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eBay Selling Basics
How To Increase Your Chances For Success On eBay.
What can we do, you and I, to increase our chances of being SUCCESSFUL on eBay? And just what do I mean by "successful"? Well...
For over fifteen years now (since 1997), I've been learning more of the answers to that very question from some of the best people on eBay - successful sellers. Some are PowerSellers, some sell using multiple IDs, some sell on multiple sites. But they've all contributed to the general wealth of knowledge available on eBay, and I salute them in their efforts to 'raise all ships'.
What I've collected here are what I consider "the basics" - simple things that often get overlooked in the rush to start selling on eBay. And while that's generally not a big deal, sometimes thinking ahead can help improve your chances for getting what you want from an activity. So why not take a minute or two and read thru some of the commentary I've been sharing with new eBay sellers for years.
This lens is dedicated to my fellow boardies on eBay's "Building an eBay Business" Discussion Board. These folks are the best and brightest - and they know how to share. Hoist a pint of your favorite beverage and join me in a salute to the source of this wealth of FREE information! (Update: eBay 'rolled' this board into the "Starting an eBay Business" discussion board June 2014).
Listing consistantly and selling profitably, that's the goal!
It should also be noted that this guide is by no means the ultimate, definitive, no-other-answer-possible road map to eBay success. Such a document does not exist. Probably never will. Like shoes, eBay is -not- "one size fits all" -- what works for one does not necessarily apply to another. But as I stated in the opening, this guide is based on the collective wisdom of some very successful people. And that's gotta count for something!
Now, some of you might be asking "just who does this joker think he is anyway! Acting like he knows it all..." Fact is, I don't. I closed my consignment business Fall 2008. When the 'recession' handed me lemons, I had to make due with making lemonade. Sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is to "follow ones own advice". :)
Plan, prepare, learn when you can from the mistakes/missteps of others.
Are You Really Sure This Is What You Want To Attempt To Do? - (or, Just What The Heck Am I Setting Myself Up For?)
Success can mean many different things - let's look at some of the things you need to consider. Married folks - these should be discussed with your spouse, to avoid conflicts later and to ensure you are both on the same page. Single folks - if you have someone you are serious about, consider discussing these questions with them as well, for the same reason. Depending on your goals and desires, eBay could become a 'third party' in your relationship -- so bringing your significant other into the process very early is very good.
- ULTIMATE GOAL: This affects everything else, period. Just what is your ultimate goal with eBay? To become the Ultimate PowerSeller and rule the site? Or just to clean the unused junk out of the garage, basement, attic, and spare bedroom(s)? If you don't see the difference between the two, seek counseling now, this very minute.
If you are not sure what your Ultimate Goal is, that's OK. It's not life-threatening that you set this absolutely first - after all, we're still in the very early stages. But do keep it in mind as we go over the next points. Jot down some notes. Compare with your partner. Just don't say "it doesn't really matter, does it?", because it does.
- PRODUCT: Every seller needs something to sell. This is your product. If your goal is to clean out 'the junk', then 'the junk' is your product. If your goal is to make a few hundred dollars a month of extra cash, then consider something you already know a good deal about. If your goal is more long term, to start a new business or make eBay sales a full-time income, then your product choices are a bit more critical.
You'll want to be knowledgeable about your product, so that you can write up your descriptions accurately and with good details. Knowledge also will help you make good purchasing decisions, in the event that your goal requires regular influxes of product to resell. And it will also help when it comes time to decide to leave one product behind and consider others.
- SPACE: Before you sell your product, you're going to have to possess your product - and that means storing it somewhere. Storage is an issue that can quickly spiral out of control, ending up with stuff stored in places it should not be. And it's never as temporary as we mean it to be - so consider storage needs seriously.
What about drop-shipping? Good question - and we'll get to that later, so hush for now.
- TIME: Nothing happens on it's own, and nothing happens instantaneously. It's going to take time to manage your listing activities, time to do proper imaging, time to write/key descriptions that will sell, time to post, and time to pack and ship. Will you have time available to do all that?
This does NOT mean that you cannot pursue your eBay goals just because you have small children at home or you take care of an elderly parent. What it DOES mean is that you have to be very serious and very honest about home much time you can commit to your new project. Perhaps it also means scaling back your goal from world domination to just clearing out the garage.
- ACCOUNTING SKILLS OR SOFTWARE: This one comes from personal experience. You can easily get wrapped up in growing your business, dealing with the day-to-day operations, keeping up with everything that's going on. Don't let your books get away from you -- keeping track of income, expense, and the generated TAXES will save you some major headaches later on!
