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#78 Selling an ecommerce business with Coran Woodmass – Part 2

Who would buy my business?

Typically, from about $20k to $2.5mil, you’re looking at individual investors. Above that, from $2.5 to $5 million there is a bit of a black hole because individual investors don’t have that kind of capital. Some do, but it’s rare. Above that $5 million mark your are looking at private equity firms and larger businesses.

Let’s talk about the $20k to $2.5 million. These individual investors’  primary driver is fear of loss. They don’t want to lose their investment. So they are looking for an ROI better that what they would get if they left it in a bank or mutual fund. Within this groups of investors, you have a few different types.

Retirees

Many of the buyers Coran worked with early this year, didn’t know anything about Amazon. They were former business people that have retired and got bored with brick-and-mortar businesses so they started buying up FBA businesses. This type of buyer has business experience, but may not be tech-savvy or have and understanding of online business. They will typically look for a business that have been around longer.

You may need to educate them on how easy it is to run an FBA business compared to something with staff, overhead, or property. You can offer support and virtual hand-holding until they can run the business themselves. You will also want to upfront about everything, good and bad, about your business because if they find something down the road, they will bolt faster than other types of investors. Like we said, they have that fear of loss.


Another thing you’ll want to do is create procedures. Write them out as if it’s for your grandmother. Stuff like writing out how to log in to seller central. If you have staff or contractors that can transfer to the new owners, that would be awesome. Also, if there is opportunity for discounts from your suppliers for larger purchases, have that as well.

Executives

You also have high-paid executives make $100-200k a year and are looking to replace their income so they can live a life of leisure.

Online Entrepreneurs

Another is actual online entrepreneurs and other FBA businesses that may have rolled other businesses for profit. They have a large pool of capital and are looking for a competitive advantage. They will be looking for ways to boost the business’ profit. Not only are they looking to get a better return than the bank, but are also looking to add value.

Should you have an idea of what kind of buyer you want when you start the business?

Keep the buyer types in mind, but don’t build your business around it. You would limit your buyer pool to one particular type. However, it would be very difficult to build your business so narrow as to limit it to one buyer type unless you built a massive business to appeal to private equity.

What are the main things that you would need across all buyers?

Writing procedures will always be a big help. Have your spouse of a friend, that doesn’t know anything about selling on Amazon, follow your procedure and see if they can do it. Get your staff to write procedures about what their doing.

Let’s say you have a business that’s a year old and you need to sell it, what is the best way to go about it? Should you sell to another Amazon business?

We discussed the gold standard before and how you need to have so many products, be defensible, diverse traffic, and age. As you fall short in different categories, that narrows the pool of buyers as well as lowers the value of your business.

As far as selling to another Amazon business, Coran hasn’t done that yet but it’s an interesting idea. Typically a strategic buyer will be willing to pay a premium because they will be looking to apply their expertise to the business and add value. However, most of the FBA businesses Coran deals with tend to struggle with cash-flow and have a hard time keeping up with inventory. So an Amazon business will have to be fairly large in order to have the capital need to make that purchase.

Also, if you open your business up to your competitors, it will give them an inside look into your business with could hurt you in the long-run.

How do you build a sensible barrier so you don’t give inside information to a competitor?

Coran only works with a handful of qualified buyers and sellers at a time. The buyers are legitimate. They have the cash and have typically bought before and if he brings them the right business then he knows they are buying.

The next level down depends on how you advertise your business. If you’re using a broker, you’ll need to talk to them. For Coran, if that initial buyer pool isn’t interested, but it’s still a good business, he go wider and tap into his network of classified sites and other brokers that may have buyers. In that case, they will talk among themselves trying to find buyers for that business. They keep the information out of the public space as much as possible.

How do you make a product more defensible?

One thing that’s helpful is to add more products to a packet. A recent sale he did was where they had twice the amount of items to package, their packaging was great. If you don’t skimp on the packaging and your brand is strong, it adds a layer of protection that someone will have to get past if they want to compete.

Is brand strength important when trying to sell a business?

Absolutely. Unless you can build out 50 or 100 products, which would take a ton of capital, you’ll need every advantage you can get.

Is intellectual property valuable when trying to sell?

Yes. Brand registry on Amazon is great. Having a patent or registered trademarks is very good. A patent is good because while expensive, and won’t increase the multiple that an investor is willing to go for, it will make it more attractive compared to other businesses. If a buyer is looking at three or four businesses they are trying to decide between, this may give you an edge to sway them towards your business.

Pro tip:

Research existing patents on your private label items. Coran spoke of someone that is looking to expand their product line but is now caught up in a patent lawsuit over a very basic item. If you sell your business, the buyer will be liable for the history of every item so they will definitely be looking into any patent infringements prior to buying. Also, if there is a lawsuit while your selling, any possible sales will be over. If is shortly after a sale and there is an earn-out deal, it will complicate things.

Earn-out deal:

When your selling a business with ongoing income, the multiple they paid is linked to that income. Often, to reduce the risk for the buyer, they will offer you 70% or 80% of the purchase price upfront. Then there will be an earn-out, which could mean different things. It might include 90 days of support, in which you help them run the business until they get a handle on it. Sometimes it will be linked to income, which is something Coran tries to avoid. He has seen earn-outs of up to 12 months. They might leave 10% to you in equity in order to keep you involved in running it.

Since you are, potentially, legally involved in the company for 3 to 12 months following the sale, you don’t want to sell something that violates patent laws.

What are the best ways to protect yourself and avoid having patent issues?

Considering the complexity of patents, and patent laws, the best thing you can do would be to hire an attorney that specializes in patents. It will cost money, but when it’s time to sell your business this is the best way to do it.

As an ongoing business there are some tools that can help you do a quick patent search, but noting can compare to hiring an expert.

How do I find a buyer?

The important thing, if you find a buyer, hire a lawyer. You’ll want to protect yourself from any issues.

You can use services like escrow.com. It’s a very popular service when dealing with these types of transactions.

Flippa.com – The downside is that all transactions are public. So you don’t want to use this with an indefensible private label business. Definitely not recommended. They do have a service called deal flow, which is semi-brokerage. The listings can be confidential and you have access to more buyers.

Empireflippers.com – Coran has worked with them in the past and is highly recommended.

There are individual brokers out there. There are websites that have websites listings, but only if you have a lot of time to invest in it.

Coran, admits he may be biased, but he says the best way to go is with a broker. The deal structures can get complicated and you want someone who is going to be personally vested in achieving a successful sale.

Let’s say I have a business that is doing $5000 in EBITDA profit, it’s got 5 customized products but not original design, and had been in business for two years. What kind of multiple will that get?

As far as any FBA sales is concerned, they range from 1-3x EBITDA. With this situation, err on the lower side of things. Probably expect 2x, and you can move up or down from there. Let’s say the products are equal in revenue and you’re getting sales from somewhere other than Amazon. In this scenario you’re looking at 2-2.5x EBITDA; that would translate to about $120,000 – $150,000. In this. we’re talking about USD since most buyers use the US dollar.

How does it work when selling a UK based company to someone in the US?

We only deal in asset sales. So the company is on top of that and what we’re selling is everything underneath that. That would be your products, your brand, you website, your actual inventory, the central seller account, etc.

A sidenote about the seller central account, you can’t sell it outright. What you can do is transfer it to a new owner. Amazon doesn’t like it if you claim to be selling the account. So you just transfer business information, addresses, in the US it would be the EIN etc.

Things can get difficult if it’s a UK seller. Many in the US will be out automatically so it’s easier to just sell it to a buyer in the UK. However, since it’s an asset sell, you can definitely sell to someone in the US. The one thing that can be affected by selling to someone in another country are your suppliers and contractors. You will need to make sure they are comfortable working with someone in a different country. Some may have terms, like 60-90 day terms that might not be transferable. So you will need to work that out with your supplier. This is can be avoided if your selling within the same country. If your supplier is in China or other parts of Asian, they’re used to dealing with foreign companies.

Since it’s more difficult to sell a UK based company, is it viable to build up a UK based business?

Coran is currently speculating in the UK, he’s trying to build connections with buyers in the UK. In his experience, it is very limited since most buyers are in the US. If you want to build a UK business to sell, it will be difficult.

If you have a business that sells in the US and the UK, can you sell all of it or would you need to split it and sell the US business to a US buyer and hang on to the UK wing?

If you have a foothold in the US, even if it’s not the bulk of your sales, it will attract more US buyers so you would want to sell it all together.

What’s working well right now with Amazon businesses that are selling well?

Coran refers back to the gold standard. Being more defensible, have more products that are unique. People are becoming more familiar with the business model and are looking for where you are beyond Amazon.

How do listeners get hold of you or find out more about you?

thefbabroker.com

Make sure to get the toolbox Coran set up exclusively for Amazing FBA listeners at thefbabroker.com/amazing. Also, take advantage of his off to have a one-on-one chat that is only available via this link.

Do you have any parting words of advice for anyone who is considering selling their Amazon business or building one to sell?

Read The Snowball. It’s about Warren Buffet and talks about business and who’s buying and how to be defensible.

