Want to start selling on Amazon? Where to start?
The standard answer for a few years has been – by plunging straight into private label.
As that’s how I started myself – and eventually succeeded, until recently I taught that myself.
I’m no longer convinced
But after 18 months of mentoring people trying to start selling on amazon, and a year of masterminds mostly focussed on those, I’ve seen the struggles up close. I’ve seen inside too many businesses and too many minds. It’s a hard way to start.
All business has challenges starting. That’s a given. You need a tough mindset. I just happen to think that in late 2017, the old model just isn’t cutting for those who are trying to start selling on Amazon now.
Are you still focussed on Private Label?
Yes I am. I believe private label on Amazon is still a big opportunity. I have many friends making loads more money than me to back that up. It’s not theory.
So I believe that Private label – and even better, developing unique products -works on Amazon.
However, when it comes to how to start selling on Amazon, that’s a different kettle of fish.
I think the irony is that by prematurely plunging into private label, many sellers actually miss out on properly executed private label. How can that be true?
It’s simple really. They blow their budget on the first budget. They bust their confidence in the business model, and indeed in themselves. And then they quit too early – and miss out on $10s or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue per month
I’m not talking about what the overall goal is – rather, it’s about how we GET there!
Also I’m increasingly happy with whatever WORKS rather than being puritanical about business models.
As I’ve talked over the past two years to many Amazon experts, it’s clear from the sharper people (especially the master himself, Will Tjernlund ) that there are several models that can work. And you don’t have to start with private label.
Focus is good and learning a particular set of skills- but so is PROGRESSION:
from simple to advanced; from low-risk to higher risk; from quick wins to projects that take months to come to fruition.
There is a natural progression in terms of risk in the various business models available to ecommerce sellers in general, and ways to start selling on Amazon in particular.
It’s like my old job of piano teaching.
Sure, I can teach little Johnny to seem like an accomplished pianist by teaching him or her three specific pieces and about 10 scales. You get a certificate, you look good, the parents are happy.
Trouble is, he doesn’t know his way round a piano, he can’t read the music, he can’t play by ear, he doesn’t understand what he’s playing or why…in short, he’s not becoming any kind of real musician. Or any kind of real pianist.
He’s aping the real thing. But he’s basically little more than a trained monkey.
Put him in any situation that demands real understanding of music, or real control of a piano, and he is finished.
My experience with Amazon sellers who try to learn how to start selling on Amazon with Private label is remarkably similar.
Indeed, it mirrors my own journey as an Amazon seller myself. And it also mirrors my journey as a piano student/musician to a frighteningly similar degree too.
That’s not surprising. There are a lot of vested interests in trying to “pre-package” business building skills and mindset. Same as there were in pretending you can become a pianist, with 20 minutes’ practice a day and three pieces at a time, with some bullshit “grades” scale.
(By the way, I have 7 years’ higher education in classical music, I’m engaged to a pianist – so this is not the ranting of an amateur. On the contrary. It’s the ranting of an ex-professional).
Both things, I’m afraid, while much better than doing nothing in terms of progressing, are basically based on a totally false premise. The false premise being that you can learn the piano by aping much better pianists’ external results – or by aping the actions of advanced Amazon sellers.
Instead, what I’ve seen overwhelmingly is that all of us entrepreneurs need to develop the right mindset and skills. And those come from experience.
The truth is that there is no substitute for learning overall business strategies and tactics. Nor is a substitute for learning by experience.
You need to learn to understand what you see in the data; to READ the data. You need to learn the landscape of a marketplace. Everyone has to learn how the mechanics of production, freight and amazon work. You need to get familiar with Amazon’s internal processes.
All this takes time and practice. It doesn’t need however to be a painful, high-risk, uncertain gain experience, like that of the big private label approach.
Practice makes you better. Planning for months, selling nothing, then sending half your life savings across the world suddenly…well, that is NOT such a great way to practise becoming a better online seller. Nor to start selling on Amazon specifically.
