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Mompreneurs: Relying on Facebook to Grow Biz

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There comes a time for many stay-at-home moms when they realize that they can turn their hobby into a business. Throughout phases of motherhood, moms have chunks of time during the day to feed their creative side. Whether the kids may be napping or in school, moms can showcase their talents online quickly, easily and on the cheap.

This "lifestyle business" model that allows flexibility has been life changing for these two self-proclaimed "Facebook Mompreneurs." Mandie Miller of Got What It Cakes and Jenny Robertson of Peanut Butter & Jenny Photography have realized the value of the "word of mouth" type referrals on Facebook. Moms trust other moms and friends of their friends and this has translated into sales for each of their businesses.

Mandie started Got What It Cakes in 2009 while staying home with her then-two-year-old and newborn, eight-week-old baby. "I don't know what I was thinking 'going official' when I had a two-year-old and an infant, but I knew I wanted to continue to stay home with my kids and my cakes had started getting really popular."

Mandie had been an SAT/ACT prep instructor/private tutor while her oldest child was little. She was able to work around her husband's schedule and yet stay home with her baby during the day. She really enjoyed baking cakes for family and friends but it was becoming an expensive hobby:

I wasn't allowed by law to accept any form of payment, and in order to start charging people, I knew I would have to get my kitchen inspected, get a business license, insurance, etc. I didn't know if I wanted to do all of that for a few cakes here and there but I did see potential if I could sell them on a regular basis. So, while my husband was at work one day, I ordered business cards (free from Vistaprint) and created a website (free one-month trial with the business cards). I also called the county courthouse and department of agriculture and lined up everything I needed with them. When my husband came home, I said, "Exciting day today. I started a business!" He's been supportive since day one.

Everything was in order but the missing ingredient was social media and marketing. Mandie was a bit reluctant to mix business and pleasure with Facebook:

I was one of those, "I don't think I want to be on Facebook because I don't want everyone in my personal life" kind of people. So, for the first six months of my business, I wasn't on Facebook. But my sister had been begging me to get on it, telling me how amazing it would be for my business. So she signed me up and it was the best decision. I'm addicted to it and the benefits have been tremendous and the cost (absolutely nothing) fit right into my non-existent marketing budget. I've reconnected with friends, who are now some of my best friends, including Jenny from Peanut Butter & Jenny Photography. Facebook was a real tipping point for my business. My cakes were already very popular, but Facebook exposed me to the world, to friends of friends and family, to bloggers, party planners, etc. I couldn't believe that something this powerful, this widespread, could be free! I use my business page as my store-front. Since I work out of my home, I needed a place to make announcements, do giveaways, and interact with my fans. Mostly, I used it to post pictures, and then tag people in them. This way, it would show up on their page, and I would gain more exposure from their friends. Now, I have over 4,300 fans. I check my FB several times each day to constantly be engaged with my online community.

Jenny from Peanut Butter & Jenny Photography saw her old grade-school friend Mandie on Facebook and they instantly reconnected. She ordered a cake for her dad from Mandie and was really impressed by the Got What It Cakes business model. So Jenny turned to Mandie as a mentor to help her follow her dream of being a professional photographer.

Mandie's Facebook Advice to Jenny & Other Mompreneurs:

  • "Display professional-looking photographs to show your product/business. I built a light box (cost was $2), and it's helped make the cakes look even better."
  • "Friend people/like pages of others in the industry that will help spread the word locally! I can't ship my product, so it was imperative to get the word out in my city. For me that was wedding planners, photographers, florists, DJs, etc."
  • "Don't complain on your business page, ever! Customers do not want to listen to a business owner whine about their job."
  • "As for etiquette, don't go on another business's page and only say, 'Will you come over and like my page?' Instead, if you find a page you love, go through their pictures and like and/or comment on a few of them. Then go to the main page and write on their wall. The page admin will love that you took a genuine interest in their product and aren't just looking for someone to come like your page."
  • "When customers write something nice on your wall, always be extremely grateful and write something back."

Jenny's (Peanut Butter & Jenny Photography) start-up story began with the constant challenge moms have to find balance:

Mom life is about finding that balance -- the sweet spot where you have all the time you need to love on your children, make sure they're building good character and are generally happy but also having enough time to not completely sacrifice who you are as a woman. It's about finding a way to split time between meals, soccer and play dates and still feel like the intelligent, interesting, and capable woman you were in those years before being sleep-deprived, un-showered and covered in food/vomit/spit-up. I have my degree in accounting and worked for several years as a tax accountant and also taught college courses, but with small children at the time, the hours were murder on our family. As a mom, I felt the need to put family first.

Jenny decided to be optimistic and looked at being newly unemployed as an opportunity to do something that she had always wanted to do:

This is the year when I can finally start the photography business I've always wanted. Photography was the win-win I was looking for -- I could be home with my kids during the week and schedule shoots only during preschool hours or on weekends when my husband would be with them. I wrote a business plan giving myself six months to do all the prep; website, blog, business cards, promotions, advertising, networking, etc. and then gave myself a date to launch.

Jenny began with Facebook as her first step in the beginning of 2012. "I figured Facebook was the best, cheapest and fastest way to connect to the other moms in the area that would be the kind of clientele interested in my kind of work."

How Jenny Got Started With Facebook:

  • "I added a fan page as an extension to my own well-loved and frequently visited personal page."
  • "I began to promote by posting an update on my personal page asking my friends to like it."
  • "Started searching FB for all the local mom blogs. I messaged several of these local mom bloggers and got lots of 'no's' for free advertising on their page. But one -- just ONE -- posted on her page that I had started a new business and was offering an introductory rate for FB fans to help expand my reach. By 8 am the next day, my phone was ringing from patrons of her site booking me. I had six bookings by the end of the first day."
  • "Since starting the FB page, I've put out a lot of research into having a website designed for my business but I've gained so much business though FB alone that I've pushed back that step. I have messaging/contact already established in the exact same space as my work is displayed and I can instantly communicate with and update all my clients. By foregoing a website right now, I can keep my prices lower while building a network and interest in my work."
  • "Utilize current events to align with your services. For example, Mandie suggested that I should use National Peanut Butter and Jelly day to promote my business (Peanut Butter & Jenny) and do a giveaway in honor of the day."
  • "Offer meaningful giveaways. I contacted other users of facebook -- mom bloggers -- to run a giveaway for me that would increase the likes on my page from users I was targeting -- local moms. I offered a free photo session to my 150th 'like,' valued at $250."
  • "Learn about all the tools that FB offers such as the settings that would be appropriate to your business. Facebook has controls for restricting users, limiting who can see what (privacy settings), etc."
  • "Not everyone is on Facebook. There is still a huge community out there that you may be missing if you choose to work only through Facebook. You really have to look at the kind of business you're in and evaluate if Facebook will appeal to your target market."
  • "Be careful, you CANNOT change your URL once you set it up. I set up my fan page on a spur of the moment decision thinking I could go back and change things later. But I made a mistake in naming the URL/username thinking I could amend it if need be. I set it up as www.facebook.com/PBJennyPhotography thinking I wanted it to be shorter than my full business name. A week later when I wanted it to be the full, direct business name, I discovered that this is one of the few things you CANNOT go back and change."
  • "Facebook may be online -- but there are still business connections to be made and that takes the same kind of effort and charm needed in the 'real world.'"

Mandie and Jenny are doing what many stay at home moms want to do, utilize their creativity and talents to generate some extra revenue while still maintaining their "stay at home" status. Social media has made it fun and exciting for them to build their businesses... and renew their friendship too.