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Several years ago, I had a great motorcycle. It was a Yamaha Virago 920. It was low slung. It ran smooth. It came with a kit that made it look like a touring bike. After a few years of enjoying rides on this bike it began to run rough. I did some research and found that it needed an engine control module. Basically, this was the only computerized thing on the bike.

I began to search eBay for a used replacement. I only found one and it was selling very high. Lots of people were bidding on it. I couldn’t afford to stay in the bidding. I watched sadly as my hopes of fixing my beloved motorcycle faded before my eyes. Then I had an epiphany.

If so many people on eBay needed parts for motorcycles like mine, maybe I could sell parts off of my bike. It didn’t run anyway. I had tools. I was pretty handy with a wrench.

So, I went to work. I disassembled the motorcycle in the garage, cleaned & photographed the parts, and listed them on eBay. It worked! By the time I was done, I had nothing left but the engine and the front fork. Everything else had sold. I had sold the parts for three times what I had paid for the bike in the first place! I was hooked.

I learned a few things about the eBay process while selling those parts. I hope what I learned will help you too.

Where to Sell

One of the things you need to decide is where to sell your stuff. Some things sell better on a national scale, others sell better locally. Take a minute and think about what your selling. A car will likely sell pretty well nationally, especially if it is something highly sought after. A refrigerator will sell better locally (it would cost more to ship it than it’s worth). Baseball cards will sell nationally, or even internationally.

If your item is a local-only item, consider selling on Craig’s List. Craig’s List is free. Your listing is grouped by geographic location.

If your item will sell nationally, you’ll want to sell it on eBay. eBay charges fees for their services, but they reach a large audience and offer a lot of tools to help you sell and ship your item.

Craig’s List

Let’s start with Craig’s List. Think of it as a community newspaper classified ads section. They have many different categories. There are sub-categories within those categories. There are a lot of listings to wade through, but it’s all searchable. Don’t expect a lot of help or fancy tools since this is a free service.

You’ll need to set up an account with Craig’s List. One of the things you provide while setting up this account is an email address. Now there is a major problem with Craig’s List, SPAM! We’re not talking canned meat. Spam is unwanted email from people who are either trying to sell you something you don’t want or trying to trick you into giving them information that you don’t want them to have. If you are going to sell in Craig’s List, you can expect a lot of Spam.

Don’t let the fear of Spam stop you from selling on Craig’s List. There’s an easy way to manage this problem. Start by going to Google and setting up a Gmail account. Gmail is a free email service provided by Google. When you set up a Gmail account with Google there are many other cool gadgets and gizmos that are available that you may want to play with later. Gmail has a lot of good tools to help filter out spam. If you attach your Gmail address to your Craig’s List account, then you protect your primary email account from potential Spam. If the Spam becomes overwhelming you can always just close the Gmail account and open another one.

Setting up your Gmail and Craig’s List accounts is easy. These people want your accounts so they do a good job of walking you through the process. Once you have your accounts set up it’s time to list your item.

Photography

Lets start with pictures. Good pictures will make your item more attractive to buyers and reduce the number of unnecessary questions you receive. If you don’t have software on your computer to touch-up digital pictures, then you’ll need to do a good job while taking the pictures in the first place.

Here’s a few hints:

  • Frame your picture well. If you’re selling a refrigerator, think about the fact that it is tall not wide. Turn your camera so it takes a tall picture. Zoom in or step forward so that the item fills the picture almost to the very edges. When you send your pictures to Craig’s List their system will shrink your picture to fit their framework. You want to give your buyers the biggest possible image of your item so they can see the details that they want to see.
  • Light your picture well. You don’t want the details of your item hidden in the shadows. You also don’t want a glare to block out those details. A flash isn’t always the best solution (especially if you’re getting close to the item with the camera). Many times you can get better lighting and better color if you use a table lamp or similar light source. Put the lamp even with your body near your shoulder. Try a few different things until you get a picture that accurately and attractively represents your item.
  • Consider your background. You don’t want your picture to show a gorgeous Tiffany lamp set against a background that includes the south end of a north-bound dog. Consider hanging a solid color bedspread, tablecloth, or bed sheet. You can drape it over the backs of a couple of dining room chairs or a door. Try to use a color that is neutral so that it doesn’t detract from your item or allow your item to blend in to it. If you are photographing a car or other large outdoor item, just try to position it so that your background is attractive and not distracting. Resist the urge to include a person in your picture.
  • Take more pictures than you need. Digital pictures are free and easy to delete. Experiment. Take shots with and without flash. Craig’s List limits you to 4 pictures. eBay gives you more, but you pay for them.
  • Spend a little time choosing your pictures. You want to use pictures that show how awesome your item is, but you don’t want to completely hide flaws. An inaccurately represented item can result in a transaction gone bad. Those can be very unpleasant. Be honest.

Craig’s List has a neat little feature to help protect you from Spam. At the top of your listing they put a link. If a potential buyer clicks that link it sends you an email through Craig’s List. It keeps that person from seeing your actual email address. If you reply to that email address though, they can see your address. The problem is what the Craig’s List community calls “Bots”. Bots are computer programs that people run to automatically click these links and send you an email. These emails are deceptive. Typically, they ask a brief generic question like “Is your item still available?” They may send you an email that tells you that they are very interested in your product and that you need to click a link in the email to sell it to them. Don’t click on any links in emails that come from potential Craig’s List buyers. Some people put a request in their listing asking people to use a certain word or phrase in their reply so they can know that the email is legitimate. If you do this, it needs to be something that the Bot can’t pick up on (ie. Mention something about the weather so I know you’re real.).

