Friday, January 22, 2016

How to Sell on Instagram

This is a really long instructional post. To break up the text, I'm going to post pictures of some of my favorite things I've seen while browsing the Instagram shop universe!

I've been selling vintage items and books on Instagram for about a year now, and I continue to love it! I've never done an expense report to find out exactly how much I'm making, but on average, I'd guess I bring in about $300 per month. That doesn't sound like a ton, but it's enough for me to buy new inventory and pay for enough expenses (some groceries, occasional gas, clothes and books for the boys, an occasional item for myself, etc.) that I don't have to take any money from Jonas' account. It goes a long way toward making me feel productive and somewhat independent. It also alleviates any guilt I would feel for taking money Jonas earned at a really hard job to pay for something frivolous like thrift store trinkets for myself.

Yep, coulda bought my wedding dress on Instagram, of all places... 

I notice that a lot of SAHMs (including myself) have tried the direct sales approach, be it Stella and Dot, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, LuLaRoe, Keep, etc. I can think of 1 (mayyybe 2) people doing that who I think are probably making good money off it (and by good money, I mean the same or more than I am making off Instagram). I don't say this to belittle direct sales, It's not impossible to be good at or make money at, but for me, being successful at it negated the whole reason I needed a job like that - it was stressful and a big time and energy commitment, which took away considerably from being home with my boys. I also felt constantly pressured to cold-call and generally be a sales person in a way that was very uncomfortable for me. I learned some excellent skills and lessons and ended up with a kitchen full of amazing products during my time with the Pampered Chef, but ultimately, the costs outweighed the benefits for me.

Around the year mark of being at Pampered Chef, Jonas' boss told me that his sister made a killing selling thrifted items on Instagram. I asked him to clarify because I'd never heard of people selling stuff on Instagram before. I also had someone offer to buy a sweater that Ira was wearing in a picture on my personal Instagram account, which struck me as weird and maybe creepy. I found out after a few months selling on Instagram that that is a highly coveted limited-edition Baby Gap sweater. I also started looking at the feeds of two ladies I know who sold on Instagram, and started following a few shops on my personal instagram.

I already have hoarding tendencies, but I'm also pretty good at getting rid of stuff, so I'm constantly trying to figure out how to make a buck off of clothing or other junk that my boys have outgrown or we no longer need or want. I also have a decent eye for style, if I do say so myself, and I was confident that I could bring a stronger (more desirable) collection of items to the table than a good percentage of other shops I was seeing. Not least of all, reselling thrifted items gives me an excuse to shop as much as I wanted and make money.

These are the two pieces that broke my heart the most not to call mine. I stalled on buying the quilted dress because I was hoping it would go on sale (it was out of season at the time), but someone else bought it out of the blue. I think the baby leotard was posted in real time and I just didn't claim it fast enough. Waaaaa! 

If you love to shop and/or you end up with a lot of good-quality cast-offs from your kids, here are the basics of what I've learned about how to open and run a successful shop on Instagram.

