Category: Ask

never network alone

Q. Do you have any tips for networking? I’ve debated asking a fellow freelancer about getting work, but I’m afraid of stepping on her toes.

A. When I started freelancing, I thought that meeting other freelancers was the best way to get gigs. They get gigs, and I want gigs, so they can give me some of their gigs, right? But I quickly realized that other freelancers aren’t the people I should be hitting up for work. (Those are the people who control the budgets — editors, project managers, publishers.)

Networking with other freelancers is a great idea, but you should just approach them human to human. We all have people who we would like to be when we grow up — and the dream networking situation with them would involve porting all their knowledge and connections straight into our brainmeats. But play it cool. If you’re desperate for work and approach everybody as a conduit to finding work, yes, it can be awkward. (Grilling strangers for work leads is never a good look.) Networking, when you’re doing it right, feels like making a new friend — or at least pleasantly interacting with a coworker you like. And when you’ve shown them that you’re cool (even if you’re freaking on the inside), they’ll be much more likely down the road to potentially share leads or introduce you to other people.

The best way to avoid feeling like you’re encroaching on someone’s territory is to realize that we’re all in this together. You’re a freelancer, I’m a freelancer: Let’s get together and dish. An email to a fellow freelancer might look something like this:

Hey, [awesomely successful person]!

I’m a freelancer also living in [your city], working on [whatever you do]. I really loved that project you did about [an awesome thing]. Could I buy you a coffee some time? It’d be great to meet up and share war stories!

Recently I set myself a goal of meeting one new person a week, whether it’s by going to a networking event or reaching out to a specific person. My trick is that I don’t only aim to meet people who I might get work from. Sure, I love to meet editors and publishers, but I’ve also met other writers, marketing people, tech entrepreneurs and nonprofit folks.  I love going to networking events where editorial freelancers are in the minority, because meeting people from other fields is really interesting. And as a bonus, I’m likely also a curious specimen to them.

[Tangent: Don’t be that guy who gives his business card to literally every single person at a networking event, even people he didn’t talk to. One deep connection is worth more than 100 shallow ones.]

An acquaintance here in Cincinnati seems to know everybody and frequently offers to help me like it’s no big deal. At first I was like, what’s your game, friend? Who offers to help without expecting something in return? But then I read “Never Eat Alone” and totally got it. Networking is about focusing on what you can give other people. She’s a connector of the highest order. She helps people by meeting everybody and learning what they’re working on, and then she connects the dots by introducing the right people to each other at the right times. As one of the recipients of her professional matchmaking, I can tell you that I have frequently introduced other people to her. The song never ends. (Related: Ann Friedman’s Shine Theory)

By saying that networking is all about giving, I don’t mean to imply that good networking involves divulging all your proprietary info and personal contacts to anyone who asks for them. (I protect my best editorial contacts with all the power of Xenu.) When you connect successfully with a fellow freelancer, what you walk away with might not be a job but a rec of a must-read blog or a referral to another person you should meet or just a new lunch buddy. And when you meet a freelancer in need, you share alike. You’ve been there.

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Can I Get in Trouble for Selling Crafts Based on Popular Characters?

Can you make things that look like copyrighted characters and sell them on Etsy? My friend is making really cool Oscar the Grouch hats, but could she can get in trouble for selling them?

copyright symbol, craft and copyrightAs a general rule, you shouldn’t sell crafts with any character, image or logo that’s not your own. Etsy can and will remove items or ban you for selling work that infringes on others’ intellectual property rights — that includes copyrights, trademarks and patents. So that includes Oscar the Grouch’s face, the Steelers’ logo, the Nike swoosh, a Jeff Koons sculpture, and on and on.

In some cases, companies even restrict the commercial use of fabric or stamps they create. You’ll often see “for private/personal use only” printed on the selvage of fabric. If you want to use commercially produced supplies in the crafts you sell, you should check for the company’s angel policy first. For example, here’s the angel policy page for EKSuccess, which is very specific about the procedure to follow if you want to sell items made with anything they produce.

Aside from the fact that Etsy can take your items down or ban you entirely for selling items with copyrighted or unlicensed images, it’s better for business to make and sell only originals anyway. By creating your own images, patterns or characters, you can establish a visual brand for yourself that’s unique and recognizable.

Instead of making plushies in the image of Sesame Street characters, create your own lovable monsters. Rather than buying commercially printed fabric, create your own patterns and designs on Spoonflower. Instead of using stamps someone else made, carve your own! When in doubt, DIY.

Caveat: I’m not a lawyer. But the folks over at the Art Law Center are.


Got a craft business question for me? Post it on Facebook or Twitter, and I might answer it here!

What’s the Best Glue for Paper?

Amanda asks: Grace, what is the best adhesive to use for attaching paper on paper? Specifically, old paper onto new paper. Also, will you please start a Q&A craft blog? Great. Thanks.

Your wish is my command!

The most important thing to be aware of when using old paper and gluing papers together is the acidity. Old papers that are wood-based are going to yellow and deteriorate much faster than cotton-based papers and “acid-free” papers. So the last thing you want to do is add an acidic glue into the mix, too.

When I was in college, I took a book arts class in which we used YES glue, aka YES Lay Flat, which is cellulose-based and doesn’t make paper curl. The instructor swore by it. But I’ve found that YES starts to crackle and come unglued after a while, so my go-to glue is PVA glue. PVA is archival, water-soluble and stays flexible after it dries. (Schoolyard staple Elmer’s glue is similar.) I get my PVA glue in bulk from Hollander’s in Ann Arbor and decant it in a smaller squeeze bottle.

Also, this old-school website tells you how to glue anything to anything. Got more craft questions? Ask me!