In this episode:
02:09 – An event to look forward to
03:10 – From agency to eCommerce
05:12 – Parallel paths
06:54 – In the physical product market
08:31 – How do you stand out?
10:54 – Some points of note so far
12:30 – The three-pronged approach
18:53 – How does it actually work?
19:32 – Maths and psychology
21:29 – More product considerations
22:56 – A useful marketing formula
24:06 – Around the globe in a year
25:40 – Managing by numbers
26:54 – Where the products come from
28:11 – What’s your brand?
28:49 – Putting it on Amazon
30:11 – Quick recap
32:57 – Once you’re live…
33:40 – Keep moving forward
37:45 – Between jump-off and a million dollars
38:58 – A key clue
41:08 – Where partnership comes in
43:13 – Some parting advice
Keep up with the latest online marketing trends with James’s personal coaching
James: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness. This is Episode 626. Today we’re going to be talking about Amazon eCommerce, and especially some tips if you are starting out or thinking about Amazon. I’ve brought along a really good friend of mine I’ve known for several years, had on this particular podcast a few times before. Welcome back, Greg Cassar.
Greg: Hey James. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
James: Always my pleasure, Greg. We have some very informative conversations. You are a subject matter expert in whatever we talk about. I’ve shared many experiences with you. We’ve been to Google head office together, we’ve spoken at your event in the past. You’re speaking at my event in April 2019, which was the catalyst for our discussion. I asked you to share some tips at that event. And you’re going to be going in depth about your million-dollar first year selling on Amazon, which I’m really not surprised about. I’m sure it’s not a usual result. It’s not a typical result. But with your experience as an agency in the past, your huge skills around buying traffic and conversions and testing and data and all that geeky stuff, and your affinity for sales and marketing and the fact that you’ve traveled across the world, met with all the experts, you network at a high level, I wasn’t surprised that you got a great result. But I am very interested in finding out more about this and sharing your experience. So thank you for coming along and revealing some of this stuff.
An event to look forward to
Greg: Yeah, no problems. I think there’s some of the things that I can talk about, like in a public forum. And then there’s some things, like for example, the way that we’re launching products and stuff that are probably would be best for the closed-door type, you know, type thing. But yeah, really looking forward to that event. I’ve been before to SuperFastBusiness Live, it’s awesome. I love the content but also the people that are there. Pretty amazing. So I’m really, really looking forward to that.
James: It’s a super special event, because it’s not the biggest event. It’s certainly high quality, and this year I’m especially excited about the dinner and drinks and sitting around with the experts at the tables and the guests and networking. So there’ll only be a couple of hundred people at the most, but super high quality. Tickets are available at SuperFastBusiness.com/live, if you happen to be listening to this before the event, which is going to be running April 2019. Each of the presenters is sharing stuff they would not talk about in a public forum, so there’s certainly some off-limits topics for today’s session.
From agency to eCommerce
But there are certainly some things we can talk about, and I think to start off with, I want you to just give me a little bit of a description around how did you transition from what you were doing as an agency and find yourself in eCommerce? I’d love to know that genesis of that.
Greg: Yeah. It’s interesting that as a human being, but as a business owner, as an entrepreneur, we obviously we morph multiple times. I remember, like, always being interested in computers. And so I had an IT background, which certainly helped being a little bit technical, not that you need to these days, so cheap access to resources.
We morphed out of the day job into an agency, which was great as far as learning. Like, it was amazing learning so many different things. But I could see that the agency model wasn’t as leveraged enough as what I wanted it to be. So then we morphed into becoming a coach, much similar to what you do as well, and that gave much better leverage.
But I really sort of, out of all the different business models, I figured out what ones I was good at. And James, you and I were talking about that before. Like, where I think you’re strong, you’re much stronger than me in memberships and info and maybe services, that kind of stuff. Whereas I found, hey, I was really good at software as a service. And I was really good at eCommerce.
I hadn’t really played in the Amazon space, so I just started doing a few things on that side. And then more recently, we’ve been partnering with more hero businesses and helping them grow really in the eCom and in the Amazon side. It was just from like, working on client businesses. I just knew, hey, this is something that I’m really, really good at.
And one thing that I heard from Perry Belcher was, you know, just sell real stuff to real people. And he basically, to quote Perry, he said, it’s easier than telling hopes and dreams. And I found that myself, where, you know, if they’re after a widget, you know, whether it’s an iPhone case or whatever it is, If they’re after a widget, they just go and look for one. You don’t have to do as much convincing and as much persuasion, that kind of stuff.
“Just sell real stuff to real people.”
And then being able to apply all the technical stuff like getting them found on Google or getting them found on Amazon and remarketing and email and all those direct response stuff really came together. So I think that’s why I ended up, and now I just primarily focus on SaaS, eCom and Amazon.
James: It’s an interesting topic you brought up there. Two things. One is the fact that we generate around similar business models over time.
Greg: We didn’t even talk about that.
James: We didn’t talk about that.
