Wueh! Kenya is becoming something else for the unemployed. You wake up a hopeless soul from January to December. But do not give up. Stay hopeful.
Some fashion and beauty businesses need capital as low as KSh1,000. Such small businesses include selling new or second-hand clothes, African jewellery, and selling cosmetics, among other beauty products.
Therefore, if you can, start a small business as you wait for the job of your dreams. Maybe, your business will grow, and you will not need formal employment. Even better, you will employ a few people too.
In this article, we want to discuss a few small business ideas in Kenya and include an example of at least one famous Kenyan founder or business owner in each category. Later, we will discuss how to fund your small business idea if you do not qualify for a bank loan and where to get supplies when you start your business. Let us do this! You can jump to a specific section of the article using the table of contents below.
15 Small Business Ideas in Kenya
Here are ten interesting small business ideas that can blossom into successful hair, fashion and beauty businesses in Kenya.
1. Become a fashion stylist
For some fashion stylists, the career started as a hobby, and through practice and a desire to learn, they became leading fashion stylists in the country. Fashion styling opportunities include working for professional photography studios, magazines and bloggers.
2. Become a fashion business consultant
If you have experience or professional training in fashion, offer business insights small businesses need, such as in concept design, branding, product pricing and sourcing. Imagine you could earn just by connecting a small business in Kenya with suppliers in China. It is that simple!
Your consultancy services can also extend to social media marketing, logistics and distribution.
Business consultant to learn from:
3. Become an affiliate marketer
Search for local and international affiliate programs, read the terms and conditions of the program, and then register and start earning. Affiliate marketing requires basic writing skills if you want to write product reviews on your blog and use links to send users to the purchase page of the product you are reviewing. However, you can also use social media accounts to promote affiliate links if you are not into writing.
Maggie Mwende (YouTuber). It is encouraging to see her create a self-care day video and get over 4 million views on a channel that started during the global pandemic. That is sheer hard work.
4. Start a clothing/shoe line
Run a home-based business as a fashion designer. Start now if you have the talent, whether you love designing haute couture or pieces for the mass market. For example, you can get a shoemaker at Kariokor Market in Nairobi and turn your footwear designs into products.
Then, use photos of your products for social media marketing. It is an easy venture because you can design and contract a tailor if you do not have a sewing machine or the time to sew. You only need one garment per design for social media marketing; therefore, you can make it in your size. Lastly, fabrics cost as low as KSh200 per meter; hence, becoming a designer is an affordable venture for first-time entrepreneurs.
Another option, if you do not want to do it locally and you have the capital to import ready-made clothes, is to find a supplier in China and ship the finished product.
You can design anything, from skirts to t-shirts, caps, and gym wear.
Young fashion designers to learn from:
Bray Brighton Okuto
Brightstar Kasyoka. Watch Brightstar as she explains how she became a fashion designer.
5. Become a fashion blogger
You do not have to be tech-savvy to run a fashion blog. Additionally, you can start on a free blogging platform like WordPress and later run a self-hosted blog when you have money to get a custom blog and hosting services. Blogging can open doors to fashion stylist and fashion writer jobs. Who knows, maybe you are the next top fashion blogger in Kenya.
Some, such as Maxine Wabosha, settle for social media content creation instead of the traditional blogging platforms, and they thrive. Therefore, know your potential and the resources available to you.
6. Manufacture hair and beauty products
Make cosmetics for the Kenyan market and set up a retail outlet or a distribution channel to reach your customers. When making cosmetics for the mass market, you need clearance from many national authorities and the right qualifications in cosmetology or any other related field.
The most popular products are home remedies for various skin conditions, such as dry skin, dandruff and acne. It is more expensive and difficult to penetrate the market with cosmetics like lipstick and foundation because women are loyal to brands they have used and loved for a while.
Founders to learn from:
Suzie Wokabi – Suzie Beauty
Nelly Tuikong – Pauline Cosmetics
7. Become a social media strategist for e-commerce companies
To be a social media manager for a fashion e-commerce business, you need to know how to manage business accounts on various social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Additionally, have excellent analytical skills and proficiency in social media management tools like Hootsuite.
You might have to start by managing your social media accounts to build your brand as a social media strategist and get the attention of e-commerce managers.