Starting out:
  • Set up a PayPal account. It can take a few days for your bank to confirm all your information with PayPal, so you want to have this squared away before you open shop. 
  • Start a new Instagram account with a thoughtful name. I personally find it very cluttered when people try and mix their personal and shop accounts. It's also confusing for your customers if you decide to switch your account name once you are established, so don't just make any name up without pondering it for a while. 
  • Set up your shop rules and keep them posted. I started off just copying what I found in other shops as well as throwing in a few ideas I had, and then adjusted them as I gained more experience and found out what was really needed. To give you an example, some shops require that you comment with your email in order to claim things. My shop rules specifically state that asking for more information about an item will hold your place, even without an email. Unfortunately, sometimes buyers get catty over a particularly desired item and it's difficult to resolve arguments without making people angry if you don't have pre-written rules to direct people to. 
  • Consider posting other basic information. The IG selling/buying community is pretty friendly and even close-knit in some cases. People want to know you as a person and they also want to make sure you're not a scammer (there have been instances in which people sell items and then never ship to you). Consider posting a picture of yourself and/or your family and doing a small introduction! 
  • Post a few teaser images of items you'll be selling before officially opening for business. This can feel torturous (I waited until I had 200 followers), but you will also be much more confident when you start selling things during your first sale instead of trying to sell to 5 followers.
Gain exposure:
Some people prefer to keep their accounts private, but I highly recommend having a public shop. I can see how in some cases, a private shop could create enough intrigue that you'll follow just to find out what they have (and then maybe forget to unfollow!), but most of the time, a private shop is enough of a deterrent to me that I'll never bother requesting access. Private or Public, networking is essential for IG shop success. There are lots of ways to increase traffic to your feed.
  • Make friends. I'm quick to be chatty online in general, but often a comment will turn into a mini-conversation, and several mini-conversations can turn into an allyship with another shop. Besides gaining a new friend, these allyships are very beneficial for your business, especially if they are with a well-established, well-respected shop. IG friends are always quick to promote one another's shops and tag each other when they come across giveaway sign ups (more on those later), etc. It always helps to have a few extra ladies on your side and extra pairs of eyes looking out for you! My IG shop friends also keep me informed about good new shops or buyers who are not worth the trouble, and even scammers to watch out for. 
  • Share for Shares (S4S). S4Ss are the less annoying cousin of "follow for a follow" that random people on Instagram may have solicited from you before. You, or any other shop, can post a S4S (usually the actual text "S4S" or "Share for Share?" on a photo or blank background) at any time, and anyone who responds agrees to post one of your photos in return for you posting one of theirs - it's an easy way to "cross pollinate" your followers and get new eyeballs on your feed. You can even specify exactly which photo you would like other shops to post for you. Even better than S4Ss are Circle S4Ss. These are much less common, but often more effective and efficient - in a Circle S4S, everyone who comments shares every other commentator's shop as well. It's a little complicated to understand if you don't have much of a context for IG shops yet, but trust me, they're cool. My other S4S tips are to be brave in requesting a S4S from shops you admire, even if they haven't put a call out for one (the worst the can do is say no, and at best, you get your shop shared by a popular shop!) and to be strategic about when you ask for a S4S. Don't overuse it and do pay attention to the high-traffic times of day/week (for me, weeknights from 6-9pm PST). Also, follow S4S rabbit holes. If you see that shop A has just shared shop B, check both shop A and B to see if either of them have posted a S4S so that you can jump on it too! 
