Monday, November 27, 2006

Are You a Work at Home Scam Magnet?

Do you need to find a job where you can work at home, and need to do it today? Do you need a few hundred dollars this Friday in order to pay for last month's heating bill?

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you need to step back and look at the big picture. Not your work at home needs, nor your bank account, but the big picture of the internet. You need to take a step outside of yourself or you're going to get scammed.

True Story: My mother came over this weekend to hang out with us and the kids, and we got to talking about about work at home stuff, as we often do. She told me that she stumbled across an "opportunity" where she could cash checks for some third party, and she would keep 20 percent or something.

Let me tell you, the only reason I didn't smack the crap out of her is because she gave birth to me.

The point: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If somebody can make 200 bucks by cashing a check (without risking some jail time), why the hell are they going to pay you to do it?
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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Top Three Things my Son is Thankful for

It's thanksgiving for those of us in the U.S., so take the day off and have some turkey.

Top three things for which my younger son is thankful, as reported by his written answers to the following question from school: If you had to travel to a faraway land like the pilgrims, and you could only take three things with you, would would you bring and why?

  1. Food
    because it makes you healthy

  2. Video Games
    because i love video games

  3. Parents
    because they take care of you

Top one thing for which I'm thankful: Mommy and I still rank in the top three.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

eBay Powersellers, Part Two -- Interview with Powerseller Zzzzinga

Now that you know the definition of a powerseller, you're probably wondering how to go about becoming one yourself. I sure hope so, because I just got off the phone with one.

Jerry, owner of the successful eBay store Zzzzinga's-zBay and bona fide powerseller, was kind enough to set aside some of his time this morning answering all my questions. The store's most popular offerings include area rugs and quilts and quilt sets, as well as some high-end wooden furniture lines such as hand-crafted beds and hutches. Many of the same products are also available at his new website Decor Village, where the product line will soon be expanding beyond the scope of his eBay offerings

Jerry and his wife have been selling on eBay since February, 2003. Around that time, he was working at one of eBay's customer centers, initially working on email security issues such as spam and spoofs, and eventually manning a powerseller helpline, where he was consulting with top sellers and helping them to grow their businesses. Having of course been aware of eBay before all this, and now having direct contact with successful powersellers, Jerry's main motivation to open his account was to gain experience with the user end of the site. As an employee, he needed to know his stuff.

What was he selling in those early days? He already had previous retail experience, which got him off to a good start in the area of product sourcing. "We immediately set up ebay stores as fast as we could and contacted a lot of manufacturers we had dealt with for years, and made arrangements to sell their products on eBay." The first offerings were mostly area rugs, on which he was able to get wholesale pricing. These manufacturers were also willing to ship directly to his customers from their warehouses, eliminating the need to develop dedicated storage space and handle the technicalities of physically shipping the products. Yes, I intentionally avoided the term "dropshipping" there, though that is technically the correct term for this kind of arrangement.

We got into discussing the benefits of dropshipping, and there's an important distinction to be made between real manufacturer dropshipping and the websites that come up when you type the word dropshipping into a search engine. Regarding the latter, Jerry speaks from experience, "I've looked at their prices, and I've looked into what things are selling for on eBay, and unless you're willing to make a penny or two pennies on a sale, it's not worth it. When you can work directly with a manufacturer that will ship right to your customers, that's a good deal." It's important to note that these manufacturers are not all over the web advertising themselves as dropshippers. If you're not lucky enough to already have some contacts, a good way to get started is to locate manufacturers in a certain industry or product area and give them a call. Have your notes ready, get a sales rep on the phone, and explain to them that you understand that this may not be their usual business model, but if they're willing to work with you, you just might be able to help them make some sales. You might get hung up on a few times, but you might also be surprised at some of the names that have small, unpublicized dropshipping departments, often because they received a few of these types of calls.

