Today I have a special guest on the show, Maria. Maria is a student in my Create A Profitable Online Store Course who is making 6 figures with her business and last week, I invited her to come talk to the other members of the class about her experiences starting her ecommerce business.
But instead of celebrating her success as an entrepreneur, I asked her to provide a candid account of her experiences including all of her struggles, her triumphs and how she overcame various obstacles on her journey.
This is a very raw episode and in fact, my chat with Maria was not intended for the podcast. But it got such rave reviews from the other students in the class that I decided to publish it for your enjoyment.
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What You’ll Learn
- How Maria found her niche
- How Maria found her vendors
- How to negotiate low MOQs
- How to email Jeff Bezos and get a resolution
- How to establish great relationships with your suppliers
Other Resources And Books
Klaviyo.com – Klaviyo is the email marketing platform that I personally use for my ecommerce store. Created specifically for ecommerce, it is the best email marketing provider that I’ve used to date. Click here and try Klaviyo for FREE.
Privy.com – Privy is my tool of choice when it comes to gathering email subscribers for my ecommerce store. They offer easy to use email capture, exit intent, and website targeting tools that turn more visitors into email subscribers and buyers. With both free and paid versions, Privy fits into any budget. Click here and get 15% OFF towards your account.
Ahrefs.com – The best all in one SEO tool out there that I personally use to improve my search rankings for my blog and my online store. Click here to win a FREE 3 month membership.
GoBrandWin.com – The fastest and most effective way to grow your email list for free using group giveaways. Click here to signup for free.
SellersSummit.com – The ultimate ecommerce learning conference! Unlike other events that focus on inspirational stories and high level BS, the Sellers Summit is a curriculum based conference where you will leave with practical and actionable strategies specifically for an ecommerce business. Click here and get your ticket now before it sells out.
Steve: You’re listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, the place where I bring on successful bootstrapped business owners and dig deep into what strategies they use to grow their businesses. Now today I have a special guest on the show, Maria Finch. Now Maria is a student in my Create a Profitable Online Store course who is making six figures with their e-commerce business. And last week, I invited her to come talk to the other members of the class about her experiences starting her e-commerce business.
But instead of celebrating her success as an entrepreneur, I asked her to provide a very candid account of her experiences, including all of her struggles, her triumphs and how she overcame various obstacles on her journey. Now, this is a very raw episode, and in fact, my chat with Maria was actually not intended for this podcast. But it got such rave reviews from the other students in my class that I decided to publish it for your enjoyment.
But before we begin, I want to give a quick shout out to Privy who is a sponsor of the show. Privy is the tool that I use to build my email list for both my blog and my online store. Right now I’m using Privy to display a cool wheel of fortune pop up. Basically a user gives their email for a chance to win valuable prices in our store. And customers love the gamification aspect of this. And when I implemented this form email signups increased by 131%.
You can also use Privy to reduce cart abandonment with cart saver pops and abandoned cart email sequence as well at one super low price that is much cheaper than using a full blown email marketing solution. So, bottom line, Privy allows me to turn visitors into email subscribers and recover lost sales. So, head on over to Privy.com/Steve and try it for free. And if you decide you need some of the more advanced features, use coupon code MWQHJ for 15% off. Once again, that’s P-R-I-V-Y.com/Steve.
I also want to give a quick shout out to Klaviyo who is also a sponsor of the show. Klaviyo is the tool that I use to build real quality customer relationships with my e-commerce store. And because all my transactions and email correspondence is tracked in Klaviyo, I can easily build meaningful customer relationships by listening, understanding and taking cues from my customers and delivering personalized marketing messages. So for example, with one click of a button, I can easily send a specific and targeted email to all customers with a lifetime value of over $100 who purchased handkerchiefs in the past year.
Now, it is for this reason why over 10,000 brands have switched over to Klaviyo. And right now they have this cool docuseries called Beyond Black Friday where they discuss successful marketing strategies that their customers are using that you can emulate with your business. So, head on over to Klaviyo.com/beyondbf to check it out. Once again that’s K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.com/beyondbf, now on to the show.
Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here’s your host Steve Chou.
Steve: I have Maria in the class and I’ve spoken to her in the past — I think — was it a consult that we had or something like that?
Maria: It was after I hit 3,000 points.
Steve: After she hit 3,000 points. And you’ve been in the class for two years, three years.
Maria: So I started in March of 2016 so almost three years.
Steve: March of 2016, yeah, so almost three years. And what I liked about Maria is one, she’s very well spoken, two, She’s very competent, and she knows what she’s doing or she’s a quick learner. Over time, she’s developed a lot of skills. And what I wanted to do is I get asked these questions all the time from the students. And one of the main problems is that once someone becomes successful in the class, a lot of times they tend to clam up because Amazon especially is a very competitive area. And there’s always this fear that if you reveal your product, other people might jump in and copy and that sort of thing.
