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Friday, June 12, 2009

Interview with Mary Ann of Follow Your Bliss Designs

Mary Ann has mucho experience hosting and swapping. She has some great stories and advice for us. She has moved to a unique fee-based private group for the swaps she hosts, which ensures the safety of the swappers involved. But let's let her tell us more about that! When you're done reading, you can visit her blog and take a peak at her shop.

SwapDex: Tell us a bit about you.

Mary Ann: I’m married to a wonderful hubby & we have currently a kitty tribe of 4. The types of crafts I do are so many: mixed media art, art assemblages, collage, painting, paper crafts, rubber stamping…& the list goes on. I’ve been an arty-crafty sort since I was a little girl.

SD: How long have you been swapping?

MA: 3 years ago since I entered the blogoshpere in 2006. I do both online & IRL swaps.

SD: How did you learn about swapping via blogs, and what made you decide to do
your first one it seemed like fun? Do you remember your first one?

MA: Not really, lol, I’ve participated & hosted in a ton of swaps that it’s all fuzzy at the moment…I think it may have been one hosted by ellia of greenbean baby blog?

SD: Do you swap with any groups? If so, what do you like/dislike about a more exclusive swapping environment as opposed to a swap open to anyone?

MA: Yes. I’ve been on swap-bot (briefly), yahoo (artchix, gemini angel’s charm swap, vintage dragonfly’s atc & collage swaps), ning (zne, we make zines & follow your bliss network) & a plethora of others on flickr (too many to name). I’ve formed quite a number of groups for specific-themed swaps on my blog and also flickr over the years (e.g., the vintage tea room, oh so charming valentine swap, vintage Christmas stocking swap, itty bitty book swaps, to name a few)? (Swap-bot, yahoo groups, flickr groups, etc.)

I’m more in favor of exclusive type swaps vs. open swaps mainly because the “flake-out” rate is minimal. What I mean by that is that in exclusive swaps, the people who generally join these are those who are serious about swapping & also generally have a decent swapping record. In open swaps, the participation/commitment level there is not as great, based on my experience. Of course it’s not to say that I haven’t ever had a good experience in an open swap or a really bad one in an exclusive swap (because I have in both scenarios!), I’m just saying that tends to be the case, not always, but generally speaking. When I first got interested in swapping, I kept hearing about “swap-bot” via my friends’ blogs. So, I joined in a few. But I soon learned that I did not care for the quality of the swaps (I had some partners who were less than stellar *no shows* or received swap items that were sub-standard) or the rating system there. just not my cup of tea. So I stopped joining swap-bot swaps & instead joined swaps that I either hosted or were hosted by blog pals, whom I trusted. I’ve had my share of tales of “swaps gone awry” over the years. On my blog, I’ve ranted at times about my dissatisfaction with peeps who have shown remarkably bad swap etiquette. As a hostess of many swaps, that is without question the number one concern I have about hosting a swap altogether. It’s a huge undertaking to host a swap~~ organizing and managing a large group & it only takes one bad apple to spoil the fun for everyone. I hosted one swap a couple of years ago & you wouldn’t believe the number of drop-outs or flakers. It was maddening & frustrating, really. It’s a subject that I can go on and on about, lol. But I won’t here. no use dwelling on the negative is what I say.

SD: What's your favorite type of swap or favorite swap you've ever been in or hosted?

MA: Art swaps. This is a great way to share your art & to meet other artists too. I have formed many great friendships and connections this way.

SD: Do you have a signature style for your swaps? Do you decorate your envelopes/packages? Send a card with a personal note?

MA: I don't know if I have a signature style for my swaps, but I do try to personalize my packages based on what I know or learn about my partner(s). If I am hosting a swap, I try to include some type of “thank you” favor to everyone who participated in my swaps. It’s just a little token of my appreciation & gratitude. For example, it may be a stamped note of thanks with candy or it may be a button inchie that I’ve made or it might be a small, ATC-sized collaged thank you card. I don’t always do this, but I do try to include a little somethin’-somethin’ extra when I can (or remember to do so).

Also, I think it is good swap etiquette to always include a brief personal note with your packages. It is a kind and considerate thing to do. Adding that personal note lets the recipient know that you care about connecting on a human level. It may seem like a given, but you’d be surprise that some swappers omit this. I have received swap items sans personal note. Regardless of the generosity of the swap package, without that personal note, the swap experience generally leaves me feeling somewhat lacking, a bit disappointed & cold. So, it’s always a good idea to send a personalized note of some kind along with your packages. Swapping is supposed to be about making that human connection, not some impersonal, business transaction.

SD: What's you favorite type of package to get in the mail?

MA: Handmade artwork or craft.

SD: Do you have a good story about hosting or participating in a swap?

MA: I’ve kinda alluded to some bad swaps that I’ve experienced & I’ve ranted about them from time to time on the blog. But I’d rather focus on “good” stories instead. Ever since I formed my follow your bliss network group on ning, it’s been one successful swap after another. The itty bitty book swaps that I started on flickr (along with all my other flickr groups) all have moved to the ning site & we have had the best time: great participation & follow-through, consistently amazing artwork & a number of wonderful books to show for it. We also have an on-going group, called “the sunshine club” where we all tip-in a collaged page that all get bound in a book by yours truly. These RAK books, as we call them, are then sent to an unsuspecting member as a way to send some cheer during a difficult time or illness or some other circumstance requiring a little pick-me-up. Recipients of these RAK books are always so surprised and touched. Just makes you want to send out more.

SD: What do you think is the most challenging part of hosting a swap?

MA: Dealing with bad swap etiquette.

SD: Any advice for someone who is thinking about hosting a swap?

MA: It is a big commitment to host a swap. Be sure you plan accordingly because there is a lot of work, time, (sometimes $$$) & effort involved. Be prepared to have swappers drop out & not tell you. Be prepared that you may get swamped with emails from swappers who have questions or concerns. Be prepared to have to deal with situations that may crop up. Be sure you are clear about what you expect from swap participants & also the swap details. & communication is oh so important, not just between you and your swappers, but also among the swap partners themselves. Encourage & expect communication & courtesy. If someone is running late, then you will need to be informed. You as the swap hostess should not be expected to monitor everything that goes on a swap (& who has that kind of time, anyway?). Swap partners need to communicate amongst themselves too. And above all, swaps are supposed to be about fostering connections and FUN.

SD: Any plans for the near future? Swaps, projects, new products?

MA: Of course. We have a number of them set up in the ning group. And there may be some swaps that I may host or co-host outside of the ning group in the future. So please stay tuned.

Excellent comments, Mary Ann. Thanks so much for chatting and sharing your experiences with us!


rachel johnson said...

Sad to see Swap-bot talked about in a less than positive way, but I understand it is not for everyone... There are both private and exclusive group swap options on Swap-bot and the rating system is meant to help protect users from non-senders. Just had to throw that in there...

mary ann mck said...

thanks so much jenna for posting my response to your interview questions. i am honored to be featured on your amazing swapdex!

thanks too rachel for your comments. i have to say that when i did the swap-bot swaps, it was back in 2006 & things were likely different than how things may be now. those were the "early" days, lol...& i am sure things may have indeed change. glad to hear that there have been changes toward improving the quality of swaps there!

mary ann mckeating :)