Sunday, 22 December 2013

A New Year's Resolution - My return to paper based productivity.

This year's indulgent forays into the complex world of electronically assisted productivity, seeking a happy hybrid synergy with pen and paper, have been interesting but, ultimately, in vain.

The much anticipated magic carpet ride with Apple's excellent "Reminders" app has been a little bumpy, Google Calendar has made me feel like I'm painting the Forth Bridge, and some gentle perambulations with Evernote and Omnifocus have left me feeling like I'm in the garage far too often, rather than heading down the highway.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these systems, commonly used in business or group environments, and I have enjoyed experimenting with them, but I have found that it has detracted from the subtle pleasure of laying ink onto paper and see my forthcoming early retirement as an opportunity to switch to a totally analogue productivity system, much of it Filofax based.

So, my new year's resolution is to return to paper; for projects, lists, reference, and even my calendar. No more compatibility issues, no more running out of battery power on the train, no more disapproving looks in meetings, and no more awkward "just let me put you on speakerphone whilst I check my diary" moments. But I may still use my iphone as an alarm clock a few times each day.

I'm back on the waggon this coming year, and I'm hauling paper.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Bidding for Filofaxes on Ebay? Here's my guide for improving your chances of success.

Like many Filofax enthusiasts, I've used Ebay to add to my collection from time to time, and I'd like to share with you some of the "strategies" I've used on the world's most popular auction site. So, grab a coffee and read on.


If you are new to buying on eBay, I recommend this technique. In fact it's hardly a technique at all, more of an acceptance of how things work, really. You want that Filofax, you agonise over the possibility of being outbid, you know the clock is ticking inexorably towards the final countdown, you've heard of bidders who "win" actions in the last second but aren't sure how they do it, you bid again and again, before maybe losing out in the final seconds...
Well there is a better way. Have you ever seen the proxy bids being taken by the auctioneer at an auction house?  Just imagine eBay taking your maximum bid, and bidding on your behalf until you either win or are finally outbid. This is exactly what happens when you enter an amount into that box, but with the absolute certainty that eBay will not "take bids off the wall" or "bump the price". If you want that binder, and you are the bidder with the highest "invisible" maximum, then you will win, whether a "sniper" enters the fray in the last few seconds or not. Without doubt, the safest strategy for a new buyer, or for someone who simply doesn't want anything to go wrong in the last few seconds.

Have you ever noticed, in "completed listings" searches, that a buyer has often won an item for next to nothing?  Notwithstanding the need to check postage fees for each item, you can often pick up a bargain by leaving a low bid on several similar items, in the hope that you will be successful at least once. This strategy is often employed by eBay sellers (attempting to resell at a profit), who will target inexperienced eBayers who set their starting price too low commensurate with the number of likely bidders for their item. It may not matter whether they win more than one, so they are able to cast their "net" over a wide area.
If you are a new buyer who just wants to pick up a bargain binder, however, you can use this technique by placing a low bid on your next targeted item as soon as you know you were outbid on the previous one (and there are software packages that allow you to bid automatically on many consecutive items, stopping as soon as you are successful with one of them). Look at the completed listings for the item you are after, list them in price order (using the drop down menu), decide on a maximum proxy bid that is low but has proved to be successful recently, and just submit it and forget about it. There are some sellers who earn a tidy sum employing this method of buying to sell, so do not discount it if you are organised and patient.

Have you noticed how the bid increments work?  They gradually get larger as the bid price rises. If you know what the bid increments are, for any given bid price, you can outbid another bidder in theory by one penny, if you both have the same maximum proxy bid.
You may have noticed that the bid price suddenly changes, from being a uniform figure , to something like x pounds and 53 pence (or whatever your currency is). At that point a bidder has added a few extra pence to their bid, and the odd pence are carried onwards up the bidding scale. If you're not sure how the calculation is made then my advice would be to just be to bid a few pence more than the minimum figure required (and indicated). Risky, if you really want the item, but you may save yourself one bid increment per auction, which all adds up.