8. Start a fashion and beauty events company
Are you a great host? Fashion events showcase various brands to the general public and relevant media. There is so much you can do as a fashion events planner. For instance, you can host press trips for fashion journalists and influencers to meet brands, fashion product launches, or fashion fairs like the Nairobi Fashion Market.
9. Sell African beadwork (earrings, necklaces & pendants)
There are two ways around this small business idea: design the items or buy ready-made pieces for resale. If you decide to start from scratch, you need skills and supplies. The materials are relatively cheap. You can find suppliers in shops along Biashara Street in Nairobi. Read Ruthie Nyamu’s interview as she explains how she got into an African jewellery design business.
If you prefer ready-made items, visit Kariokor Market, just outside the city centre, to buy African ornaments in bulk.
10. Customise clothing and accessories using African print fabrics
For example, buy new shoes and customise them using Ankara fabric. Alternatively, make a few samples and then ask customers to bring their items for you to customise so you can operate at a lower cost.
Pabaa Collections is a leading brand in custom African attire. You can learn a lot from them.
11. Sell second-hand clothes
Go to a market like Gikomba early in the morning, select a few pieces of clothing or shoes at a wholesale price and retail them from your local open-air market or in your estate. For example, buy items at KSh30 and retail them at double or triple that price.
When starting with low capital, buy socks, scarves, handkerchiefs, blouses, and bras. You can also buy from second-hand clothing stores like Think Twice if you do not want to go to Gikomba.
12. Sell new undergarments and socks
Buy undergarments in Eastleigh and retail them to friends, family members, or the general public from a stall.
13. Offer delivery services to small traders
Start a delivery service by approaching local traders who run online businesses. So many traders do not have the time to make deliveries around the city, as some have full-time jobs.
14. Mobile nail art services
All you need is the skill and a variety of nail care products. Use word of mouth or social media accounts to market your business beyond your neighbourhood.
15. Hair braiding from a workstation in a salon or visiting clients at home.
You only need braiding skills and a comb (it costs less than KSh100). A customer will buy the braids, weave or other products you need. For workstations, you agree on a cost-sharing ratio with the salon owner. It can be on a 60-40 or 40-60.
After sleepless nights adding flesh to the skeleton of your business idea, the next step is raising capital.
How to Raise Capital for your Small Business Idea
Capital for the small business ideas in Kenya above ranges from as low as KSh50 to infinity depending on the business idea (what you are selling), regulation (permits and licenses) and overheads (like rent).
Often, business capital comes from savings and bank loans. What happens when these two sources of business funds are not available or sufficient to set up your business? Here are other unusual ways to raise money to start a small business in Kenya.
Pawn household items you do not use
We often accumulate electronics, furniture and clothes that we do not need. If you have a couple of such items but no cash to start a business, take them to a shylock. You may get at least KSh1,000 from each electronic item and collectively gather sufficient capital for a small business.
If you wish to get them back, pay the loan as soon as you start making a profit. Nonetheless, since you do not need the household items you gave as security for the loan, let the shylock keep them.
Get a part-time job
Some clauses in employment contracts limit business activities you can engage in alongside your day job. You have to adhere or else, utapoteza nne ukikimbilia nane.
Additionally, when you have a full-time job, you can only take up a part-time job in the evening or over the weekend. For instance, you can do laundry, work in a car wash, offer babysitting services for busy moms, coffer carpet and house cleaning services, become a personal shopper, work in a salon, offer parcel delivery services, etc.
Rent out a bedroom in your house
If you live near an institution such as a university or college, sacrifice your comfort for about six months, and you will have the capital to start a business. Advertise your homestay offer in social media groups.
Sell household items you do not need
Jiji might be your best buddy for this. List items, such as furniture and electronics, and make some money.
Become an affiliate marketer
Work for someone else to get capital, as you only need a marketing platform to direct buyers to the product owner. You can work for Jumia and Kilimall, among others.
Once you get some money to invest, it is time to get a supplier. Here are a few places to start.
Where To Get Small Business Supplies in Nairobi
Let us look at some of Nairobi’s vibrant markets where you can get supplies for your business at wholesale prices.
Wholesale shops in Eastleigh are just a KSh50 bus ride from Nairobi city centre.
