustrating; writing interesting features ...
... you can be paid to do all this you know? And then you get the additional pleasure of seeing your name and work in print.

[Plus ... if you're anything like me you also get to see your face in print ... and then you get to hear all of your friends say 'Who's that?', 'That doesn't look like you' 'That's not you?'  ... but hey, don't let that put you off ...]
If it's a new, challenging, test of your confidence and skills you're seeking why not aim for publication?
  • there are a lot of print magazines out there, all with content to find and pages to fill;
  • there are a growing number of online magazines with the same task at hand;
  • if you're already doing the work [and blogging it etc] then the only thing you need to do is approach a magazine with your work and an expression of interest in contributing to their publication.
Like getting on a Design Team ... I assure you it's not as mysterious or elusive a prospect as you might think.
And if today's the first time you begin to believe that fact then you, like me, can thank a good friend of mine for the enlightenment! [Thanks H].

With a great deal of writing for publication experience in to speak from, once she knew that I too harboured dreams of writing for a living she told me something along the lines of:

"Editors are looking for people they can rely on to do the work."

I'm sorry if that doesn't sound glamorous enough. But I trusted her judgement ... and really, it should be comforting to you too.

Clearly you've got to have something other than reliability to get in print ... but it is a great starting point and it's the best way to get repeat work once your foot is in the door.
As I said about DTs:
  • if you put in the time, care, attention and respect required then you can become as useful to a magazine editor as they are to you. 
  • if you can produce consistently good work, maintain good communication, follow a brief and meet deadlines you'll be on your way to becoming a useful contributor to an editor their own deadlines to meet. 
For tips on how to approach an editor with your expression of interest head back to Part 3 of this series, titled 'Shaping up for Selection', where I made suggestions on how to approach a Design Team recruiter. Everything from the heading 'But don't be put off' down is the same advice I would give to someone seeking a publication opportunity.
If this is what you want, best of luck to you. 

Go make yourself useful ... go add some colour to all those empty pages!

[And send me a photo of them when you're done!]
  • Don't give up if you want to move forward but can't seem to get a DT break;
  • don't forget to be your own Design Team! Promote yourself, apply a proffessional approach to your own work; 
  • while you're waiting for that initial opportunity, work on the quality of your own blog;
  • look around for guest designing opportunities;
  • if necessary - bypass the DT life altogether and head straight towards publishing or even creating your own Design Team around your own particular products / talents etc 
  • Ask youself what topic you could guest blog about;
  • Seek out a suitable match for your style and subject matter or approach your current favourite large blogs;
  • Ask, ask, ask. They can only say no.
  • If they do say no ... ask someone else!  
  • Use your blog to work on ideas and themes you'd like to offer magazine editors.
Do you know what? It's ALL about the real world ... all of it.
  • the blogging;
  • the writing;
  • the making;
  • the offering up; asking for a chance;
  • the sticking your neck out; taking risks;
  • the daring to fail and daring to try again afterwards;
  • the being yourself while aiming to be your best self;
  • the being confident and acting like you are even when you're not ... then knowing it's still OK when you're not;
  • the believing there's always another way round; another route to where you want to be; another avenue to try ....
All of it is the real world.

Your real world.

Let me know how you get on out there!

Join me later this week for the final part of in the series -  and remember to ask any questions  you want me to address before then! 
That said, I'm not going anywhere ... and neither is the series ... so feel free to drop in on me and chat anytime afterwards.

See you very soon.
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.


  1. Great tips yet again Julie! I had lately thought of a few of these myself - eg, I took a concious step back from trying to be on a DT to concentrate on improving my own blog and work. It's just as fulfilling as being on a DT as your followers pick up when the blog looks better and has interesting stuff on it doesn't it?!

    Other tips here I had not thought I could attempt though - guest blogging being one of them, I thought you'd need to be super fabulous and be asked by someone to guest blog, I had never thought of approaching them. So I'm going to give that a go in the not to distant future!

    And the thought of trying to get published seems more daunting than trying to get on to a DT. I think that's because DT calls are quite clear in setting out what they want and telling you how to apply, but it can be really difficult finding out what a magazine editor wants. Do you try to contact the editor direct or just contact the magazine and ask anyone what their submission guidelines are?

    Thanks for this series, it's really interesting! x

  2. Julie - I have found your series really interesting. Even though being part of a design team is not on my agenda at the moment, I have found many of the tips about presenting work etc very relevant, especially in relation to blogging. Thank you.

  3. @Jennifer - I'm so pleased the tips have chimed in with something you're already on to! Lets me know it's not just me spouting nonsense!

    I'll definitely add your question in to my final post this week - great question!

    @Lynn - That's good to hear, I really hoped non-DT-thinkers would find something applicable too :-)

  4. I just came over from Francine Clouden's blog and read your whole series in one sitting!!! Your blog is so interesting and inspiring that I became an instant follower :D

  5. I am finding this all really interesting. I was brave enough to put myself forward for a DT spot recently (I have a habit of thinking I am not good enough) and was thrilled when I was accepted and have since been published on the blog. I am looking forward to reading your final piece now!


Thanks for leaving me a comment, asking me a question, sharing your own story or just randomly saying hello.