Well. I just can't be happy for you.  And it is such a terrible thing to say!!!!  I can't be happy for you when you are announcing how you just got a job to work free… and it isn't volunteering at a charity.

It's working for free, doing marketing for a company who is making thousands of dollars off of your effort. Maybe not directly, but your job as their Design Team member is to create marketing materials for the company so they can SELL product.

I am actually sad for you. My heart is breaking for you. I want so much MORE for you!!!!

I am sad that maybe you don't value yourself or your work yet, sad that you think this is a way to get a career going,  sad that you've rationalized that “free” product that you then have to turnaround and create your projects with is somehow ample compensation, sad that some companies are still not valuing designers, sad that other designers look down on you for taking that “job” for free when they are getting paid, sad that you just want to be somebody and even this free “job” feels like you are finally SOMEBODY, sad that you are probably arguing with your husband about how much time you are “designing” for free, and sad that maybe THIS IS the only way for you to get your foot in the door as a designer. It SUCKS.

I know this has been posted so many times before by so many other people:

I am not going to list all the analogies…”if you were a carpenter, you would get paid”… yeah yeah yeah read that on one of those other blogs posts. This is a hot button topic and it gets argued over and debated CONSTANTLY.

Yes, it would be awesome if you were paid! It would be wonderful if every designer was paid really well! But the reality is a combination of several things:

1. The economy is still bad. Forget what the stupid news says – is your pocket overflowing with money? I didn't think so. When is the last time you spent over $100, or $200, or even $500 in a crafts store. For me, it was 2008. How many stores have closed? The fewer purchases, the fewer stores, the fewer orders coming in to manufacturers and retailers and kit club owners. They have less money and they have to tighten the belt SOMEWHERE. Is it right? Probably not. But you agreed to take the “job” for free so who is telling them it is “wrong”? Not you. And who wants to be the trouble maker telling everyone what they are doing wrong? Maybe that is me :P But really, I don't want to be branded like that. I just want people to get paid :) To get their due, to be respected, to receive what they have earned.

2. Designers screwed things up. I have heard so many Designers reminisce about the good ole days when they got $500 a project. Why did that stop? Well, those Designers were by and large CHA Designer Members. And when the scrapbooking craze hit, they were not visible, for whatever reason. Who was visible? Heidi Swapp, Theresa Collins, Tim Holtz….and from what I understand, they got their starts on manufacturer design teams and then got licensed product with those manufacturers and then finally struck out on their own with their own companies. That is amazing that they have been able to accomplish all they have accomplished!!! THESE are the visible “designers” in the craft industry, the ones who new designers model their “careers” after.  As a new designer in the industry, I too took many jobs for free because, looking at who was most visible, that seemed to be the only way to get my foot in the door with a company. It is a shame that it took me working in the industry for 6 years and attending the trade shows for 2 years before I ever heard the term “CHA Designer Member”.  I KNEW, walking that trade show floor and seeing the thousands of dollars spent on travel, hotel, booths, and even clothing to wear at the show that SOMEONE was making money. I wanted to be a someone who made money. But I did not know HOW to get from what was most visible (all the unpaid jobs) to this whatever inner circle nirvana place of actually being paid. I imagine you feel the same way.

3. The paper crafting industry screwed things up. I don't know if it was because the industry grew too fast or maybe it was bad examples being set or poor business sense or maybe just inexperience or a combination of those things or just the natural ebb and flow of capitalism…but when papercrafting/scrapbooking hit the craft industry and overran all of the other crafts, well, that is when everyone seemed to stop getting paid. There were so many companies needing designers and so many women who were bascially throwing themselves at companies to get their hands on product and be called a “designer”. I remember when product was so hard to get that if someone was on a design team and they were able to get that product before anyone else, they were like GODS! We were all looking at the industry as consumers and not professionals. I never personally experienced the hey-dey of those $500 projects but I heard it was awesome. But that is over. And the hey-dey of scrapbooking is over. There are fewer companies. And LOTS of “designers”. Now the issue is supply and demand. If they can have anyone who calls themselves a “designer” be on their team, why would they pay someone if they can get someone to do it for free? At some point, it is an issue of integrity. I mean, the people organizing the DT are getting paid. But there are some who view “designers” as some paper-eating parasites. Why pay them when all they want is to bleed the company dry of freebies? I have heard the most terrible things said about designers by manufacturers (not by anyone I work with now). And all of that is residual left from the papercrafting industry. We have to wait a long time for it to wear off.

