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The lifestyle of an Amazon seller – my story

It’s been a while since my last post and the main reason for that is because I was on my first vacation in over 2 1/2years :)

Well it was also a bit of work in the end but mainly vacation (I was speaking at the Privatelabeldays Amazon FBA conference in Hamburg) among a lot of great speakers meeting hundreds of like minded people. 

This post is also a little different than my other posts. Today I wanted to give you an insight of whats is like to live the life of an eCommerce seller and Entrepreneur. 

It’s not all as peachy as you might think or what you read from all the success stories out there. 

Lots of work, endless nights, ups and downs, frustration, close to giving up but yes eventually after putting in effort and hard work there are glorious moments that make up for everything. 

When I first started my own business (late 2013) I had about 30,000US$ in savings. 

I started my own private label right away selling to retailers and importers in Europe. During my years in Hong Kong I made a lot of contacts in the retail industry so naturally that was my starting point. 

I only heard about Amazon FBA around August 2014 when a friend of mine mentioned it to me. So I went the other way compared to many of my readers. 

Had I known back then how easy it was to start a business on Amazon I would have taken the entire 50,000$ and started with Amazon from the beginning. 

From August 2014 I teamed up with that friend, he was the investor and I took care of the sourcing, delivering to Amazon and launching the products. 

All the while I was running my retail business also. 

I was actually running out of cash at that point (August 2014) because I had pretty much everything in my retail business and not much money to spare for Amazon. 

I made the biggest mistake a becoming Entrepreneur could make. While I did have some incoming orders from my retail business I still lived my lifestyle as if I had a regular income. 

My savings dwindled and altough money would come in soon from the retail business I was running very low on funds. Amazon FBA was exactly what I needed – fast cash. 

Or so I thought. I was once again thinking money would come fast but I haven’t accounted for re-orders and that I shouldn’t take money out of the business right away. 

My one and most important advice for you today would be that you need to account for expenses and you can’t take money out of your business for many months – IF you are planning on doing this full-time.  

Your profits need to go back into your company. 

Today I am very happy with the products I have created and wanted to give you a little advice on how to build your brand: 

Focus on building a brand from the beginning. Keep this in the back of your head with everything you do. 

The majority just starting out or having a few items running has limited capital and can therefore not play around. 

So build better products from the beginning, have A+ photos and listings, great customer service and if you have existing items improve those constantly. 

Also don’t be afraid to invest your money in the future into higher priced and better quality products, be unique in what you do.

Look at this business not as a get-rich-quick scheme but rather see your investment as an opportunity to build your brand and in turn make more money in the long run (do this as opposed to release and launching a product every week). Build it slowly and keep quality and focus in the back of your head.”

So save up more than the initial product and shipping costs and don’t quit your job. You still need money to live on. 

Fast forward to today. 

My second most important advice to you is to not put all eggs in one basket. Diversify your income streams and don’t rely on one income stream only. 

Obviously in the beginning you can’t focus on too many different things but in time and in between you need to take your time and look out for different income streams. 

That could be teaching your knowledge, blogging, writing books, finding more eCommerce plattforms than Amazon, opening your own shop (Etsy, Shopify…) or even selling to retail. 

I actually recommend you going the other way (as opposed to me) and start with Amazon first and then move onto retail or other eCommerce stores as it is “easier”, especially if you do not have any contacts in retail. 

I now run several different businesses. 

1) I teach importing from China in my online class “The ImportDojo Masterclass”.

2) I wrote books that I sell on Amazon 

3) I teach my knowledge on Udemy and other online course platforms  

4) I run a sourcing company based in Hong Kong that helps importers find factories, negotiate prices and deliver to your (or Amazon’s) doorstep 

5) I sell on Amazon (currently about 20 products with the goal of having 50 by mid next year)

6) I sell to retail 

7) I consult one on one 

8) I have guided tours to China, its exhibitions and factories

9) Several small things that help pay the bills 

Make use of your knowledge, diversify as soon as possible. Dreams come true but you need to put in the hours and work for it.

My third advice: Obviously you can’t run everything yourself so as soon as you’ve mastered a process try outsourcing it. 

That could be finding professional help for your orders in China, hiring a Virtual Assistant for daily simple tasks, hiring full time staff taking care of your Amazon business etc. 

I know I know, it is hard to let go of a task that you think can only be done by you. But that’s not true at all! 

I am so glad I gave some of my tasks away to my staff because now I have so much more time to focus on what really matters for an Entrepreneur: 

Constantly re-inventing yourself and focusing on the direction of your company – because there is no one there to tell you what to do. You are responsible for the success of your business. 

Be it to invest into more staff, build more products or come up with new ideas that help you and your customers. 

My story isn’t some paved road to sucess either. I worked very hard (and still do) for over 2 1/2 years to get to this point (I worked 16 years in corporate jobs and paid my dues to gather experience). I am still nowhere near on retiring in my 30’s and I don’t plan on anyway but there is a lot more hard work ahead. 

