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Can you make money on eBay? or A Baby Boomer's Guide to eBay.

Like so many baby boomers I was looking for a way to retire with an income to replace the world of work and jobs.

I don’t really have enough money to retire, and I’m not of a pensionable age.  My youth was spent in making uninformed decisions about money and superannuation – if only some-one had told me I was allowed to leave my money in the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund 35 years ago  – I could retire now with bells on!  However, they didn’t, and I can’t.

So, what can I do?  I’ve been mulling this over for years.  I’ve been to seminars and websites, I’ve discussed this with friends and read books.  Finally, through some lucky chance, I was invited to a weekend conference at which many entrepreneurs spoke enthusiastically about how simple it was to make money if you knew the right nooks and crannies!

There was property development, real estate, public speaking, futures, shares, copy writing and e-bay.

I had tried ebay already, wanting to sell vintage and collectable items that I had bought in op-shops.  Yeah!  Me and a million others!  Duh!

Warning:

I’m going to start off telling you my adventures by telling you my difficulties and frustrations.  Not to put you off, but so that you know where I’m coming from and where I eventually got and actually to encourage you to go for it.

I make a start.

I started off on something called Oztion but had a major falling out and closed my shop there in high dudgeon.  Oztion is still there, but it doesn’t have the traffic of ebay and so far I have found it a waste of time (I’ve had a second go at it).

Anyway – my first attempt at ebay.  I made a mull of it.  I thought I’d just start and learn as I went along.  Nothing wrong with that.  You do learn as you go along, but it is painful, slow, discouraging, unbelievably tedious – and expensive!

As an aside, you can get started on Oztion for practically nothing.  The trouble is, nobody sees you there, but it is at least a cheap way to get started and to learn.  It IS different to ebay, but there are many points of similarity, certainly enough to learn about selling on line.

So, there I was, wanting to make a living selling online, full of enthusiasm and ideas, knowing that I would make a million, set the world on fire, fill my friends with awe and have money flooding into my bank account while I swanned about in my brand new VW Beetle  (yellow or green) finding amazing bargains everywhere I went.

This was my lovely fantasy, not however my reality.

  • First, I wasn’t that ept on a computer.  (I am now though.)
  • Second, I really didn’t know what I could legitimately charge for my fabulous goods.
  • Third, I knew nothing about postage.
  • Fourth, I had little idea of packaging.
  • Fifth, it turned out to be horribly tedious writing descriptions of individual items and uploading photos.
  • Sixth Googling various “finds” and bargains to see if they were valuable and would make my fortune turned out to be lengthy, frustrating, boring and not always informative.
  • Seventh, the whole lot put together was as exhausting as my job and I kept thinking: “just keep doing your job, it’s easier”.
  • Eighth I didn’t have a camera and now I had to buy one.
  • Ninth I use a Mac and ebay doesn’t enable Macs to use their Turbo Lister (fast program to list items)
  • Tenth I had to have 20 feedbacks before I could open a shop (now it’s only 5).

So, tears and tantrums were the order of the day in my house while I tried to make head and tail of this beast called eBay.  I was fortunate to be supported by my partner – he’s great at the computer stuff and actually enjoys it.  He’s very patient and kind and he’s a baby boomer too so he understands the journey from dipping my pen in an inkwell when I was learning cursive script at school all the way through to touch screens in the 21st century.  Thank heavens for Brave Dave as my friends call him.

Anyway, long story short my ebay efforts fell in a heap.  And I was disappointed and frustrated and angry because it seemed like a door had closed with a bang!  Even worse than that, I also felt really stupid because I kept seeing people on the telly telling their stories of how much money they made and how they made money while they slept, and ka-ching went the cash register (or paypal) while they were on holiday and so on.  And I wasn’t able to do it!  It isn’t fair I cried.

Well, I did get over myself and I told myself to never mind ebay, just keep working, put extra in my super and retire on the pension with some savings in 4 years time.  Very sensible advice!  I just couldn’t stick with it!  I don’t like for something to beat me!  Now I wanted to do it just to prove my inner critic wrong.  I’m not stupid, or dumb.  I CAN do this.

