How Pakistanis are using Facebook is a TechJuice exclusive. The aim is to show the world that Facebook, or any social media platform for that matter, isn’t just for connecting people and can be used in various positive ways.
Pakistani Art Crafters
Varah has loved paper-crafting since teenage. She used to upload photographs of her artwork on a personal album on her Facebook profile and share it with her friends by tagging them in it. Before she knew it, the fan-base of her art started growing and eventually she lost track of where fans were coming from. She recognized the opportunity and started her own business page on Facebook in 2010.
Today,Varah’s Firefly has over 20,000 fans on Facebook and ships out around 200-1,000 items each month (including bulk and corporate orders). Varah is also the brains behind the successfully organized “Crafter’s Expo” of 2012 and 2013 (which was the biggest art & craft exhibition of its kind in Pakistan). Through Facebook, an Indus Valley textile design graduate turned her hobby into a viable online home-based business.
“Facebook is the reason Firefly has this many fans today”, Varah said. She further commented on how the social media network has helped her business reach more people, “On the days when our activity and posts are minimal, we get a reach of about 6,000-7,000 users and on busy days we reach up to 17,000-19,000 Facebook users and potential customers.”
Varah is just one of the many Pakistani Facebook users who are using the platform for more than just staying in touch with friends and sharing photos of their meals. The social media has made information sharing a piece of cake and has turned the users into citizens of a global community. People are using the social media for all kinds of stuff; from participating in discussion about a TV show or a movie to engaging in debate about politics and the economy; from signing a petition for a cause they believe in to start an actual revolution. As for businesses, a Facebook presence is now considered almost crucial. Sellers and service providers, large and small, from every corner of the world are beginning to understand the importance of having a well-maintained page on the social networking site. Furthermore, there are dozens of Pakistani entrepreneurs out there that started their businesses on Facebook and have turned it into something real.
Artel by Bina Ali is an example of an already established business that has used Facebook to considerably increase its customer base. Founded in 1995 by Bina and her friends, all Artel had to begin with was an outlet at a mall that sold especially designed and crafted furniture with intricate tile inlay, hand-painted artifacts and jewelry, among other things. However, since bringing the business online in 2008, they are getting orders from all over Pakistan and even internationally.
“Being on Facebook has been brilliant for Artel. The best thing about the social network is that it’s widely accessible and everyone is on Facebook,” Bina told TechJuice. “On one hand we’re getting fans who already know the brand from our physical outlet, on the other hand we’re attracting new visitors to the Artel Lounge through Facebook.”
Businesses also use their Facebook pages to stay in touch with their fans and can respond to their feedback in real-time. Bina shared her views on that, “Artel gets lots of queries and feedback from its fans and that has helped us gain more customers and make out products better”.
Hera is another home-based entrepreneur that started her business online offering charms, magnets and notebooks. She started off with a blog because Facebook was blocked in Pakistan at the time of the launch of life.twinkles. In summer of 2012, she moved life.twinkles to Facebook and felt a considerable difference, “With a blog your reach is limited and there aren’t many followers. On Facebook it’s a whole different game”.
One of the main reasons why such art businesses do better on Facebook and usually don’t have a physical outlet or a Facebook store tool, is the element of high customization in the offered products. “We help people make the exact thing they want” said Hera. Firefly’s Varah also told us the same thing when we asked if she would ever consider starting a physical outlet, “I would love to use a store but the products Firefly offers are diverse and pretty customized”.
Another long-time crafter and card making hobbyist, Faiza Bhatti talked with us about how starting a Facebook-based business has changed her life. “I tried teaching after completing my masters but I realized it quickly that teaching is not my thing as I love crafting and creating stuff so I resigned from my job and started setting up this business” she said about her journey of finding the perfect thing to do. “I used to supply handmade cards to local retailers and I used the savings from that to invest in art and craft supplies to start my own online business FizY’s Art that I launched in early 2011”.
On being asked how Facebook has helped the business in terms of reach and marketing, Faiza said, “Facebook was a major support. It was quite easy to market our products within our circle and then with the rest of country. Word-of-mouth, tagging and sharing everything has helped FizY’s Art. Facebook ads are also a great way of advertising as I have seen some of other businesses doing it recently, but I personally haven’t tried them yet.”
FizY’s Art currently has about 26K fans, we asked Faiza if she had anticipated such a growth when she started. “I never expected this!”, she said still surprised on how things turned out “It is still unbelievable for as I’m the sort of person who doesn’t plan ahead. I was not very hopeful in the beginning but the sales and interest shown by clients made me really confident.”
Most of these Entrepreneurs are Women, Why?
Facebook is a great platform for women who prefer home-based work over office jobs. Also, crafting is generally seen as a girl-hobby and females are often more better at it, this automatically raises the chances of more art entrepreneurs being females.
