10. Tiering up, outsourcing and virtual assistants with Brooke

Tiering up, outsourcing and virtual assistants with Brooke. Sign up to get my 5 favorite Merch by Amazon tools & resources today at www.merchentrepreneur.com/tools. Building your Merch by Amazon business? Get free case studies and POD tactics delivered to your inbox at www.merchentrepreneur.com/signup. Join our facebook community at www.facebook.com/groups/merchentrepreneurs.

Elaine Heney: Welcome to the Merch Entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Elaine Heney, and today I am joined by the delightful Brooke from the US who is going to tell a little bit about her journey doing Merch. Brooke, welcome.
Brooke: Hello, thank you very much for having me. I am a little under the weather, so I will start out by saying if I sound like I have a cold, it is just one of the many things that I’m dealing with right now. We can do this, we can get through this.
Elaine Heney: No, you’re great. You sound perfect, and it’s very strange cause I’m interviewing from Ireland and the audio quality’s perfect. Fingers crossed it’ll continue. First off, Brooke, whereabouts in the States are you from and what were you doing before Merch by Amazon?
Brooke: I live outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at a lovely little neighborhood called Phoenixville. I have a sordid past. I am an attorney by trade, but because I was an attorney I’ve always been looking for a way to pay off my student debt. I dabbled in a lot of different things. I started an app, so I was an app developer. I guess I still am cause I have some money that’s still coming in from my apps, believe it or not, but I have not been actively doing apps for two years. I work with Amazon so I kinda moved into the Amazon platform. Not Merch by Amazon, but actually selling physical products on amazon.com. We currently sell a leather conditioner on Amazon, and I’m running a e-commerce store, lordleathercare@lordleathercare.com, where we sell a leather conditioner that my husband’s grandfather created. I kinda got in that, and as of having my second child back in March, I have been pretty much solely running my businesses. I am no longer an active attorney, although I do still pick up some stuff on the side, and then kind of wandered into Merch by Amazon. I guess the question, Elaine, is what am I not doing right now?
Elaine Heney: I know, you’ve done lots and lots of different things. When did you actually get started in March? Was it this year?
Brooke: It was this year. This is kinda only my second month I’ve been doing it. I’m pretty new to the Merch field, but luckily I’ve got some great friends, including some of you in the Merch websites on Facebook that have been super helpful in streamlining the process for me. It’s been a really good two months and I’m currently waiting to get out of the 100 tier, is where I’m currently at.
Elaine Heney: That’s really good. You started two months ago at the 25 tier and you’re up to 100 already. You’ve already sold 100 T-shirts, have you?
Brooke: I’ve sold more. I actually sold well more than 100 T-shirts, so it’s a little bit frustrating. I basically started and got myself out of the 25 tier by selling a T-shirt. My husband has a company as well, he does work on cars. I found that I wanted to figure out how I could make a T-shirt to get out of the 25 tier quickly, so I did a T-shirt, again [inaudible 00:03:40] T-shirt, and my husband pushed it to his Instagram following. We sold about 11 of those, and then I sold a myriad of other random ones. I got out of the 25 pretty quickly. I then uploaded a Hillary Clinton T-shirt that did really well. I think that one in itself sold 170.
Elaine Heney: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.
Brooke: Yeah, I think I’m sort of an anomaly in the sense that I don’t think like the one and done is usually how it works. I think I was just in a timeframe in the United States with the upcoming election that I just hit a niche and did well. Unfortunately, tiering up isn’t automatic, so I’m waiting to be tiered up. I’d say it’s been probably about three weeks maybe that I’ve been stuck in the dreaded 100 tier, but I’ve enough T-shirts to go beyond. It’s just a matter of when I get tiered up by the men and women behind the Merch by Amazon wizard sheath over there. I’m waiting for them to pull it back and let me go to 500.
Elaine Heney: Yeah, I’m waiting as well. I hope they do it. There’s some people who’ve been waiting over a month and a half, if not longer, so hopefully they’ll tier up again soon. It’s a killer, you sell enough T-shirts to make the next tier, and then every day you log in and get the same 100 on your dashboard and you’re like, “Oh god, come on.”
Brooke: I know, it’s times like this where we’re hitting on Thanksgiving and Christmas where I want to be prepared to get my next 500 T-shirts out, but I’m concerned about putting up Christmas T-shirts. Who knows how long it’s gonna take? It’s a bit frustrating, but hey listen, it’s a fantastic platform, so at this point I’m taking the hits because the positives are so great.
Elaine Heney: That’s true. Do you spend much time actually, out of curiosity, on Merch every day?
Brooke: Because of all of my other business that I have going on, I designate one full day to Merch a week, and then I designate some night times. I do some work on my own just with some apps on my phone, and I tend to do that once my kids are in bed. I’ve got two young ones, so once they get to bed at like 7:30, if I’m not in front of my computer, if I’m just sitting on the couch vegging out, I’ll be trying to look up some concepts and then I’ll be putting together some T-shirts on my own pretty quickly. I guess I would probably say I spend at least one full day and then maybe one to two hours a night on it.
Elaine Heney: Okay, cool. Coming into this, did you have any graphic design skills or background? Had you done any graphic design courses or anything like that?
Brooke: No, I haven’t. I did a little bit of Adobe, and I use a great platform called canva.com for my personal business. I’m not very good at it, I haven’t take any courses. I kinda just did what I needed to do to get by. There’s a lot of great things out there, like canva.com online, I’ve used a lot to create images for my business. There’s some really great apps on the iPhone, Word Swag and Over being two of them, that I basically create a lot of my T-shirts using those two apps. You really need zero experience in graphic design in order to get started and get moving, and to be successful, actually truly.
Elaine Heney: That’s really cool cause I guess one thing when I coming into it, the whole idea is you’re making designs for T-shirts. I was like, “Oh god, I’m gonna have to hire a really good designer, or maybe I should have really good design skills and I won’t be successful because I don’t,” but actually you’re completely right. It doesn’t actually make a huge amount of difference. Once your T-shirts are presentable, which they can be even just with text on it, and the message on the T-shirt resonates with whoever’s gonna buy it, it actually doesn’t have to be the most beautifully designed T-shirt, I don’t think, in the planet.
Brooke: Yeah, and I think there’s different ways to do it. I think if you wanna go in and do it completely on your own using a Word Swag and Over, you absolutely can, and I believe you can be successful. I did a little looking at my Merch account before, just to give you an idea of where I’m at. I do have a designer, two, that I work with that I found on Upwork. Of my designs that are selling, five of them have been done by a designer and five of them have been done by myself. I kind of have a blend of things, and I think for me, I have a little bit of income that I can put toward my designers. On the whole, I would say that the money that I’ve put out on the designs, it doesn’t always come back.