My second beginning

Well, as it happened, I was invited to this seminar that I mentioned earlier.  It was run by a very energetic, dedicated and smart young man called Stuart Zadel.  Really smart concept.  You hire this fantastic venue (Tattersalls Club in Brisbane CBD) and you invite hundreds of people, you promise them fabulous prizes – large screen tvs, books, free courses, free gifts – and you provide a fabulous line-up of interesting Australian entrepreneurs and speakers.

It was a truly inspiring weekend.  The gifts were given as promised.  Two flat screen tvs were won for no effort at all, people were invited onto the stage to participate with various speakers and then the participants were given books and books and books and courses – it was disproportionate to the amount of effort.  But gee it felt good.  We were given gifts at our seats, we were given great ideas, we felt energised and joyful and it was the best run seminar.  If you get a chance, go to one.

Being me, I couldn’t help wondering – what’s the catch?  There has to be a catch.  They give us all this stuff, in this nice venue with this nice staff, and fabulous prizes worth thousands and no one has asked us for money!  Huh?

I think there were 6, maybe 8, speakers who had something to sell.  They gave us good information for free, and at the end they offered their product.  Each product was a course of some sort – how to invest in futures, how to invest in real estate, how to invest in property development, how to become a public speaker, how to write good advertising copy, how to become an eBay seller.  And people rushed to buy those courses.  I did.  I rushed to buy the eBay course.

The couple who wrote the course and ran workshops of their own are Australian.  They are just like me.  They are ordinary people with extra ordinary drive.  They are a lot younger than I am – at least 20 years.  They have strong Australian accents, are both good looking, are both a bit on the larrikin side and I believed that their course would be good and that they were fair dinkum.

And so they were, and so they are and so it was.  And best of all, they provided ongoing support.  Remember, this was a presentation that was maybe an hour and a half long.  But I rushed to buy the course.  It cost $4,500 but I figured it was money well spent, that I could do what they said they had done, and you have to spend money to make money.

So I got the course and I unpacked this huge box and it contained two large 3 ring binders, untold DVDs and CDs all neatly organised into lessons.  I read the books, listened to the CDs in the car, watched the DVDs and went to the 3 day course at the Gold Coast that was part of the package.  I was on a high!  I was going to do this! I was going to make a living on ebay!

Joint Venture

I attended the 3 day course at the Gold Coast and it was just as great.  We had a grand time, they were wonderful trainers, there were some prizes but better than that was the excellent information.  I had some ebay experience so I could understand what they were saying.  On the last day they unveiled a Join Venture program and I decided to sign up!  The JV program cost $20,000 but I thought, if I can reach where they have reached, this is a small price to pay for a good income for the rest of my life.

You have to understand here too that I am not easily roped into things.  I don’t buy the latest new toothbrush, or the latest bench wipes, I don’t buy lottery tickets or art union tickets and when I contribute to a charity I do it thoughtfully, not because someone has come to the door.  But this! This sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime – and I was going with it!

We weren’t accepted on the spot.  We all had to leave our names with the organisers, leave a deposit of $500 and they would ring a select few of us.  So I went home excited and hopeful and not at all concerned about $20,000 (which I didn’t really have all of, but I thought I could get a loan).

In due course I was phoned and accepted into the JV program.  Now Joint Venture meant that I would be helped to find a product to sell, helped to buy it, have my hand held while I got this product, helped to sell it with advice and support all the way.

Well, again, long story short – I couldn’t get a loan – but that is a whole other story which I will tell in a separate post.  So I didn’t join the JV program.  And in hindsight it was just as well.

The Down Side

It took quite a while to get my $500 back – many emails in fact.  Then, although I tried to get the help that was part of the package, it was bit like getting blood out of a stone, and quite unsatisfactory when I got it.  Young people reading my emails, and not reading them properly.  One of my emails said “I have read the relevant eBay sites and I still can’t … (do what I wanted to do)”  Back came the answer:  “Here are the relevant eBay sites ….”  It took me 4 emails and I still didn’t get a straight answer.  The answer (which I eventually found out for myself) was “List it directly onto the US site”.  But I wasted about 4 days sending questions and waiting for replies.   This was one of the selling points for buying the original course – for quick help when I needed it.  I’d been through the frustration of using the help pages on eBay my first time around and I really wanted a human to ask questions of.

