While millions of people log in to their Facebook accounts to catch up with friends and at times engage in mindless gossip, three young entrepreneurs have found a more profitable use for the social network and are using the online platform to close business deals from the comfort of their homes.
Ms Lillian Kithia, Mr Kennedy Oyamo, and Ms Imbuhira Lamba have shunned formal employment and turned to Facebook to conduct their businesses.
After graduating with a bachelorâ€™s degree in communication and media studies, Ms Kithiaâ€™s efforts to secure a job failed. She now sells clothes, shoes, and jewellery through her Facebook business page â€” Juicy Couture.
The 25-year-old uploads photographs of her products on the page and waits for orders. Her customers pay through M-Pesa, yuCash, Airtel Money, and email-based PayPal.
Communicate with customers
Once she has received an order, Ms Kithia sends photographs of the product to the customer to confirm the it and other details like colour and size.
With a capital of Sh100,000, which she received as a gift from her husband, Ms Kithia now makes average sales of Sh420,000 a month.
And thanks to her online business, she has managed to travel and set up a shop in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after running a store for three months in her house.
In order to meet different tastes and offer her customers a variety of products, she sources her wares from London, Dubai, and France.
She says: â€œDeliveries are made straight to the customerâ€™s home for Sh300 to Sh1,000, depending on where they live via air transport.â€
She has launched another product line dealing with electronic products. And because these orders involve heavy machinery, she ships the goods by sea for Sh3,000 a shipment.
â€œI just shipped my first order to Japan in September that was worth 13,000 dirhams, thatâ€™s about Sh250,000,â€ she says.
Thanks to her successful online business, she can spend time doing what she loves most â€” writing and blogging.
The advantages she has over other businesses are many. She says: â€œI did not worry about capital. There was no need to pay rent for a location or licence, as in other businesses.â€
All she needed was a laptop, a mobile phone, and a modem. Fortunately for her, she already had these resources when she was still in college.
While she appreciates the need for risk taking in any business, she says online enterprises can cushion upcoming entrepreneurs from financial setbacks.
She says that she knows the kind of customers to target by assessing their status updates on the social media platform.
Her Facebook page, Juicy Couture, mainly targets young spenders.
â€œI can sieve out people who do not fall in this category easily,â€ she says. She notes that she can gauge the reaction of her clients to her products using Facebook likes, impressions, and comments.
â€œJust one comment on a picture that I have uploaded and I easily adjust to suit what my clients want without incurring much expense,â€ she says.
She welcomes the criticism she gets before she invests in a new product line instead of getting negative feedback when she has already pumped money into the business.
Criticism, she says, is good for her online business as it allows her to â€œsharpen any rough edges I might have missed outâ€.
Mr Kennedy Oyamo is another online entrepreneur who has nothing but praise for the social media.
A marketing graduate from Kenya Methodist University, Mr Oyamo told Money that the loss of his job was a blessing in disguise.
With Sh2,000 only as capital, he paid a website designer to develop an interactive site to enable him to capture what his company â€” Emerson Movers Limited â€” wanted to offer to the market in June this year.
His firm was registered two months later. Emerson Movers transports household and office furniture and items when customers want to move from one house to another. He describes his decision to starting the company as â€œa spur-of-the-momentâ€ action.
Adding: â€œI was a banker for six years and left when downsizing came knocking early this year. I had to look for another way of earning a living.â€
With only one employee â€” his assistant â€” Mr Oyamo hit the road running. And so far, he says the response has been amazing.
â€œPeople are always moving from one house to another, or office to office, and the process can be tedious and full of losses because most people do not handle items well, and that is where Emerson Movers comes in,â€ he told Money.
With just four months into the business, Mr Oyamo says he has a monthly turnover of about Sh600,000. Facebook, he says, and by extension the social media, plays an important role in attracting and retaining clients.
â€œSeventy per cent of our business is generated via social mediaâ€¦ we rely on it a lot,â€ he says. â€œTodayâ€™s customer is more knowledgeable and you donâ€™t need to keep on knocking at their doors. They can get whatever they want online. So, we position ourselves to take advantage of that.â€
Mr Oyamo has bought a truck and opened a physical office.
His marketing strategy, he says, is to focus on everyone. â€œWe give clients pricing based on their financial ability,â€ he says.
His prices range from Sh6,000 for moving a household to as much as Sh500,000, which involves moving a corporate.
In order to equip his staff with the requisite skills, he ensures that all his employees get customer care training before starting to work.
As a pointer to the growth prospects he has seen in his business, a month into his business, he got a job offer that he turned down. He says: â€œI realised how easy it was to make millions with the help of social media.â€
Just like Ms Kithia and Mr Oyamo, Ms Imbuhira Lamba, a savvy software developer, wanted a job that matched her passion â€” art. So she resigned as a software developer with New Year Resolution to start her own business â€” Kilimanjaro Art.
She sells African art and curios all over the world, her main focus being Western countries.
â€œThere are many sellers here and Kenyans are used to this art. It (art) no longer leaves locals in awe compared to the people in Western countries,â€ she says.
To meet her customer preferences, she works with curio craftsmen, who make the items according to her designs.
She also has dealers in Tanzania, and other parts of Africa who earn a commission on the pieces they sell.
At the beginning, Ms Lamba had only Sh20,000 to pay the craftsmen. To cut down on capital costs, she designed her business website in January this year.
Open shop in Asia
The online entrepreneur has two other partners, one in the United Kingdom and the other in the US. She told Money that she plans to open shop in the Asian continent.
Her cheapest product is a pair of earrings retailing at Sh1,000. A rosewood wooden carving sells at Sh30,000.
Ms Lamba takes home Sh100,000 when demand is low and Sh300,000 in a good month.
To keep in touch with her customers, Ms Lamba makes sure that she checks her email account constantly and has her mobile phone on all the time to respond to customers and process orders promptly.