I'm always looking for ways to make self-employment income, so last summer, I decided to conduct a thorough experiment in what it would be like to run an eBay business by helping a friend clean out his closet and sell the stuff he wanted to get rid of. I also read a few books on the subject and made a detailed spreadsheet to keep track of the time I spent photographing, listing, packaging, and shipping items, along with the eBay and PayPal fees incurred for selling each item.
Between this and my previous shoe-selling experiments, I had to conclude that trying to make even a part-time income in eBay is a near total waste of my time. After factoring in time and expenses, each sale netted only about $5 per hour of work. This figure includes both items that sold remarkably well and items that did not sell at all. I primarily sold items such as action figures, textbooks, and brand-name clothes and shoes.
Considering that I have a college degree and a strong work ethic, working for $5 an hour doing something I don't even enjoy really doesn't seem worth it. The only reason the eBay thing appealed to me at all was that it was something I could do independently and from home. There are more enjoyable ways, and more lucrative ways, for me to make money, though. Photographing items and writing eBay listings is incredibly time consuming, and I definitely don't have a natural talent for writing descriptions that entice people to buy. Plus there are the issues of figuring out what to sell and where to buy it cheaply enough to make a worthwhile profit. Also, from the reading I did, running a retail business just sounded like a major pain. You have to keep track of inventory, worry about sales tax, and have more complicated tax returns than a self-employed person who provides a service (like consulting).
I know there are lots of people out there who make a good living selling on eBay, and I definitely respect that. I just think I'm better off sticking with writing and editing. And if you have plenty of time to spare, there's nothing wrong with making a few extra bucks selling your old stuff online. I still do it sometimes, even though the payoff isn't hot. If you're already busy though, like I was, you're probably better off just donating your unwanted stuff and enjoying the extra free time or using it to do something that will give you a better return on your investment of time, like taking a class that improves your job skills.
eBay Changes Fees, Seller Rewards, and Feedback System
Don't Trade it In: Resell Your Used Stuff Yourself
Self Employment via Ebay: Update
Self Employment via eBay
Experiment: Turning a Profit on Ebay
Redeeming Recyclables for Cash
How I've Earned $1250 in Free Money This Year