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Monday, 11 July 2011

How Facebook is empowering individual entrepreneurs

When Mrigakshi Jaiswal, dance instructor, and one of the founding members launched Split Sole Dance Academy, in Mumbai, she thought it best to promote her institute on social networking sites. Two years on, Split Sole has a dedicated Facebook page with almost 1,700 members. She regularly updates videos and pictures of her classes and posts notifications for members about upcoming workshops and batch timings.

“The Facebook page has become the landing page for most of our students, where they ask us about dance classes and timings, among others. Plus, it’s easy to maintain and update,” says Jaiswal.

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Dancer, choreographer and theatre artist, Pritha Chakrabarti echoes similar views. Hyderabad-based Chakrabarti created a page called Echo on the site to promote art. “I create an event page 15 days in advance, giving users details of my function or any upcoming performance. The event tool on Facebook allows people to indicate if they would attend the function.” She says Facebook is an inexpensive tool to reach out to the target audience.
With 30 million Facebook users in India, it makes perfect sense for neighbourhood businesses to use the medium to endorse their work. Estimates from Nielsen Company and Absolute Data suggest that close to 45,000 Indians are likely to join social networking sites every day over the next six months.

Sensing the opportunity, Ashwin Menda, a Mumbai-based caterer spends 6-8 hours every day on his Facebook page to connect with prospective clients. “Word-of-mouth publicity works very well on Facebook, especially when it comes from clients. Better still, when they post pictures of food items cooked and served by us and praise about the quality to their friends, it makes our work easier.” On an average, Facebook enquiries generate close to half of Menda’s business. “In fact, my repeat customer base comprises mostly of clients who came to me via Facebook.”

The young breed of netizens like Jaipur-based Kunal Choudhary, a trained chef, says a Facebook recommendation about his culinary offerings gets him good business. “My friends’ reviews about my food got me my first client last year. The client saw the food pictures and the list of friends who approved of my cooking and contacted me to prepare a private meal for a family event.” Since then, the 26-year old has dished out meals for over 20 clients. “I now request my clients to leave me a recommendation on Facebook after every event, as that seems to be working for me.”

Bhadra Shah, an Iyengar yoga teacher in Mumbai, opted for voluntary retirement from a leading insurance company to pursue his passion. “With people turning health conscious in metros like Mumbai, my own belief was that a qualified yoga teacher would be in demand. So, I let my friends on Facebook know about what Yoga could do for them.” Promptly, Shah got requests for private classes and small-group yoga sessions from friends on the social networking site.

After 15 months, Shah now runs seven private yoga sessions for high-flying executives and has regular yoga training camps. He says: “Facebook was an outstanding tool for me to generate an interest for yoga among friends. I made sure that customers were engaged for both repeat business and also drive word-of-mouth.”

There are entrepreneurs like Neil Dantas, who designs t-shirts and bags, and have been using Facebook to promote their products. “I couldn’t afford a website of my own, so I decided to put my work on blogs.” But blog visitors did not translate into buyers for Dantas. While he did not have faith on the social networking sites he gave Facebook a shot. “My designs show my love for Mumbai and I generated numerous queries on the site, some complimenting my work and some asking purchase details. Even arts students got in touch with me to learn to make art pieces.” Two years ago, Dantas introduced a project on Facebook called ‘Kuch Bhi,’ which has close to 1,000 followers. Despite a website, his own line of products is promoted solely through the social networking site.

Dantas swears by Facebook’s reach that made his work popular among the youngsters. "People see my work on Facebook and recommend it to their friends. Even the leading retail stores to whom I supply my collections now, got to know of my work through Facebook.”

While there are more online social networking sites than just Facebook; experts agree that it clearly dominates the Indian consumer with an active user base of close to 30 million subscribers. “We have early-twenties upwards users spending good amount of their time on Facebook sharing life events, photographs, maintaining contact with family members of all age ranges, friends and for reconnecting with lost contacts,” explains Rajiv Dingra of WatConsult.

Many small businesses, more so the neighbourhood services, still aren't online. “While they know they need to be online, but they may not have resources to invest in a website. It is for them to understand that Facebook pages give the business a social context by enabling word-of-mouth publicity – and all this for free,” adds Dingra.

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