He scored Cs and Ds for his A level and was rejected by all universities in Singapore. Having no real skills meant no job prospect. So Sam Choo decided to sign on as an army regular during his national service. This took place about 40 years ago.
Despite having a stable job, Sam wanted to pursue his passion in IT. He left the army to join the IT industry, only to rejoin the military later after failing to make the cut in the private sector. In fact, at one stage, he was sacked on the spot from two multinational companies (MNCs) successively.
But today, the 58-year-old is earning a six-figure salary online. “My record was $14,000 in a month last year. Never in my life was I earning this kind of money,” said Sam. He is the founder of Singapore Internet Marketer Facebook group which has a fan base of 3,000 over members.
The bulk of his income comes from running training programmes for internet marketers. He also sells home study courses and ebooks online, and runs a variety of internet services such as web hosting.
Sam works from home most of the time. “I don’t have an alarm clock so I can sleep anytime I want, I can wake up anytime I want. I have a lot of freedom and flexibility… I get to choose and pick what I want to do,” he said.
Before he got to where he is right now, Sam had to endure a long and wild roller coster ride.
After being fired from two MNCs, one after another, Sam returned to the public sector as an IT support administrator and stayed there for six years.
He enjoyed his work but left because of workplace bullying. “My supervisor was hell bent on making my life miserable,” said Sam. “He would purposely give me unclear instructions and wait for me to make a mistake. He would then humiliate me by sending email to tell everyone in the office.”
Unable to function at work, he quit his job in a rash decision. He didn’t have much savings, and his wife and two daughters were depending on him to bring home the bacon.
“I was very lost, I didn’t know what to do,” said Sam, the sole-breadwinner. “It’s a very difficult time. I had never prayed so hard in my life.”
First foray in online business
Thankfully, his prayer was answered one day when he was reading the Straits Times Classified section. He saw an opportunity in the weakness of these ads.
Explained Sam: “For three lines, you have to pay $45. You can’t really describe the product and there’s no picture. And it’s only good for 24 hours. Nobody will see your ads after one day.”
For the same price, he would help business owners to submit their ads — with detailed descriptions and photos — on online portal like craiglist, gum tree and more.
Every day, he would collate phone numbers listed in the classified section, and send sms-es to offer his service. He obviously faced rejections everyday. But a group of people was willing to pay for his service –owners of missing pets.
He created a website Missing.Sg to offer his service. It is still running today.
“For $50, I offer to broadcast information of their missing pets to online forums, groups and portals related to pets,” said Sam. Examples included the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, and Cat Welfare Society.
On average, nine out of 10 missing dogs are found within a week; most are found within 24 hours.
Sam also offered website design and hosting service to supplement his income. These gigs kept him from going hungry while he looked for a new job.
With some online business success under his belt, he tried to apply for jobs at digital marketing companies. None offered him a position.
“I felt very depressed,” said Sam. “I had an IT background and a degree in computer science, I had been a software engineer for more than ten years, and yet I was not even qualified to get a job in a digital marketing agency.”
Sam had obtained a diploma from Temasek Polytechnic and degree from Informatics through part-time studies.
Sam eventually joined a printing company. This time round, he wasn’t going to tempt fate. “While I was in my full-time job, I did my internet marketing in the evening. I was working very hard, from 8pm to midnight on weekdays, and full day on weekends,” said Sam.
In fact, he considered his day job as a part-time job as he saw himself as a full-time internet marketer.
As luck would have it, three years later, he met a new manager who “liked to micro-manage, constantly trying to catch his staff making mistakes.” It was so bad that the entire team, including Sam, quit one by one within a short period time.
But he was better prepared for unemployment this time round. He eked out a living by providing freelance writing service on Fiverr, a freelancing portal. He also sold ebooks online. In all, he wrote 19 books on various topics, from public speaking to writing to health and fitness.
His hard work was paying off, the only problem was that he’s not making enough money. His family had to rely on savings and live frugally. It was only last year that his income suddenly jumped.
“My proudest moment came when I was able to (earn enough) to file my income tax last year. I am more proud of my income tax return than any other (academic) certificates that I have,” he said.
Today, Sam is debt-free and stays in a fully-paid up 4-room HDB flat in Simei, with his wife and two daughters, age 17 and 18.
Despite his new found success, he is not resting on his laurel. The reality is he cannot afford to.
He explained: “The thing about internet marketing business is that it is unpredictable. You can be doing very well today, but the next month, the well may just dry up. So it keeps me on my toe because what works today may not work tomorrow. I have to innovate constantly so I cannot afford to be complacent.
“It’s not like when I wake up, the money will drop from the sky. I still need to figure out what am I going to sell. I have to sell something everyday. If I don’t sell, I don’t make money.”
He keeps up with the latest developments in the industry by reading for hours each day, on persuasion and copywriting. He also takes courses regularly. For example, in business, social media marketing and video presentation.
Learn to sell though words
What advice would he give to people who want to earn a side income online?
Said Sam: “There is no such thing as get rich quick. Many people paid a lot of money for expensive courses, with the expectation that it is easy to make money. But the reality is that it is not easy to make money; the system can be simple but it’s not easy.
“They need to read up a lot on business and marketing. Business is about selling so the most important skill to learn is how to sell. Most people are too shy to sell, or don’t know how to sell.
“I would recommend them to learn copywriting and persuasion skills. They must learn to express themselves through words or video.
“As an introvert, I am not good with video, but I am good with words. Words is my preferred mode of expression. For me to be good at words, I write everyday. You have to be consistent in your craft.
“There’s no short cut; you can’t master anything in just three days (from a workshop). But that’s the kind of thinking that some people have.
“I learnt copywriting but even till now I am still learning. It takes a long time to master a skill. Learning is easy, but mastery is difficult. Mastery takes effort and time.”
Sam’s mentorship program
If you want to learn from Sam, he will be launching a new mentoring program called The Solopreneur. He will mentor participants one-to-one online through Facebook messenger. They will also be added to a secret forum where Sam will share his knowledge and insight. The paid membership programme will be launched on 1 October. Check out SamChoo.com for more details.
- Don’t look for business opportunities, instead look for problems and solve them. Sam discovered weakness in the three-line classified ad and offered a superior solution.
- Internet marketing is not a get-rich-quick business. It takes hard work, time and some brain!
- All businesses are about selling. But if you’re an introvert, you can learn to sell using words, i.e. copywriting
I hope you enjoy the story on Sam Choo and learn a thing or two. If you support what I am doing here for Happiness Notebook — interviewing people like Sam, sharing their tips on success and happiness — share this post using the social media button below.