Friday, February 13, 2009

From Our Point of View

There's been lots of talk lately about how designers should be compensated for their work. The discussion is long overdue and I'm delighted to see it happening.

It got me thinking about our relationship with designers. We work with many different designers and I think (hope!) that they would agree that Lorna's Laces is a good company to work with. That we are fair and reasonable.

Certainly compensation is a significant piece of the equation when it comes to figuring out if a business relationship makes sense. But there are many other factors that come into play when two entities decide whether to work together or not.

I've decided to give you all a peek behind the curtain here. How I think and make decisions about who we work with. What makes our life easier. Much of this is directed to newer designers but it applies to everyone and I think it deserves a place at the table.

I realize that designers have many different clients. They can sell directly to the consumer. They work with yarn companies, traditional magazines, online magazines and book publishers. My perspective is fairly narrow and a certain amount of it boils down to Sales here it is for whatever it's worth.

First and foremost, before you embark on a design career, do some research and make sure it is really something you want to do. Loving to knit/crochet doesn't mean that this is the right industry for you to work in. Do you really want to make your hobby your job? It might suck all the fun out of one of the joys in your life. I will say it again. Do you really want to make it your J.O.B.?

Talk to other designers. Find out what the work really entails. But, be prepared before you reach out to them.

If you decide this is the right place for you, do some more research before you start making contacts. You are asking them for their time and you need to respect that. Arm yourself with specific information. They'll will be more likely to want to help if you demonstrate real knowledge about them. It is far better to say "I first started admiring you work when I saw the X sweater in Y magazine. I particularly like the construction you used for the sleeves" rather than "I think your stuff is really cool". Show interest and knowledge and you'll get better results. Maybe even a mentor.

Before you can sell your designs, you'll need to put together a portfolio. Sketches and swatches and such. You don't need to be the next Rembrandt, but you should be able to give a potential client a good indication of what your design sensibility is and what the specific design they may buy will look like. You'll need two versions. One that you can send via email and a hard copy to take with you to meetings and shows. Make sure they both look good and reflect you and your style.

When the time comes to present your designs to a potential customer, remember that it's important to be professional. If you're going to do it in person, make an appointment, be on time, dress appropriately. I know these things may sound trite, but I once had a designer show up twenty minutes late, wearing dirty jeans and smelling like last night's beer. Can you guess how many of her designs we bought?

Don't forget that your time is valuable too. If you are going to a show, try and make appointments ahead of time there too. I hate when designers come by the booth and I'm not able to talk to them because I am with a client. If they have an appointment I make the time for them.

When you get to the meeting, ask questions. Find out what they are looking for and what holes you can fill in their catalog. Try and demonstrate how you can make their life easier. You don't want to present all your sock designs if they are looking for afghans. Tailor you presentation to make it shine for todays needs. If socks are your best work, I'm not saying you should forget about them, I'm just saying you should highlight the designs that will meet immediate needs and strut your sock stuff on a smaller scale for now. You are looking to develop a relationship, you'll have time later to show off the socks.

You should have a goal for every meeting/phone call/email. This is a sales call after all. Know what you want to accomplish and how you are going to do that. Your goal might be as simple as introducing yourself and asking if you can send some samples along. It might be asking someone to buy a design. Please don't come to me and say you have done some design work, show me the sock you are knitting and expect me to take the lead in the conversation or offer to buy it. You don't always have to close a sale but you should move me along toward whatever the goal you've established for the meeting.

Anticipate questions. How will you deliver the pattern? How much time will you need to finish the project? Who will be making the model? How much do you charge? What terms do you expect in regard to rights and payment? These aren't easy questions but you shouldn't shy away from them. Don't forget this is business you need to be able to articulate what you expect out of the arrangement.

You should establish the price for your work. Please don't ask me how much I pay. Certainly a well established designer can command a higher fee than someone breaking into the industry, but it isn't my role to tell you what that is. You should respect your own work enough to put a dollar amount on it. It may turn out that we can't afford you, but that is our affair, not yours. There may be room to negotiate as well, but you need to begin that process with the knowledge of what you need to make an agreement worthwhile. Any good negotiation leaves both parties satisfied with the outcome. Simply getting published or making a sale shouldn't be your first priority if you're in this for the long haul.

Now you've sold the design. You've made a deal that both you and the buyer are happy with. Congratulations! The last thing I have to say on this today is be sure and deliver what you promised. Repeat business is what is going to make you a success.

I have some other thoughts...but this is all for now.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! It's good to hear thoughts on all sides of a topic and I hadn't heard your side as of yet. I'm glad you've put this out there for everyone. Very concise, 'common sense' and clear. Thank you!

Cindy G said...

This is extremely helpful information. Thank you for putting it together so clearly.

Sel and Poivre said...

What a refreshing, proactive point of view on this topic! How wise to council would be designers that no matter how much they love their art and craft, business is business and they need to be mindful of that!

Cher said...

Beth, you've articulated this so clearly -- and made it even more evident that as I ramp up in this business, LL is the sort of company I want to work with. Thank you!

Marnie said...

Very interesting perspective and I'm glad you've shared. I think all designers benefit from hearing what can be frustrating for her potential customers.

I would like to disagree, respectfully, with your comment about compensation. I guess this is one of the trickiest aspects of design. What I will consider for compensation is based on a lot of factors INCLUDING the purchasing party's budget but also, whether they will be providing tech editing services, whether they will promote the piece, whether they are retaining all rights and if not, what their period of exclusivity is, whether they will give the pattern away or sell it at a discounted price. All of these factor into my ability recoup compensation the hours I spent knitting and writing the pattern. Most small business simply can't pay the rates that major knitting publications do, but they can make it easier for a designer to earn some of that income on the pattern, at a later date.

I am far more comfortable working with someone who says, "My budget for patterns is between $X-$Y based on complexity and quality of pattern. You keep the following rights with these limitations/expectations. I will provide the following services/payments/royalties/support/etc.

From there, we can have an honest discussion about whether this is worthwhile for either of us.

That said, I really think you bring up some excellent points, mostly that all parties should be professional and respectful. You were very generous in how you phrased things and it sounds like you sometimes have to deal with people who don't respect that your time is valuable. It's a good thing for all of us to keep in mind. :)

JobSearchNinja said...

One thing to remember is that salary ranges are all very well, but the key to maximizing your compensation is about clearly demonstrating the benefits that you can bring to an organization. A well-documented performance which provides a prospective employer with quantitative results and shows him how you solved problems or accomplished tasks is pretty tough to argue with!