#59 Kevin King Part 3 of 3: Expanding your business and the future of Amazon

Kevin King part 3 of 3 show notes 

What’s working best in your business now?

Kevin encourages people to focus on Amazon. It is the biggest platform for online shopping and if you focus on maximizing on Amazon first, it will pay off. People are already there with their credit cards out wanting to buy. Since Amazon is always changing things, you need to keep tweaking your listings to keep up with the changes. You can’t just post your products, sit back, and watch the money roll in. It doesn’t work like that.

Once you maximize on Amazon, what do you do to expand off Amazon?

Kevin is working on getting into some big-box retailers as well has having his own Shopify site. Kevin has also found success using JoeLister. Using this tool is Amazon items are automatically submitted to eBay. Any sales from eBay are sent to Amazon for shipping and sends the customer the tracking number. It’s all automated. It does a relatively small amount of sales, roughly $1000-2000 a month. However, since it is all automated he doesn’t require any additional time and effort to get those sales. It’s free for the first couple listings and after that it’s only $29 a month.

He also has his own branded site to go along with his Shopify site to add legitimacy to his brand. That way if first-time buyers try to look him up they will see that his are valid products. However, these are just tools that support his Amazon business. Again, the main focus should be Amazon.

Another great tool is Amazon Assistant for Firefox.   This is a plug-in for Firefox that allows you to download your reviews from Amazon as well as the video reviews. He then takes those videos and puts them on his YouTube channel and links those back to the product listing.

Kevin has found that Amazon is a great way to refine and improve your products for another stage. He is looking into getting into big-box stores like Sears or Wal-Mart and has been taking feedback from his Amazon customers to make sure his products are at the highest level. The last thing you would want is to get into a big store like Wal-Mart and have a low quality product. You are going to have a lot of returns and the stores aren’t going to want to carry your products anymore. So use the feedback you get from Amazon and tweak and improve your products.

His long-term goals is to create a strong brand in these big-box stores so that he is covered if something happens with Amazon. If you’re looking to make this a full-time job then at some point you will need to expand beyond Amazon because at anytime Amazon could decide to unlist you. Therefore, in order to survive elsewhere, it is important to build a strong brand. Kevin is looking to take his brand to $10 million a year by the end of 2018 and he is well on his way to reaching that goal.

Kevin explained that he doesn’t want to have a huge business with a lot of employees. He tries to take care of as much as he can by himself because bringing on other people will really eat into his bottom-line. So he isn’t a big fan of outsourcing too early. However, many people don’t have the same background and might need help with shipping and freight and will need to rely on outside help.

Kevin is also looking to expand his business into the UK. Once he gets his VAT number he will be ready to test the waters in Europe. Europeans have very similar cultures to that of the US and are just as willing to spend money. The UK has the highest ratio of online shopping to income in the world. That means that they spend more of their money online than anyone else. Plus there are 60-70 million people buying that have similar cultures and buy similar products, so the UK is a great opportunity for expansion.

A big advantage to selling in the UK is that it will be much easier to expand into other parts of Europe. Customers in, let’s say France or Germany, will have the opportunity to have their products shipped from the UK. When his sales reach a certain point, he will have to open accounts in each of these countries, but until that point he can base it all out of the UK.

A word of warning is that you need to make sure that your products can have a high enough margins because your costs may be higher when selling in other countries due to regulation cost, but more importantly, currency exchange rates. For Kevin, he will be buying everything in USD, but selling them in the UK with GBP. If he has a slow moving product and ships 1000 units, it may take him a year to sell through them. In the meantime the pound gets stronger against the dollar and now he’s losing money. For UK sellers, certain political events are having an effect on pricing, e.g. the Brexit.

What can listeners do if they want to get a hold of you, or find out more about you?

Kevin has considered consulting but doesn’t feel strongly about continuing that. He recently offered a free 15 minutes session and got about 30-40 hits on it from all over the world. Over a few days he worked with each of them, looked over their listings and helped them improve. He quickly realized that you can’t do both. You can’t do consulting as well as selling. For Kevin, consulting isn’t scalable. He can’t make money while sleeping unless he makes a course. At the rate Amazon is changing the course will quickly go out of date so he will focus on that. He is considering starting a mastermind group in the future where people can come in for a four hour session but that would be it.

Other than that you can find him on several of the American Amazon FBA groups on Facebook or just look him up on Facebook, Kevin King in Austin, Texas.

What do you see coming in 2016 and 2017 in the future of Amazon?

  • An increase in the cost of pay-per-clicks as more and more people and brands begin to see the value in it.
  • Amazon will likely clean up the catalogue. This has already begun with limitations on titles and bullet points. Kevin believes it will go even further by cracking down on images. You’ll probably see fewer banner ads and such and a heavier enforcement of guidelines.
  • Part of the problem is private-sellers who are both good and bad. Third-party sellers make up more than half of the sales on Amazon which means more money for Amazon. However, you have a lot of products that are the exact same thing just under different names. To address that you might see higher barrier to entry.
  • One such barrier could be a crackdown on UPCs. Rather than buying official UPCs from GS1, sellers are buying duplicates on eBay. So rather than being another seller on the same listing, they put it under a different UPC and have its own listing. So one thing you might see to combat this is to unlist the product if the UPC doesn’t match the database.
  • Another prediction from Kevin is an increase of big brands. Right now these small private sellers are able to compete because the big brands don’t have much focus on Amazon. They have some low-level employee putting generic information on the online store just so they have a presence. One change could be the brands putting more focus on Amazon and having a stronger presence. This could be an opportunity for some sellers. If things aren’t working under their own brand, they could approach these big companies with their experience and offer to handle their Amazon business.

Do you have any final words for Amazon sellers?

If you are willing to work hard, put in the time and dedication, and have a little money to play with, you will succeed. Just stay positive. take your failures as they come; learn from them and get better.

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#55 Amazon Private Label Strategies: Kevin King Interview Part 1 of 3

**WARNING: Contains a bit of swearing &  A Lot of Truth!**  

How did you come to be selling on Amazon?

Entrepreneur since age 4 when resold bubble gum to friends! Not had a job as an employee since age 17.  Direct marketing background not SEO. Sells calendars directly to consumers, also wholesale.

Been selling on Amazon since late 1990s – e.g. old CDs, DVDs etc.

Also in calendar business signed up for Amazon Advantage – media only e.g. CDs, DVDs

In Q4 gets purchase orders. Start of season 3-4 a week; end of season say 1000 a week.

That alone pulls in six figures – and everything else on top of Amazon orders is 100% profit.

So Kevin has seen the power of Amazon grow.

2 years ago he looked into the PL model but didn’t jump on it, which he regrets.

Started doing it May last year – doing some Retail Arbitrage – see how shipping and systems work. He realised RA is too much work and not scaleable. Race to the bottom.

Why do PL?

Calendars are seasonal. He had pay-per-view TV revenue stream but the internet had killed that off. Plus Kevin’s Background matched all the skills needed, including:

developing packaging, product development, online marketing -plus sourcing from China and Korea. So he went for it.

Kevin’s philosophy is to prove a product on Amazon then take them into retail on other channels.

Amazon is the bulk of his revenue. This is problematic long term because they could in theory shut your account down or suspend your best selling product at any point.

Recent example: Amazon wrote to Kevin saying they’re suspending his best selling product because of an image violation. They didn’t even tell Kevin what the violation was!

Kevin worked out it could be cartoons or extra elements in the images that he had put in. So he was able to deal with the issue. But it was a reminder that you’re vulnerable to some robots or some employee doing things by the book.

Where would you get started as a newbie with Product Selection?

How much money do you need to start in Amazon PL?

Product selection depends on how much money you have to start with.

Even Scott Voelker and other people say unrealistic things about how much you need to start. Kevin says you need a lot of money. There are stories of someone who started with $300 and made a lot of money. Some of the stories are untrue, some are true. But what’s missing: five days later that person took a loan from the uncle for $10,000 & 10 days later put $20,000 on the credit card. etc.

It paints a false picture. Some people get lucky, but it’s very rare. It takes a lot of work and a lot of money. If you just want a bit of extra holiday money you could do one of two products. But to make a living demands serious money, determination and hard work. Even Kevin didn’t realise how much money it takes even with his product.

Do you believe in staying in one Amazon category and building a brand? Or do you pick each product on its own merits/just follow the numbers?

In Kevin’s case, he started five brands because he came from a product background so he was a aware  one might not work. So he wanted to increase odds of success.

Launching second product won’t double sales unless it’s just an add-on or extremely complementary. So he’s not so worried about potential complementary sales.

However, if you can, do get them. An example is that Kevin started in the makeup category. The problem was  massive competition because it was easy to get into. Now for example he sells makeup tools instead of makeup itself, and many of those are complementary [cross sales potential].

How do you go about picking products? If you had $5000 to start out but potentially use credit card later?

If it’s capital intensive, what’s your approach to finance?