  • One strategy for gaining followers is to follow a lot of other accounts. I love using Instagram's Search page to see what accounts are suggested based on the things I already like, and that's a good place to start. I also look at who my favorite shops are following. Overall though, I don't like the mass-follow tactic - some of the people you follow will follow you back, but real customers will find you on their own. I'd rather have that than an extra 1000 followers who are hanging around but never buying, and then having all that extra junk they post show up in my feed. On the other hand, when real customers see that you have a lot of followers, they feel assured that you're worth following. 
  • "Steal" customers from shops similar to yours. This is not as bad as it sounds. When a shop that I like and carries similar things to my shop is having a sale, I follow along in real time and see who is buying. Then, I tag those customers on items of my own that are similar or that I think they will like. This works especially well with books. DO NOT actually steal business from other shops by tagging shoppers on the exact same product that you are selling, or you will quickly be hated by other shops. Sometimes, there will be more than one person who wants something, and if I have one, then I will tag a backup buyer on exactly the same book or item that someone else is selling. However, it is nicer to wait until the item the other shop has actually sold, so that that shop doesn't lose business from the backup customer in case the first customer bails on paying (which happens fairly often). 
  • Tag lists. A tag list is a photo that you post (it should say "tag list" or "master tag list" on it) on which people can comment if they want you to tag them every time you have a sale - it's basically your loyalty club comprised of customers who consistently likes what you post. It can be a pain in the bum to tag everyone once you get a robust "loyalty club", but sales are much healthier when you do. People on your tag list generally tend to buy regularly, and it pays to notify them when you are posting rather than risk your images getting lost in their feed. Many shops/shoppers are following at least 1000 accounts, each posting around 30 images in a row every time they list items. Tag lists are also excellent if you're a buyer. As both a buyer and a seller, you can also turn on notifications for accounts that don't offer a tag list or if you want to make sure that you see a "discount" posting. If you choose this option, your phone will let you know every time they post a photo (people think I'm extremely social because my phone is constantly making noise). 
  • ISO (In Search Of) Lists. This is one of my favorite parts about selling on Instagram! Get to know what your followers collect or are in search of, and REMEMBER IT! You can do this by memory (tricky), or keep track of it in the comments of a special photo in your feed. That way, when you can't remember who wanted what, or you're at the thrift store trying to decide on whether to get something or not, you can check the notes people have made about what they want. For example, in my bookshop, I keep track of certain authors that people collect, or just that so-and-so likes books about ballerinas. Even if I don't find everything my followers are looking for, I tag them on things I think they will like in other people's shops and they really appreciate it. 
  • Giveaways. Instagram shoppers love a good giveaway, and it's a great chance to attract new followers. I generally center my giveaways around a specific holiday or when I'm reaching a milestone follower number. I usually team up with other shops for a giveaway to take full advantage of cross-promotion - it's like a S4S on steroids! I could write a whole separate post on the intricacies of giveaways (what works, what doesn't, how/who to collaborate with, how to count entries, how long to let your giveaway run, etc. etc.), but perhaps another time. I will, however, mention the loop giveaway, which is where multiple shops join together to do a giveaway and everyone who enters must follow all the shops in the loop. It's called a loop because once they've liked your photo promoting the giveaway, they can tap the photo to see what fellow-giveaway-shop you've tagged, go directly to that shop and like their promotion photo, and repeat until they've been directed back to your feed, thereby completing the giveaway loop (another thing that is easier seen than explained). 