Countless hours with no sleep, worries on how I can pay the next bills up to the point where I was applying for jobs again just when the money eventually came in. 

There are many “success stories” out there on how easy it is to make money online but I can tell you that it is a lot more difficult than people make it sound like – including me sometimes :) 

If you are really interested in starting your own online importing business or really any eCommerce business then I recommend you spend at least 6-8 weeks learning the basics. 

How to import from China, how to sell online, how to do your own marketing, regulations and procedures etc. Yes, learning by doing is one way to go but there will be stages in your path where you need to look things up or hire professionals who have been doing things for a while. 

I too hire professionals sometimes because I feel its worth to pay someone who can properly help you instead of stumbling my way through things. 

Today I can safely say I am running my own business and I have helped others along the way. 

When I used to have a corporate job I never got an email thanking me for negotiating thousands of $ or helping a buyer in a difficult situation. It was my job and I was paid to do these things. 

Running your own business can be frustrating but it can be very rewarding. I now get emails from people (sometimes even meeting people in real) thanking me for what I do. 

I am extremely happy when I hear of success stories of my students because it keeps me going. 

The point I want to get across to you today is that if you do something that you have a passion for (or experience), people will thank you along the way and money comes later. 

Of course money plays a role ( & is probably constantly on your mind in the beginning) and it enables you to live a certain life style, pay for your kids college tuition, afford those gadgets you always wanted or just save up for the rainy days. I know it’s difficult but try not starting your business because you want to be rich. Start your business because you want to be free, help others and be location independent. I promise you if you work hard and have passion in what you are doing money will come eventually. Actually money eventually doesn’t become so important anymore because perhaps today you decide you work in the park or at the beach. 

I still get up nearly every day around 6am, get some coffee sit on my laptop for a few hours, go to the gym, work some more, take breaks and even work on most weekends. But I can decide when and how long I work every day and most importantly for me – you can work from anywhere.

Exercising regularly is something I really recommend you to do. No matter how much you work there’s always an hour that you can spare for a walk, a hike, going to the gym or play some ball. Did you know what most of the successful CEO’s and Entrepreneurs have in common? They exercise regularly.    

I worked non-stop the last 2 1/2 years and finally took a holiday this month with my wife travelling to Europe, visting some friends and staying in a cabin on a lake in Sweden for nearly 2 weeks. 

I also spoke at the Privatelabeldays Amazon FBA conference (www.privatelabeldays.de) and some people told me I need to be more personal on my blog :)  

So without further ado I wanted to share some moments of the last 2 years with you and how a life style from working 9-6 in an office can change when you work for yourself:

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I got married on December 14th 2013 in Hong Kong. The very next day I decided to change my life from working 9-6 to being my own boss. I brainstormed the entire week and Mandarin-Gear was born.

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My last day “on the job”. This was on 30th pf April 2014 when I accompanied a buyer from Switzerland to a factory near Shanghai. The next day I flew to Hong Kong “free as a bird” and excited to start a new life.

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I went to visit one of my suppliers in Shenzhen to discuss the assortment of products I wanted to launch to my retail customers.

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2 months in and I sold my first product to retail under their Private Label.

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 I barely left the office in the first 4 months, this was pretty much lunch every day :)

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Checking the first packagings under my own brand.

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7 months in and I had about 20 products under my brand

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My first 5000 unit order from a large retailer in Germany. Only to be cancelled later.

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Time to celebrate that order. 2 months later it got cancelled and I was stuck with a 30,000$ debt. At this point my friend introduced me to Amazon FBA (August 2014). I continue to sell to retailers and start putting things together for Amazon FBA.

IMG_4480 March 2015 – ImportDojo was born.

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March 2015.  I publish “The Import Bible” on Amazon – 3 months later is is the No.1 Seller in its category.

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April 2015. I exhibit my own brand at the Global Sources Electronics show.

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I think there’s a decent assortment? :)

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Discussing possible orders with a US customer.

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May-June 2015 – I write three more books and turn them into a course (The ImportDojo Masterclass)

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In between work I always try to exercise and hike the mountains of Hong Kong as much as possible.

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Yep, this is in Hong Kong.

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In China visiting a factory and negotiating a claim with a supplier, she is not happy I m here :)

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Ningbo, China at night

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and another hike in Hong Kong.

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September 2015. Together with a friend we work on our first own real developed product from the scratch (to be launched September this year). It took a year to develop and fine tune.

IMG_6160 Always at the airport. Chinese have a certain way of taking photographs :)

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October 2015. I find a product at the Canton Fair that I later launch publicly.

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The FBA community is growing. More and more sellers are coming to China.

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Greg from Junglescout organises a big meetup in Guangzhou. Lots of familiar online faces meet in person.

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Sometimes I take the office outside.

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Or to the beach.

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Or on a lake. IMG_5640

Or to my Mum’s. No matter where, no matter when, Monday to Sunday – I work every day but I enjoy it.

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The office can be fun too tho :)

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I get to speak at the Global Sources Summit for online and Amazon sellers in April 2016.

