Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What You Need to Know about Sewing Brand Partnerships

Have you ever wondered what it's like to have a partnership with a sewing brand? Have you wondered if it's worth it to pattern test or be an affiliate? If it's the right choice for you? Well, grab a cup of coffee and settle in, because I'm here to dish on my experiences, and give you some things to think about if you're considering teaming up with a brand. 

What You Need to Know about Sewing Brand Partnerships

Please note: these are just my experiences, with many different brands and arrangements, and your experience will probably be different! I have been sewing and blogging for nearly a decade and have seen industry shifts in that time. You never know when things may change again! Also, I'm not going to name names. I will be honest but I'm not interested in throwing anyone specific under the bus. If that's what you're after, you can go ahead and click off ;)

First, let's define the different ways a single sewing hobbyist can be involved with companies. 

TYPES OF PARTNERSHIPS

Pattern Tester: Before a sewing pattern can be released to the public, it needs to be tested by people of various skills and across (ideally) all the pattern sizes. In my experience, established pattern design companies have a group of favorite testers that work with them. New pattern designers put out far more calls for testers. Of course, a tester pool can be ever changing, and the best way to know about open tester opportunities is to keep an eye on a brand's socials. For an interesting read on pattern testing, check out this post from Gillian at Crafting a Rainbow.

Brand Ambassador: A Brand Ambassador can take many forms, but generally they are a person who uses a pattern/product/fabric and then shares about it online. The skills required are less intensive as the brand is typically not asking for direct feedback or testing, just asking for marketing on one's social media platforms. 

Sponsored Post: A sponsored post (blog, Instagram or Facebook) is usually a one-off situation, with a specific product or item being used and marketed. Sponsored posts can be solicited by the brand, or, sometimes, pitched by the blogger to the brand. 

Affiliate: An affiliate marketer is someone who uses specialized links to refer customers to products. The affiliate then receives a small percentage of the sale as a referral fee. Affiliate programs are generally easy to be a part of or require a simple email sign up. Some places, like Share-a-Sale, are companies that run affiliate programs for other brands. You apply for SAS and then you have access to their brands.

COMPENSATION

Pattern testers are given a final draft of the pattern and sometimes compensated financially, or with a discount code for supplies. A Brand Ambassador is often given free or discounted patterns or fabric in exchange for their reviews. Like a Brand Ambassador, a sponsored post often involves a free or discounted product, and sometimes a monetary payment. Affiliate marketers receive a percentage commission. (Scroll down to see which of these, if any, are "worth it"!)

I'm going to take a minute here and also discuss exposure as a form of compensation. More than once, I have been enticed by a brand with a large following offering exposure of my work to their audience. More than once I have been disappointed, either with a lack of follow through (the brand doesn't actually share my work) or lack of response (my work is shared but I gain no new followers). 

One way to set proper expectations would be to review a brand's previous socials and see how often they promote their current partners. Do they use someone else's photos but don't link to that person's socials? Do they promote their own pattern but not the people who make them? How often are they sharing work from an ambassador and how many ambassadors do they have?

It would be great if I could stay objective here, but I'm becoming pretty salty about exposure as compensation. Exposure is not compensation. Consider it a nice bonus, but do not lean on exposure as a reason to do work for a company or brand. 

WORKLOAD

I have personally been involved in brand ambassadorships, fabric promotion, sponsored posts, and affiliate marketing. Each brand I've worked with has had different expectations but they have all been clear from the outset what those expectations are. Do not venture into an agreement with a company without having an exact idea of what is expected of you! 

Will they require a certain number of makes per month? Posts per month? Will there be strict deadlines? Can you meet those deadlines? Are you comfortable posing for photos or are flat lays acceptable? Can you easily take photos at home alone, or do you need an assistant or to travel to a good location? Will video content be required (Reels, Idea Pins, etc.)? Is your sewing equipment reliable or will it be in the shop for long periods of time?

These are just a few questions that you should have answers to before committing to partnerships with sewing brands. Always be prepared to adult and ask hard questions, or to formally end an arrangement if it's not working out. Please do not ghost! If you cannot fulfill an agreement, be upfront with the company, ideally long before a missed deadline.

FUN

I want to make sure to talk about fun, because I believe it is misused by people who are not in the creative community. Oftentimes, we are brought requests because people assume we sew for fun, and therefore we can do XYZ project for someone because it's just sO fUn FoR uS. I believe that brands are guilty of this assumption too, often pretending like working with them is so super duper funsies that maybe they don't have to pay you.

