Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Value your time and skills as a designer blogger

This post is probably a bit of a rant, but I wanted to put my thoughts together on this subject to try and bring about change in the way that freelance designers, and bloggers get taken advantage of. If you are just starting out it may be worth reading this as what glitters, may not always be gold, and if an offer seems too good to be true, then most likely it probably is!

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.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Yarn Subscription Boxes and HappyBerry Hampers

Over the last few months I have been lucky enough to receive a few different yarn subscription boxes to review and they have all been a delight to open, and I have done a fair few unboxing videos in that time. I hope it has inspired you to try something new, but today I wanted to share with a final few monthly yarn subscription boxes that I love before I introduce to you something extra special that may be coming your way very soon. Read on!

So firstly I want to share with you some of my favourite monthly yarn subscription boxes and talk about what makes them unique, the good and the bad (if I have to be picky), starting with;

Happy Yarn Mail

Frequency: Monthly
Cost: $19.95 (£15 approx)
Origin: America
Shipping: Worldwide, FREE to US
Dispatched: 25th & 30th of every month
Type and Theme: Crochet Package
Positives: Hard copy pattern plus video tutorial
Negatives: No added extras

What I love about Happy Yarn Mail the most is that it is by the lovely Ashleigh, who is a blogger and crochet designer behind the Sewrella blog. She has introduced a monthly yarn subscription package that includes one of her own exclusive crochet patterns and all the yarn you need to get started. It is more of a kit than anything else so has no added extras, but you certainly get enough yarn to make the pattern. (If the pattern includes extras like eyes and material that is also included). What is great about this subscription is that if you find it hard to read patterns, it comes with a video tutorial to back it up from Ashleigh herself. The pattern also comes as a hard copy so no need to go online if you don't want to!

Find out more at happyyarnmail.com and receive 10% off by using coupon code HAPPYBERRY

KnitCrate
ARTISAN CRATE

Frequency: Monthly
Cost: From $19.95 up to $34.99 (£15 to £25 approx)
Origin: America
Shipping: Worldwide $4.95
Dispatched: Every month
Type and Theme: Primarily Knitting
Positives: Lots of premium yarns
Negatives: Internet access required for patterns, limited crochet

KnitCrate offer 4 different subscription packages or boxes, the first is their standard package, sadly the only one that includes a crochet pattern. This comes with 1 knitting
STANDARD SUBSCRIPTION
pattern and 1 crochet pattern and all the yarn you need to make either one, so you would probably have to choose your favourite. This package comes with no added extras, but the yarn is some of the best I have received. What I like about KnitCrate is that you get access to a lot of premium hand-dyed yarns that would be very difficult to get hold of in the UK.

Their second subscription is for their Artisan Crate (pictured above). This package has no crochet, but instead comes with 2 knitting patterns. The yarns again are gorgeous and you do get an added extra, in this case the Wheat Printed Project Bag as seen underneath. This package is more expensive as you can imagine, but is more fun to receive, if you like knitting that is!

Their next subscription is again a knitting one and is for sock lovers. Slightly cheaper than their standard subscription but only contains 1 sock knitting pattern. It does however come with an added extra! It also of course comes with all the yarn you need to make your socks.

Their last subscription is just for a sock yarn, so no patterns. You receive 1 hand-dyed premium fingering weight yarn from their in-house brand, Knitologie that comes in a limited edition colorway.

YARN CRUSH BOX - September
Find out more at and receive 20% of your first order by using coupon code BERRY20 and visiting: https://mbsy.co/hwd22


Yarn Crush

Frequency: Monthly
Cost: From $26.99 or $32.99 (£20 to £25 approx)
Origin: America
Shipping: Worldwide Shipping Costs
Dispatched: YC: 22nd of each month/SC: 5th of each month
Type and Theme: Knitting & Crochet
Positives: Premium hand-dyed yarns, extras and hard copy patterns
Negatives: Primarily knitting based

YARN CRUSH BOX - November

Yarn Crush has 2 subscription boxes, their first is their Yarn Crush box, which contains 2 patterns, 1 knitting and 1 crochet and the yarn to make either one so again you may have to choose your favourite. This is fun if you love to knit and crochet, but you only get 1 skein of yarn in this box, that said it is a premium hand-dyed yarn with some really unusual textures such as the 100% Tibetan Yak Down in their September box, with very vibrant shades. This box also comes with an added extra that isn't always craft related!

