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Casual entrepreneurial ideas

One of the easiest ways in which you can earn some extra money is by buying or making a product and selling this for extra profit. At the Univeristy of Exeter, we host an annual Student Craft Market to support students who wish to sell at events and how to start (or how to generate better) online sales. The ideas are all relatively easy and diverse to give you a wide overview into this sector and to provide you with some inspiration on areas you could pursue. If you are considering a start up or another enterprise visit our Enterprise pages for workshops, skill sessions and entrepreneurship modules.

Every year we host a Student Christmas Craft Market with stands hosted by students, posters and marketing designed by students and entertainment from student bands and groups. This is a great opportunity for creative and entrepeneurial students to showcase their skills and crafts and earn money too. We also get a student artist to design the poster each year. 

Applications are open from January to November each year; Our 2021 event will be a virtual craft market.

Craft market stand applications are open to all students and will be advertised shortly.

There are many, many different ways that you can buy or make products to sell both at events and online. There are endless manners and permutations that you can pursue in order to make some extra cash to replace a part-time job and demonstrate your entrepreneurial skills to future employers. The beauty of it is that you do not have to spend a huge amount of time on it, start-up costs are usually small, and it’s relatively easy to make what you’d make by working 1-2 days per week in a shop or restaurant, with the potential to earn much more if you put the work in. 

  • Designing and creating your own posters. Are you good at drawing, painting, photography or creating illustrations on photoshop/illustrator?Then this is one potential avenue for you to explore. You can make your own prints relatively easily and inexpensively, and list these for sale on eBay, Amazon, Etsy and/or your own website. If you try to avoid making them too abstract, you can design them towards a certain category so that they are more likely to appear in search results that buyers look for. For example, you could create prints based on coffee, space, natural scenery, a form of sport like cycling or running, or many other things. This is a fun way to make some extra money and be creative at the same time.
  • Luxury Brand and Antique Hunting. How well do you know your luxury brands and antiques? If you know them well and know what to look for, you can try looking in charity shops or online for bargains. Sometimes people donate items to charity shops or list them online without really knowing what they are or what their value is. If you can find these items, you can make a profit by selling them on. A trick with eBay is to look up an item, and search by ‘newly listed’ and ‘buy it now’, in order to see if anyone has listed an item very cheaply. Alternatively, you can look for items that are about to end. If you are interested in this area, you could think of a few different categories of items and routinely look for those both online and offline. If you are anxious about visiting stores for health reasons, then searching online is a perfectly viable option for this. However, always watch out for scammers and remember that if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.
  • Look for cheap deals on main brand products and sell them on. You can routinely search the web for special offers from large supermarkets or other online retailers, and then buy and sell these items on eBay or Amazon for extra profit. You can sometimes find a popular game, toy, clothing item etc that is 20-50% off its RRP value, and you can buy these and then sell them on. This method is relatively easy but requires some effort to find items that you know will sell and that you can buy in a sufficient quantity to make it worthwhile.
  • Try and source items for a particular niche. You can try and find a niche on a popular type of item and look for a supplier in order to buy and sell these items on. It can be tricky to find a niche that has a decent profit margin, but there are certainly plenty out there so if you spend some time researching ideas you will hopefully find something eventually. For example, if you bought and sold vegan cork wallets from Portugal and could make £3-£8 per sale on eBay selling these items. That would only take 2-4 sales a day to meet your £10/d target. Some categories have a lot of potential niches to explore. Home décor is a particularly good one, as are personal accessories. You can take a look around some websites online and see what other people are doing and whether anything takes your interest, and then spend some time evaluating whether you think the items could be profitable and suitable to you
  • Design your own cards for national festivals and events. In a similar manner to the prints, you could design your own cards and sell these on lots of different websites. You could plan ahead for each upcoming festival or event and create 5-10 new designs for each one and see if you can have any extra money this way. For example, if you see that Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is approaching in a month or two, you could design the cards, look for a company online to print them for you or print them yourself if you can, and then sell them. Many people will be searching for these items, so you will hopefully be able to get a few sales for every major events, and then you can reuse the cards each year.  This allows you to be creative, have unique items to other sellers, and also allows you to maintain an easy supply level which is harder for some of the other ideas.
  • Design your own jewellery or crafts. You can have a look at making your own jewellery or crafts and selling those online. Have a look on Etsy for some inspiration if this idea intrigues you. You can do anything from making and customising stationary sets, to buying earring hooks and adding designs made from all sorts of materials. This idea again allows you to be creative and unique, and possibly allows for quite high profit margins too.

It is important to be aware of the basics of selling, listing and posting items, and then also learn to watch out for scammers, learn about fees and also learn about taxes so you know what will be relevant to you.