Kevin will make use of available credits. For example at bankrate.com you can get find credit cards listed. Like City and Chase which will give you know percent balance transfer and also wash purchases for about 15 months

If you have good credit and some good history, there’re other places like a deal struck on deck etc. If you have a pro seller account for a year and the metrics look good, Amazon will offer you a decent rate on loans as well.

How do you differentiate your products on the competition?

In some cases, Kevin sources products that are straight up private label from Ali Baba. But he makes a few changes. Every product has retail packaging.

A lot of people will take the brown box that is given by manufacturer, but customers care about the look of packaging.

Kevin doesn’t do an initial order under 1000 units – if he doesn’t have confidence in the product he won’t buy it. He believes he can sell out over time if it was a dud product. It may take a year and tie up cash but you can sell anything on Amazon in time. So the risk is not that great.

Kevin picked his first product in May 2015 it took two months to get products out but that was okay because he used for long photo shoots and made a really beautiful products and packaging.

Three Product Examples.

Example 1: Product for dogs, just wanted to do it, the research tool said no but Kevin wants to do it anyway. It’s doing well because it’s a great positioning and marketing.

He went to www.upwork.com for CAD design in Argentina which he had sketched on paper.

He went to one factory that messed it up; 2nd factory  however made new moulds.

Kevin rarely has a hijacker because they are original. The only time that ever happens to him is when you sell the products for $0.99 to people who have accounts on review groups. So they probably have 10 accounts and they basically use it today bit of retail arbitrage..

Example 2: Kevin spent $30,000 dollars on creating a mould and tooling. But where the best seller is selling a product for $10, Kevin is doing it for $100. BSR doesn’t matter to Kevin for that reason.

The competitor is making only $1 a sale, Kevin is making $20-$30. Because Kevin has differentiation against the high end to compete, BSR does not matter to him, also at the high end of product quality and price there is less competition.

Example 3: Kevin recently launched another product in the dog space. He did use tools like: ASIN Inspector, Jungle Scout, other tools including Merchant Words and UberSuggest. However, all these tools are just guesses. The only numbers you can totally trust are Amazon ads results.

Again, most of the competition were playing at the low end. They were the equivalent of McDonald’s, whereas he wanted to create a product that was equivalent of the best steak house in town/French chef. It’s a smaller market but enough to make it work.  They were using cheap packaging, where is Kevin created a  kind of cigar box type packaging.

Kevin’s product is twice as expensive as the main competition, and has half the number of products e.g. five treats instead of 20. On Friday it was put up with no promotion. He had 3 sales with no reviews. He started PPC (one sale) but it is already selling at a high price point without it.

Differentiation and going for the High End

Kevin makes sure to be different and go for the high end of the market [less crowded/more profit].

Kevin may sometimes go to Alibaba and source an existing product. However he will add pieces to it change things so it is different.That might be thought of as bundling, but Kevin things it’s bigger than that.  It is about changing things so it is different from the existing products.

He does not go into the model of getting it in fast and then get it shipped. He is in for the long haul, not “get rich quick”. People preach that model but Kevin doesn’t buy that.

Differentiation and building a brand is an end to end process. It is no good skimping on the product or if you have issues, even if the packaging is good, it will still go wrong!

Building on email list from your Amazon customers

If you use a manage by stats, they will take your Amazon customer’s postal address is match them up email addresses. This is not perfect, but 30 to 40% should match up. 

Testing your market and their views on products

Kevin recently send out an email to 100 people on his email list. He had 20 responses and he email he sent out 20 units from his competitors, In plain packaging.

He got great feedback on the pros and cons of different models. He also got the sales copy for his bullet and title. And he knew what was a good product.

Those who raved, he went back to and asked them for reviews. He had up a dead listing for the product said that it could have reviews on. So it actually had eight reviews on it before the product went live.

Reviews – numbers and discounts

It is a myth that you need 50 or hundred or 500 reviews. However, now you really need verified reviews. If you sell it out over 50% discount, it won’t be a “verified” review. Customers are also getting savvy.

Kevin now sorts by verified reviews when he is searching on Amazon, and other Amazon customers are probably starting to do the same.

An example of this is that Kevin got a product that got five stars reviews across the board from giveaways. But after it was used for real, the real reviews went down fast.

How to maximize positive reviews – Email followup tip

Kevin has the first email which does not even offer anything, it contains tips and suggestions and checks. For example if it is a potentially dangerous product, it tells the consumer to be careful when opening it.

The timing of this email is crucial. Assuming that most customers use Prime, they will receive the product two days after ordering. So Kevin times this email to arrive one day off to the order. In other words it is after the order but before they receive the actual product.

He puts the question in the PS: “Why did you choose us?” And offers a free gift if they onto this question. Always put something in the PS if you want someone to read it.

This gives an important psychological insight before they have a product in their hands. From this he can change the listing, bullet points etc. and he gets a lot of verified reviews. About 10% respond. It gives great insight into why they hit the buy button. The product itself can negatively or positively influence them.

You start to see patterns here.

Optimising listing

What are your main points? Photos? Title? Bullet points?

The title is really important. The reviews the second most important thing including a video on page 20 possible. Images are also very important. If somebody’s shopping for a well-known brand, the images not so important. But for private label, they are crucial.

Packaging is also very very important. If you have great packaging, it can help you make sales with the photo of the packaging itself.

An example of improving packaging:  Kevin started with a $1 box. The new box cost $2.20 but he was able to raise the price to $40- $50, his customers didn’t feel ripped off, they felt they were getting a good deal. This is what to aim for.

If you look at high-end products like Apple Samsung, the packaging is absolutely critical especially somewhere as competitive as Amazon. It gives the customer confidence even if it’s not fancy, it can be a couple bucks but the spelling must be good and it must look like something they can get in a retail store. In a retail store if you think about the people by based on packaging anyway.

You can use great packaging in your photos to catch the eye and differentiate your product.

Careful who you listen to

The figure of “ 50% of full price figure to get verified reviews” comes from Kevin’s own testing and people who know what they are saying. 

Kevin warns that some people don’t have a clue are giving advice, in Facebook groups and even some podcasters. Some give great value but a lot of the podcasters don’t have a lot of experience selling. It varies a lot. It’s best to trust the guests are doing the numbers.

[Michael does not claim to be an expert in doing big numbers, which is why these days he focuses more on more on getting in guests who are doing big numbers, and focusing on what they have to say]

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#53 China Sourcing for Amazon: Keep money safe, Quality Control and Freight – with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo – Part 2 of 2

(Part 1 of this interview for more from Manuel)

#53 Manuel Becvar interview – part 2 of 2:

How do you keep your money safe?

When you place order, tell them you’ll send an inspection team when 80% of production is finished, you’ll have to redo the goods and pay for the reinspection, and you’re not getting the rest of the money until the inspection is passed.

So never do 100% upfront payments; always pay 30% upfront, 70% when the goods are passed. 

Even if you just order $1000, please get an inspection; there are companies that will do an inspection with a 20 page report for $100 for one man-day, eg Trigo  if it’s simple. They send someone to factory and send report. 

Others are more like $300 for one man day eg Asian inspection for difficult products like electronics. But no use for say a comb or a brush.

How do you approach Quality Control for electronics particularly? The advice famously is to avoid electronics from China. [I had about 10% defect rate]

Manuel has 17 years’ experience in electronics, knows what certificates are needed and which components to inspect. He doesn’t recommend it as 1st or 2nd product.
But just get certificates, experts in electronics inspection. There is a higher defect rate – Manuel’s is about 4%. Lots of customers just don’t know how to deal with electronics, so they often send it back even though it’s working perfectly.

Is there a way to reduce defect rates?
Take reviews and customer complaints – Speak to supplier – 5/10 of reviews have this issue, can you improve on this? Also speak to inspection company and have them focus on those issues in future inspections.  

But Manuel does all this and still has 4% defect rate. Anything below 5% is okay  in electronics. Above that, consider abandoning the product.

FREIGHT

Air freight vs air courier -what’s the difference?

Air courier means someone like DHL, UPS, Fedex etc. They have special customs clearance channel and they handle the whole process for you. So it’s more expensive. An “All in” solution – where to pick up, where to deliver.

Air freight is same process but it’s usually a logistics company that works with big airlines e.g. China Airlines. There is more paperwork involved and you need to be involved. You need a customs bond, you are the ultimate consignee. You need to know the process.

Manuel has had rates for air courier of $4 /kg and for air freight of $2.30/kg so it can be a $2 difference.

Simplest solution is to ask the supplier about air courier or freight. Or ask their freight forwarder. Give them USA/UK address, tell them you need duties/import taxes upfront.
If supplier has no Freight Forwarder, just look on Alibaba or Google.

If you have to do DDU [Delivered Duty Unpaid], how do you avoid problems?

Suppliers usually have no idea how to deal with freight etc. – they are experts at manufacturing. Manuel works with a Freight Forwarding company DDP [Delivered Duty Paid]-it’s all in. They pick up at factory, they ship it direct to Amazon. He doesn’t get involved in customers clearance or amazon pickup appointments.

In the beginning he had to explain how to book appointments with Amazon.

So you ship direct to Amazon?

Yes. Always directly from China to Amazon warehouse.