4. We don't have good role models. Like I said before — WHO is visible? Not CHA Designer Members or designers who are getting paid well – the majority of design teams we see are unpaid. And I make it my mission to change that, even if I am just one person. Now that I KNOW….well, read to the end of this post and you'll see what I am talking about. I want to be a good role model to up and coming designers so they don't spend all this time working for free like I did.

5. How else are you supposed to afford to get supplies so you can GET a following? You really are put into a bind. Because right now you need to show the companies you have something to offer in order to be able to ask for pay or to even apply to these “free” teams. How can you afford to get all the product to make stuff to share on your blog and social media so you can get a following? We're talking lots of money. A free team offers at least some break in that regard.

6. It is flattering to be on a design team. I'll admit it. Having someone tell you they love your work and want you to represent their company is really thrilling and gratifying, even if they are not paying you. It feels alot better when they are paying you though!

7. How do you find out about paid gigs? Alot of these Design Team calls are really cryptic – “you'll receive generous compensation”. Um. what is generous? $20 a month? Free stuff? $100 a month? Or that you will be promoted on the company blog. Puh-lease. But I digress. Trying to sift through all the DT calls to find the paid gigs will result in maybe 3-5 calls a year for teams that are paid. Guess how I got most of my paid gigs? Word of mouth/referral or I was invited to be on a team. They are NOT advertised opportunities. Read on to see HOW the companies contacted me.

8. How are you supposed to get good enough skills and experience under your belt to get the paid gigs if you never take one of these “free” DT positions? Kind of the same as #5 but from a numbers level. Being on a team with a big following can help you build your following. It is hard to stand out in the sea of blogs, YouTube channels, and Facebook Pages to show a company how valuable you are. Ask a mommy blogger–it is a full-time job trying to build that following. Being on ANY DT can help build your following much faster than just you alone. At a recent CHA meeting, another Designer Member made a good analogy – you can hire your neighbor to do your taxes or go to H & R Block to get them done or go to a CPA to do them. You pay a different price for each and may get a slightly different product from each but the end result is the same – your taxes get filed. Designers are much the same way -the better your skills, the more you have to offer, the more you can get paid.

9. You don't have the luxury of waiting for things to “happen organically”. Sure, you post on your blog and get a following and MAYBE in 5 years you get a paid gig. Who has time and motivation for that!? If you wait until you have some huge following, who knows what the metric will be in 5 years when you have built it all up? Maybe companies will be measuring the static electricity in your fingertips because that is some indicator as to how viral your blog posts will be….building a following ALL ALONE is hard and it takes time. Most of us will give up if we don't see a return or growth somehow… a “free” team can mean compensation in helping you build your numbers.

Now, if you read this far, I am so happy for you!

Guess what?

There are ways to get paid.

There are paid opportunities you have never heard about.

There are forms of non-monetary compensation that can help you make money other ways  – such as the company providing product for your classes, promoting you so well that you make money off youtube and blog ads, etc.

Do you want to know how to do that?

Well. One of the answers is to become a CHA Designer Member. This tells the world that YOU are a PROFESSIONAL. You have to believe it. Sometimes it is hard to think of yourself in that way (“I just make crafts!”) but you ARE A PROFESSIONAL.  Once you accept it and believe it, others will accept it and believe it.  Paid jobs will come your way. You will learn from others in the industry how to monetize what you are doing – even if you take a position with a team that does not pay in cash, you can choose teams that will help you reach certain goals you have. But then it is your CHOICE. It is not in desperation or eagerness or not knowing the possiblities. You can make calculated decisions for YOUR BUSINESS.

Click here to get the form to become a CHA Designer Member. If you don't think you qualify, apply anyways. I waited two years to apply because I was intimidated by the application. Guess who lost out? ME. Let CHA tell you what you need to do to qualify if you don't already qualify– don't disqualify yourself by not even applying.

(And, on the line for “who referred you” I would be honored if you put my name – we get gift cards for referring new members. And no, this post is not so I can get gift cards. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I will get a gift card if you put my name as the referrer. We can go to coffee with that gift card so hit me up at CHA if you put my name down! You can get gift cards for referring people too!)

