100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Update 1

From talking to people all over the world about Merch by Amazon, there seems to be a few common themes. There are those that are just looking to make a little side money, and there are others who are looking to replace their full time job. Almost everyone I have talked to are trying to dig themselves out of debt or pay their mortgage each month with their Merch money!
If you have read any of the interview series we have started doing, you will see that some of these people who have dedicated their time to their merch craft have been successful at getting rid of their debt. Not having all that pressure looming over you really helps to get rid of the stress you might be feeling. The best part? ANYONE can do this and be successful at it.
As I have told people over and over again, there are 2 billion people on Amazon.com each and every month purchasing goods. All you need to do is appeal to a very small percentage of them to be financially free!
What I have not seen many mentions of is another kind of debt. School debt. College or University as all my overseas buddies call it, has gotten a lot more expensive in the past few years. Almost everyone I know who went to school has some sort of debt still hanging around that has not been paid off yet. What we all have the opportunity to do, especially with Merch by Amazon, is get rid of all of this debt within a year or two.
This will be a monthly installment where I tell the story of my girlfriend who went back to get a second bachelors degree at college and the attempt to pay off $100,000 worth of college debt within 1 year through MBA.

The Story Setup

About a year ago now, we decided to pack up our bags and leave the mid-west. I needed a change in scenery and the mountains were the perfect place to hang out and continue working on my projects and building my Merch account. While I was building my account, my girlfriend decided she was going to go back to school to get another degree and switch careers. This was a big switch because after the first bachelors degree, there was not much time to work to save up some money to pay for school.
Loans were taken out, and class started. Loans to the tune of around $100,000 which is a big gamble to take out on yourself.
Months went by where school was the main focus. It took up a good 12-16 hours a day with traveling, studying, and clinicals. So much time spent on school that in order to be in this specific program, realistically there was no way you could hold down a job at the same time.
Now, she had a Merch account at this time, but just would not upload any more designs. The account had 25 designs put up on it as soon as it was accepted but the 60 day rule took around 18 of those down. The account was left with around 7 designs that were making only making pocket change each month as priorities laid elsewhere.
Fast forward to the end of April and we had a MASSIVE hail storm where she was going to school. Golf ball sized hail causing whiteout conditions can be a little bit scary but watching your new car get utterly destroyed when you can do nothing is on another level. All in all, there was thousands and thousands of dollars in damage to the vehicle that had just been purchased 9 months earlier.
Imagine taking out 100k worth of loans for school and now the vehicle that gets you too and from school has just been nearly totaled and is not drive-able. On top of that, you now need to pay for a rental car to get to class which is only going to cost more money.
It was at this point I think my nagging of “just do Merch, you can pay for everything!” started to sink in!

Up to that point, these were the earnings of the account. As you can see, very unimpressive.
I think this is where most people get stuck. They have a few designs up, realize they are not making good money, and just get discouraged and stop trying.
The same thing happened in this situation. Not many people can make the leap from making $20 last month, to thinking this income stream was about to pay for a new car and pay off school loans. It might have helped a bit that we live in the same house and she knew the concept worked because she has seen my account grow over the years but she needed to take the leap of faith herself.
At this point, with nothing left to lose, she agreed to upload her 10 slots a day if I helped with outsourcing (the account is at the 500 tier). I agreed to help and the research process started.

Research Process

This is where a lot of people just get really hung up on what is a REALLY simple process. With a login for Merch Informer and a quick 5 minute conversation of how BSR works, we were off to the races.
The research process went in two steps. First, we would look at the product search module and find products that were ranked between 100k-300k BSR. When we found designs in this area, we looked at the price. If the price was $15.99 or higher, we would add it to the favorites in our organizational tree.

Then about 3-4 days later, we could go back into this list in the favorites tree and REMOVE everything that was no longer in the 100k-300k BSR range. This means we got rid of everything that had sold but was not selling consistently and was left with only designs that were constantly moving and making money. These are the niches and ideas we know will sell if we come to market with something better so we downloaded these ideas to outsource.
Now you might be wondering, how did you come up with niche ideas to put into the product search module in the first place? Did you watch a video, did you do something to check the competition? Nope! All she did was sit down, look around the room, and start typing in keywords to search. As we sat on the deck, looked down at the ground and saw grass. Put that in and hit search. See some herbs on the windowsill? Type in Herbs and different names such as basil, parsley. Start building your list based on what is around you.
From there, look at the bullet points of what is actually ranking and looking at the brands. What else are they selling, what other keywords are they using? Turn around and put these back in and hit search.
All we are worried about is finding sellers in the 100k-300k BSR range and that is exactly what she did, nothing else.
Once we had the list of ideas, I had to have her check them over to make sure they were not trademarked.

