Like many people, I started out selling used books on-line to just make some extra money. After awhile, it began to grow beyond what I thought it would. My hobby was becoming a business, and at the time I didn’t have a lot of knowledge to fall back on. Hoping to get some help in some on-line forums, I found them filled with more people trying to discourage their competition than people with a genuine caring to help someone new.
It is my hope that this article helps everyone. What the people who feel threatened by competition don’t realize is that high quality across the board can help people on an entire site, not just the new person. A positive experience with your business may lead to that same customer shopping with me for something you don’t have, just because we’re using the same parent site. In that same regard, keeping new people ignorant can result in bad experiences and loss of customers for everyone. I hope that makes sense for those of you trying to figure out my motivation for wanting to help besides just thinking it’s the right thing to do.
Getting Started as a Business:
This is the part that includes things that people tend to put off for too long, such as talking with a tax accountant about your business. You definitely need to do this so you know what records you need to keep, and it will save you a lot of money long-term. Also, you need to open up a second checking account to run your business expenses through and deposit your profits. This makes accounting and tracking your progress a whole lot easier. It’s also extremely important not to muddy your personal expenses and your business expenses. Keep everything clean and separated. Write yourself a checks out of your business account as if you were drawing a salary for it. You also need to keep in mind that you need roughly 25% of your profits set aside for taxes. You’ll need to check with your accountant for a specific amount based on your tax bracket.
From an operations standpoint, a spare bedroom makes a great office and mini-warehouse when it comes to inventory. As you’ll see later on, I operate with only an inventory of 100-300 higher quality books instead of trying to make a lot of smaller profits off of a bulk amount of sales. Either method can work for you, but as a busy person outside of this business I had to developed what was right for my situation. Keep all your shipping and postal insurance receipts all in one place as well for easy reference.
Finding and Pricing Inventory:
The biggest “secret” to finding great inventory is you often have to work for it. There have been some cases where I stumbled upon a really great deal with little effort, but those are few and far between. A good place to start are your local used book stores and thrift shops. Many of these places have textbooks and other high quality items that you’ll need to research. It’s important to realize that just because the local college isn’t buying the book back doesn’t mean that someone else in the country can use it. If you know college students, check with them to see if they have any books they couldn’t sell. You can always attempt to sell them for them for a percentage of the sale. It’s a win-win situation.
The easiest and least technical way to research books and DVDs is to write down their ISBN or UPC. These are the numbers found on the backs either above or below the bar code. Writing down these numbers and checking them on-line before you buy them is the easiest way to get started without losing money. It takes you two trips, but it’s well worth it. I personally don’t bother now with any book I can’t make $8 or more profit on–I didn’t start out that way but just got tired of a lot of hassle for roughly the same amount of income. Website commissions vary, but I automatically assume my shipping credit is going to be canceled out by the web-site’s commission. So you want to factor your shipping costs into the original price to come out ahead as well.
Pay attention to the sales rank as well. While it’s better to have a more expensive than less expensive book in your inventory, it may take longer to sell. Ideally you want inventory that sells quickly with a high amount of turnover so you don’t get piled up. Periodically I go through my inventory and take out anything that’s dropped in value. These can be taken back to used bookstores for credit or donated to charity. Either way, nothing is going to waste.
Handling Customers Issues and Preventing Yourself from Being Scammed:
Most customers you’re going to have are normal people. Occasionally something will go wrong with a package being late or missing, and as a business owner you’ll need to factor that in as something that can happen. Always buy postal insurance for anything costing $20 or more. It can be tracked on the post office’s internal system and can get you your money back if the book arrives damaged. Plus books arriving with no indication of tracking are more often going to result in “The book never arrived” e-mails from the few dishonest people out there. If you have no proof, the customer always has more protection. That’s the way it should be from being on the other side of the situation.
Always mail your packages out on the next business day. Some sites allow you 2 business days, but the sooner the better. When you get to the point you can do it, shipping supplies are a lot cheaper in bulk. Switching over to larger boxes of envelopes increased our profits greatly without doing anything else differently.
When someone contacts you, be professional. Most often they’re worried about their item and just want to make sure who they’re dealing with. Like a retail store owner, just being nice can keep the situation calm until it’s resolved.
Just based on my own experiences, I’ve found it’s better to grow from a quality standpoint first before growing in quantity. Also don’t forget to market your business in any presence you have on-line such as a blog. I’ve gotten sales that way from people who liked my writing and just happened to drop by.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you. I wish you the best both in business and in life! Take care.