In January 2014 Anna Day and her husband, Travis, opened the virtual doors to their Folksy shop, Buttonsy. The orders started pouring in thick and fast, and helped Buttonsy secure the top slot as the best-selling shop on Folksy in 2014. So what is the secret to its success? According to Anna, Facebook has played a crucial role. We talked to Anna to learn how they have grown such a loyal fanbase, and find out if the recent Facebook changes have affected their business…
Which came first, the Facebook page or the shop?
The Facebook page came first. We started our FB page in July of 2012, so Buttonsy was only a few months old at that point. Actually, a couple of days ago, someone posted on our wall, and it was a screenshot of a giveaway we did to celebrate reaching 100 Likes. It felt like bumping into an old friend.
When did you set up your Buttonsy shop on Folksy, and what did you consider before you opened it?
We opened our Folksy shop in January 2014. Our website had been (and still is!) under construction for yonks and Facebook kept changing so we knew we needed a stable selling platform. We looked around and decided that Folksy would work best for us: we loved that it’s exclusively British and genuinely about crafts and handmade.
Did you have a plan for how to build your business?
Oh, goodness, no. I think when a business is born out of necessity, you’re just peddling as hard as you can to get things started and get things going. We’re a little more stable now, so we’re beginning to plan and to work out where we want Buttonsy to go long-term but, in the early days it felt like we were herding sheep.
You have a strong brand identity. How did that evolve?
It’s funny you say that: I often worry that our branding isn’t cohesive enough. If we do have a strong identity, it’s not something intentional; more a reflection of us and what we want the business to be.
Do you both work Buttonsy full time now, and how do you split the work?
Yes, we’re both full time… and then some! I tend to come up with the ideas and manage the actual making side of it; husband is the business-head. We both do the accounts, and keep an eye on stock and ordering. I manage the social networking side of things, and husband keeps things in line in terms of budget and turnover. But we’re both able to do both sides so we switch hats sometimes, if it’s needed.
Do you sell your work wholesale?
We have done in the past. We still have stockists but we’ve consciously pulled back from it until we can work out our prices. We actively withdrew from all of our Sale or Return stockists because we found that, more often than not, shops that have stock on that basis weren’t as invested in seeing the stock sell, so it can just sit on a shelf. Meanwhile, we’re not able to make enough to keep up with demand so, for us, sale or return was a genuine waste of stock. Equally, we haven’t properly worked out how to price things wholesale. It’s incredibly hard to sell your pieces for 50% of the retail price, because you’ve still put 100% of your love, care and time into them.
I would say that if you’re planning to sell wholesale, never sell yourself short. That’s the temptation: to think what you make isn’t worth a fair price if it means you get to see your lovely things in lovely shops. I actually think there’s a lot of pressure to have stockists – that’s often seen as the measure of success – but it isn’t always necessary. Some businesses do better selling their work directly to customers. Take the time to really consider whether selling wholesale would genuinely help your business. If you do decide to go the wholesale route, the next step is to take a little time to think about which stockists you want to be with. Do you want your work in galleries? Little local gift-shops? Fancy posh ones? It’s better to be in a few select places that suit you and your work where your items will be successful, rather than a scattershot approach where your lovely things could get lost or forgotten about. Designers and stockists ought to be mutually benefitting each other – if there’s an inbalance, it probably needs tweaking a little bit.
Do you have a method for pricing your work?
It’s such a dark art, this! We consider how much it actually costs to make, and then factor in the amount of time it takes. We recently moved across to sterling silver exclusively and we haven’t raised our prices enough to cover the initial investment yet. We’ve always promised we’d never suddenly hike our prices – not even when demand for something has been so high we can’t make enough of it.
I think a lot of designer-makers are hugely unsure when it comes to pricing… almost as if we can’t quite believe that people would (or should) pay for something we’ve made. I think there’s still a residual stigma attached to handmade too, as if it’s synonymous with shoddiness, or low quality. In my experience, the opposite is true.
Rather than keeping a constantly stocked shop, you tend keep your Folksy shop in holiday mode, list your work in batches and then announce that new products will be on sale at a specific time. Do you think that’s a better way of selling?
We’ve had this exact conversation so many times! Really it’s that nine times out of 10, we’ll upload around 200 pieces and sell out on the first night. So we have to start making again, and making in dribs and drabs wouldn’t keep the shop looking healthy and full. Equally, everything would feel a little disorganised and chaotic. Running a business often feels like you’re keeping a dozen plates spinning simultaneously: we’ve learned to keep it as straightforward as we can. So we’ll make for a week solid, then take photos and edit them, then do the upload. The packaging takes ages too – it takes the two of us a couple of days and I guess, after a while, we sort of fell into a rhythm. We’ve discussed having jewellery pre-made or manufactured for us so we can keep huge quantities in stock ready to go, but we want to stay handmade for as long as possible. I don’t necessarily think it’s a better way, and it’s not the way we want things to be forever. But, at the moment, it does work really well for us.
Your Facebook page has an enormous following of loyal fans. How did you grow your page?
