(Left) Before the pandemic, Paula actively joined food bazaars and exhibits to showcase Paninda ni Totep products. (Right) Paninda ni Totep recently launched new products such as these Chichacones.

Paula Romero is not new to running a business. Ever since she was young, she dreamed of starting her own business and having the freedom to set her own schedule. So, in 2016, Paula and her husband started Paninda ni Totep, a micro-enterprise specializing in chicharon (fried pork belly or rinds) and other food items.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paninda ni Totep was thriving, supplying chicharon and seafood to at least 20 restaurants and grocery stores in and around General Santos City, Philippines. But when the country locked down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paninda ni Totep struggled to stay afloat.

Applying what photography technique she learned from the digital marketing sessions, Paula took interesting photos of the Paninda ni Totep products such as this spicy chicharon.

Rising to the challenge

“A few months ago, my husband and I were at our lowest point. We did not know how to move on,” Paula remembered. That was when she received an invitation to attend the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) digital marketing webinar. “It changed our lives,” she said.

Under the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), USAID’s Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) project reached out to women entrepreneurs in its eight Cities Development Initiative (CDI) partner cities in the Philippines and helped them move their businesses online.

USAID conducted a series of online sessions on digital marketing strategies and approaches, including effective use of social media and e-commerce sites. In collaboration with private sector partners, USAID also helped small- and medium-sized businesses pivot to e-commerce and digital marketing, and streamline the supply chain.

The digital shift

Even though Paula created Paninda ni Totep’s Facebook page in 2017, she did not focus on it much before the pandemic. The page had minimal engagement, and Paula would only post product photos when she felt like it.

After attending USAID’s digital marketing training, however, Paula learned how to develop a strong and consistent brand for the Facebook page. She also realized the value of posting regularly to update consumers on available products, daily locations, and schedule. In addition, USAID’s training taught Paula basic product photography and editing skills, which helped her create more compelling videos and promotional photos.

“I have always wanted to improve our business page just like professional brands do. Through the mentoring sessions of USAID and its partners, I learned how to do it step-by-step,” Paula shared.

These practices helped increase engagement on Paula’s Paninda ni Totep Facebook page exponentially, from just a few reactions per post to an average of 100 likes per post. More importantly, the increased online engagement has translated to an increase in business sales. In just two months, Paula’s income more than tripled from about Php3,000 per week before the training to Php10,000 per week afterward.

Among the bestsellers of Paninda ni Totep are their chicharon (left photo) and crab paste (right photo).

Ripple effect

In five years, Paula hopes Paninda ni Totep will reach national and international markets. She dreams not just of providing a better life for her family, but also of becoming a leader in entrepreneurship. She is already taking first steps toward this dream by sharing the digital marketing techniques she learned from USAID with other business owners.

“I envision a community of entrepreneurs who uplift each other in businesses. I am thankful for USAID’s mentoring program because I can share what I learn with my fellow entrepreneurs,” said Paula.

Paula is just one of the 865 women entrepreneurs who attended USAID’s digital marketing training. She and other women entrepreneurs are now maximizing social media to sustain their business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, USAID has helped 1,600 women-led micro-, small, and medium businesses (MSMEs) in the eight CDI cities take advantage of online marketing opportunities as the Philippines shifts to the “new normal.”

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