All posts by Christine

Where Do You Find Products To Sell on the Internet?

This post is written by Christine Olson founder of BooksMN.com.

When we started blogging in 2006 I was making 75K in revenue and shooting for 150K. In 2008 I will do over 200K. Not bad for a one woman home-based business.

Lots of people ask me how I do it. But one of the most frequent questions people ask is…

Where do you find your products?

I am going to let the secret out of the bag. Where do people buy all this product they sell online? Is there a big secret website everyone goes to and picks this stuff up?

The answer to that question is simple. But the reality of finding the right products to sell at the right price is not so simple, but that’s another post.

The big secret…

People find products to sell at Trade Shows. You must travel, you must do research, and you must negotiate deals. You will make mistakes, you will get stuck with stuff that doesn’t sell, you may get ripped off, but you will learn. It can take years to find a set of dependable vendors.

First you need to decide what kind of products you want to sell. Are you going to sell NEW products or discount merchandise? If you are going to sell NEW products you need to find trade shows that specialize in your particular product. If you want to sell Golf Equipment, go to Golf Trade Shows or Sporting Good Shows. Google “Golf Trade Shows” and you will get several results. Do you want to sell jewelry or buy gems to make your own jewelry? Vegas has several shows a year just for jewelry merchants. Not sure what you want to sell? Attend one of these. Do you want to sell discount merchandise? Go to this variety show. You will be overwhelmed, but it will give you great ideas.

While books are the majority of my business, I also sell DVDs, audio books, diaper bags, and other items I find at trade shows that I think will be profitable. In the past I’ve sold board games, knick-knacks, dollhouse furniture, and purses.

To purchase merchandise at trade shows, you must set yourself up as
a business
.

After attending several trade shows you will have collected a sizable list of websites and phone numbers. You will start receiving catalogs and things will begin to fall into place.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

Want to Start a Small Business on the Internet? The Myths and the Reality

This is a picture of me with one day of shipments. This time of year I ship anywhere from 50 – 75 orders per day. You can do this too, if you know your business.

I frequently get comments that say, “You can’t make money selling books, games, and DVDs online. It’s too competitive. The market is flooded with cheap merchandise. I don’t believe you are making the kind of money you claim you are.”

Steve at budgetvideogames.com shipped over 130,000 videos games last year. He did this all from his 3 car garage! He has 1 FT employee and 1 PT employee. Video games are one of the most competitive markets out there yet he’s able to pull this off. Not only is his video game business successful but he’s used it to as a platform to launch other non-internet businesses.

When you work for yourself, when you run your own small business, there will be a million people who will tell you a million reasons why you will fail, even while you are succeeding.

Shattering The Myths

You don’t have to be the cheapest – But you do need to be competitive on some items. Not everyone buys on price alone.

You don’t have to be the biggest
– Being small allows you to grow niche markets and give exceptional customer service. Sell to the long tail not the Wal-Mart crowd.

You don’t have to have the best technology – My business runs almost entirely via cloud computing. Depending on your niche and the size of your business there are web 2.0 companies that will provide you the tools to complete at a low cost. You don’t need SAP to run an online business.

The Reality

Know your customers – Why do your customers buy your product? Price? Quality? Are they collectors? Are they likely to be repeat customers?

Know your merchandise – Who are your competitors? How much of it is out in the marketplace? How many vendors are wholesaling it? Where can you go to find more merchandise?

Know your business – How many sales channels do you have? Revenue streams? Profitability?

Don’t listen to the naysayers, I don’t and I bet Steve doesn’t either.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

Christine Olson owns and operates BooksMN.com.

How to Generate More Cash This Christmas

A post from Christine Olson (who is going to be posting here much more often)

How can you make more money?

We all could use some more cash right now, right? Sometimes friends, family and neighbors ask “How can I can make a few extra bucks for some Christmas spending money?”

$500 – $1500 selling clutter

Most of us have too much clutter. Why not turn it into cash? Almost any parent has at least $500 or even up to $1500 worth of junk sitting around the house they can sell. Between Craigslist and eBay there is no excuse to not create some extra cash this Christmas Season.