What do you do about damage to packaging from Air Freight?

It’s a small %age. Always put a label saying “Fragile, handle with care” – this helps.

How did you train your Freight Forwarder?
They are based in Shenzhen head office. They knew how to deliver to USA -but they had never delivered to Amazon. Manuel chose based on price and helpfulness but had to train them in delivering to Amazon.  He gave them a clear workflow. After 2nd order, no more hiccups. 

So you don’t want someone who doesn’t know about exporting to USA?

True. If you can find someone with great price and knows about delivery to Amazon, even better.  Manuel recommends Dolphin Logistics, based in Shenzhen. Reach out to Manuel if you want more info.

How did you get $2.30/kg air freight price?

$6 for air courier is average. Manuel gets good prices because he ships 28 m3 a month!

To make it simple, give your air freight forwarders a clear business process. Tell them they need to deal with Customs brokers and make appointments with Amazon.

They can set up a Vendor Express account with Amazon to set up appointments (they can’t just turn up at an Amazon warehouse!)

How do you send inventory direct to Amazon from China? I guess you save money with intermediate steps but what are the risks and how to you mitigate them?
Manuel thinks  it can all be done cheaper in China. Get them to put FNSKU barcode on inner packaging, prepare cartons according Amazon requirements e.g. size, send them the shipping labels from Amazon seller central and you’re good to go.

If you have more than 20 cartons, the supplier needs to palletise the boxes in China, otherwise Amazon will give you a hard time!  If you have fewer, it’s okay for Floor Loading.

How else can you speed up your supply chain?

Don’t take care of the details yourself. If you have 10-15 products and have customer service, taking photos, etc etc – outsource everything you can to inexpensive VAs.

Focus on growing your business:  

  • New products
  • Optimising listings. 
  • New eCommerce Channels
  • Retail! Go to local store and ask if they want say 50 units.

Tell us more about expanding business – selling to retailers

Manuel actually started own business selling to retailers (through his time in HK) because he just thought Amazon was another eBay. It’s easier to start on Amazon, built a brand, built a reputation for products then reach out to retailers, DIY stores etc etc to sell wholesale.

Any other tips on the best way to approach retailers?

Start locally. Look into smaller importers that set to big brands at an exhibition & approach local distributors. If you can’t go physically go to exhibitions, go to exhibition websites and check then names of companies that exhibit, check them out and email them!

“My name is X, this is my brand, I’m importing direct from China, are you interested in buying?”
  

Are there other ways other than unique products and high quality to protect your brand against competition?

One thing is to have Amazon brand registry. Other than that, be better in terms of quality. Don’t give the competition grounds to attack you – quality, customer service – try to be an awesome company. Even if first few months not highly profitable, eventually it will pay off.

What is your prediction for competition in the next year or two? How do we protect ourselves?
Manuel had 6 enquiries last month in his sourcing company for a product that everyone is selling! Nobody has any imagination, it seems!

Be unique, have expertise in your product and be creative. Yes, competition is increasing but so is the market – Amazon has 51% of the (USA) online sales. There will always be a customer for [good] products. The USA population is about 300 million people!

CONTACT

How can listeners find out more about you or learn more from you?

Go to importdojo.com – there is a contact us page – or email mail@importdojo.com.

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

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3

#51 Using Amazon Suppliers & Building Quality products with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo – Part 1 of 2

   This episode, #51, is the first of two parts of the interview with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo. Manuel has 11 years’ experience of sourcing in Hong Kong and China and also is an Amazon seller with several product lines live and selling well. 

EPISODE 51 SHOW NOTES

What took you to Hong Kong?

Went there for a 6 month internship  for an Austrian electronics firm in 2005. He was handling sourcing from suppliers. He fell in love with the city and a woman and never left!

He loved the drive and opportunities of Hong Kong. Very expensive but great place to live.

Do you also sell on Amazon?

Yes since August 2014. Also documented launching a whole brand. He currently has 7 products and 10 more coming in the next few months.

He’s focussed on getting after 3-5 categories in different categories. He launched then stopped a few more.  He has several businesses which were more of a priority till now.

What are they?

  1. Selling on amazon
  2. Sourcing company in hong kong for amazon sellers.
  3. A consulting and import course, step by step guide to import from china and sell on amazon but also sell to retail.

He started out with a consumer electronics brand, selling to retailers in Europe under own brand and their own brand, but also now on Amazon. Now Manuel is focussing on his own Amazon business as it is really picking up.

Tell me about stopping a product?

He used to sell smart phone accessories but then the prices got so low there was not much profit. Electronics can be very competitive.

What’s your process for selecting products? What are your selection criteria? Do you go by the numbers of individual products? Or build a brand in a niche?

Manuel is more old fashioned, doesn’t use Jungle Scout or ASIN inspection so much. He subscribes to relevant product websites. newsletters, goes to trade shows. Also looks at Kickstarter and Indigogo for product concepts.

Manuel doesn’t look into creating a huge brand in one category. Tries out one product in a niche e.g. coffee press. If that takes off, build into that niche. If not, don’t go into say grinders, filters etc. 

Coffee press now selling about 20 a day.

How do you  beat the competition?

you need to stand out to beat the competition.  Tries not to copy the competition. This is his approach. Will Tjernlund does copy the competition, but Manuel is more interested in creating unique products and building a brand.

How can we make a product unique in a simple way?

Example 1: Blue tooth speaker-

The sample looked bad, plastic finish, bad sound, packaging horrible. 

The finish rubber instead of plastic was 20 cents more but immediately looked better.  Then looked at components, sound was bad, different driver sounded much better and cost just 50 cents more.  Used photographer to get better photos. 

He turned a $10  product into a $30 product but only cost him $2 more.

Focus on finish, minor improvements etc.

Example 2 – Coffee Press

There are  lots of stainless steel finishes, but no copper finish.  So Manuel had that done and added in extra filters etc.

Look at the little things you can change.

Tell us about working with suppliers. What’s the best way to approach your supplier about this?

Introduce yourself including company presentation –

Create an excel file or word doc about the product- include bullet points, this is where it’s at, this is what i want instead. 

Also point out that if you improve the product, they will make more sales with other customers as well. so they are more willing to make changes with costs.

So you’re not trying to get an exclusive deal with them?

Amazon sellers are mostly a small part of a suppliers’ business. if Manuel does say $10,000 a year he’s a very small fish. that may be 0.5% of their turnover if you work with a big factory (this is true for his own coffee press. They also work with Tesco’s who order $1m a year)

How do you get an exclusive deal for amazon rights?

He has set up an agreement with the Purchase Order which says – “My plan is to order 10,000 units. Are you willing to give me exclusivity for a year. If I don’t reach 5000 units within 6 months, we can cancel this agreement. “

This give Manuel 6 months to figure out if he wants to place more orders and it means the supplier can make more profit too after 6 months. 

Manuel is okay with that because he would have a head start, maybe 100-200 reviews already. It’s okay to have competition. It’s not all about one item only.

Manuel is happy if he can do 6 months of excellent sales on one product. That repays the time and money invested already. 

Greg Mercer was saying if you get 6 months’ head start, you can defend your product against competition. So you agree with that?

Yes, that does work.

Where do you go to look for suppliers?

Manuel has collected over 1000 business cards for suppliers from previous job being a product manager, when he went to China every 2 weeks.

Manuel also works with a lot of trading companies. He will sometimes be willing to pay say 50 cents more and use a trading company, similar to agent. Some of them work as if you are working with factory, for example if factory doesn’t speak English, don’t know about country requirements eg CE (European Union), FCC (USA), FDA (Food & Drug Administration, USA) approval, doesn’t have experience exporting to a country, etc., etc.

So working with a trading company can make a lot of sense.

Alibaba and Global Sources Manuel does use if he can’t find anyone through his network – you can verify and vet the suppliers. You can still vet them by checking their certificates, asking who they work with,  Which markets they export to etc.

For example, If Manuel asks “where do you export to?” and they say, “Middle East” and you want to export to USA, don’t bother. He wants a supplier

It’s also good to know a few names in the industry eg small supermarket or worked with an Amazon seller before. Check business certificate.

What are the big does and don’ts for selecting a supplier? Assuming Alibaba, Global Sources or HKTDC and someone who is new to the process.

There is a lot of filtering you can do. e.g. a microwave on Alibaba, filter by Gold Supplier, trade assurance, 3rd party verification.

You can also filter by region – say 10 different provinces of China.

Let’s say Guangdong have 5000 suppliers and another has just 10. That shows you where the main factories are for this kind of product.

If a region specialises in making those products, they have the resources and the infrastructure.

Say in Jeijung province, with 10 supplier results, they probably don’t specialise in that.

There are many other filters you can use.

Send out enquiries to 10 suppliers. 3 or 4 get back to Manuel with and answer all his to Qs

Email out “vendor profile”,  asking for:

  • 2 customer references for customers
  • markets. Has he exported to this country before?
  • business certificates, and certificates for prods
  • no workers; when company established; annual turnover.
  • do they do R & D? Have their own engineers? how many product lines?

You get a gut feeling after a while.