So, you’ll notice that whenever I go on the podcast with the students or whatnot, it’s almost always with someone who already has a solid website and their own following. And Maria has been doing very well in the past couple of years. And so, what I thought and she was gracious enough to come on office hours and kind of talk about her experiences, kind of like her struggles, her triumphs and what she’s gotten stuck on, and that sort of thing. And I don’t want to do all the talking here Maria, if you want to give a quick intro to yourself, that’d be great.
Maria: Sure. I mean, so I have been doing this since March of 2016. I found Steve’s class after doing extensive research because it was really important to me to find a class that would be thorough, that was detailed and given by somebody who had a presentation style that I could stomach. I looked at a lot of different classes and some of them I was like, okay, it might be good content, but I don’t like to hear this person talk. Steve has it all, and I love that you always are refreshing your content, etc. So that was where I began at. I began with research on Jungle Scout, I ran it by Steve and I — are you still doing that?
Steve: I do, I do it for a lot — I am actually overloaded with them. So by the way, just quick aside, if you’ve submitted a niche critique for me, please be patient. It takes me like two or three days to do it and I have a whole bunch of them. So and I like to think about a little bit and do a little bit of competitive analysis before I respond. That’s why it takes a little longer, sorry, go on.
Maria: Well, so I will tell you that I came up with the niche and I ran it by Steve and Steve said, this looks like worth investigating further. He didn’t say yes, this is going to be successful because it’s like you’re giving it your best guess. But that really mattered to me. And so from there, I ordered a test market amount of products. I put them up, I sold them in a few days at a higher price than I thought I could and then I was like, okay, here’s my niche.
Steve: That’s great.
Maria: And I’ve just gone from there. And I mean I can give you all kinds of detail.
Steve: Well, you know what? Let’s start from the beginning. So you bought your first batch. And how large was it again?
Maria: I did about 10.
Steve: Ten okay. And then what did you do with those 10?
Maria: So, I had them air shipped to me because I wanted to put them up quickly. I put them up on Amazon. And in the meantime, I looked — so I ordered something that existed. So it was like, I went on Alibaba, I found something that existed. I said, okay, I’m going to try this. As soon as I got it, I decided how I wanted to modify that product. So, I put them up on Amazon to sell them and then I started making my own design. And then I went back to the manufacturer with my own design. I had them produce 20 of them and I ran a test market with my own design, and that went better than I could have imagined.
Steve: So let’s back up a little bit. So that first one that you just listed as is, how did that do, and did you run ads and whatnot for that first batch of 10?
Maria: I didn’t, I just put it up and those they sold but while that was up and selling, I started working on the other design. And I did a pretty quick turnaround to get my own design on there. My own design sold faster.
Steve: Right. So what I was trying to — so at this point, you were still trying to figure out whether this product had legs or not, right?
Steve: So did you get any initial sales that kind of convinced you of that fact for that first batch of 10?
Maria: Yes. But it was really when I got the batch of 20 that was my own design and they sold very quickly that I said, okay, this is good.
Steve: Okay, so let’s talk about that second batch of 20 then. As soon as you put it up, did you do anything to promote it, or did it just kind of sell on its own?
Maria: I didn’t do anything because I didn’t yet have any reviews. What I did, I had a couple friends buy them and put up reviews for me. And then this was — I mean, I wasn’t offering a discount or anything. These were just friends of mine who were helping me out. So I had a couple reviews but I didn’t do any PPC, I didn’t do anything like that. But I sold out of them in eight days, and I increased the price by $12 over eight days.
Steve: Okay, someone in the class is asking what was your original budget?
Maria: So, I didn’t — I had money that I was prepared to invest in this business. And so I wasn’t going from a budget. I just said, I’m like, okay, I’m going to start out with 20 of these. I’m going to see what happens. So, that initial 20 plus the air shipping, etc. cost me a couple hundred dollars.
Maria: And so basically, I was making a couple hundred dollar decision to decide, am I going to dive deeper into this?
Steve: And those changes that you made with your product, can you kind of describe that process?
Maria: So, I’m just going to go ahead and reveal what I do and I’m going to ask the people in the class, don’t copy me. So, I sell [inaudible 00:08:50] and I have lived overseas in multiple places in the world where [inaudible 00:08:56] were essential for life. So, when I got the first [inaudible 00:08:59] right away, I was like, okay, here are the things that I would change based on my own experience with using this. So, it was a pretty personal decision about what I decided to change.
Steve: Oh, that’s not what I meant, actually. How did you work with the manufacturer to make those changes?
Maria: Oh, okay, sorry, I misunderstood you. So, first thing is on Alibaba I chose only gold level. I made sure they were trade assured, I did all of that stuff. I initially sent emails to maybe five different manufacturers saying, here’s what I want to do, can you do it? I followed one of the things that you had put out. And then the manufacturer who I felt like gave me the best answers, that’s the one that I bought the original samples with, which was an as is, and then that’s the one that I started corresponding with and saying, here are the changes I’d like to make, do you have this ability? And they were great and I have worked with them ever since.
Steve: So, were those changes, you just described them in words or did you — like how complicated were these changes?