Continue reading How to Generate More Cash This Christmas

Do You Have Time to Run a $100,000 Internet Business?

This post was written by Christine Olson – Founder of Soconik Books

How many hours a week does it take for me to produce over $120K in sales running a retail internet business from home? In a minute, I’ll let you know.

I run a retail internet book business from home. I have a two and a five year old. When people hear what I do they say “Aw, that’s great you can work from home and be there for your kids.” Sometimes I smile and sheepishly say “Yeah”, other times I feel the need to set them straight by screaming “YOU THINK I CAN GET ANY WORK DONE WITH A TWO YEAR OLD AROUND??”

My book business will do over $120,000 this year and I was interested to know how much time I spent working on it. I found my time extremely difficult to track. I put notepads by my computers and tried to write down every block of work time over 15 minutes. The first thing I found out is that I have many blocks of time that I work for less than 15 minutes. Like sorting e-mail while I’m waiting for Eggos to pop-up. I kept track for 2 weeks. My first week was 21 hours. I was amazed. The next week came to 28 hours. Not bad! Both these weeks were mid-summer and like I said, I didn’t keep track of anything less than 15 minutes. The retail Christmas season starts in August for me so the work hours are getting longer. But, with Kindergarten starting for the older one I am hoping to up my work load and push my sales even higher.

I get most of my work done during my youngest son’s 2-hour nap time. Stay at Home Moms usually use that time for cleaning, relaxing, or planning dinner. I don’t do those things. I hired a maid. Everyone told me how much time this would save me. It didn’t save me any time because I didn’t mop, vacuum or dust before, now I just have a clean house. The rest of my work day is between 9:00 – 11:00 pm after the kiddies are in bed. This is difficult because the mere task of putting small children to bed is exhausting.

Some things are essential for running a successful internet retail business in a few hours a day:

Sell Repeatables – these are items you have multiple quantities of. Although I only have 1200 book titles, I have several copies of each. The time it takes to list 1 product is time consuming. When you sell repeatables you cut down your listing time immensely.

Sell high margin items for $10.00 or more each – I’m working on raising my margins and average sales price. My average sale price is exactly $10.00. If it were less, the time it takes to package a product is not worth it. Selling items bundled together is a great way to move the price up. Not only is it worth more, chances are your competitor isn’t doing the same type of bundling.

Boxes & Shipping Area – If you are going to sell a lot of stuff, you need a lot of boxes. I have over 15 different sizes along with Bubble Mailers, Packing Peanuts, Boxing Tape and a multitude of other items in my shipping space. Everything for shipping except bubblewrap comes from http://www.uline.com Anybody can buy from them but most boxes come in a minimum of 25 per bundle. They are in a nearby suburb so I can drive there to pick up my orders rather than pay for delivery. My bubblewrap comes from www.esupplystore.com

Storage Space – This is one of the most difficult parts. Fortunately Steve and I live in a good-sized house in the Midwest which means we have a basement. I have over 400 square feet dedicated to our business. But… sometimes there’s just not enough room. The area in the picture below is a large portion of our newly finished playroom for the kids. Well, as soon as I sell all this stuff maybe they’ll get the playroom back.

If you are serious about starting an internet retail business I would suggest the following books and websites:

Tax Loopholes for eBay Sellers

Not just for eBay sellers but for anyone starting a home based business. All the “loopholes” are legal and do not skirt the tax laws. They are encouraged by the IRS for small businesses. It talks about the pluses of setting up a corporation, what you can and cannot write off and many other excellent pointers. The tax tips in this book led to this post on making your children tax free millionaires.

Titanium eBay

This is an excellent resource for anyone wanted to sell big time on eBay. Although I find Skip McGrath on the “spammy” side he is considered the King of eBay Selling Information. I read this 560 page book cover to cover. One thing I would not follow is his advice to join World Wide Brands. He must get a pretty good kick-back for pushing that one.

