I’ve worked for free fabric.
Last year I designed a tutorial for Timeless Treasures to post on their blog. It took me about four hours to design it, sew it, photograph each step, take the beauty shots, and write the instructions. I was paid in fat quarter bundles and several yards of flannel. That post was Timeless Treasure’s most popular blog post of the year. It was their most popular Instagram photo, too.
I took on these projects because they were fun and it was flattering that a big company or site would ask me to create something just for them. When the packages of fabric arrived in the mail I was so excited to open them, and that excitement was underlined by feeling like I’d gotten the fabric for free. Working by myself is sorta lonely. It was exciting to get emails from these companies, and to get their feedback on my work.
Over time, I’ve begun to think more carefully about whether I should do work for a company that pays me in product. This careful thinking emerged when my sewing and blogging hobby became a real business, with real bills to pay. When I looked at what I needed, it wasn’t fabric. What I needed in exchange for my labor was $50 to pay MailChimp and $61.89 to pay my Etsy fees for the month. I only have so many working hours each day and need to be more careful with how I use them. How many projects can I really take on that don’t pay in money? When Timeless Treasures came back to me to design another project for their blog this year I decided to say no.
That’s where I am in my thinking, but not everyone is in the same place. There are still lots of people who will work for free products and there always will be.
Companies in the craft and sewing industry will always be hungry for visual content. With Pinterest boards to fill, blog posts to write, and Instagram and Facebook followings to grow, they have an ongoing need for fresh tutorials and free patterns that show their products in use.
How should they get this content? Sending out free product to bloggers in exchange for a tutorial is by far the cheapest and easiest way, but is it best business practice for the company and for the blogger?
Let’s look at a specific case in order to think about these questions.
On October 24 I saw this post from Glue Dots seeking applications from bloggers to be part their Design Team:
Join the Glue Dots Design Team
Glue Dots Design Team Call!
Calling all Designers! We’re looking for a few crafty individuals to join our Glue Dots Design Team!
Do you love Glue Dots? Are you super creative and looking for a challenge? Apply to our Glue Dots Design Team!
The Glue Dots Design Team expertly uses Glue Dots products for kids crafts, school projects, home décor, decorations, home improvement, DIY projects, and more! As a growing company, you’ll be challenged to design and create outside of the craft room. If you enjoy trying products from other companies, using and testing new products, and enjoy being creatively challenged, consider becoming a Dottess!
Here are a few of the perks of being a Dottess:
Opportunities to be published in major national, regional, and trade publications
Exposure to major national and global retailers and their audiences, including A.C. Moore, Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann Craft and Fabric Stores, Michaels, and more
Exposure to audiences outside of the craft industry
Test and use new products before anyone else
Help us create the next new adhesive
Free product from Glue Dots and other partner companies
So much more!
To be considered for the Glue Dots Design Team, designers must be able to:
Produce high quality, high res photos
Submit a minimum of 16 projects* throughout the course of the term
Term length is from Nov. 1 2014 – Sept. 15 2015
Provide clear and concise project instructions and supply lists using a provided template
Support Glue Dots projects and products through the use of Social Media Profiles (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest)
*This number is flexible. For example, if you submit projects for our publication partners, these projects count towards the overall total number of projects for the term.
To apply, fill out the application form below. You will receive a confirmation email after your application has been submitted and you will be redirected to our subscription page on our website.
Deadline to apply is Monday, October 27th.
~The Team at GDI
P.S. We’d rather have too many applications instead of too few, so what are you waiting for? Apply to be part of our team! 🙂
Glue Dots has had a Design Team for a few years and I wondered how the current Design Team members feel about their experience as Dottesses. What value do they feel they’re getting?
I also wondered how Glue Dots perceives the work their Design Team members create. Do they see the Dottesses as professionals? Why do they feel that paying them in glue and clicks is enough?
To find out, I got in touch with a blogger who served on the Glue Dots Design Team for several years and I got in touch with the people at Glue Dots.
The blogger I reached out to was Joy, whose blog is Joys Life. Over the course of about two years, from 2011-2013, Joy created more than 30 tutorials as a member of the Glue Dots Design Team. I asked her how long she worked in each project on average. “Regarding time commitment specifically, I couldn’t say. I often feel like I’m the slowest crafter in the world,” Joy said. “Sometimes it takes me a long time to formulate an idea and other times it’s quick. Then there are the times that I think I’m a genius and start making something and it’s terrible so I start over. I will never be invited to quickly make a craft in a competition. However, I might be invited to sit under a tree and think about it…if that ever becomes a thing.”
Joy actually made many more projects than those she posted on her blog. During her final year as a Dottess she created projects that Glue Dots used in publications. “The projects were published in the Hobby Lobby ‘Scrapbooking’ magazine as part of an ad campaign for Glue Dots,” she explained.
I asked her about compensation. “I received a generous amount of Glue Dots products and sometimes products from other companies,” Joy told me.
