Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ebay: Not Worth it As a Business

I sell on eBay. Quite a bit. I've had an account since 2001, and my husband has had an account since 1998, so we're relatively experienced at the ins and outs of eBay.

I received one negative rating out of 223 or so. The woman never emailed me to complain--I sent the wrong item accidentally, and had she simply emailed me and explained the problem, I'd have corrected the situation. Instead, she left me ripping-nasty feedback. She only had 5 transactions, ever, and within a few months her account had been deleted. And yet my negative feedback mars my otherwise-perfect record. 99.5% will have to suffice. :)

In any given month, lately, I sell about $600 worth of items. All of them are items I bought brand new for various reasons, and am now selling to declutter. I don't make a profit. I'm just getting rid of old items I no longer use.

Many eBayers sell for these reasons, and if you're one of them, you're not really "making" money. You're exchanging the money you once spent--a much higher amount--for money now--a much lower amount. So unless you declared those items for deductions on your taxes, any money you make off the sale of items you made no profit on is not taxable.

If, however, you sell items you declared on taxes as deductions, it gets complicated. Technically, any business deductions that are later sold MUST be reported on business tax forms. This is way out of my league tax-wise, but please consult with you tax adviser before the men in black appaear at your door with an audit notice.

Other people have entire retail businesses on eBay. They buy large amounts of items at wholesale, and then sell for retail prices on eBay. They invest thousands, tens of thousands, or more dollars for these businesses, and they treat the entire enterprise as a full business. Good for them.

The people who, in my opinion, don't really make money off eBay are the majority of people who claim to make money off eBay: resellers. You know the spiel: buy items at Goodwill or the Salvation Amry or yard sales, and sell them on eBay.

Before 8,123 people comment and complain that yes they DO make money this way, let me qualify my statement: while SOME people can make this work, most simply don't truly make a decent hourly wage doing this. Here's why.

1. If you're buying used items, you spend time going to stores and yard sales. Then you have the initial outlay of money. You have to take the item home, clean it, photograph it, upload the photos, list the item, play listing and selling fees, package the item, make sure the buyer pays, withdraw the money from PayPal, take the item to the post office, and mail it off. That is a LOT of time spent.

2. Unless your actual PROFIT is $30-$40 for an eBay transaction, you're not really making money. At a minimum, you spend 2 hours shopping, pricing, cleaning, listing, etc. If you're buying a selling baby clothes, or cloth diapers bought used, for instance, you're most likely not going to clear $30-$40 for 2-4 hours of work.

3. What happens when a seller is dissatisfied for that $12 item? How much time is spent answering silly questions from buyers? I can't count how many buyers have littered by eBay message system with questions that were answered in the description. (Yes, I'm ranting). And yet you don't want to lose a potential bidder, so you spend 3-5 minutes answering each question. The time adds up.

Again--selling your own items, in your home? Yes--worth it. Spending hours going to yard sales and used stores to sell for a profit? On average, not worth it, unless you genuinely enjoy the bargain hunting. Then you're just having fun, and that's cool.

Keep in mind: if you buy a cloth diaper for $.50 at a garage sale and it sells for $9, that profit needs to be declared. Of course, all the gas expenses, any meals out, listing fees, etc. can be deducted, but if you choose to buy low and sell high as a business, the IRS is really looking carefully at high-volume eBay sellers. So even if you "just" earn $300 a month profit, that $3,600 per year is money the taxman wants to tax.

Weigh it all out: time vs. money vs. hassle vs. taxes before assuming eBay is always worth it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Freelancing: Writing for Associated Content

Now this is an interesting business model.

You, as a writer, write an article on a topic of your choosing. It must contain 400 words or more. Preferably, it has 3% to 5% keyword density, which means that 3% to 5% of the total number of words in the piece are the keyword--or target word or term--for your article topic.

You then go through a 5-screen upload process, and submit the article for review. The company offers you an upfront fee of anywhere from $3 to $12. You accept their offer or reject it. Within days, the article is published on their site, and you receive a PayPal payment for the agreed-upon amount.

Associated Content debuted in late 2005, but really gained steam at the end of 2006 and into early 2007. I joined in February of 2007 and have been earning a steady stream of income. Income is earned in two ways: "initial" payment, and a page view bonus. For instance, when I joined in February, my average payment for articles was $7.50. For a 400 word article, that's not quite $.02 per word; this is not the lap of luxury. However, for quick writers, a 400 word article takes 15-20 minutes, and my hourly rate was quite good.

In March Associated Content revealed the "page view bonus" plan. Over the past month, "initial" offers have dropped dramatically; my average is now somewhere around $5, although I recently received a $6.25 offer (bring on the caviar!). Page view bonuses are paid out at $1.50 per 1,000 views. Yes--every time someone clicks on your article you earn $.0015. Don't spend it all in one place.

To be fair, if one were to write 2 articles per day, at an average of $5 each, that's $300 per month, plus page view bonuses. I have earned--steady yourself--$9.70 in page view bonuses. 6400 views on my 105 articles, for an average of 63 views per article. My highest page view article has over 1,200 views: click here to read it (humor me)

My second highest:

And, inexplicably, the third most popular article:

Unless you are the parent of a gifted child who drinks gluten-free beer and takes thyroid medication, none of these articles is remotely related, and yet you just clicked on all three and made me $.0045 richer. Thank you.