I had a wonderful discussion with a talented young designer on the CHA Show floor at the Create N Connect show in Las Vegas last month. He has been attending the shows for a couple of years and has run into several Designer Members who told him to become one but he didn't totally understand the benefits after those encounters. After speaking with me, he immediately went to the Membership Desk in the registration area and applied to have his membership changed to “Designer Member”. What did I tell him that he didn't get from the others (or maybe they told him and I just said it in a different way)?

Becoming a CHA Designer Member was one of the best decisions I made for my career. And if I could have done it sooner, I would have but I did not understand the value, the requirements, and the reasoning behind it.

Here's what a CHA Designer Membership can offer:

  • First remember that it is what you make it – if you look for opportunity, it will find you. if you do nothing, you will get nothing.
  • Access to a CHA Designer Member only Yahoo! Group. On this group we discuss all kinds of business as well as hear about opportunities and advice from EPMS – Editors, Publishers and Manufacturers
  • The EPMs on the CHA Designer Yahoo Group will post job offers for the Desginers because they know what level of work and professionalism to expect from the Designers. These job offers are for opportunities like demos, in-store appearances, trade show work, and sample design work. They are usually not posted to the public. I have made several thousand dollars off of this kind of work. And you can too!
  • Many manufacturers have pay-for-publication programs or other endorsement incentives that they have shared with CHA Designer Members. Often times, these are not available publicly. You can make alot of money if you get published often!
  • The title of “CHA Designer Member” – only a small percentage of the CHA membership have this title. Manufacturers KNOW what it means – that you are professional and have already achieved a level in your career on your own that they know they can work with you and get a quality product. It really changes how you are percevied on the trade show floor – the first show I was a CHA Designer Member, I felt reverence from people I talked to rather than the rejection I felt in previous attempts to work with companies. Companies get hit up all the time for “freebies” from people claiming to be “designers” and it is dificult to know who is going to actually work with and promote the product and who is just looking for loot to show off (or sell) to their friends after the show – the CHA Designer Member note on your badge lets manufacturers know that you mean business!
  • Designer Display – only CHA Designer Members can apply to create the displays in the middle of the show floor – this would be things like the Cloth Paper Scissors “Crafty Couture” Competition and the Cre8time Lounge.
  • Designer Showcase – this is a section of the show floor where you can rent space to display your wares during the entire trade show. It is basically an advertisement of what you can offer to a manufacturer, publisher, or editor.  I have had pieces published and gotten work directly because of the Showcase. Only CHA Designer Members can have a Showcase.
  • A set of standards to abide by. We have created a Standards document that is available only to CHA Designer Members that covers everything from approaching manufacturers you want to work with to what to wear at the trade show.
  • Friendships and mentors who will help guide you on your path. If you wondered how to become a licensed designer, how to do social media, how does one get paid to demo at trade shows….many of the other CHA Designer Members are very helpful. There are those who have been doing this for years who you will establish a connection with and be able to call for advice and to bounce ideas off of and vice versa.

Besides the benefits of being labeled a “professional”, CHA has some benefits just for being a member of any section: http://www2.craftandhobby.org/members_benefits.html

I hope that you feel inspired to apply to be a CHA Designer Member. It was the people who I ran across who told me about the membership who I have to thank for the success I have now:

  • Lauren Ferguson for telling me about her Showcase at a dinner we were at in 2009
  • Roxi Phillips for talking to me at TWO shows and strongly encouraging me to apply and become a CHA Designer Member in 2010 and 2011

And, immediately after becoming a CHA Designer Member, to the members who welcomed me with open arms and treated me as an equal, though many of them had decades more experience than I:

And if I forgot anyone from that first CHA show, I am truly sorry. These are the people whose faces I remember, whose encouragement I still feel, and who I will remember and thank for always being there for me. There are more people I have met since then and who I talk to more regularly now…and that is the beauty – we are all in this together, helping each other :) Don't you want to be a part of that? (and no, it is not a cult! LOL)

Please feel free to leave me comments with your thoughts, ideas, and questions.

Thanks for stopping by!