When an item is "won" in the dying seconds (and sometimes even the very last second), not only do the unsuccessful bidders feel cheated but the seller often feels cheated too. That's why many sellers will remind buyers of the "danger" of being "sniped" and extolling the best way of "defeating" snipers (submitting the highest proxy bid the bidder can afford, well before the end of the auction). But what if you want to be a sniper too?
From a moral standpoint you have to make your own judgement, but the practice is very common on eBay and a whole industry has grown up around this potentially successful strategy, with dozens of products available to automate the procedure.  It's easy to find one that offers a free trial. If there are several snipers ready to pounce on the same item, each snipers will have set their maximum amount, which will be submitted as a proxy bid to eBay in the normal way, and the only difference is that the bid is submitted automatically as close to the auction's end as possible. The end result is that the bidder, or indeed the sniper, with the highest proxy bid wins and, by definition, the whole point of sniping is to win with a lower bid, so it is by no means certain that you will succeed every time. A useful technique for some buyers, but risky to rely on 3rd party software interaction for that "must have" Filofax.

This isn't poker, but many bidders hold their "cards" close to their chest, so why do you see some bids very early in the life-cycle of an auction?
Consider this situation. An experienced dealer enters an early proxy bid of £150, on an item that may sell for £300, but has a starting price of 99 pence. Several buyers place bids, only to see their bid immediately outbid, in small increments (potentially all the way up to £150). They may give up and start bidding on a similar item elsewhere, which means that (whilst they remain the highest bidder on the second item) they are out of the running on the first item, if they want to ensure they are only bidding on one item at a time. A reduction in bidders, and indeed a reduction in the actual number of bids (since multiple bids make items more visible in certain searches) means a potentially lower final bid price, and the early bidder may enjoy the fruits of their clever strategy.

Consider a another scenario, again involving a very early bid. The seller is inexperienced, and hasn't provided a very good description of his item. An experienced buyer sees this and places a bid, thus immediately preventing the seller from editing his description (the seller can now only "add" information to his original description, which looks messy in my opinion, and maybe in potential bidders' opinions too, perhaps reducing the chances of a high final price. The early bid also removes the "Buy it Now" option, which may be part of the early bidder's plan. The early bird may well catch the worm, or indeed the Filofax.

Oh, how cruel it is to exploit the unwary, but if you didn't do it then someone else surely would. Select your favourite item category, search for items recently listed (using the drop down menu), and select those items with a "Buy it Now" by ticking the appropriate box in the left hand column. And there you have it. Just bypass the bidding completely by using "Buy it Now" to bag those Filofaxes that have, in your opinion, a ridiculously low BIN price. Just do it quick, before some other savvy bidder spots the same item.

If a seller has chosen to allow you to "make an offer", just do it. You don't even have to face the indignation of the seller, since part of your user ID is hidden until the offer is accepted, so give it a try. Remember that you will be entering into a formal agreement, as soon as you make the offer, and the seller could keep you waiting while they consider the situation, maybe leaving you reluctant to bid on another binder until you have an answer from the first seller.

Many buyers who will target sellers, asking if they will take "an offer", and there are many who will say yes, if only they'd thought of offering a "Buy it Now" option. Every Filofax seller has their price, and there's no harm in asking.

Use the "ask seller a question" link and talk business. If they agree, get them to add a "Buy it Now", but before someone places a bid. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, ensure that you conduct your transaction through eBay, to stay within the rules, and remember that the seller can "publish" your suggestion at the bottom of their listing, so keep things polite. Do the deal, but get ready with your finger on the button.

Friday, 25 January 2013

How to sell filofaxes, and other binders, on Ebay.

Following on from Steve's post on the Philofaxy website, about buying filofaxes on Ebay, I thought I'd share my thoughts from the "other side of the fence". In other words, selling filofaxes and other binders on Ebay.  There must be many filofaxes out there, just waiting to be "adopted" by new owners who will lavish the care and attention they deserve.

Whether you're trying to find a new owner for your unwanted binder, or aiming to inspire a vintage filofax renaissance from your spare bedroom, it's not as hard as some may think and, as a former Ebay Platinum power seller, here are my top tips to minimise your effort and maximise your return.


