How to make online sales a full-time career

When eBay was founded in 1995 as AuctionWeb, no one could have foreseen the incredible success it would both become and facilitate for its users. In 2012, the site enabled around $175 billion of global commerce and much of it has been earned by burgeoning, independent businesses. The online auction site's ongoing triumphs have prompted many small entrepreneurs to move from selling the occasional item to launching a full-blown internet business - as is frequently evidenced in the media.

Here's how you can make online sales a full-time career: 

Determine whether there's a market

One of the biggest barriers to making a sale on eBay is attracting buyers in the first place. Unless your product is extremely unusual, the chances are other people are selling the same things and you could be entering an already saturated market. The key is to establish whether there is an appetite out there for your product - check similar items on eBay to see how many bids they receive and what sort of price they reach. If they're languishing at £0.99 with no bids, then you may need to change tack.

Specialise

You might think that selling a range of products is the best way to go - providing a huge range of goods could attract more customers, right? Possibly, but advice from those in the know is to specialise in a particular area to start with. The Hewitts are a good example - they launched an eBay business in 2005 selling appliances, baby clothes and pet products, but with so much competition and a recession looming, they realised they needed to narrow their range.

"We soon realised we needed to specialise to cross-sell, so someone buying a screwdriver will also need screws, for example," John Hewitt said. "We thought people would rely more on DIY and home improvements. So we narrowed down to tools and hardware."

Eighty per cent of their products are sold via eBay and in May, they had reached £5 million of sales - the lesson: focus your range.

Attract buyers with search-friendly titles

Think about when you search for an item on eBay - what sort of language do you use? Probably the most descriptive terms available in order to narrow down your search, yes? Exactly. That's what everyone does and you therefore need to incorporate the right search terms in your product descriptions so that they are returned in a browser's search results. For instance, if you are selling clothes, include the colour, size, fit, even the occasion, i.e. 'Ladies' size 12 navy A-line summer party dress'. It might not roll off the tongue, but it'll cover many searches.  

Hire a professional photographer

Your hand-stitched novelty cushion covers and traditionally-whittled bowls might be fabulous, but unless you can display them well, they browsers won't convert into sales. Every eBay buyer wants to see a decent, clear image of the item in question - nothing puts someone off more than a dodgy picture; it looks amateurish. If photography isn't your strong suit, then do as Tracey Marshall did and hire a professional. She admitted to The Telegraph that her own photographic efforts were poor and did not showcase the intricacy and quality of her embroidered items, so she found an expert. "Either you learn to do it properly or you hire someone to help", she said.  

Use a decent courier service

Another point of aggravation on the side of both the sellers and buyers, is the posting process. The seller, having calculated postage and delivery times, is totally at the mercy of the parcel carrier - if the parcel arrives late, broken or not at all, then the seller is effectively liable and likely to receive poor feedback. It pays, consequently, to bypass the traditional methods and use a courier service which has a proven track record for reliability and timeliness. The posting process should never, ever be an afterthought.

Tax implications

One of the issues that concerns many eBay sellers is the question of tax: are you obliged to pay any? Will you get found out if you don't? Ultimately, what is the deal with selling on eBay and tax? According to the experts, anyone that is selling 'more than occasionally' is probably liable to pay tax and so should notify HMRC. Sellers will need to complete a tax return detailing all their profits and pay tax on it. This is a point to take seriously, as the authorities can obtain information directly from eBay, so keep a provision in place to cover that bill. 

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