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…)
A lot of us sellers do while label existing products. It’s important that you don’t inadvertently break IP laws and get into Amazon legal issues. The best option is to hire a lawyer to run a search on that product. They will give you an opinion as to whether or not that product is likely to be problematic. To further protect yourself you want to add in a feature that no one else can deliver. For example, a membership program. If you’re selling a generic product, every quarter your members will get a newsletter where they can log into a system and get exclusive content. If you’re selling yoga pants, you can include a fitness routine. While the pants may be generic, that fitness routine is copyright.
There is a general rule that if you take a patented product, change something about it, it is no longer covered by the patent. For the most part that is true, at least for simple products. For more complex products, it may not hold up. An example is that Apple and Samsung have been battling for years over patented technology. While the phone was different, Samsung had used some patented technology in their phones. Be sure to consult an IP attorney on your products to avoid legal issues.
Having a Limited company in the UK offers protection against liabilities. It prevents your personal assets being used to compensate legal issues for your company. If you’re doing business in the US, you’ll want to register your company in at least one US state. This should offer you some legal protections for your UK based company.
It is highly recommended that you have a general liability policy to protect your company’s’ losses should your product hurt somebody. If your company is a legal entity, like a Limited company or a LLC in the US, this will protect your personal assets.
Product liability insurance is always a good idea to protect you from Amazon legal issues, but how vital it is depends on your product. If you’re selling t-shirts, the likelihood of somebody getting hurt is pretty low. However, if you’re selling those hoverboards that blew up, then the risk is much higher.
There is a new type of insurance that is coming onto the market that protects you in case you run into Amazon legal issues and are dealing with account suspension. There are three types of insurance dealing with the different types of Amazon sellers. That is private label, wholesale, and retail arbitrage. There are different rates for each type of seller. It helps cover money lost when your account is suspended. They give you $500 to pay for Amazon Sellers Lawyer or another attorney to help with your plan of action. If you don’t get reinstated in 120 hours, they start paying your lost profits.
One mistake people often make is that they don’t take the need of insurance seriously. The chances of your product injuring someone or of your getting sued is slim. However, if it were to happen, the reward for having insurance is astronomical. These insurance policy protect you in two ways. The first is that they cover the cost of the liability called indemnity. If your product were to burn someone’s house down like the hoverboard did, insurance would cover that payout. They will also provide a lawyer to defend you. These legal fees can become tens of thousands of dollars in the blink of an eye.