The True Story of How I Started My Online Business

Includes sample letters, examples and how I got started.

By 2003 Ebay was all that. Selling online was a dream of many. It has been for a long time. Sitting at home in front of your laptop. In your pajamas with a cup of coffee. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

The big question seems to be what to sell. Seems that if you could answer that question, you would have the world by the tail.

My experience that I am about to share taught me one very important lesson: Don’t try to predict what someone will pay good money for. Seriously. Some of my biggest money makers were things that made no sense to me. If you get stuff free and you have time to list it and the room to store it, then my advice is to list it at least for a time. Or put it in your yard sale. Whatever format you use to sell products.

EBay seems to be the big selling market of used stuff. I did sell there, but I made my money by selling used products on Amazon. I listed stuff where it made sense. Where I thought it would sell. You will get a handle for that as you go along. If you already sell online, you already know what sells better where. I had the occasional yard sale too, just to clear things out, and then I may take things to Goodwill and donate what was salvageable but no good to me. The rest I threw away.

Now you don’t necessarily need a lot of room. If your thing is small stuff like jewelry, coins, lids, then you may not need much space. If your thing is books, DVD, CDs, you will need a good size room with bookshelves, clothing, room for racks, and a mannequin is a great thing to get for pictures. Be sure you are prepared to throw things away and drop lots of stuff off at the nearest goodwill store or church thrift shop.

This is not just a good method for gathering items to sell. This can also help you if you sew or do crafts. A great way to get buttons, material, yarn, and other supplies you may use to make your handmade goods that perhaps you sell on Etsy.

Many people don’t realize how much stuff thrift shops throw away. Trust me, most of them would rather not throw anything away. But they are inundated with donations and sometimes simply cannot keep up, don’t sell enough of it, or just don’t have the space. If you are a charity and need clothing, this is a good place to look!

I’m getting ahead of myself! I did not make handmade crafts, sew, paint, or have the money to invest in inventory. Year after year went by and I would hear about others who had quit their jobs and were selling online. I wanted to do that too! It sounded perfect.

Then I tore a ligament in my knee. Now this sounds like a bad thing, and I will admit it was very painful. I had surgery and then I had about a month of rehab time where I was stuck in bed pretty much most of the day for at least that first week after coming home. I was not to return to work for four weeks. What to do?

1. THE IDEA

I found myself in bed with not much to do but think, read, and surf the internet. I once again found myself trying to come up with that one brilliant idea I needed to start my own online business. I thought back to a business I had in Ohio in the nineties.

When I had the cleaning business, I would get calls from realtors and individuals who needed a house cleaned so they could put it on the market. A house left by someone due to foreclosure or death. So it was full of belongings that had been left behind. They told me to do whatever I wanted with the items in and around the house; just make sure it was empty and clean so they could list it for sale. I donated quite a bit of stuff, but I also found things worth selling. I got to know some of the thrift store owners quite well and found out they get a lot more stuff donated than they have space for and they do not like throwing it away.

One day it just came to me. I wonder if the thrift shops and secondhand stores would be willing to let me pick up what they were just going to throw away. I could re-donate some items to other thrift stores in the area and charitable organizations that needed donations and sell the more valuable things to cover my costs and create a job for myself. Recycling at its best.

My first thought was the same that many of you are having right now. Why would you want garbage? If it’s sellable, the thrift stores would most certainly keep it and sell it.

Well, actually, no.

I wrote up a letter and mailed it out to every Goodwill store, thrift shop, and secondhand store in the area, and I also put an ad in the local newspaper. The gist of the letter and the ad was that I would pick up your unwanted items for free. No charge. I added a footnote to the letter stating I would not pick up obvious garbage; i.e. broken items, unknown bags of items, and no Encyclopedias or Reader's Digest books.

The first thing I found out is that the Goodwill stores were not interested. Someone from one of the Goodwill Store called me after receiving my letter. They explained that they would never have an overflow of donations because they just ship it to other Goodwill Stores in the state.

Good to know. I did appreciate the call. I made a point of just mailing letters or calling locally owned thrift shops, hospitals, and church thrift shops.

I was pleasantly surprised by the response. Within a month, I had three stores that emailed me in response to the letter and stated they always had so much more in donations than they had room for in their store, or the manpower to deal with, and hated to throw perfectly good items in the trash.

They ask if I was willing to just schedule a regular weekly or biweekly pick up date. Well yes! Yes, I was!

2. EXPANSION

I also put an ad in the newspaper.

The ad in the newspaper was free. Our paper had a classified section at no cost to place an ad if you were offering something for free. I ask if they could place the ad and leave it in each issue so long as they had room. They said sure.

I would receive calls from the newspaper and shopper ads about once a month. Usually people who were moving. Or after a yard sale.