Greg: You and I have morphed multiple times without even saying anything to each other. And we just realized, hey, I’m doing the same thing. So we’ve come to the exact same conclusions.
James: It’s quite hilarious, because the previous episode, Episode 625, was an introduction to revenue share deals, and I recorded that with a student of mine, Charley Valher, who I’ve been coaching in that particular business model. And I’ve got a couple of others coming through now learning that model, like Molly Pittman, and I’ve been doing this for myself. It’s a natural way to harness the energy and the IP that you’ve built up and to be a stakeholder, put some skin in the game on a performance basis for someone else’s business so you can build your portfolio bigger.
And I’m not surprised that you’re doing this with eCommerce. And the thing that I like about you, and I’ve done this myself, is you’ve been practitioning. You will actually build your Amazon store and grow it out, get it to a million dollars so that you actually know how it all works and you’ve got validated results, in the same way, I’ve built out my million-dollar-plus SEO agency and built out my website development firm and I built out my info products. And I’ve been running memberships for 10 years as of this month, which is crazy.
Greg: Yeah, wow!
James: So doing the thing that you’re teaching about is always a great credentializer, and there’s certainly too many people teaching stuff they know nothing about, which is crazy. But so, we’re both doing stuff. We’re both teaching stuff. We’ve ended up with a similar rev share model. And as you mentioned, we’ve got slightly different focuses which lean towards our area of expertise, which is terrific.
In the physical product market
The other thing that I wanted to point out is, you know, your comment about selling real things to real people. I came from that world. I came from selling Mercedes-Benz, and that was a real product, to real people. The one thing that I would say, though, is it’s a very heavy, commoditized market.
James: There’s a huge amount of competition and it’s very easy for a customer to compare and contrast and a lot of the chips are stacked in the customer’s favor when it comes to buying physical things.
And there’s a lot of downsides for the business. Typically, you’re going to need premises, you’re going to need stock, you’re going to need staff, you’re going to need logistics. You’re going to have all these other elements like financing of the thing. There’s obsolescence, things go out of date, your competitor does price cuts. Even sometimes factories burn down, all this sort of stuff that we haven’t had to deal with with the electrons world, thankfully. So I’m sure your revenue share deals are the digital information, electron, intangible component that support helping people with their physical things.
Greg: Great times, kind of like doing the best of both worlds.
James: You are, you’re a hybrid, I love it.
James: And the thing is, what I found when I was selling physical products, is my abilities, my marketing and my sales techniques and my product knowledge, the way that I approached my personal productivity and organization and database marketing, and in the end it was like, even how I was approaching lead generation through multiple channels. And I even did a Product Launch Formula for the dealership, which I was sharing with Jeff Walker many years ago, which was super successful, by the way, works really well offline.
How do you stand out?
They are the things that differentiate you from any one of the 27 people who could supply the exact same thing. I have noticed a lot of eCommerce stores, when we were doing SEO, they tend to copy the product and the SKU description exactly word for word from wherever they are sourcing the thing, which made it very hard for them to get a unique ranking or any kind of differentiation. So I imagine you’ve discovered ways to offset some of these challenges. Am I right?
Greg: Yeah, I can talk to that, then, sort of like from an SEO one that you were just talking about, search engine optimization on the product, it is true if you are selling the same widget as everyone else that it might have the same features, you know, saying that it takes two batteries and all that kind of stuff. You may get that bit from the supplier, although we definitely do recommend you have your own product rather than selling other people’s, but there are models for both.
But some words that we use, like when selling physical products, is like, what we love about it. And so that way, you’re putting sort of a human thing onto the product. We love that it’s really durable and that it’s light and you can wear it all day long without hurting you know, and all that kind of stuff. So putting a human touch on it.
Because you spoke about, like that commoditization of product, and that’s very, very, real now. So, it really comes down to building a brand around your product, or building a brand around your business so that people know, like, and trust you. You’ve given them value in advance and then they’re more predisposed to do business with you. Because it is true, like if you are just selling physical widgets and you’re not doing anything on the branding type side to create value or to create a differentiator, then it’s going to get very, very difficult.
We got this saying when we talk about eCommerce, and it’s from Game of Thrones, Winter is coming. And what we’re talking about there is that it’s not white walkers coming over the wall, we were talking about that the cost of traffic continues to rise and the cost of products continues to go down. And if you imagine that like, on a graph, if traffic prices are going up and the product price is going down, you can see at some stage they cross over and it doesn’t become profitable anymore. So that’s where it really comes down to planting seeds that you can bear of fruit of later.
James, is it OK if I talk about the three-prong approach and what we do when we’re working with a physical product spread?
Some points of note so far
James: You certainly can. And just before we do that, I want to counter some of your discussion items there.
Very interesting about the long-term approach. I’ve been talking about this for a long time, actually, having a lifetime approach. I want a customer forever and I want to build that thing. As I mentioned just before, 10 years of membership, I’ve certainly built almost a family. I was just speaking to one of my members today from SilverCircle, and he started that in 2011. He’s been there the entire time, and you can imagine the relationship you build up over that and it does become emotional and it becomes human.