Maria: They were simple enough that I could describe them in words and drawings. So, I made some drawings and then I was really careful in how I said things. And we had quite a bit of back and forth. I mean, the manufacturer was really good at asking me detailed questions, which I appreciated.
Steve: And then, how many samples were produced back and forth until you kind of came up with your final one?
Steve: Really, okay, that’s amazing. Even for me for a handkerchief, it sometimes takes a couple iterations.
Maria: Yeah, I mean, with later products that I’ve done, I’ve had more back and forth but the first one they just got it right, right away.
Steve: Okay. And then did you have any quality issues at all?
Maria: No, I have been really lucky. So, I have everything inspected in China before it’s shipped and I use Asia Inspection. So, I have found that Asia Inspection almost always fails everything, but then when I go in and I read the details, I find that what they’re failing are not really things that I would fail for. There has only been once that they came up with a defect that I was like, oh, this really isn’t okay. And this was a lot later in my journey. And I emailed the manufacturer, I said, hey, sorry, this is just not acceptable. And they actually on their own dime, they went back and they corrected every single one. And they sent me photographs, they sent me a video of them doing it, but that was because I have put a tremendous amount of energy into building really good relationships with my manufacturers.
So they’re invested in me in the same way that I’m invested in them. And I really feel like this was such a good example. Like I said, this is not going to work and they said, oh, we’re so sorry. I had been very clear. So when I place an order, I make a list and I say, these are the things you’re going to be inspected on, and so you should be paying attention to these things as you make them. So I always do that beforehand. And in this case, they said you told us this and we blew it. So it’s on us to fix it, and they fixed it.
Steve: When you get your inspections, do you get it done on the line, at the end, or both?
Maria: I’ve only done them at the end.
Steve: At the end. Okay, so when you caught this error, they had already produced a bunch of them?
Maria: They had already produced 4,650.
Steve: Wow. Okay, so clearly if this was your first order, that might not have come out the way that…
Maria: Oh, it would not have, it would have been a total disaster. So, I think that a couple of things, number one is, I would never start with a big order. I would start with smaller orders and build up even though you’re going to pay more, who cares? It’s better to pay a little more and have the security of knowing that you’ve got a manageable amount to inspect and you can feel confident that the inspection is valid, etc. So I’d start small and build up.
Steve: Okay. And so, a question from the class; was it hard to find a manufacturer who would allow for such a low order number? You mentioned you only produce 20 of your custom design? How did you convince them to just produce 20?
Maria: So, what I did was I said, this is — I explained that I was going to do a test to market and that to do a test market, I needed a small number and that as long as this went well, that I would be ordering a lot more and they believed me.
Steve: Okay, did you have a voice contact or was this just through email?
Maria: All email?
Steve: Really? Okay. That is amazing. You must be very convincing. Usually to produce low quantities like that, I would have to get on the on the phone with them or like on Skype or whatever with them. So it just depends on the manufacturer. Do you remember the language that you used to get such a low number, or was it just exactly what you said?
Maria: I can go back and find it because I sent it by email. But I mean, I don’t remember off the top of my head. This was years ago.
Steve: Of course.
Maria: I mean, I can find the language, I can send you the language if you want.
Steve: Okay, what was I going to ask about that? Okay, so first of all, how much do you pay per inspection? And then, because of that incident, did you start changing your inspection towards like the front of the line as opposed to all at the very end?
Maria: So the inspections are, I’ve done sort of the same level; it’s like level two or something in Asia Inspection. If you go in, you can see their pricing, so it’s like $360, something like that. And so, it was my most recent order where this error happened that they fixed, and I haven’t ordered again yet, so I haven’t changed anything yet. And honestly, I don’t really think I would, because I feel like I have such a good relationship with this manufacturer that if I’m really clear in saying this is what I expect and this is what you’re going to be inspected on, I mean, it seems like they’ll honor it.
Steve: Right. Yeah, I mean, I’ll just tell a quick story. And you guys might have heard this on my podcast with the handkerchiefs where we got fabric that was all kind of slightly blue, and we couldn’t sell it. Now, ultimately, the manufacturer, we have a great relationship, they were willing to make it right. But that was like another four or five months gone, right? We weren’t going to get product. And so what we started doing now, and this is kind of why I was asking you is we front load the inspection to just grab like the first couple pieces off the line. And so that way, they haven’t made a whole bunch yet and we catch it now much earlier.
Maria: So, one of the things that I do is they send me photographs, they send me detailed photographs of the first ones they make.
Steve: Okay, yeah, so for us, the photograph would not have actually exposed the problem. It would have had — it’s like a slight shade of white that’s different. So we would have had to have seen the product in hand. So that’s just something extra we do now just because we got burned. This was just, the vendor has been rock solid for many years, over five years and then all of a sudden this happened.
Maria: So how much do you have to pay for that initial?
Steve: It’s the same price. It’s basically essentially an inspection at the front end and then one in the back. It’s actually cheaper if you only want them to pull like a couple pieces or so.
Steve: Yeah, because they don’t have to go through like a huge bunch. Okay, so another question for you. At what point did she start private labeling and customize your packaging like for those initial 20?
