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Online clothing store sews business through Facebook

Deana Budgell knew from a young age that getting her own business up and running would be a lot of work.

Rather than invest in traditional public relations and marketing, the owner and founder of So What Industries, an online shop that produces custom-made clothing for men, turned to social media to launch her brand, creating a Facebook page to spread the word and generate interest.

For Ms. Budgell, social media has been the driving force of So What Industries, cultivating a community on Facebook rather than building a website.

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"Facebook is the heart of my business; it's the place where I have the most conversation with clients and people interested in my products," says Ms. Budgell, a San Jose-based designer who learned basic seamstress skills as a child looking over her mother's shoulder, and started out as a dress designer and seamstress in the bridal industry.

"I continually post updates, answer questions and even run giveaways to keep people engaged. I also solicit feedback on my designs, giving clients the opportunity to contribute to the brand," adds Ms. Budgell, who was inspired by the self-reliance and tenacity of her parents, both Newfoundland fishermen, to start her own clothing business.

Facebook has provided an opportunity for past fans of her work to connect, as well as a low-cost approach to introducing her brand to their personal networks.

Ms. Budgell has also been using social media as a tool to offer promotions, helping to generate greater awareness of her brand, and Facebook giveaways have helped her grow a dedicated following.

For every twenty-fifth person to 'like' the So What Industries Facebook page, she has selected a winner and sent a free product. This Father's Day, anyone who 'likes' the Facebook page will receive a 20-per-cent discount on purchases until June 19.

Ms. Budgell also launched a storefront on Facebook using Payvment, an application designed for customers to shop within the social network.

The e-commerce tool allows storeowners to list products and complete transactions from a tab on their brand's Facebook page. Payvment, which is currently available in beta version, provides customers a one-stop shopping experience, and helps entrepreneurs like Ms. Budgell generate sales. It even has its own shopping mall, which exposes her brand to a larger community.

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Having a high-quality product is key to launching a business using social media, Ms. Budgell says. She handcrafts her clothing from her home studio, and lets customers personalize each piece by adding a meaningful quote or saying to their clothing.

"Focus on product quality first and then create a Facebook page, allowing people to share their excitement for your brand," she says. "For me, that's where it all started."

Ms. Budgell plans on exploring Facebook Ads and Sponsored Stories, targeting potential clients with specific interests. Sponsored Stories help businesses create awareness through promoting regular news feeds that feature their brand to the right-hand column of Facebook.

Ms. Budgell is also considering sending products to men with strong social media followings, to further generate interest among influential people who may take a liking to her clothing. By developing a product-seeding strategy, Ms. Budgell hopes to turn key influencers into advocates for her products, and spread the word in their online communities.

Ms. Budgell's strategy has allowed her to facilitate an environment that embraces brand champions and engages consumers.

Innovative social media tools provide small business owners alternative approaches to increasing brand awareness and generating sales. As a small business owner, it's important to continue searching for new tools and developing unique strategies that, with limited budgets, will reach your target customers.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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