Tricks for selling your skills and products online

Looking to bring in extra cash? Get some tips from the semi-pros.

At 68, Peggy Smith was like many of her peers—ready to retire before she was ready to stop making money. Fortunately for Smith, the internet offers plenty of post-retirement income opportunities. Crafters and collectors can market items through Etsy and eBay, animal lovers can find pet owners seeking dog walking or cat-sitting services on Rover, and skilled workers can connect with homeowners in need of carpentry or repair service on Thumbtack.

Smith, who has long enjoyed “thrifting,” or combing through garage sales and flea markets for treasures, quickly homed in on eBay to monetize her passion. “My goal was to make enough in my first year to cover my real estate taxes,” says the now-75-year-old Ohioan who snaps up mid-century modern and vintage items and resells them for a tidy profit on the Old-Wahine eBay shop she launched nine years ago. “I reached that goal within three months.”

She’s quick to attribute her success to guidance from her son. He’s an eBay veteran who fast-tracked her learning with advice on successful online selling, such as the importance of having good photos and plenty of them.

Pricing appropriately is also critical, say Gregory Morris and Susan Havens-Morris, advertising industry veterans from Chicago, Illinois, who now sell handmade wood-crafted home decor through their Etsy shop, Haven America . Hobbyists-turned-sellers often underestimate the true cost of the products they’re creating, warns Morris. “Make sure your price covers everything—all of the materials, the fees, and the time you’re investing in both making and shipping the product,” he cautions.

Credentials are also critical if you hire out your services. Dog walkers signing on with Rover specify their own rates (paying a commission to the service), but when multiple pet-care providers are available within the same range, owners tend to base their choices on experience. “You’ll need to start out low until you get some ratings and testimonials, then you’ll be able to work your way up to charging a higher price,” says Meg Marrs, founder of the dog care and training website K9ofMine and a former Rover walker.

Other recommendations to boost your chances of success include:

  • Be realistic. Keep your costs low initially by avoiding overinvestment in materials or storage space. This will shorten the ramp-up time you need to reach profitability.
  • Understand fees, commissions, and costs. Costs vary widely. Some websites determine your fees by how many items you sell, or whether you sell individually or run a shop within the website, so it’s essential to understand what you’re signing on for.
  • Keep it fresh. For any online store, adding new items on a regular basis is key, says Morris. “It’s just like musicians who come on the scene with a big album that everyone loves; two years later, you have to come out with another one or you’ll fade away.”
  • The customer really is always right. The internet retail and service provider world are ruled by ratings, says Havens-Morris. “Be very friendly and never say anything negative to a customer—even when they’re being critical,” she says.
  • Enjoy yourself. Given the sheer size of the internet, there is probably an online avenue to monetize whatever hobby, interest, or passion you have—and this is the time to find it. “I told my son, it took your mom 75 years to find a job she loves,” says Smith. “I’ve done a lot of different things in my lifetime, but this has been the most fun.”
  • If you’re interested in finding out more about what retirement might cost you, retirement planning, and the expenses you might face, check out Huntington’s retirement calculators.

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Interview with Peggy Smith.

Interview with Gregory Morris and Susan Havens-Morris.