Skip’s Blog:

http://blog.skipmcgrath.com/

I check this every few days to see if it has anything that pertains to me.

Auction Bytes

http://www.auctionbytes.com/

I subscribe to Ina’s E-mail News Letter and Updates. It has tons of great info for online sellers.

If you want to see more blog posts about my business leave your ideas in the comments. 🙂
Coming Next – “Where do I find stuff to sell?”

Don’t miss anything – Click here to subscribe to future posts.

Seeing the World Through Entrepreneurial Eyes

I believe I was born with the entrepreneurial mindset. I see opportunity in everything I look at. Sometimes it drives me crazy. I can’t have hobbies because I always turn them into businesses. After I had my first son I tried to be a full time stay-at-home mom. I thought it would be nice to start a hobby so I pulled out my childhood dollhouse and started working on it. Soon, I had a stack of wholesale catalogs. Then I started placing small orders. 1 item for myself, 2 to sell on eBay to pay for the one I kept. Counter space started filling up with miniature dollhouse items. I had to step back and think “Is this really what I want to do?” I just wanted a hobby but it turned into a business. I wanted to do scrapbooking or stamping like friends but I knew it would be dangerous. I have already attended trade shows in Las Vegas pursuing craft vendors. I have finally succumbed to the idea that my hobby is selling books. This confuses some people. “Isn’t that your business?” they ask. Yes, but it is also my passion and my hobby.

It is easy to spot people who don’t have Entrepreneurial Eyes. They have beliefs that hold them back:

Us vs. Them

When I first met Steve we butted heads about jobs and business, because he did not have entrepreneurial eyes. He had an Us vs. Them mentality. He considered “Us” as people who he thought worked hard for their paycheck. “Them” were managers and business owners. I would get angry. I never saw an Us or a Them, we were all Us. We are all capable of doing great things. It’s all a matter of how hard you want to try and what you are willing to let go of in the process.

Retirement Thinking

Worker Bees have this idea of retirement – it’s the day you quit your job and everything changes. It’s something they dream about for 20+ years. You hear comments like “When I Retire I Will ______” (fill in the blank) Play Golf? Travel? Volunteer? Hang Out with the Grandkids? It’s a well documented fact that depression can hit hard after retirement. It’s rarely the freewheelin’ lifestyle they thought it would be.

Someone once asked me “When will your dad retire?” I was surprised by the question. My dad is a serial entrepreneur. In his twenties, he started a highly successful driving school which he sold and then later bought a small bookstore to run during his retirement years. His small bookstore turned into 7 bookstores and 6 Christmastime calendar kiosks. Today, he’s back to one bookstore which he plans to close because he’s tired of dealing with the public. He will continue selling books online and try to grow his business in different directions. Isn’t he already retired? Isn’t retirement when you don’t have a boss anymore and are free to do as you please whether it’s running your own business or knitting sweaters? He told me, when his largest business, his driving school was at its peak, he worked the fewest hours of his life.

Naysayers

Don’t listen to naysayers. They will tell you all the negatives about every idea you have. How much work it will be, how much money it’s going to cost, how much time it will take. Those are all legitimate things to think about, but not at the idea stage. Entrepreneurs love talking about ideas, nothing kills forward motion like a naysayer.

I used to take my son to a toddler group and we would have “mommy time” to talk about our concerns and issues. I said I had an opportunity to open a bookstore but I was concerned about putting my kids in full time daycare. The negative feedback was instantaneous, “Do you think you could really run something like that?” “Have you done your research?” “Do you know that bookstores are failing everywhere?” But there was one woman with a big smile on her face who said “Wow! What a great opportunity, how exciting.” I knew she was the only one in the room with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Money and Jobs

Everyone has different ideas about what money is and what it can do. Most people believe you need a job to get a paycheck so you have money to pay bills and maybe buy yourself something nice. They believe the harder you work the more money you will have.

