Sunday, January 24, 2010

Getting Primed ~ eBay, Part 1

I had a vivid dream about my old job at the home design store a few months before I left my education job in September 2007. The feeling of nostalgia from the dream lingered, and I realized just how burnt I was on the school. I had been providing something like triage for teenagers in crisis for 10 years, but that wasn't what was burning me. Dealing with the high staff turnover while trying to maintain academic standards was getting old. What I was really done with was the staff politics. It got ugly. So, as soon as I became unemployed, I thought about retail. Lovely not-so-emotionally-involved retail. The idea of doing it on my own without any other personalities to contend with was straight-up heaven.

I had sold stuff on eBay before. My parents downsized and relocated to be closer to us after Daisy was born, and my grandmother had moved out of her home after more than 50 years. In both cases, I inherited boxes and boxes of stuff that I sold on eBay, making a little money. I became fascinated with stories of people who were eBay sellers by trade - selling books, movies, ticket stubs, spices, bras, etc. and they were able to quit their day jobs. Well, quit my day job (check), what's next?

My husband agreed to use some of our savings to pay my portion of the bills for six months, neither of us knowing I qualified for unemployment. I was so excited . . . I approached business planning as if I was writing curriculum or piloting a program: research, brainstorm, organize. As always, I found a few books.

Starting an eBay Business for Dummies was helpful in some ways but eBay is constantly changing its policies and procedures. There's no way a book can keep up. Instead, I recommend spending time on eBay Help and Community. The book does provide very clear information about starting a business, but I could have found free information online, though often less clear, and business laws vary from state to state. Information on starting a business in California can be found here.

What to Sell on eBay and Where to Get It was useful. It provides specific strategies in product sourcing, such as spotting trends, identifying niche markets, adding value to products others might already be selling, and finding legit wholesalers. Chris Malta, one of the authors and an eBay celebrity, promotes the use of a product sourcing notebook. I tried his version of the notebook thing, but it was a little too structured for me. However, it did inspire me to always carry pen and paper just in case I came across an interesting product or idea. The other thing I tried was clipping trends from magazines. Between my mom and I, we have enough mag subscriptions for a village, so I started tearing out pages from Elle, Jane, Marie Clare, Allure, Lucky, Home Design, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, O, Real Simple, Martha Stewart, Sunset, and The Week. I found this exercise to be minimally helpful because being familiar with the trends wasn't the same as finding wholesalers who would sell to me at a price I could profit from. But overall, my understanding in how to proceed with an eBay business was greatly increased by this book.

Titanium eBay was a tad ambitious. It's geared towards sellers who want to reach a monthly sales volume of at least $150,000. Um, yeah.

I went to my local city offices and filed my business license. My husband was a contractor for a biotech company at the time, which required a business license, so he had already paid the one-time zoning fee. I applied for a resale license. I did the paperwork for the State Board of Equalization so I could collect sales tax. I felt funny about doing all the paperwork before I knew what I was going to be selling, but it allowed me to do two things: buy wholesale and take an income tax deduction for my business losses (expenses, losses . . . it was all the same for me). The grand total from the licensing fees was something like $250.

There was one glaring omission in my planning, but I totally avoided it on purpose. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around a business plan that would address what I was trying to do. I didn't know how to do it. Now, I can see that it would have been helpful to create a written plan of any kind, no matter what the format. I lacked direction.

Later, my accountant performed his magic with my business expense deductions, and although he started to laugh openly when I referred to "my eBay business," he also helped me with the Excel spreadsheets that served as my monthly balance sheets. Because I had done the basic bookkeeping for a retail store, I slapped together a spreadsheet that worked fine but really, I should have put it on Quickbooks. Not only is it supposed to be super easy, it's a compelling keyword to put on the resume.

But before I had anything to account for, I needed to figure out what I was going to sell. That's where things got a little bumpy.


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