Maria: I did it with the initial 20. The only thing I ever sold that wasn’t mine was the first order of 10 where I was just testing by themselves. So it was an as is. As soon as I did the order of 20, I put my company name and everything on it.
Steve: Okay, so as soon as those 20 started selling, what did you do to kind of increase your sales and what was your process like?
Maria: So, you mean front — well so the first 20 sold and then I placed a big order.
Steve: Okay. So what was your size of your big order?
Maria: It was 3,000.
Steve: 3,000 okay.
Maria: Yeah. So it was basically a container full. And then I learned the hard way that when you lose your sales momentum, it sets you back. So, it took me a while to gain that sales momentum back. And I did PPC, I had some friends buy them, I did different things to like get that momentum back.
Steve: Did you do anything special to kind of boost sales outside of just Amazon PPC, for example, did you do anything to get reviews?
Maria: The only thing I did to get reviews and I only did this a few times was I had friends review things for me. And actually, one of the things that I did that I think works really well especially now where Amazon is paying attention to buying reviews is I traded reviews with some people. So, I bought their product, I reviewed it, they bought my product, they reviewed it.
Steve: Interesting. Okay another question; you did FBA for even those initial batches, right?
Steve: Okay. And Sandra is asking, what do you mean by lose your sales momentum? I was actually kind of curious about that too because with 20 units, you don’t really have that much sales momentum right?
Maria: So, I just — so when I sold 20 units, they sold quickly and then I had a dead zone where I didn’t have any more products to sell. I left one in there and I jacked the price way up so that it wouldn’t just go to zero. But then when I restocked, I thought they would just sell quickly again and they didn’t. It took a while for that to get going again.
Steve: Okay, just for future reference for the class, you probably shouldn’t jack up your price on those last units. You should probably just let it sell out and then…
Maria: I know that now. At the time, that’s what I thought, was the right thing to do. That was three years ago.
Steve: Three years ago. Yeah, no, I’m not criticizing you. I’m just saying.
Maria: Yeah I know, I’m just saying.
Steve: Okay. And so all right, so things started going well. And I want to kind of shift gears a little bit and talk about some of your struggles. Like, it wasn’t obviously all smooth sailing. And I just kind of want to highlight some of the things that you had to go through.
Maria: So, I ended up switching freight forwarders. I had a freight forwarder who gave me quote, who basically there was like a big miscommunication and it was just a total nightmare. And then I was like, okay, I have all this product here, but I’m not going to ship with this freight forwarder. So then I was out searching for another freight forwarder. That was one big challenge in the beginning.
Steve: Well, can you share who you are using now?
Maria: Yes. So who I use now is called Bestocean Worldwide Logistics, they’re in California. They have been great; they give me great prices for shipping. They also do warehousing, and they have a warehouse system that’s actually like computerized so that you can do everything online and you you can see exactly what’s going on as opposed to like some third party warehouses where you’re hoping they know what they’re doing. So yeah, Bestocean Worldwide Logistics, if anybody wants the name of my rep I can provide.
Steve: You mentioned that, do you take advantage of their warehousing?
Maria: I do.
Steve: So, do they do any prep work for you before they send it off to Amazon?
Maria: So, I am only sending case packed cartons to Amazon so they’re coming from the manufacturer case packed, so all the warehouse is doing for me is putting the FBA label on and sending them in. And the great thing is their warehouse is located right by the Ontario California Amazon fulfillment center. So, usually things get there in a day.
Steve: I see. Okay, so when you make that larger, you have it shipped over to their warehouse and they do the flooring to the Ontario warehouse.
Maria: And I do it that way because my product is seasonal, so in the offseason I don’t want a lot of things sitting in Amazon that I’m just going to pay storage on. I pay less money in storage at my third party warehouse than I would pay if I just stored everything there. So, I manage my inventory that way. I watch on Amazon, as it’s getting low, I have my warehouse send in more because I want to be paying Amazon less. Amazon charges more for storage than my warehouse charges, so I do it that way.
Steve: Yeah, so that’s just a quick tip for the students out there. Amazon over the years, they’ve just been jacking up their storage fees especially over the holidays, it’s like three x higher. And if you do your research, you’ll find that warehousing can be like up to six times cheaper than what Amazon charges to hold their products. So the way that Maria is doing it, having it stored in a warehouse and having it kind of shift piecemeal so that you don’t have too much stuff in Amazon’s warehouse at any given time will save you money.
Steve: Does your manufacturer also create your packaging for you or do you have another person do the packaging for you?
Maria: They do it all. They outsource the packaging. So, in the manufacturing time, one of the things that can make your manufacturing time longer is they’re getting different pieces of the package from different places. So for example, there’s an insert, there’s a plastic bag, there’s a cloth bag, each of those is coming from a different place. So, they’re managing all of that, but it can just affect timing and you want to make sure your manufacturer knows how to do it. I have two manufacturers, they’ve both been great.
Steve: Okay, does your warehouse do any labeling for your product or are they just boxing stuff up and sending it in?