For instance, I could spend $100 on 50 designs or something like that, and I may get it back, but only on two or three or four designs. It is truly a numbers game, which is why if you’ve got a really great idea that you wanna do with a designer, then go for it, but I really do think, and I’m gonna find myself going for it more doing just Word Swag and Over cause it’s really simple to do. I think that’s probably one of the best things about this, is if you’ve got some time and you’re able to look at the market and see what’s selling, and put your ideas forward on your own, it’s very realistic to be successful in this on your own time with little to no money at all.

Elaine Heney: That’s great to hear. I was just curious. You mentioned you had a designer who helped you out. Do you have anybody else on your team, or is it just you and then this designer on call if you need them?
Brooke: It’s just me and the designer on call. Actually I’m sorry, I take that back. I have a virtual assistant, as well. I’ve had a VA for, I guess I’ve been with her for three years now. Started with her when I was doing apps. She does a little bit of work on my Amazon business, and then she does a lot of my uploading for my T-shirts. Do take in mind when I say how much time I spend on Merch, that is by the fact that I have a virtual assistant who’s doing a lot of my research and uploading things online for me. I think once I get into higher tiers, because I’ve got other things going on, I’m gonna actually rely on my virtual assistant more than I do because I still have the business I run on a daily basis.

I kind of consider myself to be like the brain of the thing, as far as I sit down and I wanna look at research, and I wanna see what’s trending and what’s cool. Then I come up with design ideas, I put the design ideas out to my artists, and then I look at what the artists send back to me. Once I have a finalized art, I then upload it into a file. Most of the time I upload it onto Merch because I like to see what colors look best on the Merch platform, and then I will let my VA know that XYZ have been uploaded and go ahead. She’ll do a lot of research on how many other T-shirts are out there, what we should be pricing it at based on the saturation of the market, and then she’ll use keyword research and she will upload it onto Merch. She’s been trained to do all that kind of stuff. I’m lucky to have a VA. I think if you want this to be a long-term thing, you either have all of your time to designate to Merch, or you have to come up with another plan, which is to find a good, reasonably priced VA and artist. It’s easy to work that way as well.

