Marylou Andrew profiles three Pakistani businesses which are sold on Facebook in more ways than one.
Facebook rules the Pakistani digiverse but it is more than just a social networking site. As many brands and businesses have discovered, Facebook is a viable means of promotion and starting one-to-one conversations with customers. This interaction is priceless and all the more appealing because it is practically free of cost.
Facebook does not publicise statistics about its business pages, but it is obvious that the network is becoming more business oriented and the most recent layout change (December 2010) makes more room for advertisers and businesses on profiles.
Pakistani businesses stand to gain immensely from a presence on Facebook. According to Facebook’s statistics for December 2010, there are over three million Pakistani members of which 67% are men and 32% are women. Eighteen to 34-year-olds account for a staggering 79% of this population. There is no information on affluence levels but it is a safe bet that most of these people hail from the upper and middle classes of society.
Keeping these facts in mind, many first time entrepreneurs with big ideas but without the desire or capital to set up a large scale business, are using Facebook as the primary means of promoting their businesses.
In this article, we profile three businesses which have three traits in common: They were started by women, they are based on a current trend, and their primary method of advertising is Facebook.
Cupcake(s) by Cookie
Facebook fan strength: Over 16,000
Bazma Azfar was a corporate banker by education and profession until she quit her job to have a baby. She has always had a very special relationship with cake; her husband wooed her with chocolate cake and she has dabbled in baking.
A little over a year and a half ago, Azfar wanted to do something special for her son’s birthday, so she baked and decorated Sesame Street themed cupcakes for his class at school. They were an instant hit and a friend suggested that she create a small Facebook group and start taking orders; thus Cupcake(s) by Cookie was born.
Word spread quickly through the network and when people saw the pictures of Azfar’s attractive cupcakes, the orders started pouring in. Of course, the business was helped by the fact that cupcakes are very trendy around the world. In 2009, Google reported that ‘cupcakes’ was one of the fastest growing search words, and this trend shows no signs of abating. Cupcakes have surpassed their utility as small portion cakes for children; they are now used as wedding cakes, for birthday parties, baby showers, as wedding and birth announcements and even in place of mithai.
Being the smart cookie (pun intended) that she is, Azfar quickly caught on to the trend and started designing cupcakes for every occasion from Eid, Halloween, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and birthdays, to custom made cupcakes for weddings and proposals and even others featuring cartoon characters, famous fashion logos and football insignia. And how did she publicise all her delightful creations? Through her 150 Facebook albums!
It has not always been a smooth ride for Azfar. Because Facebook is a public medium, plenty of me-too businesses have sprung up. People have copied her cupcakes, her packaging and even the paper she uses to line her boxes. In addition, not everyone is crazy about her prices; a single cupcake costs between 165 and 200 rupees, and sometimes more.
Azfar says she’s aware of the competition and checks out other people’s business pages once in a while but is happy with her own offerings. She is unwilling to budge in terms of prices because “I use quality ingredients and I factor in the time I spend. Sometimes I spend almost 45 minutes on the detailing of a single cupcake!”
For the time being, Azfar is content to keep her business on Facebook. She has a listing on Karachi Snob (which she was nominated for) but most of her business comes from Facebook.
“I bake and decorate four to five dozen cupcakes everyday, I have plenty of repeat customers who are willing to trust me to create something for them, and I like the fact that this is a very personal and customised business.”
To view the Cupcake(s) by Cookie Facebook page, click here: http://on.fb.me/eyRNuZ
Facebook fan strength: Over 800
Photographing children is a tough business; this thought occurred to Nariman Ansari when she was taking her son around to different studios for a photo shoot. With this realisation came an idea: to start a photography business that specialises in taking pictures of children. With a minor in photography from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA), Ansari had the right technical credentials for the job but she says she also has the patience to deal with children and that is what makes Firefly Photoworks work!
The first step was to do a bunch of photo shoots with friends’ children. The purpose was two-fold: to develop a portfolio of children’s photographs and to test whether she could work with other people’s children. Next, Ansari designed her own logo (which was later tweaked by a friend) and set up her Facebook business page with some of her work.
“All my friends became fans of the page so initially it was completely useless,” she exclaims.
Ansari very honestly tells me that the first three months of Firefly Photoworks were very boring. She printed about 2000 postcard sized flyers and left these at the offices of various high level paediatricians but ultimately got the best response from her Facebook page, her listing on Karachi Snob and thirdly, through word of mouth.
Things picked up significantly on her Facebook page as a result of her collaboration with other Facebook-based businesses. She ordered a box of Firefly Photoworks cupcake from Cupcake(s) by Cookie (see above) and then did a photo shoot of the cupcakes which she posted on her own page as well as on the Cupcake(s) by Cookie page. This helped bring more traffic to her page.
She has also collaborated with another highly popular Facebook group called WeldonMoms (established by Anila Weldon), which has a following of over 3,000 fans. Ansari set up photo booths at two WeldonMoms’ events (the Chocolate Festival and the Costume Carnival) and has managed to generate a substantial amount of business from these.
However, there are challenges to overcome, the biggest one being that people are still not sold on the concept of having a photo shoot done just for fun. It has also been difficult to convince people to pay what they believe is a very high price for her work. Ansari is convinced that her prices are fair:
“Working with children is tough and one shoot can take up to three hours because you have to soothe and calm them, let them watch a video, and basically do whatever it takes to get the best possible pictures.”
To view the Firefly Photoworks Facebook page, click here: http://on.fb.me/gRycft
Braids & Buttons
Facebook fan strength: Over 700
If there’s one thing Pakistani women love almost as much as their lawn, it is the braids and laces that go on it. The last three years have seen a massive surge in lace and piping consumption, with new trends to boot: these include wide, embroidered borders, huge silk flowers and diamante broaches. Such is the popularity of these adornments that it is not uncommon to spend up to Rs 1,000 on lace for a single outfit.
Buying lace and piping can be a trying experience as all the shops for these commodities are run by men, few of whom are sensitive to what women really want. This is the space that sisters Saniha Raheel and Anum Iqbal along with and their mother Khadija Iqbal and aunt Ayesha Kath hoped to fill when they decided to open Braids & Buttons.
Braids & Buttons is a store front business, but the sisters decided that taking it online via Facebook would be the best strategy to communicate with their target audience of SEC A+ and A women. They started a business page over a year ago and initially put up the store location as well as selected pictures of their stock of laces. This was an important aspect of their strategy as they are extremely conscientious about the quality they offer.
“We go out and buy all the lace ourselves and we also import some stuff from Canada and the UAE. But we make sure that whatever we buy satisfies our personal choice as well.”
Although the product is important and the sisters try their best to differentiate it from the rest of the market, they also understand they need to offer something extra to draw in customers. Thus their Facebook page heavily advertises the fact that they have ‘quality customer service’.
“We have been on the other side of the counter,” says Iqbal “and we know that lace shopping can be a harrowing experience, so we try our best to assist women by giving free input and advice, totally on the house. I don’t think you could get this kind of service anywhere else.”
The response has been phenomenal, says Raheel and in the process, they have managed to create some Braids & Buttons signature products.
“Satin roses are very popular but they were not available in the market so we have just created our own. In addition, I design clothes using our own laces and ribbons and these are also retailed through the shop.”
So what is the future plan?
“We want to do international shipping,” says Iqbal.
“We get calls from people in London who have seen our stuff on Facebook and ask whether we will send it to them, so this is an area we want to get into.”
To view the Braids & Buttons Facebook page, click here: http://on.fb.me/hqZZ3O
First published in the January-February 2011 issue of