Hi everyone, happy Saturday!
Today’s post is a bit of a different one from me.
I know many of you will have read Iwona Palamountain’s recent blog post. If you haven’t then I do encourage you to read it. It is well written and covers an issue that I know many care about: Design Teams and compensation. Judging from the wealth of comments in support of her viewpoint, it would appear she is not alone in her thinking in this matter.
For those of you not familiar with her, Iwona is an incredibly talented paper crafter and designer, who was once very active in our industry. Her cards were amazing and I loved her work. We had several things in common, both being chameleon-like in our styles and I learned a lot from mentally dissecting her cards. A while back she sadly stopped being active in the industry, for many of the reasons highlighted in her post.
Before I go any further, I want to mention that I consider Iwona (‘Chupa’) a dear friend. We connected over a lot more than just cards and I have a great deal of love and respect for her. I also want to mention that we’ve had our own private discussions on the subject of Design Teams in the past. It would be fair to say we have opposing viewpoints, but each respect the other’s point of view. As I continue with my post I want you to keep this in mind and that none of my points or opinions are personal or ‘attacks’ of any kind. At the end of the day I value our friendship incredibly highly and it’s far more important. Where I may disagree and refer to items in Chupa’s post, none of it is personal or against her.
Chupa has asked for and encouraged discussion on this topic and it is in the spirit of this that I decided that I would write this post in response to hers. There are many, many comments on her post, and as a potential lone voice presenting the opposing view I felt it was important my thoughts and response not be lost at the bottom of all the other comments.
In any debate you should always keep an open mind and consider opposing points of view, and be objective. If I’m sounding a bit academic on this then I suppose it’s because I am being academic about it – I took part in Debating Society at school, and I frequently engage in debates online and in-person with friends and peers to this day. I love intellectual debate and I always aim to present myself in a logical and considered manner.
Before I present my point of view I want to start with a few caveats. Crafting is not my main job. I work full-time and am paid well for my career. I do not have any dependants or partner or anything of the like that I need to devote my time and energies to when at home (apart from my beloved cats). I am hugely anti-establishment, and frequently campaign and fight the fight of the oppressed, the minority, the deprived and under-privileged. I am also not money-motivated in any way, shape or form. I mention all these points as I am sure that my circumstances affect my point of view. Your perception defines your reality.
Also in the interests of openness and honesty, I do want to mention that I have been very lucky to work on several Design Teams in my time, not to mention countless Guest Design opportunities. In a couple of cases I have been compensated financially and with product, but the vast majority of cases I have been compensated with product only. I have not been asked by any of my teams, past or present, to write this post. Apart from one team, no-one even knows that I’m writing it. I am not what I would consider to be any sort of major player in the crafting industry. I do consider myself a good designer. I do value myself. And I work very hard.
So, with all of that in mind, I will present my counter-argument and my view on the topic. I will be referencing Chupa’s post, so once again I do encourage you to read it.
Chupa’s fundamental argument she presents is that designers should value themselves and their talents. I completely agree on this point. Artists are frequently their own worst critic, and many of us are more talented than we give ourselves credit for. We compare ourselves, our work and our accomplishments to others out there, and it’s no wonder we find ourselves lacking if that’s what we’re doing. We should not compare our own journey with that of another and expect that we share the exact same path. If we can compare our work from a critical thinking point of view (by this I mean, to dissect the work of others to understand how they do what they do, and then learn from it) then I think that’s fine, but the moment you start to feel down about your work and lament that it is not as good as such-and-such out there, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
I know. I do it myself. Not so much with my work as more with my place in the industry: ‘I wish I was as popular as such-and-such; I wish I had as many followers as miss-popular‘ and so on. I’ve worked hard on myself to move away from this mentality and just do my own thing and hope others like me for me. I never was one of the ‘cool kids’ anyway. *wink*
So, anyway. I agree that designers should value themselves and their work.
Chupa speaks at length about how she spent countless hours designing and got little in return for her efforts. With a large following, a popular blog destination, respect and admiration for your work throughout the industry – and companies inviting you to design for them – I would have to disagree on calling that ‘little return’. But it depends on what you define as ‘return’.
As alluded, the most common model Design Teams use is that designers are compensated with the product required for their work. For all the teams I have worked for this has been the case. In many of the cases I have not had to use all of the product I receive. I also have not had to make more than a handful of cards per team per month. So the value of the product, in monetary terms, can often outweigh the amount of time and effort I expend. I feel I get a generous reward for my work as I am promoted by my companies in much the same way as I promote them. This in turn earns me traffic, comments and standing. To me that is fair. As I mentioned I do not have any dependants, nor is this my livelihood, so I am lucky to be in the position where I create because I want to, not because I have to. If I were pouring many many hours of myself every day into my work, and had no other source of income, and had others to support, I may well feel differently.
So, back to that definition of ‘return’. The return Chupa speaks of is financial reward for her design team efforts.
Do I believe that one way for designers to be rewarded is payment? Yes of course. Do I believe that that is the only way to be valued or rewarded? Absolutely not. Do I think it justified that designers turn down opportunities if they aren’t paid? Sure, if that’s your point of view then I don’t oppose you. Do I think it is fair that all designers hold companies to ransom and demand payment? No.