And you gave away a great tip, what we love about. You know, one of my domain names that is a review site that we’ve been building out has the word “love” in it, relating to products, which is such a good tip.
Greg: Yeah. It humanizes it.
And I also agree it’s good to have a little sense of mild paranoia when it comes to the future of your business, to never get complacent. One of my mentors said that bad habits get bred in good times, and good habits get bred in bad times. And I think when things are coasting along, and everything’s great, people sometimes fall asleep at the wheel.
“Bad habits get bred in good times, and good habits get bred in bad times.”
And part of my whole concept that I push called Own The Racecourse, which a lot of people affectionately know as OTR, is about having control, where you can have it, of your destiny, building your own asset, not being single-source dependent or getting shut down. So I think we should always be assuming that winter might be coming, and think about what would we do to prepare against that? How can we defend off winter before it gets here, so that it never comes? That would be great.
So, really good points. So I’d love to hear about your three-pronged approach.
The three-pronged approach
Greg: Yeah, because if someone’s only focused on now – like what I do with my Amazon part of things, it’s kind of like only focused on now – if they’re doing that, and then they’re competing with me who’s thinking like three, five years out? How are we going to dominate? How are we going to win, knowing that this is what’s happening, they might be able to compete right now, but like, down the track, they haven’t sowed those seeds. It’s going to become very, very difficult.
So that three-pronged approach, what we talk about is starting like, with an authority site. So a media property, whether it’s a big authority blog, that kind of thing. One of the things I learned from Yaro Starak was this concept that you need something sticky. So like, SuperFastBusiness does this amazing, like, where people are coming back whether it’s for the blog or the podcast. Me, personally, I consume the podcast because it’s just easy while I’m in the car, that kind of thing. But I’ve constantly going back to it.
“You need something sticky.”
So we, in this case, we’ve got a big authority blog. And that’s not a strength of mine, building out big authority blogs. So I’ve actually engaged a content team that are building that out. And we’re building, you know, an email list. And now we’re starting to build the ManyChat list and that kind of stuff. But we’re just leading with value. And every month, like, it’s not big traffic volumes at the moment. Right now, we’re getting 20,000 uniques a month, you know what I mean? Which isn’t going to set the world alight. But hey, if we go back four months ago, we were at 10,000 uniques a month, you know, that kind of thing. And then if you fast forward out a couple of years, it’s going to be quite good.
So we start with a big authority blog. And then, now that we’ve got our physical products, and we’ll get into, we can talk about like, how we choose physical products and stuff in a minute if you like… But within the other two parts of the stool, if you think of it like a three-legged stool, is we have an eCommerce store, which we generally build on a Shopify platform, and we have the Amazon. And the reason why we have Amazon and particularly .com, well, we do all of them and I can talk about that, but, the .com, Amazon process is bigger than everything else put together.
So Amazon means you’re not keeping the customer. Amazon keeps that info. While there are certain ways you can sell to them again perhaps, it’s not guaranteed. But what it is, is an amazing cash flow. And it catches people. So some people only buy on Amazon, and they only buy if you’ve got Prime membership, that kind of thing. So if you’re selling physical products, you’re kind of crazy not to be there.
But, over time, you need to build that longer-term asset, so in some ways, the Amazon is the short-term asset. The eCommerce store is the medium to a long-term asset where we are acquiring customers, we’re building that list where we can sell to the multiple products. And then we’ve got the authority blog, the big sticky site, so that over time we can just seed people from one over to the other or from the email list from one to the other. So that’s what we call a three-pronged approach, and that’s really, how I believe, future proofing it, I know, to quote Perry Belcher again. I’ve really learned some of that from him with his content and commerce model which has really, really served me well.
James: That’s very interesting because I just realized I pretty much have that in some part. I’ve definitely got the authority podcasts, blog and channels where we’re super sticky. You could tell by the analytics how many people come back and how many people subscribe to the different channels and the email list and the open rates and all of that.
Greg: Yeah, right.
James: And then, of course, my eCommerce is where I’m processing my membership sales, so that’s in my cart and I’m in control of that transaction. So I guess I got a little maybe slightly skewed version of that.
James: It’s really, actually, the overlap is crazy. I recently did a training for SuperFastBusiness members in December and the topic was how to build a content site you can sell for big dollars. And I was sharing with members how I’ve been, on the side, behind the scenes, my team build out authority sites and we monetize them primarily through publishing. And I said in that training, if you happen to couple this up to an eCommerce store or a service of your own, you’re going to make a lot of money. But you could sell the site itself anyway, but the revenue generator.
So it sounds like you’re doing exactly that. You’re building this super site and then you’re promoting your own Amazon stuff for your own eCommerce stuff.
Greg: Yeah. And with the email list and the authority blog, there are times when we’re using it to promote over at the eCommerce store, but then there are times when we’re using it literally to help get a new product off the ground. And there’s obviously a Facebook fan page and stuff associated with it.
