The Businesses That eBay Built

This book guides small-business owners through the perils of online retailing.
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For someone who's interested in starting a retail business, I can't think of a more perfect incubator than

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

.

The auction site, now in its 12th year, is the world's most robust online marketplace, serving up more than $44 billion in sales every year. Nearly a quarter of all Internet purchases occur on eBay, and every day a worldwide audience of millions visits the site.

eBay can be credited with creating thousands -- and more likely millions -- of jobs over the last decade by enabling people who once worked for someone else to go into business for themselves. In fact, more than two million Americans supplement their salaries by selling on eBay. Of those, 724,000 draw most, if not all, of their income from their online auction sales.

I've spent the last four years studying the eBay economy and interviewing the people who are driving it. My goal: Teach others how to sell profitably on eBay by following the examples of the site's most successful veterans.

In

The eBay Billionaires' Club: Exclusive Secrets for Building an Even Bigger and More Profitable Online Business

, my second book about eBay and my third about e-commerce, I profile a dozen of eBay's top merchants. Individually, their sales range from six figures to many millions annually. Many of the companies profiled in this book are Titanium PowerSellers -- the eBay equivalent of the Fortune 100. Each business featured in this book is also a member of an exclusive trade association for professional eBay sellers, a group that collectively sells more than $1 billion in merchandise annually and completes 70 million eBay transactions each year.

There are some powerful lessons to be learned from these online entrepreneurs, who are surprisingly candid about their own successes and failures as they built their eBay businesses. Throughout the book, they reveal all -- from how they got started to what techniques they used to grow their businesses into huge Web-based empires. I like to think that their stories in this book provide the blueprint that anyone needs to start selling on eBay and, more importantly, to build a profitable online venture.

Yes, anyone. Even if you've never sold a thing on eBay before. Even if you don't have a lot of money to invest in the business. Even if you don't have any inventory. Even if you're a wet-behind-the-ears college kid. Even if you've worked for 30 years in a completely unrelated field.

How can I make such claims? Because I have examples -- a dozen of them (and actually many more) -- that prove my point.

The entrepreneurs featured in

The eBay Billionaires Club

are a diverse bunch, in terms of business experience and practice, as well as when it comes to what they're selling on eBay.

For example, there's the nurse who gave up her job in a doctor's office to become an antiques dealer on eBay. There's the doctor and his MBA brother-in-law who run eBay's largest books, music and movies store. There's the former teacher who traded his grade book to sell celebrity signatures and memorabilia, some 200,000 at last count, on eBay. There's the third-generation jeweler who moved his family's diamond business online to eBay.

In the end, what they all have in common is that they started small -- and some have decided to stay that way, proving that you don't have to be a big business to do big business on eBay.

Though their paths to success and their business models vary greatly, the members of "The eBay Billionaires' Club" also share another important trait: Their online companies, in addition to generating impressive revenues, are profitable. That's a claim that many American businesses -- both large and small -- can't make.

Aspiring entrepreneurs often are lectured about the obstacles that are standing in the way of their success. Well, that's not the message of my book because that's not the reality of eBay. It's a place where entrepreneurs can thrive.

In this book, I made a conscious decision to focus on small companies of humble beginnings because chances are you'll see yourself in each of these stories, especially if you're just starting out. You'll quickly discover that eBay success really is within your reach, because every person in this book also began at the very bottom and worked their way up the ladder of success. What's more, a number of them have achieved incredible growth in a relatively short period of time, which should motivate you to take action.

Of course, long hours and hard work are requisite. No one who has achieved great success on eBay would ever claim that it's a place to get rich quick.

But eBay is an entrepreneur's gold mine for anyone who is willing to put in the time and the effort to make it so. And it helps to have a veteran prospector -- or in this case, a dozen -- leading the way.

Amy Joyner, an award-winning business and technology reporter, is author of both "The eBay Millionaire" and "The Online Millionaire." Joyner has been covering e-commerce and entrepreneurship for many years, and is a former business reporter for the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. In addition, she is co-author of "Making Dough: The 12 Secret Ingredients of Krispy Kreme's Sweet Success and The Bear Necessities of Business." Joyner has received three Knight Center Fellowships for business, aviation security and military reporting, and has won numerous awards for her writing over the years from such organizations as the Associated Press and North Carolina Press Association. She has been a guest on many radio and TV shows, including appearances on CNN, the BBC, and National Public Radio's "Marketplace."