Everyone asks me how I find such cool clothes for my boys. This is how! 

Conducting a Sale:
The following section is probably the most personalized of this whole process. Lots of IG shops are "outlets" for brick and mortar shops (aka, already well established and generally higher end) or Etsy shops. Some shops do periodic sales, in which they do a live succession of photos at a specific time (my shops run this way). Buyers will be watching your feed at the appointed time and claim items during or soon after your sale, while you are around to answer questions. Other shops simply post an item here and there on no specific schedule, or post photos of items that are cross listed on Etsy or Ebay. Still other shops post sporadically and then you contact them via a private email to inquire about pricing (I find that method stressful because I feel like I'm asking them to do a lot of extra work when I'm not at all sure that I'll be purchasing from them). Then there are shops that mainly sell vintage, and other shops that mainly sell modern gently used clothing that their kids have outgrown. While there is some crossover, the audiences for those two kinds of shops differ (as do kids shops vs. lady's shops - most of the brick and mortar outlet accounts are for ladies). With those distinctions in mind, here are some guidelines that I adhere to because I find them the most efficient and successful as a seller and as a buyer.

One other note about shops - sometimes there are multiple versions of one shop (I have a regular shop and a bookshop under similar names). Some categories of merchandise, like ephemera or books, can be overwhelming to post along with other items, due to sheer numbers (I usually post at least 30 books at a time, compared to 15 or so items of clothing per sale). I split my bookshop off from my regular shop about halfway through my first year, which was frustrating a first, but ultimately the right business move. If you don't do this, the people interested in clothing (the heartbeat of the shop community, in my opinion) start unfollowing you when you spam them with books. The book-buying community is smaller, but very loyal.
  • If you're selling clothes, measure your items with a measuring tape as well as providing rough modern size estimates. Vintage items often don't have tags, or don't have a size on the tag, or run smaller than modern sizes. The most common requested measurements are length (shoulder to lowest hem), STS (shoulder to saddle), and PTP (pit to pit). If you're selling non-clothing items, consider leaving part of your hand or a coin or something in the photo to provide scale. 
  • List your items in order of size (smallest to largest makes the most sense to me). I don't actually do this, but it's a good idea. Buyers who are looking for specific sizes don't have to wait through your entire post to see what appeals to them if they know that the size they're looking for is at the beginning or the end. 
  • Treat stains and prewash. I also very rarely do this because I'm by no means an expert on vintage fabric (many vintage items are too fragile to machine wash, and there are many methods of soaking, specific to different kinds of garments). I'm afraid that items will shrink or that I'll set stains or make colors bleed, and I'd rather sell items as-is and let the buyer fix things up to their liking. Because of this, I am upfront about the condition of items and take detailed photos of any flaws. 
  • Group your wares in themed posts. There's a lot of variance on this point among shops, but I quickly found that posting out-of-season clothing was not lucrative. Kids grow too quickly to buy clothing 6 months in advance! When I'm selling books or home decor, I like to group items by theme (like a "Rainy Day Sale" of activity books for kids, or a "Treat Yourself" Valentine's sale of jewelry and vintage fashion magazines for women) or category (such as vintage baby dress slips, or hardcover picture books). Personally, I think this tactic intensifies interest and intrigue. It does require some hoarding and long-range planning, however (both of which I'm good at ;)). 
  • I prefer to post one item for sale per photo. Some shops post photos with multiple items in a photo for sale (which means they don't have to post as many photos), but I think it ends up being counterproductive. If one item in the photo sells but not the other, then you have to specify that in the caption and continue updating it if more items sell, and it can be annoying for buyers to click on a photo thinking that some or all of it is for sale, and then find out that that may not be true. 
  • Promoting a sale vs. Flash Sales. I like to post a teaser image(s) of what I'm planning to sell in my next sale and promote it for a few days before the sale. This builds up excitement and concentrates your orders (more people will show up in real time to shop if they're prepared for it). It also gives buyers the chance to ask for a sale-specific tag, even if they're not on your master tag list. Flash sales, on the other hand, are unannounced, which I rarely do because you miss out on all the benefits that I just listed. As a buyer, flash sales can be fun (especially if you're getting notifications from a shop) because there's a lot less competition for items that might be in demand. 
  • Be as prepared as possible before doing a sale. I write down the captions (prices and any flaws on an item) for each photo/item before each sale, and I write them down in the order that I will post them. I also like to take my pictures in order so that I can retrieve them from my phone picture album in the order that I plan to post them. Having everything ready like that allows you to post all your items in a sale fairly quickly. Because sales are in real time, I don't want my customers to lose interest or be interrupted by something going on in their lives or homes - I want them to see as much as possible of what I'm posting, and if I have to come up with the caption, take the picture, and edit it in the middle of the sale, I run the risk of them having to move on to the next part of their day before I'm done. 
  • Specify any special buying instructions. Most of the time, the rule about claiming/buying an item on Instagram is first-come-first-serve, aka "fast fingers" - the first person to put down their email (you need an email to invoice via PayPal) or otherwise indicate that they wish to purchase wins the right to buy the item. For items that a lot of people want, you must specify beforehand (in the caption of the photo) if you're selling that item with a raffle or OBO (Or Best Offer). In a raffle, you set a price, and everyone who wants to buy it puts down their email. Then you select a winner at random, and they pay you the set price. OBO is more like Ebay - you set a time that the bidding will end and prospective buyers can outbid each other until the time runs up. The winner pays you whatever they bid. 
  • Specify shipping and handling fees. Shops either include shipping in the prices that they list, or add it later. Make sure you prominently display which method you decide to go with (in your policies and/or the info section at the top of your profile). I charge 50c per order to cover what PayPal charges me for using its services and add on exact shipping (by weight) in addition to the prices I list. I always provide people a shipping estimate upon request before they purchase an item. 
  • Sell unlisted items via DM (Direct Messages). This is related to the ISO lists that I covered in the "exposure" section. As I get to know what customers like, I will often sell directly to them via Instagram's private messages without ever publicly posting those items for sale. Particularly with books, I'm often DM-ing people pictures of the inside of books they're inquiring about, and I always ask, "is there anything else you like or are looking for?" Based on their answer, I often suggest books from the boxes that I haven't listed to sell yet and if they buy the books I pick for them, they get a sense of having found a hidden treasure, and I don't have to do the extra work of preparing and listing it to sell. A note about DMs: if you're sending or receiving a DM from someone you've never had a private conversation with before, the receiver must go into their DM inbox and accept your message request. I sometimes fail to see these requests, so make sure you tag that person in public to let them know you're about to send them a DM. 

The 80s never looked so good as they do on that lilac turtleneck. Swoon! I've also fallen in love with psychedelic prints, particularly by the designer Alex Coleman. 

