If you've ever thought about earning more money on the side, eBay is a great place for an extra income source.  With millions of potential customers visiting daily and a user-friendly interface, eBay makes buying and selling a wide variety of goods online as easy as possible.  If you have any experience with the world's largest online marketplace, you know that there's potential to earn a sizable income in your spare time.

A Successful eBay Account

Many people has taken their initial success with eBay to the next level.  Instead of merely selling personal possessions, some eBay sellers have found that they can sell large amounts of cheap and easy to acquire goods for a significant profit.  This is not outside the realm of possibility given enough motivation and business savvy. 

Of course, nothing is perfect, and eBay involves a significant amount of work for the potentially large amounts of income that can be generated.  Before you decide to turn eBay into something other than a place to offload unwanted gifts and outdated electronics, I suggest that you continue reading about my experiences with eBay.

About Me

I work at a small business in a variety of roles (web developer, electronics engineer, shipping clerk, etc.) and I am in a privileged position to see successful and struggling eBay businesses of all shapes and sizes.  A number of friends and coworkers package and ship their sold items at this location and we regularly discuss the current state of our businesses or just complain about the hassle of dealing with eBay (it can be unpleasant at times).  As a result, I have learned quickly what works and what doesn't.  Most importantly, my experience has shown me that it is not what is being sold, but who is doing the selling. 

I regularly sell about 20-50 items per month on my own account and have been doing so for about 3 years.  In addition to my eBay sales, I also take time to help my girlfriend manage her own personal account.  In her first two months of selling on eBay, she earned about $900 in addition to her wage as a barista at a well-known corporate coffee chain.  In fact, she earned more on eBay than she did at her 30+ hr./wk. position.   That's fairly amazing considering her lack of experience with eBay, but I also attribute it to her motivation and persistent personality.  She's been very satisfied with her success thus far, and I am happy to see her do well.  She is not going to quit her job any time soon, but she's definitely considered it if she can keep up the pace.  Maybe you will see the possibility yourself. 

What Makes For Success?

A Well-Managed Account

Success and failure on eBay, in my opinion, boils down to personality more than what's being sold.   It takes a certain type of person to be able to sell product and deliver top-notch customer service, something that eBay customers and eBay policy demand. 

The most important point that you should take away from this article:

Successful eBayers run their stores/accounts like businesses. 

Let that sink in for a bit. 

That's right, if you're selling on eBay to make money, you will have to treat it as if it were like a regular business.  If you're clueless about how a small business operates, I suggest finding books and online resources that will hopefully be beneficial and help you avoid common pitfalls like spending your capital or not accounting for expenses.  There's more you will need to know, but I will leave this for a future article. 

What attracts people to eBay is the promise of easy money.  However, as we all know (or will learn), there's no such thing as easy money.   It comes at a price, whether that be mental energy, frustration with customers, time, a never-ending list of things to do, etc.  Any small business owner will tell you that running a business is hard work that can eat up your time and social life like no other.  eBay is no different. 

Is It Right For You?

Before considering whether selling on eBay as an income stream is right for you, consider a couple of important points:

  • You are solely responsible for the success or failure of your eBay business.  Everything, from the quality of your listing to the shipment to your buyer, is determined by how much planning and effort you put into it.  There is no one to blame but yourself when things go wrong.  
  • Do you have customer service skills? On eBay, the power of the transaction lies almost completely in the hands of the buyer.  Anything that upsets them can be disastrous for your account, and many buyers know that they can demand a lot from sellers.  Some will push your buttons.  Some will be belligerent without provocation.  It takes a special type of person to not take some fairly hurtful comments personally.   The American consumer is accustomed to a high standard of customer service and will hold you to this whether you want to or not.  Never, under any circumstances, will you want to argue with a customer or appear belligerent.  This can be very difficult for people who have never heard the phrase, "the customer is always right."
  • Make sure that you can Google.  While this may seem like a stupid thing to say, it is very important.  Many products that you will sell will have online resources, manuals, specifications, etc., that you will need to add to your listing or send to an inquiring customer.  Buyers can be very lazy people.
  • Multitasking is key.  Once your business is up and running, you will see that certain items move quicker than others, auctions end at different times, emails come in at all hours, shipping hours for postal services are limited.   You will wear many hats when you run an eBay store/account for profit, and you will have to complete many different tasks for one transaction.
  • You must be proficient with a computer and able to work in front of it for hours at a time.  Listing your items, communicating with buyers, printing shipping labels; all of this will take place in front of a computer screen.  If you don't have regular Internet access, your business will be seriously hindered. 
  • If your heart isn't really into it and you find yourself making a lot of excuses, eBay is not the place for you.  Your business will fail very quickly as you struggle to keep up.  If you have bigger priorities and better ways to spend your time, you'd do yourself a favor to stay away from eBay.
  • If you have a busy life (socially or professionally), you may want to reconsider your eBay selling strategy.  It is very easy to get buried by the amount of work that eBay requires. Having a mental eBay to-do list on your mind while you are working at your full-time job can be distracting.   Your side business might start to intrude on  your free time and you will burn out quick.  I've seen this happen one too many times, even with myself.
  • Things go wrong.  It's a general rule of thumb that 1 out of 20 customers will give you a hard time.  It's just how it goes.  Packages get lost, listings are mistakenly inaccurate, scammers scam, customers prematurely open cases without communication, etc.  A lot of negative things can happen outside of your control.  At the end of the day, you just have to let it go and remember to keep work at work.  This is probably the most difficult point to accept.

There is always more to discuss, but one thing is clear: using eBay as a significant side income will require that you are self-motivated and willing to do what it takes to be where you want to be financially.  The sky's the limit for how far you can take your side business.  It all really depends on you.