This post originally appeared as a guest post on http://melissaannmitchell.com/social-media/marketing-a-thai-village-business/.
Melissa Mitchell is a business social media expert and a marketing mentor. She has been very supportive to our little business so please visit with her. We hope you enjoy the post.
Where We Started?
We created our Thai village handmade silk business to try and break the vicious cycle of debt that most families experience in our village.
Our little Thai village of about 400 people is located in far north-eastern Thailand, only a few miles from the Cambodian and Laos borders. It’s traditionally a rice farming area but is also the center of Thailand’s silkworm (sericulture) industry.
The average “family income” each month was less than $80/month and despite all the hard work, rice farming never seemed to be able to earn more than what people already owed to the banks and money lenders.
An Opportunity Arises
However, bells started ringing when we discovered that the village handmade silk created by the ladies in our village were by far the most popular fabrics at any market in the region. It may have taken a week or two to create each fabric piece but it usually took less than 30 minutes to sell at any market.
So our village business, Thai Silk Magic, was born to market our beautiful fabrics to the world and not just the local markets. By sharing every single penny of profit we plan to make significant improvements to lifestyles and also to education opportunities for the children of our remote Thai village. It’s more than a labour of love, it’s a real passion and the rewards are absolutely awesome.
Education is the Key
Most of the parents in our village had only 4 or 5 years of school, if any.
So you cannot put a $ value on the looks in the eyes of the parents as these days they proudly watch their kids going off to school in new uniforms, back packs and carefully covered school books.
As the eldest daughter, I was very reluctantly taken out of school before I was 13 years old to work on our rice farm. At the time I was devastated and my parents were too but we had no other choice. We very little money and at least rice gave us some food to eat.
So it’s easy to understand why the success of our Thai Silk Magic business is a driving passion of mine (and my Aussie husband).
Our Marketing Dilemma
The challenge we had, once we had established the family funded silk weaving facility and our website, was how best to make ourselves known in the very competitive Thai silk export industry.
With no financial capacity for advertising all our marketing plans involved free resources apart from an occasional paid press release. With lots of hard work we successfully positioned ourselves on page 1 of Google search engine for 5 of our best “buying keywords.”
Over a period of 18 months with article and video marketing plus forum and blog discussions, we got lots of links and an improved page ranking. We then started to average more than 3,000 visitors per month to our website. We were so excited as it now seemed likely that all our dreams of success were coming true. But were they?
Sadly despite now having a page 1 Google ranking for 10 of our main keywords and attracting more than 3000 visitors per month, sales were very slow and the costs of running our business continued to mount week by week.
We realized that the visitors we were attracting to our website were more interested in our Thai village life and our business management articles (that my husband had added to our site using our business as examples). This was great but it did nothing to sell our silk or help my village.
The “People Buy People” Principle
We were then introduced to the concept of “business social media” by our good friend and technical mentor, Justin Wheeler. With all our family funds being used to operate our business we had very little left for any other type of marketing activity.
Justin made our website far more “social friendly” with lots of links to our newly created Twitter andFacebook fan page accounts that he also helped us to understand and create. By simply being open, honest and willing to share and help in any way we could, things started to change and suddenly we were “talking” with lots of potential customers (B2C) and business partners (B2B).
We followed these accounts with a presence on FourSquare and StumbleUpon but it wasn’t until Justin educated us about Linkedin did our social media presence start to become a profitable reality.
Linkedin with its 100+ million professional members gave me the chance to be able to participate in group discussions, answer questions and help people who like ourselves, had been struggling to get established. Requests to connect together came regularly and I always accepted.
In addition, I have also started to participate in Facebook groups and I have been very careful not to “sell” on any of these social platforms although at times this was very difficult to resist. The experience and relationships gained from both Linkedin and Facebook groups are proving to be invaluable to me. Rarely does a question go unanswered and there are so many opportunities despite my relative inexperience in the online business world, where I can add some value to someone every day.
I believe totally in the concept that “people buy people” before they buy products so my entire focus was (and still is) on connecting, building relationships and only then very softly making people aware of my passion for our Thai Silk Magic business.
With more than 1000 professional connections on Linkedin, more than 1200 “likes” on our Facebook fan page and about 3000 twitter followers, I am now busy making sure that I can successfully merge these relationships together along with our 2 YouTube Channels – Amnuai Beckenham that also has nearly 1000 subscribers and our newest Thai Silk Magic Channel already with over 500 friends and subscribers.
We will never be or want to be a BIG business operation. Our supply chain will always be limited as all our processes are handmade.
However, currently we are fortunate enough to receive on average 3 genuine sales enquiries per day plus at least 1 exciting communication with a potential or existing B2B partner every week.
More than 90% of our business comes via participation in the free business social media and for our little budget strapped business, that’s a wonderful result.
My Simple Secrets
With every chat, post, share or comment let your passion and belief show.
I can’t help but do this and it’s amazing just how help, advice, relationships and business potential seems to appear.
I also go out of my way to try and help someone if I possibly can – in fact many times I have provided links to our much larger and more established competitors as we simply cannot supply their order size. The funny thing is we still do not lose the relationship with these people we have referred to others and on quite a few occasions they have come back to us with orders that we can manage.
I never approach any relationship in social media with a potential customer mindset.
To me having supporters and interested people in what we are trying to achieve for our Thai village is just as important as any product sale.
Of course, we build our business “one customer at a time” and every one of them is so important to our village.
With practically no advertising budget our advocates are GOLD to us. Very few of the many advocates we have been so fortunate to attract are actual customers for our handmade Thai silk – and probably will never be. But they very willingly to share our passion and belief with their friends and to us this ispriceless promotion. Many times we get calls from the most unlikely places all as a result of advocates that we have built a relationship with on social media.
The Impacts on Our Village
Social media marketing has greatly helped to get our little business established and we have already more than doubled the “average family income” of our village.
There is now a real belief that we can and will help people to help themselves in our village. We have made a good start with improved water supplies, housing conditions and children’s education experiences. But we have such a long way to go as you can see by the video attached to this post.
There is so much more for me to learn and understand about how best to market our Thai village business. However, if you have any questions please let me know as I would be delighted to share with you.
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