So dropshipping really does work, as reported by a powerseller. That said, area rugs and solid wood furniture are large, heavy items, and I had a feeling that the US Postal Service's flat-rate priority mail service wasn't going to be as useful to Jerry as it is to somebody selling more manageable products like clothes or shoes. Nope. Most of these products have to be transported by freight carriers, the cost of which may easily be many hundreds of dollars. If you call the next number you see on the back of a tractor trailer and tell them you want to ship six hundred pounds of furniture from Georgia to California, you'll see what I mean.

After working with this issue for what's quickly approaching four years, Jerry has found that the best way for him to handle it is to offer free shipping on the area rugs, and charge his customers a flat rate on the furniture items. This flat rate represents a reasonable portion of what he expects it to actually cost to get the product out to the customer. Since there's no way to know ahead of time where the next customer's shipping address will be, this means the actual freight bill often turns out to be more than the shipping charges he passes onto his customer. That's the cost of doing business sometimes, but at least it covers a portion of his shipping expenses.

Regarding the area rugs, they basically have to be offered with free shipping, because that's what the competition is doing. The quilts and other more easily handles items are usually shipped UPS, and for these the eBay shipping calculator is used to try and pass on at least most of the actual shipping costs.

Speaking of eBay tools, they're all Jerry uses to manage his eBay business. He has never purchased any subscription services or third-party software, nor hired any outside help to manage his listings. He saves time by having his items automatically be relisted, and uses Selling Manager Pro and Turbo Lister, all tools offered directly from eBay. He also makes healthy use of the marketplace research tools and traffic reports that are offered to eBay stores, and the email marketing tools help him keep his name in front of his customers.

He also advises that as a store owner, it makes sense to use all the tools that are made available for free.

"Take advantage of whatever features eBay offers. If you have a store there are a ton of free features available, and sellers need to get in and look at those and determine what's really going to be able to help them. Every feature in there is designed by eBay to help a seller be more successful. eBay doesn't put features in there just because they think they're pretty, they put them in because their research shows that these are the features that are going to help sellers be more successful, so take advantage of every free feature that you can."

Jerry's final advice for new sellers:

"Don't get discouraged. It seems like it's going to start slow usually, but Hang in there. Learn the rules, learn the policies. Over the years, especially as an eBay employee, I've seen a lot of sellers get very discouraged because they didn't take the time to understand the policies... As a first time seller, I used to tell people to buy twenty or thirty items first. Find out what it's like to be a buyer on eBay, and that will help you as you sell. Successful sales come basically because people have the right titles, they have the right keywords in their titles, good descriptions and good photographs."

Special emphasis is placed on the importance of having good quality photos to represent listed items. Jerry accounted some of his experiences where he's listed items two or three times using a certain photo and failed to sell the item. A couple weeks later, the same item listed with several photographs taken from different angles would sell for a profit. "Because people are online, they can't see, they can't touch the item like they're used to in a [brick and mortar] store... Good photographs are very important."

Thanks again Jerry, for sharing some of your first-hand experience with us. Everybody else, if you want to take a look at some real ebay powerseller professionalism, do have a look at Zzzzinga's-zBay and Decor Village.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Powerseller Update

I just wanted to let you all know that I have gotten my hands on a couple of real live eBay powersellers. Interviews are taking place Wednesday morning, and we'll find out what's really going on from those who know it best by lunchtime!

Sorry about the brevity of this post, but I have some notes to take.


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Monday, November 20, 2006

eBay Powersellers, Part One -- What is a Powerseller?

"Looking to work at home? Don't know where to start? Sell your stuff on eBay!" Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last ten or eleven years, you've probably heard this more times than you can count (even if you use both hands, and your toes!). With $32 billion worth of goods having been sold on eBay in 2004 according to USA Today, this sounds like it's worth taking a closer look.

