Accordion Al - image by Ivy, age 10

Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

eBay your way to a booming home business

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver June 7-13, 2011 issue #1128 High Tech Office column

What’s a Vancouver Grizzlies foam finger worth to you? Jennifer Torrance lists one on Heavenly Sent Treasures, her eBay store, at a ‘buy it now’ price of $8.95. Or you can take your chances at auction and see if you can get it for less.

But for Ms. Torrance, the finger, along with the rest of the 569 items on display on her online store, is worth far more; in total they give her and her husband the ability to work from their Richmond home, spending their days with their five children, aged two through thirteen.

Ms. Torrance got started with eBay in 2008 as a way to turn surplus gifts from the previous Christmas into cash. She realized she could take it further after a Disney ornament (with a chipped ear) sold for $95. Selling a used pair of Hermes shoes she’d paid $3 to a German buyer for $232 for didn’t hurt, either.
By 2010, she was working full-time from home, and had set herself up as an eBay store; her husband joined her this year. The couple buys most of what they post for sale at estate sales; their online store currently lists a lot of 1980s vintage snapback hats, along with buttons, antique postcards, china, and more.

With millions of items currently up for auction on eBay, Ms. Torrence tries to make hers stand out with research and boutique service. She believes that “each item has its own history”, and that taking the time to learn this history and communicate it to potential buyers translates to higher bids at auction-end. She notes that it takes time to become expert in new categories; currently she’s learning about silverware.

Many of her auction listings embed relevant YouTube clips. Some are made at home often featuring her children demonstrating the items. Her 13 year-old son helped her learn how to add custom HTML code to her listings.

Attention to customer service includes fast shipping, but also offering to hold items for buyers, encouraging them to bid on multiple items from her listings to save on shipping costs.

She points out that with eBay offering sellers fifty free listings each month, it’s a good time to get started selling. And she has some advice for any new eBay seller:

•    Take the time to go through the eBay tutorials
•    Check YouTube for tutorials on almost anything else you might have questions about
•    Learn about your market; find out what similar items have sold for, for example
•    List seasonal items at the right time – Christmas items in November, not January
•    Be prepared to sell world-wide; find out the cost of shipping beyond Canada or the US
•    Learn what can’t be sold in different countries. Ivory items can be problematic, for instance, but Ms. Torrence had a listing for a knife-rest removed because it is illegal to ship knives to the UK. (Yes, a ‘knife-rest’ is not a knife, but try telling that to an automated algorithm!)

Each of the 569 items listed at heavenlysenttreasures.com will result in personal contact with a buyer. Ms. Torrence sees this as an opportunity to meet people. “It’s like being Santa all year long.” By focusing on a small number of product areas, she’s seeing repeat customers and making personal connections worldwide.

Ms. Torrence credits eBay with letting her build a h business without needing to invest large amounts of capital, one that lets her work from home while home-schooling her children. Or as she put it, “eBay gave us the flexibility to be able to follow our dreams”.

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