Even if you're only selling a single binder, it pays to keep things neat and tidy, and out of harm's way. Running a disorganised operation may have a detrimental effect on your marriage, probably your sanity, and your home just won't look like a home any more.

Store your filofaxes carefully to avoid causing misalignment of the ring mechanism, blemishes on certain types of leather coating, and unnecessary wear to boxes and other original packaging. Naturally, your storage space needs to free from cigarette smoke, pets, kitchen smells, damp and inquisitive children.


Removing clutter from each pocket makes sense, but be careful when cleaning your binder. Removing dust is one thing, but shipping a filofax that reeks of Nivea is quite another, and who knows what damage can be done with harsh chemicals on modern leather coatings.

Seek advice and, if you're not the original owner, you'll need to remove that well touted exclamation about living in a smoke and pet free home.


Most of you who read this will be fairly clued up about values, but there's plenty of opportunity to create a little added value in your listing by perhaps providing some history behind the brand for buyers, in the same way that Filofax themselves attempt to do. This is particularly relevant if you happen to be listing a vintage binder.

And don't just stop there! Your research could be as detailed as determining a suitable time and date for your auction to end, that doesn't clash with a tv program that proves diverting to your target audience, for example. Skip the research side of things and you'll end up achieving a lower return.

Don't forget that, particularly if you're based in the UK, it may well be worth considering making your filofax available to overseas buyers, so research your shipping options so that you can widen the number of potential bidders for your binder. You will be amazed what a difference it makes to buyer confidence, if you can show that you know what you're doing when it comes to shipping to another country.


Always a tricky one, but this is my advice. If your binder is likely to generate a lot of interest, something you will have determined through diligent research, and you're confident that there is no possibility of your listing being ignored by the multitude, then list as an auction. And list it for a penny - I'm serious!

Why a penny? Because your listing will have more exposure in the early phase of the auction, and will increase the potential number of bids, so triggering alerts for those buyers searching for listings with more than a certain number of those bids. You'll also have a better chance of increasing the number of "watchers", so adding to the potential fun in the final stages.

But if you're selling a binder that is unlikely to get Ebay surfers chomping at the bit then my advice would be to try a "Buy It Now", on the basis that there will always be a chance that someone's desire to indulge in a little retail therapy will get the better of them.

If it doesn't sell then list as an auction, but priced to reflect the fact that you might only attract a handful of bids at best. In this case, try listing at the minimum price you would be happy with, if you only receive one bid.

One thing to remember is that if you list as an auction, with a "Buy It Now" option, that option will disappear when you receive your first bid, so I personally recommend listing as a "Buy It Now" first, if you're not pressed for time.


Again, a tricky one, because you may think that selling in January, when all the post Christmas credit cards start arriving, may be a bad idea, but it's a "numbers game". In other words, if every other seller decides not to list in January, then your purple Maulden could be the only one available, and you just know that someone, somewhere will simply have to buy it.

But, there are a few "guidelines".  When do weekly paid workers get their money?  And when do monthy paid workers get their salaries paid into their bank accounts?  Need I say more?

Try to get into the mind of your target buyer.  When is he or she most likely to be able to spend some of their valuable time perusing Ebay listings.  Think "outside the box"; there may well be an increase in bidding activity amongst women whilst husbands are busy watching the Indy 500 or Superbowl, for example. 


One single, and poorly shot, photo is not going to help you get the best price for your filofax. Even phones take great photos these days, and you can even upload a video to Youtube and embed it in your listing. Look at other listings for inspiration.

Always be honest, pointing out any blemishes in your pics because you can be sure that the new owner of your filofax will be only too keen to let you know if you didn't.


How many sellers do you see who can't be bothered to provide a half decent description of the filofax they're trying to sell? It's important to be clear about the exact specification and condition of the binder. Try to create a description that has the potential to entice bidders into a "bidding war", or to generate the desire to trigger an instant purchase using "Buy it Now".