Maria: So, they are not boxing anything, the boxes are coming packed from China, all they’re doing is putting an FB a label on it, but they can do anything and everything. They can label individual products, they can do individual product fulfilling, they can do it all.
Steve: But for your purposes, each one of your products are individually labeled with your FNSKU, right?
Maria: Right. I have an insert that has that on it. So there’s no labeling involved. It’s all; the only label is the label that goes on the carton to send it to Amazon.
Steve: Okay Kathy, I will post all the information about Maria’s freight forwarder below this video so that everyone can have access to it. All right, so more on struggles, sorry. So we were talking about … Yeah, we got sidetracked there.
Maria: So I mean, the majority of my struggles have been dealing with Amazon, like Amazon has overcharged me fees. Amazon is taken down listings when they shouldn’t have; Amazon has done all kinds of things. And I have been — the number one thing I can tell you about selling on Amazon which Steve’s on blog posts said about a week ago is you have to watch them like a hawk. And that means you got to play around with all their silly reports and find the reports that give you the data you really need. I have like Seller Central; their customer service drives me insane. So, multiple times I have emailed Jeff Bezos himself, and I’ve been successful in speaking with his reps, and that’s how I’ve gotten things fixed.
So for example, they had overcharged me a fee for one of my products for like a year and I just fought and fought and fought and I got to Jeff Bezos his person and I said, this has been overcharged, I can prove it. She tried to argue with me but then she reimbursed it all.
Steve: Can you talk about what that fee was?
Maria: It was the FBA fees, so not the percentage that they take, but the fee that they charge for doing FBA.
Steve: Did your item get misclassified somehow? Is that why it happened?
Maria: They never said so. I had I think I started out saying this needs to be re-measured, and they came back with the measurement but it’s still based on what was on their website and then what this person was telling me, they didn’t add up. So, I just kept sending her a link to the website saying this is not what your website says. And so, I don’t know if she blew it or if something on the website was incorrect, but I could prove that they were overcharging me. So they reimbursed me for all of it.
Steve: How many interactions before you decided to email Jeff?
Maria: I only email Jeff if it’s something that I think is like a bigger level Amazon issue. So, I’ve emailed him about this fee change, because I think that to me was like, is there something wrong in your algorithm that’s overcharging this on a Prime Day? So on Prime Day in 2017, when my sales were going like gangbusters, they took the prime tag off of my listings.
Steve: That actually happened to a lot of people. I feel it was on purpose.
Maria: I went straight to the top; they came back, so it took a while. It usually takes like two weeks to hear back from one of Jeff’s reps and they told me that they can do whatever they want with the prime badges. And I said, okay, that’s fine but the problem was you guys sent out a media guide saying, here’s what you should do on social media to promote Prime Day. And I had followed that. And so I said, essentially what you did was you made me spend money to drive traffic to Amazon, but then I didn’t get to benefit from that as a seller. And they said that because I had made a business decision based on information that they sent me, they gave me some money.
Steve: Okay, so you’ve had pretty good luck emailing Jeff.
Maria: I have. I mean, I’ve had other times where I’ve gone straight through and I have had them say, we do understand where you’re coming from, but we’re not going to do anything. I’ve gotten compensation multiple times. And I think that I mean, I’m very careful in how I structure emails to him. I make them very factual and make sure that I’m giving data that can actually be acted upon and not giving any opinions, not putting any emotion to it and making it really scientific. So somebody can read it and be like, oh, wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense. And those get responses.
Steve: Would you be willing to share one of those emails?
Steve: Okay, cool. Once again, I’ll post it below the video if Maria can find it. A question from the class, you mentioned you now sell multiple products. Did you just grow in your niche, or do you have a diverse selection of unrelated products now?
Maria: Yeah, I’m only in my niche.
Steve: Can we talk about some of the specific Amazon struggles that you’ve had and which ones have impacted you the most?
Maria: I mean, I feel like every struggle I’ve had with Amazon has impacted me. Like when I figured out that they were overcharging me this fee, I was so angry because I was just like why are they being so dishonest? And how can — when I went back and forth with Seller Central and they always come up with strange things like some of them. One of the reps I talked to reimbursed me like a couple of cents, but they weren’t really paying attention to what I was saying, they weren’t following the detail. And then when I finally got to Jeff Bezos, his rep, and then it got fixed, he was like, okay, that was worth my time. And then I go on.
So, I kind of feel like with each struggle with Amazon, I go through a phase where I’m really mad at Amazon, I think I’m crazy to be on Amazon, I think it’s time to shift over to my own store, etc., etc. And then I force myself to get over it and go on. And the truth is, I mean, this has happened to me multiple times. And I think it’s just the price of doing business on Amazon. I mean, I’m in touch with people who are much bigger sellers than me, and they have the same thing. I think it’s just part of the nature of the business on Amazon. Has that been your experience?
