Small Business Monday: An Interview With Maxine From Tilly Tea Dance

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Today's feature is from a textile artist who I really admire.

I've talked before about how you need to market yourself and your products to gain the following you need to make sales and get a foot-in-the-door to bigger opportunities. Maxine is a shining example of how you can build a brand and a reputation over time to create a craft business you can take full time.

Let Me Introduce To You Maxine From Tilly Tea Dance.

Maxine of Tilly Tea Dance

Maxine of Tilly Tea Dance

What inspired you to start Tilly Tea Dance and how did you make it happen?

I've been a life long stitcher, having learnt to sew with my mum as a small child. Sewing was always a hobby alongside my academic studies and I took up needle felting for relaxation and stress relief during my career in charity management. 

When our little boy, Benjamin, came along in 2014 I decided to take a leap of faith and create a business from my felted wool art. I wanted to enjoy Ben's precious early years and felt a career as a textile artist could fit around being a mum. I handed in my resignation and in September 2015 established my business, Tilly Tea Dance, selling my work and running felting and embroidery workshops.

I did my best while on statutory maternity pay to create a habit of living on very little. I set up a Facebook page, Twitter profile, Pinterest account, blog and Etsy shop and gradually built my profile. Stockists and workshop leads grew gradually - mostly through word of mouth and through being seen on social media. Etsy success took a while to build but eventually I found that the more I shared my shop on social media, the more people 'favourited' my shop, bought my work and left positive reviews, leading to more sales and so on.

Striking that ideal work/life balance hasn't been easy.  There have been times while working 50 hours a week to prepare for an exhibition or sale that I have questioned whether I really am achieving that dream of having quality time with Ben. But most of the time I enjoy lots of special moments, large and small, with my boy and I wouldn't swap what I do for the world!


Maxine of Tilly Tea Dance

Maxine of Tilly Tea Dance

What’s the biggest lesson you have learned in running your business?

There have been so many lessons learned, but possibly my biggest is to get out there, say yes to everything and punch above your weight. Ok, so that's sort of three but they go together. Building a buzz around my work through getting out and about, social media activity, talks, demonstrations and networking have helped me to build my reputation. This has led to offers of work, invitations to exhibit or to stock local shops and galleries. I'm astounded about how often I meet people who tell me they own a piece of my work, and this serves as a reminder of how far I've come in two years.


What has been your biggest shining moment so far?

Each little success I've had along the way has helped to raise my confidence and has encouraged me to aim just a little higher. By far my greatest shining moment to date has been my solo exhibition at a high profile Shropshire visitor centre in August 2017. My work was so well received I had to restock my exhibition four times during the five week duration, confounding both mine and the venue's expectations. I felt extremely proud to show my little man around the exhibition (picture) and was delighted when my key piece 'McFelty' the felted highland cow sold in the opening weekend!


Work by Maxine of Tilly Tea Dance

Work by Maxine of Tilly Tea Dance

What would be your number one tip to someone wishing to start their own business?

I think the most important thing to do before you throw yourself into starting your own business is to spend time getting ideas down on paper. I don't mean a lengthy, turgid business plan (although a written plan can be handy!) but rather a collection of ideas, notes, lines of enquiry and sales leads to motivate and focus your business direction. Be prepared for some ideas to go nowhere while other unexpected opportunities fly in from left of field. 

Building a social media presence has been critical for me as a means of opening my horizons beyond my immediate environment. Many of my initial business ideas and new opportunities have been generated through social media. It's a great way of investigating whether there is a market for those initial business ideas you generate, it helps you see who else is making a living from similar business activities and it is a brilliant way of marketing on a shoestring.


What is your next business goal?

In two years I've started to built a reputation locally in Shropshire and through social media but my next goal is to create a collection of larger pieces of work which can give me recognition through traditional media. I'd love to be featured in some leading textile art publications and hold further solo exhibitions of my work.


Thank you to Maxine for being so generous with her time and let’s wish her continued success with the business.

Don’t forget you can find Maxine at Tilly Tea Dance.