Am I saying private label is dead then? Is it true that nobody should start a private label business on Amazon? Is private label only for the rich or the super-experienced online maverick?
No, no and no.
That is NOT what I’m saying. I want to be super clear. I think the opportunities to make a ton of cash and have the satisfaction of becoming a real entrepreneur (and mastering a tricky but addictive craft) are very real with private label. And even better with original tweaks to a product.
But both models take serious investment of money, time and energy into each product line.
That is fine, even very important at the right point in your development as an Amazon seller, or as an entrepreneur.
But you don’t have to START learning to mountain climb by training in a gym for 3 months, studying maps and theory incredibly hard, then attempting the Himalayas as your first set of mountains.
Sure it’s been done – I read about exactly that in the news a while ago.
There’s a clue here. It’s news – because it’s the exception to the rule!
You don’t have to START selling on Amazon by scaling a private label mountain either.
Again, yes there are exceptions. Again, we read about them and the buzz goes around. Because it is NEWS. Because -I’m sad to say, after trying this way for so long with newcomers – it’s unusual to succeed that way.
So is this a reason to be depressed and quit?
Maybe – if you are the sort of person who quits easily. In which case, please don’t attempt to become an entrepreneur.
Most people shouldn’t scale the Himalayas and most people probably shouldn’t be entrepreneurs either. And that is absolutely fine.
Most people don’t have the mindset, stamina or sheer hunger of an entrepreneur, and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m not a rugby player – despite being forced to play it (very badly) at school. Yes, I admire good players – but I don’t feel a failure because it doesn’t suit me (my sports teachers at school had a go of course…)
Most people who are a right for a profession build skill, fitness and experience one hill, one mountain at a time. If they get on well, they move to the next natural level.
Business is no different – and Amazon is no different to business. Just because Amazon has built the world’s most amazing traffic and conversion machine shouldn’t blind us to the fact that normal business rules still apply.
The economics and business principles are the usual:
Supply and demand. Risk-reward ratios. Opportunity cost.
The mindset and skills needed are the usual ones too:
The skills of assessing the supply and demand balance in a market; assessing risk vs reward; weighing up opportunity cost (if you go for one opportunity, you tie up the money and time that could go into another);
The mindset of a blend of vision and opportunism; pragmatism with some theory and imagination; discipline with flair and improvisation……and so on…
I personally think anyone wants to have a serious crack at building a business and becoming an entrepreneur has never had such opportunity at their feet. And if you want to go for it, I think you should go for it.
There is no reason for anyone to exclude themselves from becoming an entrepreneur.
But wait – isn’t that against everything I’ve been saying in this post?
I want you to have the maximum chance of success, not to exclude you from the club.
What I am saying is that starting an Amazon business with private label does not maximise your chances of succeeding.
Instead, what you should do is read my next post and consider a much lower-risk way to learn your craft as an Amazon seller!
(Now there’s a cliff-hanger…!)
Thanks for reading.
(By the way – well done for reading to the end. Now there’s a hint that you have some stamina. You’ve passed the first test, oh Jedi. If you’re British, Click here – I think you may have what it takes to join the real business builders.)
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist putting a little teaser at the end too! I’ve got to have fun too, you know…)
The great thing about running an Amazon business is the freedom it allows in your personal life. You can go on holiday as you want and you can take a day off as needed. You set your own schedule and make your own deadlines. That also creates one of the more difficult aspects of your job as an Amazon seller, time management. Today on the show we have David Aggiss and we’ll be discussing time management techniques when you’re running an online business.
If you are first starting out, the challenge is finding enough time to work on your business. You have your full-time job, maybe a spouse and children, then your Amazon business on top of that. It’s going to lead to some late nights and long days. That’s the struggle of it. It’s important to set aside time-blocks for specific tasks. If you start working without this, you’ll end up working on a number of things and accomplishing nothing.