Pay attention to the title of your listing too. If you have a vintage filofax (and I don't mean a "vintage pink" Maulden or a binder printed with a Union flag), you might like to try the term, "Made in England" and the "code" (eg "4CLF" or "3CL"). These are terms that will give buyers confidence that you know what you're selling.

Describe how you take care in your packing, efficiency in your shipping, and your commitment to resolve any problem that should occur. Invite potential buyers to ask questions, and be prepared to answer them promptly and politely should your invitation be accepted.


Including phrases in your small print, such as "I will not be responsible for items lost in the post" can be the kiss of death for buyers, so make sure you come across as reasonable and honest.

Don't create extra work for yourself by having to answer questions that could have been anticipated (how many times do you see the phrase, "overseas buyers should email for post rates"). If you're going to post overseas, for example, take the time to list the appropriate shipping charges.

Set out your policies clearly and firmly, without sounding aggressive, and ensure that your shipping charges are seen to be fair. Just because you live ten miles from your nearest post office is not an excuse to inflate your rates to account for vehicle running costs, for example.


If you're serious about selling, you have to offer Paypal as a payment method. There's no getting away from it and it's essential for receiving payments from buyers overseas. The protection and convenience it offers buyers means you really need to offer it as your main form of payment.


Customers expect to be kept informed, every step of the way, and this means taking some time to learn how Ebay and Paypal interact with the buyer, and how you can customise the messages that buyers receive.

If a customer emails you with a question, answer them politely and promptly, and remember that other buyers will be looking at your replies.


When packing your filofax, you have the opportunity to show, through attention to detail, a level of service that simply cannot be matched by big retailers, who may use less than adequate packaging. Since filofax buyers will invariably be checking your feedback, to see how previous buyers have rated your packing skills, you can remove their doubts by describing how you pack your items, in detail, to show your customers what a great service they can expect from you.

With particular regard to "empty" binders, you will need to pack between the covers, so that the rings cannot be crushed. Check the postal weight bands and then pack up to the maximum weight for a chosen band without fear of additional charges.  I've always found it surprising that Filofax, who are no doubt keen to ensure that ring mechanisms leave the factory undamaged, seem to be unaware that the way to prevent "ring issues" developing in transit is to realise that two packing pieces added to the paper "fill", sufficient to make the total "stack height" greater than the ring diameter, will almost guarantee complete protection.

I've had some experience behind the scenes with Royal Mail, here in the UK, and I can assure you that parcels do not get a "magic carpet" ride.  Demonstrate to bidders that you know how to get their purchase to their door in one piece and they will bid more.


Don't fall down at the last hurdle. Pay attention to the requested delivery method, the postal charge, the buyer's address, the customs label, and so on.

Consider having some scales at home, so you can weigh your parcel and attach the correct value of stamps or print out a pre-paid shipping label, saving you valuable time in the post office.  The world is full of Ebay sellers who guess, and guess wrong, resulting in confusion for themselves and their customers.

If you do find that you are becoming a small business, enquire about possible shipping discounts in your own country. Here in the UK, for example, the discounts I received when I sold in volume were substantial.


Feedback is one of the reasons behind the success of ebay and buyers value it as a means by which they can judge sellers before parting with their cash. Try to build up some feedback through some purchases if you can, before selling your filofax.

My advice is to always include a thank you note with the shipped item, together with a respectful request for positive feedback or the chance to rectify any problem if the customer is less than delighted with either the item or the service they have received.


It has to be said, doesn't it?  Certainly in the UK, if you are selling an item that you originally bought for personal use, then there is no income tax to pay, even if your item sells for more than the price you originally paid.

But, if you are selling an item that you purchased with the intention to sell on for a profit, income tax is due and you must contact those nice people at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to declare your intent.

HMRC do work with Ebay to help "encourage" Ebay sellers to do the right thing, so make sure you seek advice if you are indeed on a mission to satisfy as many filofax buyers as humanly possible.

Other country's tax affairs, and consequential penalties for transgressors, are available. 


I'll be posting more Ebay tips and maybe a video or two over the next few weeks but, for now, thank you for reading my post.