Everybody has a story. And every person who has an Amazon success story has a lot to share that can help the rest of us move forward. If you’re looking for an inspiring story to show you what’s possible in Amazon private label sales you want to hear this episode. It features Sophie Howard, an international seller who built her Amazon business over her maternity leave and recently sold it for 7 figures. Her goal was to build a hobby business and it swelled into so much more. Find out how Sophie did it and how her story could help you build your business, on this episode of The Amazing Seller.
The amazing true story of a hobby business turned 7 figures within 2 years.
What is your goal for your Amazon business? In other words, what is the REASON you are doing it? It’s got to be about more than just making money. Today’s guest is Sophie Howard, a resident of New Zealand who started her Amazon private label business in order to provide for the lifestyle she and her family wanted. She had two years in which to do it and the results were phenomenal. This episode is going to take you inside Sophie’s product selection, product launch, sales funnel, and so much more. You’re going to be inspired by her tenacity and drive and see how her success could be yours as well.
How Sophie researched her niche – it was an intense process.
As you’ve learned from previous episodes of The Amazing Seller, product and market research is a very necessary part of the private label sales process. If you don’t make a good choice at the beginning you may be stuck with a struggle for the lifetime of the product. Sophie Howard took that very seriously because she not only wanted to have a successful product, she also wanted to be confident that success was around the corner. And successful is exactly what she was, selling her business for 7 figures in just two years. You can hear what Sophie did to research her products and find the very best fit for her products in her market, on this episode.
The power of joining Facebook groups surrounding your product niche.
One of the ways that Sophie did product and market research was to join a number of Facebook groups that were centered around her product niche. She became a familiar face in the groups, asked questions, listened and took part in the conversations going on, and discovered what people who were already highly interested in that market were naturally interested in. She discovered through those relationships where there were gaps in the market that she could fill. If you want to hear the specifics, you can by listening to this great episode.
eCommerce is changing so fast if you don’t enjoy learning you won’t enjoy eCommerce.
Sophie Howard is a great example of the kind of person who does well in the eCommerce space. She’s an avid learner and isn’t afraid to jump in and find out how things work. She believes that you have to be eager to learn or else the eCommerce world will be a source of constant frustration for you – because it’s always changing and will continue to do so. On this episode, you’re going to hear the story of a tenacious, everyday mom who wanted to build a business on Amazon. And you’ll hear how she did it to the tune of 7 figures.
OUTLINE OF THIS EPISODE OF THE AMAZING SELLER
- [0:03] Scott’s introduction to this episode of the podcast!
- [1:35] A few announcements for you to get some free help!
- [3:44] How Sophie got started in private label sales.
- [6:01] How Sophie got the offer for her business and why she took it.
- [10:10] The ideas Sophie had about her business when she started.
- [12:49] What Sophie did to launch and build her product sales.
- [16:54] Sophie’s thoughts about creating an open brand.
- [19:24] The approach to market research Sophie follows to build a new product.
- [24:08] Sophie’s approach to writing emails to her list and following.
- [28:25] Advice for the person just starting out – finding your sweet spot.
- [34:00] How the recent review policies impact Sophie’s approach.
- [37:34] The importance of getting off Amazon and building your own email list.
TRANSCRIPT TAS 303
TAS 303: How Sophie Howard Built and SOLD her Amazon Business for 7 Figures
[00:00:03] Scott: Well hey, hey what’s up everyone! Welcome back to another episode of The Amazing Seller Podcast. This is episode number 303 and today I'm excited to share with you my next guest. Her name is Sophie Howard and she is going to explain to us how she built and sold her Amazon business for seven figures. I'm really excited for you to hear this because whenever we unpack someone's story we always get to learn a little bit of different approach, a little bit of a…
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…different strategy maybe and maybe even an endgame in mind. You may be thinking about building a business not to even exit it right now. Maybe you're just thinking to yourself I just want to build the business. I just want to start earning $100 per day or whatever it is but it is really good I think for all of us to listen to other people’s journeys because you can learn so much through it.
I just did an episode with Chris Shaffer, he interviewed me on my own show on episode 300. If you haven’t heard that you might want to check that out, because it goes to show you that as you're going through different parts of your journey, as you're moving through you're learning and you're evolving and you're pivoting and it's just a great way for you to see that not everyone is going to have the exact same experience. Listening to Sophie's story totally made me aware of that. I was like, “Oh wow. That's interesting on how she stumbled upon this business and this opportunity and what her background was.”
Really excited for you to hear that and hopefully you can pull away some good information, some golden nuggets and make you maybe think a little bit differently in the situation that you're in right now. Now, before we do jump into that interview, I want to remind you a couple things. Number one, we're getting ready to do our first workshop of 2017, the first one that we are going to be doing is the five phases for launching your product on Amazon. If you want to attend that, head over to theamazingseller.com/workshop. That one will be on January 12th and then from there we'll be doing them periodically throughout the upcoming months as well.
