There’s a misconception that running an online business allows you to work minimal hours while travelling and enjoying life. Unless you’re running a travel blog, this is not usually the case. While running an online business does give you far more flexibility than a 9-5 job, it’s not all fun and games.
I started my online business in January 2020, just after I graduated from University. I felt the business training in school and the four temporary positions I had held while waiting to graduate had given me enough of a foundation to start my own business. I sell natural skin and hair products, dealing mostly with shea butter. I buy raw shea butter and make products like face butter, body butter and hair butter. I also sell black soap which is used for the face, body and hair. My products are for anyone suffering from dry skin, eczema and acne prone skin. I’m also targeting natural beauty enthusiasts. In the fullness of time, I want my business to be a brand in its own right, available on the shelves of local and international supermarkets. I started my business after using shea butter and black soap to treat my acne and soften my natural hair.
Lesson one: Get the pricing right
When I started the business, my primary marketing platform was Facebook. I was able to sell all my stock within the first two weeks. However, I didn’t make much profit as I hadn’t priced my products appropriately. My initial priority was to test the market, and I decided to start with a low price. As I said, I sold out within two weeks, but my margins were meagre, and I barely made enough money to restock. The low prices also raised suspicion, and some potential clients thought the product was fake. I corrected the pricing with the next batch factoring in all my costs and a profit margin, and fortunately, I still have repeat customers because the product is so good. Get the pricing right. It is easier to reduce the price than it is to increase it, especially with a new business.
Lesson two: Sales is not equal to profit
My biggest challenge to date is saving the money I get from sales. I made the mistake of confusing sales with profits. I would immediately spend the money I got from sales without restocking my products which took a toll on my business. At some point, I was out of business for two months. By the time I was able to get back on my feet, cases of Covid-19 had increased in Kenya, and the whole country was in lockdown. Since I purchased raw material from Nigeria, I was not able to restock as they were also on lockdown. When the borders finally reopened, I spent a lot on shipping as prices had now doubled. I’d hate to have this happen again so I opened a savings account which I can only withdraw from once every three months. Using the bank’s paybill, my customers can deposit money directly to this account. As a business owner, it is essential to separate sales from profits and save for a rainy day. Sales aren’t always consistent, and you still have bills to pay and a life to live.
Lesson three: Know how to reach your customer
I started by marketing on Facebook because I often found myself buying things from there. I later created an Instagram page, The True Naturals, to create awareness on Instagram. Building a brand is not as easy as it sounds. It is not just about creating content but creating a following that translates into money. First, I tried partnering with influencers. The idea here is to give them free product, and in return, they say something about my business on their timeline where their huge following will see and possibly buy the product. It worked, and I got 500+ followers, but I was giving away nearly half of my product and not making as many sales as I did on Facebook.
I changed tact and started paying for ads. It costs me KES 100 a day to post an ad. I still do this, and it is a constant way of keeping my business top of the mind for my customer and any potential customers out there. However, I noticed that customer engagement is critical. While I struggle with consistency, I have realised that the more posts I share, the more traffic I get on my page. And the traffic translates into sales.
Lesson Four: Keep learning, keep adapting
I didn’t study business in-depth at school, even at the degree level. School tends to prepare you for work rather than entrepreneurship. I have made many mistakes, but I keep learning and trying new things. I have enrolled in online entrepreneurship courses to learn how to run my business and how I can grow it into an empire. If anything, COVID-19 has taught me there’s an opportunity just around the corner. You have to keep an open mind, be ready for new experiences and work through the mistakes.
Having an online business is not a walk in the park. As the business owner, you are one person dealing with everything; marketing, deliveries, finance, sourcing for raw materials and sometimes, as with my business, making the products yourself. It’s also not a guaranteed success and money isn’t always coming in. Some days I can make 20 sales and on others none, but I guess that’s just how business is. Despite the ups and downs, it’s better than a 9-5😅. Feel free to check out my page and buy some product. I’ll be back with more lessons as I keep growing.