I have been privileged to hang out with a lot of eBay sellers, many successful, some struggling. In the process I've drawn a few conclusions. There are, I believe, ten key ingredients required to run a successful eBay selling business, regardless of its size.
Any enterprise requires dedication, and your eBay selling business is no exception. There are going to be days filled with elation when a little $5 statue you found in a yard sale sells for $1,000. And I still get a kick out of seeing customers return, or receiving especially flattering feedback, or learning that buyers have added me to their favorite sellers list. It's easy to go to work on those days.
But once in a while you'll discover that a $1,000 statue was lost or damaged in transit and, as a result, you have received your first negative feedback even though you packed and shipped it carefully.
You will get knocked down. You will get bored. You might feel underpaid for a while. If you work alone you might feel isolated at times. For your business to work you will need to get right back up and come out swinging.
Two: Sufficient Start-up Funding, Well Spent
What happened? Ask anyone who has started a business that subsequently failed. The common answer? "We ran out of money. It was a great idea, everybody loved us, but we just couldn't hang on long enough." Things generally take four times as long to accomplish, and cost at least twice as much as you'd expect.
You need money in the bank not only feed yourself and your spawn, you will also need it to acquire inventory, to advertise, and to purchase the tools of your trade - hardware, software, services, and much more.
And how long will it take to get your business into the black? Garage operations with low overhead and a small hard-working crew can probably inch out of the red in a few months. Larger operations - particularly Trading Posts - might take six months to a year or more to become profitable in any satisfying, consistent way. The bigger and more expensive the operation, the longer the haul and the larger the long-term potential.
You can download a free Excel workbook called The "40,000' view PowerSeller spreadsheet" at (http://www.ronmansfield.com/downloads.htm). It will help you "what if" various selling and expense scenarios.
Having enough money to start your business is one thing. Spending it wisely is another. Yes, it would be cool to roll up to customers' houses in a tricked-out Cadillac Escalade to pick up things to sell, but I would avoid the temptation. Think "lean and mean" instead.
Three: Effective, Persistent Marketing and PR
Since that first caveman drew a picture of his awesome hunting accomplishments on a wall, folks have been bragging graphically about their ability to get things done. Everybody wants to be known as the "go-to guy." Today we are bombarded with "hey look at me" messages everywhere. And for your business to even get noticed, (never mind chosen), you are going to need to make a lot of noise in many different places.
Four: Find Great Stuff to Sell
One of eBay's big problems is getting enough good stuff to sell. As sellers, we have that challenge as well. It takes time to properly photograph, list, baby-sit, collect money for, pack and ship auction items. Wouldn't you rather spend your time and energy on hundred-dollar items than on ten-dollar items?
For some of you this will mean clever, aggressive shopping at garage sales, estate sales and flea markets. For others it will mean making arrangements with manufacturers, distributors, or local retailers for a reliable supply of items you can resell at an acceptable profit. For Trading Assistants and Trading Post operators, it means finding folks in the neighborhood willing to trust you with their "good stuff." Other sellers have found that they can make the most money by manufacturing their own products for sale on eBay, or by adding value to items they acquire cheaply.
Five: Never Sell Junk
This is more than just restating success key four in the negative. Avoiding junk is important for many reasons. Obviously junk won't sell for much, so you will have gone through the motions for little financial gain. But something else happens. When potential buyers get interested in you, they will often click on your "View seller's other items" link. If they find a lot of junk there, they will think less of you as a seller. And all that junk will make it harder for interested bidders to see the good stuff you are also offering.
Six: Give Great Customer Service
Success key six is "give great customer service." Each encounter shapes a customer's opinions, and determines the likelihood of their maintaining ongoing relationships with us.
Seven: Create an Efficient, Pleasant Facility
Where you work can be as important as how you work. Your space need not be huge, but it should be efficient and complete. Just as there are great kitchens to cook in and others that are downright annoying, I've seen wonderful PowerSeller workspaces and some that are dreadful. You need to put some time and money into creating a comfortable, efficient workspace regardless of whether yours will be a kitchen table, a garage, a warehouse or a retail storefront.
If you plan to be a Trading Assistant, give some thought to where you can safely, conveniently and comfortably meet customers. If you are planning a storefront, then customer meetings are obviously going to be held at the counter. But if you work from home, will you and your customers be comfortable meeting there? Many Trading Assistants go to their customers' homes for initial meetings and take wireless-equipped laptops for research. Some Assistants working without commercial space tell me they do initial meetings in public places - coffee shops, for example. This can make one or both parties feel safer.
Eight: Create Polished Listings & Photos
Another key to success is to create "stand out" listings. You want photos that pop, and descriptions that invite, inform, and then compel competitive bidding. This will make a huge difference.
Doubt it? I did an experiment. "How much more," I wondered, "could I get for a collectible radio I had just purchased if I created a better listing than the original seller's?" I had been one of two bidders, and purchased it for $10.49. I shot new photos, wrote a better description and re-listed it the next week. The radio sold for $91.00 at the second auction, an increase of more than $80.00 over the first attempt; and there were 15 bids, as opposed to two bids the first time.
Nine: Pay Attention to the Details
It creeps up on you innocently enough. At first you have a handful items to sell in your new business, and you can keep track of everything in your head. Then one day, there are too many things to remember - dozens of auctions closing, some paid, others not. Some shipped, some misplaced, or worse yet, parts of an item have gone missing.
You need to get in the habit of keeping everything rigidly organized even when it's unnecessary to do so. You, and your staff, if you have one, need to develop good working habits from the very beginning. Because, if you are doing great marketing and giving fantastic customer service, you could suddenly get really, really busy. And by then it's too late to organize.
Ten: Do Good Recordkeeping
The last key to success is recordkeeping. Some people love bookkeeping. It's a struggle for me. Regardless of your feelings about recordkeeping, it needs to be done. You will need to keep written or reliable electronic records of inventory, money spent on items for resale, money owed and paid to customers if you are a Trading Assistant, sales tax you have collected, and more. For example, in some states, law enforcement requires you to keep records for them in an attempt to thwart the sale of stolen property.