Artist Liz Whiteside only started designing textiles last year, but she has already built up a strong fanbase and secured press coverage for her work. She sells her work through Folksy, Facebook and at local markets, and uses a creative PR agency to gain press for her growing business. We talked to her about what she has learned so far and how she is growing her sales and building her reputation…
When and how did you start selling your work?
I have built up a lovely following on Facebook and it’s been a great way of selling my work. However, it’s a limited audience due to your number of followers, so I saw the need to move to another source – Folksy.
Are you a full-time maker?
I am a full-time maker, in between being a busy mum and dog owner.
How do you sell your work?
I sell my work via Folksy and Facebook and I’ve recently joined two fantastic local markets, Jesmond Dene Markets and Loveartnortheast, where we hold high-end art and design fairs in the stunning Newcastle Cathedral. Both are organised by a lady called Lesley McNish, who has a strong local media presence.
Have markets been a successful way of selling for you?
I’ve been to three markets so far and the one before Christmas was fantastic.
What did you consider before selling at those fairs?
I watched social media to see what local talented artists and designers were doing. People I respected joined Lesley’s markets, so I got in touch. Initially I just filled in for a cancellation but I’ve now become a permanent part of the team. I love Lesley’s enthusiasm and passion. I feel lucky to have found her.
How do you display your work on your stall, and does that affect your sales?
I’ve only been to three art fairs but at my last successful stall I found that placing one of the bright Harris Tweed cushions in a prime position attracted attention. I sold two this way. My other cushions were dotted around the table. My work is mainly animal based, so I also placed some dog designs in the window at Jesmond Dene as it has a café attached where local dog walkers come. It’s funny how people who don’t like animals just walk straight on by. I show my whole range, all handmade by myself – greeting cards, prints, cushions, lavender bags and, of course, original artwork. Having artwork on show is important, so people can see the process and know that I will always be an artist first and foremost.
Have you got a method for working out your pricing?
Considering my cushions are all handmade and the fabrics are designed or sourced by me, I think I’ve kept my prices very reasonable. I think it’s more about making a name for yourself and making a quality product.
How do you promote yourself and your work?
I try to do daily updates on Facebook and Twitter, and have recently joined Pinterest. I think it’s very important to keep a strong social media presence. So far, Facebook has definitely been a tremendous help in building up my following. You get some lovely regular customers who recommend you to friends and your business just slowly grows. A customer in Aberdeen had one of my Highland Cow tweed cushions on display at Hogmanay and that led to a new customer this month, who ordered three cushions. It’s fantastic.
You have had some press features. Can you tell us more about those and how they came about?
I was very lucky to be interviewed by The Telegraph in 2011. It was about ‘How to make money from your hobby’. Tim Saunders from PR company Creative Coverage approached me a couple of years ago. He wanted to represent me and I’ve been on their website ever since. Every few months he asks his clients if they have any news suitable for a press release and that led to my interview for local magazine, Accent, in 2014 about my new role as an Ambassador for UK charity Dreams Come True. This month, he got me an interview with The Chronicle about the launch of my Harris Tweed range and the lovely story about my late mum’s sewing machine.
Has the press had a positive impact on your business or sales?
The press coverage certainly gets you website hits. The Telegraph interview led to instant commissions and the local interviews get people along to the markets or galleries to see your work.
Finally, what are the best and the worst bits about being a maker?
So far there have been no negatives in the design process. I feel so incredibly lucky to have a supportive family who let me live my dream. Working at my mum’s machine makes me feel so close to her – how could I not enjoy that? I know she’s watching my progress with pride.