Eastleigh’s First Avenue is the main street; hence, it is the shopping hub. This two-way street connects Juja Road to Jogoo Road. Modern storey buildings with glass windows glinting in the sun mingle with older buildings that served as the main shopping malls before the real estate boom.
Here is a general guide to help you find supplies in Eastleigh shopping malls.
Yare Plaza is one of the latest additions to the list of malls in Eastleigh. It flaunts one of the most stunning architecture. A couple of metres from the street, you can see eye-catching curtains displayed in stalls in the basement of the complex. Yare Plaza is the first mall as you approach First Avenue from the roundabout along General Waruingi Street.
Hodan Complex Centre
It is further away from the main shopping malls but still on First Avenue as you head towards Marie Stopes. Most shops in the basement and on the first floor sell curtains and carpets.
Bangkok Shopping Mall
It is next to the main bus stage of buses heading back to the city on First Avenue. The building flaunts an iconic red brick exterior. Stalls on the first floor deal in curtains and fabrics, while on subsequent floors, you get a variety of elegant men’s wear.
Olympic Shopping Centre
Shops on the ground and first floors of this mall sell men’s wear and shoes. You could also get handbags on the ground and first floors. For undergarments at wholesale prices, check the stalls in the basement and the ground floor.
Prestige Shopping Mall
This mall is a haven for dealers in African print fabrics, especially kitenge. There are shops with ready-made wrappers and skater skirts with vibrant African prints.
Taisir Shopping Centre
Most traders on the ground floor sell undergarments. Nonetheless, inside, there is an assortment of men’s wear from khaki trousers to shirts. You will also find affordable women’s wear on the first floor.
It is one of the cheapest malls for wholesale purchases in Eastleigh. Women’s wear, especially dresses, are on the basement stalls.
Men’s wear, such as khaki trousers, starts from the basement up.
Tansim Shopping Mall
The first floor has a store facing the main street with the most affordable clothes in Eastleigh. Generally, this mall is where you can buy in bulk, affordably.
This mall is next to Bangkok Shopping Mall. Most stalls sell dresses, denim blouses, denim trousers, official tops and blouses, skirts, jeggings, kimonos and undergarments at wholesale prices.
Beijing Mall is off First Avenue, along Fifth Street. You walk into a decently sized corridor with mannequins displaying a variety of women’s wear.
Eastleigh Shopping Guide: Tips
- Wholesale shops in Eastleigh have different quality of the same item. Therefore, a stall on the ground floor can sell khaki trousers at KSh600, and you get the same for KSh800 on the second floor. Do not be fooled by the price; always check the quality.
- Make a few rounds before you buy anything. There is no price consensus among traders; consequently, the price may vary from one mall to the other.
- When asking about the price as a seller, always ask for the price and the minimum number of pieces. Some traders set the minimum at three items, and others say a minimum of half a dozen (six pieces).
- Buy just a few of each design. Buy three to six of each to clear your stock fast just in time to get the latest shipment.
- Establish a relationship with several traders, and the minimum pieces restriction will ebb away.
- The malls have several entrances and exits. You might enter one way and exit on some godforsaken backstreet.
How to get to Eastleigh Shopping Centre
Most buses from the city centre to Eastleigh are along Tom Mboya Street. Look for bus numbers 4, 6 and 9. The main stages are outside Tuskys Imara, along Luthuli Avenue and opposite Khoja Bus Stage.
Matatus heading to Eastleigh from Nairobi approach First Avenue either from Pangani through Juja Road or from Ngara through General Waruingi Street. Buses using General Waruingi Street drop passengers at the roundabout, while the ones using Juja Road drop passengers a short distance from Major Kinyanjui Street. Nevertheless, all buses will get you to First Avenue in Eastleigh.
You could also board a Kariobangi bound bus from Gikomba and alight at Garissa stage along Eastleigh First Avenue.
Every business needs supplies. Some entrepreneurs ship their
Just off Ladhies Road, opposite Wakulima Market, is a rapidly growing small Guangzhou market. Over the last few years, Kamukunji has grown from a few buildings along a street with the worst drainage problems in Nairobi to a vibrant market.