Their second subscription is a knitting one and is their Sock Crush box, slightly cheaper it comes with just the 1 sock knitting pattern and again 1 skein of premium hand-dyed yarn. This box also comes with an added treat!

What I loved the most about Yarn Crush boxes is their packaging as not only do they come in actual boxes with super cute messages inside, they are very colourful and fun to receive on a dull day in the UK!

Find out more at yarn-crush.com

HappyBerry Hampers

Having received a lot of various subscription boxes over the last year it is hard to choose who is my favourite, but what I have received from you guys is the question as to why I don't have one of my own!

It was something I did actually think about 10 years ago when I first started HappyBerry, but life just got in the way really. I think now I feel more settled and connected to crochet in such a way I feel I can share something exciting like this, so I have been working on something interesting for you guys, and a little different!

I didn't want to bring out just another yarn subscription box, so instead I looked at developing a full-blown hamper of goodness and just crochet goodness at that! that I can put my heart and energy into. The penny dropped over Christmas with yet another message, this time from one of my lovely Instagram followers, of; "Hi Laura any ideas or possibilities of a Happyberry yarn monthly box? As I would definitely be one of the first to sign up", and I realised how much I enjoyed putting together Christmas hampers for my family.

So I would like to introduce to you HappyBerry Hampers! It won't be a monthly hamper, but instead a quarterly hamper, so will be dispatched 4 times a year with seasonal themes for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  This is so I can put the time and effort into producing something amazing. I don't want to rush things out for you each month. I want to be able to take the time to design and put together a real treat for you. It will also be a surprise each season!

Each HappyBerry Crochet Hamper will contain (without giving too much away):

- One substantial exclusive crochet project with all the yarn and materials to make it. This will come as a hard copy written pattern that you can read straight away, so no internet access required, but you will also be able to access it online as a PDF if you go away and forget to take it with you on your holidays. It will also come with exclusive video tutorials in case you find it hard to follow written patterns and even a secret way to contact me directly if you have any problems!

- The hamper will also include balls or skeins of yummy scrummy yarn that will hopefully introduce to you something new. Maybe a new texture, or brand, or colourway! This yarn will be more than enough to complete the main project with extra for other projects.

- The hamper will also include all the materials you need for your crochet project, which could include stuffing, zips, material, needles, even crochet hooks so you really don't have to worry about not having the right things to hand. I may introduce to you a new way of crocheting altogether like Tunisian, or Knooking who knows! I'll be gentle at first don't worry.

- The pattern will be aimed at testing beginners so hopefully everyone can enjoy giving it a try, whether you find it easier to read patterns or watch video tutorials. I will also give you options on other things you can make with the pattern to hopefully inspire you and develop you as a crocheter.

- If that wasn't enough already, you will also receive lots of extra treats!! This could include extra mini pattern kits with all the materials to make them, from crochet to cross stitch or material projects or felt ornaments. There could be buttons, craft tools, fabrics, who knows! But you won't be disappointed I'm sure.

- Everything contained in my hampers will have a retail value of approximately £50 with FREE UK shipping and discounted international shipping! You can also opt to subscribe yearly and save 10%.

- Each hamper will be for a season based on our British seasons with a relevant seasonal theme, and will only be available for that season. It will also remain a surprise as to what is contained in the hamper until the next season comes along, so no spoilers here or on social media! A real surprise treat.

Subscription slots and purchases are limited as every hamper is lovingly made to order, so do make sure you don't miss out! If you sadly do however, don't despair as a waiting list is in place so you can be the first to know if extra slots become available.

So much love will go into my hampers that I hope you will be excited as I am!

The first hamper has now launched for Spring. You can subscribe here!

So for now, thanks for reading this far and I look forward to sharing with you some more crochet, crafting fun!