[00:02:03] Scott: If you just want to register there whether this is after that date or not definitely head over to theamazingseller.com/workshop and you can see the current one that we're doing. We have another one that we do on product research alone and we have a few other ones that we are going to be doing in the future as well. So definitely go over to theamazingseller.com/workshop. Register for an upcoming workshop. Would love to see you there, hang out with you, answer any questions that you have so definitely go do that.
The last thing I want to remind before we head into today’s interview I did with Sophie is the show notes. If you want to download or read the transcripts you can head over to theamazingseller.com/303 and you'll find all of those over there. Like I said the show notes, the transcripts, any links that we have will be available there at that link, theamazingseller.com/303. All right guys, what do you say? Let's jump into it. Let's go ahead and listen to this awesome amazing interview that I did with Sophie Howard. Enjoy.
[00:03:00] Scott: Well, hey Sophie. Thank you so much for coming on the show. How are you doing?
[00:03:04] Sophie: I'm great. Thanks Scott. Nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:03:08] Scott: This is going to be exciting. You've got a really interesting story. By interesting, exciting. It's really really exciting and you had actually reached out and said that you had an Amazon business that you had sold and you know a thing or two about it and you sold for seven figures which is incredible. Yeah, I wanted to have you on and pick your brain a little bit and see exactly how that all came about and what you've learned through that process and then maybe we can help people through their journey. How does that sound?
[00:03:43] Sophie: That sounds awesome.
[00:03:45] Scott: Yeah. Let's go back a little bit. Why don't you give people a little bit about Sophie and how this whole thing got started and then lead us through where you are today?
[00:03:56] Sophie: Sure. I live in New Zealand which is very close to the Antarctic in the bottom of the south Pacific. A really long way away from many big populations or potential customers. To grow a business here you really need to be online. I had a toddler and just had a baby and was pretty keen not to go back to my day job and was really motivated to make an online business that I could run from home work but I never wanted a little hobby business. From day one it had to replace, more that replace a pretty good salary.
I'd worked for nine years in Tech Transfers so working with the inventors at the University here in the capital city and taking their inventions, getting the patents, finding licensing partners and starting startup companies but it was never quite as much fun because it wasn't my invention or product. It was always a venture capitalist being very serious about them and it wasn’t my menial risk. I tried this really nice exposure to entrepreneurship but I hadn't done my own thing. So I thought that… We getting really, really good maternity leave in New Zealand so I had two years off. And thought if I didn’t start something now I never will and was super motivated and did have a bit of a head start because I'd been involved in these other B2B high tech startups and my employers had been really good to me.
They'd put me through an MBA and I also got sent on a residential course at MIT, the entrepreneurship program there. I had a pretty good start but self-taught when it came to consumer type sales and had no technology type background myself as an ecommerce so that's all, something I started only two and a bit years ago. I did SM3 and was pretty lucky with that first product and it probably was a bit of luck but also I did a course and just could see that that model of buying cheap from China was going to have a limited shelf life, everybody was going to end up at the same product so it was going to be a price war.
[00:05:58] Sophie: I didn't like the idea of going into these competitive top few hundred. Everyone laughs now about the top 300 BSR that fits in the palm of your hand. So I will say down in the I think it was ranked 8,000 or maybe 10,000 searches a month according to merchant words for my first product and I hit $1 million in year one. And it wasn't from China and I still don’t like buying the cheap Chinese stuff, some products I get from China now but I just try to do things a bit differently to the masses and take the lessons and the learnings from these other courses and people's experience that do my own, take on things a bit more than most. So I've had really good fun. Pretty much what my back side off for the last two years. We've had kids and this being family commitments and it’s been nice not being in office but I have put my up suit all in this business so I'm really pleased that it came off and even sold one.
[00:06:57] Scott: Yeah, and I want to hear a little bit more about that. It sounds great like pretty much where I'd like to start is… And just let everyone know like you built a business and you hit seven figures. Is that the business that sold?
[00:07:14] Sophie: Yeah. It was about eighteen months old and I was just doing my year end tax stuff and it was all looking very neat and tidy. I filed everything, all my finances were all in the right place, the numbers. And I've got a friend who's in LA, he's a business broker who I can recommend to anyone who's thinking about selling and I just gave him a call. He's an Australian guy. I just said, what do you think? And I was in business multiples at the moment. I'd actually spoken to him maybe six months earlier and I'd asked him if I ever put my business on the market what are the things I should be doing to increase that valuation when the time comes.
I wasn't definitely going to sell. I just thought a lump sum is a real life changer. It means you can get rid of mortgages, never have to worry about the risk profile of the next things you do. I spoke to my friend and he said, probably a multiple of between two and three, a bit higher if you’ve got good trademarks or consumables and a few other things that make the multiple a bit higher and subscription box is the best or any kind of continued model obviously, you can get a multiple of up to ten because of that huge cash flow is so certain. What I did was started a new business back then. Not the one I sold.
