Want to sell more online? Take stunning photos
Turkmen designers see sales jump after photography and social media training through Ready4Trade Central Asia
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, the world had plenty to worry about. For Ayna Ovezova, her thoughts fixed on how plastic bags take a terrible toll on the environment.
She got to work finding growers of organic cotton whose fibres could be spun into hand-stitched cloth bags. Her business, Horjun, now employs 20 people – including 15 stitchers. With support from the ITC Ready4Trade project, she quickly expanded into the export market.
What she didn’t have was a social media presence. Nor did she think she needed one.
"Prior to the Ready4Trade project, I did not believe in the effectiveness of social media,” Ovezova said.
Her perception changed after she joined a pilot project with four other women-led companies who received on-the-job training to get their products online, starting with social media accounts.
Collectively their sales jumped an average of 12 percent during the first two months of advisory support, while they racked up more than 30K Instagram users. Crucially, most of those users are in their target audience most likely to buy.
“Now I understand that it is necessary to use multiple channels to increase brand awareness,” she said. “Social media is a perfect tool for online visibility offering an easy approach to target our audience.”
From Milan to Instagram
Designer Shasenem Garlyyeva had already won global acclaim for her Iner Unique Camel Wool line of homewares and clothing. Through the EU-funded Ethical Fashion Initiative she joined the 2022 Milan Design Week.
But before the training, she didn’t have a way for customers to maintain a connection with her brand after the event. Through the training, she set up an Instagram account with lush photos showcasing her handmade fabrics transformed into cushions and clothing.
“This proved to be highly relevant and timely, given our participation in Milan Design Week,” she said. “The Instagram channel allows our new international customers to explore our brand and keep connections with buyers following the exhibition.”
As part of the EU-funded Ready4Trade Central Asia project activities, the next step in the ecomConnect programme in Turkmenistan is to create and optimize websites for the businesses, to strengthen their online reputation and attract new customers.
“ITC implements an individual coaching approach, where each company has been provided with customized support, starting from the analysis of its strengths and weaknesses followed by the development of marketing strategies and content plans,” said Leyli Geldieva, ITC consultant on social selling in Turkmenistan.
For any digital retail strategy to succeed, shops need high-quality photos to show their products in the most possible – literal – light.
That’s the best way to re-create the in-person shopping experience, where consumers try on items and build trust through face-to-face contact with sellers.
The ecomConnect programme assisted a pilot group of five Turkmen women-led companies with the photo shoots and on-the job training on how to create social media posts, target potential clients, engage the audience, develop, and launch marketing campaigns, and conduct analysis.
Social media works particularly well for small businesses in developing countries. Their posts validate the authenticity of their products, while allowing direct contact with customers around the world.
And social media is more cost-effective for start-ups that can’t yet afford their own website, or that haven’t developed their digital systems enough to use international retail platforms.
About the project
Within the project Ready4Trade Central Asia, the European Union and ITC are joining forces to contribute to the overall sustainable and inclusive economic development of Central Asia by boosting intra-regional and international trade. Beneficiaries of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project include governments, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular women-led enterprises, and business support organizations. The project operates in five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.