About 2 months ago, I started trying to flip everyday household items — i.e. buy them for a good price, then sell them for a profit.
This was the first time I ever tried doing so in my life, and I quickly realized that making money like this really is just as easy as everybody makes it out to be... as long as you are smart about it.
I quickly focused on buying and selling camera equipment because it's a niche that I like and one that I know a little bit about... and even though I only did this part-time, I ended up making over just under 900 PLN (about 235 US Dollars), including the price of a few items I bought and haven't sold yet! My exact results are in the table below (update, as of 2019-06-15, I sold almost all the items referenced in the post for a total profit of 1378 PLN, around 358 USD):
Those are not just my best purchases, those are literally all of my flip-based purchases for the last 2 months. I don't consider myself a professional flipper by any means yet, but so far I'm happy with my results — and they speak for themselves.
So if you're thinking about getting into flipping and want to get a head start by learning from my mistakes and replicating my approach, I want to give you as much practical advice as possible. Here's my best explanation of how I achieved what I did. I'll give it to you in the form of "dos" and "don'ts":
Do: just start
If you're thinking about flipping stuff and don't know where to start, here's my biggest piece of advice: just start. It literally doesn't matter where. You're going to learn just by doing.
If you want to follow my route: first, go for the low-hanging fruit. Sell valuable stuff lying around your house. You won't have to do any searching and you'll learn a lot about listings platforms in the process. Take pictures of your stuff, write what you would consider to be good descriptions, and list them on every popular platform that you can.
At first I had no real idea what I was doing. I knew the concept... buy stuff for cheap, sell it for more.
But my process was inefficient.
I did hours of searching on listings platforms (OLX — the Polish equivalent of Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Allegro — the Polish equivalent of Ebay) and my searches were pretty clumsy. I did lots of similar searches... set all kinds of weird filters to try to find good deals... But I kept finding the same, crappy items and generally, I just felt like I was chasing my tail instead of finding good items to flip...
Now, after 2 months, I have hugely refined my process. I bet I'm 500% more efficient, and it's just because I started trying. I quickly recognized what my problems were, and tried out things to solve them. My searches are much faster, simpler, and less filtered.
I always try to get a better price that what the seller lists for. Regardless of whether they posted a fair price or not. And so far, I've almost always been able to.
As with many things in life, there's a fine line between insulting people with low-balls and negotiating your way down to a good price, and it just takes time to learn how to walk that line.
When I first started 2 months ago, I was terrified of losing money. So to minimize my risk, I would low-ball the crap out of — and straight-up insult — sellers.
I do not recommend doing this.
The only reason I would recommend doing this is if you like learning the hard way that nobody likes a low-baller.
Now I take a much different approach. It's working out great for me, and it allows me not to feel like a scum bag. It's very simple: I'm just honest.
First I ask if the item is still available, then I ask how low the seller is willing to go on their price, then I tell them my (fair) max price... and we try to work something out from there.
That's not to say that the conversation always gets that far. Most sellers stop me after I ask "how low are you willing to go?" with things like:
"I'm not going any lower than that."
"My price is fair. You won't find a better price anywhere. Why would you even ask? You're stupid for asking. Pfft. Good luck finding a camera in this good condition for less money, because you won't. Ha. Good luck. Stupid."
When they say things like that, I just say "thanks" with a smiley face and move on. There plenty more deals to be had, and these are not the kind of people I want to make deals with, anyway.
Do: Go in with 0 expectations
YouTube videos and success stories of flippers make it seem easy, but like everything good in life: it's not.
If you go in expecting to find tons of people willing to sell their valuable possessions for rock-bottom prices, then you will be disappointed.
But if you go in expecting to have to search through hundreds (or thousands) of listings, message dozens and dozens of sellers, and then maybe find a few good buys (as was the case with me), then you're setting yourself up for success.
Don't: expect to find tons of great deals
If you look at the table of my results at the top of my post and say to yourself "hey, this looks doable" — you're right. If I can do it with no experience, then you can do it to. But what that table does not show is the 100+ listings and conversations I poured over and had with sellers that ended with me not buying anything.
Going through 100s of listings only to find a few good deals is discouraging, but you can't give up. If you want to be successful — especially when starting with no experience — you have to put in the work.
