Make Money Online: Open an Online Store

make money onlineWho hasn't, as they've clicked that oh-so-tempting buy it now button on eBay, Amazon or Etsy thought, "I should be selling, instead of buying?" Yes, you could actually make money online rather than just spend it -- what a concept.

I'm definitely in that category, especially when it comes to dresses. I can justify my buys with the fact I work on camera a lot and therefore "need" a variety of clothing (but really... that's a pretty weak excuse. I just love clothes!) In order to salve my guilt (or is it simple to free more space in my closet?) I've decided to put my mod-mini where my mouth is and open a vintage frock shoppe on Etsy.

I know I'm not the only one opening virtual doors, so I decided to consult with two successful entrepreneurs that I've done business with, to see if they wouldn't mind sharing a few tips to surefire success for making money online by selling secondhand clothing. Turns out, their words of wisdom actually apply quite well to running just about any kind of do-it-yourself, work-at-home storefront.

Alison Douglas has a very hands-on approach with her Velvet Garden Gothic Clothing Store in that she not only sells her own fashion finds through her standalone domain, but she also takes on commissioned items. Nancy Yu, on the other hand, competes using the huge forum of eBay, and in her store she sells mostly things that are new with tags (NWT) high-end and trendy designer dresses and outfits. The two could not be more different in their approach, but each woman is successful and happy with the results.

"I launched Velvet Garden way back in August 1998, so it's pretty well-established in terms of websites," Alison says. "At the time, eBay was the only place online where individuals could sell their things without having to go through the trouble of making their own website. It was never my intent to compete against eBay, but I did want to offer an alternative selling space -- one that was smaller, more genre specific, more friendly to new sellers, and one that didn't involve all the complications and limited time frame of an auction site."

Nancy, on the other hand, feels that running with the big dogs is an advantage. "eBay is the world's largest online marketplace, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Before I started selling on eBay, I was of course, a buyer. I remember spending sometimes hours searching for good deals. And I know there are others like me browsing the pages of eBay with similar tastes in clothing. And when there are more people out there browsing, the greater the possibility of more people wanting the same item you are selling. This is a great advantage for the seller because the possibility of selling the item at a higher price increases as well."

Of course, as in any business, there are highs and lows. I asked each woman to outline the pros and cons of running an active, everyday online store, and here is what they shared:

  • I can keep my own schedule, and don't need to man a storefront during business hours. It's flexible enough that even when I'm occasionally working a freelance job, I can still manage to take care of my online business in the evenings or weekends. [Alison]
  • eBay is a large marketplace with thousands of people on the site searching at any given time and the chances are, there is someone out there who wants what you're selling. (even if they don't know it yet!) [Nancy]
  • Having an online store has given me the opportunity to learn so many things about Web design, user interface, online marketing, promotions, PR, networking -- it's a fast-paced field where there are always new things to learn. [Alison]

  • One challenge is getting used to working from home by yourself, instead of being surrounded by co-workers. This lack of social interaction in the workplace was a bit of a transition at first. [Alison]
  • If it's an auction, there's only so much you can do to control the price. You can't start too high, and sometimes it will sell lower than expected. If it's a fixed price, sometimes it takes awhile to make the sale. [Nancy]
  • Customer payment! Most of the time, buyers are really good about it. But sometimes (quite often, actually), you get buyers who really take their time in payment or don't pay at all. This wastes a lot of time, especially if you have to re-list the item. [Nancy]

Finally, when it comes to advice for those ready to take the plunge, Alison says cross-promotion is important. Don't be afraid of befriending and even helping your so-called competitors by spreading the word about their business, if you like what they're doing and it complements what you are doing. "There are many ways you can do this, ranging from website links, to flyer trades, to promoting each other in your newsletters or FaceBook pages. When I find another small business that's creating beautiful things, I love to let my friends and customers know about it; and it's a nice bonus if they want to spread the word about my business as well!"

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