First Person: Becoming a Top-Rated Seller on eBay

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"Hey, can you tell me how to start an eBay business?"

A former employee called me a few months ago and hit me with that one while I was standing behind a register trying to simultaneously run a brick and mortar store by myself and keep my fledgling eBay business afloat. And, yes, she truly expected me to deliver a panacea in ten minutes or less that would have her raking in the cash by week's end.

Instead I spent that same ten minutes trying to explain to her that I'd been trying to start an eBay business for three years, and was just about there. In the beginning I did such a poor job of figuring out how it all worked, I was actually banned for life from eBay at one point. Now I'm a top rated seller with 100% positive feed back.

Want to know how to start an eBay store? First, take a long hard look in the mirror. You absolutely positively will not make it unless you have these characteristics.

Attention to Detail

- think about the pickiest person you know, then assume all your customers will be just like her. They won't be, of course, but you have to write your listings like they are. Yes, you even have to mention that teeny tiny pull under the arm that half the people you've asked can't see.

As someone who spent five years buying used clothing for a resale shop, I really, really, know what to look for, and I still miss things sometimes. The biggest problems for me have been the things I didn't know about, like the dress that had been altered to come in at the knees, so it could only fit someone with a figure like Jessica Rabbit. I take a lot of measurements when I write my listings, but it never occurred to me to measure the circumference around the hem of a dress.

If you're buying items from garage sales and thrift stores for resale on eBay, you aren't going to know the history of each piece, so you have to be aware of the tale tell signs that an item has been altered or repaired.

A Wealth of Semi Useless Knowledge

- my Dad used to say he was a fount of useless knowledge. He really should have had an eBay store. The more you know, the more money you can make on eBay and the more problems you can avoid.

Obviously, you have to know what has value and what doesn't, and you have to know how much you can pay for the potentially thousands of items you will encounter on a typical "hunt," and still make money. You have to know the meanings of the makers marks and other stamps you may find on the bottom glassware, pottery and silver.

But even more than that, if you want to deal in higher end merchandise, you have to know how to authenticate your finds. I can spot a fake Coach or Dooney and Bourke bag in the grocery store from ten feet away. The higher dollar brands use a variety of techniques to thwart counterfeiters, from serial numbers to holograms. You have to know as much as they do, or you're going to end up holding the bag - literally.

Killer Instincts

- well, only if the "kill" is a great bargain. If you're thinking that no one could possibly know all that stuff, you're right. EBay sellers simply learn as much as they can, and we pretty much fake the rest. In other words you may not know what brands of men's dress shirts are worth $3 and which are worth $50, but if you look at a few of the $50 shirts long enough you start to get a feel for the signs of quality.

High quality leather feels soft like butter. A $1,000 purse will not be lined in vinyl. Expensive items have stitching that's even and straight. Even the labels say a lot about the care that went into manufacturing an item. I can pick up a dress from a maker I've never heard of before, and tell you if it's going to be expensive.

A Tolerance for Tedious Repetitive Tasks

- most people are drawn to eBay for one of two reasons: they think it's going to be quick, easy money; or they love treasure hunting. Have you ever watched "American Pickers"? A lot of editing goes into making an episode of that show. Sure, they find some great treasures, and usually make money in the end. It's even fun watching Mike Wolfe ascend a tower of teetering junk to get to that one old moth eaten banner that's worth $500.

But what you don't see is the 12 hours they had to drive to get to the pick or the stops at the gas station (cha ching), the hotel bills, and the salaries and overhead they have to pay for their staff and store front. They don't show the picks where after digging through a pile of filthy, dust covered garbage for five hours, they walk away with nothing.

For every 1,000 items you look at, you may find one you can sell, if you can make a deal with the owner. Then you have to transport it, maybe clean it up and/or do some repairs on it, photograph it (and edit the photographs), measure it, weigh it, research it, write a description of it, fill in all the required fields of data (brand, style, color), price it, set up shipping options, answer questions from potential buyers, relist it if it doesn't sell, and, if it does sell, ship it, and address any after sale issues or returns.

Easy money? Sure, you just go ahead and keep thinking that, while I tell you how to do it in ten minutes or less.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.


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