So Amazon, like itself, once something’s going, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. It’s incredible, you know, that whole wake up in the morning and you’ve done 10s of thousands of sales and that kind of stuff. And that really does happen. But when you put a new product on, if you don’t have a successful way of launching it, then it’s kind of crickets, originally, because if you put a product on there that’s similar to mine and you’ve got 300 views and I’ve got zero, then people are going to gravitate towards yours. So that’s where building those kinds of assets, whether it’s email, ManyChat, Facebook fan page, and the authority blog that you can put banners on and send people over, you know, that kind of stuff, that allows you to then get things off the ground.
Because yeah, I try to avoid anything that doesn’t have momentum. I find square wheels are very, very hard to push. So anything I can do to give those wheels a bit of a rounding. Because me, personally, I’m actually much, much better at fanning the fire. I’m a fan-the-fire expert rather than a startup guy, getting something off the ground. So I love round wheels.
“Square wheels are very, very hard to push.”
James: Wow, you’re dishing out the metaphors here. This is very educational.
Now, I don’t know that much about Amazon. I’ve got plenty of clients who do Amazon. I’d say probably the most successful student I’ve ever had was Ezra Firestone, who’s still in SilverCircle. When he came to me, he had a few eCommerce stores and then he really blew up his eCommerce into the decamillions, and it’s been well documented on this particular podcast. And he’s also been a guest at SuperFastBusiness Live. He’s particularly good at traffic and conversions and building community and creating a movement around the product.
But just for my benefit, can you just tell me a little bit about how it actually works? Because my only experience with it is having a book, and I know we load that up to Kindle Direct Publishing and they sell it, they get the money and they send me money each month for my cut.
How does it actually work?
How does it work with physical products? You alluded to choosing products. I mean, just walk me through this.
Greg: Yeah. Well, first of all, we start with the market, like who is it that we’re going to serve? And make sure that we’re knowledgeable about that market, passionate about that market. Gone are the days where I’m just, oh, I’ll try that market. So I’ll figure out, am I happy to play in this space for a couple of years at least, and can I add value there? You know, that kind of thing because we spoke about authority, you know, that kind of piece.
Once I’ve chosen the market, then we really look at, well, is there anything that we know that the market really wants or needs? Or the other thing is like, are there things that they are going to need during their lifestyle journey that we could improve on and sell them something similar?
Maths and psychology
But when we get down into like, what the actual product is, we really need to think about a few things, and there’s maths and psychology ultimately when it comes down to it. The psychology is like, do they want it? Are they searching for it? That kind of thing.
And then the maths is, like, by the time I buy this, import it, then there’s Amazon fees for storing it, there’s shipping, all that kind of stuff. Does the math work? Can I be profitable? So we might think about things like, OK, is it greater than $30 at least, at a bare minimum, you know, sort of thing from a product point. That $30 to $100 or $200 might be a really, really good type of price point.
So we’ve actually got a whole matrix which I’ll give out at your event, actually. Yeah, we’ve got a matrix of how we choose products. So we look at that sort of thing. When we look at, are they searching for it, or are they not? And if they’re searching for it or something very, very similar, then we know that we can hijack traffic. So for example, there are three main ways of doing ads on Amazon, most people only really know about or do two, but you can hijack traffic if they’re searching for it.
And if they’re not searching for it, sometimes you’ve got something that’s very, very unique, that’s OK. We don’t kill it at that stage provided that we’re willing to invest in building the brand or building the knowledge about it.
So, one of the great things, like, as I think with eCommerce and Amazon, there’s kind of like what I’d call catalog style, which means I hold one of each of these, and then there’s funnel style eCommerce. I prefer funnel style eCommerce, really, where you’re coming up with hero products, like things that you’re just going to sell. I would rather have two or three or four products that I’m selling thousands and thousands of them each month rather than holding hundreds and hundreds of things that I’m selling three or four things of each month, you know, that kind of thing.
So if they’re not searching for it, we just look at, are we willing to invest in the brand and can we still make the math work? And Facebook video view ads is a way that we pretty much generate awareness very, very cheaply.
More product considerations
And then we also look at things like, how heavy is it and what’s the storage like? How big are the boxes? Because we imported a product about 14 months ago now, imported from China, everything was a winner, right? Like, so we really got our ducks in line. When we actually sent it into Amazon, we were going to sell this product for $72. But because the box was too big, they classified it as small oversize. They were going to charge us $32 to store it and ship it out for us. And it was like, well, that one thing, that one little mistake cost us the maths. The maths, basically, they just never, never worked on that. And we had to take it off Amazon and just liquidate the stock to try and get the money back.
So they’re the kind of things that we really think about. There’s more to it than that, but at a high-level demand, your math, size, is it something that we can add value on? It’s also, another thing is demonstrable. So is it demonstrable? Can I show it, for example, on Instagram and use what I call visual story video or Facebook with a visual story video or YouTube? Visual story video might mean that it’s got some writing over there and as you’re demonstrating the product, even if they’re not listening to the sound, they’re getting some words show up, so that you can take them from, like, you’ve never seen my mouse trap to, in 60 seconds, “Wow, that is so cool. That just changes everything. I want one of those.” So that’s what I called visual story videos and demonstrable products.