Scammers: Unfortunately, lots of these websites are filled with scammers that are looking to take advantage of inexperienced sellers. It might be worthwhile to have a look at some common scams in your category of interest. Make sure that you are always aware of the possibility that someone might not be acting in good faith. If someone ever contacts you unexpectedly and asks to talk to you outside of the platform, such as by providing you with a phone number or email, it is important that you do not do this as most selling platforms will usually forfeit your selling protection rights if you do so. Look through the profiles of any potential buyers if they send you an offer. Look out for things like how many feedback points they have, the quality of written feedback they receive and give, as well as how old their account is. Typically, try and deal with older, more respected accounts to avoid scammers and time wasters, especially when you take any requests or offers from buyers and respond to message.

Fees: It is important to always remember that you will usually have fees to pay for when selling. These are different on each platform, but typically you are charged an insertion fee for listing your item, a fee for selling the item and then you will also be charged a PayPal fee if you use PayPal. The fees are dependent on categories and can be a little bit complicated, so we recommend that you work out your total fees on your platform before committing to buying any products to sell on, then you can work out your profit margin. As a rule of thumb, the total fees are usually somewhere between 7% and 15% of your revenue, depending on which website you use. Each platform works differently, so make sure you learn all about the fee structure and any financial obligations you might be signing up to. Fees are significant consideration for selling on these websites, and can eat into your profit margins, so it is imperative that you know what they are and budget them into your finances.

Taxes: You must bear these in mind. You have to consider that depending on your revenue and profits, there will possibly be action required. To provide a very basic, non-comprehensive outline, you can earn up to £1,000 per year in revenue as your trading allowance where you do not have to submit or do anything, and if you earn more than that you will have to submit a self-assessment if you choose to be self-employed. You will only have to pay tax if you earn over £12,500 in profit for the 2020/21 tax year, in addition to national insurance which is a little more complicated (you can read about it in the guide). If you earn under the thresholds, it is likely you will have to submit the self-assessment but that you will not have to pay anything. Taxes are certainly an added complication, but do not let them put you off as they should not be particularly difficult for simple sole trading businesses. You can view our guide for a little more information, but you can alternatively look online at the government website for a complete overview, or consult an accountant for specific advice, should you need it.

On the whole, it should be quite straightforward and easy if you are planning to set up a simple shop. This is the key takeaway; it’s easy, but just be aware of your obligations.

Avoiding problems 

  • Always make sure that you describe your items properly. If you’re selling anything that’s damaged, always show this clearly in the photos and describe it properly. Customers will almost always return undescribed items, which will just waste time and cost money so make sure that you describe it all as well as you can do. Ensure that you go into lots of detail so they know exactly what they can expect. This will also help you avoid negative feedback, which will hurt your sales.
  • If you have lots of buy it now items, it is generally best to set your listings to instantly payable on eBay.  Lots of buyers with 0 feedback (which are likely fake accounts) commit to buy items but then never pay. This reduces your inventory keeping it from genuine customers, so it is advisable to make any buy it now items instantly payable. There is a box that makes your buy it now items instantly payable, so tick it and then you can avoid people wasting your time.
  • Always avoid dodgy sellers and buyers. If you are looking for bargains to resell, and something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Sometimes sellers will sell products at a huge discount that they do not actually have. Typically, these listings will have generic photo and descriptions, and the seller will not have much feedback. Avoid listings like these, as they likely will not post anything out and you will have to wait weeks to get a refund. Furthermore, make sure any buyers messaging you or sending offers in have got a relatively established account. There may be a genuine buyer with little or no feedback, so you will have to make a judgement call in that case, but in my experience, they usually turn out to be either scammers or time wasters.
  • Be wary of time wasters more generally. Sometimes people will buy, message you, or bid on your items with no intention of paying. If accounts look brand new, have no feedback and write messages with lots of mistakes, they will very frequently be time wasters so simply ignore or block them.
  • It is important to also understand that markets change over time. Sometimes a popular, reliable product will only be popular for a couple of years, or even months and then sales can completely stop. Be wary that you do not necessarily buy huge amounts of inventory so that you will not be stuck with it if the demand drops or if a new competitor emerges with lower prices than you.

Generating extra profit 

  • Consider doubling up on postage. If you include free postage, every time someone buys 2+ of your products you get the amount you allocated towards postage twice whilst only having to pay once. You receive the two margins for each unit, plus the addition postage amount, assuming the second item does not increase the size or weight of the package substantially. If you charge for postage, then most sites will combine them and you will not benefit from this, plus customers prefer to have free postage so it should help you sell more units.
  • Simply try to provide an all-round, great service for all of your customers. This will mean that they provide you with better feedback, and some may even become loyal returning customers who buy from you over the competition. This means that you should always post your items on time, make sure that you answer any questions or problems as soon as possible, and describe your items fully. This will be a good way of ensuring both increased sales and extra profit.
  • You can also look at different ways in which you can bundle your items together. For example, suppose you sell posters, and each poster makes you £1 in profit. If you make a bundle of 5 posters, you can usually save on postage and packaging costs, meaning that for a bundle of 5 you could earn £6 in profit, whilst also trimming down the length of time it takes you to pack and post the smaller items. There are lots of different variations to how you can adapt bundles and packs, but they are certainly worth exploring further as they can be very profitable and require less time and effort than individual units.
  • Try and determine whether it is more profitable for you to deal with volume or high profit margins, and price accordingly. For example, consider selling an item like a wallet. If you charge £30 per wallet, with a £10 profit margin, you may only sell 2 wallets per month making you £20 per month in profit. However, if you charge £20 per wallet and make £2 in profit per order, you might sell 15 wallets per month, making you a profit of £30 instead of £20. This is simplified, but you can have a look at the selling history of your item on eBay by looking at the sold listings page and try and see where the best pricing points might lie for you. The added benefit to the more expensive item is that there is less work, however, if you are happy to work as much as possibly to earn as much as possible then it would make sense to choose a lower price point.