This is included in import dojo ebook as a downloadable document.

Import Dojo is actually a 60-page book which is a bestseller on Amazon! It is free at the company’s site. 

 What’s next in your process?

Get a soft copy of any certificates needed – prove he has it!

IF that’s okay, then ask for a sample from at least 2-3 suppliers. Same process with all suppliers.  If all samples are equal, go with most responsive/proactive and helpful supplier, even if price is a little higher. Then place an order. 

So you’re okay with higher prices?

They need to make profit too, they work hard. The factory will be business partner, it should be a fair biz relationship. As long as profit is built into your price, it’s fine to pay a little bit more.

If you have individualised products and with good product price, you can afford
If you’re building a brand, if you squeeze in cheap products, it won’t help. 

I guess it depends on whether you have customised products vs. commoditised products sold en masse?

Yes, I’m building a brand, so selling cheap products to make a quick buck is not part of my strategy.

What is the best tip for negotiating on product price once you have verified that the quoted price is in the fair region? Should simple customisations really cost that much more?

There shouldn’t really be a big difference. Unless the supplier has to invest money into a new tool or a new mould. If it’s just a colour difference, it shouldn’t be much.

To find if it’s reasonable, ask at least 3 suppliers for a quote. IF one is way off on price, he’s either incompetent or trying to rip you off!

To contact Manuel, click here for the Import Dojo contact page.

NEXT EPISODE

In Episode #52, Manuel gives details on keeping your money safe, getting quality control for Electronic Products, simple ways to start with Freight, overall process and predictions for the future of Amazon. Stay tuned!

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#50 Product Process, Suppliers, Freight and Amazon Future with Anthony Lee Part 2

NEW PRODUCT PROCESS

So a product jumps out at you from the universe.

Can you talk us through your process with a new product (from selection to re-ordering)?
(from product selection, via supplier selection, freight/supply chain, getting products to Amazon, product launch)

What are your criteria/ numbers?

Look for main KW “The thing that it is” on page 1 – using Jungle Scout, Anthony wants to see at least 60% of sellers doing $15,000 sales each. He wants a handful under 250 reviews. They’ve probably been there under a year, so there’s room for AL to take some market share.

He’ll glance at BSR – a number between 2000-4000 =mid competition. Anthony is confident he can easily get on page 1.

80% of all factories in the world are in China – it has lots of real estate, dedicated to factories. Everything AL sources is located in China.

Next step is to find a supplier using Alibaba, Global Sources,. Global sources is his go to place. HK is an easy place to reach and many of their suppliers go to their trade show. HKDTC (never had much success so far) and Made in China as backups.

Criteria: Gold Supplier for 3 years – they have to pay for that. Make sure they take some kind of secure payment -they’re probably not trying to rip people off.

Send out your enquiry. Ask for samples first – if it’s crap, cost doesn’t matter! 3-4 samples generally.

You pare down – send emails. certain %age come back; ask for samples; certain %age respond.

Whittle down to highest quality then  pit them against each other for quotes.

“I really like your quality and I personally would like to work with you. But my partners would like to work with your rivals because of price.”

ALWAYS make custom modifications. Put logo on product not just package, have the product itself your brand colours. Better for brand and for hijackers etc.

Give them design specs, place a 30% deposit but have them send you a sample of your design.

Use that to check quality and for photos.

How do you deal with Quality control?

Have an inspection co. like Asianinspection or Richforth. Contract them for a man day (unless it’s electronic in which case you might need a week) 300 USD for one man day.

Have it set against a margin of error. So you know it’s good to go before you leave the factory.

You tell the factory they won’t get 70%

You can work with a sourcing agent. It’s just hard to find someone you can trust. Most of them are very much making a deal with the factory and you. Get paid on the front end and the back end. It turns out AL has 15 years’ experience as an importer and AL is now communicating with him. That will help with QC – they can check factory, batch inspection.

The real low tech way/cheap way to do it – find someone on Upwork to go to the factory and send a Skype video or pictures of the production line or products. Have them toggle switches etc.

What are the biggest issues you’ve met with suppliers? What are your best solutions?

AL has been “lucky” but that’s because he has a lot of hoops to jump through before he’l work with them. He’s heard the horror story e.g. sample quality not real quality or jack up prices last minute etc. Not experienced yet.

The best way is to very very thorough about selection process.

What other hoops do you make them jump through?

Communication. How responsive are they? If it takes 2 days to get an email back, am I a priority?

When we get to a certain point, what’s your Skype? how about your mobile/cell phone?

I have them send pictures of the production facility. Because

  1. see the factory. 2. How willing are they to do it?
    The factory is your biz partner – they’d better act like it! If you were gong into  biz with someone in your own country how you would you want them to act?

How do you handle freight? Supplier’s carrier?

How do you deal with inventory management?
It’s a big area of confusion! AL does not have a courier account with DHL etc. because he doesn’t do much air freight. He just uses supplier’s courier account for samples – he  even has a standard template for samples.

For everything else he uses sea freight as it is significantly less expensive. Generally he shipped LTL (Less than a Truckload /LCL (Less than a Container Load) although now mostly 20-40 foot containers.

Because the closest US coast to China is the West coast, and the most common port is Longbeach, he specifically looked for a Freight Forwarder in LA. So that is freighting by sea and delivered the shortest distance. Then he does LTL pickup by Amazon who picks up palletized and labelled units ready to go to Amazon.

SO you’re looking for a one-stop shop for warehousing and freight?

Yes, wanted to make process as easy as possible. They contract with a customs agent to handle the customs clearance. AL just gets an email with the bill. They make it really easy.

An alternative is to use Asia based Freight Forwarders – they get amazing deals on fast boats out of China. So you need to go through the same process.

Amazon decided that everything is going to Moreno CA so West Coast made sense. However, every time they have a strike, his products get stuck. The absolutely best way is to go out and get as many quotes from FF as possible. As lots of questions and get one that will take the time to educate you. One of them might say “Well our clients do it this way” and make a suggestion.

Tell us about inventory management – when a product is selling, what then?

What about “Killing off” products with low sales or low profit?

AL doesn’t yet use inventory management software – doing it manually is a pain. It’s tricky because you base reordering decisions on two weeks’ sales; then you get a spike in sales and you will run out of stock. The other danger is demand drops off instead and you buy too much inventory so you pay high warehousing fees. That’s when supply chain management evolves.

You need to look at warehousing deals so at some point you can bring in whole containers and bring  only a couple of pallets to Amazon.

Every product is seasonal. You need to be in the game before you learn that pattern for a particular product. A store manager might be your first hire – a necessary one if you’re going to have and grow a business based on importing.

When to let go of products?

A lot of people come in thinking they need to make lots of sales or it’s over. If the product is still making you a profit, you should maybe reconsider. Even if it’s only a small amount. If you get 5% return, it’s worthwhile.

What’s your approach to cashflow management?

Al is just starting that conversation – chances are you will run into this soon enough. The solution is not in the system itself. Cash injections become important.

AL’s short term solution has been credit. Will Tjernlund uses Amazon outside of PL to make cash faster – wholesaling ideas are fantastic. When you’re in this business, you’ll make a lot of connections. It could be someone in your local area who doesn’t have product on Amazon or it’s not selling well. You probably have more Amazon experience than they do. SO soft sell – let me help you with this – good way to make extra cash. AL has recently been working out profit share deals with people who want to

Leverage whatever skills you have. A lot of people want this skill but don’t have time to develop. A lot of retailers are on a 36 month contract and paying whether they make sales or not. You could come in with a solution  and make them extra money.

You can work out a wholesale deal. You can do consulting. Whatever comes your way.

Bigger picture

What’s working well right now in your business (that you can reveal)?

Finding great margin deals by establishing relationships with factories and suppliers. Then get on page 1 for main keywords.  AL has one  product only selling 2 a day which will kill it in Q4.

What are the most successful sellers you know doing right now?

One person is leveraging Facebook advertising for both Amazon and Shopify sales.

Either learn an avenue really well, or pay someone else who knows it really well.

Another friend takes advantage of every single offer. Every beta programme they do, she takes it. She’s got someone at amazon who answers her email. She is killing it!

Find an area where you can get visibility for your products and get really good at it.

What do you see coming in terms of changes that we should be thinking about adapting to… In the next year?

Predictions are mostly wrong! But a focus of unique products is coming – we’re in the middle of a Kickstarter crowdfunding craze. SO AL assumes that Amazon will get a lot more of untested unproven concepts coming out. This might be the next generation of sales. The marketplace has proven they like this kind of thing. There will be a lot less competition for those products.

If you have an idea, this will be growing, -there are prototyping companies out there, go for it.

In the next five years, there will be other marketplaces – whatever teenage girls are doing now will become big! App based – right now, teenage girls are buying products on App based programmes like Wish etc, which are basically like eBay

Do you have any parting words of advice?

The most important thing is: understand you are serving a marketplace, a niche, not just selling a product. Treat it like a business – it’s an investment – go at it with a calm pulse, understand that it takes time. The growth curve is never easy, it’s never in a straight line but stick with it.

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right away.