James: I imagine you’re starting to separate yourself out from the people who just cut and paste an item.
A useful marketing formula
Greg: Agreed. Yeah. And with those visual story videos, like, we try to use a formula, and one of the most useful marketing formulas of all time which I learned from Mal Emery: problem, aggravate, solution, prove, call to action. So like, what is the problem, and then can you make them really feel it? You know, that kind of thing. And then, it doesn’t have to be that way, like there is a solution to it, and then prove it, you know, “We’ve helped 5 million people with this so far.” Or, you know, whatever the solution is, and then the call to action, “Grab yours today,” that kind of stuff. So that formula basically, over and over again, done in less than a minute with a square video. That way, we’re using social media to bring people to whether it’s our physical product eCommerce store or whether it’s off to Amazon to launch a new product.
Because even once you get, like, a product launch, so say for example I had this mouse trap and I launched it on Amazon. Then when you go expand around the world, you kind of then got to start all over again. OK, now I’ve just put it in Canada – sometimes your reviews will come across, but sometimes they won’t. So then you actually have to repeat. So it’s important to have repeatable systems like that with those Facebook video view ads or whatever it is that you’re doing to be able to then you know, launch it there and then launch it in the UK, etc.
Around the globe in a year
Amazon, we’ve got account managers there. When you get to a certain size, you get account managers. And the account manager, he called me a freak. He said, you know, “You’re a freak, how fast you guys rolled out.” Because we basically rolled out right around the globe. I’ve got two amazing business partners in America. We rolled out around the globe in one year. And he said that’s very, very rare.
But what we did find out of that process was that rolling out around the globe and optimizing every piece of the puzzle were two completely different things. So then once we got it all out there, we then have to come back and then one by one, optimize each piece of the puzzle to make sure that it’s really, really cranking. And we use a thing called visual dashboards for that. So what I mean by visual dashboards, if you think about even just a small child, they know, like, green is go, yellow is like it might be stop or go, and then you know, red is stop, that kind of thing. So we break businesses down now, into visual dashboards.
OK, so say for example, we took the eCommerce store or we took the authority blog or we took the Amazon in the US. Now, the breakdown: what all the components we would need to make this really, really crank? And if part of it’s really cranking, then let’s make it green. And if part of it’s like, a work in progress, let’s make it yellow. And if part of it’s really, really not working, or we haven’t done that yet, we make it red.
And so, after a while, you’ve got this visual dashboard for all these different parts of your business. And then what we found is, just get focused on how can we make this thing more green. And as we make those visual dashboards more green, the businesses just go better and better and better. And then the other kind of piece is like, we layer on stuff on top of it.
Managing by numbers
I’ve really been learning about how to manage multiple businesses but manage by numbers. So the key, bringing a single business, I find that most businesses I can bring it down to like, six or eight numbers or whatever. So then I can say to whoever’s running that business or whoever’s looking for that, how’s our numbers? And by our numbers, I can then say, well, hang on, have we got a problem or not? So whether it might be you know, how many leads do we get? What was our cost per lead? What was our conversion rate from lead to sale? You know, that kind of stuff. I’m just bringing businesses down to manage by numbers. I think that’s an evolution that I’ve had, as I’ve got yet more and more to, like, different levels of black belt, I think, in this space. Any questions on that, or did that make sense?
James: It’s pretty advanced for a startup.
Greg: Oh, for a startup, yes, definitely.
James: It’s good to know where you’re at. And I mean, I’ve watched you, you start out, you approach this, you make a million dollars in your first year approaching the Amazon front, and then you sort of work your way up into that top one percent and get high-level education and now you’re serving people. The site, by the way, that you’re doing the venture deals with eCommerce owners is called RainmakerPartner.io. I should mention that. If you like the cut of Greg’s jib, to put a metaphor in there, then you can look him up there or you can come and say hi to him at SuperFastBusiness Live.
Where the products come from
Now just back to the product, you said something between $30 and $200 that is specific to the market that you’ve identified, and you’ve mapped out their journey. I’m still not exactly clear on where do you actually get these products? And what happens to it then, how do you get it to Amazon? And what happens after that?
Greg: Great question. So you can either manufacture products yourself by working with a local, so whether you’re in America, or whether you’re in Australia, and finding someone who creates products. And the advantage of that is that you really got control over the quality.
The way we’ve done it is by working with manufacturers in China, and often we found them just on Alibaba, you know, those kinds of sites, and then really looked at their reviews and that kind of stuff. And then found products that they had that were similar to what we wanted and then said, “Hey, well, this is what we’re looking to do, but we want this kind of tweak, we want that kind of tweak. Is that something you can help us with?” And then they would generally, you know, make you a sample. And they may charge you to make that sample, or they will definitely charge you to ship you a sample. So they’ll then ship you a sample. So this whole process might take a couple of weeks. You get that sampling, you might give them feedback. Or who knows, it may be ready to go.
