You've got items posted for sale, bids coming in, questions from potential buyers, and orders to process and ship. Are you stressed yet? Don't be. Stay in control with these time-management tips:

1. Make a plan-and stick to it. "It's essential to plan your time and keep a mental schedule," says Marsha Collier, author of eBay for Dummies and eBay Time-Saving Techniques for Dummies. She recommends setting aside time to post sales receipts to QuickBooks and payment withdrawals to a checking account balance once per week, instead of doing it every five minutes. Collier also recommends that, every day or every other day, you set aside time to ship merchandise. And you must also schedule in time to search for and buy new merchandise. The most difficult priority to factor in, according to Collier, is usually answering questions from customers. But no matter how busy you are, make sure to answer their concerns as soon as possible.

2. Use auction management tools. "The best time-management tip is to find a good auction management program-that's key," says Angie Cash, 37-year-old founder of Cashco1000 Inc. (eBay User ID: cashco1000) in Kennesaw, Georgia, which sells home décor primarily on eBay and projects sales to reach $500,000 this year. You can use the software to launch auctions, organize listings, keep track of inventory, track payments, automatically send out customer notices through e-mail, and even track nonpaying buyers to file for and receive fee credits.

It's also important to consider eBay's selling tools- Selling Manager, Selling Manager Pro and Turbo Lister-which help sellers save time and perform various tasks related to selling items. Before buying an application, though, shop around for the right one to fit your needs, as choosing the wrong utility can be a big time-waster. For a list of popular auction management software programs, check out " Tips for Choosing Auction Software ".

3. Hire employees. If you still need help beyond the assistance an auction management software program can provide, consider hiring employees. Full- or part-time staff can assist you with shipping, answering e-mails and more.

Mariano Ruiz, 50-year-old founder and owner of Reliable Tools Inc. (eBay User ID: reliabletools) in Irwindale, California, which sells $1 million of metalworking equipment per month on eBay, found that hiring a staff worked for him. "I tried to do it myself for the first few months, [but the business] just started growing and growing," he says. Currently, Reliable Tools, which expects sales of $12 million this year on eBay, has an average of 30 to 35 employees, depending on volume.

4. Use your time wisely.

eBay allows sellers to print USPS Priority Mail and Express Mail shipping labels with Delivery Confirmation for no label processing fee, and pay for the postage through PayPal. (PayPal is an eBay service that enables businesses to receive and send online payments through a credit card or bank account.)

Sellers can also print USPS shipping labels from their PayPal accounts. Fees for First-Class Mail, Parcel Post and Media Mail labels are 20 cents for label processing, and 13 cents for Delivery Confirmation. And now you can even order eBay-branded shipping boxes. Simply place your order, and the free boxes will be shipped directly to your address.

Protecting Yourself

While fraud is not a big problem on eBay, occasionally a transaction does not go as expected. Here's what to do when you encounter:

  • Nonpaying bidders: Contact the buyer/bidder after your listing has ended. Buyers/bidders can have legitimate reasons for not responding to you right away. If you still do not receive payment after sending a reminder, you can file an Unpaid Item alert. After 10 days of trying to resolve things with your buyer/bidder, you can request a Final Value Fee Credit. A refund will be credited to your account within 48 hours.
  • Bid shielding: If your buyer/bidder is engaged in bid shielding-protecting a low bid by deliberately using a secondary User ID to place an extremely high bid that is pulled away at the last second-report it to eBay's investigations department. Disciplinary action may result against the buyer/bidder.