- GUMPTION: And by this I mean the ability to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, despite a strong personal desire to be doing something else. It takes a great deal of personal 'gumption' to continue what you have started. Starting is fun, starting is exciting, starting is new. Continuing is long term, continuing is the same thing every day, continuing is realizing you could probably earn more working a 'regular' job. Consider your personal history carefully and honestly, and if needed, plan for your eventual exit.
If your goal fits your ability to execute, you can still achieve success.
- PERSONAL FLEXIBILITY: And no, I don't mean the ability to roll yourself into a donut or to limbo lower than the whole second grade. I'm talking about your ability to adjust to changing circumstances around you - and the circumstances, they will definitely be a-changin'!
Between suppliers, governmental bodies, neighbors, eBay management, buyers, and even other sellers, things around you are going to constantly be changing. In fact, about the only CONSTANT will be the fact that EVERYTHING CHANGES.
Set attainable goals - you'll have more success to celebrate that way!
Choosing Your Ultimate Goal
(or, Finding The Target That's Right For You!)
Goalsetting can be frustrating, tedious, annoying, confusing, intimidating, simplistic, overdone, underplanned, or a million other things. Let's make this easy on ourselves, shall we?
There's nothing magical about deciding on a goal for your eBay activities. If you find out you overshot a bit, you can always scale back. If you determine that this first taste is good and want more - then adjust your goal accordingly and forge ahead!
There is no right or wrong, and probably no such thing as permanent. Allow yourself the flexibility to change your goal(s) as you learn more about them and the requirements to reach them. This is a Good Thing - being able to adapt. Embrace it - you'll need it. :)
Goals I Have Seen Along The Way To PowerSeller
Over the years I have talked to many, Many, MANY sellers about eBay and their experiences. eBay folks love to talk eBay... how they got started, their best sale, their best purchase, the most recent scam. Below I've listed, roughly in order of pain to achieve, the goals that these good folks have shared with me:
- I just want to clear out the garage / closets / basement!
That's always the way it starts... "I just wanted to clean up a bit and get rid of things we didn't need anymore." Little do they know that eBay is Addictive!
- I'd like to earn some extra 'mad money' so things aren't so tight all the time!
This is actually a pretty common statement. Many folks really do just want to make a few bucks, just so they can tell their friends they did, and maybe to have a nice quiet evening out with their spouse.
- I want to put away $2500 for our family vacation next year - so we can have fun and not worry about the bills!
If you have a talent for saving, this is actually possible. Not necessarily easy, but possible. I know people who do this every year - fund the family vacation via eBay sales! Everyone helps and things usually work out well. Good For Them!!
- I want to start a part-time business, something more than a hobby but less than a full-time job.
This is a 'nearing my mid-life crisis' kind of goal... not sure you want to really commit to a major change, but wanting to do more than just 'dabble'. Good for you!
- I want to start a small business - something I can do when I retire in a few more years.
You might be surprised at the number of 'retired' folks who are active on eBay. And most are doing quite well too! But even folks no where near retirement sometimes want just a bit more than a hobby but less than a job. This -can- be achieved, as we shall see.
- I'm tired of working for someone else - I want to be the BOSS!
Remember the old adage: "Be careful what you wish for - you just might get it!" This goal needs a lot of consideration, planning, and experience. It is usually an update for someone who's had earlier goals that they achieved and were pleased with the results.
- I'm unemployed, nearly broke, can't even get a job at McD's, and my rent's due in a week! I need cash fast!!
Forget it. Outside of pure scams, this simply is not possible. It takes time for buyers to build trust in a seller, and it takes time for a seller to earn that trust. There is no 'fast and easy way to make big bucks on eBay'... except by selling "guides" to the gullible. Sorry buddy, but you're just out of luck this time.
Thinking differently can lead to some of the most interesting products to sell.
Products, Products, Everywhere
(or, How To Focus On What You Can Sell Best)
There are a million and one things you can sell on eBay... maybe even a million and two. But how do you know what to sell? Product decisions will be key to how well you achive your goal, and are greatly affected by your choice of goal.
- If your goal is to clear out the garage, your product decision is pretty much right there (but you might want to back the car out first... if it's still in there!).
- If your goal is to develop some level of constant income, then product selection becomes more important. After all, with the right product, sales can pretty much drive themselves. Choose a poor product, and you may be living with it for quite some time.
Product Sourcing Tips... and Cautions.
