How collaboration can help grow your craft business

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Why collaborating is good for your business – and how to do it!

Collaborations are a brilliant way to grow your craft business and reach a new audience. Here are 4 reasons why teaming up with a like-minded designer or maker can help boost both your businesses.

  • Collaboration can boost your reach, building a new and increased audience with a collective marketing strategy.
  • Collaboration can add interest to the offering in your online shop with new product ranges you would be unable to create on your own.
  • Working with a complementary craft business will create an exciting buzz about the launch of a new range, which will attract interest from press and bloggers.
  • Working with others will help you to grow as a designer and business owner – you can learn so much from collaborating with inspiring and creative people!

In this post you will find out everything you need to know about the pros and cons of collaborating with other designers or makers on your craft projects and promotions. We also speak to two designers who share their stories of successful collaborations.

 

Collaborations push the designs into new areas, which is innovating and inspiring – Chloë from Hatastic!

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Being a self-employed maker can be a lonely business, so it’s no surprise that more and more designers are working together and combining their creative forces on joint projects. By collaborating with other people, you’re not just increasing your number of daily interactions (no, talking to the cat doesn’t count) but also opening yourself up to countless new ideas and directions, not to mention new markets. But what is the secret to a successful collaboration? 

Be picky about who you work with
Designers do it (Donna Wilson recently worked with local school children to design Aberdeenshire Tartan), pop stars do it (Pharrell has practically built a career on it), Rob Ryan and Tatty Devine did it, politicians do it (remember the Coalition?), even Superman and Batman did it; clearly some collaborations work better than others. Finding the right person (or people) is crucial to making it work.

A lot of collaborations happen naturally: people come together because their work has a similar design ethos, they hang out in the same crowd (in real life or online), or they admire each other’s work. But just having shared tastes or friends isn’t necessarily a reason to work together. Before working with someone, even someone you know, ask yourself some key questions: What you can offer each other? Do your skills complement each other? Can they do something you need, and vice versa? Do you understand each other? Do you have the same vision? Can you communicate honestly with each other? Will you be equally committed to working on the project?

Everyone involved should get something from working together. That doesn’t have to be financial – the motivation can be as simple as doing something different, interesting and challenging, or the opportunity to gain new fans for your work and grow your brand.

Think past the practicalities of the project and figure out a communication strategy too – how are you going to tell people about what’s your doing?

Find your great idea’s other half
What if you’ve got a brilliant idea but don’t know the right person to make it happen? Luckily, in this connected world of ours, there are lots of ways of finding them. You can put a notice on relevant forums or online groups, or put a call-out on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and ask people to share it. There are even websites now where you can find potential collaborators, like collabfinder.com and The Backscratchers.

Or outside the virtual world, put a notice in local studios, look for potential collaborators at craft fairs or trade shows, and let it be known generally that you are looking for someone to work with – you never know where the connection might come from.

Plan and communicate
Once you’ve decided to work together on a project, draw up a plan. Set out your vision and how you’re going to get there. Who is going to do what and when? Set timescales and talk to each other regularly. To become great, ideas need to mingle and swap, so share what you’re doing and listen to what they’re doing. Be honest about where you’re at, how you feel the project is going, and what, if anything, needs changing. Be flexible: sometimes things have to go right back to the drawing board before they become worthwhile.

Think past the practicalities of the project and figure out a communication strategy too – how are you going to tell people about what’s your doing? Where are your strengths – does one of you have a better reach on a social channel? If so, use that to your advantage. Establish a timeline for your communications – when will you announce it, and how can you continue to get people interested in your project and keep them talking about it? Think about starting a joint hashtag that you can use to talk about your project and share news with your fans.

Collaborations can inspire
One of the best things about collaborating with other people is that it can breathe new life into your work. Even if you’re full of ideas, working with someone else, or to somebody else’s brief, can take you in totally unexpected directions. That can be an exciting journey and one that’s worth trying.

 

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 CASE STUDY 1 : I AM ACRYLIC COLLABORATION WITH GCSE ART STUDENTS  

I Am Acrylic worked with GSCE students from Trentham High School on a jewellery project

I Am Acrylic worked with GSCE students from Trentham High School on a jewellery project

Don’t be afraid to say if the project has gone so far away from your initial vision that you are no longer comfortable with it

Last year Ruth Williams and Brendan Fan from I Am Acrylic collaborated with GSCE students in Stoke-on-Trent on a project to help keep craft alive in schools, and even designed a DIY board game for a collaboration between Laurence King and Magma.

These are Ruth’s tips for a perfect collaboration:

Know your strengths
As two designers working under one name, we collaborate with each other all the time. Over the years we’ve got to know and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And we’re honest about what skills we bring to the studio each day!

Be patient
Don’t expect great results overnight. There’ll be a lot of too-ing and fro-ing and most likely you’ll both be working on a tonne of other projects at the same time.

Don’t force it
Sometimes things don’t work out. Don’t be afraid to say if the project has gone so far away from your initial vision that you are no longer comfortable with it. It’s a hard call to make, but far better than settling for a compromise that you are not happy with.

Give and take feedback, but don’t nit-pick
Both parties need to be open to constructive criticism, but there’s a fine line between feedback and nit-picking. If it’s not a vital change and you’re actually happy with that element as it is, then hold back on the minor details. This will lead to a much more harmonious working relationship!

Money matters
Even if you’re relaxed and trust each other, it’s good to get a framework outlined before you begin. Make sure you know your final retail and wholesale prices and each party’s percentage etc (if it’s a commercial project). Remember that time is money too! Decide how much time you can each realistically invest.

 

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 CASE STUDY 2 : HATASTIC! COLLABORATIONS WITH OTHER CREATIVES  

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Chloë from Hatastic collaborated on a project using recycled skateboards

You’d think that when collaborating, the work is 50/50 and therefore there’s less work to do. Not the case! If anything there’s more!

Chloë Haywood, the designer behind Hatastic! has worked on lots of projects with other companies and creatives. Her BOARD collection was a collaboration with Thrashion, who upcycle old skateboards into homewares, jewellery and accessories, and her range of Luxury Eco Candles was a collaboration with The Recycled Candle Company.

These are Chloë’s top five tips for a successful collaboration:

Ask questions
I’ve been lucky in that my collaborations have generally come about from meeting people incidentally who seem a perfect partnership for a specific collection. It’s a bit ‘chicken and the egg’ and ‘which came first’ with design and collaboration. Neither come about without the idea, but to enrich the idea, you need to ask lots of questions! Having someone else’s input and expertise is invaluable when designing.

Work with people who ‘get’ you
Occasionally I do contact people directly, but rarely do I deal with companies who I’ve not had a previous dialogue with, simply as there’s more groundwork to cover. I enjoy working with people who ‘get’ me, as they will instinctively understand my business.

Keep in touch
Face-to-face meetings are the best, however Skype can be a brilliant tool when you need to show tests or prototype results to drive the process or when you’re hampered by distance or busy lives.

Be prepared for even more work
You’d think that when collaborating, the work is 50/50 and therefore there’s less work to do. Not the case! If anything there’s more! Collaborations push the designs into new areas, which is innovating and inspiring.

(Featured image: ‘Together the girls were stronger’ print by Beetle Cherry)

 


 

Read more about I Am Acrylic’s project with Trentham High School students on their blog >>

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