Someone very wise once told me a great piece of advice– the only reason to have a job is to learn something that you can take with you. Once you stop learning it’s time to move on and learn something else. You should never work for the money. What a great piece of advice, especially for young people before they get caught up in the paycheck merry-go-round. Make more, spend more, keep up with the Joneses.

Entrepreneurs don’t start businesses for the money. Money is the result of the game. The game is creating businesses. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the fun is seeing what works.

Entrepreneurial Eyes

Once you have Entrepreneurial Eyes they never go away. You think about how to make everything you see better. When you see a weakness with a gadget you think about how to produce a better one. When you see people struggling, you think about how to help them. You listen to others ideas you become inspired and excited about their opportunities. You encourage them and give them positive feedback. Once you have Entrepreneurial Eyes, you’ll never see the world the same… you’ll see a world filled with endless opportunity.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

Garage Sales Are an Economic Wasteland – I Have Proof.

This year I kept track of the economic output of my garage sale as compared to other opportunities available and the results were sobering.

Here are the financial results of this year’s big multi-family garage sale:


Total: $174.00 / 30 hours labor = $5.80 per hour.

I sell books online through eBay, Amazon and various other bookselling sites from the comfort of my basement. Occasionally, during the garage sale, I’d sneak out of my duties to look at my orders. I sell around 30 books a day and it takes some work, but when I was sitting at the garage sale all I could think about was, “Wow, I could be working on my book inventory but here I am haggling over the price of a nick-knack priced at $1.50. How does this add up? The fact is; it doesn’t. In the world of economics it’s called Opportunity Cost. When you are doing one thing, it means you may be forgoing something else which will make you much wealthier and happier. In this case, working a garage sale meant I wasn’t working my book business or having a good time with my kids.

Average day of book sales:

Total: $300.00 / 3 Hours Labor = $100.00 per hour.

The garage sale was a complete financial flop compared to the measurable opportunity of selling books online. So in the future, instead of garage sales, I will sell anything worth over $10.00 on eBay, put larger items on Craigslist, and donate the remainder to charity. Almost anything will sell on eBay or Craigslist if the price is right. I took all the kids clothes that didn’t sell at the garage sale and put them in two lots for sale on eBay starting at $9.95. It took me 20 minutes to photograph and list each lot.

Results of Selling Garage Sale Leftover Items on eBay:


Total: $73.00 / .66 (40 minutes) hours labor = $110.60 per hour

Much more efficient than a garage sale.

Opportunity Cost of working the garage sale:

$110.60 – $5.80 = $104.80 per hour * 30 hours = $3144.00

So in textbook economics my garage sale cost me $3144.00 in opportunity cost!

Steve warned me… again. I pooh-poohed him…again. I did it…again. But no more! I am through with garage sales. Anyway you look at it; a garage sale is not a good economic decision. There are those out there that will say “I made $2000.00 on my garage sale this year.” I have a friend who insists it is a great money maker for her. She even takes a 10% cut if you want to put anything in her monstrous suburbanite sale. But, for the average American, a garage sale is not the best way to get rid of your stuff. Today, there are betters ways. Namely, Craigslaist and eBay. When you have a garage sale you usually have a small amount of items that are worth something and a whole lot of junk that’s worth nothing.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

Don’t be afraid to change your business plan, some plans don’t make sense

For those that are new to our blog– I’m Christine – Steve’s wife. Some of my previous posts are here and here. I haven’t posted in a couple of months because I’ve been so focused on my book business. Anyway…

My dream is to own a successful profitable business doing something I love. I want to make money, but it must be doing something I love and I love books.