Misc. Tips:
  • Pick a niche style, and stay true to it. I post a variety of items (modern and vintage books, modern and vintage kids clothing, vintage toys, ephemera, vintage home wares, etc.), but I stick to what I like rather than trying to appeal to the masses, and trust that buyers who like my eye will find me. I do buy some things for specific customers, but I don't, for example, sell Little Golden Books or Disney books because I don't like them. Even if I could make a few extra bucks by attracting customers who want those books, I don't have as good of a sense of what to buy in those categories because they don't interest me, and that tends to backfire in terms of profit anyway. 
  • Not all vintage is created equal. Some shops post a LOT of stuff - just about anything vintage. I, on the other hand, am a cautious buyer. I aim to resell most of what I buy, so I don't buy it if I'm on the fence about whether my customers will like it. I also don't want to have to list it and then continue discounting it until someone gives in and buys it for next to nothing. Vintage stuff isn't hard to find once you know what to look for, but some of it is outdated for good reason. 
  • Keep your feed short. Once I've shipped an item that has sold, I delete the photo of it (though I keep a photo on my computer). Buyers do not want to scroll through hundreds (or thousands!) of photos in your feed to see what you have available. The lower an item is on your feed, the less likely it will be seen and subsequently bought. If an item that I've posted hasn't sold after quite some time, I will often take it down and squeeze it in to another sale (perhaps with a new theme!) a few months later. Sometimes sellers do want to keep images posted of what they've sold so that you can get a sense of their eye for style, but if you go this route, I suggest that you at least make collages of "sold" photos and repost them as one new picture to help condense your feed. Some shops even open a separate account for the express purpose of archiving sold items. 
  • Instagram is NOT the place to list truly rare or valuable vintage. Instagram buyers are not the same community that buys from Ebay or even Etsy. People on Instagram expect lower prices - they're in it for the love less than the collectability of an item. Most of the buyers are also poor-ish moms doing this for fun or for spending cash. There's a high turnover for vintage kids clothing (a lot of dibbs-ing and sharing going on) so clothing, especially, sells much faster on Instagram than it does on Etsy, but again, for slightly lower prices. Even if you find an amazing item, no one on Instagram is going to pay you $200 for it. 
  • Lady's clothing is much harder to sell on Instagram. I think this is partly because women's vintage tends to be pricier than children's, but it's also a much finer science. Truly successful women's shops know a lot about vintage clothing history (and trust me, there is a LOT to know), travel frequently to acquire clothing from private estates, meticulously clean, mend, and style items, dress mannequins, take professional photos, etc. Prices tend to reflect all the work that goes in to it and the collectible nature of many of the pieces. It's also much more difficult to find women's vintage that fits a modern women well than it is to find well-fitting children's vintage, which is another reason why I suspect that it's difficult to half-assedly sell women's vintage. 
  • Get to know brands and vintage tags. When I first started this business, I was baffled by how people could tell when thrifting whether something was vintage or not. As it turns out, all you need is a little bit of time to get used it (seeing tons of vintage being sold by others certainly helps). You'll get to know a certain look that vintage tags have, especially the "information" tag you find under the brand tag (narrow and white, almost "papery", with plain black type). Unfortunately, lots of kids vintage no longer has tags, I suspect because some kid didn't like the feel of it on their neck. In that case, you learn to tell by the kinds of fabrics used (synthetic fabrics were much less common back in the day) and the general style. Some kid's vintage tags/brands to look out for are union tags (also in adult clothing), Cinderella, and HealthTex (there are so many more, but I'm blanking at the moment). Buyers love it if and when you can find a vintage piece you're selling in a vintage ad! Handmade clothing is also a good bet - they usually have no tags (or even evidence of one) and the inside seams are prominent - you'll also get to know the look of handmade after a while. As for modern clothing, Tea Collection, Baby Gap (especially certain lines or patterns), some Old Navy, and HandM sell well, among others. There are many higher end brands like Mini Rodini that people go crazy for, though that's a slightly different buying community and you'll probably never find those at a thrift or consignment store!. 
  • Learn the discount days at your area thrift stores, and follow estate sale businesses on facebook (to find out when and where they are and see photo previews of what's inside). If you're intro thrifting for fun, you probably already do this. In my area, the last day of an estate sale often has 50% off everything, even though it's generally picked over by then. I usually get their as early as possible for Estate Sales, but I definitely shop discount days at thrift stores so as to make as much profit as possible when I resell. 
  • Harness the power of the hash tag. Hashtags have two great advantages for shops - advertising and organizing. I use organization hash tags such as #3r_caldecott to note books I post that have won the Caldecott Medal (an award for children's illustration). The hashtag needs to be unique to you, but once you've tagged all the applicable books in your shop, your customers can easily click the hashtag and see all the books that have won the Caldecott. I also check out what hash tags are trending on IG and add them to any photos of mine that are applicable. Finally, I use hash tags in conjunction with giveaways or other shops when we do joint sales. That way shoppers can click a hashtag (such as #tbt_vintagesale) and see what multiple shops have posted under the same category. Again, this is a good way to get crossover traffic from other shops (just don't use a hash tag like that without permission). 