Not the one that was a consumable with a subscription box model and I just kept growing the original Amazon account and that was tracking really well and I had a really good quarter four last year and I had an even better quarter one this year. So so much the end of this year when I did my tax returns, got a valuation done I said, “If we got that I would take it,” and so we put it on the market, we got an offer the next day. Might even have been the same day because of time zone. That was the offer we ended up accepting. It took a few months to close but it was pretty easy so, I've got a VA a lovely girl in Canada who's worked for me from day one pretty much full time.
[00:09:13] Sophie: She had everything sitting there on Dropbox, all the Amazon monthly reports, all the invoices, the trademark documents, all those bits and pieces. But there wasn’t me to stack the paper work for someone to go through it. It's so transparent that if somebody wants to buy an Amazon business and you give them access to and they use permission settings to have a look at the track record and you've got your contracts with suppliers. If you have those other basics in place so I didn't have contracts with suppliers until the broker if we're getting these things in place. So I tightened things up a little bit, got a great offer, it was initially all cash upfront but that got changed a bit in the negotiations but it was still a good lump sum upfront. From a firmly point of view, it's been awesome.
We just bought a new house in the South Island of New Zealand in this beautiful little ski town, it's a resort town up in in the mountains and we moved this Friday and got to pay off the mortgage and seven figures it's not enough to retire for the rest of your life but it certainly changes the game. On Amazon it's really tempting to sort of focus at the product level and transactions that are sort of micro level rather than focusing on building an asset that you can sell and those lump sums are great because you get the cash flow as you go.
But then a lump sum exit is awesome or even a partnership or… you just got more options if your business is a bit broader than just Amazon and just focused on products and just focused on products from China with no IP. If you can pivot to much about what you build, you can have a lot more fun later on I recon.
[00:10:49] Scott: Okay, let's dig into a little bit about you starting that business like from scratch. How do you start like you said you had a little bit of a head start? Where do you get the idea of the business before you even started it? What made you think of what you were going to do and then also what was your strategy to launch it? Did you have to validate on Amazon that there was already sales happening or was it just your like, ‘I'm just going to do something brand new?'
[00:11:21] Sophie: I'm a bit more of a gut feel brand new kind of a girl. I don't like… I sometimes validate some of my ideas using the Jungle Scouts and Merchant Words type tools but I would never ever choose a product by starting with a scan for some criteria on a bit of software. I look at things in the world around me, things I use, trends I see and demographics that I can see as being lucrative sort of areas to mind with the products. I like looking for opportunities where you can bundle a service with a product and I like consumables a lot especially after that statistic around the valuation of a consumables subscription type business versus a normal ecommerce business. That's awesome. I just like the margins of obviously on a service business.
That's a lot of appeal and cash flow is a bit different with Amazon. It's a nice regular cash flow coming in but I bootstrapped everything I've been offered lots of investments and all sorts and I've always just quite liked having my own business I don't have to consult anyone. I can grow it as fast or slowly as I want. Nobody is breathing down my neck. That sort of a personal choice but more about lifestyle really, I just don't want to create another job and be owned by someone else again. That scalability is there. I don't want to hobby projects I want something that's got legs that can go big.
[00:12:48] Scott: Right. Now, but still you're starting and you kind of got this gut feeling and stuff. You're still starting at zero like we all did pretty much. You're starting with, so what do you do? Or what did you do? I know things are different now a little bit depending on what strategy or what plan you had to launch a product but what was your, “Okay, let's get this product to market.” Then how do you start getting the sales velocity?
[00:13:16] Sophie: So back then it was a bit easier and so I chose a product that wasn't from China. It was actually handmade. It was pretty quirky, it was certainly not a mainstream product but I just had a hunch that across all of Amazon customers there’d be enough people there that if I positioned it well and had really good images and really good copy, just doing the basics well I would probably do okay with it. That turned out to be true.
The main thing is a bit boring but just doing the basics well and on Amazon it’s a bit forgiving. You can have a bit of a lucky run if you just sort of timed a product well and which instead of good and bad it can kind of give you a false sense of your own ability because you can get away with not being a great copywriter or not having great images, if there is enough niches and little enough competition to that product. Now, there’s far of those less easy pickings, anything that's less volumes being well picked over those tools, reverse engineering everything you do that's successful. I think you need to really focus on those enduring skills that whether you're selling on Amazon or creating copy for Facebook ads or writing a listing that’s on Shopify not Amazon or you're running a community, whatever it is.
