EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of our Money254 Partner Series produced in partnership with Absa Bank Kenya for the launch of the new Absa Buy Now Pay Later service for Credit Card customers. Our partners may suggest topics they would like readers to know about but do not influence what/how we write about it.
I think I have a special gift. Nay, I believe I have a special gift, and soon I will be proving it. From a young age, I was able to notice what most people overlooked. In class, I would always have a unique opinion that many would initially dismiss but upon reflection, they would come around to my point of view, well, sometimes.
Other times I would find myself in trouble, but this is not the story today. See, I am all grown up now and I am chasing the many possibilities and opportunities I see in this bustling city of Nairobi. I have just started a new side hustle and if everything goes well, I will be making at least Ksh70,000 every month. This is my story.
I landed my first stable job in January this year, some two months before my 28th birthday. Four years earlier, in December 2019, I graduated from a Nairobi-based university - full of hope about changing the world.
I was among the best students, the only lady in our class to graduate with a first-class degree. It was the best Christmas gift and my family prepared a big feast to celebrate my graduation. A number of influential guests, uncles and neighbours, added to my growing anticipation as they asked me to send my CV to “see what they can do”.
In January 2020, I came back to the city but was surprised nothing was coming along. I was actively applying for jobs but still, there was no luck. Days turned into weeks and then into months.
Meanwhile, I kept myself busy working on Upwork. Although my degree is in nutrition, I am a pretty good writer. I paid my living writing blog articles for health and nutrition sites from around the world. The only challenge was that I was ghostwriting - my name, or byline, was taken up by the clients.
I did not mind it much since I got to keep the money. The glimmer of hope dimmed when in March 2023, the global pandemic hit Kenya and changed our lives in ways that we are still grappling with today. Lockdowns, layoffs, salary cuts, entire companies collapsed - and the ever-growing anxiety about what the future would portend.
As the uncertainty went on, my sixth sense of possibilities was re-ignited. I figured that this would be the perfect time to further my studies with a master’s degree. I had lots of time on my hand and most schools had started to embrace online learning. The only challenge was that I was not exactly financially stable.
The Upwork assignments were making me a decent amount of money which paid my rent, bills, and some small savings. I applied for a number of global scholarships but nothing was forthcoming. Then I decided to try something extraordinary.
I approached my dean and requested to be admitted for a master’s degree. I told the dean about my dire financial situation and requested that I be allowed to pay 50% of tuition and clear the balance once my income stabilised.
The dean was impressed by my determination. She told me that the school initially awarded full scholarships to anyone who scored a first-class degree - but the plan was abandoned due to a shortage of cash.
She promised to follow up with the faculty bosses to reinstate partial scholarships for me and any other student who had scored a first-class degree. The long and short of the story is that in September 2020, I was on Zoom starting out my master’s degree in food nutrition.
After two years of juggling between my studies and my freelance work, I submitted my thesis in August and qualified to graduate in December 2022. By then, I was making about Ksh50,000 from Upwork, working about 4 hours on weekdays and a full day on Saturdays.
My expenses included rent, home internet, entertainment, study materials, and of course my dues to the taxman as a consultant. I was able to save Ksh15,000 every month - which I considered an impressive for a student.
After completing my coursework, my initial plan was to look for a job as a graduate trainee at a leading beverage company. If I was lucky, I would bag a six-figure starting salary and have a marked path for my career. However, my old friend and dean called in August, just days after I had submitted my dissertation.
She was so impressed by my work that she wanted to give me a job as a graduate assistant.
“Budgets are still a challenge here but teaching is a calling and I feel you have a special gift to inform people and provoke thought in a way I haven't seen before,” she said.
I was offered a 3-month contract which would be renewed to a permanent position after my masters’ graduation that December. The gross salary was Ksh60,000, of course, this would now be subject to PAYE - meaning my take home would significantly reduce. I felt happy and privileged to get this position, even though my dream was initially to work in the private sector.
I figured that I would be happier as an academic - spurring innovative thinking to my students and giving back to the university that had made me when I didn't have much.
The 3-month probation quickly lapsed as I learnt the ropes of academia. I wanted to give my students my best so I stopped working on Upwork. It was becoming extremely exhausting having to look at the computer after a full day of researching, marking CATs, or reading about new concepts in my field.
