Developing a Successful Business

Do Unto Others

Want to be an eBay entrepreneur without expanding your current inventory-or, for that matter, even investing in inventory of your own? Then consider becoming an eBay Trading Assistant.

Trading Assistants do all the work for people who don't have the time or interest to handle all the details that go along with trading on eBay. There are plenty of prospective clients, including those who are Internet-challenged and people who are intimidated by computers. Other likely clients include people who are liquidating estates, those who don't have the time (or the patience) to hold a garage sale, and those who want to make a quick buck off the dusty collectibles in Grandma's attic with minimal effort.

All this creates a win-win situation for a prospective Trading Assistant. In addition to creating new moneymaking opportunities that can lead to excellent profits, you can specify exactly which merchandise categories you wish to trade in. You also establish your own rules and terms, which, of course, should be made crystal clear to your clients upfront-preferably in writing-so there are no misunderstandings later.

As a Trading Assistant, you'll write item descriptions for your clients' merchandise. You'll take photos and post everything to eBay under your own User ID. You'll also pay the eBay fees out of your own account. Then, once you've successfully made a sale, you'll handle the process of sending out the sold item(s) to the buyer. Finally, you'll leave feedback for the buyer, and you'll be on the receiving end of any feedback left by satisfied customers.

Naturally, all this expertise comes at a cost to the client. Typically, Trading Assistants charge a percentage of the sale (often 10 to 30 percent) once the sale has been made. Others charge a fixed fee just to take on a job, then charge an additional commission (say, 3 to 5 percent) once the item has sold. The various selling fees-including the Insertion, Final Value and PayPal Fees, as well as postage costs&3151;are all charged to the client and are often collected upfront.

There are only four requirements for becoming a Trading Assistant. First, you personally must have an eBay feedback score greater than or equal to 50 with a positive feedback rating of greater than 97 percent. You must have sold at least four items in the past 30 days. And, of course, you must be an upstanding member of the eBay community who will uphold the company's sterling image and values.

Signing up to be a Trading Assistant is simple. Just go to the eBay home page, and click on "Services." Then under "Advanced Seller Services," select "Trading Assistants." If you've met the criteria listed above, you simply follow the prompts to create your listing in the Trading Assistants Directory. (Be sure to include details like the categories you'll handle, the geographical area you'll cover, your rates and terms, and how you'll dispose of unsold merchandise.) Because there is no charge to be listed in the directory at this time, you're essentially getting a free classified ad from eBay. Make it count by including as much specific information as possible, both to entice prospective clients and to protect yourself from misrepresentation claims.

The Trading Assistant Program has been around since 2002, and there are about 50,000 Trading Assistants worldwide. That's good news for you because it increases the odds that you'll be chosen when a person accesses the listing for your ZIP code. To find out who's currently operating as a Trading Assistant in your area, click on "Services" on the Trading Assistants home page, then "Trading Assistants," then type your ZIP code (or area code) into the "Find a Trading Assistant in Your Area" box. You can also search by the type of merchandise they handle (or all categories if you prefer). You'll immediately get a list of sellers in that ZIP code, along with pertinent information about their operations.

One type of Trading Assistant is the Trading Post location, which is a brick-and-mortar retail location where customers can drop off items that can be sold for them on eBay. Businesses that already have a storefront or create a storefront to sell for others on eBay can meet the Trading Post requirements, join the program, and begin using the Trading Post logo on storefronts and in marketing materials.

Staying Ahead of the Competition

In addition to using all the eBay tools discussed here, there are a few more things you can do to keep your business viable and your sales strong. First, be sure to research your market continually so you can find new and exciting products to offer your customers. Otherwise, you could end up desperately trying to sell those Tickle Me Elmo dolls you bought at closeout prices way after their popularity has waned.

Second, keep an eye on what your competition is up to. Is a rival eBay user starting his or her listings at a lower price in an effort to undercut the number of bidders you get? Or is he or she offering new variations (sizes, colors, quantities and so on) on your tried-and-true product line to lure your customers away? If so, you'll have to make some bold moves, too, to compete. Be sure to monitor your competition regularly by reviewing other sellers' competing listings to find out how much their products are selling for.

Finally, pay attention to what's going on in the entertainment world, which tends to be the barometer for what's in demand. "The media [drives] what's hot on eBay, because pop culture items are such a huge market," says Collier. "Anytime a celebrity makes big news, you'll want to drag out the celebrity merchandise and sell it on eBay. The Today show is also a huge resource. If a celebrity gives an interview or plugs a book, you can be sure there will be a demand for merchandise related to that visit."

Collier knows exactly what she's talking about when it comes to pop culture. Her daughter, Susan Dickman, sold quite a few movie posters from the film Pirates of the Caribbean at a tidy profit at the height of the movie's success. Interestingly, however, the money started rolling in only after Dickman made a minor yet important adjustment in her original eBay listing.

"We discovered when we searched for 'pirates poster' that some were selling for up to $30 when ours were selling for around $10," Collier explains. "Once we sorted by highest prices first, we noticed that 'Caribbean' was misspelled in the titles. So we changed our eBay listing to the wrong spelling, and the posters flew out the door. Then we bought more posters from someone who was still using the correct spelling, and we sold those successfully, too."

This kind of "outside the box" thinking can make you a big success on eBay, too. Good luck, and happy selling!

If the Shoe Fits

When David Hardin, a shoe wholesaler in Mayfield, Kentucky, discovered in 2000 that he needed a way to compensate for a noticeable loss of business from the independent stores that had been slowly disappearing from his client list, he took a bold step: He went retail and started listing shoes on eBay (eBay User ID: shoetime).

Now, four years later, Hardin, 56, not only has a thriving wholesale business and a 200,000-square-foot warehouse, but he also has five eBay apparel businesses and, at press time, was pitching his company's services as an eBay Trading Assistant to a large company in China. Last year, the gross sales for all his businesses combined were about $750,000-and they're still growing.

"Four years ago, none of us knew how to turn on a computer," says Hardin's daughter, Shelly Hudson, 33, who is the company's sales and marketing director. "Now we're a top eBay seller, and we're always looking to bring new sites to the market."

To the Rescue

Selling on eBay isn't just a great way to build new business-it can save a failing business, as Lisa Vanasco, 41, discovered when she stepped in to help Ready Medical in Paramount, California, make a last-ditch survival effort.

The 23-year-old medical equipment sales company was close to shutting its doors because it was so out of step with the times. The owner didn't advertise and wasn't online, so his company was being seriously undercut by the competition.

Enter Vanasco, a temp at Ready Medical at the time, who offered to list some items on eBay. "Everyone laughed, but they let me do it," she says. "The first week I sold more than $5,000 of equipment, and we became a Gold PowerSeller soon after."

The physical location survived, and the company is healthy again, with 2003 eBay sales of $200,000. "We have a basic Web site with a link to our eBay listings," says Vanasco, who has since become director of eBay Sales at Ready Medical (eBay User ID: mentalgoddess). "There's no point having anything more [sophisticated] than that now." In fact, the eBay experience has been so positive that Ready Medical has scrapped plans to build its own Web site and doesn't advertise anywhere but on eBay.

Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer who writes on a wide range of business topics.

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