What’s your brand?
And then obviously you’ve got to come up with your own brand. So like, what’s your brand name? And get a trademark and get a logo, that kind of thing. And you ask them to white label it. And what white label means is that you can put your sticker on it, build your brand, so that when someone’s searching, or whether it’s on Google or whether it’s on Amazon, they may be looking for your specific product, or you’ve got a way of standing out.
You’ll then do things like packaging design and maybe insert design. So how is the box going to look, and can we make this box smaller or the package smaller, you know, that kind of thing. We also need to think about things like barcode. So we need to get a barcode on it so that it’s got a unique identifier. Anytime you’re going to send a product into, like, an Amazon or something like that, they want a unique like A-SIN number, which is a barcode number, that kind of thing.
Putting it on Amazon
So once you’ve now got your product, you’ve got your product done, on Amazon, you go into a thing called Seller Central and you would create a listing. Just saying, OK, here’s my headline, here are some images of it. So when you got your product sample, you might have taken some images. You may be able to upload a video, that kind of thing, descriptions, bullets, all that kind of stuff.
And then basically you go on Amazon and you say, OK, I want to bring in some products now. And then it will say OK, how many do you want to bring in? What size are they? What weight are they? That kind of thing. And it will create, like, an inbound order.
And then you’ll get some stickers from Amazon and you’ll pass them to, often you use a person called a freight forwarder or a company called a freight forwarder. And a freight forwarder will bring stuff, say for example, from China. They may get it through customs for you, from when it gets into your country or into the country where you’re going to be selling, like US Amazon. They will then send it in that last bit so that it ends up in Amazon.
And once it gets in Amazon, there’s a model called FBA Fulfillment by Amazon, which is really what we recommend. And then Amazon will take it, they’ll receive it, they’ll check, yes, this is what you said, and say you sent in 500 of them, or you sent 100 of them, whatever it is, they will then mark them as available. And then once your product is in and it’s available, then you can start the process of OK, well, now we need to get people to it, which is the next kind of part of the journey.
Did that make sense as far as like, how to get a product designed and in?
James: So if I understood this correctly, we research our market, we figure out who’s got these problems that are getting agitated that we think we’re going to solve with a $30 to $200 solution, we’re going to map out their journey, make sure happy with that market.
Then we go and source the product and we’re going to find a supplier. Often it’s from China. Actually, a friend of mine, Brendan Elias, I’ve seen him make videos where he’s in the factories going through the demo rooms. They have all these different colored things and different products that you can choose from. And I’m sure there’s quite an art to knowing which products to choose and which products to avoid. And I’m sure there’s a lot of selection criteria that you would build up over time.
And then you ensure quality control, work on your logos and labeling and images and so forth. And then you do a deal. And then you get your freight forwarded to Amazon – are we talking about in America or Australia or what?
Greg: Yeah, we’ve done it more to America, like into Amazon.com. One piece of the puzzle for that was we did need an auto company in the state of Delaware, like to set up a company in the state of Delaware, which cost a couple hundred bucks, and we just did that on like LegalZoom, that kind of thing. So there was a receiving company. That was the only kind of gotcha that we had found and coming in.
And the only other thing that I could think of that maybe we didn’t talk about was – that was an excellent recap, by the way – the only other thing was sometimes you’ve got to have safety standards. So we paid a lawyer, who was like an import lawyer, 1000 bucks to tell us, was there any safety standards we needed to meet? And he said, Yes, this is the safety standard. And then what we had to do was just send two or three products off to a lab that tested it and then gave us a certificate that said we met that safety standard. And that just made it really, really easy. When it got to customs, it was exactly what it said it was. They had a certificate that said, hey, these guys meet the safety standard of this country for that product. And then that made it really, really easy.
James: So I imagine you could get hung up with all sorts of things, like they open up the crate and there’s a bunch of damaged goods or that it doesn’t comply or someone doesn’t receive it. I remember I use a shipping company in the States where I can send things to it, and then get it delivered to me in Australia. And I remember the courier tried to deliver something on a weekend and they were closed. So I had to go back on a Monday. I was like, Oh, hang on, but we’re not going to get my books? Believe it or not, as an author, it’s actually quite hard for me to get 100 copies of my own book sent from Amazon. They won’t let me do it from Amazon for some reason, at the moment.
James: So I had to ship them to a reshipping company and then send them here. But I’m sure there are all sorts of obstacles which will keep away the players with no discipline or you know, lack of resource. You’re going to have to expect some obstacles in a business like this because it involves the joys of physical goods.
Once it’s live…
So then the goods get there, they’re all approved, Amazon accepts them, then you can let your listing go live. And I imagine generally not much would happen unless you do something?
Greg: That’s like where it’s great.
James: We’ve all been there.
Greg: You’ve got like, your email list, a Facebook fan page, that kind of thing. But you can just start with Facebook ads sending products to it, you can start with Amazon ads as well. They’re pretty great. And they’ll show you what your return on your ad spend is, you know, that kind of thing, so you can make sure you’re profitable.