Trademark?

Making sure the phrases on these shirts were not trademarked before we sent them off to a designer is not hard at all. It barely takes any time at all if you know what you are doing. I quickly explained to her how to check the USPTO website. If you are not familiar with how to do that, please watch this video:

Now, we have a list of shirts that we know the phrases are not trademarked.
The final step before we outsource them is to put them into the Merch Informer Trademark Alerts. This ensures that even though the phrases are not trademarked now, that if they do become trademarked months later, we can take action without Amazon taking action on us. That interface looks pretty awesome and looks like this:

Once we had all the terms in the trademark alerts, it was time to actually outsource these!

Outsourcing Designs

I am not a graphic artist, and neither is my girlfriend. What I do have is a few graphic designers on my team that we can outsource to. This costs $4 per design.
There is no secret tip or trick to getting a graphic designer to do designs that are high quality on the cheap. We used Upwork.com and did EXACTLY what I lay out in this outsourcing guide here: https://merchinformer.com/use-upwork-outsource-scale-merch-business/.

Putting The Designs Online

Once she gets the designs back from the designer, she had to put them up. I was insistent that she fill her slots EVERY DAY. With 10 slots available, this usually took about 30 minutes to an hour. As the days went on, she got much faster at this.
When she first started uploading though, she had not uploaded any designs in many months so we had to have a talk about how it all works. If you have not already read the article on Merch SEO that I wrote a long while back, give that a read. That should give you a good idea of how the optimization works.
The title for each of the shirts contained at least 1-2 keywords relating to the designs.
The brand contained a keyword as we have proven that keywords in the brands do in fact help the listing gain some initial rank.
The bullet points were hard at first as she was having a hard time describing these shirts in a marketing sense and getting all the keywords in that she should. I had her take a look at the competition and what was ALREADY selling. Since they are ranked and selling, we know that their keywords should be used in our listings as well. Once she put those keywords in sentence form, she added her own off the top of her head that were synonyms and better explained the niche that the tees were in. Putting this all together, you come up with a good descriptive set of bullet points that are keyword rich but also sound properly put together when you speak them out loud.
I also had her include in the second bullet point that the shirts were printed to be fitted and that if they wanted a more baggy fit, that they should order a size up. I have tested this and it seems to cut down on negative reviews as the anvil shirts never seen to fit right if you do not order a size up.
That was literally all that was done in the month of May. Research, outsourcing, and putting all that work together to upload the designs to Merch by Amazon.

The Results

Let’s do a quick recap of April Numbers:

A whole $20.78 in April. You might say not as good as expected. Let’s break those numbers down per shirt…

Low prices were used to get out of the lower tiers. At the time that she started putting actual effort into the account, the low price strat had gotten the account tiered up to the 500 tier.
30 days of effort later…?

20 shirts a day!! On the very last day of the month, she hit 20 shirts a day for the first time. Not only that, hit 100 shirts sold for the week as well.

Summary of totals for May 2017 from downloading the excel spreadsheet:

186 shirts sold and $756.94 from royalties! This is all from a single months effort. The best part is that this all happened with around 30 minutes a day.
I can tell you right now (this is being published about a week after May), that the account is now doing last months total royalties a week.

The Math

Since designs can easily be created yourself (and what most people are doing when they start), we are only going to be including the royalties in the math.

Comments
  • I’m trying to pay off debt as well so I’ll be following this with interest. Thanks for the step-by-step! It’s encouraging to know how much progress can be made in just one month. The most shirts I’ve ever sold in one week is 25, but I’d love to sell 25 a day!

  • Great article…..I spend at least 3 to 5 hours a day working on Merch…… I have been following all of your articles…Great material…..I feel like I am right on the edge of success with Merch….It’s become such an addiction…..It’s true what they say…. You better love what you do or you will drive yourself crazy!..lol

  • you make no mention of competition. for example, let’s say i type rooster in the product search. a few shirts hit the mark of bsr and price, but there are 100s. does that not really come into play how many there are?

    • This is going to be a little different for everyone. When you have slots, I think you can fill them up and not pay as much to competition as when you have limited slots to play around with.

