So what is this post all about, well, many people these days dream about having a huge social media following and yes I love my followers and love being a crochet designer. I feel super blessed to be able to be a freelance designer in crochet and knitwear, especially after slogging away for the first twenty years of my life working for other people and being treated usually pretty badly (don't get me started on being female in the office place), but in some way I think my experiences have made me wise to the incessant sale pitches of companies today, and the way they take advantage of designers.
Having worked throughout London and the West Midlands for various design and marketing agencies since the age of nineteen, I pretty much learnt how to be a designer on the job since leaving Art & Design college back in the day. I never went to University because even back then I was put off by the huge debts incurred, but I was lucky. Instead I landed a position in the Internet design world, just as the Internet was taking off. In those days you couldn't even study web design at University as it just didn't exist as a course (can you imagine such a thing! no social media??), so everything I learnt about web design and coding was pretty much self-taught by me in the first three years of my first job. Those early days too found that being a girl actually worked to my advantage in getting jobs because the majority of web designers in those days were guys, and coders at that, with very little design experience, even in London. The first job I got in London I got just because I was the most enthusiastic (which was lucky because my CV wasn't that amazing) and because I was female, and that was a novelty. Of course yes, slightly sexist reason to hire someone and to fill a quota but hey, it got me a well paid job in the capital so I didn't complain. A few years later though I did discover that one job I took I was paid significantly less than the guy who was hire at the same time, for the same job, which made me question all my other positions in my career.
So over the years I grew despondent for the design industry I was working in, especially as a woman. Even when I was hired for a senior position I was undermined by men in the workplace. I'll never forget one afternoon when my line manager was out, and I was told to always keep an eye on the junior designers when he was unavailable, so that day I asked one of them how they were getting on with a certain project because they were mucking about throwing stuff around the office. I was never one for confrontation so I was gentle in my approach, but he promptly looked at me and told me to "f*ck off and mind my own business".
It wasn't all bad, I was always a bit of a tomboy anyway and mucked in with the best of them (I also met some great guys who were very professional, I even married one of them!). Even with the numerous sexist comments I have received over the years it never really bothered me. It was part of my career life, something I had to put up with, but I had reached a point in my life when I just couldn't put up with it anymore, having my dress sense questioned because I didn't wear a skirt or heels, being called a silly little girl whenever I dared to question something and the endless innuendo and laddish behavior. I guess I grew up, they didn't, and they were older than me!
So I left the industry. I was fed up of people taking advantage of my skills, paying me very little, being undermined and being treating like this. There was also never any prospect of advancement in the company, (these positions were always filled by men usually from outside the company). I never worked under a female IT boss, or even a line manager. All the women I was lucky enough to work with only ever worked in administration, HR or at best as content managers. It was a pretty lonely workplace as a woman, and it was hard to make real friends. Even on lunch breaks my male colleagues would subconsciously not invite me to the pub for a drink just because I was a girl.
When I became a Mum I didn't want to go back to work. It was hard enough as it was without becoming a Mum too. Could you imagine? I remember one time I actually said in an interview once in my younger days that I had no interest in having children, just to get a job! I was that paranoid. So I decided to start my own business. (and yes, I did get the job, make of that what you will).
In the early days of HappyBerry I never planned to make any money from it, which is probably why it did so well as I gave everything I did away for free. I was busy just being a Mum. I did and still do sell a few prizes patterns in various places, but my main aim was just to enjoy designing for the first time in my life. I put my web designs skills to good use and built a website of my own and things went from there. The YouTube channel was actually never planned. I originally only started a YouTube channel to visually show someone how to do something in one of my patterns because I was struggling to explain it, but then people asked for more so I did more. 400,000+ subscribers later, I'm still visually sharing my designs and I love being able to help and inspire other crafters out there. I can't even imagine how many people can now crochet because of those videos. It is truly amazing.
What I love the most though is having that direct contact with everyone out there, inspiring people, especially women and hopefully changing lives maybe through mini enterprises, or helping those recovering from illness. Whoever they are, it is so much more rewarding than being cooped up in a very uninspiring grey office (with no windows at one time in my career) and working for someone else, usually just to make them rich and they take the credit for their employees hard work.
So what gets my goat now? Companies trying to once again take advantage to better their own businesses and make themselves rich on the back of other designers. Don't get me wrong, it feels fantastic to be approach with business opportunities, and I welcome them, and many people starting out as a freelance designer would surely welcome them too and perhaps even be excited at being noticed, but I have often found from my experiences that these supposedly amazing opportunities (they always say that = *warning bells*) pay ridiculously low, often less than minimum wage for a lot of work that is extremely demanding on your time. I'm not sure what their strategy is when approaching freelance designers, but I often wonder if it's on the assumption that the designer or blogger will have no business acumen and will be sold on just the delight of being approached, but be warned and don't be a fool. Don't sell your expertise and time for so little. If something seems to good to be true, too exciting and is massively over sold to you with terms like "fantastic business opportunity" "we really love what you do (but never explain what you do)" but most of all NEVER say what they are asking of you in their first email and are vague in their approach. There will be an element of privacy on their part yes, but someone who truly values your time will understand that they need to explain in their first email what they require of you and what they want you to help them with. They shouldn't ask you to call them, because who has time for that?! If they don't have time for you in that first email, I think that says a lot about any forthcoming relationship. YOU will be the one doing all the running.
So I would be extremely hesitant in responding. If they have explained to you what they want in that first contact just take your time to understand what it will mean for you, how much of your time will be taken up by them and work out what your time means to you in cost and calculate what that works out by hour. Some of the supposedly amazing opportunities I've been sent would often pay less than the coffee shop down the road is currently hiring waitresses at! Also be wary that sales people will try and sell an idea to you and totally polish your ego at first, but come accepting that opportunity, often change their tone and become increasingly more demanding on your time, especially after any first payments have been sent to you. They own you now!! I jest lol.
My advice as a freelance designer is simply to focus on what you enjoy doing and working up your own business. If people approach you then great, but don't rely on these people to make you who you are. You can do that by yourself and through collaborations with other freelance designers or social media bloggers. Never sell yourself short and value your time.
You went freelance for a reason.