How to Start an eBay Business

Woman preparing parcel for shipment
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We're often asked how to go about starting an eBay business. Often those that ask the question feel confused. They've heard about eBay businesses and even imagine how great it will be to own one, but they visit eBay's website and can't see how to start. They ask:

  • What do I click or where's the link to start an eBay business?
  • How much will I be charged, how do I pay, how often, and how do I cancel if it doesn't work out?
  • How long does training last, what is it like, and how do I sign up for it?
  • Does eBay have catalogs to help me choose what I want to sell?

These are well-intentioned questions looking for simple, direct answers. Unfortunately, there are no simple or direct answers to them.

Understanding What eBay Is Not

Before trying to start an eBay business, you must first understand one simple reality: eBay doesn't sell ready-to-run businesses.

It means that there is no particular "start a business" link to click on, no particular amount that it "costs" to start an eBay business, and that there are no libraries of training manuals or catalogs to help you on your way. These simply don't exist; this is not how you start an eBay business.

An eBay business is not, in other words, like joining a multilevel marketing organization; you don't sit at your kitchen table, learn the ropes, decide to do it, get a list of products and leads, then start the race to success, and all on a Sunday afternoon.

eBay is a venue where sellers can offer their wares and buyers can browse through and buy them. Nothing more, nothing less. Selling on eBay is like renting a store in a mall or selling items at a flea market or yard sale.

What you sell, where you get it, how you price it, and the details of delivery are all up to you. eBay doesn't provide any help or services in these areas. They're like the owners of the mall—they provide the space. The stores are in charge of filling their square footage with goods, attracting customers, and making enough money to be profitable.

How to Begin

Start with the understanding that building an eBay business is like building any other company from scratch. It's a messy process. You have to think like an entrepreneur. You'll need some street smarts, some business sense, and good communication skills. You'll probably also need some cash flow and some networking connections.

Then, in the most basic outline, you follow these steps:

Join eBay

Screenshot of the eBay sign up page to register a new account

If you're not already an eBay member, you'll need to get an eBay account. It is the same kind of account that eBay shoppers use. It's the only kind of account on eBay. It's free.

Make Some Purchases

Screenshot showing how to buy something on eBay

Buy a few things that you need on eBay to learn how eBay shopping works. Look at listings in a few different formats. Come to understand eBay bidding. Before you can successfully sell on eBay, you'll need to see how people on eBay buy.

Make Some Simple Sales to Gain Experience

Screenshot of an eBay listing

Start by listing one item for sale on eBay—just something around the house. If you're having trouble deciding, look at lists of common first-time sellers items or go through your house one room at a time to find things you don't need any longer. Use the "Sell" link at the upper-right of eBay's website and fill out the selling form to post the items for sale. Do your best to make compelling listings that will draw buyers. Package and ship your items. Ask for and leave feedback.

Learn the Ins and Outs of eBay

Screenshot of the list of eBay policies

With some basic buying and selling experience under your belt, do some reading to get a feel for eBay's rules and basic features and culture. Take notes.

Make a Clear Decision

Illustration of weighing the odds and choosing between two things

With some buying and selling experience in hand and a clearer idea of what eBay is about, ask yourself some questions. Did I enjoy doing this? Am I willing to work hard to build an independent business from the ground up, knowing that it's a job like any other, not a get-rich-quick proposition and that there will likely be tough times ahead before the light at the end of the tunnel is reached? Give honest answers to these questions.

Put Your Feet on the Pavement

Picture of multiple people working on laptops and phones on a crowded table

If your answers lead you to think that an online selling business is for you, it's time to start the real work. You can't make a living selling things you've found around the house. You'll need to find things to sell—things that you can buy with regularity, mark up, and sell with predictability. Finding shopping trends, niches, and great product opportunities, then finding and establishing relationships with sources and suppliers or drop-shippers and wholesalers of goods is up to you, as is managing the capital needs of getting started with an initial inventory, whatever these may be; eBay won't and doesn't help with this process.

You will have to do research. Send email. Make phone calls. Visit other businesses. Build relationships. There is often no easy step-by-step here. You'll need to think about business models and your customer service values and everyday retail questions like whether you'll handle the goods you sell or use a fulfillment partner, how your accounting will be done, and what it takes to operate as a business legally in your area.

Work and Grow

Picture of a woman working on a laptop

Getting up and running is just the beginning; in time, you'll want to outfit an office, set financial and other kinds of goals, and use market research to help you to balance your books with sustainable average selling prices, sell-through rates and volume relative to your costs. You'll probably want to branch out beyond eBay since eBay is just one selling venue amongst many that are online. In short—you'll want to take your start and turn it into a functioning company and business process that's all about what you sell and your relationships with customers and suppliers—not about eBay itself.

Avoid the Easy Answers

While you're getting started, you'll no doubt find websites and companies out there that seem to sell ready-made eBay businesses. They'll suggest that it's as easy as: Click our link; pay our fee; get your own business name; choose from amongst our products; we do the rest, from creating listings to delivering goods to customers; you make the money.

Be wary of these kinds of deals. Many have jumped at the chance for an "easy, one-click" eBay business offered by third parties in this way—and many have discovered that it's not as easy as it seems. These organizations tend to make good money from the service fees they charge would-be sellers or by selling to eBay sellers, not from actual sales on eBay itself. Their "sellers," on the other hand, often make few sales and compete against each other using the same limited catalogs of often overpriced products.

A better bet is to focus on interests you have or do-it-yourself and hobby activities that you enjoy and to make these the start of a long, hard climb toward a company with a real identity and a real business model of which eBay is just a part.