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How To Pitch It Perfectly – Going From Big Asks To Favours

May 2015 013

Sometimes I let my love of colour get the better of me. I have dug out my green coat (the one I only wear occasionally lest I wear it out) and I’m cheerfully pairing it with an orange knitting project. Colours feed my soul.

But I cannot live on colour and sunshine alone.

The First Lesson: The Difference Between Favours & Big Asks – And Why You Need To Know It

Recently I’ve received emails from very different people with an identical message: hey, I’m just going to ask you for a favour.. Favours are good and I like being able to help where I possibly can. I like introducing like-minded people to each other. I like being able to vouch for someone being fabulous. I like skimming a friend’s magazine proposal before it’s submitted. If I can help, I am happy to do so. But, do me a favour has taken a very strange turn. This past week I was asked if I could turn over the copyright of my most popular pattern to a publishing company I had to google (in return I’d  get .. a link to this blog!?). Could I share my email list of clients with someone wanting to work as a technical editor? Today I was asked to donate a substantial monetary-value amount of goods to an event to which I had not been invited (I actually queried this favour and I’ll share the astounding reply in a second). I don’t consider these requests favours – I consider these Big Asks.

Favours are reciprocal – Big Asks are not.

If you are sending an email, ask yourself if you are requesting a favour or a Big Ask. Do you have a prior relationship with the person you are contacting? Do you have mutual friends who can vouch for you? Is what you are requesting something of huge benefit to you but not to the other person?

Favours come with an expectation that at some point the asker will be in the position of helping you out with something. It is a mutual beneficiary situation: if I help a friend by proof-reading his article, he might lend me a place to sleep next time I pass through his town. If I introduce a friend to another friend – maybe one day one of them will introduce me to someone interesting. Sure I end up feeling great about helping out people, but I also know that I’ll have an IOU in future reserve if I ever need it.

Big Asks come with nothing. I don’t know the person asking. The request has come out of nowhere and typically the Big Ask would result in me handing over significant sources of income to complete strangers. In return? Frequently I am promised exposure in the vaguest terms possible – but we all know that is not a valid currency. Once I’ve helped out with the Big Ask, chances are that I’ll either never heard from the asker again or I’ll keep getting Big Asks until I have nothing left to give.

So, you have something you want to obtain – this can be anything from advice on how to pitch a submission to getting more clients or staging a successful event. How can you turn your Big Ask into a favour? The answer is surprisingly simple: ask in a way that will benefit you both. Examples:

  • I’d like all rights to your most popular pattern/photo/song!” = “Do you have a pattern/photo/song tucked away that you’d like to publish through us?”
  • I need a list of your clients/I need an introduction to XYZ” = “Hey, I am really interested in South American farming communities. Can you point me in the right direction? Awesome article on crop rotation, by the way. Do you know Crop Rotation Expert Phil? I’d love to introduce you guys”
  • I am hosting AN AWESOME EVENT OUT OF THE BLUE and I need 150 goodie bags!” = “Hi, I am currently planning an event focused on crop rotation practice. I was wondering how your schedule looks for next March and if you would be interested in hosting a panel on Peruvian popcorn plantations?”

See how rephrasing works? It’s pretty cool, no? You are still asking for something, but you are starting a conversation that might lead somewhere really good.

The Second Lesson: Don’t Sabotage Yourself and Your Project Before You Start

Remember I queried why I was being asked to donate to an event and not asked to work the event? I received this answer which floored me: Because you are too famous and therefore too expensive for us.

My pub landlord used to be in a Glasgow indie pop band – if I were arranging a local music festival, why shouldn’t I ask him if he’d like to DJ or play a couple of tracks? At worst he’d be busy or outwith my budget – but if I didn’t ask I would never know. Is he famous? I honestly hadn’t heard of his band until I moved to Glasgow, but now I realise the band meant a lot to other local bands in the late 1990s. Fame is an exceptionally relative term – someone’s famous musician is another person’s pub landlord. And he still needs to pay bills.

Do not assume that something or someone is out of reach. That is not your decision to make.

Take all your knowledge about favours and Big Asks, and make a list. Who would be awesome to have on your team? Who could help turn your kick-ass idea into a kick-ass reality? Who would be a big draw for your event? Think big and reach out in the way we talked about earlier. You may get a couple of cold shoulders (“Okay, maybe asking Taylor Swift to headline Aberdour Festival was a bit ambitious..”) but you will get responses from many awesome corners too. Remember, it is not up to you to decide if somebody wants to be on Team Awesome – but you’ll never know if you don’t approach them in a friendly way.

