Mohammed Gani whips out his smartphone from his shirt pocket, quickly scans the messages he has received on WhatsApp, and then proceeds to display the dozen others he has received from his customers.
For the past few months, he has been operating his bangle business out of a brightly lit, tiny allotment in the Chennai Corporation’s Street Vendors’ Complex on Pondy Bazaar in T. Nagar. Although several hawkers complain of losing their customer base after being made to shift into the complex to breathe room into the footpaths, Mr. Gani is still a happy man.
“Most customers of mine send in pictures of their sarees and salwars through WhatsApp and I help them match bangle sets with them,” he says, adding that the practice helped cement his already established popularity among customers.
“Customers come all the way from Bangalore and Hyderabad, trusting that I will have their bangles ready,” he adds.
Many small and home-run businesses have actively captured their target audience’s attention by solely using the smartphone-enabled WhatsApp and social network Facebook. This has helped them cut costs on advertising and marketing efforts, and, at the same time, extend their reach outside the city, and even country.
For 29-year-old Ayeesha Riaz, a blog helped channel cooking dreams. Returning to India after living in the UK, she started a small cake business based out of her home. It really only took off when marketing efforts moved from the trusty word-of-mouth technique onto a Facebook page.
“It eased the process of getting my brand name out there,” she says. She was recently able to cater to an order from a customer in Texas, US, only because the customer was able to send reference pictures through WhatsApp.
“She wanted a cake for her father’s 60th birthday. I was able to bake it according to her specs and deliver it to her parents’ home in Chennai,” Ms. Riaz adds.
For Bhargavii Mani, of Eka Portraiture, a family portraits studio based in the city, spending on advertising on Facebook did not bear any fruits.
“For a small business like mine, there is no option of spending on advertising when I am unable to reap the benefits. But opening a Facebook page helped me engage with the right audience,” she says.
She says she was pleasantly surprised by the response she received there. “My brand name is out there and I did not have to shell out big bucks for it,” Ms. Mani says.