There are many ways to decide on a product, and many ways to find a source of product. I'm going to review a few of both to give you a taste of things to come. Product decisions and product sourcing are important to achieving your goals, so let's not be too hasty here.
- CONSIDER SELLING WHAT YOU KNOW. And no, I don't mean your in-laws. I mean consider things you have some knowledge of or experience with. Do you have a hobby? What kinds of activities do you enjoy? Do you mentor/tutor or have any kind of 'life experiences' to draw on? Knowledge of your product helps immensely. It helps with answering questions from buyers, finding suppliers, making better buying decisions... it helps with a lot. So start by considering what you know or are interested in.
- PRIOR PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE. This may not be the best choice if you're looking to leave that old job behind, but it might be a good choice to get you started, to get a feel for what selling on eBay is all about. Again, knowing your product, being knowledgeable about it, helps in so many ways.
- LOCAL RESOURCES. No, we're not talking about mining or logging - we're talking about local manufacturing companies, distribution firms, or other businesses in the local area that may be a source of inventory.
- YARD/GARAGE SALES I know, not exactly the 'big business' type of product sourcing you were thinking of, but if you know your stuff, and have a community large enough to support it, yard sales/garage sales can be an interesting source of product for resale. Just don't drive the Lexus and then try to bargain the price down. :)
- SELF-STORE LOCKER AUCTIONS. Generally available in the larger cities, these Self-Store businesses have to do something with abandoned merchandise, left behind when someone can no longer pay their rent. Most facilities will auction off the contents - cutting the lock and letting bidders look (but not enter) before bidding begins. Be prepared to pay in cash or with approved credit, and to cart off your winnings and clean out the space by the end of the day. Furniture, clothing, toys, electronics, books, and yes even actual garbage -- all this and more can be yours for the winning bid! :)
- SERVICE BUSINESSES. Think dry cleaner, TV repair shop, tailer/cobbler shop... businesses that take in product, invest time, effort, and materials, and then may be left with a customer who decides it really wasn't worth the effort. These businesses may be interested in selling off this stock simply to recover what they put in. Be sure to get a clear bill of sale, just in case. :)
- RETAIL PACKAGING. Huh? Look at the bottom or back of most any retail product -- you'll find the name of the manufacturer and/or their distributor. These are businesses to contact if you are interested in selling the widget you have in hand. It's the simplest way to find a product source contact. If the manufacturer doesn't want to sell to your start-up business, as them to refer you to a distributor... and keep asking with each refusal. Someone will be willing to sell, or know someone who will.
- DEAD PEOPLE. No - you can't sell body parts on eBay! But the recently deceased seldom take much with them, leaving the family to deal with all that 'stuff'. It's called an Estate Sale and can be a great source for older items or small collections of items. Also watch for Estate Sales of people downsizing... clearing out the old, moving on to the new (digs).
- eBay Wholesale and Bulk Listings! That's right - you can actually source product ON EBAY! I would not recommend this for the raw recruit -- you need a good deal of experience to be able to accurately judge the resale value of the contents of the lot. And since you make your profits when you purchase (collecting them when you sell), making strong purchasing decisions is important. But if you feel comfortable, the option does exist!
- What About Drop-Shipping? I, and a lot of experienced sellers I know, do not recommend using drop-shippers for new sellers. The reason is very simple and very basic -- a drop-shipper is not the one who will collect the negative feedback and/or low DSR scores if the purchase is shipped late or not exactly as described. The drop-shipper has nothing riding on your sale... because there are likely a dozen more just like you signing up every day.
There are experienced sellers I know who use drop-shippers, and who make good money doing so. But in nearly every case, the seller had first established a wholesale purchasing arrangement with the supplier, and the drop-ship arrangement was secondary to that. In other words, they knew the performance and reliability of the supplier long before they trusted them with customer satisfaction.
New sellers need to take the time to learn to sell, to learn to be profitable on eBay (or any other online sales venue). Using drop-ship order fulfillment should be secondary to establishing solid supply sources.
You can never be too smart, or have too much space!
Space - We All Have It, But Do You Have What It Takes?
Space, for the eBay seller, can mean many things. It's where you will be working, where you will be taking your images, where you will be researching your products, where you will be contacting your suppliers, where you will be storing your records, where you will be storing your goods, where you will be doing your packing, where you will handle your returns.... and likely where your spouse, family, and friends will commonly find you. Let's consider a few things about your "space":
Your Space Checklist - Do You Have What It Takes?
