Good Things Happen When Sellers Collaborate
By Greg Holden
Ecommerce can be a pretty solitary activity. That's especially true if you're in business by yourself, and even more so if you're selling things you make yourself.
But it doesn't have to be that way. A recent blog post on Etsy described sellers who diversify their product offerings and boost their fun factor by working with other sellers. Collaborators contribute their skills and designs and, together, create something new.
Down in the comments of the blog post I found a reference to Cat Ivins. Ivins describes herself as "Owner/Maker/Dumpster Diver" of Olive Bites Studio on the Jersey Shore, plus two Etsy stores and the ecommerce website SoulCentered.com. She has taken collaboration to a high level, having worked with 75 other artists and craftspeople. The benefits of working with someone else go beyond expanding product offerings, Ivins says.
"Mostly I collaborate with illustrators and photographers on artwork for my jewelry," she explains. "I didn't begin working with other sellers to expand my product line, although that's why the people I work with choose to work with me. I do it to provide my customers with the best possible product and options. It definitely expands your reach. In this interconnected age, you are not only adding another person, you can be adding all the people they are connected with, too."
Here are some other tips she passed along:
"Occasionally I meet people at trade shows," she says. "I find most of them on Etsy, or they find me. We collaborate together on an actual product."
Collaborations, she adds, take many forms. She once did a short-term collaboration with a seller who made "seed bombs" (clay, compost and seeds that gardeners can "throw and grow"). She sent them along with his business card as part of her recycled cork necklace orders on Etsy.
"He was doing pretty much all the work; I was just dropping his product into my packages. A balanced collaboration doesn't mean a balanced workload. He was a new seller trying to reach a certain audience and I was a more established seller with that audience's attention."
When you decide to work with someone else, you do take a risk, she adds. "He was risking that his time and resources would pay off in some way for him, and I was risking that his product wasn't junk and wouldn't reflect badly on me. Any time we interact with other people there is the potential for stuff to go wrong. Of course, there is just as much potential for things to go right!"
Deciding How Each Collaboration Will Work
One of the challenges of working with someone else, especially for creative people, is the question of who's in charge. And then there's the challenge of working in the small-format jewelry Ivins sells in Olive Bites Studio.
"Not all artwork translates well when reduced to one inch in size," she comments. "We work together to see what works best - what best represents both our brands and what we think our customers will want to wear."
The best collaborators, she adds, are "clear with their intentions for the collaboration, are flexible and have a sense of humor, since stuff will almost certainly go wrong sometimes. Kindness matters, too. I work with some really wonderful people."
Once in a while, she's able to meet with another artist in person, such as Kristin Tercek of CuddlyRigorMortis.com, who lives 15 minutes from Ivins. Usually, email and Skype suffice.
The two artists whose work is shown below on Ivins' jewelry, Kathy Jeffords and Melissa Nucera, have very different work and techniques but their art translates well to the small format.
As far as payment, Ivins sends her illustrator or photographer a flat amount for each piece she sells. When the other seller sells a collaborative item in their online store, she says, "they keep a bit more and send me the remaining amount plus the shipping fee, and I ship from my studio. We do it all through PayPal - it's very easy."
When two entrepreneurs work together, you get the benefits of new ideas and products. You also get two strong opinions. There's definitely some give-and-take involved. Ivins calls this a matter of building consensus. It's one tip she passes along to other sellers thinking of entering into their own partnerships.
"Remember that collaboration is about consensus and not compromise - although we might have to compromise sometimes," she advises. "Too much compromise, which is really always lose-lose since no one feels like they are winning, produces average work. We don't want average work. We want amazing work. We want the collaboration to make both parties better. We want a win-win."
How do you reach consensus? It's a matter of "clear communication, shared goals and values and by partnering up with the right people in the first place. Especially for people who work alone - bringing other people into your business creates new energy, new ideas and new connections. One plus one can equal 100. And I just think life is more supportive of our growth when that growth supports other people, too."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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