Facebook is the new frontier bringing business to the bush

By Country News

Facebook is helping small businesses in the Goulburn Valley achieve spectacular results as part of a growing social media trend urging consumers to buy from the bush.

It’s a simple concept but one that has incredible power — buying power.

What started as a hashtag on social media has turned into a wave of consumer support, as people turn to the bush for their Christmas shopping.

And it's not just farming areas getting a needed hand up. It's the communities that support them, too.

That includes towns such as Shepparton.

Kylie Daniel is an artist and small business owner who calls Shepparton home.

Only a few weeks ago she posted her range of cards, hair clips and detailed crocheted items to a Facebook group call One Day Closer to Rain (Drought) — Rural Cottage Crafts.

“I joined up just over a month ago and already it has given me some great exposure,” Ms Daniels said.

“I don't feel that my business has been affected by drought, but I guess we have all been affected in some way.

“I've loved connecting to other small businesses and supporting them where I can, and a lot of people are sharing their stories of struggling to make it in the bush, it's really inspiring.”

In Deniliquin, a home-grown on-farm business has seen sales skyrocket by 400 per cent and website views jump by a staggering 3500 per cent after a single post on the group.

Cathy French said she was toying with closing her business of 10 years, Missy Bug Boutique, after drought conditions in her home town saw local sales plummet.

But when her mum happened across the Facebook group, she urged Cathy to give it a whirl.

It's lucky she did.

“The response was just overwhelming,” she said.

“I had to stop taking orders because we had so much coming through, it’s been amazing.”

The saying goes that when you’re supporting small business, you’re supporting a dream.

The woman behind the Rural Cottage Crafts page, Cassandra McLaren, said it was about much more than that.

She's from a drought-affected area in Merriwa, NSW, and initially started a sister page called One Day Closer to Rain as a space for people to share their drought experiences.

“So many people were asking how they could help, and encouraging our members to spend money on local businesses seemed like a really good way for them to do that,” Ms McLaren said.

“Just a month ago we started a separate page for homemade goods from regional areas, and we've got more than 124 000 members now.

“It's not just for regional communities in declared drought conditions, or for people working or living on a farm. We know the flow-on effects take a toll on the whole community.

“Ag businesses all over the place are having to lay off staff, and it's really about getting money into towns any way we can.

“It's not just the maker that you're supporting — it's the post office that will send the mail and the newsagent that will sell the stamps, it's the people employed there. It's about keeping the whole town open and the whole economy afloat.”

Many of the sellers on the page are farming families who find solace — and a little extra money — through their crafts.

“It's not just about the money, it's the mental lift as well,” Ms McLaren said.

“Coming out of winter we're seeing people really struggling, and it still doesn't look like we'll be getting any rain.

“For a lot of people, this just gives them something else to focus on. It's a hobby that they can give themselves permission to do, because it's productive.

“It can help pay the bills but also gives people a chance to do something they enjoy.”

And often the cash that sellers make from their crafts goes straight back into their immediate community.

“The sales we’ve made through Missy Bug Boutique have meant that we’ve been able to buy hay from local farmers to feed our rescue horses, which helps them too,” Ms French said.

“It’s a huge morale boost and keeps people productive and busy.”

During the past four weeks the group has seen 500 000 interactions, and some sellers have been completely sold out in less than 24 hours.

Ms McLaren said the Facebook group was about taking the geographic isolation out of what people do.

“We even have kids on there selling bits and pieces that they've made to earn some money and help their parents with the bills,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to help.”

Check out the group by searching One Day Closer to Rain (Drought) — Rural Cottage Crafts on Facebook.