eBay is the most straightforward way to make money online. Unlike ventures like private labeling, web development, and coding, eBay is easy to learn and it’s concept is simple: you have an item, and you want to sell it to make money.
The past few months I’ve been pulling in about $100 on eBay per day. Granted, this is gross profit, and not net, but I’m proud of my numbers and expect them to continue to rise. Some days I’ve made over $300 as you can see.
If you read eBay message boards, or online reselling forums than you are sure to see people complaining that ‘eBay isn’t the same as it used to be!’ and ‘eBay is a scam!’. Take these comments with a grain of salt as these people likely have 14 items listed, and pull in around $30 profit a month.
Once you figure out eBay and what to look for when out sourcing, the results increase exponentially. However if the idea of going to thrift stores and Goodwill’s several times a week to find inventory, taking pictures and listing, and boxing and shipping items makes you want to take a nap, than perhaps you should find another way to make money online.
I deliberately named this post ‘Guidelines’ and not ‘Rules’ because outside of being accurate and consistent with postings, and shipping your items on time, eBay is like the Wild West- there are no hard rules.
If someone tries to convince you that they have the ‘secret’ to success than that person is likely a) a charlatan trying to sell you something or b) a narcissist convinced that he/she is the greatest re-seller ever. That’s the fun thing about eBay. There are thousands of potential things to sell and dozens of different methods to use. With this idea in mind, the first guideline to remember is:
Don’t Forget the Small Stuff
Many people overlook the items that will net $5. I’ve gone to yard sales, and picked up 5 items that netted $5-6, and made about $30 in less than an hour. The reason is that I don’t neglect the small stuff. Surprisingly, the rush that comes with selling a $10 item is comparable to the rush that comes with selling a $100 item. Why is this? The reason is that the true gratification comes from selling an item that you picked out from the rows at Goodwill or the boxes at a yard sale. The money is nice too, but more of a by-product. That being said, here are three small items that sell for less than $20, but are abundant and sell quickly (all of the below pictures are my items):
This next point may be one of contention, but I find it’s best to list items quickly and go for quantity. I’m not saying that I list 100 crappy items that I got at Dollar Tree for $1 each, but some re-sellers are so meticulous with their listings that they handicap themselves and put a cap on their earnings. I remember listening to a prominent re-seller on YouTube who claimed to only be able to list 10 suit jackets in a day because he was so meticulous with his pictures and his descriptions and measurements.
Lately this guy posts eBay ‘rants’ and about how he feels burntout- understandably so. Listing 10 items in a 10 hour period would depress even the most stoic person out because that’s mind-numbingly boring.
It’s best to strike a balance. Yes, it’s good to take all 12 pictures, and yes, we should point out the stains and flaws on clothing or other items. But remember the law of diminishing returns. Pointing out a stain on a suit is necessary and will keep your customers happy, while differentiating the millimeter of sleeve length on the suit will have no impact on your customers experience. Thankfully there is a objective way to tell if you’re doing a good job on eBay: your feedback! Your customers will tell you if they’re unhappy and if you receive several complaints than you should probably take more time to describe your items. However, if you can list your items quickly, and receive positive feedback, than don’t fix something that isn’t broken.
Here are three ways to list quicker. First don’t make your descriptions too long. Pictures are worth a thousands words and nowhere is that more true than on eBay. Having high quality pictures makes having a long description unnecessary. Most of my descriptions are nothing more than ‘Good shape as you can see. Smoke free home.’ If there’s a flaw then I point that out, and if its a piece of clothing I list the measurements, but that’s about it.
The next way to list quicker is to do all of your pricing research before you list. An easy way to do that is to use this tool and then list your item in the ballpark of the other selling prices.
The last way to list quicker is to give yourself a time limit to list your items. According to Parkinson’s Law (law is a terrible word but oh well) a task will fill the given quantity of time allotted to it. If you give yourself 3 hours to list 40 items than you will likely finish in that time. However if you think that it will take all day than it likely will. Which brings us to our next guideline.