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#49 Amazon market research, credit & margins with Anthony Lee Part 1

How did you come to be selling on Amazon?

Working as a waiter! Not really. AL saw a video on PL on Amazon and that was it!

How come Private Label?

AL was taught only PL and that’s what he’s done. He only knows about wholesale from Will Tjernlund.

Do you sell only on amazon.com or also in the UK and/or Europe?

Currently in the USA. Everyone expands their business in their own way. AL has decided to focus on building off Amazon rather than expand Amazon internationally.


How do you find products?

The “Standard” answer: try to find things that you use. Walk around kitchen/dining room and when you see something that you use, you will able to ID with target demographic because you are in it! (About 2 products found this way). Makes figuring out Customer Avatar much less complex.

Then check the numbers to see if other people are making money with the product. If they check out, go deeper.

The “real answer”: Decide on a Category e.g. kitchen. Then look in the relevant dept at the shops, in your friend’s cupboard – become mindful and the universe will show you a product! [Then check the numbers]

Do you believe in staying in one Amazon category? Or do you pick each product on its own merits/just follow the numbers?

Start with product on own merits. Then plan to expand into the category with your brand.  Then start thinking of the implications – what are complementary products?

How do you deal with the increased competition in the Private Label Amazon market( esp. USA)?

A lot of people look at the competition – there is a lot of “sky is falling” thinking!

The days you could trip over something to make $100K a month are over but that was always going to be short lived. Now it’s just levelling out.

BUT The idea it’s too saturated is silly. More people starting on Amazon leads to new products on Amazon which create new markets – also if you intro a new product, you’re the only seller!

You don’t sell a product and have an Amazon business; you have a physical prods biz and Amazon is just a channel.

Do you use other sales or marketing channels?

Took a while to learn that FBA is the most affordable fulfillment centre. AL spend 6 months looking for alternatives but Amazon is the best!

The next was finding companies to connect Amazon FBA to other channels. AL has put products on Jet – long approval process – eBay templates are being built. Next month going on Sears, Rakatan. Shopify site is nearly up. 

Tell us more about a “Customer Avatar”?

If you sell anything, you always have an ideal customer/target demographic. Person most likely to see, love and buy your product. Focus on them and don’t go broad – you will miss easily sales if your message is too diluted. Focus language- when you’re writing bullets/description e.g. if you sell male enhancement, the language is men “he/him”etc. – refine that ever deeper the more you know your avatar.

Ask” by Ryan Levesque (on Smart Passive Income podcast) uses surveys for this.  Do you do this?

It’s hard to do this because Amazon’s customers are not your customers. But once you have an email list, it’s very powerful, yes. But until you have that, just pay attention to your data.

If you run FB ads, look at the demographics and over time build a picture.

Gender, age range etc. e.g. Baby market – AL started with idea of just mums but gradually got more specific.

Surveying your own audience/buyers really does give you amazing results.

Yes, it is very important who you’re hitting

[Andre Chaperon the email marketing “guru” is obsessed with Customer Avatar].

Dealing with increasing competition – from moderate to tough. How do you deal with this?

Before AL used to say: “Find a product and do it really well.”  Now it’s: “He who has the most SKUs wins”. [SKU=Shelf Keeping Unit, i.e. a product line]

When you start out,   “failing” may be that your listing is buried in page X.  Once you get to the point where you know what you’re doing, “failure”=selling only 5 a day of a product.

But if you have 300 product lines doing 5 sales, that’s a living!

Having a fleshed out catalogue is  great for your brand. if you approach wholesalers you’re better placed. there are many benefits. It’s a very capital intensive approach but all of Amazon products business is capital intensive so you just have to be very intelligent with your product choices of inventory and expansion.

How do you make intelligent choices i.e. use of capital?

Most people come in thinking “If I can make $8000 sales/mo at 45% margin i could quit my job.”

AL says: “Keep your job and reinvest your money for 5 years.”

With a traditional business, you would give it 5-10 years before you give up on it. So why not with Amazon?

It’s a tough sacrifice but if you reinvest everything repeatedly, you’ll really build out your cat and have more options. That and intelligently using credit. Business credit cards are building AL’s credit and opening new SKUs.

Where would you advise using credit and where avoid?

If you can afford to make 3X the minimum payment per month, then using a credit card to expand your brand is okay. So in the end, that won’t hurt your credit. What you do have is new inventory to make new money off. This is a strategy if you have  couple of products doing pretty well.

If you’re starting out, it’s more of a risk. AL did max out 3 credit cards to start because he had no capital. It’s a personal choice. But it’s not a good idea to take out credit for a highly competitive product.

What sort of margin would you aim for in general?

Aim for 50-55%. It never works out that way because of competition and price wars. AL has an average across all SKUs of 36%. But the wiggle room is there now.

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right away.

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#46 Will Tjerlund on Suppliers & Amazon Future Part 2 of 2

Episode #46  Will Tjernlund Interview Part 2 of 2

Suppliers

Many people worry about getting ripped off by a Chinese supplier but it doesn’t make business sense – there is a lot more money to be made selling repeat orders!

What are your main tips for beginners on finding suppliers?

You can find them on Alibaba or via a China Sourcing Agent.
On Alibaba, just make sure they’re a gold supplier and so forth.
If you need peace of mind, Asia Inspection will do a factory inspection for $100.

Have them send pictures of the packaging and product while they are being produced.

Any main dos and don’ts for working with suppliers?

Choose a product that is as simple as possible – that way, it’s hard to mess up making it! A hunk of rubber, wood, plastic. So: very few moving parts, no electronics, hard to break, etc.

Keep it simple! That’s how Will is able to travel the world with a laptop!  Don’t follow weird passions like Robotic toys! Many people overcomplicate Amazon. Don’t try to make it as hard as possible; make it as easy as possible!

How do we make it as simple as possible?

Think of everything that can go wrong. If you can’t think of anything, that’s a good product choice!

Will likes to sell (mostly) to Needs not Wants, e.g., Polka Dot underwear vs. a bolt.

It’s not just about price.  If you sell a 10 inch bolt for $8 instead of $12, most people will buy it because all bolts look the same. They’re not saying “Some day I’m going to buy this 10 inch bolt”!

Also if you need to liquidate such a product, there’s a clear market for it, to reduce your risk.

How can you build profit into that for yourself?
Email the supplier and ask how much would it be for 1000 units of this product?

If they say, $1 a unit landed cost, do some quick math[s]: If selling for $8, paying $3.60 or $4.50 in  fees, so still making $3 each. So for every one dollar invested, he’s getting $3 back.

Do you have a minimum or max selling price?

No it’s more like a timespan to profit ratio. Also it’s about time you’re spending for what return. If you’re spending all day on something with a 15% return, that’s not  as good as something with a 33% return where you simply reorder every 3 months.   


So it comes back to cashflow?
If I gave you £10 million now, could you make $2 m back in a year? Yes! 
If I gave you $500K, could you? No. [But if you returned 20% every 2 months on it, you’d end up with $1.492 million – Michael]

So it’s all about getting cash back as fast as possible.

Compounding interest is the 8th wonder of the world, so you need to take advantage of it!

How do you deal with increasing competition in Amazon Private Label?

As competition grows in a niche, Will sends his products directly to Amazon, and Amazon gets nearly 100% of the Buy Box. The margins are lower but Will gets the sale nearly all the time.

Vendor Express (where you can apply) and Vendor Central (invitation only) are the places that Amazon will do that.

If you have some kind of sales history, Just go to Vendor Express, tell Amazon “I want to sell these items directly to you”, you offer a price, they tell you if they accept that or not-they often will. If they accept, they will start placing Purchase Orders and you sell directly to them.

You’ll have to keep some inventory to hand, [and you’ll have to accept getting paid 59 days in arrears!-Michael]. But if it’s a Private Label product, Amazon will outrank all others for the product for that keyword.

Is that open to everyone?

Vendor Express is – just google it and sign up!

Is that what you do when PL is not viable for profit any more?

It’s not normally a price war – it’s usually if someone else optimises their listing etc. (Private Label sellers) and does giveaways. Will has too many SKU’s to watch any individual listing.

How do you manage 2000 listings?

It’s manageable because Will has only about 20 suppliers. He uses software like Stitch Labs and Restock pro, which will alert him when (according to his presets like lead time) a product line needs restocking. When he has built up a big enough order of products from one supplier, he’ll go to the supplier. Will has good knowledge in his mind of  which suppliers have short or long lead times

Are you literally keeping it all in your head Like a chess game?

Often it’s triggered by writing a cheque. Or you can just go down a checklist by supplier. It doesn’t take long.

If you’re ordering 100 SKUs from one supplier, you can just order say 50 units of each and still fill a container.  So Will gets economies of scale but doesn’t risk much in any individual SKU. Also you’re turning that cash around quickly.  “Cashflow is everything”.

Where do you see the relationship between Amazon and Private Label sellers going over the next year or two?

Competition is growing but a lot of the time the competition are doing the same dumb things! So over the next 2 years, there will still be profit to be made.