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April 2016. I publicly launch the French Press.

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I get up early every day even if I don’t have to. Then again I get to enjoy this with my coffee.

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I get to travel. Sometimes on a motorbike in Northern Thailand….

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…and sometimes in style…

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to drink Tea in the middle of nowhere…

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You get to meet great and like minded people along the way

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with Will Tjernlund


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BBQ before the Privatelabeldays conference

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with Bastian from officeflucht.de

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with Thomas from Privatelabeljourney.de

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You make new friends along the way

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or suddenly you get to speak in front of 450 people (sooo nervous :) )

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always on the lookout for new products…

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and sometimes beautiful sunsets :)

 

There’s so many photos and things I wanted to share with you but I’ll leave it here.

Follow your dreams, start your journey today, help as many people along the way as possible and in time hard work will pay off, I promise :)

All the best and to our success!

Manuel

 

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

23 replies
  1. Rory
    Rory says:

    Thank you for this post Manuel. It’s always helpful and humbling to read the journey each entrepreneur goes through. I imagine you’ve gone through extensive growth on this journey of yours. Congratulations for believing and getting as far as you have. I’m definitely grateful for your choice to persevere and share your knowledge with others. Keep up the awesome work! You’re awesome.

    Reply
  2. Bastian
    Bastian says:

    Man, congratulations on that incredible journey. Really enjoyed this post. So much accomplished and such a short time.
    Stick to being more personal on the blog. We might as well get to know who’s brain we are picking 😉

    All the best.
    Bastian

    Reply
  3. Rodolfo M Valenzuela
    Rodolfo M Valenzuela says:

    Hi Manuel thanks for sharing your personal life it was an awesome experience from your humble beginning to your hard and we’ll deserved success looking forward to meet you in person some day.

    Reply
  4. Boris
    Boris says:

    Life is not sunshine and rainbows. Thanks for keeping it real and revealing the part that most tend to not bring up – entrepreneur’s journey from your own perspective and what it took you to succeed.

    Your first product that you sold to retailer reminds me of Jawbone portable speaker.

    Reply
  5. Boris
    Boris says:

    P.S. Strongly agree with exercising. Moving is life. Do you feel how active it makes you and you tend to get more done in the day? The photo where you showed very small lunch… Did you really eat that little? I think you were overly existed back then that you cared not much about lunch but to get this done in a day.

    Your business can only be as good as you are. The more you invest in yourself physically, mentally and emotionally, the more you are to live a balanced and happy life with your business supporting you.

    When you worked 9-6 you probably didn’t need that thinking. I mean all you need to do is show up and trade your time for money while your employer probably stayed working late, having lack of sleep due to constant worrying and thinking to keep the business running smoothly while making sure staff is always paid. But as you went out on your own journey, you realized that now you happen to be on the opposite side and are fully responsible for everything and shaping your life the way you want to with self-investment.

    Reply
    • Manuel
      Manuel says:

      Thanks a lot for your input Boris! Once in a while we should also address the downsides of this (or any) entrepreneurial business – otherwise we mislead the becoming or inspiring Entrepreneur :)

      Yes I feel I get so much more done after a run in the morning – energised all day! Couldnt agree more with investing time in your own business and putting the efforts in!

      Reply
  6. Sophia
    Sophia says:

    Hi Manuel, thank you for all the value you shared online! I was so impressed by your blog and the talk you gave in the global source summit in this april(I saw it on youtube).

    Do you recommend a complete beginner to attend the upcoming globalsource summit in october? Or should I get started on the masterclass first and attend the next summit? (I am from Hong Kong so I don’t need to spend on flight or accommodation anyway)

    Reply
    • Manuel
      Manuel says:

      Hi Sophia,
      Thanks for the feedback :)
      Yes, I absolutely recommend to come to the summit or any show really in HK to find products and suppliers. It’s so much easier than sourcing online and you create trust with suppliers already. The Masterclass is of course an option and I do recommend that you learn the basics first before jumping into visiting suppliers and negotiating deals :) Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions on the Masterclass.
      All the best,
      Manuel

      Reply
  7. Cristina Fabian
    Cristina Fabian says:

    Hello Manuel,
    Great post! Very inspiring through the emotions expressed as well as the practical advices provided. I can easily say it’s a perfect match for a customer: emotion and “what’s in it for me”.
    thanks for proving the concept :)

    Reply
  8. Cycorp
    Cycorp says:

    Hi Manuel,

    Thanks for sharing the post about the ‘true’ lifestyle of an Amazon seller – your story is very inspiring and I myself overlooked the massive potential that could arise from eCommerce from so long ago (pre2008?), when I was dabbling in affiliate marketing, creating your own products and trying to sell online, using Prestashop, WordPress etc. Wish I kept myself at it and in the loop, whilst working!
    Anyway, I’ve begun again in earnest thanks to inspiring stories like yours and yes for sure nothing is ever ‘easy’, hopefully I can learn more and more and eventually be a success like you!

    Thanks!

    Reply

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