  • Screenshot everything. Not literally everything, but any time you're nervous about something (any arguments that erupt), or promise to do something for someone, or someone else promises to do something for you (you win credit in their shop, or they offer to give you free shipping because they goofed on your order), screenshot it so that you have proof later, if need be. In general, communicate with people as much as possible. If you don't let someone know that it's going to be a few days longer than usual before you can ship their items, for example, let them know sooner rather than later. Most people will just ask you if they're wondering where there stuff is, but sometimes people assume you're a scammer and report you to PayPal. This has never happened to me, but it does happen. If anyone accuses you of something fishy (that DID happen to me), make sure you report your own side of the story to PayPal as well so that you don't look like you're "running from the law". 
  • Transfer money from PayPal into your actual bank account. If you're like me, PP money will easily be spent shopping on IG if it sits in your PP account. To combat this, I transfer money into my actual bank account every time I hit about $100 in PP. I'll transfer $80 out and use the remaining $20 to buy things that I want and pay shipping costs for packages that people have just bought from me. 
  • Live thrifting. Live thrifting is where you let your followers know that you're headed to the thrift store and then you post pictures while you're at the store and buy anything that people claim. It's kind of fun, but ultimately not very profitable for me. I usually will just buy what I think will sell, but I occasionally livethrift items that are cool, but pricier than I would buy normally (I don't want to buy something I'm not sure I can make a profit off of and then have no one buy it). The one disadvantage is that you have to estimate shipping cost on the spot and then stick to your quote, even if you lowballed. It's also a good way to gauge interest if you're trying out some new ideas about merchandise and you're not sure what the response will be and therefore don't want to sink a bunch of money into it right off the bat. 
Packaging and Shipping:
  • Get thyself to Walmart and buy a postage scale. They cost about $20 and mine weighs anything up to 3lbs. When you ship through PayPal, you have to report the exact weight of your package (to the ounce), and then you pay the post office via PP, and print the unique-to-each-package paid shipping label from home. If your package weighs more than 3 pounds, you either have to borrow a bigger scale (or go have it weighed at the post office) OR if there are multiple items in the package, weigh them one at a time and then add it up on paper. That situation is only really applicable for books because you can't ship anything weighing more than a pound from home unless you're shipping with Media Mail (which only applies to books or other media). Also, the scale comes in handy when baking. ;) 
  • When shipping books, weigh before you tape/seal the package! I can't tell you how many times I've built some crazy paper bag parcel packaging for a stack of books, only to realize it's too heavy to weigh in one piece on my scale, have to cut open the package, and do it all over again. I had to tape a reminder to my desk to help me out with this one. BUT make sure you count the weight of the packing material too. 
  • Shipping rates can be really confusing. To start with, you have the option of which service to use. PayPal works with USPS, so I do too. Next, which service within USPS is right for your package? Media Mail? First Class? Priority Mail? I always want to make shipping as affordable as possible for my customers. Media Mail is the clear way to go for books unless you're shipping one paperback or something, in which case you can sometimes send it cheaper using First Class (under one pound). For an easy and thorough breakdown of rates for each type of mail, I rely heavily on this lady's wonderful post. I bookmarked it on both computers that I use and reference it constantly. For larger, non-book, non-clothing packages, flat rate mailers are almost always the best way to go. Flat rate envelopes and boxes come in several shapes and sizes and you can order them from USPS or pick them up at your local post office for FREE. You pay a flat rate to ship in them (starting at $5), regardless of weight. Well, I say flat rate, but it's actually a little bit of a cheaper flat rate if you ship from home using a flat rate package than if you use flat rates at the post office (yippee!). I use flat rate mailers for clothing sometimes, but often, I can fit clothing into a polymailer and still have the package weigh less than a pound (before the 1lb mark, First Class is a better deal than Flat Rate/Priority). 
  • Polymailers are basically plastic bags with a glue seal that you can order from Amazon in multiple sizes. I ship smaller books and objects in these and it's SO nice to have a ready made bag to ship in. For larger books or stacks of books, I usually end up building a package, which takes time. I build packaging out of paper grocery bags, bubble wrap (sometimes), and tape. I HARDCORE recycle packages that I receive when I buy books or other stuff or when family members get something from Amazon in nice (non-box) packaging. Don't even get me started on shipping vinyl records or large format magazines. AHHH. You can buy bubblewrap polymailers too, but they're kind of pricey.
  • You can estimate shipping for larger (or any) items by weight and dimensions using USPS's shipping calculator. Prices may vary depending on where in the US you're shipping to. Shipping in boxes is almost always a bust. The box needs to be big enough that you can affix a label to it, but boxes quickly become too heavy or too large to be efficient in terms of shipping cost. 
  • If you mail from the post office, make sure you get a tracking number (usually on your receipt) and a customs form if you're shipping overseas (I very rarely do). I think you might be able to get a customs form online, but I've never done it. Tracking is included automatically when you ship through PP.