I think some of the really cool skills that I've tried to develop and seem to really transfer well are things like copy writing and really understanding customer psychology. There's a few books. Things like Robert Cialdini’s book called Influence just helps really understand how to get customers to act. You need to really get inside their heads and you can run an Amazon business kind of like an analytical thing without sort of any human behavior and get away with it to some extent. Now you've really got to be much more in tune with being sat customer you've got to be much more focused and it's definitely time to get onto some other platforms and channels.
[00:15:15] Sophie: So it's time to broaden your education skill set because on Amazon you didn't have to have all those other bits of business. You could be insulated from having to learn everything about how to run a business and have luck with the product and have success with the products but the next level up you need to really be able to write well, researched well, have more critical thinking skills and be creative as well if you're trying to launch that initial sales velocity. This is going out to influencers and bloggers now they are not precious bunch. They want to be dealt with in a particular way and it's bit of an art.
Juggling them and choosing them and getting the right ones interested in your products, so being able to pitch is really good skill as well. When I launch products on Amazon they certainly don’t fly off the shelves like they used and so you really have to turn to some other channels. It might be a partnership with a physical retailer or it could be a blogger or an influencer that you work with. Even if you pay them there’s quite a return on investment if you can get in front of a rally targeted audience that's going to love your products. And you can give them promotional discounts and other things to get some velocity but that's been working well going off Amazon. It's time to do that for every product now.
[00:16:37] Scott: I agree with you. If you can align yourself with an influencer and put a face to the brand, that's definitely going to be a leg up on your competition. But let me ask you this, we may not agree on this and that's okay but do you think that there's still for people out there like doing like more like an open brand where they may want to test products to see what will get a response or what's least amount of resistance to get products to market to see before you invest all this in branding and in all of the things that you think that are going to work.
A lot of what I'm hearing you're saying like you have a good intuition and that's good, not everyone has that so you have to go off the numbers and for me it sounds like you have a pretty good like I said you have a good gut feeling and you're pretty smart about that. Not everyone is going to be able to do that and I'm just wondering like what would you say to someone that says to you, “I don’t have all those skills sets”?
[00:17:41] Sophie: I still think Amazon is a really, really good place to do that initial testing because you get really quick feedback. You don't need to invest too much to have a few hundred units in. You can even do some split testing and so I’ll have the same product packaged therefore promoted in a few different ways and keep the winner and drop the rest. I do look at the data a lot once it starts coming in but I don't sort of freeze waiting for data to tell me how to start. Once I'm running a business it's very data driven. When you're getting started, I still think Amazon is probably the single easiest and best place to get going with the products business, private labels. I certainly wouldn't choose something that’s high volume out of China. It’s not hard for those Chinese sellers to get themselves past a point and it starts creeping in.
You need some sort of innovation and you need some consistent branding, it doesn't need to be World Class on day one, it just needs to be the best you can do and it's been well thought through and being kind of the language of the person you're selling to. You've got a certain advantage if you know the demographic and that kind of avatar of who your customer is. Don't write in some sort of cool print fancy overly pushy way. Just write as if you're speaking to them and just try and make that human connection and people want to buy from people so they factor in the features of the products. Really it’s that emotional connection they have with you as a seller and how the products are going to make them feel when they use it and you can do that in a limited space that you have from Amazon. If it works on Amazon, it will definitely work elsewhere as well. Still the best place to get started I think.
[00:19:26] Scott: If you're going to try to go in and understand the market, how do you… I know how I would do it but how would you do that before hand, before you launch or you just launch and wait for what people say about your product or would you look at other brands that are currently selling some more products. How would you go about doing that so you can then speak that language when you don't know anything about that market?
[00:19:48] Sophie: I do quite a lot of research before launching any product. I will go and like all the pages and sign up to newsletters of the big brands and I'll get one of my VA to do something like go through like all the tag lines and the key messages in the big font stuff in their home pages, what at are they saying to connect with this audience? What colors have they got in their color schemes and their logo? The psychology of that is not to sort of be underestimated and I’ll look how active they are on social media. It’s great that you can see is that and big demographic and the industry is just like a dinosaur, there's nobody doing any really, really smart promotional stuff online or their websites are all dreadful. I've got a brand like that now and it's like this horrendously outdated industry.
But a lot of people shopping and the winner who gets that branding right and freshens up that whole sector could do really well so that's the one I'm focused on at the moment. Something is kind of right for disruption you need to study what's already being done and so I'll look at the data on what's selling on Amazon but also look at their own websites. I'll order the competitors' products to sort of see what the buyer experience is like. I'll do a little screen flow of what the checkout is like on their website, what steps they have, what upsells, what down sells, what follow up sequences.
So I do stalk the competition pretty fiercely. Then ordering contains a lot of these products like it's a big investment, you can’t get it wrong. The creative level I’ll have the idea but then I really dive into exactly how am I going to position this and how am I going to compete because I'll not have the deepest pockets but I can be the most nimble with my little team we can change our website in a day, we don't need to go off to some cool print GM to get something signed off by board, we just change the price just by clicking a button or decide that we'll bundle three of those together and do a big pack size or whatever.