Within 5-10 years, for anything that is a semi-commodity, China is just going to sell directly to Amazon. Amazon is opening training centres in China. So you’ll need to stay in low-competition niches and fly below the radar.

What sort of commodity products would that be?

Everything in the top 100 BSR that is not a real US brand name. Shopping on needs will be taken over by Amazon: eg silicon spatula – if Amazon can source it and sell it profitably for $2.99 and PL sellers have to sell at $9.99 to break even, Amazon will win the sale every time and therefore build massive numbers of listings. Amazon Basics is only going to get bigger and bigger.

How do you see yourself dealing with this increasing competition?

Will partly depends on the US brands to keep growing their businesses with their own marketing, product research and sourcing.

If you have 4 SKUs total and one gets de-ranked because a bunch of Chinese sellers come in, you’ve lost 25% of revenue.  Will has his risk much more diversified. Also he can see trends coming from a long way off via his many SKUs. He will be able to pivot at this point if needed.

Will follows the investment principles: Diversify and get cashflow.

How can  people who are starting out take advantage of this?

It’s not one size fits all! That’s why so many courses out there don’t make sense.

If you have $500 [£342] to invest, flip stuff from AliExpress, drop ship or get a second job and save more cash. Will suggests find a successful Amazon seller and work for them for $15 an hour and learn how it works.

$5000 [£3422] to invest is on the border. Will says it’s hard to order just $2500 of stuff from China (you’ll need to keep $2500 in cash). Maybe you can find a small retailer or do some Retail Arbitrage or find a wholesaler who will allow you to drop ship their larger products – eg, a fireplace manufacturer (big, bulky stuff). It’s not quite enough to start a business! 

If you can go to AliExpress, lead times are so much quicker [than on Alibaba] -you can have a  product in your hands within 10 days. If you find something profitable on Alibaba, see if you can air freight it and still make a profit.

If you can invest say $3000 [£2,053] to make $700 back after a month or so, that is a very good start [23%return-Michael].

As you order more, the profit margins will only get bigger over time. The rich get richer on Amazon. The more you sell, the better you rank; the more you sell, the more you can buy, so the price you buy at gets lower and your profit margin gets bigger. As you grow, it gets easier.

$10,000 [£6843] to invest is enough to order from China [by sea]- a $5000 order will get you somewhere – you could Private Label or find a Mom and Pop shop that does say $10m a year in revenue or less (spend half of inventory and keep the cash back).

if you have $50K [£3,4216] to invest, you can just call up wholesalers off the bat and say you have £10K to invest.

Once you get bigger and bigger, it becomes ever more important to save money.  For example, if Will can increase profit by 1% by saving money, when turning over $10m a year, that’s $100,000 extra profit.

At a 20% margin, that would be extra sales of $500K a year to make that profit number up. So it’s a lot easier to make more profit by saving money than extra sales.    

Try to just sell as much as possible as the beginning, but at some point you will need to lower your costs. 

How can people find out more about you, Will?

Email: williamtjernlund@gmail.com

Twitter: @wtjern

Website: www.amzhelp.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjernlund

What is your parting advice for someone wanting to get started?

Don’t go after your passion, go where the cash is. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, more times than not you can liquidate and get your money back. Keep moving forward! 

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

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This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right on yt sentence.

For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is: http:// amazingfba.com/feed/podcast.

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1

#45 Amazon Master Seller Will Tjernlund Part 1 of 2

Episode #45 Show Notes: Will Tjernlund Interview Part 1 of 2

How did you get into Amazon Private Label Selling?

Will’s brother started selling on eBay around 2003 and ordering from Alibaba.  Will was 13 asking million Qs. Aged 16 he did different forms of RA selling on eBay using his dad’s CC! He started selling on Amazon Full Time about 3 years ago.

Where are you at today with Amazon Private Label?

Will has sold $10m in 3 years. He’s outsourced the part where he has to be there. He’s travelling and running his business from his laptop (like Greg Mercer! – see episode #42)

How did you do that?

Some wholesaling from US brands and Canadian brands and Private Label. If he can see a risk free dollar to invest for $1.20 in a couple of months, that’s where he’ll go. Basically he’ll follow the cash! 

How do you know where the cash is?
Two paths
1. People do a bunch of research for 2 months, order a sample, test it, brand it, get logos made, finally get nice packaging, get 2000 units into amazon, give away a few hundred units.

2 Will might call a US based brand, lots of products on Amazon, 100+ reviews but they’re not Prime.

He’ll call them, say, “Your account is not being well run,  so most of your customers have to pay for shipping. We can run it better.”
He’ll order lots of product. He can see if that they sell $50k, he can buy $5000 worth and flip it in 10 days and make $2500 while the other person is still doing their research!

Do you just go after individual keyword opportunities or build a brand?

If you see a wholesale company where say 10 of their 100 SKUs sell like crazy -Will often will Private Label one of those so as to offer the illusion of choice to the customer. But he will sell both the wholesale product and his Private Label product.

So it’s going after a microniche?

If you can take over all the listings on one page, it’s very valuable. Make all the listings individual rather than Parent-Child IF it is a low-competition keyword.

Do you just not bother with Parent-Child relationships?

P-C makes a lot of sense if you’re after a competitive keyword because you’re trying to drive all your sales to one listing. But if you have a low-competition keyword, it makes more sense to own the first page. 

Does that take a lot of capital to invest?

If Will sees that a brand sells $50k a month, the first order was still just $5K to return $7.5K. Then you reinvest for $11K and then keep doing that. Turn the cash around as fast as possible. Go after their hottest sellers and this is much easier. 

Example: One brand Will bought from recently had an average selling price of $150 for its products.

He ordered about 50 of their hottest selling products and sold those out within 5 days.  It’s all about turning your cash as fast as possible.

For those just starting on first product, how can you use this approach?

Fake it till you make it! Find products sold by a wholesaler that  are not being presented properly on Amazon. Make a free one week Shopify store, put in pictures of products and prices. “willsshovelstore.com” and an email.

Email them and say: “We’d love to sell your products. I’m looking to Place an order for $5000 right now. “ If it’s a $5m company,  that’s over 1% of revenue so you’re a salesman’s dream.

Then on to the next?

Yes! You cut so much BS out: creating the UPC, photos, listing creation etc. because they already exist! So you just accept products in, send them back out to Amazon and then move on to the next brand.

If Will calls the brand and spends 2 hours on the phone and ends up making $40,000 profit in a year, that’s $20,000 an hour income!

He’s not wasting his time building a brand. Getting cash in, not spending 2 months to make a logo.

Michael made a similar mistake starting out, which took 5 months to go live. The competition goes crazy, you don’t know if it will sell out- it’s all risk, little reward. Will takes little risks and gets rewarded multiple times: the aim is to make 20% return 6 times a year[=around 300% annual ROI- Michael] instead of trying to find one home-run product that will make you a million a year. 

It’s a lot easier to sell  1000 products once a day than 1 product 1000 times a day.

Isn’t the downside of that getting cash tied up in inventory?

So just order a week’s worth of inventory. A lot of US brands will have just 3-10 day lead times. 

So a really different model than everyone is teaching?

It’s hard to teach Amazon in general because everyone has different education, cash, cash flow, they have different responsibilities in life…it’s hard to write one course that suits everyone.

Are you basically saying you would do wholesale first and Private Label afterwards?

More times than not, it’s super obvious. Say Will buys a product from a wholesaler for $40 and they want him to sell it for $150. If there’s that much margin, it must be bought from manufacturer for $10-15. Will goes Alibaba and confirms his suspicions. Then he’ll source it and sell a Private Label version for half the price. A lot of the time, customers want the half price product as much as the named brand version. So you’re selling it on price not brand.

For those just starting on first product, should they go for wholesale or Private Label (ie look on Alibaba etc.)?

Alibaba can be great, Will advises going after the lower-competition products. If you’re making $10 profit and selling 10 a day, that’s amazing, that’s $36K a year.

It’s so much easier to go after a lower competition product than after a product selling $50K a month. A lot of the time they are being sold by someone making a loss to keep the competition at bay. 

Will likes to see one listing with 300-400 reviews (shows demand) and lots of listing under it with 20-40 reviews (competition is low). With giveaways Will can get that number very fast and get the 2nd Place spot. The 2nd listing down can sell as many as the 1st. The 1st may just have been there longer.

What are the biggest problems you see with people launching their own Amazon business?

Just not getting started in the first Place! Analysis Paralysis on research.  Working on the business without making cash.

The other thing is cashflow. If they have $5K to invest, they order $5K of product, that means they don’t have enough cash to order new inventory before running out of stock. If they have a 30 day lead time, and invested all their cash in inventory, selling too much too quickly can be a problem.

What’s the solution?

The solution is to only put half of your investment cash into any order.

For example, Will and his brother ordered a container of knee scooters for $40K. That was 210 units.  The lead time was 60 days from ordering to in stock at Amazon.

On the first day, they sold 7 units. If you do the maths, that means 210 units would sell out in 30 days (no. units/units sold per day)  So they had to go back to the supplier that week and place another $40K order.