Do: always check actual market prices based on real sales
This is crucial. When looking up how much you can sell a potential flip for, look up listings that have sold. Don't buy an item just because you have a feeling you're getting a good deal (unless you're practically getting it for free). If you aren't basing your decisions on cold, hard market data, you are going to lose money.
Ebay, for example, allows you to do this. Do a search for the item you are thinking about buying, and enable the filter for "sold items" (not "completed items").
Don't: base price estimates on other people's listing prices.
The obvious thing that comes to most people's mind when they want to know what their stuff is worth is just looking up what other people are selling the same thing for. But don't kid yourself: what people list their items for has nothing to do with what those items are actually worth.
What really matters is how much people are willing to pay for an item. Just because everybody lists some item for $1,000,000, doesn't mean it's worth $1,000,000. The market works by supply and demand, asks and bids — not just supply and asking prices.
Do: take good pictures and write good descriptions
I don't have data to back it up, but I think a large reason why my items do so well is because of the pictures I take descriptions I write.
Here's an example of some pictures from my listings:
Honestly, taking good pictures is not that difficult. If you think my pictures above are nice, you can pretty easily replicate them yourself. I use a nice DSLR camera, but you can achieve similar results even just with your smartphone with just a few pieces of advice:
- Get far away from your subject and use zoom. The biggest mistake that people make when taking pictures is getting really close to the thing they are taking pictures of. Your item will look a lot better if you take pictures from far away and zoom in with your camera. This is due to perspective distortion, you can learn more by watching e.g. this video. Generally, the farther you are away from your subject, the less distorted it will appear in the final image.
- Use a tripod and your camera's self timer. This applies even to smartphones. You don't have to spend a lot of money, either. A cheap tripod and smartphone mount will do. A tripod stabilizes your shot, but even the act of pressing the shutter button (or tapping your screen) makes your camera move right as you are trying to take the picture, and that causes slightly blurry-looking photos — that's what the self-timer is for. After you remove your hand from the camera, the camera and tripod stabilize and your camera takes a very crisp photo. A 2-second timer should be enough.
- Use as much diffuse light as possible. Turn on all the lights you have in the room, take pictures near a window during the day if possible, and if you want to be like me: buy some hardware from a hardware store and throw together a cheap photo light (or even just use your phone's flashlight).
- Use a nice background. You don't have to buy any kind of expensive backdrop. You can use a tablecloth or bed sheet. Whatever you use, just make it tasteful and clean. Just a plain, white background is probably ideal. I literally used a white IKEA chair that we have in the apartment and the flashlight on my phone to achieve almost all the pictures you see above that have a perfect white background. Here's a gif to prove it:
When it comes to the description, I'm as honest about the product as possible. I don't write anything that I don't stand behind.
Also, I keep an open mind. My opinion is one thing, but what really matters is what people actually want to see/read in descriptions. If someone asks me a question about an item, I almost always incorporate the answer to their question into the description of the next similar item that I sell (because if one person had the question, there's a good chance more people had that same question).
Generally, you should keep your descriptions short and sweet. Focus on the most important aspects of your item (its condition, unique features, etc.), and leave frivolous details out.
Don't: obsess over your pictures and descriptions
I'll admit that I have a little bit of a problem... I think I try a little too hard to make my listings perfect. I should probably spend less time on them, especially if I want to up my flipping game. I cannot continually spend 3+ hours on every listing if I want this to be worth my time in the future. In the meantime however, I am grateful for the invaluable experience I am gaining.
Don't: put emotion into purchases or sales
Even though I'm dealing with things I like (camera equipment) and have already bought things that I would want to just keep for myself, I always put the flip first.
The bottom line is: I'm doing this to make money, nothing else. Having fun and learning the skills of negotiation, customer service, etc. are just great side-benefits that align with my main goal, which again is: making money.
Early into my first month, I bought an amazing camera lens. It was literally 100 times better than the one I was using on a daily basis. I wanted to keep it, but I put the flip above my love for the lens.
The moral of the story is: I don't take my eyes of the prize. I'm trying to flip stuff, not buy stuff. It'll feel much sweeter to buy a brand new lens when I make enough money in profit — what's important now is that I have more cash on hand to invest in more stuff to flip.
