Harry Rinker

July 18th, 2013

I had a nice talk with antiques and collectibles veteran Harry Rinker yesterday. Harry is 72 and lives in Michigan. He has been in the business 35 years. He is still having fun because of the changes in the industry thanks to the Internet. Here are some takeaways:

1. eBay has moved away from auctions, unfortunately, which has taken much of the fun out of shopping for antiques and collectibles online. But be careful with the Buy It Now prices. They are hardly accurate. They vary widely and you have to scroll extensively to find bargains.

2. Marketplaces like GoAntiques, TIAS.com, and Ruby Lane are doing well and have taken much of the business that eBay gave up when it abandoned the collectibles field.

3. Only a quarter to a third of antiques and collectibles sold online go to collectors. Most buy for decorative purposes. Many repurpose items and re-use them in their households.

I felt an affinity with Harry because he is making a living as a freeance writer thanks to the Internet. Our words don’t appear in print (for the most part) and it’s OK. “It’s a damn fine time to be around this business,” he said.

A reader of Starting an Online Business for Dummies asks this question, which is one everyone wonders when they’re thinking of starting an online storefront:

“In other words, how much can I expect to make and how quickly? Obviously, there are a huge number of variables to this, but from what I’ve read, there are virtually no examples given or case studies cited that offer any clue as to the bottom line. It would be helpful to know, for example, about an actual case that described someone who opened an online store, what they did, and how much they were making in how much time.”

There is no perfect answer to this, of course. No magic wand. But I would suggest that she is asking the wrong question. Here’s what she (and you, the budding businessperson) should be asking:

“What do I feel so passionate about that I will work my butt off night and day to make as many connections as I can with other people to spread the word about it?”

Note that I said CONNECTIONS rather than sales. Connections lead to sales. To be successful online these days, you need to connect with potential customers (or readers, or subscribers) through a process of triangulation. You need to combine three things:

1. Social marketing
2. One or more marketplaces
3. Your website

Everyone wants to know how much money they can make online. You need to have some rough idea if you are creating a business plan. But I’m saying that’s not the best place to start. If you make unrealistic projections and fall short, you’ll get discouraged. Look at your business from a different perspective: your talents, your interest, and your message. Find your passion and work to tell people about it every day, on Facebook, on Twitter, on your blog, and on your website.

Just so you don’t think I have nothing to say to the question directly, I’ll say this. When I opened a store on eBay, I set two goals for myself: I wanted to make $300-$400 extra spending/bill paying money per month as a short-term goal. Long-term, I wanted to become a PowerSeller. Pretty modest goals, but I made them both (though I wasn’t a PowerSeller very long). A reasonable goal, then, would to make some extra “gravy” money for fun, to pay a few bills, or to keep afloat rather than sinking into debt.

Dean Pettit, whom I have written about elsewhere in this blog as the owner of Space Coast Outdoors, is doing pretty well with his site. But he told me the following when I asked how he is doing financially:

“For the time it is helping with expenses, I hope it will grow to be a primary income with time and with what I have learned I think it will.”

There is a reasonable goal: start out wanting to make enough money to help with your day to day bills. Dean wants to make this his full-time business, to be sure. But he also started his company because he loves the outdoors in his part of Florida, he knows a lot about it, and he sees that there aren’t other sites around marketing tourism on the space coast.

On NPR recently, I heard another story about the young author Amanda Hocking. She started out selling e-books of her novels and marketing them herself because no agents or publishers would accept them. She turned out to be a marketing genius, selling through her blog, through online interviews, and by doing anything she could to make connections, to spread the word about her books. Building a platform and making connections with customers and readers leads to sales–remember? Eventually, a publisher came to Amanda, hat in hand, offering to publish her book. The story said she is now a multimillionaire. There’s a success story for you. Here’s another, about a woman named Cynthia Lizana who started a one-woman business on eBay, expanded to Amazon.com, and has hired two employees.

There are lots of inspiring success stories out there. Don’t depend on them to get you going. Look inside yourself, at what you love to do, and let the desire to connect and build up a fan base or customer base drive you. Set modest, realistic goals that you can meet, and you’ll be way more likely to meet with success than imitating someone else.

Coffee and E-Commerce

January 2nd, 2012

Over the holidays, I did some obsessive shopping for an espresso machine. Back in the day, I could find used machines on eBay. No more. Where have all the bargains gone? Craigslist, Bonanza, eCrater–couldn’t find anything. But it turns out there is a specialty site for nearly every niche market. In this case I trolled the forums on CoffeeGeek.com and found a good one. Niche sites are the place to buy and sell specialty items, not general marketplaces, in my opinion.

Here are my top tips for selling on eBay:

  • Take lots of photos. Photos sell better than text. Always include more than one photo. Try to get closeups. Pay attention to lighting, and arrange a background that contrasts with what you’re selling.
  • Get detailed with your description. Yeah, I’m a writer, so I’m prejudiced, but think about it. Aren’t you more likely to buy something if the seller talks up how it feels or how it works, and describes its unique features? Be enthusiastic; tell the world why you like what you have to sell and what it will do for them.
  • Go for quantity, not quality. The only way to make a consistent income on eBay is to get multiple items online, not just one or two or three. Don’t try to make everything perfect. Just get it online. You can fix it later.
  • Automate. Come up with a system for getting multiple sales online: a Web site template; a photo studio; software that will streamline your listings and get many of them online at once.
  • Get help. Don’t try to do everything yourself. You’ll quickly get exhausted and stop selling. Get your kids or family members to help; if that fails, hire a student or friend.
  • Choose brand names sell. Get to know the top sales items in your area of interest. Learn all you can about unusual and distinctive products that people will want. Try to find them at wholesale so you can offer them online.
  • Remember that the customer is king. …and queen too. Whatever someone wants, give it to them if you can. Give them a refund. Give them new photos. Answer questions quickly. Personal responses and personal attention leads directly to sales.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. If someone returns an item, accept it and move on. If someone complains, apologize. Don’t get bogged down in arguments and negotiations. It’s not only bad business, but it’s not worth the trouble and will distract you from selling and fulfilling sales.
  • Be passionate about what you sell. People always ask me what they should sell online. Sell what you love. After all, you’ll be spending many hours per week surrounded by these items. Make sure you love them yourself—or are at least moderately interested in them. Your interest will help you get your work done.
  • Expand to multiple channels. Don’t just stick with eBay auctions. Open a store. Try sites like Bonanzle and iOffer. Sell through your own Web site. Make all your online stores point to one another. The more points of sale you have online, the better your chances of success.