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Can You Make Money with Online Auctions?

By Kathy Dickinson

Yes, you can make very, very good money on online auctions; and it can be relatively easy work if it's done properly. I pulled in $23,000 working part time in one year. Iím a stay-at-home mom and wanted to pay for my own doll collection instead of intruding on my husbandís income. If I need to, I can use the business and my collection to make money for daily expenses.

Here are some suggestions for success

Be Realistic. Are you willing to do a little planning, sit in front of a computer, take photos, go to garage sales, write letters, be extremely organized? If not, don't do it; find something else to do.

Try To Sell What You Know And Enjoy. However, be careful; collectibles may find their way into your house to stay. On the flip side, if you like dolls, donít pass up vintage porcelain Disney plates or Homer Loughlin transfer ware at a garage sale; 50 cents can easily turn into $11.00.

Do Some Research. Check the closed auctions on ebay and Yahoo for items you know you can find, and keep mental or written notes about their ending value and condition. The first time a particular item shows up on an online auction, it will skyrocket because nobody has seen it before. Each time the same item shows up, usually within days because sellers get excited and think they will make a buck, the value will usually dive bomb and then level off. When you do your research, be careful.

Public Auctions. When buying at public auctions, try to buy inexpensive box lots. I've always had much better success at splitting up box lots I purchased at public auctions than attempting to resell one object. Unless there is something extraordinarily expensive in a box lot, they usually sell for a lot less. The messier the box, the better because nobody else wants to look through them thoroughly.

Garage Sales And Rummage Sales. Second to downright free, the absolute best way to obtain items for resale is garage sales and rummage sales.

In our area, and probably in most areas, the classifieds for garage sales, flea markets and antique shows come out in the newspaper on Thursday. If you can, buy a street map book covering a 50 mile radius in your area; and containing all the streets organized by page and area. Go through the newspaper ads and make a list of the sales in the order you will be attending them, and, if possible, go to those places on Thursday evening, rather than Friday or Saturday. It's what all the dealers do. Ignore friends who say that's an awful thing to do. I've never had anybody complain; they were grateful to unload anything they could.

Do not go to the garage sales that say no early birds in the ad. Don't get out of your car if their dog isn't on a leash, or if their boa constrictor is loose in the yard.

Try to plan your grocery shopping or other errands for the same time line so you won't be using extra gas.

Donít go to garage sales with friends who also buy for online auctions; itís the best possible way to wreck a friendship.

Estate Sales. Choose only estate sales where the prices aren't outrageous. You'll get to know the organizers after a while and learn to avoid the ones who charge an arm and a leg.

Business Cards. Make an inexpensive, but very stylish business card and hand it out everywhere you go; especially at garage sales. Don't give the card to them, however, until you have purchased whatever you want. Send word out to friends and family that you will be selling (and ignore their warnings that it won't work).

Consignment. Take things on consignment. That way you don't have to invest any personal money in the item. Don't be afraid to charge 30% for consignment work. You are doing just as much work as a public auction house is doing, and possibly more; and I haven't had anybody complain yet. Be sure to create a written agreement for consignment items, especially for friends and family if you know you may have potential problems with them.

Appraising. Don't make free trips to assess items in someone's house. It's called appraising and the best dealers charge fees for appraisals. Tell everybody who calls that you charge $15.00 for appraisals; and they get their $15.00 back if they sell to you. It gets the tightwadding users (I'm a tightwadder, but not a user) off the phone very quickly; and you won't waste gas.

I've had several antique dealers tell me that was wrong to do, but those same dealers are hurting financially, some have closed their stores, and I've chosen to ignore their advice. They spend a lot of money in gas driving around the countryside, only to have people tell them they'll sell the item(s) in a garage sale.

Digital Camera. Buy the absolute best digital camera you can afford, even if you have to find a way to make monthly payments. My most recent camera, a SONY Mavica FD95, was purchased from Circuit City, on a 12 month no interest payment plan because it was the first time I charged anything there. I paid it off in 8 months. The camera was originally $900.00; it was on sale for $600.00 as an open box item; when I arrived at the register, they sold it to me for $400.00 plus sales tax. Circuit City's return policy on open box items is very lenient, and they don't charge a restocking fee for them. I didn't have to return it, so I'm happy and I'm sure they're happy.

