Building a thriving eBay business is bound to change the way your family lives, whether you recruit the gang to help you run your operation or continue to go it alone. Perhaps nowhere will your family feel the impact more clearly than in the transformation of your home into the place where you operate your home business.
You're bringing an enormous entity into your home by building your eBay business there, and that home will likely never be the same. How you adapt your living space can be the difference between your happiness and success and your family bitterly complaining about having lost the peaceful, clutter-free home they once knew.
You may be thinking, "Well, I've got a spare bedroom to turn into an office, what else do I need?" To answer that simply: The computer part of your business is the least of your troubles. From the very beginning, you'll need a dedicated place to take your photos for your listings, and a dedicated place to pack and ship your items.
But that's just the beginning. Once you've got your sources up and running, you'll also need storage space for items as you wait for them to sell, and you'll need to build all of these components of your business with an eye toward efficiency and scale. See, it's not quite as easy and straightforward as you might have first thought.
Never put a system or equipment into place without knowing how you'll expand or replace it once your business outgrows it
What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, a lot will depend on the structure and square footage of your home. If you live in a two-story house, do you really want your storage and packing area upstairs with your computer in that quiet back bedroom? Well, maybe, but make this decision knowing you'll be the one to carry every item that comes into the house upstairs and then back downstairs when it's time to send it on its way. That's not too bad if you sell DVDs or CDs, but what if your items are larger? Keeping your whole operation on the second floor might prove to be a mistake.
Everyone knows that great images can make or break an eBay sale. If you're selling commodity items with stock images, this isn't something you'll need to stress about too much, but most sellers need to take their own photos and post their own images. That means you'll want to have a dedicated photo area complete with the necessary lighting and the right backdrops to feature your products to their best advantage. You'll also want to be able to leave all this equipment set up and ready to use so each photo session isn't preceded by the time it takes to get all your equipment up and running.
The same is true with your shipping operation. Having your boxes, packing materials, tape, and scissors set up and at the ready will save you time and effort when you get ready to package and ship. Not that we know first-hand, but if your kids have a tendency to walk off with the scissors, tape or markers because they always know where to find yours when they need them, you'll need to establish some ground rules from the beginning. Also, although you may start out with a pieced-together packing operation, packing several dozen boxes a day will feel better to your back and knees if you use a well-suited table or counter to complete the task. Using the floor gets old faster, the older we all get.
Add to this the need to scale your business for future growth, and you begin to grasp what is involved in retooling the family home for the family home-based business. Never put a system into place or buy a piece of equipment without knowing how you'll expand it or replace it once your business outgrows it. If you do your job right, your business is certain to do just that. Let's take a look at some successful sellers who have found the way to keep peace at home without having home go to pieces.
Give each other space
Unlike your friendly authors, Skip and Karen McGrath, mcgrrrrr on eBay, decided against separate offices on separate floors of the house.
"We converted one of our extra bedrooms into an office, and it looks like an office," Skip McGrath says, "real desks and office chairs, fax machine and computers, file cabinets, shipping station, etc."
Here, you can see that everything is dedicated to the business, and the business is easily contained. The two work together in pretty close quarters, but they have built their own workspaces into the plan.
"We do keep some space between us," McGrath continues. "My work center is at one end of the room and Karen's is at the other. This way we don't disturb each other if we're on the phone. We are close enough to talk without shouting, but far enough that we have a small sense of 'this is my place and that is yours.' This way it feels like we are in a real office."
For all of us who have enjoyed being cubicle jockeys, we can attest to the ability to keep your own space defined, even if that's in pretty close quarters.
We learned that a small mountain town at 9,000-feet elevation was a poor choice for originating nationwide and worldwide shipping
Location, location, location
Andy and Deb Mowery, debnroo on eBay, have adapted their physical space perhaps more than any other eBay sellers we've known. When the Mowerys first started their business in 1999, the couple lived in their beloved Telluride, CO. They loved the skiing and the beauty of the area, but it did have some disadvantages.
"We learned that a small mountain town at 9,000-feet elevation was a poor choice for originating nationwide and worldwide shipping," Andy Mowery remembers. "Having regular blizzards, road closures and avalanches for six to nine months a year, it was just not the right place. We loved paradise, but needed to move back closer to civilization."
The couple moved to Fort Collins, CO, where they still operate their business.
The next adaptation to the business came when they built their business around commodity home, garden and pet supplies. The couple converted their 600-square-foot garage into a warehouse and shipping station, leaving Deb Mowery out in the garage for hours every afternoon getting packages ready to go.
That was not the best solution, particularly during the cold Colorado winters. As the business grew, the couple took on their own off-site warehouse and hired staff to help complete the packing and shipping. Now the two have built a new home with the business in mind.
"We still have our offices in our house, but now it is two-story, and we love the fact that we have some separation from each other during the day—particularly with the noise of handling phone calls," Andy Mowery says. "I have, shall we say, a somewhat loud voice."
So, whether you're just beginning to plan for your eBay business, or it's already bursting at the seams of your original home office plan, staying adaptable is an essential quality to any successful e-commerce merchant. We once heard a conference speaker say, "If you're operating your eBay business the same way you did 18 months ago, you're already behind."
Change is perhaps the most constant state for any eBay entrepreneur, so here's hoping your eBay business will outgrow your current home office, many times over!
Read the first two articles from this series, eBay: A Family Affair, Part 1 and Part 2.