  • Thanks for the inspirational article! I have one question, though. Why did you decide on BSRs of 100k-300k? Wouldn’t lower BSRs be even better?

  • Great article, can you tell me what kind of documentation do you receive from designers for proof of design ownership? Is this necessary or Upwork receipt is sufficient? Best way to select designers? Also, how do you make sure the designers aren’t using copyrighted images, just google image search? That part makes me nervous. And what about the fonts they use? Do you have your own font licenses and make sure they use certain fonts you have licenses for?

  • Neil,
    This is amazing. I am seeing very similar results with my account! I’ve hit 90 shirts in the last 7 days and have more than tripled what I did last month. All because of merchinformer and the awesome content you put out each month.
    You rock brother!!

  • Awesome article – I didn’t realise you could track products with BSR like that in MerchInformer. Going to be doing this straight away!

  • Hi Neil,
    If you have a fewer number of slots, do you have a tip for checking competition so we use our slots wisely?
    I am on the 100 tier at the moment.
    Thanks

    • Run the phrases through the advanced competition checker and only go after phrases and keywords that have an A-B rating but are still showing sales in the product search module.

  • Thank you Neil! Just grabbed MI and look forward to diving in. I got approved for a Merch account a few days ago, are you still recommending a Shopify/Amazon platform?
    Thank you!

      • How about an income report for shopify on other stuff, especially mugs? You don’t mention how your own Merch account is doing, did you sell it?

        • We could do that in the future. The vast majority of our audience is focused on Merch by Amazon so it only makes sense. I still have my own account, have some big plans!

  • Hey, Neil!
    Great article. I have a couple questions. You said she’s working around 30 minutes per day. So during that 30 minutes, she’s looking for niches, finding keywords, coming up with 10 shirt ideas to send her designers, uploading 10 finished shirt designs that she received from her designers, uploading 10 designs and writing the descriptions for all 10 listings, all in only 30 minutes per day?
    If this is true, I’d love to hear more details about how she’s doing so much in so little time.
    Also, while I understand how you’re using the product search module, I’m confused about the nuances of how you’re using it. When you are searching for niches and let’s say you’re looking at “Autism” shirts based on that keyword. If you find shirts that fit your criteria, do you take ALL of the best selling shirts and add them to your favorites or only some? How do you choose what you add to your favorites?
    Also, when you go back to check them a few days later, I assume any of them that no longer meet your criteria are the ones you remove from your favorites and that the rest look like proven sellers, right?
    Then, do you come up with ideas that can compete with the “Autism” shirts in your favorites (or whatever niche you’re researching)? I’d just like more details about how you use the product search module.
    Thanks,
    Scott

    • The way we did it was she did all the research in batches (about 30 minutes a day), for probably 1-2 days. After that, all the shirts found within those days (and prove to be sellers a few days later from rechecking BSR), then get outsourced so the time after that is just uploading (again, around 30 minutes a day at night).
      If you were looking at Autism shirts, then I would recommend you look at the BSR range and then add the ones that are selling but that you know you (or a designer), could improve on. A lot of the time what you see selling is actually pretty bad and there are lots of room for improvement on the design or the price. Once we go back a few days later, we remove the ones that are outside the BSR range we are looking for. What you are left with is proven sellers which helps narrow down what you should be uploading in order to get the best volume.
      We essentially use the product search in order to find where people are actively spending money. From there, we add them to the favorites and make sure they are still sellers a few days later and then outsource designs in those niches. Here is a video we did a while back that might explain some more about how best to use it to niche down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJJDms_rhOA&t=375s

  • Hey Neil,
    Thank you for the well written article. It seems that your research / outsourcing strategy is working well. But I had a question.
    How much would you say that you (or your girlfriend) spent total on these $4 designs from Upwork? That should probably be included in your calculation to show a more accurate description of total costs vs. revenues from royalties.
    Again thank you for the article. And best of luck to you and your girlfriend to paying off debt. I also have massive student loans (Masters, Bachelors, etc) and I’m right there with you.
    V/R
    I

    • I went back and forth on including it or not. The VAST majority of people I talk to are still doing the designs themselves. If that is the case then there would not be an expense for those. Neither of us are artists so I just outsourced them to my graphic artist. There are 350 designs uploaded right now (6/9/17) so that would come out to a total of $1400. The account is doing over 1k a week now though so in the long run, it will be very worth it.