[00:21:49] Sophie: Like it’s easy to make changes when you're little and that's the big advantage that we have. So not daunted by taking on big boys in big industries. You do need to do watch what they are doing and see what's working for them. You can even do things like look what's the big conference that that industry has each year. Who's sponsoring that, who are the big companies there and what’s their promise to customers? What are they doing? Like even that charity space support millennials really like to buy from ethical companies. If you can be the only one that's putting something good back into the system, that will get you a really good reward. Something really simple to do, something kind of feel good, doesn’t have to be a huge percentage of you bottom line but it will really grow your reputation as a brand.
[00:22:38] Scott: It sounds like though like you do like a brand. I'm good with that. I believe that that's a great way to too because then people start to buy into the brand. Do you think that having a face to the brand is important or what if you don't have someone's that’s the face of the brand?
[00:22:56] Sophie: None of my products have got a face to the brand. They've all got their own… I’ve probably got four Amazon accounts. Two of them are set with sort of strong independent brands with a plan that you know in 18 months, two years, I'll sell those to some big a player in the industry or to a private equity group or something. They need to live on without me but I'm not sort of… There's something about paying celebrities lots of money, I’m just against it. It's almost like the power balance in that products into the hands of bloggers and influencers is a bit wonky at the moment. Like the power is sort of all with them and their return on investment is very uncertain.
I mean it does work for a lot of brands but when you're little and you don't want to spend a lot of money you can have a lot of trial and error that doesn't pay off. So I make the branding more about the story that you tell about the product, how you create it, how you sell it, your commitment to the customer, the whole process of how they interact with the website and the packaging. Everything like that has to be consistent and high quality but it doesn't need to be me doing a thing in media every week about it or anything like that.
[00:24:09] Scott: Now do you though like when you speak in an email, how would you speak if you were not a face? Are you going to be like not yourself, not Sophie maybe but maybe you're going to be someone that's going to represent the brand so that way there it feels like they are speaking with an individual. How do you attack that?
[00:24:27] Sophie: Well, I would probably be a typical customer for some of my brands. So I write as if I'm emailing a friend, like I just totally love it's not preachy, it's no trying to be too educating, not trying to educate them, it’s not educational sort of style of language. It's just really relaxed. It’s first person as if I was talking to a friend and I just send them a present in the mail and I was just sending a follow up email and I hope they like it and if they’re not happy or anything I can get a refund. Whatever it is I'm just sort of myself and I don't overthink it too much.
[00:25:04] Scott: As far as the messaging of the brand like you said, you have a message of the brand so you just have like a little mission statement or a little back story as to why we decided to create this as the brand as a whole. Is that…?
[00:25:19] Sophie: Yeah, there will be a tagline about the benefit that the customer gets and then and about us it will be about why I chose to get this organic product range rather than a cheaper but or less healthy or less environmentally friendly option and the kind of commitment we have with the suppliers and the way that we work with the supply chain, it's really important. One thing that I make is a point that is quite consistent seems to work well is just there is no middle man so that the final customer is buying straight from the source of the product pretty much.
Then they get that perception of bit of value because they are not paying for something in the middle. They also like to support small businesses or women businesses, whatever it might be. That's a good story to tell that you're a small business and there's no middleman. When you're disrupting a big industry that's one of the real advantages you've got. Everybody else is paying for this hideous retail space and sales teams and big corporate head offices and we don't have any of that overhead so the customers get a better quality product.
[00:26:24] Scott: Yeah. I like that. Even when I've told people how I write emails and I always, whether it's for the podcast or whether it's for any brand that I'm working with, it's always going to be in a personal like one-on-one and I always like to put it in there we are a small business. I always like to put that in there to let people know we are a small business and because of that we are able to be a little bit more personal with you but also to help you and listen to your needs and wants. People have written me back saying how much they love that, that they actually get an email from someone within the company that seems like they are the company versus being the CEO or something.
[00:27:07] Sophie: Yeah.
[00:27:08] Scott: That’s huge.
[00:27:09] Sophie: Yeah and I think that’s the real advantage we have as small business owners and we should use it and just that ability to be nimble and use that, just do a split test for a day, who cares. Change everything on amazon, change it back and there’s some great software to do that, speed testing but even on your websites just try a different packaging also and Tim Ferriss used to recommend doing that, just run some adverts and see what get the most clicks even if you haven’t gotten anything there. Give them a refund and say sorry but actually take the money, pretend you’re going to sell them something to validate it, do some testing.
[00:27:44] Scott: Yeah, actually I read that. That was funny. He did that I think it was with AdWords ad and he drove traffic to an ad like he was going to sell this shirt or something, forget what it was.
[00:27:54] Sophie: Yeah, it was shirt.
[00:27:55] Scott: Was it a shirt? Yeah, it was.