Photographs, contrary to popular belief, hide a multitude of sins, so be sure your description is very accurate and very detailed, especially the bad stuff. Believe it or not, if you do, your sales will sky rocket. Even if you donít know much about the historical value of the item, the least you can do is describe its defects and attributes.

Computerized Graphics Programs. Buy the absolute best computer graphics program(s) you can afford. The best combination I've found is Adobe Elements, and Paint Shop Pro. Adobe Elements is perfect by itself, I just like to do oddball things with my graphics once in a while, and Paint Shop Pro complements Adobe perfectly. Don't buy a cheapie $50.00 program. You get what you pay for.

Photography Stage. Set up an inexpensive photography stage with a heavy duty cardboard box, pure white fabric backdrop that has a little bit of texture, and two clip on lights. So far the best thing I've found is pure white sweatshirt material. The texture will reflect the light properly. A flat surface seems to blur the lines in the object. I have a large cardboard box standing on end; the "upper" end of the box has been slit to pull the fabric through for support. Another choice would be a flat-backed chair or rocking chair that can be placed near an electrical outlet because the stage can be broken down and put away easily. Try to make one that can stay up permanently.

Shipping Supplies Get free boxes for shipping at Walmart; the USPS has many free shipping supplies, too. Free priority boxes and other supplies can be ordered from They will be sent directly to your home. Getting And Staying Organized.

Design and print out some pieces of paper that will contain fill-in blanks for your auction information. I do this to prevent mistakes; I am interrupted a lot by a fourteen year old and a seven year old; plus a variety of pets. I print my auction cards four on a sheet, and cut them apart. The "card" can go into a clear plastic bag with the item until it is sold. It will also be useful to delete information in batches in Windows Explorer after the auction is closed. After you are completely done with it, save it for scrap paper.

Create a file folder in Windows Explorer on your C Drive labeled "Auctions". Create subfolders for "Photographs"(with subfolders of numbers from, say, 0001-0009, 0010-0019, and so on; doing it this way makes it easier to upload photos), "Receipts", "Invoices, "Shipping Information", "Descriptions" (with subfolders "Matrix" and "Items"). Use all subfolders to store appropriate information. Take a couple of minutes to back everything up on disc at least once a week.

Make a matrix for your auction description with all the information that is repeated for each auction, and store it in your Auctions, Descriptions folders in your C drive.

Assign a number to each object instead of a group of letters; if you are doing power selling, it is the best way to stay organized.

Photograph your object and assign it a number, and consecutive numbers for each additional photo. Use the first number to save your auction description in a word processing program. Because photograph files and word processing files have two different file extensions, the first number that was used to photograph the item can also be re-used for the word processing file. If the item doesn't sell and you want to relist it, or put it on a web page, you won't have to write the description again. If your description should change the next time for any reason, you won't have to write it again. For instance, my charge card system has been up and down, so I've had to change my matrix descriptions a few times. I went through a period of time thinking I wouldn't use PayPal, and changed my mind again. If you have to re-use the information, always save the file out as the same number, plus a letter (such as 0456a), or a new date (such as 0456 05.18.2002) so you don't cover up the old description. That way you can re-use the item description.

Design an invoice matrix that can be copied and pasted into an e-mail to your customer. Print out the invoice on the backside of used paper so you can find the information if your computer is down.

Design a receipt matrix that can be filled in and printed out for your customers. By federal and state law, a business has to have receipts for every transaction. Receipts will also help organization. File your receipts on disk, giving each a file number beginning with the last four letters of their last name, and a number on the end.

The only online auction service I use is Andale page counters. It's free. In general, timewise, online auction services are no more efficient than my own system, and mine never breaks down. I figured out the services are also very expensive. I tested each and every one of them, and none of them are complete. Each has good qualities, but since each is missing an important function, I wouldn't pay for an incomplete service anyway.

I have buckets of items to be loaded, and buckets of items that have been loaded. If something didn't sell after a couple of listing attempts, I either figure out if I want to send it to the Salvation Army, or a public auction. If you itemize on your taxes, donations can be written off, however remember you will get only approximately 10% back on the total; sometimes that's a lot better than a garage sale.

The Internet runs better in the morning, so I try to get my photographing and writing done in the evening.