My Personal Lesson: It Is Not About Me. It Is About You.

It’s been a really crap week so far with a lot of soul-destroying Something For Nothing emails in my inbox. Hey, am I too approachable? I have been turning down many Big Asks this week. Hey, am I not approachable enough? For every fifteen Big Asks, I get just one favour through and those fabulous emails are usually prefaced with a “hey, I know you are busy but I thought I’d drop you a line..”

And then it dawned on me, that all this has nothing to do with me. It’s about people either not realising I exist (fame is an exceptionally relative term!), people thinking I’m too busy for them (they’ve made their decision without consulting me), or people thinking I cannot bring anything to the game (okay, okay, this one is about me and my poor knowledge of Peruvian popcorn farms). I can fret about looking unapproachable in my green coat and kitschy sunglasses – but that is who I am and my outfit has nothing to do with approachability. I have a contact form, people can get in touch on social media, and plenty of people come up to say hi when I am working at festivals or shops.

So, I’m going to continue be kick-ass at my job. I’ll keep wearing my yellow shoes & my capes. I have some fantastic things in store over the next .. gulp .. eight months. And I hope to find far fewer Big Asks in my inbox and far more favours. Deal? Deal.

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An Edinburgh Yarn Festival Surprise!

October 2014 429

Peer Reviews & Mentorships: Tips & Hints for Knitting Designers

 

Recently I came across a claim that peer reviews and mentorships were unknown to most knitting designers. It was said that unless you were one of the lucky ones, you had no access to peer support and you were on your own. I am here to tell you that this is wrong. I am also here to tell you how you can get your own support network started along with some tips on how to navigate the waters.

 

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  • Be open about wanting to meet other designers. If you don’t say you are interested, no-one will know!
  • Be kind and open-minded in all your interactions. If you come across as hot-headed or impatient, other designers may feel they cannot approach you.
  • Think about what you can bring to the table (and be honest with yourself).
  • Reach out to others via social media, Ravelry or emails. You are not confined to your geographical location.
  • Establish the practical aspects: will you set up a message board? arrange a Google hangout? Skype? How often will you check in?
  • Remember: be pro-active, generous and kind.

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  • DO agree upon the outcome of any peer review before you get started. “I want to know what gaps you see in my portfolio”
  • DO be honest with yourself about why you want to be mentored/interact with peers.
  • DO turn any negative feedback into productive action points. “I see a lot of toe-up sock patterns; I’d love to see you try different construction methods!
  • DO be generous with your feedback and skill-sharing: “In my day job, I work in a non-profit and write a lot of applications. I think your magazine submissions can be sharpened up and I’ll show you how.” – “Great! I do a lot of photography, and I’d be happy to teach you how adjusting shutter speed can help you.”
  • DO be professional. If you receive some unexpected feedback (“I see a lot of toe-up sock patterns; I’d love to see you try different construction methods!) listen carefully and with an open mind.
  • DO be supportive. If someone in your peer group experiences success, be the first to cheer alongside her.
  • DO ask tough questions: “Where do you see yourself in five years? What steps do you need to take to get there?”
  • DO introduce others to interesting opportunities: “I saw this call for cat-themed accessories. Alison, that is totally up your street
  • DO be honest about industry experiences: “Sarah, I think it’s great that Unicorn Yarns  of Antarctica have approached you. LOVE their yarns! Just make sure you are happy with all the T&Cs. I had a tough time with them last year and want to make sure you know what you are doing!” or “Sarah, have fun working with Unicorn Yarns  of Antarctica. LOVE their yarns, and Jessica in the Head Office is great.”
  • DO your research.
  • DO peer reviews regularly and check in with each other.

