How to Build a Successful Online Business in Kenya

Finding a combination of strategies that work for you will propel your business to the top.

When I founded Online Pesa Kenya in March 2013, I was a clueless 23 year-old in his final year in campus. I had hardly any experience being involved in anyone’s business, let alone running my own business. But there I was, eager to take the bull by the horns. Most of the decisions I made, challenges I overcame and strategies I implemented were through trial and error. More than five years down the line, here are the key lessons I learned, that helped me build a successful online business in Kenya:


Like a newborn, any new business entirely depends on its owner to survive. This is why I hold the belief that a side hustle will always remain a side hustle unless you take charge and turn it into a serious business. You must know that during the early stages of your business growth, you are your business and your business is you. It is therefore important to work to present the YOU brand before the busienss’s brand.

With most online businesses being trust-based, customers will naturally want to do business with people and businesses they know and trust. While you might want to push your business’s brand, you should realize that it is so much easier to brand yourself as the go-to person for [insert you sell here]. Make customers buy from you, not only because you have the best quality or prices, but also because it is you they are buying from.

Effective ways to achieve personal branding

This one is a no-brainer: social media. It is a question of ‘how’ and not ‘what’. Everyone knows that there is power in Facebook and Instagram, among other social media platforms. I know people who have built successful online businesses entirely off Facebook. What most people don’t know is how to make the most of all the available channels. Here’s what you can do:

  • Know the difference between advertising and spamming.
  • Offer solutions before trying to close a sale. Solve problems before advising the potential customer to buy from you. People will be more willing to buy from you if they feel that they have more to gain from the sale than you.
  • Request your customers to share their experience with their connections. Yes, nothing quite beats the good old word-of-mouth marketing!


A huge mistake you can make while running your online business is to sell to anyone and everyone. It will cost you. Literally. Targeting a high quality, small audience yields better results at a lower cost than targeting a large unrefined audience. To avoid repetition, I will explain this further in the next section.

When making promotional posts on Facebook, you want to target groups where your target customers will most likely be. For instance, promoting baby products in a mums group makes more sense and yields better results than doing so in a general buy-and-sell group.


I have this wonderful quote that I always look forward to sharing when the context is right. “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.” I love it so much, I say it more often out of context.

You may have a fancy website and the most captivating logo but they mean nothing if you are not going to get potential customers to see them and actually buy from you. There are many ways to advertise online; take some time to know which methods work best for your business and how you can make the most of each to yield the best results at the least cost. Here are options you can consider:

  • Facebook groups (free)
  • Facebook ads (paid)
  • Instagram ads (paid)
  • Whatsapp groups and broadcasts (free)
  • Marketing messages (paid, SMS-based)
  • Google AdWords (paid)
  • Email marketing (free/paid)

As mentioned earlier, learn how to target your ads to the right audience. In light of this, take some time to learn more about your target audience in preparation for running paid ads. You might want to consider:

  • basic demographics of your target audience such as age, location, gender, occupation, etc;
  • keywords your customers may use to find products and services you sell; and
  • means of obtaining leads (target-customers’ contact information such as email addresses and phone numbers).

Cutomer service and support

We Kenyans have a peculiar lack of appreciation for proper customer service and support. You will likely relate when I say I have ever heard or actually been told, “Fika bei ama utembee.” (Buy at the set price or leave).

If you are going to build a successful online business in Kenya, you must embrace high customer service and support procedures and standards. How do you introduce yourself and explain your services? How do you handle packaging and shipping? How do you handle complaints and conflicts? What do you do when a dissatisfied customer causes a scene on social media?

Depending on your resources and the size of your business, you may want to invest in skilled customer support and public relations teams. It is extremely beneficial for you to acquaint yourself and all employees with the basics of customer service and support. Remember, happy customers always come back with more customers. Unhappy customers take away potential and existing customers.


From introducing new products and services to finding better methods of service delivery, you must keep innovating to ensure that your business survives. Be on the lookout for developments in your industry and advancement in technology that affects your business. You may not see much growth if you keep selling the same thing in the same location through the same methods year in year out.

There is no particular formula for doing business. This article is not exhaustive. Finding a combination of strategies that work for you is what will propel your business to the top.

What else do you think will help you build a successful online business? Let me know in the comments section below.

Enjoyed the read? Connect with me on Messengerfor more tips and topics every week.

Robert Kamaru

Robert is a freelance writer, blogger and e-preneur. He is interested in all issues mental health, lifestyle and online business.

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10 Responses

  1. Carole Magiri says:

    I really relate with this kind of feeling in my own life currently.. great pieces of advice..Thank you for sharing..

  2. Kanyi says:

    Fully concur, for your business to survive, you must be willing to work for it especially at the very early stage.

  3. Felix Abur says:

    Great read Robert. And as true in Kenya as anywhere else on earth

  4. Steve Okello says:

    Amazing tips. Insightful and practical. Brand storytelling: creating a strong brand right from the onset, and when people can trust in the value, it’s about when you break through the glass ceiling

  5. Isaac Odiedo says:

    Thanks for such an insightful read. I agree with you, an online business will thrive on branding as much as it does on trust and advertising. This is a good job you are doing Robert, my Forex ??