If you happen to meet 10 people who want to start a business in Kenya today, chances are that half of them will be thinking about starting an online business.

What is an online business? 

An online business is one which all your transactions are done online. From advertising, sales, conversion, payment and even in some cases, service delivery. The best case scenario for some is where you may never have to meet your clients face to face.

Some examples of online businesses include online shops, business coaching, listing websites, review websites, aggregator websites, e-books, online courses, online coaching, mobile apps, SAAS, and blogs. The list is endless and keeps on growing.

What is the Attraction in Starting Online Business?

The advantages of running an online business include the following:

  1. Startup costs are potentially lower than offline business. You can easily start a lean business with only one employee (yourself). You also do not have to open a physical shop and therefore you will not need to pay goodwill, rent, utilities, and so on. All you need is a domain, web hosting and website, and you are good to go. I would, however, recommend that you also budget for marketing and advertising costs.
  2. Reduced face to face interaction with your clients results in less stress associated with customer handling.
  3. Scalability is easier, far-reaching and potentially much faster than offline business. To grow your reach, you do not always have to open offices/shops in other regions and countries physically, rather, expand your online marketing.
  4. You can work from anywhere, including your house, hotel, or while on transit. All you need is a good internet connection and your laptop or device.
  5. You do not have to spend a lot of money to look like any of the big brands. The internet provides a level playing field, and if you play your cards right, you can quickly build your brand to compare with any other business giant with hundreds of employs. This is of course only applicable to some types of online business, not all.

How do you identify which online business to start?

First, research on the types of businesses that are available out there. Look at which business area resonates with you. Where does your passion lie? It is easier to start something that you are passionate about, but do not be limited to that. I have come to realize that you can develop passions for almost anything.

Also, think about the skills required to develop the type of business you want to start. If you do not have the technical skills, don’t worry, there are websites like fiverr.com and freelancer.com that have technical staff for hire at competitive rates.

Be ready to fail in your first 2 or 3 ventures. Have a positive mindset and get ready to never give up easily. Look at it as a learning curve. Also be ready to lose some money in your first attempts.

Starting an Online Business

Once you have identified your preferred business do not rush to buy hosting and develop the website. Identify your ideal customer, then go to Google Form and do a simple survey with not more than 4 questions. These questions can be phrased in such a way that you  will get to learn from your potential customers whether they would buy your product or service, what they feel about what is currently out there, how much they would be willing to pay, and any gaps that you can take advantage of to give your service an edge.

Share this form to Facebook Groups, friends and other well-wishers. Try to get at least 30 respondents. You can also do your research on forum websites such as Quora, Facebook groups, and other industry related forum websites.

Write a simple business plan based on your survey findings, outlining the problem you are solving, your ideal customers (who they are, their likes and dislikes, demography), your competition – any gaps in their product or service, marketing plan, and financial projections. Ensure you look at this business plan every 3 months and make any adjustments necessary. It will also help you stay on track, and build on it as you go.

Finally, you can go ahead and develop your website. I will still add a caution here and ask that if you are going into a business that requires a dynamic website, start with a lean website that mimics an automated site for testing purposes, then later you can build based on your experience with customers in this lean one. So that you do not end up spending thousands of dollars (or millions of shillings), and end up with something that is not really hitting the spot for your clientele. Alternatively, use ready-made dynamic website themes from a good theme marketplace like themeforest.com, most of the themes do not cost more than 60usd.

Once you have worked with the lean website for 6 to 12 months, and have gathered enough data, then you can go ahead and contract a developer.

In Conclusion

Remember, a successful online business is one that shortens processes as much as possible by eliminating unnecessary steps. Please make sure you invest in improving customer experience as much as possible as you go along.