How to sell on eBay (or start a small business elsewhere)

You need money to make money.  Ironic but true.  Thanks to over-hyped scams, a lot of people think working at home or selling on ebay is a walk in the park, and it is.  Jurassic Park.  If it was easy, everybody would do it.

I’m in no means the expert on selling on eBay, but I get asked frequently what it is exactly I do and how does someone break into the eBay business.  So I’ll give you my experience.  What works for me may not necessarily work for you.  I’ve found self-employment works best when you find your own niche and business model and follow it.  Rarely does following in someone else’s footsteps prove to be successful and that is true for all aspects of life. There is no “100% success is guaranteed if you follow this model” unfortunately.  Or maybe there is and I just haven’t found it beneath the millions of work at home scams.

These are common sense to me, but I’m surprised how many people don’t realize this, so I’m going to quickly list important eBay facts to get those out of the way.

You need a paypal.  Not negotiable.  Sorry.

When you first start selling, you will have a low limit.  Continuously selling without hitches will naturally raise your limit a couple times.  After I believe 2 raises, you’ll need to actively request a higher limit.

You will not get your money right away.  Until you establish your credibility Paypal holds your funds for 1-2 weeks. Once the ball is rolling and you begin selling without issues, the funds will be there as soon as people pay.

Paypal and eBay both take a percentage of sales.  The more you sell,  the lower the percentage.  I believe when I first started selling they took on average 9-14% of each sale from eBay and another 9-14% from Paypal for each transaction.  Which is why some people dislike Paypal.  Personally, that’s just business. If you start selling more items a month, you may see that number drop as low as 5%.

EBay sends you an invoice every month for your seller fees for the percentage they take, whereas Paypal takes their cut right away.  So don’t forget to hold back some profit to pay your eBay bill or they will suspend your ability to sell.  If you become a top seller, eBay gives you a 20% discount on that invoice.  More motive to sell well!

So now let’s get to the not so common knowledge advice.

1) Research, research, research.  90% of my time honestly is spent comparing prices,  looking at new products, checking out competition, etc.  If you have an idea of what you want to sell (IE, you have a bunch of antiques to dispel or you found a wholesale retailer you’re interested in, research that product on eBay, and other websites.) Some things that go at a low price on eBay have quite a high value on Amazon.

If you have NO IDEA what to sell but really want to break in, NO WORRIES!  I occasionally hit a road block myself when business is slow and I’m lacking ideas.  Simply search for sold products on eBay.  See the market for products and maybe you’ll come across a market you’re familiar with and can obtain cost effectively.

Even if you haven’t a CLUE about what to sell, how to obtain it affordably, or how to market it, do not give up.  EVERY market has potential with the correct business paradigm.  Everybody has a niche they become experts on, either by nature or by impressive dedication.  Those aren’t motivational speeches.  Those are facts.

2) Invest.  Depending on what you decide to break into, you will need to invest a little bit of money up front.  You need money to make money.  The big money anyways.  If you’re on a budget, don’t fret.  Start small and ONLY spend what you make.

I have this philosophy that seems to work well whether relating to my business or gambling.  Chose a starting dollar amount (Any, small or big) and never get further than that in debt.  If you have $20 to invest (you can be successful on that, but expect the climb to success to be slow) and you profit $40,  then you have $60 to reinvest.

As tempting as it is to put everything you have into something DO NOT DO IT.  That only works well in Hollywood movies.  Not so much in real life.  The first time people start to succeed, they develop an extreme ego that they can’t fail and are tempted to spend more than they can afford on their project.  Slow and steady wins the race.  If you became successful tomorrow, it can leave just as quickly.  But years of dedication and success are less likely to suddenly dissipate easily and quickly.

3) Patience in a virtue.  You could have the most genius idea on the planet and it would most likely not be successful right away.  Do not expect to turn a profit overnight.  Or even within 6 months.  It’s a slow climb to success but well worth it.

4)  Creativity is Patience’s cousin virtue.  If something isn’t working, try new ways to market it, word the description differently, maybe risk losing money to auction it off to see the value of it, possibly consider selling a different product, etc.  Just don’t stop changing your business paradigm.  Stale business models create stale business profit.

