As we enter the selling season, we’re delving into the world of online selling events! As the majority of trade shows and crafts fairs were cancelled in the last 18 months, many (quickly) pivoted how they operated and organised virtual events.

We spoke a lot in our Business Club about online craft fairs and virtual design events with successful exhibitors and event organisers Sarah James of Craft Festival and Margarat Bunn from the British Craft Trade Fair. 

We wanted to find out how successful these new online craft and design shows are, the why’s and how’s, what works, what doesn’t and what organisers and exhibitors recommend doing before and during these virtual craft and design events to make them more successful.

For this post we asked three of the top virtual craft fair hosts to share their online event tips and experience of virtual craft and design events:

Country Living Fairs – Louise Duckett 

Country Living Magazine has championed and supported small businesses for many years, both through the pages of the magazine and by bringing artisans and makers face to face with consumers through its series of Country Living shopping pavilions.

For over 25 years now, Country Living has curated and delivered high-end pop-up shopping experiences at various outdoor shows including RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival and the Burghley Horse Trials, as well as through its own branded shopping exhibitions, The Country Living Spring and Christmas Fairs.

Country Living Fair

Country Living continued this support for artisans and small businesses throughout the pandemic by adapting its physical events into online virtual ones called the ‘Celebrate at Home with Country Living’ event series.

Shoppers could browse from a collection of makers, designers, artists and creators for 60 hours of exclusive Christmas shopping. Alongside the Pop-Up market, they could also enjoy hours of online workshops, interviews and masterclasses which all ran exclusively for the ‘Celebrate Christmas at Home with Country Living’ event on the Country Living UK Facebook page. The series attracted over 20,000 shoppers.

What’s different about online events?

“They are much more immediate than staging a physical event, and therefore can be more reactive to what’s happening in the world. 

At Country Living we realised that with so many physical fairs and shows cancelled this year many artisans had lost their ‘shop front’ and were being seriously impacted in not being able to sell their products. 

So we launched our on-line Shop At Home series to help them continue to reach buyers.  We set the first Pop-Up Market up in just 3 weeks from concept to opening – something it would be almost impossible to do with a physical show!”

What are your tips for getting ready for an online event?

“You need to be super-flexible and agile – so you can react and adapt to what works and what doesn’t.  If something’s not working you need to adapt your content accordingly.

Learn all you can about analytics, platforms, tech systems – there are new platforms launching almost daily – keep up with it all so you can choose the right one for your event.

Keep evolving – there are lots of virtual events out there so you need to keep coming up with new ideas to keep ahead of the game and offer something really unique.”

What are your tips for promoting virtual events?

“Track everything as much as possible so you can learn from what worked and what didn’t.

Identify which online platform has the most connection with your target audience – Instagram is big for Country Living as we are all about beautiful products.  Other events might be better suited to different means of promotion.

Keep talking to your audience/people who take part – we really listen to the feedback from our shoppers and artisans so we can make sure the next event works even better for them.”

What do you wish you had known before doing a virtual event?

How much fun virtual events are to stage! And also how many people you can reach.

If we had, we would have done virtual events sooner!”

Craft In Focus – Sally Thomas 

Craft In Focus organises contemporary craft fairs throughout the UK.  Two of its events had to be postponed due to COVID so Craft In Focus staged online craft events on their websites.

These online craft events included listings of each exhibitor by marquee (as the layouts for each of these events had been done), as well as the trading name, contact details and social media accounts and an image.  Some exhibitors also made videos as if they were at their stands and links to these were also included.

Craft In Focus wanted to ensure, as far as possible that members of the public who would normally have visited these events could find all the information online.  Inclusion in the virtual events was free of charge for exhibitors.

Anthony Theakston Stone Sculptures at Craft in Focus
Anthony Theakston at Craft in Focus

What’s different about virtual shows?

“Nothing is quite the same as visiting an event in ‘real life’ and meeting the maker and seeing the work but we tried to make our virtual craft events the next best thing and found that many of our regular visitors were spending more time online during lock down and did actually visit the online events!”