    • People with lower prices are usually trying to just play volume to quickly get ranked. It also generally is a sign that there is more competition in those niches.

          • Hi Neil. I love your optimism here. But c’mon. Sure Amazon gets 2 billion page views a month only US buyers can buy Merch shirts or am I missing something?

          • Amazon.com gets 2 billion page views. The .com version IS the USA buyers. There are other versions of Amazon for other locales (.uk, .ca, .jp) for example. So the market is absolutely massive here in the USA.

  • Thank you for such a helpful article. I looked at Gary’s t-shirt site only to find it full. Would you recommend any one else comparable to his quality/reputation? Many thanks.

  • Great info Neil. Quick question: Assuming some of your 350 designs are either complete dupes (meaning 2 shirts just different colors for same design..i.e. white lettering vs. black) or at least in the same category (meaning 2 or 3 different shirts about the same exact subject), on those shirts do you use the SAME titles and bullet points or do you do a unique one for EACH and EVERY shirt?
    Thanks for the info.

    • 99% of these shirts are different, but some might be in the same niche (completely different designs though). Never use the same title and bullet points. Each time they are different to try and get in front of as many eyes as possible.

  • Inspiring stuff!
    What percentage of your shirts become sellers? Lets say you launch 100 shirts, what percentage of them get at least a sale a month? Knowing what to expect would help me know if I am on the right track or if I should rethink my strategy

  • Hi Neil – Thanks so much for such great info. Of course I have a question about keywords… 🙂 I get the niching down in Amazon search to narrow the competition. Where I overthink myself is where you’ve mentioned making the Shirt Title match exactly with Google. When I use Keyword Planner and come up with a rich shirt title – it bombs in Amazon, saying 0 results. How do we meld the two, or do we cherry pick from both and cross our fingers for eyeballs in each? Or forget about Google?
    Thanks again for any and all info……..

    • The entire process of nicheing down is going to get you your title. While this title might not show any results for that exact phrase in Amazon (it probably will not), the process of nicheing down is what is going to get the most keywords in your title without sounding spammy. This is going to work well for the keyword you are trying to rank for in google as well as many keywords on Amazon.

      • Thanks so much! So don’t worry about making the google keyword planner ideas fit Amazon search – just incorporate the google word within Amazon. I think I get this….. Thank you again for March and the blog and the kindle book…… Now to get out of the 10 tier………

  • If you have limited slots (I’m at 25 now), do you ever pull anything down to make room for something else?

    • You could do this if they have been up for a bit and are still not getting sales. You could also just try to market your shirts a bit to get out of that tier.

  • “Then about 3-4 days later, we could go back into this list in the favorites tree and REMOVE everything that was no longer in the 100k-300k BSR range.”
    When I open my fav list after a few days I don’t see a way to check the BSR again, how are you seeing the BSR. Do you do a product search of that exact design in the Product Module?

  • Will you being doing monthly updates?
    This is very encouraging and helpful…I’m on the same journey!

  • Hi Neil, I’m trying to upload my current designs as pillow designs but the only images I have to use are the images downloaded from the teespring site, you know the image of the actual t-shirt? obviously these images arnt compatible for the area that teespring gives for pillow designs
    If you could possibly email me directly so I can show you the image I am referring to as I realise I may not have explained what I mean very well in this message. Thanks

    • Take the PNG of the design which you designed or got from your designer and then simply resize it for the pillows.

      • The problem is the only images I have of my designs are the ones extracted off the teespring website which is just an image of the actual t-shirt if you see what I mean? basically I’ve only ever made up designs using the software that teespring provide on their site, is it possible to turn that type of image into a PNG file?

          • Ok Neil thanks, quick question, I’ve currently sold 6 items but need to sell 4 more items until I can submit anymore new designs so If I buy 4 stickers from my own campaign then will I be able to start submitting new campaigns do I have to wait until they are delivered before I can submit new campaigns? or can I start submitting new designs as soon as I place the order? bearing in mind I live in the UK and they will have to be shipped out to me from the US? would I just have to pay one lot of postage for 4 stickers? Thanks

          • I am really not as familiar with the teespring platform so I am not sure what tiering up you are talking about on that platform. That would be a question for them.

  • Hi Neal, I’m really getting tired of doing the Amazon FBA thing and want to get back into building up my Merch account. (tier 2000). Your “100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Updates” have always stood out in my mind through the years. Can these case studies still be followed verbatim (other than where Merch has made changes) to steadily grow my account?

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