Do: learn to recognize serious buyers
Don't: turn down good offers for possible marginal gains
We've all heard the saying "a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush"...
When it comes to selling items you bought, this is definitely important to take into consideration.
For every "serious" offer that I've gotten on the items I've sold in the last 2 months, only about 1 out of every 10 have actually ended in a sale — despite all the buyers being clearly very emotionally invested in the item and/or promising me the world...
So when someone has cash in hand and is ready to buy your item right now at a price that is profitable to you... think very hard before turning it down because you think you might be able to get more later.
Do: realize you will make mistakes.
Look. You're going to have hiccups. You will probably lose money on items (so far, I haven't, really — but I'm totally prepared for that to change). Flipping is a long term game. Your goal is to make as much money per item on average.
As long as you continually buy items that you know (based on your thorough research) you have a very good chance of selling for a profit, you will end up winning. There are no two ways about it.
If all you do is take huge risks by buying items that you think... might... make you a profit, then you're gambling, and you may as well go to a casino.
Don't: dwell on your mistakes
Not only would I low ball sellers when I first started 2 months ago, but as was the case with one particular camera, I would even second guess myself when someone would accept my low ball!
I talked a very nice woman that was trying to sell a Canon 650D with a kit lens (this is a low-end, but relatively modern and generally very nice DSLR) down to half her asking price (from 1000 PLN to 500 PLN)...
Knowing what I know now, I could easily have sold that equipment for 1000 PLN in a short period of time... but me 2 months ago... I was just getting started, had no idea what I could sell the camera for, and as I mentioned earlier: I was terrified that I would lose money. So I postponed the pickup for 1 day to give me time to think it over.
Of course, the very next day, she took the listing down and sent me a courtesy message to say that someone else already took her up on the camera.
Losing that chance at a large profit sucks, but there's no reason to dwell on the mistake. As much as it sucks to think about how I missed out on a 100% ROI opportunity, I still feel like I didn't make the wrong decision at the time. I had no idea what I could sell the camera for then, so buying it for any price was a risk.
Needless to say, it was actually a great learning experience because when an offer like that comes up again, I will pounce on it like a wild cat!
Do: try to buy almost everything
I don't mean literally every single item, but if you find an item that you're interested in... contact the seller regardless of what the listing price is and how crapily the listing is put together. You have no idea what the seller's situation is. They may have accidentally put an additional 0 at the end of their listing and scared away all potential buyers... they may have been trying to sell this item for months but have no idea how to take good pictures or where to list the item or what it's even worth... they might have been hit with a final notice to pay their their rent just that morning and suddenly be very easy to negotiate with!
Most of the time, that won't be the case. But a small percentage of the time, you're going to get lucky. Every seller is different, if you don't contact them, you'll never know! And keep in mind: people on listings sites will often take much less than they are asking for.
Do: track every penny
I use a spreadsheet to track all my purchases and sales, and in the expenses column, I include absolutely every expense. This includes the cost to buy the item, listing site commissions, listing promotion fees (by the way, every auction-based listing that I have done so far I promoted to the max), packing and shipping costs, etc.
I even track any miles I had to put on my car to get and/or ship the item. I calculate what I spent in fuel with an app (fuel.io, which I use to track my car's mileage anyway — they didn't pay me to say this, but I highly recommend it 😆) then add 15% to conservatively account for things like car maintenance etc.
Don't: keep it all in your head
You don't have to use a spreadsheet like me, but you definitely need to track every penny you spend and earn somehow. The worse thing you could do is think you are making a profit, when really you are not. Plus, you will need to know these things anyway come tax time.
If you want to make money flipping stuff, you can do it. Good deals are out there, you just have to be patient and diligent enough to find them.
My biggest piece of advice is: just start. You will learn along the way.
Aside from that: be as conservative as you need to be (i.e. don't put rent money on the line if you're not positive you will make a profit), learn from your mistakes, and always keep a level head. You will do great!
Thank you for reading
Thank you so much for reading my post. I hope you got something good out of it. If it helped you out, leave a comment below or share it! But most importantly, just have a great day!