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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....

Another Mac Success Story
October 24th, 2001

I have found another success story related to older users and their Mac's. I hope you enjoy it.

This story involves two women whom I will call Sally and Eve. They live in the same neighborhood and have known each other for many years. At the time this started Sally was 61 years old and had been widowed 5 years. Sally spent her whole married life as a housewife. Her house is paid for and she can live pleasantly with the income she receives from life insurance and social security survivor benefits. Eve was 65 years old when this started and had been widowed 3 years, and like Sally, she is able to live pleasantly with approximately the same funding sources. Eve had not worked outside her home since she was a teenager. As they tell the story, they were talking one day over coffee and discussed the fact that they were bored and wished they had more money for extras. They briefly considered taking a job but as Eve said, "I don't want to be one of those old ladies working at the local fabric store or discount house for a nickel ninety-five an hour." Although nothing happened at this point, the idea of earning more money had been planted in both of their heads.

Shortly thereafter Sally received a second-hand iMac from her son who had been encouraging her to learn to use a computer. Since he wanted her to be able to communicate through e-mail he also made sure she had access to the internet. Sally had so little knowledge of the world of computers that she did not even realize that her son was paying the monthly fees for her internet service. Sally really took to the iMac and began exploring the new world to which she was now exposed. She was so enthusiastic about it that she finally talked Eve into getting an iMac as well. Sally was the more adventurous of the two and was the first to start exploring the Web. Friends told her about the auction sites on the Web and the second half of the adventure began.

Sally made a couple of purchases on eBay and really liked it. Like a lot of brand new auction viewers she spent hours on the site, sort of browsing and trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. It wasn't long before she started thinking about selling on the site as a way to make extra money and she talked Eve into considering it as well. They eventually decided to work as partners even though neither had any retail background what-so-ever. Sally's son helped them work through the seller registration process, but he couldn't resist warning her about all the things he thought could go wrong. Sally said that like most grown children, her children thought she was a totally helpless woman who could be taken advantage of by any one who was dishonest. Fortunately Sally ignored his concerns.

Sally and Eve started out trying to sell a couple of things they had but no longer needed. They were able to work through most of the steps necessary for listing on eBay, but ran into a wall when it came to including a picture with their ad. They were discouraged at this point, but using e-mail, Eve started asking members of her extended family if they knew how to "do stuff with pictures on their computers." All she got in return was more warnings about how they should not be trying to do this. It was at this point that I became peripherally involved in Sally and Eve's adventure. Strangely enough, it was not through this column, but through an e-mail friend of Sally's with whom I work. My co-worker gave Sally my name and e-mail address because she knew I enjoyed buying and selling on eBay and that I am a Macintosh user. (Must have something to do with the tidbits I add to all my e-mail at work. Things like "The instructions said to use Windows 95 or better, so I use a Macintosh.) Sally wrote me for advice and along with the advice I naturally recommended Computing With Bifocals as a helpful resource.

I told them that there were some basic applications and equipment that would help them get started. The first suggestion was to purchase Graphic Converter so they could manipulate images as needed. One mistake many eBay sellers make is including monster size images with their listings. Big images take lots of time to download and buyers can get frustrated and skip that listing altogether. The same thing is true for backgrounds that are fancy and take lots of time to download on any dial-up modem connection.

My next recommendation was to get a scanner and digital camera that were Mac compatible, but if they could only get one to start with they should focus on the camera. Taking pictures with a non-digital camera and paying to have them developed could get expensive quickly. I also suggested that it was not necessary to get an extremely expensive digital camera for use in the auctions because buyers don't really expect perfect images. It seems to me that it is much more important to make sure the background is appropriate to the color of the item being photographed. I recommended that they look for equipment on eBay.

My third recommendation was to learn HTML code, or to purchase an application that would automatically create code for them. I have used Adobe Page Mill successfully, but there are a number of applications available for the Mac that will accomplish the task.

My fourth recommendation was that they get packaging material free from the post office. Buyers pay the postage and almost everything is sent Priority Mail. Anyone can request priority mail packaging, tape, and labels from their local post office so long as they use the materials only for mailing packages Priority Mail. An even easier way to get the materials is to order them over the internet at the USPS Web site.

My fifth recommendation was to help determine what they wanted to sell by reviewing the auction site to see what was selling well. One way is to search by manufacturer such as Dooney and Bourke handbags, Franciscan china, or other popular brand name merchandise. Dooney and Bourke handbags start around $200 each and go up from there. A lot of people are willing to buy them second hand. Smart sellers can look for specific items at estate sales.

I also suggested that once they have decided they want to sell on the auction sites continually they should look into the options available for applications that help them list and monitor all of their auction activities. As an example I use an application called A.I.M.TM (not to be confused with AOL Instant Messenger). A.I.M. helps me create a listing, figure costs, gather in e-mail addresses of buyers, and monitor the status of a transaction until it is completed. It also allows me to create standard messages to which it automatically adds the name of the buyer. It takes me two seconds to send off a message to a buyer concerning their winning auction.

All of this happened a little over a year ago. I recently contacted Sally and Eve to see how their business was going. I am happy to report that it is going very well. They like the fact that there is almost no overhead other than paying the fees to eBay. They don't have to collect taxes on anything they sell and they can report mileage as an expense on their income tax. Their biggest obstacle had been deciding what to sell and Eve said they got burned a couple of times. They bought women's bras through a wholesale company. They received a mixed lot of bras and started listing them. The bras in large sizes went quickly, but that was only about one-third of their inventory. They took a big loss on most of the rest of them and ended up donating them to charity. Sally said they realized their prices were no better than what women would pay in almost any store having a sale. The large sizes sold because they are much harder to find so buyers were eager to buy. They have now identified brand name items that they feel sell well and look for them at estate sales and at outlet stores. They are averaging $500 a month clear profit and expect that to get better during the upcoming holiday season. They each spend about 10 hours a week on the business, including going to estate sales and/or outlet stores. They now have a scanner and a digital camera but have not yet considered purchasing any auction monitoring software. They said they are really enjoying their business. They fact that they feel they have proved all the nay-sayers in their families wrong is an extra bonus. At the end of our conversation Sally volunteered that without her iMac she would never have been able to make all this happen. She also noted that her son had recently called to ask her how to do something on the internet and she was able to teach him.

If you have any questions, comments, or tips, let me know and I may include them in a future column.

Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.

Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.

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