Last week I touched on becoming a virtual assistant, which is a service industry. This week, I'm digging deep into what's really involved in becoming a powerseller. This is a different animal, most often involving selling goods rather than services, although servces can also be offered. I'd also like to share some success stories from work at home eBay powersellers this week, so if you are a powerseller who wants to share your journey (and plug your auctions), shoot me an email so we can talk.

powerseller logoWhat is a powerseller? eBay is a huge venue, and there's a lot to learn. Taking it one step at a time, let's first look at the big picture. The principal powerseller requirement is sales. eBay bases powerseller status on average monthly sales. At the time of this writing, the bare minimum is $1000/month average gross sales for a three month period. That will get your foot in the door as a bronze powerseller.

That's just the ground floor. The powerseller program has five tiers, so there's plenty of room to climb the powerseller ladder. The quick rundown:

  • $1,000 = Bronze Powerseller

  • $3,000 = Silver Powerseller

  • $10,000 = Gold Powerseller

  • $25,000 = Platinum Powerseller

  • $150,000 = Titanium Powerseller

That's not a typo, one hundred fifty thousand in sales is what it takes to join the elite few in the highest tier. I hate to say it, but I have so far been unable to learn how many have reached this level of income on eBay, as eBay doesn't seem to make this kind of information public. Rest assured that I am making every possible effort to find out.

While sales are the driving factor behind achieving and maintaining powerseller status, there are a few more requirements that must be met. I am presenting them here as secondary, since they're only relevant if you're making the sales. Here are the other criteria:

  • Achieve a feedback rating of 100

  • Have 98% positive feedback

  • Have been an active eBay member for at least 90 days

  • Remain "in good financial standing"

  • Comply with all eBay policies

  • Average 4 listings per month over last 3 months

Some of these are time sensitive, so if you're considering making money from home the eBay way, it's a good idea to set up an account sooner rather than later. The hardest thing is deciding your user name, if you don't count deciding what you want to sell.

More about eBay powerselling coming soon. It's just too huge to do in one post, so I'm making this week eBay week!

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Get a Spa Treatment, it's the Weekend!

The weekend is upon us once again! What better time to take a break from all this hard work and have enjoy a little spa treatment over at Susan's Spa! I recently discovered Susan's spa, and it's a great place to relax and find a good read.

Susan covers everything from to health and beauty tips to celebrity news and gossip to earning money from blogging. My most recent discovery over at the spa: Even celebrity killer O.J. Simpson is trying to make a quick few million from home. Check it out here.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Work at Home Job Profile - Virtual Assistant

While large companies are laying off employees in efforts to keep costs down, many small to medium sized business owners are seeking to avoid this problem from the start. This is being done by enlisting virtual assistants (VA's), self-employed independent contractors who work from home or a small satellite office, and are able to help these clients with administrative support on whatever level is needed.

Contracting yourself out to clients as a virtual assistant can be one of the most profitable ways to become success while working from your home, and the need for qualified VA's isn't going to be shrinking anytime soon.

So, what exactly is a virtual assistant? You'll find a variety of answers to this question, and the answers really depend more on for whom you're working than anything else. The short answer is that, as a virtual assistant, you will be usually be performing administrative functions, and possibly miscellaneous support as needed. You should be equipped with a modern computer, a high-speed internet connection, a fax machine, possibly a dedicated phone line, and probably MS Office software (Excel, Word, Powerpoint, all that fun stuff).

These things will cost some money if you don't already have them, but keep in mind that this one major reason telecommuters are so attractive to business owners. Think about it, suppose you start up a business working from home, and you meet with such success that you need help getting everything done and keeping organized? It's certainly more attractive to find a qualified VA, and get started paying him or her by the hour or by the project, than to invest the time and money into getting more space, furniture, computers, phones, software licences-- you get the idea. Having these things already in place makes you marketable.

Any specialized experience you have or can acquire (medical coding, desktop publishing, transcription, web design and database management are a few examples of things you can learn in a relatively short time) will of course be an asset. It is essential to have a resume or portfolio, and helpful to have a website with a little information about your credentials and experience. You can always hire a work at home webmaster to whip up a small, professional looking site for you at a reasonable rate.