I wrote the following letter to Glue Dots and sent it on October 30:
Hi Glue Dots,
My name is Abby Glassenberg and I’m a sewing pattern designer, craft book author, and blogger. My blog is http://abbyglassenber.wpengine.com. On my blog I write about sewing, blogging, and small business and I’ve been writing there since 2005.
Last week I noticed your call looking for bloggers to apply to be members of the Glue Dots Design Team. The perks described for members of the Design Team are publishing opportunities, exposure, advanced use of product, and free product. The work described involves producing 16 projects over a 9 month period with each project including high quality images, clear project instructions, supply lists, and templates, and shares on social media.
I’m writing to you because I don’t feel that this kind of expectation treats designers with respect. In order to create a single project as described it will take a designer at least three hours. This includes time spent coming up with and developing the concept, creating the finished piece, taking photos of the step-outs and beauty shots of the finished piece, editing the photos, creating the templates, and writing and editing the instructions. Three hours per project is a conservative estimate.
In order to create what’s required a designer would also need a good quality camera, photo editing equipment, and craft supplies in addition to the free supplies sent by Glue Dots.
So we’re looking at 48 total hours of work at least, plus use of equipment, supplies and expertise. In addition, the blogger is expected to share the project with their own audience via their blog and social media channels.
In order to develop a significant blog readership and a significant and engaged following on social media, a blogger has to work several hours each day creating original content and sharing it, finding other interesting content from around the web to share, and interacting with their readers.
I honestly feel that your call for bloggers to be on a design team under these terms, with no monetary compensation, shows a lack of respect for the work involved. If a designer creates a project for a magazine, or an advertisement for Hobby Lobby, or just a free pattern for the Glue Dots website, that designer should be paid for that project. Paying someone in free glue and exposure is not real compensation.
Thank you for considering my letter. I hope to hear from you.
I was feeling rather heated about the topic, clearly, perhaps overly heated. But I figured the best way to get a response was to express a strong opinion. About a week later, on Friday, November 7, I got a letter back. Here’s what it said:
Thank you for your feedback regarding the Glue Dots Design Team. We are currently evaluating our Design Team requirements and compensation due to the breadth and growth of our Glue Dots product line. At the end of each term we request feedback from our designers on how we can improve our team. We take their feedback to heart and implement those improvements, which have brought several of our designers back year after year.
Who is the Glue Dots Design Team? The Glue Dots Design Team is made up of about six moms who are passionate about other avenues of life outside of crafting. They have full-time jobs that are not within the crafting industry and being a member of our Design Team allows them to be creative outside of their daily life. The Glue Dots Design Team was organized in 2011 and continues to improve each year. We encourage our designers to create projects that they enjoy, but they also provide us with everyday uses of Glue Dots products that enrich their homes and their life with their families. Our designers are not required to create professional photos because we do the majority of photo editing in house.
Through growing partnerships with retailers and publications, our designers and their projects receive on average over 1.5 million impressions per month. By taking on the responsibility of publishing their projects through our partnerships, the designers are able to spend more time with their family while receiving credit for their work.
In addition to our Glue Dots Design Team, we create strategic partnerships with creative individuals who meet the needs of our growing product line. These are professional individuals who reach an audience for a specific retailer or industry and provide us with a comprehensive content program to meet our needs. By working with these professional individuals, we’re able to bring other partners into the fold and introduce their brand to audiences they do not currently reach.
Thank you again for your feedback. We are currently evaluating our Design Team requirements and the structure of compensation in order to be on the leading edge of design team programs. We take our team’s feedback and your input to heart.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions about our program.
Glue Dots International
E-mail: ebrunner at gluedots dot com
I decided to forward the letter to Joy. I asked her which category she felt that she fell into, the six moms with full-time jobs or the strategic partnerships with creative individuals? Joy said, “I’m a mom and a designer. I enjoyed my time with Glue Dots. It was a great learning experience for me as a new designer.”
I also asked Glue Dots which category they felt Joy fit into, but I haven’t heard back.
Glue Dots isn’t the only company with a design team. These sorts of teams, in which bloggers create project tutorials in exchange for free product, are especially popular in the scrapbooking world.
All businesses are guided by profit, whether they’re big companies like Glue Dots or micro businesses like my own. But great businesses are also guided by ethics. Is it ethical to solicit projects from bloggers and use them in print ads that grow your profits without compensating the designer? Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
And as a blogger and designer, even if you’re at the beginning stage of your career, should there be a limit to what you’ll agree to do in exchange for free product? At what point does a great opportunity turn into exploitation?
I stand by my letter to Glue Dots partly because I believe in saying something out loud rather than grumbling privately, and partly because I’m rankled by the implication that the Glue Dots Design Team members are moms who are grateful to be paid in glue and clicks so that they can spend more time with their families.
But Joy has a good point, too.
“I think non paying jobs are a good fit at times, depending on how well a particular brand works with your current style and schedule. I don’t have any complaints about teams not paying because you know that up front and can choose to participate or not.”