What you should know before hiring an assistant

volunteer-1550327_1280

The old saying “time is money” is never more true than when you’re running an online business. If you’re not listing, you’re not selling and you’re not making money. If you’re not buying inventory, you have nothing to list, so you’re not listing and you’re not making money. Yet, in between trying to do all that, you still have to ship your items, take photos, create listings, and so on.

Hiring an assistant to help you with your online business is the obvious choice, but it’s important to remember that not all assistants are created equally. Whether you are hiring a virtual assistant or someone to work as an employee, it’s still important to find the right fit.

Here’s some tips that can help:

Decide what you want your assistant to do. A lot of sellers know that they need help, but then when they bring someone on board, they really don’t know what it is that they want the person to do. Having a clear idea in mind of what tasks you want to delegate to your assistant can help ensure that you and your assistant are the right fit.

Ask your network for referrals. If you’re looking for an assistant that can physically come in and work, it may take a little more due diligence to find a good employee. If you are using a virtual assistant, however, it’s usually fairly easy to get feedback on what people or companies are good and are bad by visiting some Facebook groups or forums devoted to online selling.

Check their references. A good assistant won’t mind sharing the contact information of previous clients or employers. It can be a little more tricky if they are still working for someone else and want to move on, but usually you can at least talk to a personal reference or two and still get an idea of what type of person you are hiring.

Find someone who knows the business. Although the type of assistant you hire will depend on what you want the assistant to do, it is generally a lot easier transition if the person already understands how an online business works and what the listing process is all about. Fortunately, if you’re going the route of a virtual assistant, there are companies out there that are familiar with the process and a few of them even specialize in helping online businesses that use platforms, such as eBay and Amazon.

Request a trial period. There is always an adjustment period when you bring in someone new. In some cases, the person will fit in almost right away and you know the arrangement is going to work. If you’re new to working with a virtual assistant or having an employee, however, you should expect a learning curve for both you and for them. Some online sellers discover that while they need the help and even want the help, the arrangement itself just does not work. Perhaps they like to micromanage too much, or what they thought the virtual assistant or employee would do and what they are doing, just really aren’t the same thing. If you have request a trial period, you can easily end the arrangement and either try someone else or take another approach.

Do you have an assistant to help with your online business? Leave a comment below.

Taking advantage of seasonal lows

mittens-1177211_1920

Every market has a pattern of a seasonal high and low. The holiday season typically begins around Thanksgiving and runs to Christmas (and even a bit beyond). The wedding season also has a fairly clear pattern, which generally starts around January and is heaviest from July to August. Even back to school has a pattern, with early sales starting mid-July and becoming heaviest about the first and second week of August.

When you open your store, it is important for you to understand what kind of business you can expect throughout different times of the year. This is not only important for getting your inventory right, but if your sales rely heavily on a seasonal pattern, you have to figure out what to do during the rest of the year.

Getting creative

Just because your inventory has a seasonal high and low season, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t find creative ways to boost those off-season sales. As an example, if the main item that you sell is ugly Christmas sweaters, you might think that the holiday season is the only time people will want to buy them. What many ugly Christmas sweater sellers have learned though is that there is also another opportunity to sell them during mid-June and/or July.

You see, some people have yearly “Christmas in July” parties, so even though the thermometer outside may say 95 or 100 degrees, inside it’s nice and cool in the air conditioning and people are enjoying Leon Day (Noel spelled backwards), which is on June 25th .This date marks exactly six months until Christmas rolls around again! Even Christmas decorations will briefly sell around this date, so if you primarily sell Christmas items, there is a small seasonal peak there in which with the right promotion, you might actually do quite well.

Thinking outside the (country) box

Although most brick and mortar stores usually won’t have sweaters and jackets for sale in June or shorts and flip flops for sale in November, some online sellers have discovered that they still do some booming business since international buyers, such as those in Australia are in the middle of their winter season while those in the United States are in the sweltering heat. When the seasons reverse again, they are even able to sell bathing suits to buyers who are “down under” while snow is falling outside the window. Jasmine, an eBay seller who typically buys clearance summer items around the time that school starts back states that one surprising item for her was suntan lotion for children, which she says she sells year round.