I’ve always planned to open a retail bookstore – a discount bookstore with all bargain remainder type books. I’ve been in the book business for over 14 years. I visualized every aspect of my new store:

  • The employees I would need
  • The computer architecture
  • The shelving
  • The trim
  • Where I’d position the counter
  • The name
  • The style
  • The logo
  • Everything

I’ve owned and run several small businesses. I read tons of books on running small businesses, retail trends, and why people buy – see my favorite booklist below. I thought… when my boys get a little older, when I have a little more time, when I have a little more money, you know the excuses… finally, a few months ago I thought, why not now? I can do it. We have the money, the kids are in part-time Montessori, and I can make it work. I started scouting out my surrounding area and took down phone numbers of both new strip malls and older out of the way places. After making several phone calls my dream of a retail store began to fade. Rent was outrageous! The new malls wanted $22 per square foot plus $8 – $12 for taxes and maintenance fees. The second rate malls wanted $15 – $18 plus the added extras. A well-stocked bookstore needs lots of space. I was looking at $4000 – $6000 per month just in rent. To be honest, I think I could make it, but it doesn’t make sense to pay that amount in rent. It isn’t profitable enough. I could probably find cheaper rent in a downtown area but I wanted a suburban bookstore. A place where stay at home moms could drop in during the day and browse books with their kids or dads could give mom a break on the weekend and the kids could play in my ‘kids den’ area, all while dad shops for books at a cheap price.

Altering the Dream

2 weeks ago I had one last phone call from a property owner and he said he had a great deal. After speaking to him I knew I had to alter my dream. The “great deal” was $14.00 per square foot. Wow! I thought it was pretty good considering the location. Then he said “Oh, and the taxes and CAM (common area maintenance) are $8.00 per sq. foot.” My heart sank. I cried. I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m not about to give up on the book business, but my plans needed to change.

I run an online bookstore from the basement of my house. Business has been awesome. I’ve broken my yearly plan by over $10,000. My sales are double what they were last Christmas Season. My original plan was to build up my inventory and move it into a retail bookstore, running the retail store with a large web presence. After discovering the cost of retail space and finishing the book Tax Loopholes for eBay Sellers I realized my retail dream is dead. When I look at all the tax write offs I have for running a business out of my home and employing my kids when they get older, hands-down a home based business is the clear winner. In Minnesota we could buy a 6,000 sq ft house on 10 acres and build a 5,000 sq ft building for less than the 6K per month I’d shell out on retail rent.

The new plan is to just keep growing my online business.

It’s hard to change my plan to own a retail bookstore because I love the idea of being a visible part of our local community. You are a destination where people come to shop and feel happy. When you are online you are a mystery. Nobody knows or cares who you are just as long as they get their product. My plan will now consist of buying a bigger piece of property. Something I can build a large 4-season outbuilding on. Instead of nice wooden shelving with the books organized by category it will contain steel shelving with books sorted by barcode. Instead of having a staff of knowledgeable ‘book people’, I will have my children and neighborhood teenagers running around folding boxes and slapping address labels on them. I’m not giving up; I’m just accepting the changing reality. All this is fine with me because – in the end – what I really like to do is – make money doing something I love. And I love being surrounded by books.

You can browse my eBay bookstore here:
http://www.soconik.com

Recommended Reading List (sorry, I don’t have them in my inventory right now)

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

Tax Loopholes for eBay Sellers

EBay Powerseller Secrets

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Cashflow Quadrant

Own Your Own Corporation

Why We Buy

Call of the Mall

5 Steps to Start a Business & Purchase Wholesale

It’s easy to set yourself up to buy goods from wholesalers. You can do it from your home office. Follow these steps and PRESTO, you’re ready to go in search of suppliers.

1. Apply for an EIN (Employee Identification Number) at The IRS
You can apply for a number online. It’s instant!

Be sure to read Top 5 Reasons for Rejection of an Application

No need to become a corporation now – unless you have employees or plan to sell a product that may trigger a lawsuit. Sole Proprietor will work fine for starting out, it’s easy to upgrade if you decide to take your business to the next level and become a corporation.

2. Apply for a Tax ID number in the state you live in.

After applying for an EIN, wait a few days before applying for a State Tax ID number. Your state will need your EIN so you want to be sure the IRS has it in their database.

Google your state’s Revenue Department (example Florida).

Since I live in Minnesota (definitely NOT a sales tax free state) I went here: http://www.taxes.state.mn.us/. On the front page under the Business header is a link to Register for a Minnesota Tax ID Number. If you are fortunate enough to live in a sales tax free state you will need a disclaimer form. You can find this on your state’s Revenue Department website.