Make manila folders for each stage of the auction, such as "Consignment Work", "Invoices", "Process Payments", and "Feedback".

Use an automatic computerized check register to keep track of your income and expenses. Choose a program that will print a report at the end of the year. I wish my Microsoft Money '95 would run on XP, but it won't. My Quicken program will run reports, but they aren't compacted into one-liners with totals. Create two computer program accounts, one for your checking, and one for mileage. The checking will tell you all of your income and expenses. The mileage will track your mileage for you.

Dealing. If you become a dealer, be very very honest about everything. People will come back to you if they trust you, and they will recommend you to someone else without thinking twice. The biggest and most successful antique dealers in the country are very honest.

Give customers every choice they can possibly make for selling their item, and the pros and cons for each choice, especially on multiple items. I've twice had people come back to me to sell over 200 dolls each because I gave them all their options for selling. They did their research and came back because I was the best choice for their goals.

Yahoo Auctions. People think I'm nuts when I say this, but every hot item I've ever sold on Yahoo has ended with much higher bids than it would have on "other" online auctions.

The name of the game is always money, and I'd rather be in a cost effective, profitable place. I've tracked much higher page views on Yahoo. It's a lot easier to list things on Yahoo; much more efficient and much less costly. Yahoo is grossly and undeservedly underrated, and I can't figure out why everyone hasn't noticed it yet. I can talk about my success on Yahoo until I'm blue in the face, and everybody goes "elsewhere" instead. I run things on "elsewhere" once in a while to keep my rating up, but I don't like doing it. I figured out one day that overall "elsewhere" gets more of my money in commissions than a public auction house. Some things just don't sell, and adding up listing fees, and commissions, and dividing them by total sales can amount to a total shock.

If something is gonna sit on Yahoo, at least I didn't have to pay 30 cents, and sometimes plus, for something that wouldn't go. Yahoo has a 5 cents listing fee up to $9.99; and their commission is much lower. ďBuy It NowĒ is free on Yahoo.

Avoid Scammers. My ads say all sales are final, errors will be cheerfully corrected. When I didn't have it in my ads, I had terrible problems. People would bid on a whim and try to send things back. When I got them back, pieces were missing, replaced or broken. It's an auction, not a store. In addition, a public auction house will give the audience a few minutes to ensure the item wasnít broken while it was handled. In this case, my descriptions are complete and accurate.

Remember, Customers Can't See Your Face. If they write something incredibly rude, and you get ticked off, they can't see you. Use it to your advantage. I've found I can back off and do something else for a couple of hours and cool down before writing back. I've had that happen probably only five or six times in over 2,000 sales, so the odds are that the number of rude people you will get are extremely slim. The majority of customers are extremely grateful for kind attention and good products. In the same vein, never respond to an accusation with an accusation, just politely repeat what you need from your customer. People cool down quicker when they can't keep a fight going, especially when they realize they can't push your buttons.

Don't Be Afraid Of Negative Feedback. Unless the negative is deserved, it's usually troublemakers and scam artists who leave negatives, and it's easy for others to see their attitude in their response. I have neutrals and negatives from a few I deserved because I was ill for a while, but I have some additional negatives from people who shouldn't have even been on ebay or Yahoo. I don't know how somebody can get thousands of feedbacks with no negatives, but God bless them if they can!

I Don't Hold Items For Mailing On Checks Under $50.00. It's not worth it. I've had only one bounced check in over 2,000 sales, and I managed to get the buyer to send me the amount of the check, plus the amount the bank charged me in money order form.

If the high bidder wants to back out at the end, politely ask them to pay for the listing fee and the auction commission. I've only had this happen once. The buyer was very willing to oblige, and gave me a little more! That was a nice surprise in the mail!

Presentation. Ensure that your grammar and presentation are gorgeous. Smarter looking ads get higher bids.

Copyrights. If you decide you want to sell copies of outdated products, such as doll clothes patterns, or music, consult the federal government copyright web page first. Don't consult attorney-based pages; the information is usually incomplete; not always, but usually.

No Reserve Auctions. Always start your auction with no reserve unless you have invested enough money to make you uncomfortable. No reserve auctions always end higher than reserve auctions.

Kathy Dickinson Halea's Doll Clothes


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