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Start Your Business Business Ideas

Got Old Stuff? Start a Side Hustle By Selling It

Got Old Stuff? Start a Side Hustle By Selling It
Credit: Kellis/Shutterstock

Online peer-to-peer marketplace sites have made it easier than ever for private individuals to turn a quick buck selling unwanted items. Whether on eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or some other platform, you can list and sell virtually any product you own with just the click of a few buttons.

For the entrepreneurial-minded, an online resale business can quickly become a lucrative side business, especially if you bargain-hunt at yard sales, thrift stores or flea markets. If you're considering becoming a private online reseller, here are some things to keep in mind and advice to help you succeed along the way. Happy selling! 

Establishing a good reputation as an honest, trustworthy seller is important for an online business. Even if you're not looking to cultivate repeat business, reviews and user ratings reflect on you in such a way that could either encourage or discourage future business.

"Make sure to list the condition of all your items, even if they are excellent with no flaws; buyers want to know that," said Heidi Ferguson, a vintage seller who uses several platforms. "Fill out your shop profile and shipping policies completely. This gives buyers a feel [as] to who you are and further insures trust."

Moreover, completely describing the condition of the products you're selling can prevent returns, which quickly eat into your profits and demand more of your time and attention.

"Make sure you describe the condition of the items well upfront," Ariel M. Ruggeri, a six-year eBay seller, told Business News Daily. "If you don't describe it well and the buyer would like a refund, it's a huge hassle and waste of time and money to have them ship it back and resell it again."

You can further protect yourself from returns and dissatisfied buyers by including multiple high-quality photos in your listing. Generally, the more photos you include, the better. Beyond informing buyers of the condition of the product, it boosts your listing in search results.

"Use seven to 10 pictures in your listings. You'll get more visibility and credibility from potential buyers," Ferguson said, adding that it's important to optimize your virtual storefront for mobile devices. "Always check your shop from multiple electronic devices to make sure to see what a buyer sees."

A word of warning is to avoid copying a photo of the product you're selling from the internet. Post high-quality photos of the actual item you are selling; otherwise, you run into trouble with buyers for even slight differences.

"Take really good photos and never ever right-click and steal photos from Google images," said Gari Anne Kosanke, an online seller who runs Bead Lovers Korner on multiple platforms. "Taking good photos will make listings unique and provide potential customers with a good visual so they won't be upset or disappointed when they receive the merchandise."

Online selling can sometimes feel like a personal endeavor, but, remember, you're running a business. If you don't think you can turn a substantial profit, it might be better leaving that cool item on the shelf. The mantra for successful sellers is always, "buy low, sell high."

"I always ask myself one question: Can I double my money?" Ruggeri said. "If you come across [a] great product [to resell] but it's overpriced, walk away!"

It's also important to document your business so you can track what is flowing in and out. Like any other business, budgeting and tracking income and costs is key to really understanding how well you're doing, and can help you adjust your strategy accordingly.

"Create yourself an Excel spreadsheet with revenue, original cost of item, fees and profit for each item you sell," Ruggeri said. "This will congregate your data all in one place and keep it simple."

It's hard to sell items when there's no audience. Social media is a good way to drive traffic to your store, as is following best practices for listings on the platform itself (i.e., many quality photos, complete descriptions, tags, good reputation.) Cross-promoting and even cross-selling is a great way to get the word out.

"Promote the heck out of yourself on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, and link all of your accounts back to [your selling platform] to drive traffic," Ferguson said. "Keep it interesting – engagement is key, not likes."

Once you have an engaged audience, you can start building. Organic search is a great way to find one-time buyers, but cultivating repeat business is also highly effective. For sellers who specialize in one category, such as Ferguson in vintage, it can be a huge benefit to find collectors or enthusiasts who come back to your shop time and again.

This may seem obvious, but ensuring payment has cleared prior to shipping your goods is essential. Payments can bounce, or buyers can choose not to pay. Unfortunately, not everyone is trustworthy, so to avoid getting swindled, keep finances at the top of your mind.

"Do not ship until you are paid and the money is in your account," Ruggeri said. "If you receive a check … make sure it clears. If you're selling through Craigslist, try to take cash only. It will make it much easier for you."

Following these tips and putting your best foot forward with buyers is a surefire way to make your online selling endeavor a success. 

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.