Often we’ll go negative when we first bring in new product. And then as it gets more reviews, and as it gets more momentum and that kind of stuff, it’ll go positive. Yeah, so they’re kind of like the main ways that we’re doing things, and we’re also using coupon codes and stuff so that we can get that momentum, what we’re talking about with the round wheels.
I think we definitely, like when you look at the physical products and having to import them and that kind of stuff, there is what I’d call a moat around the business. But I personally don’t mind that, because one of the things I’ve found with business, James, is that most people quit, you know? But if you’re just willing to keep picking yourself up and if you’re willing to look at when there’s a problem, OK, you know what, that really sucks, but what are we going to do to solve it, you know? And just keep moving forward. And just keep going forward one more time after life kicks you in the guts, because often sometimes life happens for you, not to you.
And all these things are making you stronger and they’re making you a better business owner and a better entrepreneur, and that kind of stuff. And the rewards are pretty amazing. Like, if you look at where you and I basically, we were talking about it before the call, we basically have this pretty much the same lifestyle. Through the week, we can do whatever we want as a general rule with just a few hours that we have to be there. Whereas most people, it’s like nine to five or even longer these days and they got to be there five days a week. It’s worth the learning curve and it’s worth the investment, because the payoff is pretty damn massive. Like I’m now financially and lifestyle free and I would imagine I would be for the rest of my life, and I’m 43 years of age. So I’ve been at it for 10 or 12 years, something similar to you. But it’s going to have a long payoff to come.
James: Yeah, here’s to that. I started my online thing maybe 13 years ago, and I quit my job 10 and a half years ago. And I think sometimes we actually can, we disconnect from how much pain we’re in. Certainly, I was at the very high level of the stress spectrum in the role that I had as a general manager on a high salary with massive expectations, running a family. Life is extremely different now, but I definitely put in my hours. I did what people refer to now as hustle and grind and all of that. I worked too hard in some ways, and that’s why I wrote a book. Work Less Make More is a prescription for someone who was in my position on how to get out of that much easier than it was for me.
That’s the purpose of a podcast episode like this. It’s to give out some information that could be helpful. So I’ve already learned plenty of stuff from this, because I’m not an expert in Amazon or FBA. I know there’s been a gazillion courses and seminars about this topic. But when it all boils down to it, if you could bring some good marketing chops to this, and you can make some sensible choices, and you can deal with some of the inevitable hassles that you’re going to get along the way, you will be on track to start your learning curve.
And I always think of the first few years of any kind of new business model as my apprenticeship mode.
James: I’m coming out of my online apprenticeship now, you know, as I’m getting more, venturing into royalty deals where I’m partnering up with people. Now I’m starting my real job of making the paydays for them and for me at the same time.
Greg: I would say you’re well and truly out of your apprenticeship.
James: I’m a conservative guy, though, Greg. I think the joy of learning is, what keeps this industry so interesting is that it is a constantly changing dynamic. I was just reading yesterday, the guys from 37signals or whatever they call themselves now just ditched Medium and they’re going back to a WordPress blog and their own domain. And I think so much of the classics never change. It was always a good idea to own your own website, even though now you’re talking about selling stuff on Amazon. You’ve also shored that up with saying, hey, the other two thirds should be your own super authority site and an eCommerce store that you own. Like, I’m hearing some sensible advice there, and this is the sort of stuff I want to put out in the market.
I haven’t really changed that much for the last decade, which is serving people from my own site and creating community, and now the big buzzword is build communities around your products. Even if you’re selling products on Amazon, you still want a community, and you want to create a piece of action that you could build as your own asset and maybe sell it one day. So this is wonderful.
Between jump-off and a million dollars
So I imagine, just give me a quick snapshot – what happened between when you started and now having generated a million dollars in your first year using Amazon? Like, how many products did you have to find? Did you get a few duds? Did some take off better than you expected? What were the big surprises or crazy events?
Greg: So we basically have a pretty perfect team. I’ve got two business partners in America, so there’s three of us. And one guy’s amazing, like working on brand and product, and there’s another guy who’s amazing, he really takes care of the fulfillment and supply chain, and then I just focus on selling stuff. So we do really have a perfect team in that regard, like a well-rounded team which has allowed us to move so fast.
Out of probably six or seven products, there’s really been two or three that have counted for more than everything else. One mistake we made was one of those products is seasonal. So it very much props up for six months of the year and then it drops off, you know what I mean? That kind of thing. So now we’re trying to plug in products that are not seasonal along those lines.
Other things we learned, like maybe to lower price point and then we’re doing well from sales point of view but just not enough maths, you know, that kind of stuff. But really, it’s been sort of seven products and then two or three have been absolute winners. The rest have done OK. And now we’re looking at adding two or three in. We were from the first year, we did just over a million dollars in our first year. The second year is looking, I don’t know exactly yet, but probably closer to three. So it does seem like it’s building exponentially over time.