Kamukunji traders deal in bedding, carpets, plastic household items, clothes, bags, shoes, home décor accessories, etc. Wholesale prices at Kamukunji give you a good profit margin when you retail your merchandise. You can walk to Kamukunji from Ronald Ngala Street.
Behind Equity Bank OTC branch is another wholesale paradise. Shops line a narrow pathway from the entrance of Quickmart OTC. Most of the shops stock toiletries, sanitary wear and a variety of packaging materials.
4. Temple Road
Opposite the Bus Station is another spot for eco-friendly packaging supplies along Temple Lane and Ruvuma Lane.
5. The Stage Market LTD
Along Ladhies Road, next to Nacico Plaza, is a less popular market that looks like an extension of Kamukunji Market. Most shops deal in sun hats, earrings, necklaces, undergarments, artificial flowers and festive decorations. There are only a handful of buyers during the day so if you do not find your supplies at Kamukunji, walk to The Stage Market Ltd.
6. Gikomba & Korogocho Markets
Gikomba offers mitumba clothes, shoes, toys and handbags. You could also get supplies for your tailoring shop in stalls selling kitenge and other fabrics. For second-hand clothes, especially baby clothes, visit Korogocho Market.
Now you are all set. You have a business running. It is time to focus on making it profitable.
How to Make Your Small Business Profitable
You will always experience self-doubt before you venture out of your comfort zone. You might spend hours or days wondering what your friends will say or whether the business you have in mind is suitable for someone as highly educated as you.
But, when you ignore all the voices and focus on financial independence, the profits from your small-scale business will make you feel like you walked on the moon and kissed the sun.
Here is how to grow your small business profitably.
Match your business idea to your capital
Some business ideas require a sizeable amount of money as capital. Other business ideas need just a few thousand shillings. Go for business ideas that can run on the amount you wish to invest as your start-up capital.
Get dependable suppliers
Compare offers from different suppliers for everything to get the most affordable supplier. Every cent spent should bring a return on investment and meet your business objectives.
Additionally, consider getting free services from friends and colleagues as you start to lower your overheads. But, state the terms of the service so that you do not lose your equity in the process. For example, ask a friend to design a business logo/website for you.
With a part-time venture, you have another stable source of income to cater for personal expenses, so you can channel back the money you make from your business.
It eliminates overheads like rent. Many young people in Kenya are selling fashion products on Facebook and Instagram. Therefore, create a Facebook page for your products, introduce your friends to your shop, and watch it grow. You only need selling skills, appealing photographs and a fast order delivery process. You can handle deliveries yourself or hire an affordable courier service.
The other option is selling through an online marketplace like Jumia. Such e-commerce companies ask for a commission; however, they have excellent distribution networks and a round-the-clock customer service department.
Use word of mouth instead of expensive marketing methods
Market your products or services through friends and customers first, and then consider other marketing methods. It reduces your marketing budget considerably, and you can use their testimonials.
Become an affiliate until you can afford inventory
The most prominent businesses in the world right now, such as Alibaba and Airbnb, do not have inventory. Why burden yourself financially, shipping or manufacturing products when you can make money directing customers to somebody else’s store?
In almost all affiliate marketing programs in Kenya, you can use your social media accounts, a blog or a website. It could be a self-hosted or a blog on a free blogging platform like Blogger. The crucial element in your promotional message is an affiliate link (tracking code) that a reader follows to the point of purchase online (the merchant).
There are various forms of commissions earned from affiliate marketing programs in Kenya. Merchants pay per click from your blog, for new users registered after following your affiliate link or for each complete transaction a user makes after following your affiliate link.
Such terms control how much you earn as a commission and the amount of work needed to get a decent commission. Of course, the best affiliate marketing programs are the ones that pay per click, but these are hard to come by and are plagued by online scams.
Final thoughts on small businesses to start in Kenya
Think about all the successful entrepreneurs around the world. Manolo Blahnik, whose shoes are on the feet of the high and mighty, took about ten years to gain hands-on experience that built his present empire. FUBU and Adidas are also success stories of businesses that started from nothing.
The beauty of starting a small business and watching it grow is you learn so much and have the time to adjust your goals with each success or failure. Additionally, you can run several small businesses together. For example, you can be a mobile nail technician who offers fashion styling or personal shopper services.