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Eight Steps to eBay Success

What you need to do in order to succeed as an eBay seller

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Every eBay business is different, but the most successful eBay businesses founded by individuals tend to have a few things in common that most anyone can replicate, given time and dedication. Depending on which seller you ask, they're either deceptively simple or infuriatingly complex things to achieve—but either way, they are what they are and few will succeed while ignoring them entirely. Here are the eight steps to eBay success.

1. Become a Business

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It's partly about psychology, partly about increased opportunity and perks that help you to compete, and partly about not getting fined or shut down for skirting the law, but in any case the first thing to do if you plan to have a go at running an eBay-based business is to become a business in your own mind and as a matter of public record. Many try to fudge it by "starting out small" as an individual seller, but basics like having access to wholesale goods and thinking of yourself as a professional rather than a hobbyist seem to make all the difference for most aspiring sellers. If you're serious about your goals, then treat them with the respect that they deserve and cover all the basics and bona-fides of becoming a real business, before you do anything else.

2. Consider Business Models Carefully, Then Choose One

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Believe it or not, successful eBay sellers come in a radically variable assortment of shapes, sizes, and yes, business types. There are many ways to make it on eBay, and each requires a unique configuration of talents, connections, imagination, and determination. It's a mistake to start out just selling "whatever, whenever" if you're serious about growing your online selling into a viable income source, even as a second or third income. Instead, understand the advantages, risks, and realities associated with your own characteristics and situation as a seller and with the different kinds of selling that are done on eBay, from ultra-niche hobbyist or enthusiast support to full-on, cutthroat, price-oriented, import-export and drop-shipping.

3. Set Up Your Bookkeeping

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For some this can mean hiring an accountant and/or a tax preparer or going to the local office supply store and investing in a spreadsheet like Excel (or a bunch of paper ledgers), but for most successful eBay sellers this means using choosing and accounting service that integrates well with eBay and PayPal so that much of your accounting and record-keeping is automated for you, then choosing an automated tax preparation service that is appropriate for small businesses of one variety or another. No matter the particular choice you make, it's important to begin your eBay business life with solid record-keeping and a clear picture of basics like income, expenses and fees, margins, and how they all contribute to (or detract from) profitability.

4. Set Up an eBay Home Office

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Sellers just beginning on eBay are often surprisingly shocked to discover that it's really tough to get any work done if you don't actually have a place to work. The fact is that eBay selling is a labor intensive process, both mentally and physically, in many cases—it requires concentration and continuous access to computing resources, general office and record-keeping equipment, packing and shipping materials and equipment, ways to talk to suppliers and customers, and all of the ergonomic characteristics that these things imply. In short, if you're serious about selling on eBay, you need to be serious enough to have a place to do it—a home office that is properly equipped. Without a space like this, sellers experience problems that range from not getting enough done (letting listings slow down, shipping times lag, and so on) to being a poor communicator that doesn't find partners or satisfy customers, and whose feedback and profitability slide as a result. Don't skimp on the workspace.

5. Set Up Fundamental Tools

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Yes, there are some eBay tools that are purely a matter of competitive advantage or convenience, like mobile selling via the iPhone app, but there are other tools that are just plain basic to being an eBay seller if you want to compete and not pull your hair out in frustration due to wasted time, wasted money, or misinformation about your performance as a seller that leads to bad search placement. If you're serious about becoming a successful seller, take a few basic tools for a spin and include them in your workflow.

6. Build Your Feedback Profile

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You're not going to sell much on eBay or get off to anything resembling a viable start without understanding the eBay feedback system and detailed seller ratings, then building a solid profile with a clear awareness of how these systems work. Yes, in theory it's possible to make sales with poor feedback or no feedback, but in practice buyers quickly evaluating sellers based on feedback will take their bids and buys elsewhere. Yes, in theory it's technically possible to have feedback removed and do other interesting feedback tricks, but in practice it happens so rarely that you want to avoid the dispute process at all.

7. Find Products to Sell and Suppliers for Them

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Knowing what to sell and where to get it is one of the trickiest dimensions of eBay selling. One of the things that makes it so difficult is that it involves both science—using research tools and understanding things like timing and demand—and more than its fair share of art. Black magic, some would say, since some sellers seem to have the uncanny ability to find goods and suppliers that do well and others continually struggle, even when faced with entire databases of suppliers.

8. Set and Achieve Selling Goals

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Many would-be eBay success stories find themselves aimlessly plugging along for months or years without a clear idea of how well they're doing and/or how they'd like to grow next. Some would say that the "soft" practice of setting goals and using metrics and benchmarks to evaluate your success is unlikely to have an effect on the "hard" realities of revenue, expenses, and profit margins, but many of the most successful would beg to differ. Most scientific research says that goal-setting and evaluation are important dimensions of success in any endeavor. Happily, eBay selling is packed to the gills with common goals and the markers for measuring them automatically in relation to your performance. Stay on top of these and you'll always know how you're doing today, how you'd like to be doing at this same time next year, and how to tell whether or not you've reached your goals when you get there.

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