I have to say that the package didn’t live up to its promises here.  I did not get help via emails, and to ask a question on the phone was like trying to break into a bank – you had to make an appointment, and you might have to wait a couple of days.  Fair enough, they can’t be answering hundreds of questions all day every day, but waiting for a couple of days for a phone appointment wasn’t much use either.

The Joint Venture course it turned out was kind of like a franchise.  They didn’t give you a product to sell, they gave you advice while you found your own.  The help came from the same young people who had(n’t) read my emails the first time around – I thought the help would come directly from the trainers who had their own eBay business and who were accredited eBay trainers.  So, after my experience trying to get help as an ordinary ($4,500) buyer I’m glad I didn’t hand over $20,000.  I also found out later that they accepted practically everybody who had applied (well over 100) so I’m wondering just how much help there really was.

And, although I was promised 12 months worth of newsletters (email) as part of my purchase price, they stopped after 6 months.  I thought maybe there was a mistake and again, after several emails they started again.  Then they stopped again and now I get 1 a month if I’m lucky – and then with just another sales link in it.  I don’t mind, they weren’t that useful, but if I’m promised something, and I’ve paid, then I want that!

In my view, the above is a truthful and accurate account of what I experienced, what I got and how I saw it.  It is not intended to denigrate the providers or to put you off buying that course.  It was a good course and it got me going again.

In fact, it is a very comprehensive course.  It WILL teach you everything you need to know about getting a business going on eBay.  The mistake is to think that once you have completed the course you will be making $50,000 or more per month – which is what the authors say they make with their eBay business.  The course will only teach you the mechanics of eBay, some basic business principles, some advice on how to select products and how to work with overseas suppliers, pros and cons of various methods of operating on eBay, how to write copy, take photos, find information for yourself, what “tools” to buy to make your life easier, how to automate your listings – stuff like that. Which is all great.  But you know what?  It’s not easy to get going on ebay.

Some Hard Work

In the end, you have to put in the hours and hours of work.  First you have to gather all the stuff from around the house that you want to sell (they suggest that you start off like this, and it’s a good idea to learn that way).  Then you have to photograph it, maybe wash it, then decide what to charge, then work out how much it costs to post.

The first item I sold was a pair of slacks.  They were beautiful but a little tight. So I photographed, and measured, and described at length.  Then I listed them for auction starting at .99c being confident that such beautiful slacks would sell for at least $15.  Well, they didn’t.  They sold for .99c.  And the listing cost me $1.40, and the end value fee was a few more cents (not sure how much) and the PayPal fee of around .30c.  Big loss.  I don’t think I charged the right price for postage either.  That was the last time I auctioned anything for .99c.  My advice, don’t do it.  There are lots of stories about how auctions started at .99c and went up to hundreds of dollars.  But there are way more stories of how auctions began and ended with .99c.

You will see lots of items for sale at .99c – some of them from China or Hong Kong, and you think – how can they afford it?  But take a look at the postage – sometimes it’s up to $10 or $15.  EBay frowns on this but doesn’t seem able to stop it – and there are lots of people who will tell you they let power sellers get away with things us ordinary folk can’t get away with.

Want life to be fair?

In fact, while I’m on the subject, there are lots of complaints about eBay.  There are websites and blogs and You Tube videos of how terrible eBay is.  There are critics of it everywhere.  However, eBay is king.  And if you want to make a living on it, you just have to deal – just as you have to deal with shopping mall management or landlords or councils if you have a bricks and mortar business.  Life isn’t fair, eBay isn’t fair.  But if you like to whinge about fair, and you don’t have the drive to battle through, then eBay isn’t for you.

Which brings me to what I really want to point out.  You will not make money on eBay selling trash and treasure items from garage sales and op shops.  Yes, everyone tells you that you can, but you can’t.  Maybe a couple of hundred dollars a week if you’re very canny, have a very good eye and have a fair amount of good luck.  And the listing of those individual items is very tedious, and it’s very hard to get repeat business when you’re only selling one off items.