Keep in mind that only because Facebook businesses are “home-based”, doesn’t mean that you won’t have to get out of the house. There are many activities (like sending out packages, getting local supplies and meeting people) that would make it necessary for you to get out there from time to time. So unlike freelancing and other jobs that don’t require you leaving your computer at all, setting up a business might require you to leave the house at certain occasions.
A Few Big Players vs. Plenty of Smaller Ones
There might just be a few big names in the online Pakistani crafting business scene but for every popular page there are about a dozen or more lesser known smaller ones. TechJuice also got hold of a few relatively smaller Facebook craft-related businesses to compare their journey, strategies and struggles with that of the more prominent Pakistani online art & craft giants. Bingle Mania is one such little startup with just over 1K page fans and followers. Bingle Mania’s Creative Head and Founder, Neha Jameel said that she jumped on the Facebook business bandwangon late in 2012, “I saw many other pages doing such businesses and thought to myself that a few hundreds every month doesn’t sound bad”.
Bingle Mania gets around 15-30 orders a month (with items like PVC and wooden keychains , mugs and notebooks) which might seem quite small but isn’t bad for someone who is pursuing a home-based business as a hobby.
How Do Facebook’s Ever-changing Algorithms Affect Facebook Businesses?
Recently Facebook has changed its algorithms and tightened its reach and visibility policies. This has affected almost all the Facebook businesses in general. The pages are struggling to reach their fans, since the Facebook homepage doesn’t show posts to the fans from a page as frequently as is used to.
“The impact is terrible, we are struggling really hard these days” said Faiza. “Posting daily updates and interactions with fans do help but still it is a disaster now. They have made it almost impossible for us to reach clients now.”
Artel is working to minimize the adverse affects of Facebook’s new algorithms and policies, “We had to figure out the right time and days to post. For example, Mondays are usually slow and lazy so we try to increase pages posts and interactivity on days that are busier (Facebook traffic-wise) ”. What life.twinkles does in response to the stricter policies is that it keeps reminding the fans to frequently check out the page.
On the other hand, some of the bigger pages like Firefly don’t mind the lower visibility, they say that this slows down their incoming order rate a little which gives them time to work on the existing and bulk orders.
Are Such Businesses Taxable?
The taxes have to be paid only if the company is a registered one, like in Artel Lounge’s case. Most of the times the earning are either not large enough and/or entrepreneurs use their personal bank accounts for money transactions.
What is the Secret of Success?
There are tonnes of little pages like these emerging everyday on Facebook and some don’t even make it to Bingle Mania’s level in terms of traction and sales. What does it take to survive in such ventures? Facebook business maybe easy to setup but require hard work, dedication and planning to get it running successfully.
“People think that running a Facebook business is easy but there is always a lot of hard-work, organizing and risk involved. For instance, the crafters generally have to get all their supplies imported from abroad (US) since they’re not available at all in Pakistan.” said Hera.
For the people interested in starting a Facebook venture she advised, “It is crucial to do a little research before you decide to jump into a business. Look around to see if the thing you’re planning to work with is available to the customers from other sources or not. The more unique and hard to get your products are the more loyal fans you get.”
Varah Musavvir also shared some similar advice for inspiring online entrepreneurs, “To have a shot at success, you need to be very dedicated, very original, and honest in your work. Be original in your approach and vision. If there are already 9 others doing what you are, you’ll have to work extra hard to stand out and make your mark. So it’s better to find yourself a niche.”
Bina Ali emphasized on the importance of being creative and said, “You have to be innovative, come up with new products and fresh ideas all the time to survive and build your brand. Be fully dedicated to your work and above all be very open to customer feedback, some of the best ideas come from customers!”
“Focus and learn,” is the valuable suggestion Faiza Bhatti gave for young entrepreneurs. She went on saying that no business plan can predict the future or prepare you to become a successful entrepreneur. She said that while it’s important to never jump right into a new business without any thought and planning, it’s also important that you don’t spend months or years waiting to execute either. “You will become a well-rounded entrepreneur when tested under fire. The most important thing you can do is learn from your mistakes – and never make the same mistake twice!”
What is the Scope for Such Online Businesses?
Despite the fact that there are practically hundreds of craft businesses on Facebook, the Pakistani market for such products doesn’t seem that mature or saturated. One of the primary reasons is that many people are still unaware of the existence and availability of custom made hand-made gifts and trinkets. The Crafter’s Expo (a yearly craft-related exhibition of Karachi) has played a great role in reaching the masses and making them aware. However the businesses could still use some more promotion and adopt newer techniques to reach more customers to expand into a larger scale market.
What do you use Online Social Networks for? Do you know of an inspirational start-up story that grew with the help of Facebook? Tell us about and we might feature it in our next story!
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