The need to bring the bacon home and the lack of well-paying, stable jobs, as well as the responsibility of bringing up a young family, are perhaps some of the greatest challenges today’s urban woman faces.
More women are refusing to be slaves to jobs they do not like or enjoy, or that pay them at the expense of time spent with family and friends, and are looking for a work-life balance that works.
Working at home is becoming an option for more women; those who are lucky enough to have employers who let them work flexi-hours do so, but many more are quitting employment to start lucrative online ventures.
Online business or service provision is the in-thing in various industries, as the flexibility is greatly appealing; online businesses can be ran from anywhere, at any time of day or night, and do not often require too much in terms of investment in premises and staff.
Critically, they allow young mothers to spend time with family, and young women to spend their time doing what they enjoy.
The women Saturday Magazine spoke to this week dared to plunge into the unknown, financially speaking – and are now happy to be where they are.
All of them are making enough money to cater for their bills and family investments without having to step out of the house.
Njeri Mureithi, 36
Working at the Australian Embassy in Nairobi for nine years was not giving Njeri the satisfaction she so craved. But while there, she earned skills and contacts that have made her online business, www.readconsultant.co.ke, a business that can sustain her lifestyle.
Njeri offers advice on immigration matters for Australia and student recruitment for the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Canada and India. She works closely with people interested in living and working in these countries as skilled workers, and those wanting to study abroad.
The English and literature-trained graduate teacher operates from the “balcony of my house” in Kilimani, Nairobi. Sometimes, she changes the setting and uses her husband’s small office at Apple Wood Office Park.
It is now one and a half years since she quit her job and her monthly income is never less Sh140 000. 90 per cent of her work is internet-based, with most clients being referrals either by email, social media or telephone (including applications on WhatsApp and BlackBerry Messenger to keep in touch across borders for cheap).
The mother of three happily makes her six-digit income minus the fears she had before quitting her well-paying job.
“I was (afraid I might) fail as a parent because I would spend many hours in the office, including some weekends. I got fed up depending on a salary and never having a chance to go back to school without compromising the family,” says Njeri.
Although Njeri feels she is yet to learn “everything about time management,” she feels she will never lose focus on the reason she left a formal job, which was being there for the family. Every day, she says, she must pause and say, “I did my best for my family today.”
She is satisfied that since she quit, her relationship with her husband, a lawyer, is even warmer. “Quarrels come when one party feels unattended to. A rigorous job is not conducive to serving your spouse better,” she says.
Her husband supplements the bills, lessening her worries about where the daily bread will come from. In addition, to broaden her financial base, Njeri runs a greenhouse farm on leased land in Karen where she grows groceries.
“I have tomatoes, kales and other greens which I farm. So not only is my family very healthy, but I also get a bit of money from my sales to local homes and restaurants,” she says.
Rachel Essendi, 30
Rachel treats her unsuccessful job search as a blessing in disguise after she failed to catch one in her line of training. In 2009, the graduate of biomedical science and technology from Egerton University decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I gave up and declared my tarmacking (job search) unsuccessful and called it off,” says Rachel.
It was while sitting at home idly reading several books that she thought she could also sell some of them. That is how, from the comfort of her sitting room, she founded Rachel’s Bargain Corner, an online book store found at www.enrakenya.com.
Rachel sources for books from publishers in the country and also imports used books from international publishers. From her house in one of the estates along Kiambu Road, Rachel, in a good month, moves books worth about Sh300 000, taking home what she calls “a tidy percentage.”
Initially, she used to sell to individuals but secondary schools and colleges are now giving her orders. She sells various categories of literature from fiction to non-fiction, professional manuals, magazines and children books, with demand for them in that order.
“When I get an order, I look for the books. All this I do online but I have a team that now physically delivers to clients,” says the mother of two.
For clients outside Nairobi, Rachel uses post office or courier services depending on what one wants. Rachel has slowly developed trust amongst her clients, as they were quite wary in the beginning, sending her money before she delivered the books.