Steve: Absolutely, which is I think the class pretty much knows this either through the podcast and whatnot. But whenever an Amazon issue pops up, my wife just gets a really bad mood and it last for weeks, or however long it takes. So, that’s why we’ve made a conscious effort to focus more on our own shop. Actually, that’s my next question for you, Maria. You’ve gone through all this stuff. And it’s a struggle and it’s come out good for you. You’ve gotten resolutions, but how much time and mind share has that taken you to get to that point? And are you focusing more now on your own site or are you still all in on Amazon?
Maria: So, I’m my goal for 2019 is to get as much business off of Amazon as I have on Amazon. And that’s my absolute focus. So I am, like it’s the beginning of the year. So I’m doing kind of a re-optimization of my listing on Amazon doing a re-work of the keywords etc. As soon as that’s done, I’m going to let Amazon fly a little bit. I mean, you got to always watch them like a hawk. But I’m going to try and reduce the amount of time I’m spending dealing with that and really put my efforts into I’m focusing on business to business sales.
Steve: I just want to take a moment to thank Ahrefs for being a sponsor of the show. Now, I’m a huge fan of their tool and in my opinion Ahrefs is the best all in one SEO tool out there to rank in Google search. And recently, I completed a search engine site audit for mywifequitherjob.com and Bumblebeelinens.com and Ahrefs was indispensable. For example, I used Ahrefs to do a deep dive into all my posts to find the highest volume, lowest competition keywords to target in search. And in fact, recently, I used Ahrefs to rank a blog post in Google from position 20 to position five for a big time keyword in the span of just one month by switching around my title and H1 tags.
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Yes, I was just going to suggest there’s probably a lot of organizations that will buy from you in bulk.
Maria: Yeah, yeah. And I’m not interested in doing individual sales off of Amazon because I don’t want to be doing customer service etc. But I want it business to business like individual sales Amazon can do that but the rest I want.
Steve: Can we talk a little bit about mindset here, especially if you can remember when you first started out, just taking those risks. Did you just go into this saying, hey, I’m going to invest a couple thousand dollars in this and whatever happens? How did you finally just be willing to take that first leap and place that first $4,000 order or 4,000 unit order I should say?
Maria: Yeah, so I’m really good at research. I had watched like so many things in your library. I had corresponded with you to ask you questions, I felt reasonably confident. Another thing that has been absolutely key in my journey, though, is that I started meeting with another student once a week, and we’ve met once a week for almost three years. And our relationship has been essential because we help each other, we figure out what’s working, what’s not, we make suggestions. And then, another student in the class, we don’t get together regularly, but she’s also been really key in helping me feel confident.
I am a very determined person. So, I just decided, I’m like I decided I’m like, based on all of the research that I’ve done, based on all of the webinars that I watched, this should work. So it’s going to work. And then I just worked really hard to make sure that it did. And that meant paying attention to a ton of details. It meant continuously learning because it shifts so often. So, I mean, I still put a lot of energy into hearing the latest changes and whatever, and then adapting accordingly.
But basically, from the beginning, I just decided, like, I’m doing this and I’m doing this all the way. I will say that if in 2017, if 2017 hadn’t been as successful as it was, I might have said, oh, maybe I should switch niches. But 2017 was very successful and so it was just confirmation in like you’re doing the right thing. And then in 2018, I grew by 77%.
Steve: I’m just trying to get an idea of where your mindset was. Let’s say the first batch of 20 didn’t sell out immediately, let’s say you sold maybe four units, would that have been enough to push you over the edge, or would one sale have done the trick for you?
Maria: No, it definitely mattered that I sold them all quickly and that I was able to raise the price significantly while they were selling. Like every day I raised the price by the dollar or more. Had that test market not gone so well, I may have revisited the niche. I probably would have contacted you and said, hey, what else should I try? I mean, really, that test market made a lot of sense to me. The other thing is that because this product is kind of personal to me, like I had done a lot of research about just the global environment and sort of how does this product fit into the global environment and I was really confident that there would be a market based on that research as well.
Steve: All right, I think the reason why I’m asking you that question is because these days, it’s a lot more rare for you to just throw something up and then sell out 20 units. You have to do a little bit more these days. And so I guess you’ve launched several products since then, right?
Maria: I have three products and three products have made me a six figure seller.
Steve: Right. So for those other ones, I guess at this point, you’re already confident and so you probably just put them up and then just started running ads and it was all peachy, right?
Maria: So for the second two, yeah. I put them up, I had a couple of friends by them so that I had two reviews and I started running PPC right away. And I also, my timing was really good. If you were to start with [inaudible 00:35:48] today, it would be much harder because there’s more competition. So, I had the advantage of having gotten in when I did. So that’s something to consider like if you want to get in on something I think before it becomes to popular in theory.
Steve: Sure. A couple questions from the class. Where are you located, and is this a full time business for you now?
Maria: I am in Alexandria, Virginia, and yes, it’s a full time business.
Steve: And were you working when you started this?
Steve: All right, so we’ve talked about struggles. We’ve talked about how you got started; do you have any tips for some of the students in the class who are just kind of starting out?
