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In the 2020 lockdown I opened an eBay store. Here’s what happened next and why it might matter to your business

What did you get up to during the first lockdown?

For millions, those days of early 2020 were filled with sourdough starters, volunteering, new pets, Joe Wicks PE lessons or learning a new language.

For me, I filled the time by opening a little micro-business selling LGBTQIA+ flags and pin badges on eBay.

Monitoring stock levels, administering orders, and sending little gifts out into the world passed the time for a few months. With little else to do, the retailer in me enjoyed the challenge of grappling with postage and pricing policies.

Now, more than two years later, the enterprise has flourished. I’ve had thousands of orders, opened a Royal Mail business account, and offer dozens of different products. If you’re interested, you can visit the shop here.

Being in control of your own business – even one as small and insignificant as mine – can give you some excellent insights into what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to marketing and growing your business.

1. Be a specialist in a niche

When I started up, I sold a small range of lapel pin badges featuring a dozen or so of the most common LGBTQIA+ flags. From the pride to the pansexual flags, these little pins empower their wearers to celebrate their identity.

The logical next step was into pronoun pins, which let individuals express how they would like to be addressed. I then went into selling large flags, rainbow socks, key rings, and other associated titbits.

When badges started to sell, I decided to venture out into popular culture and fandom. I bought a job lot of quite cool Squid Game badges (it was massive at the time)… and sold one solitary unit.

Trying to be everything to everyone doesn’t work. So, I’ve gone back to focusing on the one thing the store does really well, and just done more of that.

It’s likely to be the same in your business. Whether you advise business owners, people at retirement, divorcees, or professionals, knowing your audience and serving them really well does work.

2. Ask for recommendations

When I send out any product to a customer – no matter the size or price – I always include a small compliment slip with the order. Literally tiny, printed in black and white, thanking the customer for their purchase and, crucially, including a link to the store.

(I know that you can just go into “previous purchases” on eBay and order again, but I’m a bit old school about these things).

Over the last few months, I have seen a noticeable increase in the number of repeat customers. These are generally great for me – I am not paying a promoted listing fee (more about that in a moment) which means I get to keep around 11% to 15% more of the sale price.

I don’t know whether these slips are encouraging repeat business, or if I just sell things that people like at a competitive price. But, and it’s an obvious thing to say, your best route to new clients is through recommendations from existing ones. They have a low cost of acquisition and arrive at your door with a positive opinion of your firm. Cherish them!

3. Do your bit for the community

When I established my store, one of the things I was keen to do was to donate part of the sale price to charity.

In fairness to eBay, they make this incredibly easy, allowing you to donate a proportion of the sale price of an item to a cause of your choice. By doing so, you get a little icon on the listing as a “charity product”.

Setting up a charitable arm for your business – especially for causes you care about – can be rewarding.

It’s been an incredibly easy way to generate a significant sum for charity and you can align your efforts with good causes. Over the last year alone I’ve donated hundreds of pounds in sales of “rainbow pins” to NHS charities, for example.

Sales of LGBTQIA+ lapel pins generate money for Stonewall, the charity campaigning for the freedom and potential of LGBTQIA+ people everywhere.

Whatever charitable endeavour you decide on, just make sure you mean it. Don’t bash an NHS rainbow or a Pride flag on your website for show – donate time or hours to the cause.

4. Don’t be afraid to invest in the right marketing

Putting a listing on eBay is a bit like setting your fancy new financial planning website live.

Sooner or later, if you do nothing, someone will find you. However, to drum up business, you might need to invest in ways to nudge that process along.

For a financial planning business that could be anything from a referral scheme to sending out regular newsletters. It might be social media or attending local events. Whatever works for you to encourage the right people to find you.

On eBay, you do this through promoted listings. By paying a small fee – pence in many cases – you can ensure your products appear in more results when customers search for your specific items. This is often through lengthy keyword analysis – promoting your item when people search for “pansexual pin badge” – so people find your item among the millions of others for sale.

I know there’s an old cliche that you have to “speculate to accumulate”. But, once I started investing in promoting my listings, the quantity (and quality) of sales went through the roof.

The lesson? The return on investment for marketing can be considerable.

5. Protect your reputation

If you’ve ever used eBay, you’ll know that it operates using a feedback system. Sellers can share feedback about buyers, and buyers can share feedback on sellers.

Would you buy from an eBay shop with less than 100% positive feedback?

If not, it’s why it’s so incredibly important to protect your reputation – particularly online.

One week, I noticed my sales had dropped significantly, and I couldn’t work out why. I eventually realised that a buyer had left negative feedback on a recent purchase.

When I investigated, it turned out that it was a misunderstanding. I cleared up the issue, the customer was really happy, and they thought nothing about removing the feedback. Sales bounced back straight away.

Whether it’s by offering an exceptional service, ensuring you have a high-quality offer, or operating a rigorous and empathetic complaints process (you have NO IDEA how much stuff gets “lost” in the post and requires me to resend items!) you need to guard your reputation with your life.

Many prospects won’t read the 99 fabulous reviews – they will read the one bad one. Make sure you’re on top of preserving your five stars!

Get in touch

If you’re looking for help when it comes to growing your business, you’re better off talking to one of Yardstick’s fantastic marketeers than you are to a lowly pin badge entrepreneur.

Find out what we can do for you and your firm. Email or call 0115 8965 300.

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