Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to run a successful swap

I'm not going to claim to be an expert swap mama, but sometimes it's good to know a few things before deciding to host a sewing swap. Here's a little post about what I know (29 swaps worth of experience!). Please feel free to add comments at the end with any additional suggestions!

Before starting a swap you'll want to think about a few things, what sort of swap will it be? Is this for anyone to join, or just people you know and trust? Is it going to be a quick swap, or one that spans several months?

At the bare minimum you'll want to have the basic info covered BEFORE posting a signup.

  1. Who - will the swap be limited to Instagram people, limited to flickr users, limited to people you know locally? Be sure to be clear - if you don't want Suzie who is not a regular internet user - then say so in the beginning. If you want active swappers you might consider limiting it to one site - IG or Flickr.
  2. What - What will you swap? Be as specific as possible (for example: One medium pouch, no extras required). Be upfront if you're expecting people to send a bunch of extras - some people prefer to send just handmade things.
  3. Where - Will the swap be hosted on flickr or Instagram or both? Can I sign up if I don't regularly visit any social media? Do I need to be active? You can request swappers to check in / comment on photos once a week - encourage them to encourage each other. Everyone loves a chatty swap partner.
  4. When - Give us a timeline. When will the signups start/end. When will you send out partner info, what is the deadline for mailing. For longer swaps you may want to set a "don't mail before" date too.
The above info should be posted when signups are opened. Include this info in the important "partner email" too for easy reference.

Some additional things to keep in mind:
  • Swap mamas - You'll want some help with this. Ask a couple people you trust (hopefully ones who have previous swapping experience). Communicate either by private flickr group, google docs, or a group email. 
  • How many swappers to allow? This is all up to you, but in my experience having no more than 10 swappers per swap mama is ideal. For a quick matched swap maybe 15 swappers per swap mama. Most swaps would be good to be capped at 100 swappers... it gets awfully hard to keep track of everyone once the swap grows so huge. If you're an expert swap mama then trust your judgement. If you're a newbie swap mama, then try for 30 - 50 swappers. Smaller is easier.
  • Quick and easy vs partners matched carefully. Many swaps are more of a "you get what you get" when it comes to partner pairing. I find that swaps are a lot more fun if I know the person I'm swapping with, or if I share similar style / likes with my partner. This takes more time for the swap mamas to pair up partners, but it's worth it. It is especially helpful to pair people up by their style for longer running swaps. By pairing by style it helps swappers to feel confident in their end product - they can stay closer to their own comfort zone. (insiders' info: when I sit down to pair up partners for Doll Quilt Swap, it takes a couple hours of pouring over my group's feeds, and taking notes about skill, color style, and modern vs traditional). For shorter swaps (or swaps that are for a small item / quick item) it's just as well to pair randomly. 
  • Communication - it is important for swappers to know that they are expected to reply to all emails from their swap mama. Being open and upfront about these thing will help swappers stay on track (and it'll keep you from having people flake out at the last minute). For longer swaps it's good to have the swap mamas communicate with their swappers once a month (at least once in the middle of the swap for shorter swaps). This gives the swapper the comfort of being able to say that they need more time / will send late / can't follow through on the commitment. It's easier to handle these things mid-swap. Swap mamas should keep track of this communication - if you notice one swapper who doesn't reply keep hounding them - nothing is worse than a swapper going AWOL and leaving their partner with nothing. 
  • Deadlines are to be broken? Be clear about what is expected. Generally it's a good rule to say that if you mail late this time, you can't swap next time. A late sender will have to sit the next round out. There is always an exception to the rule, but be clear that it's better to be in contact with your swap mama about sending late. 
  • The swapper who refuses to communicate - there's always one. You email, they don't email back. It takes them ages to post a progress pic, etc. Beware. Sometimes this is just a case of being busy, but a swapper who doesn't communicate is much more likely to flake on the swap. Be persistent. 
  • Timelines - Small swaps (one item, small item, holiday themed, color themed) are great for 4-6 week swaps. No big commitment. For larger swaps (doll quilt, purse/bag, multiple item, more personal) 2-3 months is good.
  • Lottery - The lottery system is good for larger swaps. Here's how that works: everyone signs up via google forms - the swap mama's look at each signup and OK each swapper (no late sending last time, regular posting on their IG/flickr, etc). If signups surpass the number of swappers allowed then you'll pull names from the list of signups who have been OK'd. This allows you to gently decline a swapper who just isn't ready for a big swap / who has burned the group before by not sending / who is negative in the group / etc. I wish this method weren't necessary, but it's a good protection should you need to say "no thanks" to someone who signs up. 
  • International swapping - International swapping is so much fun! Who doesn't love to receive international mail? But - international mailing is EXPENSIVE. Please please please give swappers a spot on your signup list to request a USA only partner. I personally have to edit what I can send because I'm not willing to spend more than $20 on postage. Take a look, anything more than a flat rate envelope is more than $20 out of country. In my experience it doesn't add much work for the swap mamas to match partners to those of their own country when necessary. For swappers outside of the US, they have less chance of getting a partner in their country - I think they're aware of that. I offer "USA only", and "I'll ship anywhere" for swaps I run.
  • Extras - even if you tell people that extras aren't required, you'll still have people who send them. If you require people to send extras give them an idea of what is expected "one small handmade item (pincushion, needlebook, etc), and a treat" or "a favorite notion and two FQ's." People will still go way above and beyond, but they will not feel required to do so. 
  • Angels - even the best run swaps have some flakes. If someone flakes out and doesn't send their swap package, have a couple people on hand who are willing to be "angel quilters" - to make a swap package for the person who's partner flaked out. If it's a quick / smaller swap you can announce at the beginning that there will be no angels - meaning that if someone flakes out you aren't responsible for finding an angel. For larger / longer swaps it's good to have a couple people ready for this task. If you don't know of anyone willing, announce it to the group - usually someone will step forward and be willing to help. 
Swap mama tools
  • google forms / google spreadsheet - poke around on google drive. There is an option to "create form" That is the questionaire. Include all your required questions. Then click on "Responses" on the top task bar -- that's how you'll set it to send all the responses into a google spreadsheet. Easy. If you have trouble setting this up let me know... I'll do my best to answer any specific questions. Example of a swap signup google form is below (feel free to enter random stuff into the categories and hit send - then I can show you the spreadsheet too).
  • Swap List - (pictured below) this is used to keep track of one swap mama's bebe's. It's a quick at-a-glance way to keep track of the important stuff.
  • sample emails - I have sample emails saved for basic "swap partner email" emails - if you need some help formulating I can send you a sample. 

Swap List

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a great bunch of instructions and tips, thank you!