Maria: So, I think one of my tips would be when you’re doing product research, I mean, I know there are sort of two lines. One is to fall in love with the product that has the best numbers and the other is to find a product that somehow speaks to you. So for me, it worked where a product that had good numbers happened to also be a product that spoke to me personally, so spoke to my own life experience. And I really think that that connection was very helpful. So, I think if you can find a product where you get good numbers, but it’s also something that inspires you or is connected to you some other way, that’s a good thing to pursue.
Steve: So, given that you just said that, if things weren’t going so hot in that first 20 units, would you have probably just kept with it for a while longer because this niche kind of spoke to you?
Maria: I might have I mean, I might have tried a different design, so I might have said, okay, maybe this first design I came up with wasn’t the best one to try. I mean, because looking at the bigger picture, saying what’s happening in the world? So, the temperature is only going up, bugs are only getting worse. That was a pretty good impetus for me to say this seems like a logical thing to get into. If I wasn’t looking at that bigger picture, then if something didn’t sell right away, I might say probably not a good choice. But I’ve always been looking at this from a big picture but then also from details, looking on both sides.
Steve: Are there any mistakes that you made early on that you’d care to share and that other students would hopefully avoid going forward?
Maria: I actually think that the first order that I did of 3000, I think I was overly ambitious. I think I probably should have made that first order a little smaller, because as it ended up, that model sells less than the two models that I did later. I mean, it’s still a good model, but it’s just kind of interesting how that went. I don’t have any regrets because I learned from doing it, but I think if you can get a manufacturer — so like if I had first ordered 1,000 of that model, I might have made modifications to it. I might have decided I didn’t want to continue with that model and that other models would make me more money. So yeah, and the thing is hindsight is 2020. At the time it totally made sense to me to go ahead and order a container of them and go forward, but now when I look back I say, that was pretty ambitious and it would have been okay to start with 1,000 and then reorder.
Steve: It’s funny that you say that because whenever students asked me how much they should get for their first order, if it’s anywhere close to the holidays, I usually advise them to get more than they think that they’re going to need which is kind of what you…
Maria: But I mean close to the holidays I would agree with you. I mean if I was in the season, so had my timing been different, had I’ve been ordering those 3,000 that’s in March and they had arrived in May, I probably would have sold them like gangbusters. Instead, I did my test market during peak season but then the order production time took Time and so I didn’t actually get those until the fall when they were starting to get [inaudible 00:40:07], so some of it was timing. So that’s another thing to think about is timing especially if you have a seasonal product. I absolutely agree with you, if you have a product that’s going to sell hot over the holidays, then yes, buy more than you think you should. I agree with you 100%.
Steve: This is a lot of people are usually squeamish about that first order. So they’re like, hey Steve, should I just get 200 units. I’m like 200 units is not going to last you.
Maria: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a couple things. One is, even if you do a test market and your test market is successful, you may decide that there’s something you want to change if it’s your own design. And so if you start out with fewer, you can change that design quicker. But if you’re not in that scenario, then it’s totally, then I think I would look at it very differently. So, only from a design perspective would I say start a little smaller, double check your design, make sure there isn’t anything you’re going to want to change further and then go into a bigger order. And by small, I mean like 1,000.
Steve: Okay, are there any things that you’re doing now for your later product launches that you weren’t doing in your first launch because you figured a few things out? Are you doing anything differently today to launch a product?
Maria: I’m not.
Steve: Okay. So it’s the tried and true formula of creating a really good listing, Amazon PPC, anything else that you’d care to share?
Maria: I think the key is have — so I know that now apparently Amazon is connecting friends with friends. So have friends of friends buy things and put up a few reviews for you. I pay people, so I will say if you’ll buy this for me, I’ll send you a check for the product if you put up a review, like I will do that because that gets you your first reviews. It gets you on the board and then start PPC. I would do that with two.
Steve: Right. Okay.
Maria: I’m not talking about doing this with 10 or 100 or whatever.
Steve: Of course.
Maria: Start small because it’s just kind of getting the ball rolling. I’m a big believer in, you got to get the boulder in motion. And once the boulder is in motion, physics takes over. So, get the boulder in motion and then, do all you can to support it.
Steve: Okay. Does anyone in the class — I mean, we’re almost close to 50 minutes here and I don’t want to keep you too long here. Does anyone in the class have any other questions for Maria? I’ll continue talking but if you have any questions, just post them on the live chat because Maria is gracious enough to be here and talk very openly about what she sells and her struggles and that sort of thing. And so, I think this is a really good opportunity for anyone who’s curious. So, anyone who’s just kind of starting out and a little bit hesitant about the entire process.
Maria: Another thing I did want to mention is that I think that I mean I have to do this all the time, it’s some backing yourself up. It’s like making yourself feel good about what you’re doing. And one of the things that I use is mantras. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that. But you can get up in the morning and you can tell it, kind of give yourself what’s your focus for the day. So you might say, I am powerful and then you write that down a whole bunch of times. And as you’re writing it, and you’re reading it, it just helps you get a mindset. And then I find that that carries into my day.