 If you only had $40K in the first Place, you’d have to wait until you’d sold ¾ of your inventory before placing an order, which means you would be out of stock for 2 months.  If you sell 20 units on the first day, do your multiplication!

While generally taking out a loan to start an Amazon business is not good, when you have proven sales, and you need to get back in stock, this is a good time to get a loan from family or friends.

Will has been talking to private equity firms who want to lend to Amazon businesses because they love proven cash-producing products because they are tired of investing billions in startups with no turnover!

What are the other big mistakes do people make when launching their products?

Not thinking through:

  1. How will you get on page 1?
  2. How will you stand out? What will make the customer buy your product over someone else’s?

Will will often do it via price but also it can be being differentiated. 

What are others tips on differentiation?
Size – if everyone is selling a 10” pan, sell a 6″ or 12” each

Colour – If everyone is selling a black product, sell a pink one. Even if the demand is lower.

Will sometimes stands over his mother’s  shoulder to observe her buying style.
She doesn’t really care about 3 vs 5 bullet points,  she doesn’t know about all the reviews- she’s not in an Amazon bubble! She takes about 2 seconds before hitting the one-click checkout button.

You need to stand out quickly via something visual – people aren’t interested in reading text. 

What other big mistakes do sellers make?

That’s about it. Either sellers  don’t have enough cash or they try to sell a product they can’t rank for. There are few other problems. Getting ripped off by a Chinese supplier is very very rare- but Will gets many emails saying “I sourced this super competitive product and I have 5000 units, what should I do?”

If you recognise you’ve got into an over-competitive product, there isn’t much you can do. You could try giving out lots of units and spiking the sales rank but otherwise, sell them as a job lot on eBay! 

You should have started smaller or tested demand some other way. So the mistake has already been made.

Be “Young Dumb and Stupid” – a lot of smart people try to over-complicate Amazon – just sell a good product at a good price, then move on to the next one.

The biggest things to differentiate yourself are product selection and good cashflow management. 

Will listens to no Amazon podcasts and instead reads general business books and applies general business principles to the Amazon model and it “turns out pretty decent” [$10m in sales!]

How can people contact you, Will?

Email: williamtjernlund@gmail.com
Twitter: @wtjern
Website: www.amzhelp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjernlund

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right on yt sentence.

For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is: http:// amazingfba.com/feed/podcast.

For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of this page.

If you have any queries, just go to www.amazingfba.com/ask

 

1

#42 Amazon Product Research with Greg Mercer of Jungle Scout Part 1 of 2 [REPOST}

Episode #42: Greg Mercer of Jungle Scout Interview (Product Research – PART ONE)

(Note: all links to Jungle Scouts are affiliate links).

How did you come to be selling on Amazon? & Why Private Label?

Greg started with a day job as a civil engineer. About 3 years ago, he started buying items wholesale and sold them on Amazon. As that got more competitive, he switched to Private Label products.

What is difference between Private Label vs. Wholesale model? 

Wholesale: buy welk known brands from wholesaler, then sell on existing listings and rotate through the buy box, which is normally about the lowest price. 3 years ago that was okay, but it became very competitive.

With PL, you own the listing;  since it is your product, you can justify work getting reviews, nice photos etc. Greg never did the Retail Arbitrage (RA) model because it is not scalable. Greg was looking for a system, not exchanging hours for dollars

Why develop Jungle Scout?

The biggest bottle neck in Greg’s business was finding more products. At one point he had a team of 8 VAs in the Philippines who would look at ideas, fill out a spreadsheet. This is when he created the Jungle Scout Chrome extension is the same as the VAs – instead of 30 minutes, it takes 2 seconds.

Greg was trying to scale fast, so with a list of 200 keywords, one person (VA) could only get through 20 a day.

What is Jungle Scout and how do you use it?

Two tools: Chrome extension and Web App. (Chrome is a free browser you can download)

Extension integrates into browser – look on Amazon, click on JS button – pop gives you the relevant data to make decisions on products or sales. Data like price, how much you nett after fees.

Web App: Web based software that runs on the Jungle Scout website. It has several features – the most popular is the product Dat abase. It’s a rebuild of Amazon’s catalogue  for Sellers, rather than buyers (which is what Amazon.com is designed for), with filters  with your criteria -for example:

Sales: over 300 a month; and under 50 reviews; priced over $20, under 1 lb weight” .

What are your criteria for product selection?

This is for the USA store but a variation would work in UK etc. For example for keyword “Glass cups”-

Demand: 3000 units a month of demand [on page 1 of search results]. If doing manually, add up all the sales of “glass cups” (eliminate irrelevant results).

 That is a good number if you are aiming to sell 10 a day yourself (300 a month) – which is 10% of the total market. That’s easy to find but we want lower competition. 

Competition: 1 or 2 sellers in top 5 listings with under 50 reviews.  And in top 10 sellers, 3 or 4 listings with under 50 reviews.  This tells you it’s not too mature a niche. IF competition has hundreds of reviews, you’ll find it hard to compete.

Big picture: it’s a small %age of all listings on Amazon – but there are 100s of Millions of products on Amazon so that’s a lot of items!

Price: $20 or more. The smaller the simpler the better- easier for storage etc.

These are just rules of thumb – it can be good if it’s a bit less demand but a bit Less competition.

Every time I found a product I liked using the Product tracker, it looked hyper competitive.  How can I use the Chrome extension to find lower competition products?

The best tool is actually not the Extension, it’s best to use the Product Database on the Web App.

You can put in your criteria for products with under 50 reviews and min 3000 units sold a month.

You can do this with the Chrome Extension. Once you HAVE an idea, the Extension is the best tool to have.

But if you don’t already have product/ Keyword ideas, it’s not the best tool . 

In every category it looks like it’s good to PL. What are the other criteria for selection?

If every opportunity looks good, your criteria for competition is too lax. There are tons of opportunities with high demand but they have a lot of competition. Look for something with under 50 reviews in some of those top spots – easy to do with the Extension.

Only add up the demand for relevant listing results. Eliminate irrelevant searches.

What are the costs of the Chrome Extension  and Web App?

The Extension is for $90 or $150 (more features) one off costs

The Web App at the monthly $40 level is good for most people but goes up to $100 a month.  There is a free trial – and you can find lots of products.

Are there plans to make the Web App available in the UK?

The Extension already works in the UK.  The Web App will be built for UK in the near future.

But UK or Germany based sellers still use the Web App for the USA to get product ideas – you could then search in the UK store and verify that. A lot of the times you’ll find a good opportunity in the USA and it will be in the UK.

“There seem to be three schools of thought with product selection – 1. find & build a niche brand of related products so you can sell over and over to the same customers, 2. hunt for single superstars / hidden gems, 3. gut instinct. perhaps you find/invent a product you think would do great, or it’s selling in another venue and has no rep/history on amazon to give informed decisions.

Jungle Scout and tools like it seem to be targeted at product selection style 2 [Superstars], how can it best be used to help with styles 1[Niche] & 3 [Instinct], or indeed does Greg believe in these styles or have a different view entirely?”

For Greg, gut instinct is out because it’s risky- he likes to use the data. It might work for some people!

GM has about 3 dozen items – When Greg first started, he was advised to create a whole line of products to get better sales [cross sales]. Greg didn’t find that to be true. He did it start with but didn’t see increase in sales.

When people shop on Amazon, they are not looking for particular brand, they just want the best reviews at the best price. So now Greg just finds opportunities and sells them.

However, If you wanted to find products similar to your existing products, in the Web App, you could select the product category.

The marketplace has given feedback that “finding gems” has worked better than Niche market approach. Maybe in certain categories, brand Is more important; just not in Greg’s market.

People are searching for the item and then getting one of the top 3 depending on reviews and price.

How do you deal with the competition? Especially how do you avoid a price war?

Greg never competes on price – he always works on pictures, the listing; improvements to product. If his competitor lowers price, he doesn’t. When launching new products, get into area that isn’t too competitive. Then by the time competition comes in, secure the top spot with lots of reviews.

Lots of people think they are too late to the party. Not true. It’s still a great opportunity. Greg is still launching new products. BUT You just have to be good with product research. If you pick an item that’s in a very competitive niche, it’s very hard to get anywhere.

You can’t fix a product at the marketing stage if the product selection is wrong!

If sales volume is dropping, Instead of lowering your price, do some giveaways and keep sales rank and overall, it will make you more money.

BUT Product selection is so important that lots of people get hung up on it. How do get round the selection deadlock (Paralysis analysis)?

Use the criteria that Greg gave – it’s proven, including a case study 

Once you’ve done lots of research, you will have a better feel for a particular market.

If in doubt, if you’re worried and just beginning, just choose even lower competition product even if you just sell say 5 a day. And or place an order for fewer units.

I know the Pro Extension will give extra info like FBA Fees, FBA Fulfillment category (eg oversize), net price after fees and so on. Is this available for Amazon UK? 

Yes, it is!

How about .de (Germany) or other European marketplaces?

Not yet, but this summer (2016), it should be available.

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right on yt sentence.

For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is: http:// amazingfba.com/feed/podcast.

For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of this page.