I’ve been happily selling on eBay for over a year now. Of course, the grass is always greener, so recently I decided to follow a friends suggestion (more like constant prompting) and try my hand on Facebook Marketplace. Within the blink of an eye I sold two things that we had laying around the house—a sled and a small side table—each for $15.
I was, well, sold.
Suddenly, the sun seemed a bit brighter and I was seeing small ‘saleables’ everywhere. Despite my eagerness, however, I held myself a bit in check because I’d learned from eBay that it’s pretty easy to get crazy excited and then find yourself in a mad mess. Like, how do you get rid of four bulky printers that you picked up for free? But, before I go off on a tangent, let me just start…
Start Small. By this, I mean literally and figuratively. I’ve learned the hard way that starting big is great if you’re really energetic, extremely gung-ho, or simply have a lot of time on your hands, but for most people the best thing to do is start small and get those first few attempts really, really, right.
I began with Facebook Marketplace by selling a small side table that I had owned and used for a number of years. It was lightweight and easy to clean and I knew all of its flaws since I’d owned it for so long. I scrubbed it down and let it dry in the sun. Then I moved it around to find the best place to take a photo. It turned out that my driveway, in front of my garage door, was the best spot. My daughter and I (she’s our tech-savvy 11-year-old) decided to try posting the entire ad just using my cellphone—this was also something new. My computer has gotten a bit slow and cranky in the past year and I wanted to streamline the process—I use the phone for photographs, so why not just attempt the whole process that way?
By focusing on one easy-to-move table I was able to concentrate on taking the photos and uploading a decent ad. You can see that if I were lining myself up with a lot of heavy items that took up space and required constant moving it could get really confusing—or even worse, I could have got into some bad habits and made a lot of mistakes. Think if I had moved a large desk to the backyard only to find out that the water heater does not make the best backdrop? If you start small you’ll avoid a lot of beginner errors that may sour you to the whole process. Plus you’ll save your back.
For the same reason, I also suggest—whether you’re selling on eBay or any other platform–to start with something physically manageable, easy to move, and/or something easy to ship if you’re mailing it out. If you get the processes down pat in the beginning, you’ll handle larger, more challenging items in stride.
A little over a month ago I sold a Ronco Rotisserie oven on eBay. This thing was massive. The shipping alone was close to $50 and it took me over an hour to wrap the parts and box it up so that nothing broke along the way. I had to drive the package to the next town over for shipping which took another half hour each way. Luckily the sale was worth it, but if all of that had occurred when I first started selling I probably would have been a quivering mess.
But the story gets even crazier because a week or so later, the buyer emailed me to let me know the oven was missing an important part. Oh, no! I had no idea because this had not been mine to begin with. Still, I’d been selling a while and was determined to solve the problem. I quickly looked on eBay for the part and noted the price and gave my buyer a refund for more than double that. I wrote an apology to them, letting them know that I did see that they could purchase the part on eBay and that I was giving them a refund so they could adequately pay for a new part and an additional amount for the inconvenience. I still made a small profit and in the end, the buyer got a heck of a deal. Best of all, they wrote very nice feedback, thanking me for my generous resolution. I hope they’re eating rotisserie as we speak!
If that had happened to me in the beginning I know I would have probably given up selling with the assumption that eBay was one big giant racket. I wouldn’t have had the benefit of success behind me and I would have concluded that other sellers had ”some special skill” that I didn’t.
So, trust me—you’ve got all the skills you need, just take one step at a time and start small.
Have a Plan. I began selling my own things on Facebook Marketplace so it wasn’t hard for me to breeze past the ”planning portion” of the endeavor. Still, in the back of my mind, I wanted to sell ”other stuff.” I spent a couple of weeks mulling it over—I was so happy selling on eBay that I wanted to expand. My dad used to clean and sell used appliances. Those memories stuck with me and I knew I wanted to sell furniture. I decided to focus on small furniture items that I could carry in the trunk of my Honda Accord. I liked the idea of tables with drawers or bookshelves—things that are small but versatile. Though I wanted to go full swing and maybe redo the furniture by sanding it and painting it, I decided that it would be better to start simply by selling items as-is and use that as a selling point—there are a lot of people who want to paint something themselves and give it their own special touch. Not to mention, that I found it extremely difficult to decide on a color that would appeal to the greatest number of people!