One aspect of space that is sometimes overlooked is that of zoning. As in 'residential neighborhood'. In my town, they have no problem with me running my business from my home -- because I don't store ALL of my inventory in my house! I rent space in a commercial facility to store my inventory, keeping only a very small portion of it 'with me' at any time. These would be the items I am currently researching, imaging, or preparing listings for. Once that business is completed, the products go back to storage and are out of my house.
(An added advantage to this is less trouble with my neighbors -- I have NO large truck traffic coming to my home, and no 'foot traffic' (customers or clients). Just me and my SUV - and the FedEx man! :) ).
- Your Office. You'll need some amount of space to use as your workspace, your 'office'. If eBay is to become a semi-permanent part of your life, your space should reflect that. If your goal is the clear the garage, perhaps a less formal space will suit. But you are going to need some place to organize yourself -- because being disorganized is no fun, and no way to be successful.
At the bare minimum, you need a place to store your records. I'd recommend a ring binder to store your active paperwork in and some kind of file box to keep your completed paperwork in.
- Imaging. Sales require images - and the best images are of the actual item being sold. Regardless of what you are selling, you will need to be able to position, light, and image your product. And more images is generally better, so be sure you can get images from several angles or use several poses. Very large items are best imaged outdoors or in a very large space. Smaller items can benefit from one of the many lighting tents available, to help maximize lighting and minimize imaging issues. Determine what you need and define a suitable space.
- Filing. If you're clearing the garage, use a small filing box - just something to store your paperwork in. If this is a longer-term activity, ensure you have room for a filing cabinet or boxes of files. You'll want to keep a certain amount of your paperwork to provide backup for your financial documents.
- Product Storage. Yeah - you knew this one was coming! Consider the product(s) you intend to sell and the amount of space required to store them. Consider the number of products you are going to keep on hand to fulfill sales. For some, this space can amount to several boxes filled with baseball cards or postcards. For others, we're talking about warehouses filled with racks of palleted goods. Think about what you are planning to sell and do some serious planning for storage space. I can almost guarantee it's the space you'll run out of first. :)
Consider also that many metropolitan areas have what they call "zoning requirements" - things to keep commercial businesses popping in willy-nilly in quiet residential areas. Most zoning laws don't allow long-term storage of commercial goods in a zoned-residential area. Meaning you can't count on being allowed to convert half your home into a warehouse (most spouses don't like it either!). Rental storage can provide a flexible, reliable, affordable alternative to opening your own commercial warehouse. There are even some that cater to 'small business', and are more flexible when it comes to access hours, side-by-side units, or month-to-month rentals with no long term contracts.
And don't forget to plan for storing your incoming, unlisted inventory as well! At any given time, I have 2-3 times as much inventory stored pre-listing as I have stored post-listing. Different types of storage, but equally important.
Time Management is the key to getting things done when they need to be done... without the panic!
Time Waits For No One -- What Do You Need, What Do You Have?
Time. The most restrictive and limited component of your eBay venture -- you only get so much per day, and there is no 'saving up' or doing over. Once it's gone, it's gone.
All of which makes time management a very valuable skill for the eBay seller of any size. Being able to plan your day, ALL your activities (personal and business alike), is a big step towards achieving at least -some- of what you need to get done. :)
Things You'll Be Spending Your Time On
Let's review just a few of the things you are likely to be doing to keep your eBay sales going. And let's see if perhaps there are some ways to do more with less...
- Locating New Inventory Sources. Not a "do daily" function, but sourcing new product should be an on-going activity. The more you have listed to sell, the more sales you can potentially make.
- Researching Potential Inventory Pre-Purchase. Before you commit precious funds to inventory, do your research. Find out what your incoming shipping charges are going to be. What does that do to your per-piece cost? Storage needed? What's the current activity on eBay like? Sales activity? Do your research FIRST!
- Managing Inventory - Stock Levels. It's not a good idea to run out of a hot item just as sales are heating up, so plan to spend a little time once a week or so checking on stock levels. If you use auction management software, see if it can help with tracking inventory.
- Imaging inventory. Can't sell it without pictures - and buyers in some categories prefer 'actual item' images over catalog images. Check out your competitors and the 'big boys' in your category -- what types of images are they using?
- Researching Inventory For Description. Unless provided with the product, you're going to need to provide details about your items. DO NOT COPY VERBATIM FROM ANY SOURCE WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE CONTENT OWNER! That is copyright infringement and it's illegal.
- Creating Your Listing. By this I mean putting the pieces together in one place (Notepad?) for easier reference once it's time to list. If you are using auction management or listing posting software, this would be where you enter your information pre-posting to eBay.
