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July 2008

My Experiences Selling Online

This article was written by in Income. 4 comments.

I recently sold a number of possessions in my year-long quest to vanquish my credit card debt as quickly as possible. Before this, I had very limited experience using online selling tools, and generally thought of them all as a hassle, so I thought I would try more than one and see how they stacked up. Your experiences may differ, along with your selling requirements, but here’s what I found:

Craigslist

I’m fortunate enough to live in a city with a Craigslist presence (check to see if your hometown is on the list), and I had something that I really didn’t want to bother trying to ship: Guitar Hero III for the Nintento Wii. Craigslist, if you haven’t heard of it, is sort of like a city-wide distributed garage sale. You describe what you have using a free-form text entry field, pictures optional, prices optional, limited only by your imagination.

I said that I had Guitar Hero III for sale, found some Creative Commons photos on Flickr, asked for $50, and that was all there was to it. Within a couple of hours I had two offers. The first person haggled with me and asked if $40 would be okay. So I found a Starbucks that was easy for both of us to get to and met her that evening. If I’d waited a little longer, I could have gotten $50 for it from the second person. Lesson learned.

eBay

I had a number of DVD box sets of a favorite TV show that I wanted to unload (while keeping a soft copy of the better episodes on an external hard drive at home). It was easy enough to copy the details of each episode from a wiki to the “Sell item” page on eBay, and after a few repetitions I found it was even possible to find the vital stats with a database that eBay provided.

There are, not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of options for how to sell an item on eBay. I sort of wish there was an “eBay lite” option, or better wizard that stepped me through the process. Also, it tended to break when I used the Safari browser at home. I had to remember to use Firefox.

But my biggest problem with eBay was not really eBay’s fault: they wanted me to estimate shipping costs. The thing is, I don’t own a scale, and I can’t hold something in my hand and say, “yep, that’s about six pounds.”

In general, it seemed to me that eBay is geared toward professional sellers.

Amazon Seller Account

One-click patent silliness notwithstanding, I like Amazon because it is easy. Even without 1-Click, it’s easy. And that ease of use has expanded to their options for selling things online, in my case it was a used video camera.

All I did was find the right model camera by acting as if I was looking to buy one and click a button labeled “Sell yours here”. Specify the condition (new, used, etc.), add comments, pick a price and that’s about it. You get to benefit automatically from any pictures, customer reviews, or any other information that Amazon is already storing about that product.

Amazon also did a good job of estimating the shipping cost for me. The drawback I experienced using Amazon was that I had to wait. This will vary from product to product, of course.

Conclusion

With both Amazon and eBay, there’s something of a process to setting up an account and getting paid. Craiglist is a lot more free-form in that respect. If I was in a real rush, I’d probably use Craigslist again, but for the most part, I prefer Amazon’s way of selling things. I hardly had to lift a finger.

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Starting tomorrow, Washington Mutual is increasing the interest rate offered on its online savings account to 3.75% APY. This jump will put this account on top among the best-known online savings accounts. This is a wide enough margin over ING Direct to convince me to open an account and give it a try even though I’m far from a “rate-chaser.”

I foresee more interest rate increases in the near future.

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Many Consumerism Commentary readers don’t know this: I was a band geek. In high school, I played clarinet in wind ensemble and marching band. This continued into college, where I decided to major in music education. In college, I performed in a variety of ensembles on a variety of instruments ranging from trumpet to percussion and from crumhorn to gamelan.

Despite the wide range of possibility, I stuck with clarinet for my four fall seasons marching with our highly successful college marching band. Regardless, the professor and director of the marching band spoke to us once about careers and life choices. She considers herself extremely lucky. She has a career (as a professor of music education, professor of music performance, and director of the marching band and one of several symphonic bands) doing what she loves doing. Not many people would be lucky enough to be able to be paid for spending their days with the activity about which they are passionate.

So when I read this advice from Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, the words sounded familiar.

My father was an artist who loved what he did. He’d sit at his board 12 hours a day. I once said to him, “Gee, Dad, all the other fathers have time after they come home to play ball or sit around. At the end of the day, you’re working.”

He put his brush down and said, “Those fathers are doctors, lawyers and bankers. When they come home, all they want to do is their hobby. My work and my hobby are the same. Find work in something you love and it won’t feel like work.” I listened to him. And I have been fortunate enough to work at something that I love.

To find what you love doing, you have to have an opportunity to discover your talents. I was given the opportunity at an early age to have exposure to music, for example. I also had access to personal computers and the internet as I was growing up in the 1980s, unlike many other children my age. I participated in more activities, like little league baseball and karate, and this variety helped me to figure out what I could be passionate about.

I’ve changed a bit since college. Music and arts education is still very important to me, but I’ve moved away from that as my vocation. I certainly do not love my day job now. I do my best, or close to it, and I am interested in furthering my career, but I am more interested in working with the internet at this point in my life. I’m not sure that I love the internet, to use Kamen’s terminology. When I’m writing, it doesn’t feel like I’m working, but I wouldn’t say that this is my talent or passion. It does feel like work, however, when I am not feeling inspired and cannot come up with ideas.

I have so many interests that it’s difficult for me to hone in on just one that can define my vocation in such a way that it will be everything for me.