Without realizing it, I was forming a plan. Since I was going to focus on Curb Alert finds, I wasn’t running amok by spending my own money and I’d decided that if I couldn’t sell an item, I would be able to put it out for free—or in the worst case scenario, break it down and put it in the trash.
Additionally, since I was dealing in exclusively small furniture, it would be easy to store things in my garage or on the side of my house for a month or so—long enough to try to sell it or move it along if it doesn’t find a new owner.
I’d run the idea through my mind and there was now a memorable well-worn trail there. It was basically the beginning of a map of the job territory. I had also learned from selling on eBay that, while it is good to be highly optimistic about your new business, it’s also a fact that not all things sell and some things sit around for a while before a buyer comes along. I certainly didn’t want to become known as the neighborhood junk lady.
Your plan needs to be complete. You need to know how your going to get items, how you’re going to photograph, list, store, sell, and keep track of your income for tax purposes. Moreover, it’s important to have a plan set in place for each item before it gets put into the trunk of your car. What are you going to do if it doesn’t sell and how long are you going to give it the benefit of the doubt if you don’t get any bites? Some items are different than others. Picking up a refrigerator is going to be more of a commitment than grabbing a bunch of books. You’ll have to take this into account and spend a contemplative moment before you impulsively load up.
Planning ahead and creating a process for handling each step streamlines your business. You won’t pick up everything to sell and you won’t waste time waffling about whether or not you ”should try that new thing.” You’ll find yourself making less mistakes, having more time, and enjoying yourself more.
Strategize. It’s one thing to plan, it’s another to plan your planning—I call that strategizing.
Strategizing your business is creating a plan or process for scaling up. It is a plan for how you want to proceed once you reach your goals. You may have heard of the term metacognition which is defined as the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. Strategizing your business is similar. It involves a knowledge of your current business structure, your goals, and a step-by-step process for creating new goals as you achieve the old ones.
If you have a good sense of your business as it is now, you’ll be able to decide how, and if, you will expand.
Selling on Facebook Marketplace gave me a really good sense of how I wanted to move forward. In truth, because there were so many boundaries on what I sold (size, cost, weight, etc.) I quickly fell into a very specific niche. Part of me wanted to spread into refinishing furniture, but overall, I realized that this is not my skill set, nor does it fit in with my more casual and less detail-oriented personality. I was quickly able to let that notion go. I liked telling people in the description of each item what I think could be done with a piece. Doing the work myself would have put on the pressure and the more I sold, the more I realized how nervous I would be if someone was coming to pick up something I had determined was ‘finished.’ I know I would have seen every flaw rather than felt a pride in my work.
Once I determined the ”physical” structure or foundation of my business, I realized how much fun I was having. To put it lightly, I was obsessed. I realized that I wanted to keep this up, to keep searching for ”finds” and to include this in my reselling business plan that had just been eBay up until a month ago.
But, that’s not all.
I realized that I was not losing interest in reselling and I could see from how quickly things sold that were definite possibilities out there.
This gave me pause.
I decided to look into other selling venues and as my earnings increased, I started to tentatively make financial goals. As I worked away, I could begin to predict what might happen if I sold on other outlets, such as Poshmark and Mercari, or increased my inventory.
Finally, I began to see that I needed a daily structure—I couldn’t just think about selling all day. I have two kids, a husband and 3 dogs. I wanted to be able to drop things for a few hours a day and walk the dogs, catch up on other tasks, play with my kids, or even just read a book for a while. This all takes strategizing.
The thought finally occurred to me: it’s probably a good idea to take a day off to plan. Most of us resist taking time off, especially to (pffft, what?) plan. The idea here though is that you strategize. You’re thinking ahead—what do you want from your business? What are your goals and what steps do you need to take to reach the next goal? I think it’s worth it to think about how much you’d like to earn weekly, monthly, and yearly. On the other hand, if you’re just in it for a little extra income and for the fun of it, you may find that a more relaxed attitude is a better approach.
