AMMAN — With more and more Jordanians using Facebook to keep in touch with friends and relatives, some women entrepreneurs are also turning to the social network to reach out to customers of their home businesses.
Um Shahed, a homemaker, uses the site to market the small, home-based fashion import business she started a few years ago.
“It all started on a summer vacation in Turkey,” she said. “Turkish Islamic fashion is my passion, so I took the risk and bought some Turkish clothing to resell.”
The risk paid off, Um Shahed added, and she was able to parlay her earnings into resuming her business the next year.
“I was shocked to see the response I got,” she said. “I started selling to my friends, neighbours, then owners of clothing stores and now I ship to Egypt.”
Since then, Um Shahed has been going to Turkey twice a year to buy new merchandise.
“I have good customers who renew orders every year and ask for specific styles,” she said. “They like my affordable prices and always recommend my work to friends and relatives, who become my customers as well.”
The businesswoman said Facebook was a useful tool to reach out to her main customer base: university students and working women who want to look stylish.
Following the success she has achieved in the last few years, Um Shahed now plans to establish her own store and start shipping around the Arab world.
The number of Facebook users in Jordan is now over 2.4 million, nearly 43 per cent of whom are women, according to www.checkfacebook.com.
While data from the same analytics site show that most Facebook users in Jordan are in the 18-24 and 25-34 demographics, Majdi Khamesh, a sociologist at the University of Jordan, said the number of Jordanian women over 35 using the site is on the rise.
Among these women are many middle-class homemakers, Khamesh said, who are “energetic, creative and highly motivated”.
“They have social and economic awareness. They want to attain self-realisation,” he noted.
Nadia Ibrahim is another homemaker-turned-entrepreneur who uses Facebook to sell the handmade items she used to craft as a hobby.
“I used to make accessories, jewellery, tableware and cards as gifts for my friends and relatives; I never thought that it would become a source of income for my family,” the 49-year-old said.
After leaving her job as a teacher, she decided to work from home to turn her hobby into a business.
For Ibrahim, Facebook is a great way to build important relationships with prospective and returning customers and to enhance her reputation.
“Facebook is nothing more than advertising, it is just a platform to reach out to a wider audience,” she said.
“I am the type of person who always wants my customers to be satisfied, and that is a huge responsibility. For that reason, I would like to have a career working for a fashion company instead of running a business myself.”
From a customer’s perspective, Facebook makes shopping more fun and social.
“You can find all different products on Facebook: homemade food, cakes, scarves, traditional Jordanian dresses, and customised accessories. People share shopping details and favourite products by posting on their Facebook walls,” Fadia Moussa, 39, noted.
“I get all of that without ever leaving Facebook.”
For women like these, balancing the demands of managing a household and running a small business can be challenging.
Um Shahed said working from home was a flexible option that suited her lifestyle, but Ibrahim acknowledged that she faced some difficulties with time management.
Family commitments often conflict with business commitments, she said, so it is essential for her to set a schedule.
Khamesh agreed, noting that like other Facebook users, these businesswomen can find the site consuming their entire day if they are not careful.
It is important to have a work routine or using Facebook becomes habitual rather than creative, the professor said.
In a recent article published on the Internet, Rasha Abdullah, head of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at the American University in Cairo, wrote that online marketing has become a practical way to grow a new business, but has yet to become a serious market in the Middle East.
“We don’t deny the importance of Facebook marketing for talented people who are looking for a creative way to show their talents or homemakers who want to make a living,” Abdullah said.
In Ibrahim’s experience, online marketing has been a decent source of income, but not a cash cow.
“I earn enough, but not up to my expectations,” she said.
Khamesh also cautioned that the emerging field of Facebook marketing, while a good opportunity for many Jordanians, may not be an effective way to reduce unemployment as it is not accessible to everyone.
“Online marketing requires computers and regular Internet access. It needs someone whose living conditions are already good. Few of these people can build their businesses and develop their ideas into real business plans. It depends on personal skills and abilities.”