World's best keyring holder, hilarious apron, fantastic quilt that gives me hope for learning to quilt myself, and a crazy cool gumball "machine" just like the one my husband's grandpa made! 

Paypal Details:
PayPal isn't too complicated, and you'll learn the ropes best with a little bit of practice and a little bit of checking it out on your own. There are options to refund customers when necessary (in full or in part), remind customers that they haven't paid their invoice yet, cancel an invoice for someone who hasn't paid and doesn't respond to your prompts, and even get your postage money back if you mess up a shipping label you've already paid for. Those things are all fairly intuitive, so here are the ones that you need to know right away or that might not be as obvious.
  • Invoicing. Congratulations, someone wants to buy your stuff! They'll most likely have claimed an item by commenting on your IG photo with an email address. Within your paypal account, you're going to want to go to Selling Tools - Manage Invoices - Create New Invoice. Just plop their email into the "bill to" section and plug in the item description and price for the item(s) they claimed. Don't forget to add shipping and any notes to the buyer that you may want to include. Hit send, and wait for that cash to roll in! ;) 
  • You can ship any packages from home without an invoice by going to This is perfect for when you need to ship personal packages (like a Christmas gift). 
  • To avoid PayPal fees, you can gift money instead of invoice. I don't like to do this because I think it's dishonest in most cases AND you don't end up with an itemized receipt like you do with an invoice. If you gift someone (or they gift you), they'll have to print a separate label (using /shipnow, above) and then there will be two half paper trails instead of one complete one like you'd have with an invoice. I often need to go back and check that I'm packaging the right items that someone paid for, or make other adjustments, and it's much harder to track those kinds of details without an invoice. 
  • Taxes. PP does require you to submit your Social Security number at some point for tax purposes, but I have yet to go through tax season since working this little business, so I'll have to update this later if it comes to anything. 
  • As I mentioned before, PayPal takes a small percentage off of every dollar you make with their help. Some people just work that fee into their prices, but others (including myself) add up to $1 to each invoice to help absorb that expense (I charge 50c - sometimes that's more than PP is taking off that invoice, sometimes its less).
If you have a shop and just read this (bravo!), did I miss anything important? Do you disagree with anything? If this is your first introduction to selling on IG, is there anything that you still have questions about or are confused about? I'd love to know so that I can fine-tune this guide to be as useful as possible. I hope this is the beginning of something exciting (and profitable!) for you. I love this "job" and I think you will too!

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