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  • DON’T participate in peer reviews, support groups or mentorships thinking everybody is out to scam you or steal your ideas.
  • DON’T waste people’s time. Nothing is more off-putting than spending a lot of time on helping someone out and getting a “LOL, this isn’t even my day job, kthxbai!” in return.
  • DON’T cold-approach people at trade shows. Shows are busy, everybody is tired & stressed, and even the nicest person can be startled by a full-on approach coming out of nowhere. Start off with an email, a PM, or a tweet.
  • DON’T spend all your interactions on complaining or being negative. It is fine to raise worries or complaints, but always try to be pro-active and turn negatives into positive action points.
  • DON’T be intimidated. Even super-successful people are just people.
  • DON’T gossip. What is said at peer group stays at peer group.
  • DON’T expect magic answers. Mentors and peers can help you analyse your portfolio or help you figure out your niche. They cannot make you successful overnight.
  • DON’T be a bully. If negative feedback is unavoidable, make sure your criticism is constructive and relevant.
  • DON’T seek answers just from knitting designers. Read the business section, borrow books on how to juggle a portfolio career, and ask other sectors smart questions.
  • DON’T give up. If you don’t find the right mix of people or if you fail to find a more experienced designer willing to mentor you, just keep trying.

Comments are always welcome and discussions are encouraged x

Proof of the Pudding – Or What Do You Do All Day?!

February 2015 024

I knit a lot but probably not as much as people assume. Like most knitters, I knit when I’ve finished work for the day and I need some downtime. The difference is that my day job involves writing, editing, and designing knitting patterns. The fact that I don’t knit during my work day surprises people. Most of my day is spent on the computer answering emails, chasing invoices, entering data into a spreadsheet, and working with various software programmes (chart editors, layout programmes and word processors). Occasionally I head outside for photo shoots or teaching appointments, but mostly my work is desk-based in front of a computer.

Being my own employer, I have had to learn to do a lot of things because if I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. This include things like payroll, marketing, customer service, distribution, procurement etc. Just because I am a one-woman business, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about how I do taxes, how I tell people about the things I do, how I can help people with any problems they may encounter, how I get my hard-copy patterns printed, where and when to buy office supplies etc. I have also had to learn how to put together a professional-looking layout and what changes I have to make from getting it ready as a PDF and a hard copy pattern.

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A typical day runs from 9.30am to 5.30pm with breakfast & lunch at the desk. I try to deal with emails/messages at the start and end of every day. I could probably spend every single day just on emails and messages! I look at specific customer support requests – these range from “what do you think of these colours?” to “could you explain what a garter stitch tab cast-on is? I’ve looked at videos and still do not get it”.

I then spend time on the latest pattern I’m designing (I’ll talk about design process in a later post). I open up the chart editor and the spreadsheet. Depending upon the complexity of the design, I can spend a fortnight crunching numbers before it is time to start writing a pattern. I spend lunchtime catching up with social media – some people regard it as marketing but I think of social media as a great way to have social interactions with great people without leaving the house. Twitter is a lifeline of joy when you work on your own.

After lunch, I get back to my spreadsheets and my number crunching. I make sure to transfer key numbers from my spreadsheet to a pattern template so I can tell if a pattern makes narrative sense (no need to start talking about neckline numbers when people are still working the bottom rib – even if I need to know the basic neckline numbers at this stage). I double-check the chart in my chart editor and may correct the stitch pattern, so it will work with armhole shaping further up. Spreadsheets are magic, I tell you. I may also be working on other people’s patterns as a technical editor.

I dip into social media and check my email to make sure I am not missing any urgent business. A yarn company may have emailed me to let me know they are out of a shade I wanted for a future design, and I have to open up my design proposal to see what I could use instead. A customer may have emailed me about problems buying the pattern and I have to liaise with Ravelry and LoveKnitting to solve the customer’s problems. I try to get on top of emails by 4pm.

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After 4pm, I focus more on the “soft side” of my work. I browse Ravelry to check out colour and texture trends. I spend time on Pinterest looking through recent pins (I subscribe to a number of trend forecasters’ feeds). I look at dyers’ websites to check out new stock and if I can see any colour trends. I also spend the 90 minutes between 4pm and 5.30pm on doodling and playing around with ideas in the chart editor or on paper. I browse RSS feeds via Feedly where I subscribe to a large number of blogs and websites ranging from knitting and fashion to art, design and technology. I don’t always get my daily 90 minutes of inspiration because I may be in the middle of a complex project, but I love when I am able to set aside time.

By the time 5.30pm rolls around, my partner is home and we spend some time decompressing over a cup of tea. We get dinner sorted and by 7.30pm I am usually sat in the sofa with my work knitting. And that is another day over and done with. I work like this Monday to Friday but I may teach at a festival or at a LYS Saturday or Sunday, so my day off may fall on a Monday or a Wednesday instead.

