Simple Steps for Starting an eBay Biz

New to the world of eBay? Never fear. Guide your business toward success with these simple startup tips.

Ted Corriher, a home, garden and farm equipment dealer in Newton, North Carolina, didn't know much about computers or the internet four years ago. He didn't even have a personal e-mail account. "I am computer illiterate," he says. "But all my friends were buying on eBay, and I didn't want to miss [out]." So he asked one of his employees to find out how he could sell his equipment on eBay. That was three years ago. Today, he sells about $100,000 worth of equipment on eBay every month, and his predominantly tractor-sales business has grown from $4 million to $10 million in annual sales.

It's almost hard to believe this $3.27 billion online marketplace with a record 404 million listings as of the end of 2004 was Corriher's initial foray onto the internet. The opportunity to expand beyond a 300-mile radius from the doorstep of Corriher Implement Co., which his grandfather started in the 1850s, is part of what persuaded this 40-year-old to join a whopping 147 million registered users on eBay. Operating under the User ID tractor123, Corriher says eBay has been a rewarding and enlightening business expansion, much like the era when his grandfather abandoned the sale of mules in favor of farm equipment.

"As soon as I got involved [in eBay], it opened up a whole new world for me," says Corriher. His new and used New Holland tractors sell for upwards of $10,000 apiece to buyers all across the United States.

Corriher is a PowerSeller, an official designation bestowed by eBay upon those sellers who have reached a certain sales performance and have a high level of total feedback, with at least a 98 percent positive rating by other eBay users. It's not impossible for the startup seller to reach this level of achievement in as short a time as Corriher, if not shorter. Here are success tactics from eBay experts and PowerSellers that just might help you succeed alongside one of the 724,000 people in the U.S. currently making either a full-time or part-time living selling wares on eBay.

Getting Started

While Corriher's tractor business took off on eBay, most sellers don't start out with such high-ticket items. Whatever you decide to sell, setting up shop on eBay is fairly easy to do. There are virtually no startup costs, you can work from home with almost no overhead, and your marketing can all be done online, right within eBay. An internet connection is all you need, aside from the most important requirement: inventory. At any given time, there are approximately 50 million items available on eBay worldwide, with 5 million new items added each day. To compete, you must have an item to sell, even if it's ad space on your forehead, which Omaha resident Andrew Fischer, 20, sold to highest bidder SnoreStop for $37,375 in January.

Your best chance at success is to start out selling something you are fairly knowledgeable about, say experts, because you're more likely to be on target about the value of what you're selling. If you do not have expertise with your items, don't fret. You can get up to speed fairly quickly by doing research on eBay, says Joseph T. Sinclair, author of eBay Business the Smart Way. Scan eBay's completed listings archives to track how much similar items have recently sold for, he says. Once you know your inventory, you can price it well and move it quickly.

Marsha Pater, 47, started her $120,000 business on eBay seven years ago with a camera and overstock inventory her husband, Bill, 56, had earmarked for the scrap yard from his tool and die business. Many of the items had been sitting in a warehouse for years because Bill cringed at the idea of melting down good-condition, unused items simply because his Midwestern tri-state clients had moved on to other projects that required different tooling.

Originally, the Plainfield, Illinois, couple began on eBay by buying pottery for friends who didn't have a computer. "My husband said if we could do all this buying, we could do the selling," says Marsha. "We didn't have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, and we started on something we were familiar with."

And expenses were low. Back then, Pater didn't even own a digital camera. She took photos with her 35mm, developed them at Walgreen's, scanned them into the computer and uploaded them into a file. "It was extremely time-consuming," she says. "The pictures would come back and not be any good, and we'd have to start all over again. Our first big purchase was a $500 digital camera." Pater and experts strongly advise sellers to invest in a digital camera. From there, listing with the easy "Sell Your Item" form on eBay can help you manage the images and text.

A Picture's Worth...

Without a photo, or a particularly good one, you may lose the sale before there's even click-through. Pater learned that the hard way. The first photo in your item listing is free, but you must pay for the one that appears on the search results page. This 35-cent option eBay offers is called Gallery and allows you to have a thumbnail photo appear next to your listing title in the search results; larger photos (up to 12) appear for an additional charge when a potential buyer clicks on the listing. Pater, looking to save money, opted not to splurge for Gallery photos of her items. After all, when potential buyers clicked on the listing titles, they would see her listed photos. But through a web hit counter on her site, Pater soon discovered that Pater Industrial Tool Supply was not getting many hits on its listings because it lacked the initial photo on the search results page. However, once she uploaded a photo next to the titles, demand improved, and today Pater sells an average of 250 items a week from the 3,300-square-foot home she bought with profits from her business on eBay.

Quality and up-close photographs are important to making a sale, says Jim "Griff" Griffith, dean of eBay Education. "People expect to see something visually. You can't even sell software without showing a picture of the box or the CD," he says. "People need to know they are buying something tangible."

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