“My joy is that I have a happy family. I take care of my kids personally. It relieves a lot of worry about my children during the day,” says Rachel. She also says that the flexibility she gets from her business has enabled her “treat my children and husband well. I can control my day and it means I am in the right state of mind at the end of the day.”
Would she contemplate an 8am to 5pm job? Not as long as she has children, she says. “I think it would eat into my life and that of the family. If I can still earn the money, in fact more than I can get from a salary, why not give the family your best shot?” she poses.
She admits that it requires some resilience to start up and money does not come in easily. “Creating a scenario where someone you have never met sends you money without seeing the product takes some time,” she advises.
In a few years, Rachel hopes to expand by brokering between printers and clients. Her clients will access her website, design the products they want such as T-shirts, caps and other merchandise, which she will send to printers. “My work will just be to deliver,” she says.
Agnes Karuri, 24
Even if she had landed a job thanks to her diploma in business management from the Kenya Institute of Management, Agnes Karuri is sure she would not be earning in excess of Sh250 000 a month.
But from her bedroom in Garden Estate where she offers research services to both local and international post-graduate students as well as corporate managers with international companies interested in Kenya and East Africa, this is well within reach.
“I research, edit (sometimes I recruit editors) and present reports to clients on whatever they want to know. I have never met 99 per cent of my clients,” says Agnes, a mother of one.
She was reluctantly introduced to online matters by her techno-savvy husband James Karuri who was running a web hosting service provider. “It wasn’t in me but I got interested after I did some work and earned 500 dollars,” she says.
She has been running www.editors360.com for three years and now has a pool of professional editors in various fields whom she works with.
Agnes has a high-quality Internet connection which supports VoIP, and this reduces calling costs. “Many clients like telephone conversations before placing orders on my websites,” she says. She is paid electronically and is able to process more than six different credit cards and payment systems on her website.
With a young family (her son is aged three), Agnes’s face brightens when explaining how her marriage has been impacted by working at home. “I’m able to serve my family much better.
I prepare my son in the morning and I also oversee over my house-help ensuring nothing goes wrong. I drop my son at school in the morning and pick him in the evening, something many parents are unable to accomplish due to time and job constraints.
Since I am my own boss, I am able to adjust myself and take a central role in managing the affairs of my home. I am also able to support my husband in footing a number of bills. Already we are doing a multi-million project together and I am happy I don’t just watch; I support him both with ideas and financially.”
What do you need to have e-commerce success?
Setting up your own website where you provide consultancy services, research services, academic writing, resume writing, editing and data entry are some of the fastest growing and rewarding online businesses, James Waititu, a web-hosting services consultant, says.
Part of the reason for this is the flexibility e-businesses offer. “A home environment is suitable for this work due to a flexible working schedule. There is extra freedom and there is no limit on the amount you can earn,” he continues.
Waititu says the effort one puts in is directly proportional to one’s earnings, unlike conventional employment, where your salary is fixed no matter your effort.
However, one needs to remember that the ventures take some time at the setting up stage and one needs patience and dedication.
“You need to build trust with clients. You need to convince them that though you are new, you are equal to the task,”
He says that providing services in a niche area is more rewarding than seeking to do it all. “Customer satisfaction is normally higher than when you are doing everything.”
Money takes time to come, he says, and thus patience is key. “You also need web technologies if you intend to run your own website and to make it transactional, meaning you can be paid through it,” he advises.
Marketing the website is crucial, and for this you need a good internet footprint. You need to be easily found via search terms, on Google, on Facebook and Twitter, and through referrals from other websites.
He says, “This enables people search your services through Google to easily find you.”
On the flipside, he says, working from home may not afford you things such as health insurance, retirement plans and other types of conventional employment benefits.
“One must create a smart business plan to adapt to as you go along. You are also alone. You are isolated. You don’t have workmates to discuss ideas with or ask for advice. It can be challenging if you are not used to spending long periods of time alone.”