The ad: WILL PICK UP UNWANTED ITEMS. NO CHARGE. PLEASE CALL: XXX-XXXX

Then I started getting calls from area realtors from the classified ad in the newspaper. The realtor calls were great bump in business. It was always because a homeowner had walked off and left an entire household full of stuff behind. Usually because the house had gone back to the bank. So then I went with that and sent out a second round of letters to all of the realtors in the area.

I was well on my way with regular pickups weekly, and one monthly from the three thrift shops that had responded originally. A realtor called for a big job approximately every two to three months, and the occasional response from the newspaper ad from either individuals or many times a business.

I had one thrift shop in particular that had way more donations of books, DVD’s, and music CDs, than they had room for in their little store and that monthly pickup would fill my car. When I say fill it, I mean from top to bottom and I could not take anyone along because I would not have room for them to sit once I crammed everything in the car.

Another thrift shop had piles of clothes. The good thing was that a lot of it was new with tags. When they told me they received more donations then they could handle, they were right. There were piles of clothing they had not had time to go through, meaning I was not picking up the scraps after they had picked through it. I was picking up fresh donations. So a lot of good stuff. Now I won’t lie, you have to be prepared to throw many items in the trash, and I also donated a lot of stuff to my local church thrift shop and Goodwill store that I did not pick up from.

Don’t make the mistake of donating to a thrift shop you pick up from. It is highly likely you will just pick it right back up on your next visit. So donate those items to local charities looking for clothes, or Goodwill Stores and other places you don’t have an arrangement with for pickup.

The realtors brought on a landslide of items and spawned a sort of second business. We finally ended up buying a small box truck. People walk away from these houses sometimes leaving what seems like everything. Furniture, silverware, appliances, clothing, books, electronics, bicycles, patio furniture, and so on. Anything you find in and around a house.

I also worked out a small payment from the realtor to take care of emptying the house (not cleaning it) but emptying so they could bring in cleaning crews. The realtor would pay me between $200 and $400 depending on the size of the house, and I would make sure the house was empty and ready for the cleaning crew. I generally would go through everything very quickly at the house and set the trash out at the home's curb. Then I would call the local trash company for a one time pick up and have them bill the realtor. Then I went home with all the items I thought I could sell.

Without having to buy any of it and many times getting paid to pick it up!

3. IS THIS FOR YOU?

Before you decide to go for several thrift shops, and a couple of realtors, you might want to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you willing and do you have the time to sort through a lot of various items; a lot of which you won’t want?
  • Do you have the room to store your new inventory?
  • Do you have the time to re-donate a lot of it to a different thrift shop or charities in the area?
  • Can you handle more trash than the average person?

You can certainly limit what you pick up if the thrift store is agreeable. Say you only want dishes, children’s clothes, just electronics, or books. Simply say that in your initial letter to them. I have included a few sample letters that you are welcome to copy and use in their entirety or edit as you see fit.

I mailed a hard copy letter to the thrift shops and realtors I made contact with, but if you feel you would get a better reaction using email, making a phone call, or stopping by in person, then try that. Do what you are comfortable doing.

If they want to know what you do with the items, be honest.

Let them know you sort through everything and donate to appropriate thrift shops or charitable organizations that can use the items and that you sell the rest online to curb the cost. Do not donate back to the same store you picked it up from. I found that Goodwill was unwilling to let me pick up free items, so I donated to them. There was also a couple of smaller church and hospital thrift shops in the area that did not respond to my letter of picking up free items, so I donated to them as well.

You may want to consider looking into your area's charitable organizations and find out what their needs are. Most will keep a list of the items they need on their website. So if you find you are more interested in selling knick knacks or jewelry at least you have a plan in place for the clothing. I would keep clothing with tags to sell but any other clothing, as long as it was in good condition, I would donate appropriately after researching who needed what. I would divide the men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and donate accordingly once a month.

Thrift shops generally don’t mind what you are doing with this free stuff they are giving you if they get a sense you are doing some good with it at your own expense and they, in turn, don’t have to feel bad about throwing it in the dumpster or turning it away.

I included a couple of thrift shop sample letters at the end.

If you purchased my little booklet to get some ideas, I hope you feel you have.

I enjoyed my time selling online. It offered me a good, steady stream of income while working for myself. It was a nice balance of working at home but also getting out in the community.

Coming home with a car load of free products was exciting while sorting through items I had brought home never knowing what I might find! Then settling in and spending the next week or so, listing new items for sale while taking orders and packaging for shipment.

It was a very busy but exciting time. You can keep it as small or let it grow as big as you are comfortable with. Hire someone to help you if you need to.

4. IN CONCLUSION

I still frequented yard sales and used book stores and bought items I felt I could mark up a bit. And in the beginning, those first few years I was packaging all of my shipments and taking them to the post office, it took a while before the post office started picking up at my residence in the area I lived. If you don’t have your packages picked up at your front door, I highly suggest checking into it. It’s free of charge and even if you enjoy getting out and going to the post office to drop your packages, it’s nice to have that in your back pocket in case you need to use the service at some point in the future.