Some people sell via text message. They put their cell phone number in the listing and request that interested buyers text them for more information. This one scares me a little bit, but my brother sells thousands of car parts this way with very little problem. If you decide to do this, you should disguise your number to discourage the Bots from harvesting your number (5 five 5 – five five 55). I would recommend you become more familiar with the Craig’s List community before trying to sell via text message.

Do your research. Whether you’re selling on Craig’s List or eBay, spend some time researching items like yours. You want to know how much people are paying for items like yours. Spend some time on this. You don’t just want to know what people are asking for this item. You want to know how much people are willing to pay. As my Grandpa used to say, “A thing is only worth what someone will pay for it.” If you’re selling a car try going to the Kelly Blue Book or N.A.D.A. web sites to see the values listed there.

Description

Your description is very important. In your research, look at how other people are describing their items. Don’t copy, but do take note. What do you like? What don’t you like? Build your description from the best of your research. It doesn’t hurt to personalize it some so that it’s interesting to read. A little light humor is OK, but don’t get cheesy. You want to give them all the information they need, but not get it so long that the buyer gets done reading before they reach the end of your description. Write it in your word processor program ahead of time. Then you can copy and paste it in when you’re building your listing. Run it past a few friends for their opinions.

Craig’s List does not help you arrange shipping. That makes sense because it’s primarily local. That means you must arrange with the buyer to trade the money for the product. I highly recommend that you agree on a neutral public place. These days you can’t afford to take the chance. You don’t want to be in a quiet secluded place after dark meeting a stranger expecting them to give you money for your valuable item. You also do not want someone you don’t know to show up on your doorstep. Be smart.

English: eBay Logo

Image via Wikipedia

eBay is a bit different. Your email address is safer on eBay, but it wouldn’t hurt to use something other than your primary email address. You can carry on full conversations with other eBay members through eBay’s website. You can read their messages in your email, then return to the eBay site to send your reply through their servers.

When you set up your eBay account, you also will want to set up a PayPal account. PayPal is pretty cool. It is the primary currency on eBay. You can tie it to a credit card, tie it to a bank account, or even set up a PayPal line of credit. It may take a little time, but PayPal does walk you through the process. You need to make sure you do what is necessary to set yourself up to receive payments. Once you have your PayPal account set up you can also set eBay up to collect its fees from that account.

Another service that eBay and PayPal provide is assistance with shipping your item. When you are listing your item on eBay, it asks you about shipping. You can package your item to ship, weigh it, measure it, and enter the information in to the shipping calculator. When a potential buyer looks at your item, it will estimate shipping based on your zip code and your buyer’s zip code. When the auction is done, you send your buyer an invoice through eBay’s site. That invoice will include that shipping estimate. Your buyer pays you for the item and the shipping. When you have received payment from the buyer you click the “Print Shipping Label” button and it will print you a UPS shipping label on your own printer. Tape it to the box and drop it off at a UPS pick-up point. Your shipping costs are paid right then and there through your PayPal account.

Once you’ve been paid, you’ve shipped your item, and you’ve paid your eBay auction fees, you can have PayPal transfer the balance of the money right into your bank account. Don’t forget to leave positive Feedback for your buyer!

Feedback

When you purchase things, you rely on reputation. Some stores have a money-back guarantee. You have probably heard your friends tell you that a certain store is really good with great products. There are probably some stores that your friends have told you to stay away from. On eBay there are Feedback ratings. Every time someone buys from someone, eBay asks them to provide feedback about the transaction. The seller is also asked to leave feedback about the buyer.

Some sellers, when selling a high dollar item, will not allow someone to bid who has a low feedback score. Many buyers are afraid to buy from someone who has a low feedback score. That being said, your first job on eBay will be to get some positive feedback. Start small. Find something inexpensive that you were going to buy anyway, and just buy it on eBay. Pay right away and initiate pleasant communication with the seller. Work your way up. Eventually, you will have 10 or 20 feedbacks and can consider selling. Again, start small. People are more willing to buy from someone with a low score if the item is inexpensive. It’s a matter of risk.

“I’ve changed my mind!”

You may be looking at all this set-up and feedback stuff and saying, “All I wanted to do was sell my one little gadget!” Don’t panic yet. The steps I’ve outlined above will help you on your way to selling as a hobby or as a business. You can still sell without all that stuff. You only need one thing: A friend with all that stuff!

I’ve had several situations where friends or family have asked me to sell something for them on eBay. I’m happy to do it. Partly because it boosts my feedback score. Partly because I’m a nice guy. Ask around. Start with family. You want someone you can trust. Let them know that you understand that there are fees involved. You might throw in an additional percentage or at least a batch of cookies.

If you were interested in the eBay information and skipped over the Craig’s List section of this blog, go back and read the part about the pictures and the description. The same information applies to eBay. They give you the first picture free, but the rest you pay for. You need to evaluate your product and decide how many pictures you should upload. You want to give your bidders a good look.

eBay has several extras you can buy as you’re setting up your listing. Again, you’ll need to decide for yourself if they are worth it. I tend to buy the picture bundle if my item is going to sell for over $200. I don’t pay the big fee to have my product featured on eBay’s main page. I never look at the stuff that’s featured. Take your time and make your auction work for you.

I’m sure you’ll run in to things that I haven’t covered here. Feel free to ask questions by leaving comments. If your question requires an in-depth answer, it may be featured in a future blog post.

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