In 2020 so many craft fairs and design shows went digital as many of the live events had to be cancelled.

In this second blog post on virtual events we asked 3 creative exhibitors to share their online exhibition tips. Designers, makers and artists who have taken part in online selling events to let us know how they prepare and market themselves for successful online exhibitions, how these virtual events went and what they learnt.

Want to read the first blog in this series about online events? Click here to read the online exhibition tips from real-life-turned-virtual-event-organisers. 

Jeweller Bronwen Gwillim

Bronwen Gwillim makes large, one-off pieces of statement jewellery from waste plastic. She uses colours, textures and forms inspired by the natural environment: she plays on the edges where nature/ industry, treasured/discarded meet. Bright colours live alongside rounded shapes and surfaces that are weathered and worn and she brings in recycled silver to further confuse notions of preciousness.

Bronwen Gwillim Recycled Plastic Jewellery Blue Brooch

How do you feel about doing online craft events?

“I have done a few virtual craft shows which have replaced live events that have been cancelled. I did Made Makers with Tutton and Young in June and August for people selected for their Made Marylebone show and Digital Craft Festival as a replacement for Cheltenham and Bovey Tracey Craft Festivals.   

I’ll also take the opportunity to apply for online shows happening in other parts of the UK (and the world) which I felt were too far to travel to before.

The things that are good about virtual shows are probably also the things that I miss about the real thing. There’s no tearing around the country, shifting heavy boxes, realising your stand is a different size than you thought, or remembering you forgot to pack your business cards. But there’s also a distinct lack of atmosphere, excitement and most of all people. It’s quite empty and quiet … sitting at home on your own.

Having said that I really enjoy sleeping in my own bed, laying out less money and physical energy and having to think more creatively about drawing people in. It’s certainly a more environmentally sustainable option.  It’s also true to say that there is still a strong sense of community with makers supporting and promoting each other throughout the event and joining forces to do live chats and interviews online. 

Sales for me are not as high as the real events but, considering the smaller costs, well worth it all the same.

One of the real advantages is the new international audience that I’ve gained both in terms of sales and followers on Instagram.

It will be interesting to see how these digital events develop and how they will differentiate themselves from each other in what I think will become a very busy online marketplace.”

My online craft event tips are …

“You’ll be planning just the same as you would for a real show, building up stock, making new pieces, thinking about display and coming up with compelling stories to entice your customers to come and buy but the focus is so different.

All the time you have to ask yourself …

“Will this work online?”

“Can I make a photograph or video that will tell my story or summon up the experience of picking up a piece of my work?”

“How can I project my personality and explain how I make the work?”

When everything is online your social media presence and website is everything. 

Consider whether setting up a stand in your house, studio or garden is a good idea. Trying to replicate the craft fair experience isn’t necessarily the best option.

Think creatively about how you might show your work differently given that people will be looking at it on a screen and not in person.

The shows I have done all aimed to direct people to maker’s own websites and in particular to web shops to make sales so make your website the best it can be. If you don’t have a webshop then I would recommend getting one, unless you are after gaining commissions.

Make sure you maximise the impact of your presence on the virtual event’s main website and on the organiser’s social media to channel people to your website.

Read all their instructions and check you know how it’s all going to work so you don’t have any surprises or last minute technical problems. It can be very busy first thing on launch day.”

My tips to promote an online craft event

  1. “Send an email to your newsletter subscribers just a couple of days before the event as a reminder. It’s important to directly communicate to your existing customers and give them the heads up on anything new you are doing.
  2. Post a pre-recorded video on social media as a tantalising peek of any new work or one-off pieces you are launching. That will create a sense of urgency, so people log in early and don’t miss out.
  3. Turn the virtual show into an event by planning a programme of things that you will be doing each day at certain times on social media e.g launch a new range with a prerecorded video or offer a discount on the last day to boost flagging sales.
  4. Make sure you tell people in advance on social media and by email so they can put it in their diaries.”

I wish I had known… 

… that things don’t have to be perfect for them to be engaging online.

It’s well worth moving out of your comfort zone to reveal your passion and personality by showing your face and even doing a live broadcast. Online can be fun and surprisingly forgiving.”

Jeweller Naomi James

Naomi James started making jewellery at evening classes when she was 14 and has been running her own business for 25 years.

Naomi James Jewellery Rosecut tourmalines double teardrop bracelet

How do you feel about doing online craft events?

“During 2020 so much of the way I work has changed! Carrying on and adapting during lockdown has definitely been a challenge – moving my workshop into my kitchen, all shows cancelled and two teenagers at home.

To begin with I definitely struggled to get much done, being very distracted by being at home, the weirdness of the situation and total lack of creativity.

