Photograph — Make Money

When journalist Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo had her son, she struggled to find baby food that he would eat. So, she started making her own and posted about it on her Facebook page. She soon found that parents across Nigeria had the same struggles, prompting her to quit her job and start her own business – August Secrets – selling her 100 per cent natural food for babies and young children.

Oluwatoyin grew the business online, building a community of loyal followers on Facebook and Instagram across all 36 states of Nigeria and as far afield as Canada. Having started out alone in her kitchen, she has now hired 30 people and sells in thousands of stores. But like many small businesses, August Secrets was hit by the pandemic. With her office closed during lockdown and restrictions on exports, sales slowed. Oluwatoyin even made deliveries personally to parents who couldn’t get out to stores.

Oluwatoyin responded by focusing her efforts on engaging with her followers online – posting on Facebook and Instagram, sharing Stories, live-streaming to parents on Instagram Live, communicating directly with customers on WhatsApp, and using personalized ads to reach new people and drive sales. As a result, August Secrets weathered the storm and Oluwatoyin can make big plans for the future, like building her own factory and creating jobs in her community.

Oluwatoyin is far from the only small business owner who faced adversity during the pandemic. Sadly, not all managed to weather the storm. When Facebook surveyed hundreds of Nigerian businesses in July and August, a quarter said they were closed, and half said they’d cut jobs during the pandemic. And it has been especially hard for businesses run by women. Our surveys have consistently found that female-owned businesses are more likely to have closed than male-owned ones. In Nigeria, 73 per cent of female-run businesses told us they were currently operating, compared to 77 per cent run by men.

The silver lining is that many Nigerian small businesses like Oluwatoyin’s have survived and even thrived by focusing their efforts online. 55 per cent of the Nigerian businesses we surveyed said they now make more than 25 per cent of their sales digitally – well above the global average of 46 per cent. And a recent study by Genesis Analysis in eight African countries found that most female-owned businesses used Facebook’s apps and that social media platforms helped accelerate economic growth and opportunities in Africa.

Even before the pandemic, more and more people were spending their time and money online, and businesses were increasingly going digital to reach them. What had been a gradual trend accelerated dramatically last year when having a digital storefront, taking online orders, and reaching customers remotely became essential for businesses everywhere.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO Meta

The good news is all these things are much easier than they were just a few years ago – and that’s especially good for women and communities who have historically had fewer opportunities to succeed. Here are three things every business can do to achieve success online:

Establish your digital presence. For many this is the biggest leap. Yes, setting up a website can be complicated and expensive. But, in just a few clicks, anyone can set up a Facebook Page or an Instagram Business Profile for free. There are even free tools available to make it easy to take orders and sell online.

Learn the basics of digital advertising. Some small business owners think advertising is something only big companies can afford – and that used to be true. But with personalized ads, they can reach people they think will be interested in their products for just a few hundred nairas. Learning the basics is easy – it’s quick to learn how to create effective ads, identify audiences to show them to, and measure results.

Know where to get help. There is support out there if businesses need it. They can find user-friendly resources and training at Facebook’s Boost with Facebook Africa hub and there’s more support available at our Business Resource Hub. Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of economies in Africa. Their success will be crucial to the continent’s economic recovery.

I’m optimistic because the ongoing digital transformation is making it easier and more accessible for more businesses to reach people and sell their products and services – not just locally but across Africa and beyond. And that’s especially positive for women and others that have often had barriers placed in their way. In 2021, you don’t need anyone’s permission to turn a good idea into a successful business.

Article by Sheryl Sandberg

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