Do you take advantage of some of these off-season peaks in your store? Leave a comment below.

Summertime sales blues and what to do about it

july-1435511_1920
Summertime and the living is easy. Unless you sell online that is. In that case, summer is hard and the only thing that is hot right now is probably the weather. Sales have slowed down or even almost stopped.

If you’re like most sellers, this probably means that your unlisted items are piling up and your current inventory is just sitting there gathering dust. This may mean that it’s time to take a step back and take another approach to your listing strategy. Instead of bringing in new items to list, it might be time to start moving all that old and unlisted inventory out instead.

First, let’s take a look at all that old inventory that you just keep holding in your store and listing as “Good til cancelled” (GTC). Now is the time to get that stuff out of here, so you can start getting in fresh merchandise that will sell. Don’t forget holidays are just around the corner, so you should be currently gearing your inventory toward that.

In some cases, this may mean that you need to take a look at your old inventory, take a deep breath and let it all go — some of it for maybe even less than what you originally gave for it. Before doing that, however, let’s take a look at some creative ways that might allow you to save some of your sales and even put a little extra money in your pocket.

First, re-evaluate everything. Take a good hard look at each item that you already have listed. Is there a way to improve the title? Have you left out any relevant keywords that might help sell the item? What about the photos, is it time to redo them?

If you find that there really isn’t anything else to do that you haven’t already done, then it may be time to start thinking outside the box. Is there a way to take some of the items and group them together to sell as a bundled lot? As an example, if you have some knitting supplies, perhaps you could sell them as one unit or a bundled lot instead of individually. Not only will this get more items out the door, but in many cases bundled items go for more money than they do when you sell the items individually. Buyers are often willing to pay more because they are getting more.

Second, take a look at your unlisted inventory. Are there items that might sell better during the summer than they will later on in the year? If so, go ahead and get them listed. As the old saying goes “It can’t sell, if it’s not listed.” It’s also not a bad time to get holiday inventory gathered together. You will soon want to start listing it, so why not go ahead and get a head start?

How are your sales this summer? Leave a comment below.

How to stop the negative self-talk

stress-853645_1920

Sometimes it almost seems like your listening to a broken record. EBay or Amazon make a change and the next thing you know everyone is talking about how the sky is falling. While you can kind of drown out the noise when it’s other people talking, what do you do when you discover that it is you who is behind all that negative self talk?

Well, first of all, it is important to realize that not all negative self-talk is bad. Sometime having some anxiety over an issue is a good thing. It can make us try harder, look at things differently or make changes we need to make. As an example, when sellers discovered that eBay was changing its store fees (yet again), some people initially reacted negatively, but once they acknowledged their anxiety, they realized that it was time to do something else. Some created their own websites, some moved over to other marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy, and some decided it was time to simply buckle down and get more inventory listed.

What do you do when you can’t shake the negative self-talk though? Here’s some ideas that can help you get it under control.

Calm down

You won’t see the opportunities if you are concentrating on all that bad stuff. As an example, when Amazon decided to limit the amount of what could be sold in certain categories, many sellers just kind of found themselves in a spiral. What am I going to do with all the stuff I can’t sell? What do I sell now? For days on the end, that is all they could think about.
On the other hand, some sellers like Kelly sat down quietly and realized that part of the reason she wasn’t selling more items was because her inventory mainly consisted of the slow selling items that Amazon was no longer allowing. Kelly says it was kind of a wake up call for her. Rather than let it consume her, she decided it was time to get some help with her selling and ended up signing up for some arbitrage training that she had kept putting off.

Challenge your thought pattern
Instead of continuing in all the negative self-talk, take a step back and look at all the things that are going right. Your sales in one category may be down, but that doesn’t mean all of your sales are down. Even if it’s hard to do, find one thing that you see that is going right and focus on that. It can help you break the negative self-talk and help you move past it.