What are your tips for getting ready for an online craft fair?

“Exhibitors should ensure that your websites are up-to-date as visitors may visit your website after seeing them online. Make a short video (if that’s an option) as video builds trust and visitors like to see the person behind the work. And get involved with any promotion of the websites that the organiser is hosting on.”

What are your top tips for promoting an online craft event?

“Use social media! We ran a social media challenge for our exhibitors called #meetmyfellowexhibitor where exhibitors introduced their followers to other exhibitors. 

And for Celebrating Ceramics we made the month of July Celebrating Ceramics Month and used the hashtag #CelebratingCeramics

Email your mailing list to tell them about it so they can easily click through to it!”

Keep it live!

The beauty of online events is that they can continue 24 hours a day, and not just for the original show dates.

 

HandmadeHour Fairs – Owen Birkby

HandmadeHour’s first online event was in April 2020 and the events have now reached a combined audience of over 500,000; the most recent event reaching over 96,000 visitors!

HandmadeHour host The Gorgeously Talented Handmade Fair (TGTHF) a virtual handmade business event, running every 3 weeks on Instagram. The event has 45 stall holders over a weekend (Fri-Sun), with 15 businesses being featured each day. Each stall holder has one full Instagram post which is uploaded to HandmadeHour’s Instagram feed.

Stall holders are free to run their stall however they wish and this individuality is encouraged. Stall holders are supported throughout the event with advice, tips, tutorials and a collaborative group chat.

HandmadeHour Logo

What’s different about digital handmade shows?

“You do not need to contend with the weather! As long as we do not have a catastrophe in that both WiFi and 4G goes down then our fairs go ahead. We don’t need to worry about people not turning up or stalls getting blown down the street …

Our stall holders have told us that they find it easier to work whilst having a stall on the day. Where a physical stall involves a lot of talking in person, at a virtual stall it’s easier for stall holders to dip in and out to have conversations. Some stall holders have commented that this allows them to start commissions pretty much straight away.

Again, with virtual stalls you have the customer exactly where you need them in terms of being able to sit down and look through all the stalls and then they can move very quickly to the sales platform of the stall that they would like to purchase from to complete their transaction.

Stalls stay on our Instagram page indefinitely so if a stall is bookmarked by a customer then the customer can find them easily, rather than having to remember where they put a business card following a physical event.

Obviously one down side is that you cannot look at the products and feel them in person before making a purchase.”

What are your tips for getting ready for an online event?

“Prepare your slides and wording in good time so that you can work with the organiser to tweak them if necessary.

Explain to your customers the process for ordering from you, and offer a couple of payment options.

Prepare your business in advance. If taking part in an Instagram virtual fair like ours, make sure your Instagram page/grid shows off more about your business. Maybe a welcome post and a few more products.

For fair day only, change your Linktree or similar link in your bio so that it clicks straight through to your sales platform.

Tell your audience that you’re taking part! Especially if you’re running an offer on the day.

Make sure you tag in the organiser to your posts in the run up to the event so that they can share you too. It also helps to build rapport.”

How to promote yourself for an online handmade event?

  • “Promote the event during the week on the run up to the day of the event and tag in other stalls, share their posts and whip up a nice bit of hype.
  • Let people know where the event is and how it works!
  • Utilise your mailing list if you have one and if you don’t, you should start one …
  • During the event, please reply to all the comments on your stall post, you never know where an order might come from. If someone tells you how amazingly talented you are, please do not ignore them but thank them.
  • There is a lot going on during the day of an online event so afterwards have a check back through and make sure you haven’t missed any comments etc.
  • Check your emails spam folder for any messages that may have gone into spam.”

If you are looking for more tips on how to get ready and sell at online craft events from successful makers then click here. If you want tips to promote a live selling event, read our blog post here with 19 ideas for using social media to market an event.

Have you taken part in a virtual craft event or digital design show? What worked? What did you learn? Share with us in the comments below.

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