Customer service is a daily task. You’re probably going to be in Seller Central a lot anyway, which is a good thing so you can respond to customer questions and other issues as they arise. Once a week, you want to look at your listings. See if there is any way to improve them. You should take a look at your PPC and keywords to make sure they are performing how you want.
Expanding your business is an evening job. If you are looking to research new product lines or find new suppliers, make sure you have a few weeks available where you can put in some serious evening hours. You’re going to have to work everyday with emails back and forth with your suppliers, especially if they’re in China. Unless you can get on a Skype call, this process could take a week or more because of the time difference.
Skype is recommended to help speed up this exchange. However, keep in mind that if you’re looking into several suppliers, that Skype could get overwhelming. It is easier to maintain all the information if you limit it to email since that has understood, built-in limitations. Also, you will have a record of everything discussed.
If you find that you don’t have the time to handle everything that you need, consider outsourcing. Be aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are. Focus on your strengths, outsource your weaknesses.
If you are making enough money from your Amazon business that you can afford to outsource, then you are probably pretty proficient at the day-to-day Amazon tasks. Then you’ll want to continue to handle those. If your background is in web design, then build your website yourself.
If, however, you don’t know the first thing about building a website and you have no idea how to work on social media, outsource those. Chances are you can find someone that will do it better and faster. If a task is going to take you a week, but someone who is an expert can do it in a day, pay them to do it. The task will get done several days soon and you now have that week to work on something you’re an expert in.
While time management is important, focus management is as well. Like I said before, you have the freedom to make your own schedule, but you don’t have a boss to keep you on track. It’s easy to lose focus and let your business suffer because of it. You have to keep in mind why you want to run your own business. Whether it’s to have a luxury house, nice cars, or to simply spend more time with your family. Whatever it is, whether it changes over time, always remember that and let it be your motivation to stay focused.
Have you got a vision for you business?
I have to confess. I have spent way too long, jumping from product to product, trying to make a buck, which is fine. However, after a couple of years, I stop and think, “What’s it all about?” This is a very important question you must ask yourself, and it’s something that will change over time.
When I first started, my vision was to make a lot of money quickly and put it back into my life, into other projects that were important to me. While that is still a part of my vision, it has grown. Now my big picture is to build a business that I can sell for a decent amount of money, and be proud to own because it is producing really beautiful products; rather than before when I would grab any product that looked like it might sell.
If you take the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the full vision of the architect was never realized. As beautiful and amazing as it is, there plans were much bigger.
The first thing is, you have to start with a plan
You may not be working with stone and mortar, but it is still very similar. The financial aspects are similar. You have to work within a budget. Maybe you have more than you expected, maybe less.
In your business, you have to worry about competition
There are many other people that are selling the same or similar products to the same customers. You need to plan ahead to combat that.
You need to make your plan with the understanding that it will change. Amazon is always changing things, moving the goalposts. You need to have a plan that can adjust to change with it.
You can’t go in with £5000 and expect to turn in into £500,000 by the end of the year. Big visions are great, but you need to make realistic goals. You can’t invest peanuts and expect to turn it into a mint overnight.
While this has always been the location of the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the original burned down, along with a lot of the city, in The Great Fire in 1666. You need to be able to handle setbacks and recover. Sometimes we make a bad product, sometimes we get close to bankruptcy, sometimes we have business partnerships that go bad.
Out of that makes room for something bigger. A lesson to learn from the cathedral is the chance for renewal. When thing go wrong, that can open the door to create something much bigger, much better, and a much stronger vision. You can take lessons from before. Figure out what worked, and recreate those things, and figure out your mistakes and avoid them.
It’s good to make sure you have the right mindset but, I believe, success follows hard work. So e sure to go back, if you haven’t listened already, to episodes 115 to 120, for an overview of how to increase your profits by increasing sales, and reducing costs.
Think big. Act Big. If you are in London or come down to London, consider being a part of the AmazingFBA Mastermind group. My goal is to have two levels, one for those getting started and another for those that are much further along. All that is coming up so stay on the lookout.