Trading Assistants are changing the face of eBay. Last year, more than 14,000 TAs were registered in eBay's Trading Assistant Directory. In fact, helping others sell their goods on eBay was one of the hottest business ideas for 2005 and 2006, according to Christopher Matthew Spencer, an eBay Powerseller, Trading Assistant, instructor and author of The eBay Entrepreneur: The Definitive Guide to Starting Your Own eBay Trading Assistant Business.

Although the Trading Assistant Program is fairly new, the concept has been around for some time. "We were trading assistants before they called us Trading Assistants," Spencer, 37, says of his Burbank, California, drop-off store, The Spencer Company, whose 2006 sales are expected to reach more than $500,000. He says many eBay sellers go through a natural progression to becoming TAs: First they sell their own items, then they start selling things for their friends. Eventually, word spreads that they will help people sell on eBay, so they get business cards printed and start looking for people who need help selling their goods. Sound familiar?

Some TAs sell anything and everything, while others work a specific niche or price point. They work out of their homes or through drop-off stores, full time or part time, according to Walt Duflock, eBay's senior manager of seller development. The key to TA success, Duflock and Spencer agree, is tapping into the vast marketplace of people who want to sell online without spending time doing it themselves.

Business Sense
Meeting the minimum requirements for becoming a Trading Assistant is your first step. Those include: selling at least 10 items within the previous three months; having a feedback score of at least 100, of which 97 percent is positive; and maintaining an account in good standing. But there's more to succeeding as a Trading Assistant than meeting these basic requirements. According to futurist Dan Nissanoff, author of FutureShop and co-founder of Portero, a New York City Trading Assistant business for companies that sell high-end consumer products, the Trading Assistant business can be very lucrative if you know how to run the business.

First, decide what you want to accomplish and how much time you plan to spend achieving your goal. Do you want to be a stay-at-home parent and run your business part time out of your home? Do you want to make enough money to quit your job and run an eBay drop-off store full time? Or are your goals somewhere in the middle?

Ron Mansfield, an eBay Trading Assistant, consultant and author of numerous books, including eBay to the Max, warns that running a TA business is a lot of work, though all that hard work can pay off in profits.

Skip McGrath agrees. McGrath, a Trading Assistant in Anacortes, Washington, and author of various eBay guidebooks, points out that most financially successful Trading Assistants work full time (not necessarily in a drop-off store) and serve a particular niche.

The key, McGrath and Mansfield stress, is to realize that being a Trading Assistant is a real business, and you must treat it as such. It is important to maintain a professional image and strong work ethic. Some other tips include:

  • Invest in letterhead and business cards.
  • Answer your phone in a professional manner.
  • Dress appropriately when you meet with customers.
  • Focus on customer service--for the seller and the buyer.
  • Use written contracts.
  • Develop good bookkeeping skills.
  • Keep accurate records.
  • File for a sales tax number and an employee identification number.

Advertising Advantage
Effective advertising for your business is essential. "But that doesn't mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars [on] advertising," says McGrath.

Start small, he advises. Word-of-mouth is very powerful, so be sure all your friends and family are aware that you're available to help them--and anyone they know--sell items on eBay. Mention your business to people you meet at church or through clubs in which you're involved. Offering to sell donated items for nonprofits is a great way to raise money for charity and also earn a nice commission (it's a tax write-off for you, too). The key is to make yourself and your business known in the community.

Another simple, inexpensive way to find customers is to visit garage sales late in the afternoon. McGrath found a saddle at one garage sale that the owner was trying to sell for $300. Because it hadn't sold, McGrath offered to sell it on eBay. The saddle sold for $790--a terrific success for the saddle owner, the buyer and McGrath, who earned a 30 percent commission.

Some other marketing ideas include:

  • Classified ads
  • Community bulletin boards
  • Doorknob hangers
  • eBay's Trading Assistant Directory: Visit www.ebay.com/ta for all the information you need to sign up.

Product Selection
As a Trading Assistant, it's very important to know how to say no. "Junk is junk, and eBay isn't going to magically make it valuable," Nissanoff says.

McGrath agrees. "Six of the seven calls I get a week I turn down," he says. "They're looking to sell lower-value items."

McGrath and Mansfield suggest the following:

  • Set a minimum selling price. Determine what your time is worth, and don't sell items for so little that you won't make a good profit.
  • Make sure there's a market for all the items you're selling. Also check the selling prices for similar items on eBay.
  • Consider specializing in the types of items you sell, either by client or product.
  • Be careful about agreeing to sell items with a high degree of product liability (such as baby products).

Bright Future
The importance of Trading Assistants hasn't yet been fully realized, according to Nissanoff. "The Trading Assistant revolution will bridge the gap between eBay sellers and the general public," he says.

Spencer points out the virtually unlimited nature of the Trading Assistant's market. "There's lots of money in the Trading Assistant arena," he says. "eBay has helped me become a millionaire." Maybe it can help you, too.

Lisa Stammer is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She specializes in topics related to business, health care, technology and parenting.