By Patricia Mabviko Musanhu
Many people doubt the possibilities of successfully doing business online in Zimbabwe.
When you listen to people talk, the reasons given are varied. They range from "the population of Zimbabweans who have the buying power is not big enough to support a business online"; "the country does not yet have a payment system online"; "people in Zimbabwe still prefer traditional ways of doing business" or "the economy is not doing well and people simply do not have the money." And I could go on and on.
Rumbidzai Shoko is a young woman who has established a business online and has witnessed its growth over the last two years. In November last year, her business was runners-up in a well publicised start-up business challenge in which there were over 50 entries.
For a business that had been started in her kitchen the previous year, this was encouraging news for Rumbi and she has not looked back. She has grown from not being known when she launched online to having over 40 000 followers.
Rumbi writes recipes on different dishes and compiles them into e- books which she subsequently sells online. She launched her first e-book in December 2013 on "Zimbabwe classic traditional fusion recipes" containing over 100 Zimbabwean traditional dishes.
"This was our best seller and we had a lot of Zimbabweans requesting for this book including those in the diaspora. Many of them said they had forgotten how their mothers used to cook these traditional dishes and this e-book helped them to include more traditional dishes in their diet," she said. To date Rumbi has put together nine e-books on other recipes and dishes from different parts of the world.
One of the greatest challenges she experienced when she started selling her e- books was how to collect the money from her customers.
"We used to pay using pay pal when we started but this didn't work very well locally. We then moved to money transfers using the cell phone and this proved to a better method."
Rumbi said the situation has now greatly improved since the launch of an API enabling online payments via mobile phones. It is now possible for one to use a cell phone to make payments online. She said this is the best method so far and is proving to be working very well on her site.
Rumbi says it is possible to run a business online provided one has identified a niche market. "It has everything to do with the business you are in and the products you are offering.
Find a niche area and look at whether there are a sizeable number of people who will buy your product." Rumbi said that she has always had a passion for food and because food is a necessity in everyday life, this has worked very well for her.
In order to add more value to her customers she has diversified her services to include free online baking courses in which over 1 000 of her followers participated. The course has video tutorials and each section has a test.
Rumbi is available online and students are free to ask her questions. At the end of the course the students receive certificates of completion.
As her following is increasing, Rumbi's business is catching the eye of some corporates in the food industry who are now keen on negotiating advertising contracts on her website.
"I know that the economy is not stable at the moment and people may not always have the buying power. However as long as people exist they will always have needs and if you can identify those needs and offer a professional service you will get business even in the most difficult of times," she said.
Rumbi is aware that her business online is competing against bigger brands from different parts of world. However, she has not been intimidated by this. "As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, I have the biggest advantage as I am always available to communicate with my customers and I understand the prevailing environment which I believe is very important.
For example, when I design my recipes, I make sure that all the ingredients can be found locally and where there is a need to make adjustments to suit the market I effect the changes immediately."
I suppose Rumbi's experience is evidence that there are possibilities even when situations may seem impossible. It simply boils down to how you respond to challenges!
The author is a Company Director/Producer at Black and White Media Productions.