This post was written in response to a ‘what do you actually do all day long?’ request from a couple of readers. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section!

Make It Work: A Chat with A Playful Day & Twitter Hangout Plans

I recently found myself chatting with fellow freelancer, occasional collaborator and good friend A Playful Day. As we were chatting away, we noticed that both of us were being asked a lot of the same questions. What’s it like to make your hobby your job? How do you make that happen? Can you help me make that same jump? We are both passionate about making the knitting industry the best it can be and somehow our little chat ended up with us making plans.

Plans? Plans. I’ll tell you in a minute.  First, let’s kick off all this by hearing from someone with .. a not so obvious job – Ms Playful Day.

IMG_4491You are A Playful Day – a podcaster, a blogger, an editor and a professional craft cheerleader among other things. How would you describe what you do?
The one question I find the hardest to answer is exactly this! In a nutshell, I freelance within the fibre industry as someone who supports and develops independent businesses. I see my work as very collaborative and strategic, working alongside designers, dyers and other creative types helping them fine tune what they do and communicate to as big an audience in a way that clearly tells their story.

Branding’ is a bit of a naughty word in this business – why do you think that is?
Possibly because it can be seen as restrictive, false or impersonal. I have found over the last few years that people who have a clear distinction between their product and who they are, tend to find the work life balance easier to maintain and can be much more critical about their success. They seem to get better at interacting with their audience and I think having a strong story that is easy to read is actually really empowering for Creatives as it means they can have clear boundaries and fine tune their inspiration across different projects. It is certainly why I strive hard to work collaboratively because most of all, a person needs to be empowered to determine their own story; I really can’t see that working any other way.

What’s a typical working week like?
I juggle the needs of my family with what I need to do in order to support designers and dyers. What this usually means is I’m on Skype or my laptop the minute my daughter is sleeping. This industry is full of people trying to grow their business around family needs, their ‘other’ job, health needs and so I’m in good company I’ve found! It means that there isn’t really an average week as I can be locked into a laptop creating press releases one week, then commissioning a new pattern collection or attending an event another week.

As a female entrepreneur in the fibre industry, what has been the most surprising aspects of starting your own business?
It’s been surprising how quickly I went from a background figure to someone that springs to mind for an exciting project. Initially I found it hard to introduce my role within the fibre industry. For some people, the idea of employing someone remotely to help shape their business seemed too alien and I was unsure how best to develop what I felt was an important role for independent businesses. However, the last year or so has seen something of a turning point with more willingness to promote good products and greater international collaborations. With it has come a rapid interest in the sort of work I do and projects that I’ve been working on which I’ve found a bit overwhelming. I’m suddenly a bit more visible than I used to be when really I’m happiest in my comfy jeans, plotting a great blog post or feature for someone!

journal 2You are so passionate about fostering relationships and collaborations. Part of that energy was channelled into Unwind Brighton where I finally met you (after all these years!). You were really, really busy behind the scenes but what struck me was that you were still trying to foster relationships and ‘make playful things happen’. Where does that passion come from?
Unwind was such a moment in time for me because it represented everything about the way I like to work; the standard was so high and everyone really pulled together and collaborated to bring something amazing together.

I just like to see talented people achieve. I really get a kick out of introducing a talented designer and dyer and seeing the end result and knitters going wild over it. I see how happy it makes others to get that feedback from a creative process and I want to do it all over again the next day.  This is an industry that deserves to thrive and be taken seriously as it’s all too often trivialised by the ‘hobby’ label. There’s a lot of people doing truly exciting and interesting things and I love meeting them, hearing their story and then helping it reach an audience. While it’s a hobby we love, business development is a very important thing and getting paid what you are truly worth is crucial.

Finally, you suggested taking that conversation and make it into a broader discussion.

I’d like people to come and visit A Playful Day to see you answering some questions and then we are taking that conversation further, out on to Twitter. Using the hashtag #makeitwork we will host a live chat to talk about how we make our jobs work and how we keep things creative too.

Yes!

A Playful Day and I have invited some key figures in the knitting industry to join us (and you, most importantly) for a Twitter hangout where we’ll ask – and hopefully answer – some of those recurrent questions. You will get to hear from editors, curators, designers, dyers, podcasters .. and many more. More information to come in the next few days over on the playful blog (where you’ll also get to hear details about my working life).