Author: Jennifer Priest

It started with jewelry, beading, sewing, home decor, painting, basket weaving, pottery, and cross-stitch. Marry that to an entrepreneurial spirit & at 9 years old a girl is selling her wares at craft fairs as far as her parents and grandparents would drive her. These days, Jennifer enjoys crafts of all genres from sewing to scrapbooking to jewelry with a little dabbling in the mixed media world. Her style is approachable and she wants everyone who sees her work to feel that they too can embrace creativity and make their home and life beautiful.

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11 thoughts on “Why I Am So Sad That You’re “Working for Free” – Why You Should Become a CHA Designer Member

  1. Wow Jennifer your article is so easy to read and right on point! I wish I knew you and the ropes you’ve put out just now, a long time ago! Thank you for sharing all you’ve learned in such a friendly and informative way. There have been many times that I would have tried to hone my craft (love scrapbooking) but never had the confidence to pursue it professionally. That would have been a dream job for me. Now that I’m retired, I don’t think I’ll start all over but one never knows! I may need to supplement my retirement income in the future and what better way to do it than doing something I’m passionate about! I will be sure to share this blog post with my young crafty friends and maybe save them some valuable time! I wish you continued success and happy crafting!

    Posted on August 12, 2013 at 8:08 am
  2. Exactly the perspective I needed to hear. Gaining a CHA membership on my own just maybe the next step for me. Thank you Jennifer for being so helpful. I really appreciate it.

    Posted on August 12, 2013 at 10:36 am
  3. Great article Jennifer. I really enjoyed it. I need to get in touch with you to get some pointers.
    Have a great weekend!

    Posted on August 16, 2013 at 8:52 pm
  4. Wow! I had no idea. So glad you put this up for others to read.I appreciate all this information. I will definately take this into consideration,as my passion for crafting and scrapbooking is my happiness. I have offered to craft for free,for some supplies.Only to the few ones,that I love their products so much.You are so right,we all should get paid for advertising and producing beautiful products out of their raw materials. Thanks again,and best of wishes to you ,and I will continue to follow you.God Bless,Debra Lovell <3 {{hugs}}

    Posted on August 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm
  5. What a very interesting read! Trying to make Design Teams has been my goal for this year and I have been in so much self doubt about my abilities as a scrapper that I am just about to give up on trying…not because I think I’m not good enough, but because I don’t have a ‘name’ that is marketable and well known enough to be profitable to the company’s…And being from South Africa isn’t helping very much either I suppose…lol!

    Posted on August 16, 2013 at 11:54 pm
    1. Keep trying Patricia. If this is something you want to do then keep trying. Here are some ideas for makign a name for yourself – get published, try to get more active on social media such as youtube and making a facebook business PAGE, and start teaching classes. Network with others – can you organize a blog hop with several friends to help lift you all up together? Sure! that can help you get noticed :)

      Posted on August 17, 2013 at 12:24 am
    2. I don’t know if you have tried designing for any challenge blogs or anything like that, but doing a low-commitment team like that can help build a manufacturer’s confidence in your ability to be reliable. Also, streamline your photography – make sure your photos can be recognized when compared to other people’s photos. Also, try out for kit club teams and retail store teams, because those teams can connect you to companies. And, on your social media outlets, tag, tag, TAG your projects back to all the manufacturers that you used (and love). They can see it when you do. Keep trying!!

      Posted on August 17, 2013 at 10:24 am
  6. It’s a good thing I met you and other cha designers when I did. Saved me a lot of trouble!

    Posted on August 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm
    1. Haha! Yeah!! And I am glad that you got “in” sooner rather than later. I hope it is a great move for your career! Best of success :)

      Posted on August 22, 2013 at 1:48 am
  7. Jennifer, this is a great article, I’ve been crafting for over 20 years and I join CHA last year in July. this article has answered many questions as to the benefits of my membership. I’m going to have to look more into it. I read everything on the yahoo group and I’ve met several CHA designers – and agree they made me feel welcomed when I attended last year in Chicago’s CHA. I love reading your posts, they are always filled with information.

    Posted on August 23, 2013 at 10:15 am
  8. Great article, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing all the insights and information. I agree, becoming a CHA Designer Member is the first stop to creating a profession from this work. The networking and connections alone are invaluable. See you at CHA!

    Posted on October 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm