17 August 2022

Yuliia Baliaba from Mariupol had many different jobs before February 24. She worked as an office manager in an IT company, held English language classes for students (she has a degree in translation) and had a favorite hobby: online shops of branded cosmetics and bags. To better promote online business and improve her knowledge of sales, she applied for the course “Online Sales Manager” supported by Economic Resilience Activity. But then war broke out.

Baliaba’s family struggled to survive in Mariupol, which was shelled by Russian troops from February 24.

“We were just waiting for the constant shelling to end, and trying to survive, and on March 17 when it calmed down a bit we saw that people were leaving the city. We took a risk and headed into the unknown, but then it turned out that there was a “green corridor”,” Baliaba recalls. “On the evening of March 18, we arrived in Vinnytsia. We had nothing with us, no basic things, no clothes, only a backpack with valuables, a cat and a dog. We didn’t know what to do, how to live on.”

Her life completely changed. Many English students left, and those who stayed in Mariupol were not interested in English at that time. Work at the IT company ended too because the Mariupol office no longer existed. Baliaba’s entire stock of cosmetics and bags remained in Mariupol, so she had no sales.

“That’s how everything collapsed in one moment. From an active, positive and life-loving girl I turned into a person I didn’t know,” says Baliaba. “Then there was time to recover and come back to life. Later on, I remembered that I had ordered several parcels of cosmetics before the war. I tracked them and found them at the terminal in Lviv, so I requested to send them to Vinnytsia and began to wait. I was very happy when I received them and started to actively revive my online brand cosmetics shop.”

At the same time, Baliaba found out that she had been selected to take part in the online training program. For her, it was a sign that everything would work out and that she should not quit her business. The Online Sales Manager course began on June 14, 2022 and consisted of 12 online modules.

During the month, participants learned about the role and functions of an online sales manager, learned the most effective sales techniques, and gained skills in developing a unique sales offer, using digital marketing tools, and organizing customer flow. In total, 20 participants from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts successfully completed the course and additionally received individual mentoring support and advice from the trainer.

“It is very difficult to promote yourself online without a large stock of goods, without money for marketing, without a website, and without advertising on bulletin boards,” said Baliaba. “But you should be able to do it for free, and I do it every day, investing only my time so far, my acquired skills, and my desire to make Ukrainian girls at least a little bit happier.”

During the training, the mentor suggested participants unite and create their own online project. Baliaba took responsibility for a team and became the project manager. Her team of seven people created an online store of hobby and sports goods called StopStress.

“First of all, we want to achieve a social goal – to improve the quality of life of Ukrainians, unite Ukrainian families through joint activities, and with the help of our products overcome the daily stress and tension caused by the state of war in our country,” said Baliaba. “We decided to sell products that help to distract you from everyday problems, reduce stress, relax, and pay attention to yourself, your children, and your family. Now our website offers various board games for children and adults, paint-by-numbers pictures, sports goods such as mats, jump ropes, and balls, and more.”

The project is not profitable yet, but the highly motivated team members believe in it and are working on their idea. They have already created a site, found suppliers, filled it with products, and are promoting them through social networks.

They already have small achievements after two months of work. Baliaba has developed a site on a free platform. The team has also created an Instagram page. The team of internally displaced people needs a salary, investment in site maintenance, an advertising campaign, and equipment for working, as not all the members have the necessary resources for full-time work.

“This course gave me a lot,” said Baliaba. “First of all, interest and belief in myself. Our mentor motivated me a lot and believed in my personal project of selling cosmetics, MySecretUa, and the project StopStressUa. Secondly, I learned how to act in stressful situations, how to develop, how to be an effective manager and what sales techniques and types of advertising to use and how to scale up a business. I received sound knowledge, and from now on I have confidence in myself. I am very grateful to ERA for this support course, which was very timely, gave me knowledge and did not let me fall into depression due to the situation in the country.”