At last – The Making Money Part

How DO you make money on ebay?  By sourcing goods wholesale and selling them on eBay for a good profit.   A friend of mine sources cameras for $90 from China, and resells them on eBay for $350.  She did the course I’m talking about.  She’s smart.  She’s a risk taker.  She’s young.

And that’s really the crux of it.  You’ve got to take risks, you really need some capital to play with, you need a lot of time to do your research.  You have to spend some money on internet “tools” – programs that will help you find wholesalers overseas, programs that will help you research trends and products.  It’s a bit cheaper than setting up a shop, but it isn’t free, and if you think you’re going to get started without spending some money, prepare to stay at the hobby level.

Yes, there are stories of successes – people who started with nothing.  But it isn’t going to happen to you.  It hasn’t happened to me either.

How-e-ver, after a year of fooling around with eBay, I can see my way to success.  I haven’t found a product yet, but I can finally see that it CAN happen for a girl like I.

Currently I’m still selling bits and pieces from my and my mother’s home.  I’m still having fun.

There are other sales platforms.  Amazon is very up and coming, and there are lots of competitors in the US, but they either aren’t available in Australia, or they require ridiculous things like a bank account in the US (Amazon) or they offer to send you a paper cheque through the mail (in USD – and YOU pay the conversion fee).  So, eBay remains king.

They make it sound simple – and it is, it’s just not easy.  EBay tells you you can get going in just a few minutes.  Well, you can.  But not very well, and you won’t be pleased with the results – the sales that is.

So, should you buy a course?

So, having told you the story of my experience do I still recommend you buy a course?  Yes I do.  You need help to do this, especially if you are a baby boomer and the internet isn’t part of your DNA.

You CAN learn everything you need to know through trial and error.  It’s just that you probably won’t live that long (joke) and you’ll give up long before you make any money.  So all the people who tell you how you can make a living on eBay are right, but they are also misleading you.

My best advice to you is to sit along side someone who has listed something on ebay, who knows a little bit.  There’s bound to be someone in your family or amongst your friends who has bought stuff on eBay and has sold stuff.

Here are the things that need considering.  This is an extended list of what I mentioned earlier.

First, I wasn’t that ept on a computer.

Having been born last century, computer speak doesn’t run in my veins.  There are many conventions that websites, including eBay, take for granted that you know.  I am forever saying to Brave Dave, “how do you know that?” and he replies “It’s just what you do on the internet”.  Now, he’s a baby boomer too, but he’s a bloke and he adopted computers from the moment they came onto the market – so he grew with them.  I basically ignored them and hoped they’d go away.  So, for my sins, I had a lot of catching up to do.

If you’re not ept, find someone who is.  You will save a lot of heartache that way, a lot, a lot of heartache – possibly even your marriage.

Second, I really didn’t know what I could legitimately charge for my fabulous goods.

You’ll probably start off selling things from around your house.  Everyone does, and it’s a good idea.  It’s good experience and it might even help you find the niche you need later on if you really want to make a living doing it.

So, what should you charge?  Should you auction it or put a fixed price?  Should you start at .99c?  Would anyone want this thing?  What will eBay charge me if I sell this item?  What will it cost me to list this item?  How will people pay for it?  Do I have to get a Paypal account?  How do I do that?  Should I get people to send me a cheque or a postal order or transfer it to my bank account?  Then I have to give them my address and my bank account number?  Will I then be a prey to identity theft?  Will some-one come round to my house if they don’t like what I sell?

Terrifying thoughts.  Think about it though.  Don’t let it put you off, just do one step at a time and get comfortable with your answer.

Third, I knew nothing about postage.

Having sold the damn thing, how on earth do I post it?  What will it cost?  Actually you have to decide that before you list it because postage is part of the listing process.

Do you have boxes to put that thing in?  Do you have bubble wrap?  Sticky tape?  Address labels?  Is it fragile?  Should I insure it?  How do I insure it?  Should I use a courier?  How the hell do you read this booklet from the post office?  I have to weigh it?  I have to have a scale?  Or you could take every item to the post office and get them to tell you what it would cost to send before you list it. (That’s what I did, but I have a local post office – don’t do this at a busy branch in a shopping mall.)

