Online Goldmine

Start a small business on the Internet

Housewife Ng Bee Bee had just resigned from her job as an administrator so that she could stay home and spend time with her 10-year-old son. The first few weeks were a welcome relief from the stress of working full-time, but she soon began feeling bored.

“I felt that staying on in my job wasn’t the best solution at the time,” said the 48-year-old. “Yet, I had blocks of free time at home when my son was in school and I was just itching for something productive to do.”

Then she heard about online auction site, eBay, and decided one day to see what it had to offer. “The Internet really fascinated me at that time, and what I saw when I logged on to eBay was even more exciting,” she says.

She realised that people from all over the world were selling their products and second-hand items to buyers millions of miles away. “I saw the potential. The concept allowed you to start your own business and work from home with minimal cash outlay.”

As a mother of a child approaching his teenage years, the arrangement was simply perfect for Ng. Her husband, who works in the manufacturing industry, was just as excited, helping her source for industrial equipment that she could put up for sale.

It has been two years since Bee Bee successfully completed her first online transaction on eBay. What started off as a hobby for her and her husband has now become a bustling part-time family business. She now makes more than what she used to earn in her previous job.

“Today, I’m pretty well-versed in the mechanics of selling things online. I do the market research, and come up with the pricing and marketing strategies. My husband is the one with the product knowledge and it’s he who sources for the equipment we sell,” she says.

“The best thing is, I can do all this right from home. It’s my own time, and I decide when to work on the business, and when to leave it. I’m there for my son when he needs me, but if I need something to keep me occupied, there’s still plenty to keep me busy.”

Workshops for mums
Bee Bee is such an experienced online trader that she was invited to conduct a series of eBay workshops last year. They were targeted at mothers and expectant mothers who were interested in using the Internet to start their own businesses and work from home.

Former human resources manager, Monica Ding, 34, was one of those present at the workshops. Says the mother of two girls, “I was getting very bored at home, and I thought I could learn how to make better use of my time here.”

Engineer, Grace Tan, 35, who was in her last trimester of pregnancy, said, “After I deliver, I don’t want to be totally cut off from the outside world. I think this will help me remain connected, yet allow enough time with baby.”

Many of the mothers who attended the workshops were also accompanied by their supportive husbands. One of them, Ang Chee Beng, 38, who works in the manufacturing industry, says, “I think it’ll be good for my wife’s self esteem. This way, she will feel like she is still contributing to the family expenses, even though she has stopped work.”

Growing community
Response to the eBay workshops was overwhelming, with full participation at almost every session. Bee Bee notes, “There’s definitely growing interest. When I first started out, the community here was just a handful. Today there is a lot more activity.”

Last year, online selling in Singapore was given a boost when eBay eventually set up its much-awaited operations here. Previously, locals could only trade on other international websites, and this was a lot more troublesome.

Local buyers could not get choice items because some sellers did not allow for shipping abroad. Local sellers on the other hand, had a difficult time collecting payment from overseas buyers since ATM transfers and face-to-face meetings were not possible.

While online trading had been available on other local auction sites for some time, it was never very popular. Veteran seller of five years, Ben Naden, says, “As a seller, the response was always disappointing. And if you wanted to buy, you could never get a really good price.”

Sourcing for products
Online sellers sell a wide range on items, from clothes and fashion accessories, to collectibles such as Beanie stuffed toys, and trading cards. Bee Bee reveals, “Some people even sell secondhand items. You’ll be surprised. There will be buyers!”

Housewife Irene Goh, for example, sells baby’s clothes that her one-year-old daughter has outgrown. “You might not make a profit, but it helps cover costs. You’ll find yourself paying less in the end and getting more mileage out of your dollar,” she says.

Ben, the online trading veteran, sells Hard Rock Café button pins and accessories, making an average profit of 15 per cent. During the holiday seasons in November and December, online selling can net him an income of just slightly less than $2,000.

He says, “The market is not a given market. There’s no guaranteed income. But if it’s extra, then it’s a bonus. Besides, it’s easy money to be made just by sitting on your butt.”