We get emails about this every day and I wish there was one quick way to do it but, really, it was just persistence. We go through fallow periods depending on what life is up to but, generally speaking, we try to post every single day, at least two or three times. We don’t post spam, though, and our page isn’t a “selling” page. We never put the hard sell on people, and we keep our page positive and happy. I’ve seen countless Facebook business pages being extremely negative; be it bullying, complaining, accusations… it’s not something I want to see, and it’s not something we’d ever want the people that visit our page to see. If your page is a nice place to be, people will find you. It may take a while, but it will happen. It’s just a question of being patient and seeing FB as something long-term.
How did you find ‘your voice’?
I don’t think I ever had to find it, really. Our page (and business in general) is so heavily predicated on our personalities – I think that means that our voice is already there. It not something we’ve had to cultivate. That’s probably one of the best things about social networking as a business – people get to see who you are; they get to know a little about the bods behind the business.
How important do you think Facebook has been to your business?
It’s been hugely, hugely important. If anything, we’ve become too dependent on it. Before we joined FB, we sold our stuff on eBay and the day we got to leave there, I was over the moon. FB has introduced us to tens of thousands of people who may not have heard of us otherwise – that’s miraculous.
Do you think the recent Facebook changes have affected your reach?
Oddly enough, we asked this very question on our page at the beginning of January. Almost 400 people answered and only three people hadn’t noticed a change. That’s pretty conclusive! We’ve noticed changes, too. When it started I was scared, because I think we’ve become too comfortable with FB and it felt a little like the rug may be pulled out from under us, but I’ve learned not to worry about it as much. Our reach is about a tenth of what it was, but we ignore it now. I don’t look at our Likes counter or how much of a response any given post gets. I could spend days obsessing over how to get our reach back up, but that’s time I’d prefer to spend actually making our jewellery.
Which posts seem to work best?
I don’t know if there’s any one way of getting “around the system” now. I’ve seen people say videos get the highest reach, or engagement, but that’s not our experience. I can only speak about what we’ve seen with our page and at the moment there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason. Some posts will catch alight, and some will just spit and sputter.
Do you use any other social media channels?
We’re on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and I’ve started a blog, but FB is definitely the one we turn to first. I’ve loved doing the blog but recently had a wobble when I started worrying that keeping a blog is self-indulgent, which is daft when the blogosphere (first time I’ve ever used that word… it’s nice. Blogosphere. Blogosphere.) takes up such a huge portion of the internet.
Have you got any tips for other makers on using social media and Facebook in particular?
I actually wrote a blog entry about this. The most important things are:
- Persist, even when it feels like you’re invisible – just keep going.
- Make your page something positive – make it be somewhere people will want to visit.
- Ooh, and do you know, make your page pretty. I’ve seen so many pages with lovely makes, but the photos are so dark you can’t really see much; or they’ve been displayed on table tops filled with crumbs or blobs of food; or on fabric that’s rumpled and stained and it makes me run a mile. We’re all so, so discerning nowadays when it comes to how things look, mostly I think because of things like Instagram and Pinterest. Pretty photos are fundamental now, even for a site like FB which isn’t exclusively a visual one.
Have you ever done any paid advertising?
We have. We tried one sponsored post at the start of the year. We spent £26; we gained eight new likes and the day after, our reach fell through the floor. I mean it literally, absolutely tanked and I’m not sure we’ve fully recovered from it yet. Our theory is that as soon as we paid, it flicked a little button on some nodule of the FB algorithm and it marked us down as a page that’s willing to pay, meaning we’ll be more likely to pay again if we’re struggling with our reach. We’d be happy to pay a monthly fee, for example, if it meant the people that want to see us would actually see us, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable paying again while they’re using this current system.
With so many orders, how do you organise your space… and your time?!
Our house, workshop and garage are entirely dedicated to Buttonsy! When we have guests, Buttonsy is packed away into about eight different places so we can make it look like we have a normal home. But we really, really don’t. Time-wise, we love our work and we have never worked this hard, or long, in our entire lives. We get very little free time. When Buttonsy is bigger and we’ve loads and loads of people working with us, we’ll take a proper holiday but, until then, growing the business is our priority so when something needs doing, we’ll just do it. If it means staying up all night, so be it. We’re so aware of how blessed we are to be doing this for a living – doing something you love for long hours is a genuine joy.
Where would you like Buttonsy to be in five years’ time?
We’d like to have five or six members of full-time staff by then; we’ll have expanded into other areas (such as stationery and homeware) and we’ll be starting to expand Buttonsy in America. It’s where Husband is from and our long-term goal has always been to move back there eventually and the business being established there is important. That being said, Buttonsy is very British and we want to make sure it stays very British.
What would you say to any makers just starting out?
Have fun! I know for a lot of us, making and selling came from having been made redundant, or not being able to find work, or feeling like our “proper” career was untenable… all of which makes starting out feel anything but fun. It makes it feel necessary and a bit “sink or swim”. But remembering that you’re doing something you love means that you’re willing to stay up all night if you need to. It will honestly mean you go a lot further in the long run.
Also, set up the practical stuff from day one: registering as self-employed; finding an accountant, if you want one… I find that stuff difficult. I really do just want to spend my days making pretty things, but the serious admin stuff doesn’t go away, even if we ignore it.