Steve: Okay, a couple of other questions that have just come in. You mentioned trading reviews, where did you find people who are willing to do that?
Maria: So, this was in the old days when we had the forum and I asked on the forum.
Steve: Actually, we still have that that forum. I know I said I was taking it away, but I just kind of left it around because a few students asked me to just keep it around. So I haven’t removed it just yet.
Maria: Well, and I should say to give credit there was another student who came up with the idea and then we have pursued it.
Steve: Okay all right. So you got a whole bunch of thank yous, I don’t know if you’re on the classroom page right now Maria but everyone has found this extremely valuable and very informative. I was going to ask you, how do you plan — so first of all, how many hours do you work on this business a week?
Maria: So, one of one of the reasons why I did this is I wanted to have a lifestyle business where I don’t have specific work hours and relax hours. I mean, I would say probably 40 to 60.
Steve: Really okay.
Steve: If you were to break down the time that you spend, do where the breakdown is? Is it on product research, Amazon issues, how does it break out?
Maria: I spend a lot of time on research, and it’s not just product, it’s researching — so for me what’s going on [inaudible 00:44:52] what’s going on with the disease, where there are outbreaks, because I have a Facebook page that I post on every single day. So, I’m trying to keep people informed. I see my business as educational in addition to providing a product.
Steve: Do you have a blog as well or is it just a Facebook page?
Maria: I do, I have a blog on my website. So I have a website that just links all my products to Amazon because I’m not yet selling from my website because I want that to only be business to business. But I do have a blog on my website. I am not blogging all the time. And Stephen, I had talked about this a while ago. I don’t know if you remember, but it’s like in some ways with [inaudible 00:45:37], there’s a limited number of things you’re going to discuss. So, I’ve kind of done those posts and then I revisit them. I do try and come up with new ideas. But Facebook is one of my primary things that I’m using to just kind of communicate with a broader field of people and to demonstrate like this is not only about a product, this is about keeping you informed.
Steve: Do you have anyone on your staff to help you?
Maria: My dog.
Steve: Your dog. Okay that’s great. So there you have it Maria. Maria is doing this solo essentially right now.
Maria: But I really, I consider my team to be Steve, a couple students that I am in regular touch with, my faithful order, my manufacturers of, my warehouse people. I consider that to be my whole team, and so even though technically like I’m the one doing it, there’s a lot of people that are involved.
Steve: Of course, of course, so no full time employees I guess?
Maria: No, I’m in.
Steve: Okay. Well Maria, this has been great. I really appreciate it, and the class does too. You might want to hop on the live chat, maybe later open it up and just everyone is like yeah, thank you so much. Dan was just saying, thank you everyone for making this a safe space where we can openly discuss our products and not feel too vulnerable.
Maria: I did begin by telling you [inaudible 00:46:59] don’t be bad, so don’t do that.
Steve: I will ban anyone’s account if you sell [inaudible 00:47:05].
Maria: Yeah, the other — I mean, my main message though, to fellow classmates is, it’s possible. I mean, I went from zero to six figures in…
Steve: A year and a half.
Maria: Yeah, a year and a half. So it’s very, very doable and you have to really just keep motivating yourself and keep saying I can do it, I believe in myself, and you got to be right about that. Like you can’t have a pipe dream and pursue a pipe dream. You got to make sure your dream is grounded in reality.
Steve: Well, Maria, I’m going to stop the broadcast. Hang out a little bit, I want to talk to you a little bit, but thanks a lot.
Maria: You’re welcome. Good luck.
Steve: I hope you enjoyed that episode. Now, you probably noticed that I had to bleep out Maria’s product from the podcast and unfortunately, all the extra resources mentioned in the podcast are for students only. But I hope you got a lot out of this episode. It’s not always smooth sailing, but as long as you are persistent and detail oriented, you will eventually succeed. For more information about this episode, go to Mywifequitherjob.com/episode245.
And once again, I want to thank Klaviyo for sponsoring this episode. Klaviyo is my email marketing platform of choice for developing real quality customer relationships. Right now they just released a cool docuseries called Beyond Black Friday where you can learn successful e-commerce marketing strategies from real companies using their platform. This docuseries is free and you could check it out at Klaviyo.com/beyondbf, once again that’s K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.com/beyondbf.
I also want to thank Privy for sponsoring this episode. Privy is the email capture provider that I personally use to turn visitors into email subscribers. They offer email capture, exit intent, and site targeting tools to make it super simple as well. And I like Privy because it’s so powerful and you can basically trigger custom pop-ups for any primer that is closely tied to your ecommerce store. If you want to give it a try, it is free. So, head on over to Privy.com/Steve, once again, that’s P-R-I-V-Y.com/Steve.
Now I talk about how I use these tools on my blog, and if you’re interested in starting your own e-commerce store, head on over to mywifequitherjob.com and sign up for my free six-day mini course. Just type in your email and I’ll send you the course right away. Thanks for listening.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast where we’re giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information, visit Steve’s blog at www.Mywifequitherjob.com.