Pros of publishing with Associated Content:

* You have no deadlines, no bosses, and no critics (I ignore comments. If the president can ignore his critics, so can I. It's the American Way).
* Once an article is accepted, you are paid within 5 days, via funded PayPal.
* If you're a struggling writer, it's a writing credit, and helps to establish a portfolio.
* You can publish "nonexclusive," leaving you free to republish the content on your blog, in print publications, etc.
* It's quick and fast money.
* You are approved or rejected within 2 weeks. No long waits.

Cons of publishing with Associated Content:

* The pay is low.
* Your article may be rejected (about 20% of my articles are rejected, although I now know how to reduce rejection rates, and for the past few weeks my rejection rate is 5%).

In addition, twice a month or so Associated Content offers special content situations where, for instance, there is a guaranteed payout of $8-$10 per article for product reviews, or videos, or whatever other topic the powers that be choose. One of my better performing articles was this review of our Honda Civic Hybrid:

for which I earned $8. Which bought me 2.6 gallons of gas. I was able to drive 121 miles with that gas.

To sign up for Associated Content, and open an account, sign up under ME! I use the pseudonym Lea Barton (you can use a pen name):

I do not earn a penny from this referral. It simply increases my clout, which apparently means nothing financially, but the little planets next to our names get bigger, so I'd love to go from Mars to Jupiter.

Some of the writers on Associated Content publish 5-7 articles per day. I'm plugging along at 2-3 per day, but at my peak easily managed 6-8. Tailor your output as you see fit. So far it's been a great way to gain some extra money, but as with any Internet income source, consider the fact that it may dry up at any point. Enjoy it while you can.

Internet Program: My Points

MyPoints is one of the oldest Internet "get paid to" or GPT programs. Founded in 1996, the company made it through the crash in the early 2000s and stands as one of the grandfathers (or grandmothers) of Internet points programs.

I earn about $60 per year in gift cards through MyPoints, for roughly 4-5 hours of my time. that's a return rate of $12-15 per hour, tax-free. MyPoints pays you in points for clicking on emails you receive (called BonusMail)--you generally receive 5 points for these emails. You earn points for shopping through the MyPoints website; for instance, 10 points for dollar is the payout for shopping at through the MyPoints website. In addition, taking short surveys and updating your profile on MyPoints can earn you small numbers of points.

750 points = $5 Panera gift card, so you would need to click on 150 BonusMails to earn the $5 gift card. That's an average of 5 emails per day, 30 days straight. The BonusMails tend to come in waves. Nothing for a few days, and then suddenly 15 fill your inbox. All BonusMails have an expiration date, so be careful. I will sort my email alphabetically, and then click on all the BonusMails in one quick shot every 3 days or so. 5 minutes or less.

The choice of cards is impressive--Target, WalMart, Old Navy, Panera, barnes & Noble, etc. And--unlike many other programs--these are regular gift cards, so they are suitable for giving out as gifts as well.

One great way to earn 1,000 points immediately--"Refer-a-friend." Get 10 friends to sign up for MyPoints and earn 100 points per friend.

Quite simply, I've been doing MyPoints since 1998 and it's the one program I've stuck with, through thick and thin. I generally cash out my points when I gather 3,250--this earns me a $25 gift card to Panera, so I can indulge in my insatiable desire for their vegetarian black bean soup and salad combo, with the little French baguette. Ahhhhh....

p.s. If you want me to send you an email invite so *I* earn 100 points and so that I can be a kept woman, awash in You Pick Two at Panera, email me and I'll send you an invite. I can only do this 10 times, though, so once those first 10 are done, I'll start sending the new requests to my first requests, helping those first 10 earn their first 1,000 points. And so on, and so on, and so on...

More information on points programs in general:

How Not to Work At Home

I have, since 1997, been working at/from home. For a brief stretch, here and there, I work onsite. I am an adjunct faculty member at a local college here in Western Massachusetts, so I need to stand before the students and spew nonsense about American Government and U.S. History and World History and Latin American History or whatever course I'm teaching. Aside from that, since 1998, when I left my secretary position at The Big Name Law School in Boston, I have not worked onsite in a steady capacity.

I have worked as a writer, editor, user interface tester, and Internet marketer since 1997.

I have also had fun dabbling in weird online programs.

You know the kind. Points programs for clicking on links. Reading emails. Taking surveys. Online sweepstakes (and yes, I've won quite a bit of stuff). Get-paid-to-publish. Getting paid to write messages on message boards. All of those income streams have, at one point or another, been part of my repertoire.

Some worked. Some didn't. This blog is an ongoing effort to discuss programs, jobs, and websites that DO work, so that a small income stream--or, perhaps, a large one--can help readers with whatever financial or personal goals they may have.

This isn't my business. It's a hobby. I have a tiny little Internet addiction, and this way I can defend myself against my husband's eyerolls when I get off the couch and have laptop creases on my legs. Or when my children say, "Mommy has a mouth? I never knew that. I couldn't see it past the top of her laptop screen."