Fortunately, the end of my probation came with an extra Ksh20,000 on my salary. My new net income was Ksh61,000 with some loose change on top.
I was determined to get a side hustle, at least one that was not as mentally taxing as the Upwork gigs. The school would occasionally send me on research trips to Baringo where I would come back with pure honey and sell it to colleagues. Other times, I would help out the senior lecturers with research work and get some money - but nothing was consistent.
I started contemplating opening a printing shop - after observing the huge amount of printing work done at the school. The more I researched, the more I was convinced that the season was ripe.
My biggest concern was getting space at the students’ centre - since it would possibly be a conflict of interest being a staff member and renting space from the school. But I continued holding onto the vision.
In June this year, I was having tea at the staff common area when I saw a notice for a tuck shop to let, just outside the university compound. I called the number and went on to see the premises. Rent was Ksh20,000 exclusive of electricity.
However, to take over, I needed to pay a month’s rent, deposits for two months and Ksh100,000 as “goodwill”. The things Nairobi businesses pay! I needed a big printing machine - the Kyocera that comes with an inbuilt photocopier. Other miscellaneous costs like licensing, branding the shop, stationery, and related costs.
The starting capital was as follows:
Rent and deposits= Ksh60,000
Printer - Ksh80,000
Miscellaneous - Ksh70,000
In total, I needed Ksh310,000 to get started. Unfortunately, I had about Ksh 185,000 in savings - leaving me with quite a significant gap. I knew I could get some money from my friends and relatives to top up. The only challenge was that I would need to repay the soft loan in the short-term (maybe 2 months if I was lucky).
I also had a credit card from my bank, Absa Kenya, with a Ksh100,000 limit. Despite enjoying a 50-day interest-free period was 50 days, it was not possible for me to pay the cost of the printer without straining my routine budget.
A month passed and I still had not figured a way out. I had started to accept that this was not the best time for me to start the business. I planned on topping up my savings and hoped that they would be vacant by the time I was ready. Then one morning at the start of this month (July), I got a notification from Absa Kenya.
The message showed that they had launched a Buy Now Lipa Later service for credit card customers. With more research online, I found that the Absa BNPL service allows you to make normal credit card purchases and convert them into a BNPL, repaid in three, six, nine, or 12 months.
The first thing I did was to call the owner of the stall to confirm it was still in the market. It was. He complained that the tough economic times were slowing down his business. I pretended I had been thrown off by the high goodwill fee, prompting him to lower the fee to Ksh80,000.
The new budget looked like this:
Rent and deposits - Ksh60,000
Goodwill - Ksh80,000
Printer - Ksh80,000
Miscellaneous - Ksh70,000
Total = 290,000
From my June salary, I had increased my savings to Ksh210,000 which was enough to cater for all other costs - minus the printer. I visited a nearby electronics retail shop and purchased the Kyocera printer, swiping Ksh80,000 on my credit card. I used my Absa mobile app to convert the purchase into a BNPL purchase, choosing to repay in nine monthly instalments.
On Monday, July 3rd, my new side hustle was booming with activity. Some minor repairs were still being done but we were open for business from 7 am to around 5.30 when my attendant closed. Three weeks in, I am confident that this was one of my best decisions.
We open the stall from Monday to Saturday and remain closed on Sunday. The daily revenue comes to a minimum of Ksh5,500 between Monday and Friday. On Saturdays, we make about Ksh3,000 - on average.
This comes to about Ksh30,000 a week and if everything goes well, Ksh120,000 in monthly revenues. Now, my projected monthly expenses for July total Ksh50,000 including rent, electricity bill, the attendant’s salaries, and the stationary. If all goes well, it looks like my side hustle will be making me about Ksh70,000 on the side.
Of course, the biggest challenge is that the business is highly seasonal and we expect a big slump when the majority of the students go on semester break - but so far so good. My top priority is to clear the outstanding credit card balance which I am paying on BNPL terms. Interestingly, after paying my installments, my card limit opens up accordingly - which gives me a chance to make more purchases if I need to.
I will then build up a special emergency fund for the business, to withstand the fluctuations that would come when the schools are closed. I am also looking to have a mobile money kiosk on the same stall to further solidify its financial base. Would you like to get a credit card from Absa, you can make your application here.