Just go to the post office website, and on the main page you will see a link in the left column for

Scheduling a Pickup:

It may or may not be available in all areas. I still use it today for personal packages. The post office will pick up all of your packages and letters at your front door through their scheduling system for free, but they do require at least one of the packages be shipped via Priority Mail or Express Mail.

I am working on another book to elaborate more on sales techniques, shipping tips, and online selling experiences I had with eBay, amazon, and others, as well as credit card acceptance and paypal tips I learned from experience.

If you follow my author’s page on Amazon, you will be notified when I release a new book. It is the only notification you receive when you follow an author, so not to worry; you will not be put on any type of mailing list or anything. I actually personally have no way of seeing who, if anyone, has followed my page, but your support is very appreciated!

I wish you much success! 

(Don’t forget about the sample letters to follow)


SAMPLE LETTERS

EXAMPLE 1 (change the wording to suit you and what you want to do and what you can accommodate)

--------------

Your Name, Your Address, City State Zip

Your telephone, Your Email

Date

Attention: Owner/Manager

Hello! My name is (your name). I pick up unwanted items at no charge.

I can pick up anything that would fit in a standard car. I do not own a truck so I would not be interested in larger items such as furniture. As you can probably assume, neither would I be interested in obvious trash. But if you find yourself receiving more donations than you know what to do with and hate to throw these items away please feel free to contact me via (your preferred method).

I shop in your store on occasion and would love to stop by when you are available!

Regards,

(Your name)

EXAMPLE 2

Your Name, Your Address, and City State Zip

Your telephone, Your Email

Date

Attention: Owner/Manager

Hello! My name is (your name). I pick up unwanted books, music and movies at no charge to you.

If you find yourself receiving more donations than you know what to do with and hate to throw these items away, please feel free to contact me via (your preferred method).

I sell what I can online to curb costs and donate the rest to clinics, charity organizations in the area, and donate to a couple of church thrift shops.

Regards,

(your name)

RESOURCES

Places to sell online today:

  • Amazon: find a tangible product on amazon, say a book, a CD, a DVD or even a video game. Click on the Used for sale link under the correct option. Now you will notice in the center of the page next to the picture of the product it says: “Have One To Sell?” Click on that.
  • Ebay
  • Etsy
  • Craigslist (find your local cities craigslist Facebook page)
  • Facebook: note from your personal page you can CREATE A PAGE. Start there.

This site: ecwid.com allows you about nind products you can list and sell without any charge to you. They have the backend taken care of for you to accept payments and it allows you to connect it to your Facebook page so you can sell on Facebook. It’s quite easy and they have good customer service if you need help.

Wix.com is pretty good (and free) if you want to build your own web site. They have a very user friendly shopping cart too.

A couple of tips I have found through the years:

  • Allow customers to get to your product through the purchase buy now button with no more than two clicks.
  • If you can name your links to your product listing pages, be sure to use a distinct word that describes the product, not a catalog number.
  • “Create A Page” on Facebook for your product(s), store, or business. If you are an author, Create An Authors Page. A “page” unlike a group can receive likes. So as you friend people, you can invite them to ‘like’ your page, and when they do, they see it and may just have a look around.
  • Create posts on your business page and then share that post to your personal fb page. That way, there is a link back to your business page where purchases can be made.
  • Make sure all of your links are working. If they are not working, remove them. Whether it is on your website or social media pages. Nothing says unprofessional and you are not on top of things like a broken link to nowhere.
  • Be clear about how you accept payment.
  • Have a good, clear picture of each product,
  • If you ship products always use tracking. Always.
  • Never substitute a product without permission from the buyer. If they bought a red plate, don’t send them a blue plate.
  • Utilize the USPS website. You can print postage and labels from there without a fee; just cost of postage and sometimes a discount for printing the label and postage online via their site. You can save your customers' addresses in your account too. Go there and register and take a look around. You can also schedule a pickup of your packages for next day. They will pick them up at your front door. Very convenient, and there is no charge for the service. Priority Mail flat rate is a cost effective shipping method. You can order your shipping boxes from their website. The boxes are free and they will deliver to your door. No shipping fees. Totally free.

ABOUT ME

Since selling stuff I got for free online, I have also had an online business offering personal shopping that was quite successful. Scouring the popular shopping sites for products that were constantly out of stock, but in demand, then finding them in my local stores to buy and ship to the buyer.

Using my phone to take pictures of what seemed like obscure products from my local stores, I would then go home and check to see if it was online for sale anywhere online. You’d be amazed how much is not available online, but people want to buy online because either they are housebound or it is not available at the stores in their area.

Another niche was shipping to APO addresses: Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Many sites use Federal Express and UPS only, and state they will not ship to these areas.

Using Priority Mail via USPS, you can ship to these areas for the same cost as the next state adjacent to you. So I offered a service where if you found something on a site that does not ship to you, I would order it, have it sent to me, and then I would ship it to you. I charged a flat service fee plus cost of item and shipping. Lots of customers in Alaska! 

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