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Outsourcing – How To Get Started

Last month I explained why There’s No Shame in Outsourcing.  Hopefully you took that to heart and have started thinking about ways you can expand your line by working with other designers.

Sister Cities: Russian Dress Tent by Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao

I had a few people ask me how I go about contacting other designers to collaborate with on my own projects so I thought I’d talk about it more!

When you come up with an idea for a new product that you know you either don’t have the time or the skills to produce, the first thing you need to do is research the artists out there who you could work with.  Etsy is a good place to search but you can also put out a call on your social media platforms.  Sometimes the best partnerships come from teaming up with people you already know and admire.

Once you’ve made a list of possible people to work with, the next step is to send out some emails!  Let them know who you are and what exactly you have in mind.  Send them to your website to look over your work and describe in detail what you envision the end project looking like.  If your possible collaborator already works with other artists or makes custom pieces frequently, it’s much easier to approach them.  They’ll probably already have a system in place in terms of making sure everyone’s work is ‘safe’ legal-wise and that both parties get paid appropriately.

After you find someone who agrees to work with you, it gets a bit tricky because you then need to dive into the money side of things.  There are lots of things to think about to make sure everyone is in that ‘sweet spot’ where both shops profit from the arrangement whilst maintaining the quality you want at a price that includes big profit for you.

  • Pricing – You need to make sure you still have room for a profit at the wholesale level, let alone the retail level.
  • Copyrights – The last thing you want to do is lose the rights to your work.  Sometimes a contract is the best way to ensure that all your legal bases are covered, especially if they are using your artwork or trademarked design on something.  (Personally, I have contracts with my collaborators.)
  • Construction time – If someone is executing your design and then shipping the finished product to you (as Havok Design does for me with my lasercut pins), you want to make sure you know how long it will take to arrive at your door.  This will help you with ordering for wholesale shops because the last thing you want to do is hold up an order because you have to wait for something to ship to you.
  • Who sells them? – Will the final product only be sold in your shop or will the collaborator be able to sell it as well?  Personally, I have two different set-ups for my two collaborations.  For my lasercut pins, Havok Design simply produces the piece and ships them to me.  She is my manufacturer.  For my lockets, Polarity sells a line of ‘artist’ lockets and thus my locket fits into her line and she sells it in her shop while I also sell it in mine.
  • Marketing – Especially when it comes to the holidays, you want to make sure you know who gets to market the work where.  (For me, with my lockets, since Polarity also sells them and her reputation is much bigger than mine, she does the major marketing for them to magazines and big blogs.)

Outsourcing and collaborating with other makers can completely open up your possibilities and help your shop grow.  It takes a little bit of work to get a system set up but you can create new lines of products you never ever would have before.  At the least, outsourcing some of your work will free up your time so you can do what you love best: create new work!

I’d love to know if you’ve outsourced or collaborated with other makers before!


Megan Eckman

Megan Eckman has written 146 posts in this blog.

Megan Eckman is a quirky pen and ink illustrator who never outgrew her overactive imagination. Her work merges the style of old fairy tale illustrations with modern fantasies. When she’s not drawing (and giggling all the while), she can be found pacing her apartment writing more stories to go with her artwork.

What say you?