[00:27:58] Sophie: Sailor shirt.
[00:27:59] Scott: Sailor shirt, that’s right and he actually was able to test and validate the ad. The ad copy, the picture, whatever which is really kind of cool. It’s a way to test it and I think with Amazon it makes it even a little bit easier because you can actually put up a product, whether you have one or 1,000 you can still put it up there and see what happens. I think the data within pay-per-click helps us to understand what people are searching for so there’s so much that’s there for us to take advantage of. Okay, let’s dig in a little bit deeper because I know people that are listening are probably wondering, “Okay, this all sounds great and everything. It sounds a little complex but I understand.
We need to be doing all these different things, there’s psychology that goes along with this but I’m just starting.” I’m going to do pretty much what everyone else is doing, not looking at the tools but I always tell people like just be aware. Be aware of the certain people that you are surrounding yourself with and their problems, their passions and the stuff that you’re using at a daily basis or the things you might be struggling with or your parents or whatever and getting these ideas. But then let’s say we get the idea, are you going through and validating at all that there’s numbers there or are you just again randomly saying, “I think that this thing is going to work because there is a need for it?”
[00:29:21] Sophie: I’m probably somewhere in between the two. So I do send validations but if I have a strong hunch those numbers could be wrong… I don’t always trust the tools either.
[00:29:30] Scott: Of course, of course.
[00:29:33] Sophie: Some of their numbers look a bit wonky to me at times and so if I see on say Google trends, I trust that and that is a general thing heading in the right direction and there’s some big demographic data that’s not going to be wrong about ageing populations or obesity or even like the movement towards entrepreneurship, that’s a really big trend at the moment. So I look at those sorts of trends and then I’ll analyze what offerings are out there in the market and then I might validate some of that research with a bit of use of those tools. But then I’ll just get started and try and keep my costs really low.
One of the things when you’re new is you don’t want it to be really stressful and scary and there are some risks for sure but you can also just have a rule with yourself that you’re not going to get in over your head. Like I do this coaching and people often get in touch and they’re just in such a mess like they’re just over invested. They’ve got some meaty product that they haven’t got a hope in selling anywhere and it’s just really sad. They have spent a lot of hard earned money on a completely silly product and there’s no reason you should have a silly product. You might have to make a decision with imperfect information and there is some risk in choosing each product but you don’t want to be getting into debt or in over your head beyond what you can afford to do.
[00:30:53] Scott: Yeah, of course.
[00:30:56] Sophie: Getting started is definitely the hardest step. I think on Amazon there’s plenty of good Amazon courses that teach people how to do the private label selling and that’s a great model for getting started in ecommerce. I think there is a bit of a gap in getting a good well-rounded education as an ecommerce online business owner where on Amazon you don’t need to really do a lot of traffic or conversion stuff particularly well. You can get away with just having an average listing and a good-ish product and do well whereas ones you get off amazon, you start needing a few more skills and a bit more discipline and it won’t suit everyone.
One thing on amazon, everybody can run an Amazon business. There’s various steps, it’s quite linear, there’s kind of one way to do it. A lot of the parameters are fixed for you but if you’re looking to move off Amazon I think it’s really important thing to look at your own strengths and the kind of lifestyle goals you have and your ambitions and kind of build a business that’s beyond Amazon in a way that suits you.
You don’t want to create another job for yourself and you don’t want to be spending all day doing data driven stuff if you’re a creative and you don’t want to be running a big huge empire if you just wanted a nice lifestyle. There’s sort of a sweet spot for everyone and that’s what I’m going to be trying and help people do. Find the growth model that suits them, their strengths, their skills, the type of business they’ve already got and then what are the platforms and channels out there are working well. Getting started is just the hardest bit and that’s where people freeze and I think this time of the year is good.
You can do some soul searching and planning for the year ahead. There’s no shortage of free content, it’s just finding a kind of a way through all that content without losing all your time or getting overwhelmed, just being deliberate about what you want to build and then plugging in the bits of information that you need in order to start and launch that business. Amazon is still the best place I think that I think to get going on day one.
[00:33:07] Scott: Yeah, I think the hardest part is probably just getting started. We talk a lot about that on the podcast and again myself even coaching people, it’s just getting started, getting that momentum and I always look at it like you are going to make mistakes and you are going to learn from those mistakes but until you can actually get moving you’re not going to be able to make those mistakes and not learn those lessons. There’s things we’re going to do, moving forward that we’re going to just question like what we just did. Myself personally I’ve experienced through all my experiences through when I was 20 years old till now, everything I’ve done I’ve learnt from and it’s kind of helped me into that next thing.
