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Luu Studio Design Market Stall Finders Keepers captured by Natalie Jeffcott

Top 3 tips for applying to design markets (from an ex Finders Keepers curator!)

We’re dusting off our applications and applying to design markets in a post-pandemic world. 

If the idea of figuring out what to say, and how to succeed when applying to design markets in this highly competitive arena leaves you feeling like you’ve stepped out of a washing machine, you’re not alone.

Applying for design markets can be like trying to shoot an arrow on a moving target, with competitors jumping up and down in front of you.  If you haven’t already caught on with these extensive use of metaphors, what I’m trying to say is, it’s hard!

I’m not saying this to deter you.  Design markets can be an integral part of a maker businesses sales and marketing strategy.  They are a great way to reach new audiences, extend the awareness of you and your brand and if you’re lucky, make some cash!  You already know that design markets aren’t just about making your stall fee back, but that doesn’t stop you from wanting to GET IN!  

I speak with makers and designers daily. So I know that getting accepted into design markets is a big goal of so many of you.  I’m all about helping you achieve your goals! Please read on for my three design market application tips, learnt from my years of experience working at The Finders Keepers Markets

Renee talking to stallholder Luzette Godinez of Luu Studio at design market finders keepers

1. Photos really are everything

Don’t get me wrong, what you say does count, and you’ll hear more about that later.  But 100%, without a doubt, if you have bad photos, it’s almost instantly a ‘no’. What do I mean by bad?  Think out of focus or low resolution, no styling or composition, poor lighting, low contrast, inexperienced models, as well as inconsistencies across the collection of photos you submit. 

If you can’t take decent photos yourself, it might be worth investing in a photographer. This will not only benefit your application but the success of your maker business overall. 

It’s not just bad photos that decrease your chances of success.  If your shit-hot photos saw your application successful in the past, it’s not enough to simply rinse and repeat.  The curators are always looking for fresh new images from every participant. It’s these very images that form the basis of the entire events marketing campaign.  Did they plaster their social media pages with your campaign images from 2019? If yes, they will want something new from you.

The specs and requirements for the images are dependent on the design market you are applying for. So make sure you read the details.  For example, do you need to supply 3 images in a square format?  Or is it about creating a collage? Are there file size limits? File naming standards?  Read all of this information and deliver as instructed.  Ignoring the details indicates that you might not be able to follow other stallholder instructions for the event (which let me tell you, there are going to be a lot of and they are all important!)

Looking for some practical and instructional advice on how to create your own awesome photographs of your handmade products? Check out Make Good Things Happen! The Members Video Library is chock-o-block of photography content, created by our resident expert, Rachel Kimberley.

2. Tell your brand story 

Over the last 10 years or so, the popularity of design markets has surged. This is partly due to the fact that these events align themselves to their own audiences by utilising well-defined brand values.  The Big Design Market is, you guessed it, all about high-quality design.  The Finders Keepers revived handmade industries and provided purchasing solutions for customers with the desire to escape mass-production.  Handmade Canberra went through the lengthy process of certifying their event with the Australian Made Campaign, aligning with customers who wish to shop local. 

It’s therefore imperative that you highlight your own brand story. Highlight how your story connects with the values of the design market you are applying for.

Don’t forget to introduce yourself.  One of the biggest mistakes I would see when reviewing stallholder applications at Finders Keepers was people forgetting to introduce themselves!  Are you a maker?  Do you hand make everything yourself from your solar-powered studio that sits on the top of a mountain in the hinterlands?  Do you employ marginalised people?  Sometimes the things that might “seem obvious” to you, aren’t to the curators. Make it easy for them to learn everything about you.

I also encourage you to try and avoid sob stories wherever possible.  If it’s a major part of your brand story, and it’s impossible to avoid, then include it tastefully.  Begging to be accepted because your best friend’s mother is sick and needs your support not only won’t work, it’s manipulative, distasteful and doesn’t enhance your application in any way. 

Uncle Phuncle stall at Finders Keepers design market

3. Make it obvious you’re the right fit for the market 

Mentees that work with D’Alton Baker Productions will have heard me talk about the “swivel test”.  That is; if I am reading your application on my desktop computer, and spin around in my chair, do the key messages that you’re trying to convey stand out?  Don’t bury your hero message in paragraphs and paragraphs of long-winded text.  Keep it short, sharp and conscientious.  Remember the curators don’t have a lot of time. In fact they’re usually under the pump, and they receive (literally) thousands of applications.

Read the application criteria carefully and refer back to them in your application.  It’s just like a classic comprehension test. Use words and phrases from the original question (read: criteria) in your answers to prove to the curators that you’ve paid attention to the details. This will there therefore increase your chances of being the right fit. 

If the design market is looking for brands that show innovation, specifically address this in your application. It’s a little bit like a job application, addressing the criteria prevents leaving things to chance and highlights to the curators that you have the right brand for their event.

Renee browsing the candles at Alchemy Produx at Finders Keepers Design Market

I’m going to stop there! This article is meant to be three tips not three hundred (as much as I could keep going all day!)  Are you looking for customised advice specific to your design market application?  Book a design market application review with Angela and Renee and optimise your chances of success when applying for design markets. The session features tailored advice from not one but two market curation experts. 

Oh, and GOOD LUCK!

Images featuring Luu Studio, Uncle Phuncle and Alchemy Produx captured by Natalie Jeffcott for DBP at The Finders Keepers. Image featuring Elisa Bartels captured by Renee Baker for DBP at Etsy Made Local.

Book a Design Market Application Review
Ideal for makers in small business applying for design markets, who may have faced rejection in the past, or those who need an expert to review their application.

Includes 45 minutes face to face with an expert in the field of design markets, the application and the curation process. Get started.

meet the author

Renee Baker DBP Mentor

Renee Baker

With over 13 years working within the maker community of Australia, Renee is well-positioned to provide constructive advice. Renee engineered the social media presence for brands like Koskela, Etsy Australia and the Finders Keepers Market, and as an entrepreneur herself, understands how creative agility and hard work lead to success.

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