Find a solution
Things may seem bad, but if you take a step back and quiet down all the negative self-talk, you can usually find a way to take control of the situation. Of course, sometimes maybe the sky really is falling. When that’s the case, you just need to find a way to accept that there is nothing you can do, but walk away from it. It may not be what you want, but letting go can help you end the negative self-talk and let you start thinking about what it is that you need to do next.

Are you guilty of these time wasters?

clock

Everyone has days when they just seem to waste a lot of time. Maybe it’s because they took a phone call they shouldn’t have or stayed on Facebook just a little (lot!) too long. It’s really not a problem if this happens occasionally, but if you find yourself getting to the end of each day and having little to show for it, you may have a time waster in your midst and as an online seller that can be a big problem.

Unfortunately, a lot of sellers know they aren’t getting a lot done, but they can’t really pinpoint where their time has gone. One minute they are having a cup of coffee and ready to work and the next, it’s dinnertime and they’ve only managed to get one or two listings done.

So, what’s going on?

Well, usually it’s because you’ve succumb to a a time waster and letting it suck the time right out of the day. Here are some common time wasters that may be stealing the hours from your day.

All those pesky distractions

Are you constantly checking Facebook or your email account? Maybe you have friends and family that take up a lot of time by texting you all day. Whatever the distraction, it’s probably keeping you from getting those listings done and cutting way into your productivity. While it’s unreasonable to say that you’ll give up social media altogether and some of those texts or emails may actually be important, but scheduling a time to check in instead of frequently returning to your Facebook page or email account can help keep this time waster at bay.

Bad daily routines

When you work from home, your morning routine generally sets the tone for the day. Although it’s fine to have a cup of coffee while you read your daily blogs or watch a little television to see what’s going on in the world, when one cup of coffee becomes two and it’s suddenly lunchtime and you’re still in your pajamas watching reruns of NCIS, you’ve set yourself up for being behind the entire day. If you find you are constantly falling prey to this time waster, track your time to see exactly how much time you are losing. It will no doubt be a real eye opener.

Poor planning or no planning

There’s a reason why all those self-help books tell you to make a list or plan for each day. They work! To-do lists and action plans help to ensure that you are staying on task throughout the day. Many people find that it is helpful to structure a day where they know what they are doing for each part of the day. As an example, they may do their shipping in the morning and then list after lunch, or they know that on Tuesdays and Thursdays they will source for inventory and list the other three days of their workweek.

Are you guilty of these time wasters? Leave a comment below.

How to overcome the dread of bookkeeping

y2cary3n6mng-y0fpag-double-entry-bookkeeping-syste

If you’re like most sellers, you probably find most of your time is spent on listing and managing your inventory and spend little or no time keeping up with your book-work. You may even find that you try to avoid the bookkeeping part of your business as much as you can. Although it is probably the least fun part of running an online business, it is an important part of the process.

Below are a few ways to help manage your store’s finances that can make bookkeeping simpler.

Separate your business account from your personal accounts. If you sell on eBay and use PayPal this may be a little more difficult, but keeping your business and personal accounts separate can help you know how much money your business has coming in and how much the business is spending. Some sellers have found the easiest way to keep things separate is to “pay” themselves by simply transferring a set amount of money out of their PayPal account and into another account that they then use for their personal spending.

If you do keep your business and personal accounts together, make a point to get a statement each month and notate what is for personal spending and what is for business. This can help make things much simpler when tax time rolls around.

Learn to read a financial statement. Renee, a five-year seller on eBay never worried about her financial statements until she wanted to borrow money to increase her business. During a sit-down with her accountant, Renee discovered that although she had been showing a profit for the last several years on her finance statements, she hadn’t really been paying much attention to her expenses. While she thought she had been making a profit of about 10 to 20 percent on most items, her accountant showed her that with the expenses she was paying for supplies and software programs to help her sell more, she was actually only showing a small profit of 5 to 7 percent.