And I spoke to our Amazon account manager and I said to him, you know, could you guys please audit everything we’re doing and pick it to pieces and let us know anything that’s not industry best practice. And they went through it and they said the only thing that you guys are doing compared to the people who are in the top 1 percent in the world – we’re not in the top 1 percent yet, but we will get there, I’m sure of it – he said was just they’ve released more products. Basically it’s a system, it’s a formula and it’s repeatable and really is cookie cutter.
So now we’ve just got to keep a machine going that spits out products that are hero products, that are winners and then roll them out around the world, only the winners.
James: Well, that’s great advice. You know, you gave a big clue there, and I’m not sure if it’s going to be picked up or not. So I want to highlight it.
A key clue
You’ve been humble enough, even at a high level, to ask for help, to get someone who sees a lot of data and can compare and contrast those data sets and look for winning patents. And you’ve just opened up and said, Please help us, tell me what we can improve on. And if you’re open to that kind of feedback, then you improve faster. And I’ve noticed that as a top trend, the people who are most successful who I work with are also extremely humble, and they’re not so arrogant to think they’ve figured it all out. And I’ll put myself in the bucket of asking for help. I just had a call yesterday with someone to ask them how I might improve my Instagram because I know that that’s still at the very low phase of where it could be.
And over the years, my audience has helped me with all sorts of things from helping me solve physical challenges to providing me surfing opportunities, just because if you open up, people will help. So I think that’s a very clever thing that you did, is enlist the help of experts, probably much the same way that eCommerce stores who aren’t in the top 1 percent or likely to be can open up and ask for help from you and get there quicker. So I think this is a really valuable lesson.
“If you open up, people will help.”
Where partnership comes in
Greg: The other part was partnership. So like, my business partners, the pieces they do, like I figured out, you know that importing and all that kind of stuff, that wasn’t my strength. And so I was kind of a square peg in a round hole. So what I figured out was like, I’m just going to focus on sales and marketing and I’m going to go into partner with and work with people who have really, really good brands and then help them. Like, just yesterday, I’ve come across another one which is like, an amazing brand and they’re not doing anything on Amazon. And so there is those type of opportunities.
I think everyone always thinks that hey, I’ve got to come up, I’ve got to invent my own mousetrap, you know, the next wheel. But the reality is, there are so many brands out there that are doing well despite themselves. If you’ve got a bit of a marketing knowhow you can back yourself and say “Hey guys, what about if I listed on Amazon for you and I just take a small piece of the action and I do all the work?” You’ve got only upside, no downside, you know, that kind of thing. So I think that win-win partnership can be a shortcut to get there rather than having to do every piece of the puzzle yourself.
James: Yeah, so the right partners, good collaborations. That’s right. Like, I’m not running SuperFastBusiness Live by myself, I’m bringing in the best of the best for the areas that they’re skilled at. And I’m going to be taking notes and learning from them as well. And I can’t wait to see what sort of conversations evolve.
I think you’ve given a really good overview of what this is about. I mean, if we’re listening to this, and we haven’t got a clue about Amazon, at least we know a few things about potential product selection and where they come from and what happens to the next and what are the components we need to consider and what skills will be useful and how we might get there quicker. So I think there’s been a really great intro, and I’m looking forward to your detailed presentation at SuperFastBusiness Live.
Thanks so much for sharing, Greg. Is there any final words of advice you’ve got for someone who’s sitting there thinking, “Hmm, maybe I should consider this selling stuff on Amazon. I quite fancy a few trips to China. And I feel like I know exactly what people need to be buying, and I think I could smash it with my marketing skills.” What’s your advice to them?
Greg: Most people I see, it’s just like analysis paralysis. They’re constantly in learning mode but don’t necessarily change into action mode. So I would say, like, fail fast forwards. Like, keep learning, but at some stage, you’ve got to choose something and just give it a go. And you know what, your first one you may not smash it out of the park, but then take the learnings from that and then move on to the second one and that kind of stuff. So just keep going and then be resilient, like what we spoke about before. Most people are going to quit. If you’re just more resilient than that, and just keep going, just keep going, just keep going, and you’re learning, you will get there. And then we say, run your winners long and cut your losers short. So if something’s working, fan the fire, and if it’s not, don’t be afraid to say, “next” and pull the plug on it or just liquidate it or whatever, that kind of thing. But use this to create your dream lifestyle. That’s kind of, I guess, what I really care about, engineering happiness and freedom for people.
“If something’s working, fan the fire.”
James: Perfect. Well, you’re a generous man, and I’ll let you get out. You probably have to go and surf about now. I know, I do.
Greg: At three we are, today.
James: It’s all on. I’m going to go surf with another member of SilverCircle. So we’re living the dream.
James: There you go. That’s it. You want to meet Greg, have a chat to him about eCommerce? Come along to SuperFastBusiness Live 2019 in April, in Sydney. Looking forward to that.
This was Episode 626. So, thanks so much Greg. See you soon. Greg Cassar, RainmakerPartner.io, you’re a legend.
Greg: Cheers. Thank you, James.
Hear the rest of Greg Cassar’s million-dollar Amazon journey at SuperFastBusiness Live
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