The Skill Swap Experiment

Hi there, I’m Melodie from SlinkyLinks Jewellery,  one of the Captains of the London Local Team. This week we wanted to talk to you about a new concept we have been working on, to find ways for team members to help each other out.

One of the reasons we started the London Local Team back in 2015 was to create a support system for creatives in London. Between all of us, the pool of knowledge available is huge. This got us thinking…

As small business owners, we often have to do everything ourselves: design, produce, take photos, market and sell our products. I don’t know about for you but I’m definitely not good at everything! Unfortunately, nor do I have enough cash around to pay professionals to help me. I’m always looking for ways to improve myself but sometimes I feel like I need someone else’s eye to point to what needs changing.

I’ve been wanting to work on my photographs for a while now. I have a good camera and I can take decent pictures but what my shop lacks is a brand consistency. I started looking at other people’s shops to understand what was missing and I spent hours retaking photographs, without ever being satisfied with the results.

Tired of wasting the precious time I had, I decided to think about a better way to improve. Why not look into the team for someone I could ask for help. In exchange, I’ll be happy to help them in any way I can.

I’ve been a big fan of Shoshana’s work since she opened her shop ShoshyCadoodle on Etsy last year and I really love her product photography. She agreed right away to come by my place and give me a few tips that would help me improve. In exchange she asked if I could help her organise her finances. I immediately agreed as being organised is my strong suit.

How we did it

First, Shoshana came to my house, where I work, for an afternoon. This way she had a better understanding of the light and space available to take pictures here. We discussed what I wanted to change and looked at what my current pictures. Then she started showing  me how she works, experiments with props and tries taking photos in different ways.

A few weeks after that, I also spent an afternoon at Shoshana’s, where we talked about how to organise finances but also what were Shoshana’s dream for ShoshyCadoodle and how to turn them into a reality.

What I’ve learned

Shoshana came over on a dark afternoon. Not great for taking pictures but still I manage to learn a lot just by looking at the way she works and by listening to her observations.

  • Taking good pictures is about looking at your product in a different way
  • It’s all in the details: be aware of lines that distracts the eye from the product
  • Using the Auto setting of your camera is OK even if it would be better to understand the other settings too
  • When using props, take your time. Try different props, think of where to put them to show off your product in the best possible way.
  • If it’s not a right angle, it’s a wrong angle! Without being dramatic, make sure that your product is not slightly wonky. When you place products at angles, it has to look intentional, not accidental.
  • Light is very important. You want a diffuse light, not direct light otherwise you get too many shadows. Take picture in different rooms of your house, to see which gives you the best light and when is the best time of the day to take your pictures.
  • When taking a picture, think of the composition you are creating and where your eyes want to go. You want to bring the eyes to your product.
  • Know what you want in terms of photography style. My problem is that I have tried so many different background textures and angles that my shop is not uniform. The pictures are decent for most of them but they don’t always go together. Shoshana suggested starting a Pinterest board of product shots that I like and try to understand what I like about the photos.

The result:

After meeting with Shoshana, the first thing I did was to start a Pinterest board for Product photos that I like. It sounds so obvious but until you actually do it, you don’t really understand what you like and what you want for your shop. This helped me a lot.

Now when I take a picture, I think about the bigger picture. What do I want my shop to look and feel like? How can I achieve a cohesive look? What prop, background should I use?

Then I think of the details. Is my item placed in the optimal position to catch the eye? Are my props relevant and not too distracting? Is there any unattractive lines or angles? How is the light?

Here is the result:

What you need to keep in mind when asking for help:

  • This experiment is based on an exchange of skills so make sure that you and the person you are working with are both benefiting from the swap
  • I asked Shoshana to help me because I like her style but also because she is good without being a professional. I wouldn’t ask a professional photographer to help me for free as that is their business and that’s how they earn their living.
  • Keep in mind that people can only help you so far. You have to be willing to listen to what they have to say (even if sometimes you’d rather not) and to do the work after they’re gone. I would never ask anyone to come and do all my photos for free. I just felt like I needed some tips from someone that knew more than I did.
  • Build a relationship with that person. That’s what London Local is all about.
  • Think about what you are good at. It can be anything: marketing, social media, photography but also design, organisation, finance. You could have access to materials or machinery that could help your fellow member. Think wide. We might not all be good at everything but we are all great at something.

Shoshana’s perspective:

“Being part of the first London Local Skill Swap really helped me. Melodie has been running her business for longer than I have and has learnt all sorts of useful information and practical skills about dealing with finances. On top of that, she’s naturally very organised which is a great recipe for success! Melodie taught me about pricing formulas, showed me examples of budget documents, business plans and guided me on how to be realistic when planning new ideas for your business. It was perfect timing as I’d had a lot of goals in my head that I didn’t really know how to get started on. With her help, I’ve come a long way – the things in my head are now in progress in the real world. I also have a boost of confidence with my ability to keep on top of budget tracking which is another big relief! I’m so grateful to Melodie for everything she taught me.

I also learnt a lot from helping Melodie with her photography. That part of the skill swap gave me a chance to flex my teaching muscles and also reminded me of what I know intuitively but don’t vocalise every day. If you do the skill swap, my advice would be to look at your chance to transfer your skills to someone else as a valuable part of the exercise too! You never know where it will lead you, perhaps it will give you inspiration to run a workshop; or it might just give you a stronger belief in your own skillset; plus teaching is a rewarding activity in itself. However you look at it, it’s a win-win situation!”

If you are interested in swapping skills with someone, follow this link and fill in the form. We’ll try to match you up with someone from the team as soon as possible.

Swap Skill Form

Another way is for you to contact another team member directly and see if you can work together.

Not a team member yet? Join us here