Elaine Heney: That’s really interesting, actually. You’ve got your VA doing quite a lot of the different parts of it, which is really cool to hear because I have a few VAs working for me, but more on the uploading. I more do the keyword research and stuff myself, which I should probably just outsource at this stage and free up a bit more time. That’s really cool.
Brooke: I’m lucky, I have a brilliant VA.
Elaine Heney: You do, quite the [crosstalk 00:11:55].
Brooke: I do have a brilliant VA, so very lucky.
Elaine Heney: How cool. I was wondering, could you maybe think of one thing that’s helped you the most at Merch, or helped you a lot with Merch, in the process of getting started?
Brooke: I think that the one thing that’s sort of helped me most in Merch is actually my app experience because I learned as a part of a group called App Millionaire. It was basically a program, it’s almost like marketing 101. It taught me how to look at the market that I’m looking into, look at the apps, look at the App Store, or in this case look at Merch by Amazon, and look at what’s trending, look at what’s popular, and then think about not just taking something that somebody else is doing and doing it yourself, but changing it in a way that it’s a little bit different and a little bit unique so that you stand out. I really learned that in the app industry, and I’ve taken that over to Merch. My Hillary T-shirt, for instance, was a common thing that people were doing, but I added a signature onto a T-shirt that everybody else was selling. Nobody else was doing that, and that really took off. It’s that one extra thing that makes you different than somebody else. I think it’s really helping me in this marketplace.

Another thing that is interesting that I’ve been working on, and I think that’s been doing well, if you can, find two ideas that are working and put them together. For instance, I had a emoji T-shirt that cut over onto a Thanksgiving thing. Emojis are really popular, Thanksgiving is really popular. Combine the two and that seems to resonate because now you’re reaching people who both like emojis and both like Thanksgiving. That sort of background from the app world really has helped me in the Merch platform in learning how to pick out winners and then learning where I can be different than somebody else, which then makes your T-shirt a winner in the end, hopefully.

Elaine Heney: Absolutely, that’s really interesting actually to hear that. Lastly, Brooke, what are you excited about for the future in Merch?
Brooke: I’m excited to tier. I’m so excited to tier.
Elaine Heney: Finally.
Brooke: Come on, Amazon, I’m excited to tier. I think one of the great things about Merch, and the app business that I was into, but it has the same idea, is sort of the passive income. Yes, there’s work involved. Yes, it takes time. Yes, you gotta be smart and really look at the field and be intelligent about your choices that you’re making and the time that you’re spending. Once you upload that T-shirt, it’s on the Amazon platform, which is just a huge platform. Just being there alone has already put me well ahead of an Etsy shop or a Pinterest store, or something like that, because of how big Amazon is. I literally have put up those hundred T-shirts. I haven’t been doing any work because I can’t do any work right now. I’ve been coming up with ideas and stuff like that, but I’m not actually doing active work on it.

I looked back, and in the beginning of this month, these last 15 days where I haven’t tiered up and I haven’t done anything, I’ve made $300. It’s crazy. I’ve sold 52 T-shirts. It’s like, okay, well, I wasn’t really doing anything. Yes, I put in my work and I put in my time, but it’s this really great sort of passive income once you put the work out. Amazon helps, and if you’ve done it right, then the power of Amazon and the internet can really help you.The other amazing thing is there’s no inventory. It blows my mind that I just upload a design and set a price, and then somebody buys it. It’s just crazy. The fact that I’m so unbelievably hands-off, other than my own putting up the design and figuring out what I want, that is the most amazing thing ever. It’s just amazing.
Elaine Heney: That’s been the big difference for me doing Merch cause I was doing FBA as well before. FBA is great. Again, you’re on the Amazon platform, you get sales, but then if you sell 10 products, you’ve gotta go and buy 20 the next time. You’re always paying out money, you’re always having to buy inventory the whole time. This is just the strangest platform that literally you don’t have to spend any money to make money.

Brooke: Right, you literally don’t have to spend a dollar. You really don’t. Unless the apps that I’m talking about. You might have to buy the apps, but beyond buying the apps, that is it. Literally, you can do that. It is crazy. As far as expenses, because I do run a full-time business that is FBA, and that I do run Facebook ads, it’s a massive undertaking. I’ll tell you, I’m interested to see about what my income from both of the sources will be at the end, when you take into account time put in verse money out. I just see a lot of really great things from Merch, and I’m really excited to be doing it. I just wanna tier up already.
Elaine Heney: Brooke, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you so much for your time, and absolutely I will keep my fingers crossed that you tier up ASAP.

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