And here’s why.
Chupa’s post comes very much from the point of the individual. It comes from the viewpoint that a lot of society has these days: that the only way to be valued is through money. It sees the point of view of the designer that feels the company ‘owes them’ for their profits and success. It sees things only from one point of view – and in so doing means no empathy or understanding of the other person’s shoes.
I want to talk about the point of view of the companies. I don’t own my own business, but I speak as the daughter of a man that does. My Dad has run his own business since my teens, and he pours all of his energy into it. He works hard. Very hard. His company has fallen on hard times more than once, and on these occasions (and many others) he has not paid himself a salary. He took care of his employees’ wages whenever he could, but sometimes he could not afford to pay them either. His business nearly went under a couple of times. He fought himself out of those holes and continues to work hard to turn his fortunes around. So believe me when I say I know exactly how hard running your own company can be.
Company owners have to work extremely hard to make their businesses a success. Even perceived success can be vastly different from the financials of working for someone else. Apart from designing the product, crafting business owners have to be accountants. Marketers. Salespeople. Negotiators. And wear many other hats besides. They work tirelessly to try to realise their dream. Often it is also not their ‘day job’ either – so you can only imagine how much work they actually put in behind the scenes. Many of them have families and young children as well. They are people just like you and me. I can hand-on-heart say that none of these people are setting out to exploit designers’ talents for their own nefarious aims. There might be one or two teams out there with hard-nosed owners, and if you disagree with their methods then you don’t choose to work for them (I don’t – as I mentioned before I do value myself). But the vast majority of them are kind, generous, creative souls. They would like nothing more than to be successful enough to be able to pay you salary as well as product. I’ve no doubt of that. So why don’t they?
Because they can’t afford to.
It might appear on the outside that a company is flying, with products sold out, great word of mouth and sales sales sales. But often behind those sales people forget that there are things such as operating costs, inventory costs, material costs, advertising, and many more things that I am not experienced enough to qualify. The actual product you are sent as a Designer is also a cost, one that is multiplied several times over to cover each Design Team member, and the postage costs of that as well (and we all know the cost of postage itself rises year-on-year). A product ‘sell-out’ could be because sales forecasts are so hard to predict, so companies under-order. Housing inventory is a huge expense, especially if it sits unsold. There’s no exact science to get it right, you can only build a picture based on experience. And even if companies do turn a profit, then don’t forget all those operating costs. Not to mention the fact that profit on material items can often be small. And not to mention tax on top of all that as well.
Running a business is hard. In our industry crafting companies are ten-a-penny, but to be a ‘big’ player and successful, is something that is very hard to ascend to. Consumerism and capitalism have seen to that. It is very hard being a small fish in a big pond. Companies do rely on getting the word out to get their product sold, and how else can they do that better than with designers who show off their product? How better to enthuse crafters to buy than to see how fellow crafters can use the product? Companies do value us and our efforts – they know that we do a lot for them.
In my experience, some companies do compensate designers financially. These tend to almost always be the ‘big’ or truly successful companies, and it is because they can afford to. And in my experience I’ve seen that as companies become more successful then they do move to this type of compensation model once they can. If you ever want to work for one of the ‘big’ companies though you will almost certainly have to be at the top of the game, and have a proven track record on other teams. Those same, smaller teams that you don’t get compensation for… see where I’m going with this? Those who have aspirations of the top should not forget that everyone has to start somewhere, and if that’s your aim then taking positions on these teams is hardly devaluing yourself if you’re thinking of the end goal. This is not me though. Would I love to work for a ‘big name’ some day? Sure. Is it because of the money? Not in the slightest.
I propose that valuing oneself simply by what you earn and that working for companies simply for ‘what’s in it for me’ is exactly the kind of model that has seen big business thrive and small business fail. It’s what keeps Capitalism thriving. I submit that ‘valuing yourself’ can mean and be so much more if you look at it from the point of being a part of something bigger than yourself, to helping to support and make things a success, and to factor in the relationships forged from being unselfish and giving. This is not the same as being a doormat and allowing yourself to be exploited or devalued. It is, however, something that I know not everyone is in the position to do. That is fine. I don’t expect everyone to be as lucky as I am.
I assume everyone has heard of the concept of ‘having a skin in the game’. Unless you are (financially) invested in a company, it seems somewhat unreasonable to me to expect or demand a financial return.
I disagree entirely with the idea of some kind of industry uprising, with people up in arms and refusing to do Design Team work without pay. For one thing, it’ll never work. Crafters in many cases want to be on Design Teams and will accept the work for free anyway. But secondly, and far more importantly, in taking that kind of action the only logical outcome would be that you end up strangling the industry and all those smaller companies that cannot yet afford to pay salary to their designers. Either by them having to disband having a team altogether as they cannot get enough sales as a result of them not having the same level of established talent, or by them having to fork out what they ultimately can’t afford and pay salary, and other things ending up taking a hit financially as a result. Our industry would ultimately end up left with only large, successful companies remaining, with a lack of innovation, new players, or choice left to us, the consumer. As a part of the industry and as a consumer I don’t want any of those things.