How to generate more sales

  • Consider posting all your items 1st class. You might not like the idea of spending an extra 20p etc per item, however have you ever bought anything just for faster delivery? If a customer does this and you make an extra £5 profit from that one sale, then that would cover 25 items being upgraded to 1st class. This is a matter of balance and you may have to experiment a little to see if it works, but you could encourage extra sales and stand out from your competitors as customers will often buy the item that’s going to arrive the soonest. This will help you have a higher inventory turnover rate and help generate more sales and hopefully more profit too.
  • You can consider paying for sponsorship of your items on eBay, Amazon and Etsy so that you can benefit from extra visibility. Be careful however, and make sure that you understand the fee structures. Amazon and Etsy both have a system where you have to pay every time someone clicks on your ad, even if they do not purchase it. So, in theory you could end up paying £100+ and not have a single sale! eBay is better as they charge a commission only if the item sells. They will charge up to an extra 15% if the item is bought from a sponsored link, however you can choose the rate that you pay which will determine how many times it will appear at the top of search results. You might just have to experiment and research further, depending on your category.
  • Make sure that you answer questions quickly and maintain excellent levels of communication to ensure that customers either return to you or buy your item if they are curious about it. Aim to reply to customers with 24 hours if possible, and 48 hours at most.
  • As a final tip, we would suggest thinking back to an item that you yourself have bought recently. Why did you buy it? What made it stand out from the competition? What was special about it? Think about these questions and your own actions regarding that item when creating your listing and try and replicate the reasons that made it successful. You could also ask your friends and family for some advice on how to make and list items as well as possible, so that they are more likely to sell.

Postage tips

  • If your items are small, fairly low value and under 5mm in depth and 100g in weigh, then they can usually go in a padded envelope and be sent as a 1st or 2nd Large Letter. Depending on your item, it might be easiest for you to simply purchase your stamps in bulk, so that you do not need to go to the post office for every item you post out.
  • Make sure you consider the value of each order, and whether you would be comfortable covering the cost if it goes missing in the post. If someone on eBay claims that they have not received the item and opens a case against you, then eBay will take that money from your PayPal balance and put it on hold until the matter is resolved. This is frustrating but can be avoided if you pay extra money and purchase tracking for your item.
  • It is also important to consider ways in which buyers can scam sellers. As described above, sometimes a buyer will receive the item but claim that they haven’t, so make sure that you are comfortable covering any extra costs or taking the right precautions. Scammers can be more prevalent in certain categories over others. Of course, this varies, and you can find them anywhere, but just make sure you keep aware of any particularly notorious categories. The systems on Etsy and Amazon may be different, but it is always useful to protect yourself with high value items.
  • For supplies, eBay itself is generally the cheapest place to purchase padded envelopes and different box sizes if you are sending larger parcels. Avoid buying boxes at a Post Office, as they charge £4+ for them, when you can buy them for around £1 each (depending on size) online.
  • You can sometimes get old boxes for free from supermarkets and shops, which is good in terms of the environment, and also lowers your postage and packaging costs. If you do this however, there is the added effort of getting the boxes and making sure they’re suitable, so it’s important to work out what is the best option for yourself. If you’re sending a few items here and there, then this might be best. If you are sending tens or hundreds of items out, then it might just be easier to purchase them all online, so it does not become too time consuming.
  • Have a look at online options for postage. You can sometimes find cheaper prices for parcels if your buy them online and print off a label yourself instead of taking them to the shop. You can choose between several companies such as Royal Mail and Hermes and arrange to drop these items off or have them picked up if you have a significant volume of them.


  • If you are sending items out in parcels, make sure that they are securely wrapped and packaged properly. If a buyer claims to have received a damage item, they are usually entitled to be able to send it back with a full refund, which is both a hassle and costs you money. Avoid it by taking the care to make sure that each item has either buffer paper or bubble wrap and is securely packaged so the item cannot become unsecured in transit. If you are posting glass items, or other delicate items, then it is good to take extra precautions. Some delivery companies can handle the boxes in quite a rough manner at times, so making them as secure as possible is your best option to avoid them becoming damaged.