Ecommerce, it can be a tricky beast or like you said can narrow it down and go on a channel. I think Amazon is a great channel to start but there’s risk in anything that we do. But like you’re saying minimize the risk, go out there, test it first and then get some of the data and then from there you can decide if it’s something you think that will continue to grow. I think Google trends is a great one too, free tool. You get to see a trend and see how it’s trending up or down or whether it has trends throughout the year that go up and down. These things, just being familiar with the market I think is huge.
One last thing though, before we wrap up here, what do you do right now like if you’re launching a product or you’re coaching someone to launch a product, what’s your strategy to get product basically started, like to get sales rolling? Before, we would do a promotion. I was never a big fan of doing like those hundreds and hundreds of units of promotion to try and get yourself boosted so really this new review change really didn’t affect me or my teachings because I never really was huge of that but it was a part of it. We were trying we give away 100 units over the course of 5 days and maybe you can boost your sales that way. Is there anything that you do or that you recommend people do when they’re getting a product to market?
[00:35:16] Sophie: On Amazon we’re just pretty limited now. Unlike you I did never go for those big review groups. I did it once for one product and I lost a bunch of those reviews as soon as that change hit. I probably launched 400 products and there was this one that I went really aggressively because it was this product that had like three and a half million searches a month. I went out to this review group just to get some traction and never used them before. The girl said, “Oh, your direct competitor they’re doing two and a half thousand units a week and we’re on week six of that.” Interesting times ahead but I got page one. The reviews went, it was a disaster Amazon changed the title. It was my worst experience and it was probably the product that had such good potential and I just wish I hadn’t done it that way. Anyway, lesson learned.
The review thing, never liked it, glad they’re tightening up on it and they’ve been pretty aggressive in the tightening up which is good. That’s leveled the playing field but it also means… I don’t think anybody’s got that I’ve seen anything super smart for an Amazon product launch at the moment. You go out to bloggers, that’s time consuming but those bloggers are going to be getting inundated by Amazon sellers if you are a baby products blog open to doing Amazon reviews, just going to be getting hammered and that messaging credibility of their reviews goes down. Their audience gets a bit sick of all these offers, I don’t know. I do that but really I’m looking to diversify off Amazon.
Amazon will be there and if the listing is good and the keywords are right and the customers like the product and it’s good email follow up to encourage reviews with the wording being just right of course, not asking how to leave review then I think that’s all you can really do on Amazon. Go pretty aggressive with the pay-per-click, cross promote other products you’re already selling and if you’ve been building an email list then obviously that’s the time to get your money’s worth of that effort you’ve put in and all the time building the email list. But really, you can do Facebook ads, drive that traffic across coupon codes through Facebook ads I found works pretty well. You need to be getting off Amazon for any serious aggressive launches now.
[00:37:39] Scott: Yeah, I agree. Honestly I think if you’re going after products that have thousands of reviews I think it’s going to be a really tough road. That’s why I’ve even said that before, even all this review stuff is just find those markets or those products that you’re not going after, like you said, those markets that have a ton of volume but they’re also aggressively doing like black hat stuff which is going to make it a lot harder. I’m a big fan, especially now, I was always before is building your own email list.
That’s going to be the big thing for people in the future and your competition won’t know what happened when you’re able to boost your sales volume at will really. And then you can also direct those people off of Amazon if you want to. I think that’s key and I’m glad that we actually didn’t talk about that but I’m glad that that’s your vision as well because I think it is. I think it’s finding the right products, the right market but controlling the traffic is going to be key. I think that’s a huge one.
[00:38:39] Sophie: Especially those feeds creeping up on Amazon like this last quarter, certainly everybody I work with in coaching in my experience this quarter fall so far has been nothing like last year’s quarter fall. I think I had 88 lightning deals in November last year. I had a ridiculously good month but this year, I’ve been invited to do various promotions and things but they’re not in the same league and a lighting deal last year was this big exclusive, very special event. You didn’t pay for, you were invited. This year it’s a bit different and it kind of benefits Amazon but frankly most of my products I wouldn’t put them in.
Things are changing and you don’t want to be in that hold up situation where Amazon makes a change to some fee and you just gotta suck it up, take it off the bottom line. You want your business to be profitable and those numbers about warehousing costs and other fulfillment channels and getting traffic, I mean those pay-per-click costs are going through the roof now that the reviewer thing’s gone so it might be that tipping point for a lot of people who are at the margins to look at different business models for their business and a good time to sort of reflect on the year that’s been, what they want to achieve in 2017 and maybe it’s time to upscale and diversify now, which I know you’ve been saying a lot on your podcast and a lot of other people are saying too but just making that commitment and getting into that diversification mode.
[00:40:06] Scott: Yeah, and lot of people that have, whether it’s on my Facebook group or other people’s it’s like now that they hear that things are changing that then it just means that this model doesn’t work anymore. That’s the furthest from the truth. We’re selling products to a market so it doesn’t matter, it’s a channel and yes that’s a channel that’s been really good and it still is good. But like you said, it just means you’re going to mean to move your product to different channels and one of those channels can be your own. You have your own sales funnel and lead them through your own website. To me that’s the ultimate. If you can make that profitable then you just turn up the faucet and add more dollars to the ad spend and you can just bring in more sales.
