The silver lining of Covid-19 for businesswomen
What you need to know:
- Some 1.2 million people have lost jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Pandemic a push for women to reshape their business models to enable them remain afloat beyond the crisis.
- Ms Diana Ochola and Ms Caroline Mutabacho, manufactures of organic beauty products, largely depended on offline marketing to sell their products.
- Embarked on aggressive online marketing of their products using virtual platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
- Pandemic is a wake-up call for women to integrate innovation in management of their businesses.
Thousands of businesses across the country have folded due to economic suppression caused by Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, some 1.2 million people have lost jobs.
But for some women-owned businesses, the pandemic was a push to reshape their business models to enable them remain afloat beyond the crisis. And while in the transformation process, they are creating jobs for others.
In the pre-pandemic period, Ms Diana Ochola and Ms Caroline Mutabacho, manufactures of organic beauty products, largely depended on offline marketing to sell their products.
Their Nature’s Touch enterprises based in Kitisuru, Nairobi County, sold 80 per cent of the cosmetics through suppliers.
Online sales constituted 20 per cent. As a result, they were persistently cash trapped as they had to wait for the shops to sell their products before money begins to trickle in. This affected their production capacity since they needed the money to buy raw materials to manufacture more products.
Then the government imposed a stay-at-home order, partial lockdown and restricted movements between April and July, leading to a huge drop in shop visits. This called for a different business strategy.
The duo embarked on aggressive online marketing of their products using virtual platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. While offline, they reduced their distributors from 17 to 13. They are concentrated on Nairobi, Coastal and Rift Valley regions.
“Now, our sales have increased by 350 per cent,” says Ms Mutabacho.
“It’s the reverse now. Online sales are at 80 per cent, while sales through the suppliers stand at 20 per cent; we are excited that we have improved our way of doing business.”
Ms Ochola says they are in the process of hiring a fulltime social media manager to handle customer queries and orders.
“We have been engaging the social media manager on consultancy basis but we need a staffer who can promptly respond to customers’ needs while we focus on technicalities of up-scaling our business,” says Ms Ochola.
The two founded their enterprise in 2017, blending together passion for healthy living and first-hand experience on skin conditions.
Their enterprise is one of the five that Standard Chartered Bank awarded Sh1 million in seed capital through Women in Technology Incubator program. The program is run in collaboration with Strathmore University’s business centre @iBizAfrica.
They were selected because they proved their business was resilient and that they were a good team sharing in the vision of building and expanding their business, says head of @iBizAfrica, Ms Linda Kwamboka.
They went through a 12-week training where they were equipped on maximising on available resources to build a business empire, branding their products and using digital innovation to revamp their revenues.
She adds that a business can only progress if the team owns the vision of the enterprise.
“You can have the greatest idea but if the team does not understand the vision and does not develop a culture that supports the idea, then that business or idea will never develop,” she says.
The pandemic has also re-modelled Ms Winnie Mbuche and Ms Grace Anzazi’s business of processing organic spices and vegetables.
Taste Afrique sold their products through 147 supermarket outlets spread across the country and when Covid-19 hit, their cash flow thinned due to a drawback in payments.
They resorted to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to market their spices and processed vegetables to individual customers. This helped their business survive the tide.
They started their business in 2016 out of passion for cooking and desire for delicious food. Their business is currently located in Lang'ata, Nairobi County.
“Our desire is to transform peoples’ feeding habits. What we produce is 100 per cent natural,” says Winnie.
To track their sales going forward, they have set out to hire a software developer to help them come up with an application for tracking their sales.
“With the software, we will know who has sold our products and for how much. That will help in accounting for our input and cash flows,” says Ms Anzazi.
In Nakuru County, Ms Anne Wanjiru, a salon owner in Teachers area of Lanet, the tact has changed.
Instead of customers visiting her salon for services, she delivers them at home.
“I am flexible now. If they tell me they want to be served from their homes, who am I to say no? I am in business,” says Ms Wanjiru who opened the salon in 2018.
For now, she only redistributes the work among willing hairdressers as she hires some on demand basis.
Head of Strategy and Innovation at NCBA Bank Mary Mbataru notes that Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for women to integrate innovation in management of their businesses.
She observed this during a June 19, Business Resilience and Strategic Leadership for Women Leaders webinar organised by Usawa, where business management experts shared tips on survival of female-led enterprises beyond the pandemic.
“Covid-19 has brought forth massive opportunities for businesses,” she shared.
“We must respond, act and recover, and that is a whole transformational journey we must take. We must adapt to changes.”
She added: “For instance, a female entrepreneur should be strategising on how to market her products on virtual platforms where the people who are currently spend more time online can access them.”
Standard Chartered Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand Marketing for Africa and Middle East, Ms Olga Kimani says female entrepreneurs can grow their business by capitalising on digital innovation.
She says female entrepreneurs need coaching and mentoring to unlock their business potential.
“We have realised that women in SMEs serve a small community due to the digital divide,” she notes. “But they can grow their businesses if their presence in the digital space is strengthened.”
Ms Kimani says since the launch of the program in 2017, 15 outstanding start-ups have received Sh1 million each to grow their businesses.