One other point I want to counter in particular from Chupa’s post. A comparison is made a couple of times with Design Team work having similarities to slavery (the exact term used currently in the post is ‘exploitation’ – so I either took it to mean ‘slavery’ or it used to say that and was edited. I can’t remember. ETA: I checked the cached history, and it did in fact say ‘slavery’ and has since been edited). I feel this a serious affront. Slavery is a horrible, horrible stain on the human race. Slaves almost always have no choice in their circumstances or lives. Often they are treated inhumanely. Some are even beaten and killed. And that’s just in modern times. The history of slavery is an appalling one. To liken a Design Team commitment, which you choose to undertake of your own free will, and can also choose to walk away from at any time, is a comparison which only serves to demean the plight of true slaves. It is nothing like slavery. I am absolutely certain that Chupa did not intend this (and please remember, I’m not being personal here) but I feel it’s an important distinction to make, because people are impressionable and also, generally speaking, society is very ‘entitled’ these days so can often forget just how bad circumstances can actually be for others. But I digress.
I realise I’ve talked for a long time now, and I wish to bring us round and back to explaining how I feel about things from my own point of view.
I create for the love of it. For the joy of creating. For me, it’s my soul finding expression through creation of something with my own hands. I also create to better my skills. I blog to share my work with others, and to carve out my own place in the industry, and because the validation (in terms of comments or people loving my work) is priceless and good for my soul. For me (and this is my own personal feeling) the moment that I start to think of this hobby in terms of making money, or ‘what’s in it for me’ would be the moment I cease to be just an artist, and start to be a business. I actually did open an Etsy shop the other week, to sell the thousands of cards piling up here (just because I can’t keep hoarding them!). I closed it after two days, before even making a sale. The reason? It didn’t feel like ‘me’. That plus I didn’t see or want to see myself as a business. And also because the government don’t deserve any more of my earnings until they actually do something to repair the society that they’re destroying (but again I digress). Ultimately I live with the view that money isn’t important to me, and that there are many other ways that my work and teams make me feel valued. A key example would be when my Mum died last year. Every single one of my teams were completely understanding when I disappeared off the face of the crafting Earth for months, until I was ready to create again. And I’ve still not assumed 100% of my responsibilities in some cases (which I do feel bad about) and still they have been totally supportive and not pressured me at all. Because those company owners – they’re just like you and me. They care. And if you truly value yourself, and your place in this world, then I believe you look past the dollar signs and to the other things that truly matter instead.
So, the title of my post promised you a bit of a guide to how to make money in this industry (if you do want to). Here are a couple of ways:
People can earn a lot of money from YouTube videos. The biggest names in the industry all make part of their income from this method. I personally tossed and turned for months (no exaggeration) over whether to enable ads on my videos. Ultimately I decided to do it, as I felt people can always skip ads if they want, or use ad-blocking software to not see them. The truth is I make peanuts on my videos compared with the big names, but I have had two payments to date.
Another way to earn some money is to be affiliated with certain companies and therefore earn a commission on any sales generated by you. Again I took a lot of time and soul-searching over this before I decided to go down this route, and again I make peanuts compared with others, but it doesn’t bother me. With both this and with videos the only reason I enabled them was to try and make a little dent in some debt I owe.
Teach a Class
Craftsy, Skillshare and a couple of other places allow you to record classes and make money from people who sign up. Not for me personally, just for the sheer amount of work involved – and only the big names do well from this anyway. Teachers and Guest Teachers for Online Card Classes are compensated too (and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited as a Guest Teacher on one occasion, and I said ‘yes!’ before even knowing that was the case!).
Become an Illustrator
If you can design your own stamps then you can make royalties on the sales. But bear in mind you have to be skilled to do this and also people have to like what you design for it to sell well. 🙂 But it is very fulfilling, especially when you see other people using your designs! I’ve not tried this one myself, but if I did it would be for the thrill of seeing others use my designs rather than any financial benefit.
Start a Business
Either a retail company, or a crafting company, or your own business selling your designs/commissions. This takes an incredible amount of work to be successful in, but I suspect would be incredibly rewarding.
Invent a Product
The MISTI is a perfect example of invention and innovation becoming a success story. But it is incredibly hard to be a successful inventor!
Work for a ‘Big Name’ Crafting Company
The biggest/most successful companies tend to compensate financially, as a general rule (I can’t speak for all of them). I know the level of compensation varies, but if you want to go down the ‘earning money for Design Team work’ road, then this is the only way to do it.
If you’ve made it this far, then I want to thank you sincerely for reading my post. I’m not expecting you all to agree with my point of view (in fact I’m expecting to be somewhat lynched or at least strongly disagreed with), but I hope that you will at least understand my points, keep an open mind, and think about things from both sides of a debate. Thank you all for your support, your love, and your understanding. The crafting community and industry is one of the best I know of, and it’s entirely down to people like you, people like me – and yes, people like company owners too.