What if someone buys two things from me and they ask:  “do you combine postage?”  What does that mean? How do I?  Will it be cheaper?  You may be surprised at the answer.

Think about this before you list your item.

Fourth, I had little idea of packaging.

Do you have loads of bubble wrap?  Do you have packaging tape?  Address labels?  Boxes of all shapes to fit items into.

The post office doesn’t do fragile anymore.  You have to wrap everything as though the employees are going to play football with it.  Can you be bothered?  What if something breaks in transit?  What will I do about it?  Who is responsible?  Who will pay?

Fifth, it turned out to be horribly tedious writing descriptions of individual items and uploading photos.

So, you’ve got your glass vase to sell.  You’ve worked out how to wrap it, what it will cost to send, how buyers are going to pay for it.

Now you have to photograph the damn thing – in great detail showing all marks, cracks, imperfections.

Then you have to write a description including the measurements – height, circumference, base size, neck size.

In the process you have to work out how to use the dinky little program eBay gives you to use for your description.  And you have to pay for the photos you upload so how many do you want to pay for?  And if you’re selling heaps of stuff there’s a thing called a shop window which is a little scrolling thing you can install to show people all the other things you have for sale.

“Install?” you say – what does that mean?  Well, that’s computer speak.  How do I install it?  Where do I get it?  Why can’t I follow these instructions – it is in English, I know it is, but why can’t I understand it?

Now I have to choose a category to put this listing in.  What category?  Collectables?  Dining?  Vintage?  Is there a vases category?  How do I find it?

Sixth Googling various “finds” and bargains to see if they were valuable and would make my fortune turned out to be lengthy, frustrating and boring.

My Gran gave me this vase.  It must be a hundred years old.  What’s it worth?

You think “I’ll look at other vases on eBay”.  Good thinking.   You type “vases” into the search bar at the top of the page and you come up with 2,346 listings.  Then you discover that they’re not all vases in this section.  There are books with “vases” in the title, there are cd’s with “vases” in the title, there are shirts with “vases” printed on them, there are probably vases in listings for dogs, cats and cars – the most bizarre things come up in a search – and it’s frustrating as hell.

OK, I’ll Google it and see what I can find.  There are at least 200 pages to do with vases.  You’re exhausted after 5.  I’ll go to bed you say.

Seventh, the whole lot put together was as exhausting as my job and I kept thinking: “just keep doing your job, it’s easier”.

Well, that one’s pretty self explanatory.  I did think that.  For days at a time I would walk away from the whole thing in frustration but I always went back, I hate for something to defeat me.

Not only that, I’m a bit done with working for a boss.  I love driving a bus, but I love my freedom more.

Eighth I didn’t have a camera and now I had to buy one.

We did have a very early version of a digital camera, but it was pretty fierce on batteries and very unreliable.  So I went and bought one.

I’m not very good with gadgets and things so I wasn’t overly thrilled at having to buy a camera and try and get the best deal for the least money.  But, I did the right thing.  I looked on eBay for a camera, but what did I know about pixels and resolution and this or that type of battery.  Just sell me a camera for pete’s sake.

In the end I went to a shop.

Ninth I use a Mac and ebay doesn’t enable Macs to use their Turbo Lister (fast program to list items)

I had to list each and every item separately and upload it separately. For non-Macs eBay has a thing called Turbo Lister and you can list lots of items really fast.  But you have to download it, and you have to understand the instructions.  Get a teenager to help.

I did eventually find a solution – or at least Brave Dave did – and now I happily do my stuff on eBay and it takes me 10 minutes or so to do a listing.  But it was painful getting there.  And it’s still boring.

Tenth I had to have 20 feedbacks before I could open a shop (now it’s only 5).

Remember I mentioned Oztion earlier on?  Well, they allow you to open a shop straight away.  Which is what I did.  When I tried on eBay I discovered you had to have 20 feedbacks (now 5).  And 20 feebacks means 20 listings, 20 sales and 20 buyers doing the right thing – not that easy to achieve.

