EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 116 - April 04, 2004 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 7

Selling Services on eBay: Bring Your Own Beer

By Mark O'Neill

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It started with a group of girls and a crate of beer. Half a dozen female students who badly needed money auctioned themselves on German eBay. Their offer: hire us for a party and we'll bring a crate of beer to make things go with a swing. Everyone expected eBay to cancel the auction, but they didn't. By the end of the auction, the bidding had hit 30,000 Euros (app. $36,000), the girls and the winning male bidder were television celebrities, and eBay made a fortune in fees.

Ever since then, eBay Germany's "Other Business Services" section has mushroomed dramatically. After the "girls and crate of beer" auction, copycat auctions sprung up with varying degrees of success. This was followed by auctions for prostitutes posing as "escort services" and auctions for "sexy erotic pictures," which in my opinion, brought eBay dangerously to the brink of breaking the law.

But there have been cute auctions too. Recently, a little girl was selling her handprint paintings on eBay, and some kind-hearted soul bought them for 1 Euro (about $1.10). The auction had a picture of the little girl holding her painting and smiling for the camera. My heart melted.

With the economy going through tough times in Germany and with unemployment being so high here, Germans are increasingly turning to eBay in innovative ways to find work. Many use eBay as "online CV's" (resumes) in which they start the bidding at the minimum amount they are willing to work for. Among those job hunters is myself.

When I am not writing articles for Auctionbytes and Bookologist, I am an English teacher. I have freelance contracts with English language schools here, and I also teach private students at my home. But with jobs and money being so tight here, teaching contracts are not so lucrative, and so I decided to advertise on eBay. Where else can you advertise for 10 days, reach an audience of millions and only pay $2 in fees?

My auction start price is my minimum hourly rate. I have my picture, my email address, phone number and a list of my language services including teaching, editing and proofreading. I also list my teaching qualifications, membership of teaching other words I sell myself. Many people scoffed when I told them I was advertising on eBay, but within days of the auction starting, I got a lot of work. I had to relist the auction many times because the "buy now" option was always being used. Clients that I have received through eBay include the German post office, Deutsche Telekom (the phone company) and private individuals scattered throughout Europe. Three guesses what they want me to do? Proofreading their English-language resumes because they are unemployed or facing redundancy (layoffs)!

You can do it too. Do you have a service you can market on eBay? Do you have a skill you can turn into an auction? Lawyers can auction legal services, teachers can auction classes, artists can auction their painting services, writers can auction their writing talents. Keep the auctions on for as long as possible and your talents will be advertised to millions of people every day for only a couple of dollars in fees. Compare that couple of dollars in fees to what you would pay for a newspaper advert. Plus not as many people will see it because the paper's readership will be limited. eBay, on the other hand, is international and it is cheap.

So are there any restrictions? For a start, you can't provide links to any external Web sites that offer services for sale outside eBay. You must also not misrepresent yourself, exaggerate your experience or promise things you can't deliver. You must also not imply to eBay visitors that they shouldn't bid on your auction, but should, instead, contact you for private arrangements. That is a definite no-no, and auctions have been stopped for breaking these rules. eBay also has a policy on "choice auctions" that says that you cannot offer customers a choice of goods in the auction. However, you can customize or tailor the product to the customer's requirements. If someone bids for my teaching services, then they are buying my time. What they want to do in that time is up to them.

Many big companies are turning to eBay these days. If you have a talent they want, they could be getting in touch with you very soon. So what are you waiting for?

eBay's policy on choice auctions

eBay's Speciality Services Forum

About the author:

Mark O'Neill is Managing Editor of the popular tech blog, He is a Scotsman, now living the ex-pat life in Wurzburg, Germany. You can also find him on MarkO'

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