The right software makes all the difference. You may find that when you are a small seller that you can keep up with your business and tax expenses with simple spreadsheets or a ledger, but once your business reaches a certain point, it often becomes more practical to find a bookkeeping software program that you can integrate with your store. Since there are several bookkeeping programs that will integrate with online selling, do some research to discover that one that will work best for you. Most sites offer a product tour and some may even give you a free month to see if their program is the right fit.

Schedule monthly budget meetings. Even if you are the CEO and the one and only employee of your online business, it’s still important to schedule a monthly budget meeting with yourself so that you can see how your business is progressing. Set a reminder to look at your finances on the last Friday or first Monday of each month to ensure that things are staying on track.

How do you overcome the dread of bookkeeping? Leave a comment below.

Online Selling 101: It’s all about the brand

Edgethreesixty branding

One of the first things you will start hearing about when you decide to sell online is that you need to create a brand. While the first inclination for most people when they hear this is that they need to create a name for their store, creating a brand actually goes much further than that. A brand not only tells who you are, but also what you do and how you do it.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of people get stuck. They might be able to come up with a cute name or a name that will help them sell their products, but that’s often about as far as they get with it. If your struggling with your branding, here’s some things you can do that can help.

Create a mission statement. A mission statement is actually the goal for your business. While you might want to say that “making money” is your goal, the purpose of your mission statement is to go beyond that. It explains to people who you are and why you have decided to sell the items that you sell. As an example, your mission statement could say that you want to provide affordable handmade jewelry using all organic materials in order to help the environment while providing beautiful, high quality jewelry for people to wear.

Describe the items you will sell. Using the example above, you might use keywords, such as organic, handmade, environmentally friendly, and high quality. These are the words that will help set you apart from your competition.

Think about your target market. This is a part of branding that trips many people up. You want to sell to everyone, of course, but when you narrow down who you actually want to sell to, you can then create marketing that specifically will appeal to that group of people. In turn, you will often sell more than if you used broad marketing terms in an attempt to sell to everyone. So, you might target teenagers for your jewelry or millennials that are just entering the workforce.

Creating the business name. Now that you have an idea of what you are selling and who you are targeting, you can create a business name that reflects your mission statement and the items you will sell. Look for keywords that embodies the spirit of both your mission statement and what you are selling.

Do you have a branding strategy? Leave a comment below.

Are these common mistakes costing you online sales?

Mistakes Home Sellers Make

Starting an online business can often feel overwhelming. Not only is there a learning curve as you discover how everything works, but most sellers don’t really even have a business strategy when they are first getting started. Below are some common mistakes that can cost even a more experienced seller some online sales. Forutnately, a little know-how can help you to avoid them.

Not treating the selling like a real business

Since you don’t get in your car and drive to an actual physical store each day, it is sometimes hard to treat selling online like a real business. A lot of sellers tend to gravitate to doing only the part of the business that they find fun and ignore the rest. As an example, they may enjoy the “thrill of the hunt” when finding new and interesting things to sell, but then fizzle out when it comes to getting all those new items listed right away. Creating a written plan of all your duties and making a schedule to stay on traack can help keep you focused and remind you that you are running a real business.

Not developing an effective marketing plan.

Social media is such a big part of the online selling process, but many sellers ignore this type of marketing or go about it haphazardly. While developing an effective marketing plan does take time, it is one of the most important parts of building a following for your online business. Work at creating a brand that tells potential buyers not only what type of products you are selling, but who you are and what your online business is all about. Engaging your followers will take time, but showing there is a genuine interest in them can help convert them to buyers that will purchase from you time and time again.

Not paying attention to keywords

The keywords you use in your listings are what help buyers find the items you have for sale, but in the rush to get items listed, many sellers fail to use all of the available keywords they should and end up making things harder than they really need to be. As an example, a seller lists a billfold but doesn’t take into account that buyers may actually search for the item by calling it a wallet instead. The seller may also forget to provide valuable information, such as the item is new or that it is a certain color or style. If you’re in doubt as to what buyers might look for, ask friends how they would search for the item if they were going to buy one.

Do you know of other common mistakes that sellers make? Leave a comment below.