This point may seem counter-productive, especially because in the West we are obsessed with working hard and productivity. We have been conditioned by our culture and school to believe that killing ourselves under a mountain of work is the best way to get things done, and that if we can’t keep up with the pace than we have ADD and should be put on meds. What if this point was bogus and it’s actually unnaturally to ‘work’ for 8 hours straight?
I like to list for 45 minutes to an hour, and then take a 15 minute break. I do this anytime I’m working, but it’s especially important when listing since it can become tedious very quickly.
Taking a short 10 to 15 minute break every hour will make you more productive. Go make some coffee, or meditate, or go for a short walk. Do anything except staring at a screen. You’ll get more listed and be less exhausted.
Get the Necessary Supplies
If you want to be successful on eBay, than it’s best to treat it like a business. Sure, it’s possible to only dabble and make a couple hundred a month without the necessary supplies, but if you’re going to actually make some serious money (at least a couple thousand per month) than it’s best to treat eBay like a business.
So what are the necessary supplies? Boxes, tape, a scale, and packing paper. These are the bare minimum requirements to be sustainable on eBay. I never pay for boxes. I like to either look in dumpsters, or ask business for their empty boxes. If you go to a grocery store or a hardware store they are sure to have a ton of empty boxes that they will give to you for free.
Tape is also a requirement. When I first started I invested in a Duck Tape Gun and tape and it has saved me a lot of time and money. Buying packing tape by the individual roll is expensive, so buying it in bulk is a good idea. You are going to lose money on shipping eventually. It happens to all of us. Just last week I forgot to change the shipping weight for a lot of dolls that I sold, and eBay had defaulted to 1 pound. It ended up being about 8 pounds and in the end I lost about $15 on the sale. These mistakes happen, but an easy way to minimize them is to buy a scale and use it. You are going to need something to pack your boxes with to cushion your items. The best way to do this? Use blank, white packing paper. Bubble wrap is good too, but packing paper seems to be cheaper. Never use packing peanuts as they’re a pain in the ass to clean up.
Keep it in Perspective
Remember the legendary line in the Field of Dreams ‘If you build it they will come’. Let’s tweak this saying a tiny bit so that it applies to eBay and Amazon-: ‘If you list it then they will come’.
You can’t make money on things that you don’t list! That being said, making $100 a day on eBay isn’t difficult. It’s actually straightforward- source things that people want and then list those things. If you list higher quality items then making $100 a day is even easier.
Have a System
Our eBay processes are systems. How often we list impacts how much money we make, which impacts our ability to buy more inventory, we directly impacts how many items we can list and how much money we make, etc.
By looking at the total eBay process as a system rather than independent pieces it will help us make more money. How? Because it will help us stay focused (see below). Once we realize that our listing process directly impacts our net earnings we will be more likely to buckle down and list things.
Having systems in place also streamlines the entire eBay process. I have a system for how I research, list, and package things. First I take inventory of everything that I bought and am about to list. I write down the costs and then enter them on my spreadsheet. Next I research everything that I need to list by using the sold listing tool and as I research each item I take off any price tags using scotty peelers (which will save you a bundle of time). After that I spread out my white bed sheet (which I use to have a clean and blank background) and proceed to list everything. I take breaks (see above) every hour or so.
When I’m packaging up items I also use systems thinking. Packaging up one item, weighing it, and then printing out the shipping label, and then repeating would be the most inefficient way to work. Why? For one, we lose time transitioning from one activity to another.
By tackling each distinct stage before moving onto the next we will save a significant amount of time. First package up all of your items, then weigh all of them and record the weights, then print all the labels (and mark which items they are for) and then adhere all of the labels.
A lot of re-sellers seem to neglect their health. It’s easy to do when you spend so much time indoors and on your computer. But neglecting your health is the easiest way to short-circuit your success. Not making your health a priority is like running up your credit card bill- it may be alright for the first few months, but eventually, you will need to pay back the deficit plus interest (in this case by getting sick or burning out).
In the legendary book Boron Letters Gary Halbert, arguably the best marketer of all time, advised his son to take a walk every morning. Despite all of the other invaluable marketing advice in the work, Halbert mentions that this morning walk may be the most important advice in the whole book.