In the beginning, I was simply selling one item. But, as I leveled up to more items, I went so slowly that I didn’t really think beyond the excitement of finding out if something would sell. As I progressed, I reached little milestones—a dollar amount, for example, that was a bit of a surprise. At that point I had to think am I moving into this? Is this a possibility?
Perhaps most importantly, when you do take that day to strategize, think about what you need to do or create to make this fit in with the rest of your life. Don’t leave yourself out of it—make your breaks and enjoyment an integral part of your life plan.
Keep Track of Your Numbers. This one is so easy to neglect in the beginning. You think that a few stamps, new ink for the printer, or the new cellphone you got to take photos with are unimportant. You’re caught up in the excitement of the moment and you just don’t keep track. Maybe you think to yourself, ”I’ll deal with it later.”
When later comes along you don’t remember the details.
Maybe you see that those tools you purchased, the paper you needed, everything you bought actually adds up. And, that’s how money works. it really does add up one penny at a time.
One of the worst things that can happen as you become happily successful is you get audited by the IRS.
My husband and I were audited when he started his commercial fishing business. He worked for about two years and I struggled to learn his bookkeeping. He didn’t have the time to sit down and explain each part or receipt to me and often I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare our taxes.
We did our taxes yearly and then one day, that awful letter came in the mail. It was such a blow. Running your own business is exciting, exhausting—and costly. You need to get all of the tax breaks that you can in order to survive. If you are not keeping accurate records you will have to recreate everything for the IRS. I had to do this for two and a half years of our business and it took weeks to get everything together into a cohesive document. Tension i our home was through the roof and of course, as the bookkeeper I felt personally responsible. I had two young kids in tow and not enough mental bandwidth—or time—to think through it all.
In the end, we somehow managed. Our taxes were accurate and we were not fined excessively. Later I was able to laugh at the whole ordeal—I started to tell people it was not big deal, but when the IRS is done with you, you’ve essentially gone through a Business 101 class.
Now I keep everything in binders. I’d like to get comfortable with spreadsheets and bookkeeping software, but I’m not there yet. I like the tactile feel of paper and I can picture handing my binders off to the IRS so they can make copies. One thing I really try not to do is put things off or assume I’ll remember something. I keep a notebook with notes for each check I write. I keep all receipts—I print them up when I buy online. Most importantly, I try to question each expenditure. Did I use have to drive to get something? Did I purchase a cleaner or tool that I am using for my business? These are all things that are deductible. Running a business can be quite costly—and it does not come with the security that a regular job does. Trying to earn an income without taking deductions is foolhardy at best.
Not all small businesses survive: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years.
Keeping track of your finances is the surest way to succeed.
Take Risks. Ahhh…okay, it’s kinda cliche. But, really, where would we be without taking chances? Taking chances is what life is all about—without a forward momentum we cannot succeed.
I look back on my first eBay item: The Aquasana Water Filter. I remember how it sat on the high shelf of my desk and the day it sold. I was so excited. I can practically feel the dry plastic shrink wrap and the panic of ”now what do I do.”
But, that day—the day I picked up the filter and decided to take a chance and sell was important for me. It was happening at the end of a long depressing winter—one in which we were very low in funds and though we are not poor by any means, it frankly felt like we were. I didn’t like that feeling. I didn’t like having no control. Moreover, I didn’t believe that this was who I was–someone who traipsed along in life and allowed myself to feel lost. My image of myself was much stronger, much smarter, but that year had been a repeat of all the years before, only worse.
The first risk—a wispy thought in my head, ”just try it” was what led me out of that weak hole and into a whole world of excitement.
It took a few sales and lots of failures for me to learn the ropes, but by following the 5 steps outlined above, I was able to ratchet up slowly while taking challenges in stride. I know one thing though—without taking the chance, I’d be nowhere.
On that scary thought,
Have a Great Week!