My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 2: Help Wanted
I bought a company.
When I left my last CEO role, I decided to finally follow the entrepreneurial calling that had been inside me for many years. I wanted to be my own boss, work on my terms, and have the satisfaction of creating and building something I believed in. But without a brilliant new product idea in hand, I went looking to buy a brand that I could grow. After much research and debate, I settled on Bella Virtu Organics, a skincare brand sold exclusively on Amazon. It was the right scale, and therefore risk level, for me, had amazing products with strong Amazon reviews, and lots of potential to expand the product assortment and distribution channels.
But the elation I felt when I signed the deal was short lived. I had to make the most of the first two weeks of the agreed transition period, when the seller and broker were required to help me get up and running. This involved many conference calls and screen-sharing sessions to handover log-ins, payments, and process steps. Happily, the seller (who was selling to focus on his other, larger Amazon business, and a book launch) and broker (Empireflippers.com) were very supportive, thorough and responsive.
Then I was on my own.
It reminded me of the moment you bring your baby home from the hospital. Following a couple of days (or more) being supported by amazing nurses and lactation consultants and being able to hand the baby off to the nursery… suddenly there’s no one there to help. Thoughts range from scary, “what have I done?” To scarier, “what am I supposed to do now?” To scariest, “what’s going to happen next?”
The next day, I checked the Amazon account, and products were still selling. It almost felt like a miracle! One of the benefits of buying an existing business had play out as I’d hoped: sales continued as before. I even received a first Amazon payment into the bank account, which felt like a significant milestone on the journey. I’m not sure whether I took a moment to enjoy that feeling because already the wave of tasks that needed attention was building. Almost imperceptibly at first, but growing rapidly. Ominously.
I knew going in that I would need help managing my Amazon account: keywords, ads, bids, ACOS (advertising cost of scale) score. I understood all these things at a conceptual level, but the painstaking management of them on a day-to-day, keyword-by-keyword basis was be way beyond my skills and, to be honest, like living my worst nightmare every day. Additionally, new inventory would be needed in 2 to 3 months and, to complicate things, I wanted to update my branding and packaging for that next order. So the clock was ticking, new inventory meant new packaging, which meant new logo and product descriptions, which would also mean a brand brief with brand positioning and brand guidelines. The product listings required updating and improving so I would need to understand better the details and benefits of the product. The visuals on Amazon were also in need of some serious upgrading, but should I wait until the new look was ready? The website was a horror show, the social media non-existent. And if I wanted to sell direct (via e-commerce) then I would need a third party logistics partner (3PL) to warehouse and ship the product.
I put it all down on a Mind Map. With a brain that naturally gets filled with ideas and plans, it can be paralyzing and overwhelming. I’ve found the Mind Map to be a very effective tool for quickly capturing it all, which then allows the flow of prioritizing and taking steps forward to happen. Once I could see clearly, it was obvious that having a well-managed, steady Amazon business was fundamental to all other plans. Without that, my profitability would tank, I wouldn’t move through my inventory, and the business would unravel.
I consider it both a strength and a weakness that I always think everything will be easier and quicker than it turns out to be. This optimism keeps me going, but it does lead to frustration, disappointment, and rushing to appointments just in the nick of time (you mean other people use the roads too?). No surprise then that finding help for my Amazon account management was much harder than I expected. My plan was to go to upwork.com, post the position, get some applicants, choose the two best ones, interview them, pick one and off we go. There are hundreds of “Amazon experts” from all over the world from $5 an hour to $75 an hour on Upwork. I just needed to find one.
I ended up interviewing twelve. There were many issues that I had not foreseen. With some, the language barrier was just too big. Others took two or three tries to get aligned on the time zones to connect by Zoom or Skype, which didn’t bode well. One looked like a talented woman in India, but turned out that her husband was the freelancer, he had used her profile to prevent his employer finding out. I was excited about some strong candidates in the Philippines but they wanted $20 an hour, minimum 10 hours a week, beyond my budget at this early stage. The final straw was when two different people sent me the same Amazon listing as part of their portfolio. At that point, all trust I had quickly evaporated. It became clear that while I wanted some hourly freelance work done, I was in fact looking for my first team-member and, therefore, it needed to be someone I connected with, whom I could trust, and could grow with me.
I did find my first team-member on Upwork. He’s a young guy from Missouri who’s developing his own Amazon support agency. So far he has been responsive, reliable, and helpful. He has also demonstrated extra-mile level integrity. I now know that is the number one quality for anyone who is going to be part of my business–however big or small the role.
Second in an occasional series that follows the former CEO of J.W. Hulme as she shifts from running consumer brands to building one of her own. If you missed Part One, catch up here.