No doubt you have heard of people who buy junk at the swap meet or garage sale and sell it for a fortune on eBay, Craigslist, Amazon or any other of a dozen or so online seller sites. Maybe you are thinking you are a pretty savvy shopper and you cruise the garage sales so why not make it big with some discarded relic of the past that will bring your financial future more in line with your expectations? Before you go out treasure hunting, there are a few things you need to know.

First of all, the stories of people who make it rich selling junk on eBay are few and far between. Most break even, perhaps lose a little, but have fun in the process or give it up after learning how much work goes into this business venture. It takes a LOT of work!

If you are determined to give it a go, you need some ground rules:

Determine what area you want to specialize in for your sales. Do you want to sell used books, used toys or used whatever? You need to focus on what will be your line of merchandise.

Read up on what makes a particular item valuable in your area of sales. Guessing will cost you money. You need to know.

Determine which online auction or sales vehicle best suits your item. Some items will sell better on eBay or Amazon than they do on Craigslist or Itsy so check out those venues and see what sells and what does not.

Join a couple of online Seller Message Boards for your particular area. You can reap a wealth of knowledge just by reading their posts and don’t be afraid to ask a few questions along the way. While doing this, you need to know Message Board etiquette so read the FAQs before posting. One rule to know is that online sellers will NOT share listing secrets or tips with you. There are books for that. Established sellers have spent countless hours and money in trial and error to find out how to list their items and what it takes to sell them. They are not going to share that with you just because you ask.

Once you have determined your area of expertise and have found a few treasures at garage sales, go to an online auction to see what identical items are selling for and price yours accordingly. Many of the self-help books will say to price your item a little lower than the others to sell it quickly, but just know that this action can and will cause hard feelings with other online sellers and you may not want to make too many waves.

Be realistic about how much you are going to make selling your items. If you believe there is a market for your items and you have a pipeline for them, go for it. Again, I stress it is a LOT of work. Plan on spending at least four to five hours a day looking for your items to sell and doing research on listing and selling them AND if you are successful, another hour or two getting the shipments ready for the purchaser.

Lastly, be careful! Just because a person online seems to be a great guy/girl and seems truthful, never, never, never ship your item until you have their cash in your pocket. For every perfect seller story, there are at least one or two bad seller stories. Losses mount up quickly and will put you out of business in a big time hurry.

If you believe there is a market for your item but you do not want to go through all the hassle of listing, selling and delivering the merchandise, there are businesses that will do all the leg work for you, at a cost, of course. Many people have created nice supplements to their income so if you are not afraid of a little hard work and have some free time, try it out. It is easy to start and really can be a lot of fun.

• Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services, based in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to or call (480) 753-7667.

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