How to Set Up a Virtual Craft Fair

It looks like the 2020 spring art and craft show season has been cancelled…

...or HAS it?

If you are anything like me, you came into 2020 with a feeling of “yaaaassss….THIS is MY year! I am full of ideas and creativity and hope!”.

It felt GOOD. It felt RIGHT. It felt PROMISING.

Then, the world just kinda went ahead and fell apart. If ever there was a time to be in the soap business, now is it. This new coronavirus is spreading faster than wildfire and is twice as scary. For businesses like ours, it would be easy to sit back and say “well, that just about does it. I’m done.”

Let me be the first to say: this is NOT the end, my friend. Oh, no. This is the BEGINNING: the beginning of a new era. The beginning of a new world. The beginning of the new normal (I know...buzzword alert). 

It’s time to take your work, bust right through those fears, and get your business rolling online. If ever there was a time for you to get online, this is it. There will never be another greater sign than “every show in the world is cancelled and no one can leave their home”. This is it: this is the signal.

If you are already online, be it on Etsy or on Shopify or somewhere else, then KUDOS to you! You have begun to lay the foundation for what will drive your business into the future. Yes, shows will come back. Of course they will. But, never again will you ever question whether or not you NEED a website. 

So, let's get back to the previously mentioned cancelled show season. While yes, its unlikely that you will be hauling your goodies out to a show, setting up your tent and tables, and selling happily to the masses (hello social distancing), the show CAN absolutely go on in the digital world. Thanks to Facebook events, email lists, and websites, you can band together and deliver a wonderful event to your audience right in the comfort of their homes.

In my jewelry business bel monili, I have been successfully running online parties and shows since 2015. It was something that I saw a lot of multilevel marketing clothing companies doing (not gonna name know the infamous leggings) and I thought...hmm. This could really work. Guess what: it totally did. 

How did I do it?

  1. I started by creating a private Facebook group, which I called a VIP Club, for my most engaged followers/email list members/show customers. This group was where I would ask for opinions, share new designs, offer “first look” sales, and give regular perks like discounts and gifts. 
  2. I would schedule Facebook events within the group, just like an in person event  would be scheduled, and invited EVERYONE.
  3. I would go live in the group, posting pics of what I was selling and then invoicing people for what they chose.

That was the first iteration of my parties. They worked...but they were a LOT OF WORK. I would essentially blow up everyone’s newsfeed with pictures of my jewelry by posting one after another, and it was a downright nightmare to try to keep everyone’s purchases straight. I’d have to copy and paste product names, customer names, and emails over into Excel, and then sort the columns so that I had all of their different purchases together. Then I’d have to invoice (I invoiced through Square), inevitably chase a couple of payments, and then manually enter in shipping info for each one. Like I said, it WORKED...but I knew there had to be a better way. 

After some brainstorming, I realized that it would be MUCH better (and easier!) for me to move the product portion of the virtual party over to my Shopify website. Here’s how it was different:

The downsides:

  1. It was more work on the front end. I had to photograph and list each new item, as opposed to just putting a picture up on FB. 
  2. I had to get my customers used to going over to my website to shop instead of simply claiming with an email address. This took a bit of time, only because they were used to what I had taught them before.
  3. I had to figure out how to sort the new items in a way that my customers could easily find and shop them. 

The upsides:

  1. ALL of the products were listed on my website, so after the party, whatever hadn’t sold was ALREADY listed. Win.
  2. I was driving massive amounts of traffic to my website. The Google loves that. Win.
  3. I no longer had to send tally up or track items to send invoices.
  4. I no longer had to manually ship using a third party shipper (I ship straight from Shopify)
  5. Customers who purchased from my website were automatically added to my email list and nurture sequence. MAJOR WIN.

Ok, that’s the selling part: let's get to the party part. Here is a step by step of how I suggest setting it up:

  1. Find a group of businesses who you know, like, and trust. You need to be extremely confident in their ability to follow through and serve your customers as well as you can.
  2. Be cognizant of your group’s size. If it is too big, you will confuse your audience and they won’t know where to go/what to do. 5-8 businesses is ideal. Have a mix of products!
  3. All of the businesses in the group should have at minimum a website and a Facebook page. Ideally they also have an email list and possibly a Facebook group.
  4. One main organizer should create a Facebook event from their business page. This is important, because it will show up on your business page. The organizer should invite the other business pages to be co-hosts.
  5. Set a distinct start and end date/time for the event. I personally have the most luck with 2-3 days: any longer and it really dilutes the sense of urgency.
  6. As a group, everyone should be offering some kind of special: it could be a sale, a discount, a gift, free shipping...whatever works. This is important: EVERYONE should use the same code for their incentive. This removes some confusion for your audience and takes away a barrier to shopping.
  7. Each co-host should invite their friends, pages, email list...everyone they know. This will be crucial to the success of the event. The more people who are invited, the more people will see it.
  8. The group should collectively decide on a promo/marketing guideline. I suggest a series of emails (I do week before, week of, and then one each day of the event) but do what works for you.
  9. In the days leading up to the event, each co-host should take a day to post in the event to introduce themselves and their product. Bonus points if you go live: video is the king of content.
  10. If you really wanna be fancy-pants business about it: have a post-party meeting with your colleagues. Review what worked and what didn’t, set a plan for how you could tweak it for next time and what you would absolutely do again!

There is a lot of room for creativity here friends: the sky’s the limit! This is a wonderful opportunity for you to grow your audience, support your fellow small business owners, show up for your customers, and get some nice traction on your website. 

To help you get started, I created a free video tutorial series showing you exactly how to set up the online sale for success. 

As always, feel free to email me at [email protected] with any questions, and join our free Facebook community page for more support!


psst: if you need some extra help getting that Shopify site up and running, I have created a self-paced mini course JUST for handmade sellers! Click to see what it's about:


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