Qinnie Wang 1Is Canberra a great place to start an online business? Qinnie Wang from Oz Fair Trade believes so.

Her journey started from a trip to Southeast Asia in late 2012, where she witnessed extreme poverty and amazing handicraft skills. Once back in Canberra, Qinnie had an idea for a not-for-profit e-commerce focused on fair trade handicrafts from developing countries.

She thought it would help the people especially women who live in extreme poverty, and while fair trade has been around since 1940s, the Australian ethical consumption market is still relatively small compared to US and UK.

There is definitely room for growth, she thought. The only problem? She had no experience in business. She sought help from Canberra BusinessPoint, where she had a one-on-one session with an experienced business consultant, and a number of group information/training sessions. Armed with new knowledge and a burning passion, Qinnie launched her online business in February 2013.


ozfairtrade jewellry

Despite being a natural introvert, Qinnie quickly learned that the only way to get her start-up noticed in the crowded online space was putting herself forward and talking to reputable media. Qinnie's story was published in local media at the early stages of Oz Fair Trade (at the time known as Global Handmade). This brought Qinnie her first customers, and many of them turned into repeat customers and advocates.

Actively pursuing quality and relevant media coverage has continued to be Oz Fair Trade's dominant growth strategy. Qinnie believes that it is far more effective than paid advertising, and it helps to keep the business cost down.

Over the next two years, Oz Fair Trade experienced re-branding, new website construction, certification by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand, recognition of its charity status, and fast growth in sales.

All these were achieved while Qinnie kept her full time job at the Treasury. While growth could have been greater if she took leave from paid work, Qinnie believes that the financial stress would be too much, especially given that she also battles with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. There are in fact many public servants in Canberra who are starting side projects/businesses, and Qinnie believes it is a fantastic way to launch a start-up.


ozfairtrade scarfCanberra has not always been Qinnie's home, but after moving here from 2007 for a graduate position, she has never looked back. "I will die here", she says.

Qinnie believes that the benefits of running a business in Canberra are enormous, including NBN (available at Qinnie's home), less time wasted in transit compared to bigger cities, many free business related courses and free consultation services, lower house prices and rents which frees up capital, more relaxed atmosphere and happier people, higher average income and more social awareness.


There are downsides as well. Qinnie's biggest complaints include non-existent international flights, smaller crowds at weekend markets compared to bigger cities, and less events happening in general. However, Qinnie notes that all these are improving, and hopefully she will be able to fly directly to Southeast Asia from Canberra next year.


Qinnie's main tips for starting a business in Canberra:

  • Seek out other business owners in Canberra for advice and network opportunities;
  • Keep your day job if possible at the early stages of the business;
  • Do your own SEO if you have a website (Qinnie recently gave some advices in an BRW article);
  • Actively approach reputable media for coverage. Start from local media.