If you have some idea of an activity that you absolutely love, something for which you have a talent, and nothing else you could see yourself doing, and if you can find a way to make a living doing this activity, then you have an opportunity to be one of the lucky few. I think this may not be possible for many people. Either they haven’t had the opportunities to discover their passion and talent or, like me, they could see many different paths.

Do you have a passion? Does it coincide with your job? Could you make a living with your passion?

The smartest advice I ever got, CNN Money

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If anyone should be giving advice about how to become a successful entrepreneur, it would probably not be me. While I am earning money on my own outside of my day job, it’s not consistent or reliable. Part of the reason for this is that I never intended on becoming a business owner of this form. I’ve had a strong interest in computers since I was young and in web design and programming since 1994. While I decided I could see myself designing websites on the side, I never thought that writing would be the driver for the online business. Even when starting Consumerism Commentary five years ago, I didn’t start it with the intent of earning money.

I wouldn’t call my approach a “mistake” for me, but this approach is not the best for creating a successful business from scratch. Some of the best advice would be the opposite of my original thought process. Have clear goals, solicit social and financial support, be an expert in your field, research the market for your service or product, seek advice or mentoring from other similar, successful entrepreneurs, and don’t quit your day job.

The last piece of advice has been one that I have followed. At the end of last year, I decided that I would determine by the end of June 2008 whether I would be in a strong enough position to quit my moderately-supportive day job at a financial services company and give working for myself a try full-time. I decided not to quit.

There are strong arguments for maintaining a relatively secure job while laying the groundwork for your own business. With a stable income, you can fund your endeavors. With benefits from your day job, you don’t have to worry about making enough money from your side work to support you if you encounter medical emergencies.

On the other hand, there are some reasons why you can’t be a successful entrepreneur if all you can devote to the business is your spare time. The more aggressive your goals, the more risk you must be willing to take.

Abandon your day job. If “wild success” is an integral part of your goals, keeping a day job is a distraction. Yes, this means giving up your income. For driven individuals, this is strong motivation to develop the business to a point where it can support you as quickly as possible or to aggressively seek financial backing.

If I were to quit my day job, where I earn less in terms of gross pay than I earn from side projects in total, I would be able to focus on building my business with all of my effort rather than my “spare” effort at night and on weekends. Perhaps I’m not a risk taker, but I’m going to need a stronger sign of viability than what I’ve experienced so far. This is a risk a budding entrepreneur must take.

Don’t expect to have more time with your family. One of the main reasons people say they would like to become an “entrepreneur” is that it would allow them to spend more time with family. That may be fine if your intent is to sell products made by someone else on eBay but if you are trying to build a unique business that provides an original product or service or if you are trying to be the best at what you do, you will have less time for friends and family than you had when all you had to worry about was your day job.

All the other typical entrepreneurial advice still applies. It’ll take dedication and a detailed plan for a would-be entrepreneur to become successful. But that success requires sacrifices and risks. It’s easy to sell the idea that you can become rich “in your spare time” or in the “comfort of your own home” like the infomercials promise. A real entrepreneur, someone at the top of their niche, has no “spare time” and very little “comfort,” particularly when they are still building their business.

This article is part of the July MoneyBlogNetwork writing project. Here are more articles from around the web about entrepreneurship.

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Thrasher Funds on Today Show and Weekly Blog Roundup

by Luke Landes

As I write this roundup, the anchors of The Today Show mentioned they will soon present the founder of Thrasher Funds, an expensive mutual fund company designed to attract younger people towards investing, to offer financial advice for teenagers. I’ve noted before that the concept is good, but the execution is out of touch. It’ll […]

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Get Out of FreeCreditReport.com’s “Triple Advantage”

by Luke Landes

FreeCreditReport.com is the heavily advertised company that offers “free” credit reports (if you sign up for a trial offer for their monitoring service with a monthly fee. They have huge billboards at Shea Stadium, where I will be tomorrow to see the (currently) first-placed Mets. Keep in mind that the place to get truly free […]

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HSBC Direct Extends 3.5% Rate Offer and More ING Direct Referrals Available

by Luke Landes

I received an email to inform me that HSBC Direct has extended its “promotional” interest rate on the online savings account of 3.5 percent APY to September 15, increasing this promotion by one month. I’m not sure what the difference is between a “promotional” rate and any other rate; as always, interest rates on savings account […]

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Stay Cool This Summer: Air Conditioner Alternatives

by Luke Landes

Rather than firing up the central air conditioning, you can keep it off or lower its power in the heat of the summer by exploring some of these low-cost alternatives. 1. Use fans. While fans don’t change the temperature of the air, they increase air movement, which will make you feel cooler by a few […]

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What is Protected By the FDIC

by Luke Landes

October 6, 2008 Update: The FDIC has increased the maximum deposits covered under federal insurance. The new FDIC coverage limits are outlined here. Without getting too specific about the company I work for, a large company like mine has to make efficient use of its financial assets. Most of a company’s money should be invested […]

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Your Money in the Bank is Safe

by Luke Landes

Earlier this month, IndyMac, a bank and mortgage lender, collapsed, and through an interesting process the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) assumed responsibility of the bank’s deposit accounts. This collapse, only a few months after NetBank closed and its deposits were acquired by ING Direct, has people everywhere worrying about their money. The government and […]

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