Don't fall for it! Do not be surprised if your partnership work often feels like, well, work! Any time you "have" to do something, it takes away an element of fun, even if you're being compensated.

On the flip side, I have had perfectly wonderful partnership arrangements that ARE fun. I derived personal satisfaction from working with the people or group. It made me happy. Place importance on your happiness, and pay attention to the projects that are sucking the life from you. 

BECOMING A PARTNER

So you've thought about all of the above, and now you want to know, how do you become a partner with a brand? I have a few tips.

Tell your friends. Make sure your friends know that you are looking for partnership opportunities. I have one sewing friend in particular who has tagged me in SO many posts that I never would have seen. We can't be all over the internet at once, so use your friends as your eyes and ears.

Follow new brands. Heard about a new sewing pattern company? If you like their work, give them a follow. Newbies are always looking for testers. They are also more likely to share your photos or become aware of you as a potential ambassador if you are making their patterns, simply because there will be less competition among their users. 

Apply for everything. I cannot tell you how many partnerships I've applied to and not gotten. I'm not big on  math, but statistically you will need to apply for way more things than you'd ever actually do if you want to land a gig. It's also good practice to put yourself out there on applications. You will inevitably gain more confidence and skill in pitching yourself. And please do not be afraid to sell yourself and your skills! Don't play the comparison game and think that your work isn't good enough. Companies usually want a wide range of skills.

IS IT WORTH IT?

I know what you're thinking: so how much money have you made? Well, I can tell you. Barely any!

I have been blogging since 2013. In that time, I believe I have been paid cash money for a blog post ONE time. And it was 2 figures. 

I have been an affiliate of many different companies (and Amazon) for years. I would be shocked if someone told me that I've made 3 figures in that time, with all of them put together. Most affiliate programs run at about 10% of the total purchase. If you buy a $15 pattern I recommend, I get $1.50. 

I have been given access to free patterns over the years. A generous estimate of the free patterns I have would be about 30-40. 

I have been given gift certificates for free fabric. This is definitely the most "lucrative" of all my arrangements. I'm probably approaching $500 worth of free fabric over the course of the last decade. Maybe more (though I also end up spending at times when I otherwise wouldn't, to bulk up orders or take advantage of the discount).

I run Google ads on my blog. Google Adsense has a minimum threshold before they pay out, which is $100. I've been paid by Adsense one time in nearly a decade.

So is it worth it? My answer in 2022 will be different than my answer would have been in 2015. Here's why.

I am self-taught. I learned all I know with extensive reading and, most importantly, failure. Many of my partnerships were a help to me as I grew and expanded my skills. Now, however, I'm a decade into this venture, and my skills are naturally the highest they've ever been. Of course I still have lots to learn, but the average home sewing pattern isn't teaching me much anymore (sounds braggy, but it's true!). 

A beginner testing a pattern will have a totally different viewpoint than an advanced sewist. A beginner is absorbing knowledge, whereas a non-beginner is typically dispensing it. Both are important aspects of a test! But the experience is different.

In my opinion, free patterns also become less appealing the more time one spends in this hobby. Eventually, you have the basic patterns for everything, and everything is hackable. Do I need another hoodie pattern just because it's free?

Affiliate marketing can work for some people, but it depends on how much effort you're willing to put in to creating content. If you cannot drive traffic to your links, nobody will be clicking on them. I think that the slight discount I receive for being an affiliate is usually more useful than any income from it. It's not unusual for me to get 100 clicks on an affiliate link before I get one single sale (and remember, that sale might only net me $1.50). Sometimes the conversion rate is even worse than that. How much time are you willing to spend on content creation for $1.50?

To be completely honest, any arrangement involving free fabric is my favorite. I take those kinds of commitments seriously and try to provide an equal value in return. I don't just post a few photos on Instagram, when I get free fabric I also strive to write a blog post, pin on Pinterest, post in Facebook groups, make a Reel, etc. It's important that you work with brands you do actually like so that you're not struggling to recommend them.

So there you have it, a decade's worth of partnership experience word vomitted into a blog post. Questions? Comments? I believe in transparency and am happy to help!

2 comments:

  1. That was very informative, thank you! I feel the same about patterns, not much I need anymore.

    ReplyDelete

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