Here are some additional tips on how you can protect yourself against fraud:

  • Never ship an item until you have received payment and it has cleared.
  • "Don't ship to a different address than is registered for the credit card," says Joseph T. Sinclair, author of eBay Business the Smart Way: Maximize Your Profits on the Web's #1 Auction Site.
  • Ship to a confirmed or verified address through PayPal, an eBay service that enables businesses to receive online payments through a credit card or bank account.
  • Protect yourself from chargebacks. If you follow the PayPal Seller Protection Policy, you can file a complaint and be reimbursed for the transaction, up to $5,000 per year.
  • Track your deliveries, suggests Sinclair. If someone claims he or she did not receive his or her order, you can prove it was delivered and received.
  • Check buyers' feedback ratings. A lot of negative feedback means you might want to cancel the buyer's bids or double-check that they are reputable."If somebody happens to place a bid, and their feedback is at a minus one, I have no problem e-mailing them and making sure they are really interested in the item, and that they are willing to pay [for] it," says Chris Porter, 34, a work force management representative for eBay and founder of All.business (eBay User ID: all.business), a Salt Lake City company that sells sports memorabilia on eBay and expects to make $14,000 this year. "This gives everyone the chance to explain themselves." If he does not receive a response after e-mailing that person, Porter removes the bid that was placed.

For more on shipping, read " After the Sale ." For additional details on protecting yourself, check out " Payment Problems ."

Providing Good Customer Service

If at first the sale succeeds, they'll buy and buy again.

Stellar customer service is the key to succeeding on eBay. Simply put: The more customer-friendly your policies are, the more likely your first-time buyers will become your regular customers. That means answering e-mails as soon as possible-within 24 to 48 hours-and shipping items promptly.

Max Wasserman, co-founder of Wasserman Partners (eBay User ID: xyzxyz) in Las Vegas, which sells on average about 200 VHS tapes and DVDs per week on eBay and projects sales of $225,000 this year, responds to e-mails in less than one day and ships at least every other day.

"Some people put in their listings that they ship every Tuesday, for example," says Wasserman, 70. "But for me, shipping every day is an important [part] of our business, and if we didn't [ship every day], it would have a big impact on our business."

The best customer service offers a variety of payment methods and clearly spells out shipping costs and policies. It's also a good idea to embed eBay's shipping calculator directly in the listing, especially if shipping costs are variable based on the buyer's location (or you could offer a flat rate to a specified area). Make sure return policies are clearly stated in your listing. And, if possible, offer guarantees that allow customers to return anything they order.

"We'll replace anything that is defective, without any questions, and we'll accept the return," says Wasserman, clarifying that he can do this because his products have a low price point of $10 to $15. More expensive items could make such a policy cost-prohibitive.

Accepting Payment on eBay

How will your customers pay you? Here's a closer look at the most popular ways of accepting payment:

  • PayPal: This service, which lets the seller accept a credit card or bank-account-funded online payment, is the most popular way to accept payment on eBay. "PayPal is accepted in over 90 percent of listings [in the United States], and 3 out of 4 eBay buyers prefer to pay with PayPal," says Bill Onderdonk, director of U.S. eBay Business for PayPal in San Jose, California. One reason it's popular with sellers is because it offers a PayPal Seller Protection Policy that protects against chargebacks. (PayPal also offers a PayPal Buyer Protection Program, covering buyers for up to $500 on a transaction.)

PayPal, which has a limit of $10,000 per transaction, has two fees: the standard rate, which is 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction, and the merchant rate, which is 2.2 percent plus 30 cents per transaction. The qualification for the merchant rate is $1,000 per month in payment volume.

  • Credit cards: eBay sellers with merchant bank accounts can accept credit cards from buyers. "But there are very few sellers who only offer a merchant account," says Onderdonk, who adds that setting up a PayPal account is easier than setting up a merchant account with a bank. "You can be up and running, selling on eBay using PayPal, in five minutes, whereas it could take you hours, if not days, to put a merchant account together."
  • Alternative payment options: Most eBay sellers let buyers pay with a check, a money order, a cashier's check or a direct wire transfer. Checks do have drawbacks: Sellers must wait for the check to clear before sending the item, leading to transaction delays. Additionally, when you send someone a check, you are also sending that person your bank account number, which makes many customers uncomfortable.

Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.