What's the secret to making money on eBay? We got the lowdown from four mothers who've figured out how to sell everything from hand-me-downs to holiday gifts.
The Toy Maven
Seller: Michelle Earle, Dayton, Kentucky
eBay store: Misha Bean's Toy Box
What I Sell: Vintage, collectible, and hard-to-find toys
How I Got Started: When my son, Alex, was a toddler, he lost his favorite Fisher-Price Little People person. I looked everywhere to replace her, and I finally found her on eBay. The experience led me to try selling. At first, I focused mainly on Little People sets from the '70s.
Business Basics: I spend 15 to 20 hours a week except during the holidays; then it's full-time. I love to sell collectibles like Strawberry Shortcake dolls from the '70s and '80s; I've also got a lot of other vintage toys. I buy most of my stuff at thrift shops. Estate sales are the best place to find old toys, but taking care of Alex, 6, and my daughter, Sydney, 3, means I can't go to as many as I'd like.
Best Sale: An original Barbie bought for $3 and sold for $200
What I Love: Getting e-mails from parents who say, "You made our Christmas." It's a thrill to know I'm bringing joy to people across the entire country.
Most Unusual Product: I painted a Little People set to look like Ellen DeGeneres and her talk-show guests, including Samuel L. Jackson, Oprah, and Dakota Fanning. It sold for $153, and at one point, it was the most-watched item in the toy category.
Biggest Challenge: Staying on top of all of the labor that's involved. As soon as I photograph an item, I package it (I don't seal the box). Then I upload the photo and description onto eBay. When an item sells, I can ship within 24 hours.
What I Earn: About $12,000 a year
Seller: Melissa Morgan, Wellington, Ohio
eBay Store: Melissalaneous Twins and More
What I Sell: Children's clothes
How I Got Started: Two years ago, I was pregnant with twins and on bed rest, so I used eBay to get my baby gear. After Ian and Jacob were born, I realized I could resell their stuff on eBay, where clothing for twins is a hot item. But I've gradually expanded to include all kinds of kids' things.
Business Basics: I work between 20 and 25 hours a week. I take my photos one day a week while the twins play, and I write my listings while they're napping or sleeping.
We live near an outlet mall, so I buy new kids' clothing out of season. Then I sell it for a profit when the right time of year rolls around.
What's Great: All of the people I've "met" online. I'm a member of "Here Comes the Stork," a group of eBay moms who sell children's clothes.
Best Sale: A box of Baby-Sitters Club books that I bought for $5 at a garage sale and sold for $80
Mom-to-Mom Advice: Start by selling things from around your house. Once you get the hang of it, you can start putting your money into inventory. Then consider opening an eBay store. The fee is about $16 a month, but it allows you to list a whole collection of individually priced items.
What I Earn: Between $12,000 and $15,000 a year
The Card Dealer
Seller: Patricia Wessel, Plover, Wisconsin
eBay Store: PJS Sales
What I Sell: Pokemon cards and miscellaneous items
How I Got Started: When my daughter Samantha began collecting Pokemon cards, we got them on eBay. Eventually she ended up with thousands of duplicates, so I suggested selling the extras online. We now buy and sell the cards along with other good-quality items.
Business Basics: I spend up to 20 hours a week on eBay, and I really focus on customer service. If the buyer is sending to another address, I ask whether it's a gift. If so, I wrap it. I also use eBay as a teaching tool for my daughter. She's learning how to budget her money, what safe Internet practices are, and what good service is all about.
What's Great: I get a lot of positive feedback from buyers, which I share with Samantha. She also loves the idea of giving other kids a good deal, since she's gotten great bargains too.
Best Sale: An Xbox 360 for $400
Biggest Challenge: Finding sources for merchandise can be tough. At garage sales I'm always on the lookout for anything that's new and still in its original box, sports stuff, old dolls and figurines -- and anything else that catches my eye -- but that's seasonal. So, to expand, I've become an eBay "trading assistant." People bring me everything from computers to strollers to sell for them, and I get a commission.
What I Earn: About $3,000 a year
The Virtual Tycoon
Seller: Karen Liu, Flushing, New York
eBay store: GameDiva
What I Sell: PlayStation and related games
How I Got Started: My husband had a PlayStation sports game that I sold on eBay. I realized that if people would buy used games, they'd buy new ones. So about five years ago, I bought $300 worth from a local wholesaler to sell in very small quantities. My boys, Damian and Ethan, were 4 and 2 at the time, so I worked while they were at nursery school. For the first two years, it was just a hobby. Then the business really took off.
Business Basics: I work full-time: 40 to 60 hours a week, mostly when my kids are at school or asleep. I buy from national wholesalers locally and online. I usually send out about 50 packages a day -- and about 100 during the holidays (I hire temporary help). I also ship right away because people appreciate getting an item fast. Now a lot of my business comes from repeat customers.
What's Great: I can be the one to watch my kids. I'm with them most of the time when they're not in school.
Most Unusual Product: Some of the old games are rare, and buyers like them -- even if there are new versions. For example, the original Super Puzzle Fighter went for more than $60 a game, while the new version was going for about $22.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: In the beginning, buy inventory in small quantities so you can see what sells. Also prepare early for the holiday season. Many people start shopping in October.
What I Earn: More than $100,000 a year
eBay Made Easy!
It's simple to sell online. All you need is a computer, a digital camera, and something to sell. And remember these tips from Marsha Collier and Janelle Elms, both eBay University instructors.
- Prep yourself. Check out eBay's "Seller Central" where you'll find links to "Getting Started" and "Best Practices" sections for useful sales strategies.
- Know your stuff. Research items you want to sell so you can describe them well and get the best price. Look at eBay's "Completed Listings" to see what similar products sold for.
- Sign up for PayPal. This is the eBay-approved service that enables anyone with an e-mail address to send or receive payments securely online.
- Specialize in something. It's fun to earn money selling your unwanted or unused stuff. But concentrating on a single category is often the key to growing a business. Consider what you'd like to sell, what's popular, and what you can find a source for.
- List your shipping charges. Check the "Shipping Center" to calculate what these fees should be.
- Think customer service. Answer questions within a day, ship quickly, and let buyers know when an item has been sent.