At four years old, Lizzie Randerson fondly remembers being “let loose” on the sewing machine for the first time while her mum sipped coffee with friends — “I just whipped up a little creation,” she laughs with wry humour, “And haven’t stopped since!” Not surprisingly, a quarter of a century later, Lizzie runs Craft Makes Me Happy, a Facebook-based business specialising in vintage and imported embellishments, and her own handcrafted wares, including delightful cloth dolls and boutique pin cushions. Initially, she aimed to establish a cottage industry as a post-baby alternative to her public service career as a graphic designer. However, in just over six months, Lizzie has gone from whoa to go, amassing over 1,600 fans and achieving a level of fan engagement and sales that simply make my eyes turn green with envy, which is no mean feat, considering Facebook is largely unchartered business territory. My post last month on Facebook tips generated so much conversation, both on and off the herBusiness Blog, that I’m compelled to do a follow-up, this time a case study straight from the horse’s mouth or, in this case, the seamstress’s needle!
Why did you choose Facebook as a business medium?
Lizzie: I saw Facebook as a free entry into the market — there are no set up fees and the audience is easy to hunt down. There’s also a huge handmade movement on Facebook.
Have you tried other mediums, online or otherwise?
Lizzie: I used to sell on a website that hosts stores for Australian craft suppliers, but the fees were so high, it was getting out of hand. I also discovered that the only people buying from there were my Facebook fans.
Why have you stuck with Facebook?
Lizzie: I like Facebook because it’s personal. It’s an interactive market, so I’ve made a lot of friends. You can ask a seller direct questions about a product, rather than hoping information is written in the description and you get amazing feedback that I don’t think you would get with a straight-up online store.
What other advantages does Facebook have?
Lizzie: So many! The start up cost is only your time… it doesn’t get much better than that! For me, as a mum of young kids, Facebook was a “nothing gained, nothing lost” venture. I was also so glad to have a keyboard to hide behind as I built my confidence because selling is hard, and you sometimes have to shamelessly push your stock! People are addicted to Facebook and they are voyeurs without knowing it. You can share as little or as much of your personal life on your page as you like, but I have discovered that most of my customers want to know about me. Then, when I have joked around, talked, taken the time to get to know them all, they trust me and my sales go up.
What are the disadvantages of Facebook for sales?
Lizzie: Keeping track of sales is a nightmare when you have as many products as I do. I sell by uploading images of my stock to a photo album and asking people to write, “Sold” in the comment box to buy an item, which is a very common sales method on Facebook. It means, however, that I have to continually check all my photos for comments, make sure I have a buyer’s email address, write invoices and muck around with payment options. This takes hours every day.
The solution to that would be a customised shopping cart tab, which I notice you don’t have, or any other customised tabs, for that matter. Is there a reason for this?
Lizzie: Only because I don’t really know how to! I just don’t think I need anything more confusing for my customers, who seem to just want to look at my pictures and buy. I leave my wall open for comments and that’s probably the best way for them to contact me. I am currently working on a website that will be linked to my Facebook fan page, though, so I’ll be more technical soon!
Is Facebook more suited to certain types of businesses or business owners?
Lizzie: I know it works fantastically well for businesses in the handmade, second hand, book and arts industries. I think you could adapt any business style to work well on Facebook; you just have to tap into the right audience.
What are your secrets to getting and engaging fans?
Lizzie: Facebook businesses work the same as any business does — you need to get your name out there, and interact and promote as much as you can without being annoying. In the beginning, I joined many online sewing and craft groups to get to know what customers actually want to buy. I also made friends with a few successful Facebook business owners who sell the same style of products I wanted to sell, although not specifically the same ones. I told these online friends that I was going to open up a business, and built a little hype. When I did open, I literally only had a handful of fans, but they were business owners with huge followings that I aspired to. These people gave me a “shout out” from their pages to announce my opening sale, which helped me gain over 120 fans within my first week. I have networked my little heart out! I comment on clever work on other pages, give my opinion, join conversations and make suggestions. This gets my name in the loop, which opens an opportunity for me to introduce my business name. I’ve also run competitions and promotions, and recently had an “open wall night” where I invited fans to showcase their own businesses and craft activities. It’s all about interacting and engaging with people, whether a large group or an individual.
And how do you convert all those fans into buyers?
Lizzie: All of the above! Plus good products, good prices, good service, good communication and a trusting audience. It all takes hard work and perseverance.
One of your initial goals was for the business to cover your childcare costs, which you recently met. Have you set new goals?
Lizzie: Yes, I wanted to pay for childcare so I could justify spending more time working on Craft Makes Me Happy. I’ve achieved that, but still have to work hard to meet it each week. The next goal is to steadily increase my income to pay for boring household and living expenses! My immediate plan is to finish my website and then look at expanding my range, perhaps even catering for paper crafters. In the long-term, I have big dreams to open a real bricks and mortar craft shop in my local town and to sell on my website. I would also love to expand my range to cater for more and more craft types, to run workshops and establish a community of people who find happiness in creating.
Have you ever thought, “Ugh! I’m giving up?”
Lizzie: Yes, quite a few times, but I always look back and think how far I have come in such a short time!
What 5 tips would you give someone who is about the start a fan page?
Lizzie: Overall, I’d say have fun and give it a try because you really have nothing to lose. Specifically:
- Watch and learn because every page is different. Follow the fan pages you aspire to be like.
- If you’re ever envious of a page you are following, just stop following them. Only compete with yourself!
- Always be ready to change and adapt to your audience or what Facebook allows you to do.
- Develop personal relationships with your fans. Show an interest in their lives, find free information for them and help them out like a friend. Even if you don’t get a sale, you will get good feedback.
- Update your status at least once a day. Don’t do too many general off-topic posts each day, but always post. The more people interact with your posts or page, the more your post appears in everyone’s news feeds.