If your organizational skills are good, you can keep yourself on task without direct supervision, and are reasonably comfortable with technology (it really doesn't take too much, there are people making 50K in offices who don't know how to clear a paper jam), you may want to consider gearing up and taking on a client or two.


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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fifteen Bucks to Make Thousands from Home? Sounds Phishy to Me...

It looks like inflation has kicked in again. Used to be that you got paid every Friday for all the hard work you put in during the week. Now, they want you to pay for the privilege to work from home. Who are they? They are the scammers and spammers, and they're coming up with new ways to try and prey on work at home hopefuls every day.

Tammara Nelson warns of one Email Processing Work at Home Scam she found on the web in a recent post here, and is out in the trenches scouring the web for the latest phishing scams and work at home fraudsters to warn us about on her Phishy-Pedia Guide.

It can't be stressed enough: Never pay for a job whether it's to work at home or otherwise. You may be able to do a lot of things, but one thing you aren't going to do is get rich quick in your underwear by sending your hard-earned cash out to unresearched sources.


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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blogging and Link Building

Last time, I recommended blogging for everybody. After all your other work at home responsibilities have been attended to (or maybe when you're taking a well-deserved break), I hope you've considered this idea.

If you've already got a blog set up for yourself, you are probably asking, "How can I get the word out about my blog?"

That's a good question, and one which will frequently be addressed here. Yesterday, I discovered a brand-new site, the Link & Blog Directory. This site is currently in its infancy, and looks to be getting better every day. The up-to-the-minute scoop can be found at the link and blog blog.

The site has a new concept which will help bloggers in all areas find blogs in which they would be interested, even if the main subject area of the blog is something the reader wouldn't ordianrily think to look for. This means a brand new community to check out, with the always nice side effect of more traffic to your blog, and another way for the search engines to find you.

This looks like one of those "ground floor oppurtunities" you always hear about. I wanted to make sure I'm listed when this site goes huge, so you can find me on there as Chris.

A little off-topic maybe, but I just love new sites, because where else can you snag a username like Chris? Sorry all you others with the same name, I beatchya to it this time!


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Monday, November 06, 2006

Working at Home for Free?

Whether you're just starting out trying to make a living working from home on the internet or are a seasoned veteran, you've probably stumbled into the den of many a snake-oil salesman. You know the sites I'm talking about, the ones that will sell you the secret to making a million dollars from home, just as soon as you fork over a cool $49.95...

Ask yourself this. What is your budget for money-making secrets? It is often said that you have to spend money to make money. I'd like to be so bold as to propose that this is not always true. Not only that, but it's actually a downright bad idea to spend money on anything non-essential if you're not already self-sufficient.

It's a good idea to look at your internet ventures the same way. You didn't get into this to pump all your existing cash into the system, did you? While there are some things in which you may want to invest down the road, your first goal should be to always be at least breaking even. Find one, or better yet, several work at home gigs that are either making money for you without costing you anything, or are at the very least not costing you anything.

If I could make one single recommendation to everyone who is committed to working from home, even if it's just part-time, it would be to build a blog. Today. Why? To establish a web presence for yourself. If you're knowledgeable about something, and feel like you could get out a unique thought on this something at least once a week or so, start a blog about it. Whether you're handy with home or auto repair, watch a lot of TV or movies, or are a parent willing to share your experiences in raising an infant or teenager, there will be some people out there interested in what you have to say.

Even if you don't know what knowledge you can offer, or don't fancy yourself to be a very good writer, having your own little piece of real estate on the web can give you your own place to network with like-minded people. A place where people can get a little bit of an idea of who's commenting on their blogs and participating in their forums. And who knows, maybe you'll build a better mousetrap someday or write a bestseller. Where better to tell everybody, than on one of your blogs?

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