What’s the difference between a shop and an ordinary listing?  Why would you want a shop?

There were other things that I didn’t know when I started.  Getting feedback, giving feedback, why should I?  How much were the fees, how could I work them out?  Why is this listing $1.09 and this $1.40?  Where is the cut off point, how can I make it work for me, what’s to my advantage?  Should I pay more and get prominent?  How do I get to the top of the page?  And so on.

I’m listing all this out for you because I wish some-one had listed it all out for me.  Then I wouldn’t have felt so stupid and frustrated when I couldn’t get selling in 10 minutes and be making money tomorrow morning.

I don’t believe any one can.  I believe it is possible, it just isn’t very probable.  Especially for someone who isn’t very ept.

** You probably know ept isn’t a word.  Do you know what the opposite of inept is?  It took me years to find out, years in which I happily said “ept”.  Now I just prefer it.

And that was the advantage of buying that course.  It helped me with all of the above (except buying a camera, but it did tell me how to take good photos).  And that’s why I didn’t mind spending all that money, because it got me started, and I do sell on eBay, and I have made a little money, and I have had fun, and I have learned more about computers, and I have met people and had experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  That’s what money is for – to grease the wheels of life.

So, where does the big money come from?

Selling your household goods isn’t going to be an income stream for you.  It’s good to learn with and in the end you will probably just about cover your costs (including the mistakes you will make) but how do you make a living?

Well, that’s the thing.  And here you do need some capital and a little more guts than I currently have.

Every thing you read about eBay will tell you to source a product and then …..  Hang on a sec! Source a product?  How?

You’ll probably source one from overseas.  But how do I get it here?  What do I do?  Well, the course has some suggestions there too.  And there are tools available to help you.  But they cost money – $29.00 a month or so.  And then there are lists you can buy (don’t) for $19.99.  And a little course here, and a little course there.  For only $19.99 (US) or $47 (US) and so on.  Nothing however beats experience. You’ll learn by doing.  Best of all, get along side someone who has already done it.

So, sourcing a product, getting it on eBay, getting sales, getting regular sales, making a decent profit – it’s not that different to setting up a bricks and mortar shop.  The picture of you in your pyjamas making money hand over fist sitting by your computer can definitely come true, but it isn’t going to happen overnight, it isn’t going to happen without tears, and it isn’t going to happen without some capital.

Here’s the thing.  You buy an item at an op shop for $5 – say a vintage coffee percolator.  You list it on ebay for $25.  Looks good.

Costs:

  • Listing fee: $1.09
  • Final value fee: 2.40
  • Pay Pal fee: .75c
  • Your profit: $11.00

You still have to wrap it and take it to the post office.  That’s your time.  You don’t mind when it’s your household goods, but when it’s your business you have to mind.

If you don’t sell it the first time you may want to relist it.  If it sells you get the relisting fee for free.  If it doesn’t sell you pay another $1.09.  And then another, then another.  Or, you get to keep your vintage coffee pot.

Do this example with an item that you sell for $5 (and look on ebay, there are plenty of people who do).  I can’t for the life of me think why they would bother.

So, how hard do you want to work for $11.00?  See what I mean?  It’s all very well for people to tell you I got $25.00 for this old thing.  But ask them to tell you how much profit they made.

If you’re going into business think about what you are going to sell and how much you want to make.  $500 per week.  That’s 100 items with a profit of $5 each.  That’s a lot of packing up and taking to the post office.  And it’s a lot of listing too.

Or, you could sell 2 items with a profit of $250.00 each.  That’s a lot of capital invested to get it into the country, through customs and so on.  I have a friend who does this.  So I know it’s possible.   But are YOU the one to do it?  I’m not, because at this end of my life I don’t have the capital or the guts.  I don’t have the courage to gamble the little bit of savings I have.  I’m not a risk taker, I’m not an entrepreneur – not this lifetime anyway.

But I’m going to keep looking, I’m going to keep following up and working on my attitude and maybe I’ll make it.  I’ll let you know.

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