Believe it or now, wording the title or description differently makes a HUGE difference.  When I sell seasonal items, “limited edition” makes more of an impression than the word “seasonal” or “Christmas”.  But if you’re selling around the holiday seasons, something that used to be a “unique mug” is now “the perfect gift for dad!”

When business is slow for me, I tend to spend a lot of time researching recently sold items in my market.  Sometimes, it’s just slow for that market.  Other times I discover someone new came in with new ideas that are flourishing.  Don’t copy necessarily,  but consider things you can do uniquely to beat the competition.

Not everybody shopping is looking for a penny pinching steal either.  It’s not always price you have to compromise. For example, I predominantly sell Asian items, which are generally shipped from overseas.  So most of my listings boast of fast shipping in the States.  Because Asian items are popular in the States, but it’s annoying to have to wait 2 months to try a new flavor of pocky.  People looking for rare items that are sold in other countries probably will be looking more at the shipping time than the cost.   Research and know your demographic.

5)  You will lose money to gain money.  This is something most people will unfortunately have to learn on their own, but I will do my best to at least warn you of it.  Internet business does NOT mean you will never have theft.  Believe it or not.  There are internet scam artists, who will inevitably get the best of you.  It’s annoying but brush it off.  Do NOT let them get to you or discourage you.

eBay is a buyer’s company.  If a seller and a buyer have a tiff, the buyer will get the upper hand.  Ebay requires sellers to offer refunds if the buyer claims to not have received the item.  Most consumers are honest and genuine people.  There is the small handful of douche bags who are looking for a refund or free product regardless.  I’ve had people claim to not receive the correct item, Ebay requires I accept the return, and when the package arrives it is empty.  But because tracking is there, I’m obligated to refund.  For those few people who are dishonest, follow eBay rules exactly.  They give you 7-14 days to accept a return.  Accept the return on the last day in the time frame.  They give you another 1-2 weeks to refund once the item arrives.  Refund on the last day in that time frame.  It may seem petty, but making refunds a little more difficult will discourage dishonest refunds.

On the flip side, if a buyer legitimately has an issue, packaged, or wrong item was sent, and they include pictures to prove it, RESPOND IMMEDIATELY.  The buyer is undoubtedly annoyed at the mistake.  Responding quickly and politely has turned almost 100% of my mishaps into a return customer.  Yes, you may lose money initially.  But they will return if they are satisfied.

6) ALWAYS BUY POSTAGE FROM EBAY!  You get a discount, it offers free tracking, the information is uploaded right away for the customer to view, etc.  I don’t even know why people would chose to not buy postage through eBay.  The tracking is free and will save you from customers claiming they never received an item.

7)  Just a general rule when deciding how to price things.  The average profit margin should be 25-35%.  Meaning, some items I sell will be 50% profit margin, while others are more popular and draw customers in initially but only profit maybe 5-10%.  But lower profit margin products may be what draw customers in, so don’t only look at profit margins when deciding to bring in a product.

For example, Ramune sodas are heavy to ship and I hardly profit from them after shipping costs.  But they are insanely popular and people who come for the Ramune sodas will possibly buy something else they see of interest that they didn’t think to search for that IS a higher profit margin.  Again, don’t be obsessed with cost and price when deciding to dive into a market.  Find a balance definitely, to ensure you profit, but not every single thing you touch will turn a profit.  Some items will turn a profit.  Some will only draw in new customers. Balance the two.

8)  Auctions are different for everybody but when you list them, track when they end and which days tend to bring the higher profit.  For me, auctions that end on Sunday afternoons and evenings tend to end on the highest prices.  But different markets bring different demographics and maybe your demographic will do most of their shopping and bidding on Friday nights.  Just keep a tally on which time of day will do best.  Monday auctions rarely sell well, unless the Monday falls near the beginning of the month.  People tend to get paid on Fridays and the 1st and 15th.  Keep that in mind.

I probably could go on and on about tips and tricks, but it’s like 1 am and I feel like I’ve covered the important stuff.  In no way, shape, or form am I considered an ‘expert,’ so I feel guilty for taking too much of your time up with advice.  Hopefully you found something useful here.  Any questions?  Feel free to ask me or the eBay forum.  Most eBayers are awesome people and will be glad to answer your questions!

Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!


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