In addition to the morning walk what are some other things that we can do to ensure that we stay healthy? If you’re like me, and tend to get depressed in the winter months, then getting a Vitamin D3 supplement may be a wise investment. I live in New England, so it’s typically gray and dreary most of the winter. And it’s actually impossible to obtain all the necessary vitamin D from the sun during the winter months if you live north of Atlanta! That accounts for a huge amount of the US population, who may be vitamin D deficient without knowing it. What can we do to help fix this problem? Using a vitamin D supplement may help.
Juicing is another way to stay healthy and keep your energy levels superhuman like. Juicing extracts all the essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes from vegetables and is literally a nutritionally supercharged elixir.
I’ve noticed that drinking a mixture of cucumber, celery and carrot juice calms my mind down, and helps give me energy to bust out at least another 2 hours of listing.
Above we talked about essential materials to sell on eBay. But what is the most valuable asset that we posses to make us money? No it’s not our laptops, although they’re important. It’s most our brains! Unfortunately, modern society has successfully created an ecosystem of brain dysfunction through things like processed food, sugar, sleep deprivation, and chronic stress. One way that we can help ourselves is improving our mind but another thing that we can do is supplement with a high quality omega-3 supplement like fish oil. Researchers have done studies showing that omega-3 fats help lower chronic inflammation in our bodies and help to reduce depression.
Make Sure Your Money is in Order
This is probably my biggest weakness as a re-seller. Keeping track of money and cash-flows is extremely complex, especially when personal and business expenses can be hard to differentiate- was that tank of gas a business expense since I’m on my way to a thrift store?
Ultimately our eBay accounts are a business- at least we need to treat them this way for them to be sustainable. And what’s the point of a business? To make money! This makes having a clear view of our expenses and profits that much more important.
One necessary thing is to get a clear view of eBay’s fees. Although not the most riveting read, it’s vital to understanding them.
Another thing we can do to drastically simplify our financial life, and take away so much unnecessary stress, is to download and use You Need A Budget. This software imports data directly from your bank account and allows you to make separate categories so money can be budgeted to different areas. Although budgeting isn’t sexy, it may be one of the most important things to get organized financially.
Humans are masters at distraction. Considering that we have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day there is always something that seems worthy of our attention. Add onto this constant barrage of thoughts with the pull of social media and the endless entertainment of the Internet and we have a cocktail of distraction and procrastination. Unfortunately, these tendencies to be able to distract ourselves makes actually being productive difficult.
eBay is especially insidious. Researching one item that you need to list can turn into a marathon of looking at stuffed animals that have sold for over $50.
Having systems in place (see above) is one way to effectively counteract this tendency towards distraction. Reading The ONE Thing may also help you. Gary Keller, founder of the largest realty company- Keller & Williams argues that to get the best results we need to only focus on ONE thing at a time- one goal, one habit, etc. This radical approach is on the opposite end of the spectrum to American’s obsessions with multi-tasking, but even Warren Buffet seems to agree with it when he says
Be a Generalist
Contrary to the general direction of the medical community, it’s best to be a generalist (at least if you’re a re-seller on eBay). Some of you may do wholesale or private label, which means you should ignore this advice, but if you’re going to Goodwill’s or thrift stores then it’s best to know about various types of items that can make you money.
A few months ago I was in Goodwill buying stuff when I encountered another eBay seller. He was complaining about how bad the selection of clothes was. Meanwhile I went over to the electronics and found a vintage boombox that I eventually made about $70 profit on:
Later I asked if he was going to look at the electronics, and he responded ‘No I only sell clothes’. Why would you limit yourself like this!? Our minds have unlimited storage capacity, so if you keep your mind and body healthy (see above) there is no limit to the amount of knowledge that you can learn about what sells, which will increase your earnings.
eBay is a fantastic platform to make money on. It’s free to start, easy to use, and you gain access to people all over the world. Again reselling isn’t easy, but it’s simple: it takes work but anyone can learn how to do it. Also your earnings are directly proportional to your effort level, so the more you learn the more you can earn.
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