As John Paul Getty, the oil billionaire, once observed the only way to become seriously wealthy is to own your own business. Easy if you are entrepreneurial by nature, less easy if you are not. There is, however, one sort of business that can be set up without much capital and with little or no risk yet which has the potential to turn anyone into a multi-millionaire. A business, furthermore, that doesn’t require experience or specialist skills and which can be started at home on a part-time basis. In fact, all you need to get this business going is access to a computer with a broadband connection and a digital camera.
Ever since eBay was launched in 1994 the media has been full of stories about how ordinary individuals have become richer than their wildest dreams of avarice thanks to the online auction site. Only this summer, for instance, Entrepreneur magazine carried a feature on ten young entrepreneurs (none over the age of 30) who have built up vast, international companies on eBay. A good example is Tiffany Tanaka, 24, who sells things via eBay on behalf of other people (www.wesellthings4U.com) and is currently turning over US$2.7 million a year. Another is David Wirtenberg, 28, who built up a US$10 million jewellery business (www.outrageousdiamonds.com) from the sale of a single, diamond ring on eBay in 2003.
What makes eBay such a fantastic money-making opportunity is its simplicity. Essentially, it allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to buy or sell just about anything. The scale of the operation is mind boggling. It sells a car every two minutes and a CD every 7 seconds. Last time I checked there were over 10 million items on offer and more than 168 million buyers. You could be selling to those 168 million buyers within minutes of finishing this article for, literally, a few pounds. And, selling for a very substantial profit, too.
What could you be selling? Most new eBay entrepreneurs get started by auctioning unwanted items from their home. This can prove to be remarkably lucrative (I have a friend who has made over £3,000 since Christmas selling off unwanted clothes, books, children’s toys and china) and also provides an opportunity to understand how eBay works. After you have the hang of it the secret is to find a product area that interests you. Different ideas include:
Dealing in something you know a lot about. Many people choose products related to their hobbies – everything from fishing rods to model trains.
Selling something you can source elsewhere (possibly on the internet) for less.
Selling for other individuals. Many of the most successful eBay sellers are simply selling other people’s unwanted items on commission.
Selling for other businesses. For instance, you could sell unwanted stock for local retailers.
As you become familiar with eBay you will start to see potential everywhere. Favourite categories include clothes and shoes, musical instruments, electronics and collectables - but the choice of products is endless. The most expensive item sold on the site to date was a Gulfstream aircraft for £2.5. Recently, Ronan Keating's leather trousers went for £5,000.
Getting started, by the way, couldn’t be easier. All you need do is log on to www.eBay.co.uk and complete the online registration which will ask you for a user name, password, e-mail address and a credit or debit card for verification purposes. This process won’t cost you anything.
The next stage is to create a seller's account online, for which you have to provide credit/debit card details and bank account information for verification purposes. You then follow the listing instructions, giving product details, the duration of your listing - from one to 10 days - and the starting and reserve price if you want to set one. You have to pay a listing fee, which depends on the item's value and is a maximum of £3. If the item is sold, you pay eBay a final value fee which will be around 5.25 per cent of the closing price.
Once you’ve joined, you can sell anything with a few clicks of the mouse. To list your item you log in to the website with your personal ID, choose a category for your item, type in a description, details of how you propose to send the item to the buyer and a price and you’re ready to start your auction.
You really need to include a digital photograph of the item and the better your sales copy, the greater the price you are likely to get. Once an item is listed all you have to do is sit back and wait for the buyers to start bidding.
Most auctions last seven days and the bidding can be fierce – with much of it taking place in the last few minutes of the sale. If you want to optimise your chances of success you should always:
Be honest about what you are selling.
Write eye-catching advertisements and copy.
Set a realistic starting price or offer an item without any reserve price at all.
Keep your buyer well informed.
Don’t despatch the goods until you have received payment.
Speaking of payment, eBay make it easy to collect money via credit card thanks to their own online payment system, which is called PayPal. In fact, of the best things about eBay is that it provides its sellers with plenty of support and advice. There is an eBay university, for instance, that holds both real and virtual courses. Also, an eBay ‘community’ where you can pick up information and tips from eBay ‘power sellers’. Their most useful resource is probably something called Seller Central which is to be found at http://pages. ebay.com/sellercentral. If you have a question about selling, the chances are that it will be answered here. This portal is divided into a handful of main categories including getting started, best practices, advance selling and news and updates. Another useful sales advice section on the eBay site is to be found at http://pages. ebay.com/startselling.