Facing Your Online Selling Fears

Fear

Whether you sell on Amazon, eBay or another online marketplace, it’s a pretty sure bet that at some point in time, you have or will find yourself second guessing on an item and worry about whether you should purchase it or not. In fact, for many sellers making a purchasing mistake is their number one fear.

Unfortunately, this actually is a legitimate fear and one that all sellers have to deal with. The truth is, there are no sellers out there that make the right decision every single time. Everyone makes mistakes and even when you’re a seasoned seller there will still be an occasional time that you overbuy or even don’t buy enough.

There is some good news, however. As you gain more experience, or rather, learn the buying process through trial and error, you can reduce your fear and begin to cut down on your risk of making a purchasing mistake.

Keep in mind though that even with experience, it still isn’t always possible to predict how well an item is actually going to do. This means you have to face the fear and work to replace it instead by concentrating on the components of buying that you do know and can have control over.

Here’s some questions you can ask yourself that can help.

How much money do you have to invest?

Although this is a simple question, it might surprise you to learn how many sellers actually have no idea what they really can spend, nor have any real idea of what all they have tied up in inventory. Once you know these numbers, it can help you to move forward without fear because you know exactly how much you have available to spend.

How much competition do you have?

Logic would tell you that if a lot of sellers are selling the same item, then the item is hot and there are profits to be made. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. A lot of the time when there are a large number of sellers and a large number of sales, it is only a matter of time before one or more sellers will decide that it is time to start dropping prices. If this happens, you need to know whether you can still make a profit or not if you too have to start lowering your prices.

How many have sold or what is the item’s sales rank?

If you’re selling on eBay, you can generally take a look at completed items to get an idea of what is selling and how much buyers are willing to pay. If you sell on Amazon it’s not quite as easy, but numbers don’t usually lie. Check the sales ranking of the item you want to buy and see how it is doing in its Amazon category. Is it a top-selling item? Even if you discover that it is doing well, you still need to take care and do some due diligence. Is this the typical rank for the item or did it just have good day and it’s normally a slow selling item. If it is the typical rank for the item, the information can then go a long way toward calming your online selling fears.

Do you still have online selling fears or have you mastered them? Leave a comment below.

Online Selling: How to change direction without getting lost

Map

When you first opened your online store, you were probably excited about all the things you wanted to sell. You worked hard to build your brand and draw buyers to your store. As time has gone by, however, perhaps the inspirational flame doesn’t burn quite as bright, or you find that your brand is no longer a good fit for your business.

While taking your store in a new direction might be what you need or want to do, how do you change directions without getting lost and losing all those loyal buyers you worked so hard to get? Below are some ideas that can help make the process a bit easier.

Is it a real direction change or just a detour?

Before you start going off in a whole new direction, make sure the changes you want to make feel authentic. Perhaps you’re merely bored and looking for something new to hold your attention. If so, it may help to just take a step back and look for ways to expand your current brand instead of going out and trying something completely new. You may find that all you really need is an updated storefront or a new logo to bring back some much-needed inspiration.

The road map

If you were taking a trip, you wouldn’t just get in your car and head off in an unknown direction. Instead, you would use a map or GPS so you would know your route before you ever pulled out of the driveway. When you decide to change the direction of your business, creating a road map to get there can help to not only keep you from getting lost, but can also ensure that you are actually headed in the direction that you want to go.

Write out what you want to do and the steps you will take to get there. If you are opening a new store, decide if and when you will close your older store. You may decide that initially it is best to operate two stores until you can slowly phase the older store out or you may find you can simply combine the older store into the new store by way of a merge.

Involve your buyers in the process

The fear of losing longtime buyers is a scary one and can often keep a seller from making a much needed direction change. When you decide to change direction, keeping your buyers involved in the process can help keep them from feeling like they’ve been abandoned. They may even become your biggest cheerleaders for your new venture. Blogging about your proposed changes ahead of time or sending out a special newsletter to let your buyers know will not only make them appreciate that you are sharing the information with them, but can often bring some much needed support if you start having doubts about what you are doing.

Have you made a direction change with your online store? Leave a comment below.