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To help other small business owners build a community of their own, I put together the following five tips for using Facebook more effectively

It all started about five years ago when my sister-in-law and I were shopping for baby shower gifts in Halifax. We were having trouble finding a store that was both eco-friendly and budget-minded when we both sort of turned to each other and said, "We should open a baby store."

Our big idea was to create a shop for the time-starved modern parent. Like a personal shopper, we'd do the research, choose only the best products and talk to our customers with the kind of straight-talk they'd expect from a friend.

Looking back now, I almost can't believe it worked out – after all, we started on such a wish and a prayer. I am now the proud co-owner of not one but two Fiddleheads kids shops (one in Dartmouth and the other in Bedford, Nova Scotia).

Part of our success can be attributed to Facebook, which has allowed us to build a community. A recent report by Deloitte found Facebook has had an economic impact in Canada of $1.1-billion in the small- and mid-size busines sector and created 17,000 jobs.

To help other small business owners build a community of their own, I put together the following five tips for using Facebook more effectively:

1. Listen to your community. We're constantly asking people for their opinions on new products or even potential ones. If my sister-in-law and I are at a trade show and can't agree on whether we should carry an item, we'll ask our community to cast the tie-breaking vote. And if a customer complains about a product, there have been times where we simply decided not to carry it anymore.

2. Boost your posts. I always say if it's important enough to write a post about it, it's important enough to boost. The real questions are how much do you want to spend, and who do you want to target? With Facebook I can choose to advertise to moms living in Bedford or expand to all Nova Scotia mothers. I can even target friends of people who 'Like' us on Facebook. It allows me to reach new potential customers with what's essentially a built-in store recommendation from one of their friends. When deciding how much to spend on advertising, think about how many products you'll have to sell in order to make a profit. I'll certainly spend more to boost a post about a new $900 stroller than a $10 toy.

3. Be engaging. We're lucky because people love clicking on pictures of babies, but it's important for small business owners to use quality photos or videos that will help their posts stand out. You also want to limit the amount of text and write in a conversational tone. There is a lot to compete with in the News Feed so be smart about the content you are creating.

4. Don't think of Facebook as advertising. Instead of always focusing on sales or great deals, talk to your audience like you would speak to a friend. At Fiddleheads, we want parents to see us as trusted experts; we want to humanize our brand. For instance, before our first store opened, we shared photos of our kids opening up boxes and helping us paint. Our community could see our genuine excitement and really felt like they were part of the experience.

5. Experiment and fine-tune. Unlike other forms of advertising, you find out if your ad is working right away. For example, we often post product reviews from real parents on our blog. Recently, we featured one on Facebook and after giving it a paid boost I could actually track our online audience as they moved from our page to the blog to the product pages. We saw an in-store sales lift for many of the featured products. In other instances when a post might not be performing as well, I can adapt and adjust in real time so I'm not wasting ad dollars on something that isn't working.

Nancy Rector is the co-owner of Fiddleheads kids shops, a Nova-Scotia based boutique for baby products and toys.

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