3. Get a credit card just for business.

Wholesalers want you to establish a credit history before giving you terms – like Net 30 Days. They want you to pay up front with a credit card the first few times you place an order.

I like to have a card that gives cash back. This only works if you never carry a balance. If you plan to carry a balance, even for a short period, go for the card with the lowest interest rate.

4. Choose Business Name

If you plan to sell online on your own website or eBay you need to answer these questions:

  • Is a domain name available for the name I want?
  • How about eBay? Can I create a user name that is the same as my business?

If you are a Sole Proprietor you don’t need to run a check on your business name. But, if you plan to become a corporation later, you should run a Business Name Check in your state. You cannot legally use a name that someone else is already using in the state you live in. To run a check, go to Google and type in Corporate Name Check Your State (example Wisconsin).

5. Open a Business Checking Account

It’s best to have a separate account for all business transactions. If you are not a corporation, tell your bank you want to set up a DBA (Doing Business As) account or they may not deposit checks made out to your business name. Get your business name on your checks. I like to use small, local banks, because I find them more helpful getting my businesses off the ground. Don’t pay more than $10.00 per month for a basic business account.

Congratulations! You are now a business. You are free to seek out wholesalers and buy until your hearts content. Be careful out there, many businesses call themselves wholesalers but their prices do not reflect that. They are usually middlemen and take advantage of people who don’t know better. Anyone who advertises We Cater to eBay Sellers is probably too expensive and million other people will be selling the same junk.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

Skip even offers a program for buying wholesale.

How a Stay at Home Mom Lives Her Dream Selling Books Online

When I mention I am a stay at home mom who sells books online, people’s ears perk up.Christine Olson I bet they would perk up even more if I told them I am going to do over $70,000 this year working 3-4 hours a day. Some things are better left unsaid – that kind of information is better spread by gossip. I could causally mention it when asking a neighbor if they know a good accountant. It’s fun to brag, but one needs to be careful.

Exactly one year after I had my first son I was aching to fill a gap in my life. That gap was selling books. I had managed a bookstore for the previous 12 years. I was ready to give it all up to be a full-time stay at home mom. I started to get the itch after a few months, but at the one-year mark, I was going crazy.

So I …

  • Got myself a credit card
  • Registered with the IRS
  • Registered with the state
  • Opened a bank account
  • Made room in my basement
  • e-mailed a wholesaler
  • Asked for a current booklist
  • Ordered $500.00 worth of books

Book in Home OfficeIt took a week and about 500 bucks and I was in business! I was able to pay the $500.00 back in 2 months. Since the initial $500.00 investment I have never gone into debt. After that, I just kept on ordering and kept on selling. The books crept out of the space I had set aside into more common areas of the house. It was obvious that if I wanted to keep expanding the business we were going to need more room. 2 years into the business we bought a bigger house and had another baby boy. Now I have 500 square feet set aside set up with industrial steel shelving. That space is quickly filling up.

  • There is no secret to making money online – it’s like any other business – I provide value to my customers
  • People assume I buy most of my books at garage sales or library sales and sell them for a small, tidy profit – they are wrong – I buy them wholesale
  • I’ve been in the book business for over 12 years – but it doesn’t take 12 years to build wholesale relationships. I’ve never met most of my wholesalers or even talked to them on the phone
  • I order all my products online, from my cozy basement home office
  • Once in awhile I will go to a trade show to find a new wholesaler, but honestly, I haven’t done that in over 4 years

If you think I’m going to tell you who my wholesalers are, forget it. No one making a good income selling online is going to hand over a list of their wholesalers, so don’t ask. The bookselling business is insanely competitive. My wholesalers sell online to the public; competition can’t get much tougher than that. I’m convinced that I can reach $150,000 or more per year without sacrificing my customer service and small business feel. I am constantly trying to figure out how to get technology to become my surrogate employees.

Read this to learn more about selling books online.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.