I also didn’t feel like mailing out to my customers as it just felt wrong at that point to be trying to sell things!

My initial feelings of ‘in these circumstances what I do feel is really unimportant’ quickly dissolved as I got orders from nurses treating themselves after a long shift and daughters buying jewellery for the mother they couldn’t be with for a special birthday.

My first online craft fair, Digital Craft Festival, came along at the end of June and turned out to be a real lifeline.

I now had a reason to come up with some new pieces – hopefully people were going to actually see them – and a deadline to work to. I also felt the timing was better as people were more settled in the ‘new normal’ and possibly more ready to engage.

A virtual show of course cannot compete with the real thing but does have the advantage of being open to customers all over the country and also all over the world. It can bring in people who would never get to see you otherwise- I have made sales to America and Europe in the 2 shows that I have done so far.”

My online craft fair tips …

“Preparing for the show was not so different from preparing for a normal show, except that I had a much more selective display than usual. I had lots of new rings that I’d made for a cancelled show in March so it was nice to get them seen. I recorded a Zoom discussion with other makers ahead of the show which was available to watch on the Craft Festival website. 

I would highly recommend treating it like a real event so that you’re available for customers’ questions (there were a lot) and to engage with other makers’ posts.

I really enjoyed the interaction with other participants with all the activity on Instagram and Facebook Live, not quite the same as seeing them at an actual show, but great to catch up!

At the start of the fair I sent out a mailer with a discount to run for the duration of the show and had a really positive response. Also, lots of Instagram posts was definitely useful, and using the show hashtag too!

I set up a stand in my kitchen and took a short film, which I posted on Instagram and Facebook. I then posted 2 or 3 images each day of the show.

In retrospect I think I would try to be a bit braver and go in front of the camera next time. I’m very confident talking to customers in person but on screen is really out of my comfort zone!”

For my 2nd show, GNCCF online, I was away for the first part of the show, but knowing that I was able to prepare various posts and videos in advance, and release them gradually over the show (one advantage of a virtual show!)”

I wish I had known

… how to relax in front of a camera before doing a virtual event!”

Printmaker Joanna Martin of Curlew Cottage Design

Joanna Martin of Curlew Cottage Design is a designer, printmaker, illustrator based near Killyleagh in County Down, Northern Ireland. A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art she worked for many years as a graphic designer in London and Belfast before setting up her own business to spend more time on illustration commissions.  It was after taking a course in printmaking that she became hooked on the linocut process and in 2017 launched a new range of cards, prints and homewares featuring her designs.

The ‘Bird’ and ‘Animal’ collections are characterised by bold, graphic images on flat, square background colours.  A lot of time is spent mixing the inks and building up layers to give the colours depth and to ensure they are colours found in nature.  As a result her images work well together and framed prints are often bought as a set of two or four.

Joanna is a keen sailor and lives in the countryside near Strangford Lough, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The inspiration for her designs comes from the passion she has for the wildlife she sees around her as well as her own hens, pigs and dog.  After feedback from customers she has begun writing about each bird and animal on the back of her cards, explaining why they are special to her and highlighting if they are endangered.

Joanna Martin Curlew Cottage Printmaking

How do you feel about doing online craft events?

Curlew Cottage Design exhibited at Country Living Artisans Pop-Up Market Online.

“For me virtual shows mean vast savings on travel from N. Ireland, accommodation costs and the stand fee. 

On the down side customers aren’t seeing the ‘wow factor’ of all my products displayed together, they don’t meet me, and I miss chatting about wildlife with them.  Doing real life selling shows is exhausting and I don’t miss that!

The virtual show I was involved in made it compulsory to offer a 20% discount on all products.”

My online exhibition tips …

“Make sure that your online shop is as easy to navigate as possible, and that your online shop is quick to upload.

Encourage visitors to shop by offering customers gift ideas – e.g. Gifts for Men, Gifts for Grandparents, Gifts for Children

Make sure to promote the event in your newsletter beforehand, with a link to the registering page.

Make sure customers understand how to take part in the show it has to be easy (one customer told me it was too complicated!)

I was lucky to have one of my products featured in the Country Living Magazine at the time of the event, which meant readers of the magazine were looking out for me. So a bit of press pre-show is always very useful!

We were told by the organisers how to promote the event, so we had a poster for our Instagram page and then used Instagram Stories to promote it during the weekend.”

I wish I had known …

… not to offer free postage on many of my cheaper products in the first virtual event.  With 20% discount plus free postage this was rather too good an offer!”

We’d love to hear what you have learnt from exhibiting at online craft events. Please share your online exhibition tips with us below in the comments box.

To read more about events with tips for online craft and handmade event organisers click here. 

Do you have any comments or questions?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *