Friday, April 3, 2009

Using Collaboration to Widen Your Market and Increase Sales

Collaborating with a fellow etsy seller can be a very effective way to diversify your market and product line. I've had a full range of partnerships including one very effective scrabble tile tutorial with littleputbooks that increased my sales by 30% last summer, a collage sheet with beautiful photos by doubleyouEm that sadly went nowhere, a glass pendant tutorial launched today with AnnieHowes, and a super-secret one in the works with one of the top sellers on etsy. But where do you start? Read on for my step-by-step tips on how to make it work for you.
Glass pendant tutorial by Annie Howes with images by piddix
Finding Your Partner
Some of the most natural combinations involve shops with similar styles but different products. This could be licensing an artist's image to make into mousepads or pendants, or commissioning embroidered custom bags for your dog treats. Perhaps one shop makes scarves to match another's earrings. What makes these stand out as collaborations is first, there was an intentional discussion between two makers of how to create the final product. And second, each shop promotes the other through the item description.
Monkey Coasters by MirrorGirl with Art by Matthew Porter
When looking for someone to partner with, think about what you make and what would go well with it (like Chocolate and Peanut Butter, as Annie Howes says). Avoid a shop with items that are too similar. Two journal makers, for example, would simply be promoting to the same audience. But one person who makes handmade paper and another who fashions journals might be perfect together. Look for a shop with a similar theme or style to make sure that the customers of one shop will be interested in the items of the other. Also, since your reputation will in some ways be tied together, check out their feedback and number of items sold before contacting them.
Ryan Berkley illustrations on TinyMeat wallets.
There's even some shops, such as TinyMeat, that have an entire process for how to submit your custom images.

Tips for First Contact
Once you've come up with some ideas, make a prioritized list of potential collaborators. Starting at the top, send a convo that lays out your idea, how it might work, and links to your blog, shop, or articles. The more detailed your proposal, the more seriously the person may take you. But also be sure to allow or flexibility. After all, this is a partnership, and some of the best ideas may come down the road as you plan together. If you haven't heard back in a week, send a polite "just checking in," then move on to number two a few days later.
Mouse pad by MyFavoriteMirror with image from TheBlackApple.
Get it in Writing
Now that you've started a dialogue, the fun part starts. Open communication is key to your success, so be sure to discuss all of the details and specifics up-front such as:
  • Payment
  • Link trading and other cross-promotions
  • Setting a time limit
  • Exclusivity
And if you've discussed your details over the phone or coffee, it's best to confirm them all in writing via convo or email. Then if something comes up later you'll have a record of what you've agreed upon.
Scrabble pendant by Home Studio with image from JOYPOPstudio.
There's many different ways to go about this. You may buy the rights to an image or a custom supply with payment upfront. Perhaps you agree on a percentage basis or dollar amount per sale (say, $1 per pendant or wallet). Or even offering the same items in both shops, with each person responsible for their own order fulfillment, such as these lovely pendants from Irene Suchocki and Heartworks by Lori.
Cross Promotions
Cross promotion can include links or mentions in item listings, item names, shop announcements, newsletters, blogs, tags on the item itself, and so on--so it's best to be as specific as possible about what each person expects. For me, I've found I get the best exposure from being in another person's shop announcement. Something simple like "check out my new collaboration with piddix here...." can send hundreds of views to my shop. I ask for a minimum of two months where we both link back to each others shops, with a possible extention if all goes well, plus my shop name in the item title and a link in the description. Keep in mind the possible ramifications of wholesaling as well. For example if your customized doll clothes will be sold on handmade dolls in brick and mortar shops, consider asking for a link to your shop on the hang tag.
Dark Hamlet necklace by JenniferRydinDesigns with image by Immortal Longings.
A Few Last Tips
Other items to consider include whether you'd want to set a time limit on your collaboration, or at minimum a set time down the road (three to six months) where you officially reevaluate the relationship to make sure it's working for both of you. Also think about how hands-on you want to be. Do you want to evaluate every posted item that you collaborate on before it goes live? And finally think about exclusivity. If you hand dye slips that another artist then silkscreens, do you want them to work with other clothing sellers as well? What about other fabric collaborations? Would you work with other silk screeners? There's no right answers to these questions, but it's helpful to be as upfront as possible to avoid bruised feelings down the road.

Tutorial and pendant by AnnieHowes.
Above all remember that collaboration is not only be a way to increase sales or make some extra money. It should also be creative and fun as you bounce ideas and techniques off of other crafters and come up with something that neither of you could have created on your own.
Kiss magnet by RunAliceRun with image from CindyG.


Annie Howes said...

Corinna, you a are a wealth of knowledge and have a gorgeous blog. Collaborating with you is a joy. May both of our endeavors continue to blossom!

Jennifer Rydin said...

Thanks for including me in your article! I remember when Elizabeth Schuch contacted me about collaborating. I have admired her Shakespeare artwork for some time and I remember how thrilled I was the day she sent me a convo asking to collaborate. Her artwork really speaks to me ~ each piece is unique and shows scenes from Shakespeare's greatest works. I have sold those necklaces all over the world. Many have gone to professional actors and Thespians who are lovers of the Bard. :)

Matthew Porter said...

Thanks for including my work in the article. I have found this to be an amazing way to get my work out there. Since I do illustrations it's nice to have a more accessible item for customers verse my more expensive original paintings.

RunAliceRun said...

I love your article, Corinna! Thanks so much for the feature! I love both artists with whom I'm collaborating: and in both my RunAliceRun and PipingHotPapers shops!

But more importantly, I love the quality of your work and the beautiful images you've provided for use in both my shops!!

piddix said...

Alice I hadn't seen the pieces before. What beautiful art. And very cool stories from both Jennifer and Matthew. I love the idea of the actors finding the pieces in Jennifer's shop.