When things weren't going so well, what was the one thing that gave your business a boost?
It seems an odd thing to list as it’s not really something in my control, but often when I’ve found myself in a slump my work will get featured by a large website or magazine and it reinvigorates interest in my work.
You can submit to a lot of publications, be it on or offline, and it can make a significant difference to the size of your audience.
How did you know it was time to hire someone and what was the first thing you outsourced?
I’ve never really outsourced, unless you count things like selling licences to other companies to produce products such as greetings cards, as it then takes me out of the production/purchase/delivery equation.
It’s not something I’d rule out for the future, but at the moment my online shop is (more or less) manageable enough for me to do alone, and it turns out I quite enjoy packing and posting everything so I’m not looking to outsource that work for now.
What steps did you take that really helped your business take off? What helped your business grow?
After university I spent a lot of time setting myself briefs and projects to do so I had a portfolio of the kind of work I wanted to do (such as book covers and
greetings cards), and I think that really helped prospective clients to consider me for work that you wouldn’t normally hand to an embroiderer, and is a better use of time than waiting around for the right work to drop in your lap.
Otherwise you’re expecting the client to make the jump between the job they had and the work that you do, and when you’re a busy art director or designer that’s not always possible.
It also shows what you have an interest in and that you’d be enthusiastic about those sort of jobs coming your way.
I’ve also tried to be quite relentless when it comes to improving my work, it took a lot of practice to get my work to where it is now and I know part of the reason I didn’t have much success in the first few years out of university is because I wasn’t producing work of a high enough quality.
It’s much easier to ask for a good price and stand by that when you’re confident about the quality of your work and what you’re offering the customer.
How do you grab people's attention and get them to buy?
I’ve worked on having a steady social media presence since I finished university and the vast majority of my audience comes from that – a lot of bloggers and websites have shared my work over the last few years and it’s meant I always have a ready group of buyers when I want to sell work.
Continuing to show my process online, especially on Instagram, has allowed me to keep catching people’s attention and then turn that into sales later down the line.
How did you get consistent sales? What other income streams do you have?
My sales are consistent as I’m lucky enough to have demand that outstrips the amount of original embroideries I can produce, so there’s always buyers waiting for new pieces, the question is just how quickly I can get things done.
Other income streams include licensing images to greetings card companies, selling my own cards and prints online, book cover designs, and some promotional work on social media. I feel quite lucky that I never find myself waiting around for work to come in, rather there’s always something to do and I never seem to have the time for it all!
How long did it take you to make a living wage and what resources helped you make it through the beginning years?
I graduated from university in 2011 and went straight into a retail job to keep me afloat, and then worked on embroidery at night and on days off. I had to do this for several years as I was earning barely anything from my art at first, I’d say from 2011-2014 it was essentially a loss maker as I was putting all the spare time I had into buying materials and creating work but being unable to find buyers for most of it, when I did I was usually having to ask for less than minimum wage in order to keep the buyer.
By 2015 I had begun to have enough demand for my work that I could start to sell it for a fair price, and began cutting my hours down at my other job.
I didn’t leave what was by then a weekend job until August 2017, so it took me a long time to be able to make a decent living from embroidery. In the last year before quitting the day job I think I could have got by without it, but having that regular bit of income meant I could work on projects that didn’t always pay off immediately so it was still useful at that point.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a day or side job as you grow your business, and it can help you afford space to develop your personal work and experiment with new things as you don’t have to worry about it not selling all the time.
I began to sew in the last year of my illustration degree at the University of the West of England, and since graduating in 2011 I have continued to experiment with freehand embroidery, using sewing thread and hand dyed fabrics to make my work.
Originally from Buckinghamshire, I now live and work in Oxford.
Clients include Penguin, Vintage Books, Bloomsbury, Liberty, the BFI, and a range of private clients.