I think you’re spot on and I want to say again thank you for coming on and sharing your experience, your story. I think it’s awesome. I think you’re very, very inspirational to be able to share your story as far as going from someone that just wanted to have a lifestyle, it’s really what it was about for you. It’s what it was for me too. I think figuring out your why, you found that. You wanted to spend more time with your family and your kids and that’s really that a lot of us want. I want to say thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to add for anyone that’s just starting and maybe just let people know where they can get in touch with you?
[00:41:29] Sophie: Sure, so when you’re starting I think just get started. Perfect is the enemy of done is a good line to remember in this game. If you haven’t got any data you can’t make better decisions in the future and you can overanalyze these things to death and just freeze and so go with your instincts. Be sure to validate and do your research but don’t look for a product that’s never been sold before or something that’s too obscure. But you do want to have that avatar, the customer in mind that you can build a brand for. So whether it’s some personal interest type product or just some daily need, just trying to find something where you can find those customers, not just on Amazon. So you can find a Facebook group and market to them and you can join those Facebook groups and see what they’re talking about and what they’re into and who else is marketing to them and doing well with their marketing to them.
That’s where I’d start just validating the customer and looking at statistics about the products themselves. And then to get in touch, I do both one on one coaching and have a members’ group where we do a weekly webinar and keep up to date with what’s happening in the ecommerce, what I’m doing, what I’m testing, what I’m learning, sharing all of that and that’s all through aspiringentrepreneurs.org. I run that from New Zealand and do everything over Skype but travel a lot. I think I went to 20 countries last year and have lots of tripping along the place. Just couple of weeks ago I met one of my coaching fans in China which is a good one.
[00:43:10] Sophie: Just have fun with it and don’t get in over your head, don’t be that person that’s massively in debt for untested startup business. You can take some risk but they don’t need to be things that make it too stressful or too much pressure, just make it fun and if it works scale and if not go back to the drawing board and enjoy the learning. Just have fun with the learning because ecommerce is changing so fast. If you don’t enjoy learning you won’t enjoy ecommerce and you need to just be able to sift through and distill all that information out there and make your own decisions and have confidence in your own ability that you can build a profitable business out of this. You need to have profits and not just be busy. Look for a little niche where you can tell a good story, enjoy building the business and then have something to take home at the end of the day as well.
[00:44:03] Scott: I love it, I love it. I want to thank you so much Sophie for coming on and sharing some of your wisdom, some of your experience and I’m sure our listeners are going to really enjoy this. Just want again to say thank you and I wish you all the best and definitely keep me posted on your progress and we can definitely stay in touch. I appreciate it.
[00:44:24] Sophie: Brilliant, thanks Scott.
[00:44:26] Scott: Okay, so there you have it, another great interview. I love listening to these stories. Like I said in the beginning because I learnt so much just listening to people’s stories and even just the mindset alone as to how people get through certain obstacles, certain situations, what makes someone successful, what makes someone else give up. I just love listening to these stories and hopefully you took away something from this interview or any other interviews for that matter so this way here it can help you move forward in your journey. That’s really what I want for you throughout these different interviews.
I just want to thank Sophie again for coming on. If you want to check her out, check out what’s she’s up to, you can head over to aspiringentrepreneurs.org and I’ll leave a link to the show notes as well or on the show notes for that matter and the transcripts and all of the different bullet points will be there a far as what we discussed and that can be found at theamazingseller.com/303. Again, just one other reminder, we are doing a workshop coming up very, very soon. Actually, January 12th but if you’re listening to this after the 12th we’ll still be doing future workshops so if you want to attend one of those, head over to theamazingseller.com/workshop.
Again, if you’re starting out, just trying to figure out this Amazon space or even just this ecommerce space, these workshops are there for you to be able to give you the full picture and also actionable things to do to actually move you forward. Definitely go check out one of our workshops, theamazingseller.com/workshop totally free and we’ll be there live to hang out with you, answer any question that you have. Again, five phases is the one coming up and then we’ll be doing a product research one in the future so definitely go check that out. And again the show notes, theamazingseller.com/303.
All right guys, that’s it, that’s going to wrap up this episode. Once again, remember, I’m here for you, I believe in you and I am rooting for you but you have to, you have to… Come on say it with me, say it loud, say it proud, come on, you know what I’m going to do here, let’s do it together, let’s go, “Take action.” Have an awesome, amazing day guys and I’ll see you right back here on the next episode.
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- www.AspiringEntrepreneurs.org – Sophie’s website and coaching
- www.TheAmazingSeller.com/300 – Chris’ interview of Scott
- Jungle Scout
- BOOK: Influence
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