- Posting Your Listing. This is the actual posting of the listing to eBay, be it manually (via Sell Your Item), via online services, or desktop software. Some applications allow you to schedule your listings for posting at a given time - a convenient feature!
- Managing Your Listing - Answering Shopper Questions. Get used to it -- no matter how complete your listing is, you are going to get questions. Allow time to answer them - people who ask before they buy, in my experience, tend to be better buyers.
- Managing Your Listing - Closing the Sale. eBay will close the sale, but then there's all that post-sale stuff. Sending emails. Managing payments. TRACKING payments. In other words - paperwork. Some auction management solutions can do this for you.
- Post Sale - Packaging For Shipping. That inventory isn't going to pack itself for shipping! Allow time to do it right - this is the first 'real' exposure of your business to your customers -- you'll want to make a good impression.
- Getting Your Packages Shipped - Pickup Or DropOff? Some services will put businesses (even home based businesses, if their paperwork is in order) on a regular pickup schedule -- very convenient. USPS offers free carrier pickup for Express or Priority packages... whenever your carrier comes around. Or you can pay to have them pick up at a given time on a single day. Or you can drive to any number of drop-off locations -- all the carriers have them. Takes time to drop off... but carrier pickup can tie you to your packages until they are picked up. Plan carefully.
- "Where's My Package - I Want My Money Back!" Not every shipment will go smoothly. Some get lost. Some get damaged. Some are on the back steps and just need to be picked up. There are post-shipment questions to deal with as well. And returns - buyers prefer sellers with stated, understandable, and reasonable return policies.
- Feedback - It's The Frosting On The Cake. buyers want it as much as you do - so decide when you are going to post feedback (post-payment, post-shipping, post-feedback-receipt) and plan to do so, on schedule, 3-4 times a week, if not daily.
- Keeping The Books You can hire this function out - they call themselves "bookkeepers". At the bare minimum, keep track of business purchases and payment received. Talk to a bookkeeper or your tax accountant about what you need to track for the IRS. Do it -before- they call you in to examine your return and your records.
- Managing/Ordering Supplies. Shipping supplies. Office supplies. Medical supplies (aspirin, Tums, etc). Every business requires supplies - once or twice a month may do to start -- just keep an eye on levels and refill when needed.
- Life... or something closely resembling one!
No need for panic - just learn to flex and go with the flow!
Flexibility - The Ability To Change With The Times.
Flexibility - if you've been around eBay for more than 6 months, chances are you are aware of the changes that have been happening fast and furious on the site. Flexibility is what will keep you selling when your competitors throw up their hands and head for other sites.
Flexibility is not stupid - it does not mean bending just because someone says you should. It means taking a good look at the situation you are in, the options you have available to you, and the potential outcome of those options. Then chosing the one with the best upside or least downside.
Flexibility is the knowledge that oak trees tend to be toppled by high winds, blown clean out of the ground, whereas the more flexibly willow may be tattered or torn, but it's still growing the next day.
Flexibility is knowing when to take your eggs out of one basket and move them around to other baskets... and when to make sure that your most valuable eggs stay in the basket with the best access to market.
Flexibility is adapting to change, learning to use it to your advantage, or to your least disadvantage.
The Most Important Thing
Don't lose your perspective. If your goal for eBay was to clear out the garage, and you accomplished that, then you are a successful eBay seller.
Set realistic, reachable goals and celebrate reaching them often - this will motivate you to continue until all goals, and the final goal, is reached.
And take/make the time to enjoy your accomplishments. Isn't that the reason we all work so hard at what we do - to enjoy the fruits of our labors? SO ENJOY ALREADY!
So What Does All This Mean To Me?
It means exactly what you want it to. If you want to take things slow, then take it slow. If you want to rush in where angels fear to tread, then good luck with that!
There is no 'right way' to succeed on eBay. Each seller will find their own way, ultimately. There's no reason we can't all learn from each other - but what we take with us from the sharing is going to be different. And that's as it should be.
Think it through, be sure you are comfortable with your choices, and seek professional advice in those areas that need it most. Reading up on something on the Internet is a good start - but some things are best left to the professionals. Like deciding on the best business structure for your activities. Setting up your accounting practices. Reviewing contracts with long term obligations. :)
If in doubt - ask. It really never hurts to ask.
So... whatcha think? Did I do good? Does it need work? Did I forget something? Do I have something in my teeth? Is my shirt tucked in? What? Tell me!!