100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Update 5
This post is also available in: German
I seem to be getting into a bad habit of writing these case studies a bit late. Last time my excuse was that I had spent the weekend in Seattle attending a Merch by Amazon conference and this month my excuse is similar by attending a meetup in Denver talking Merch with the Merch Minds group. Following the eating a bunch of seafood theme, the girlfriend and I ended up grabbing sushi at Blue Sushi and it was top notch if you are ever in the Denver area!
This now marks 3 months in a row that I was away at a conference. Seeing that we have now moved into Q4, things have been a bit more quiet as everyone is gearing down and working on their businesses and that is exactly what we have been doing; pushing forward! The past month has marked a lot of progress with uploads, research, and fighting the 90 day rule almost every single day. It seems that we are almost caught up and hoping for an excellent Q4!
At the meetup in Denver, more people asked about this case study and the same guy that went from 20 dollars a month to 800 dollars a month by reading this advice was actually there and is absolutely crushing it now (with more shirts than my girlfriends account has live). His biggest secret? Making sure he maxes uploads each and every day! He also had some other tricks that we might implement into this account to see what happens, but that will have to wait until the next case study article.
In case you missed it, here is last months case study:
Sales the past month were not much better but they have picked up a small bit.
The community has been complaining about sales lately and I feel your pain, because we are feeling the same thing. It can be incredibly frustrating that some people are seeing some of their best sales in months while your own account is not performing as well as you would like. This month is the exact same for us!
Before we get into what happened the past month, I need to get a few things off my chest. The first is that a lot of people I meet in person, as well as people on Facebook/Reddit keep mentioning on how my girlfriends account is crushing it. They are often surprised that I am really not happy where the account is at and think it should be doing more compared to the data from my own account and from other people I know. I still think we will do a 5-10k December pretty easily, but there are a few points we need to discuss.
The first is that competition is higher than it was before. The second is that all the new shirts we are putting up do NOT have reviews like many of mine, and many friends that started earlier in the game have. Since we are coming to the table with a medium price (instead of rock bottom prices that I generally start with to try and get reviews) this may be one of the causes for slower sales. The reason we did not take the same path for this account is that we are trying to make money as quickly as possible to pay off the 100k worth of debt she has accrued, and pricing low to get reviews takes a lot more time than we are willing to wait for.
Now, while competition is higher than it was before, this just means we are going to tweak our strategy. It does NOT mean that it is impossible to reach $10k+ a month which should certainly be achievable, just that we need to take a different approach. Since we are still pricing middle of the road (right around $16.99), instead of focusing on the 100k-300k BSR shirts that has proven to be a winner from the beginning (and still works), we are going to start looking at higher BSR ranges that absolutely no one is targeting. With a tier up right around the corner, we will have plenty of slots available and because absolutely no one is targeting niches with BSRs from 300k-600k, this should be a good strategy moving forward. Imagine 1-2k slots filled and only selling 1 shirt a month per slot. That is still a LOT of money without any increased competition!
Now that we have that little part out of the way, the goal is still the same to pay off the $100,000 worth of school debt and this case study is following that journey.
We now have around 7 months to hit this goal and it will be happening. Like I said, we still have some tricks up our sleeves that we will be sharing with you once the data is in. Q4 has officially started and sales have picked up slightly. I would expect sales to pick up even more over the next month and hopefully by next month they are really rolling in like last year.
If anyone was around last year doing Merch, they will remember the great freeze where we were not able to upload, change prices, or really do much of anything. Because of this, and even knowing that Amazon has greatly increased their print capacity, we are still attempting to get as many shirts up as possible in case something does happen this year. Make sure you are getting as many shirts uploaded and at the price you want them to sell at during Q4 because if a freeze does happen and you are unable to update your prices, you may be stuck with a hot selling shirt making pennies. Just keep that in mind!
Last month, this account did $2,068.95 in royalties which was down from the previous month again. This month is actually a bit better as we have hustled to prepare for Q4.
What Happened In September?
September has been the month of getting it done! Time and time again, I mention that maxing your daily uploads is the best thing you can do to see success on the Merch by Amazon (as long as you are doing excellent research and understand how to properly use keywords) and this month this has been made a priority.
With school slowing down a bit and some time freeing up, she has been able to make a lot of progress.
It has almost become a little comical to see the dedication to this account. Since school is almost done for her, paying off that giant debt that is hanging over her head seems to really a lingering thought. I have always been someone who gets things done no matter what and blow off all other things in order to do so and that is exactly what has been happening here. “Want to watch XX show tonight?” “Nope, I have to get my 20 shirts uploaded for today!”.
Making things happen!
Fighting The 90 Day Rule
The 90 day rule is becoming one of the most frustrating aspects of the Merch by Amazon program. If you are not familiar with it (finding it hard to believe anyone in the program would not know what this is), it is when your shirts get removed from Merch after 90 days if they do not make a sale.
We have been told that if a shirt does not sell within the first 90 days, more than likely it will never sell. It costs a lot of money to host the amount of ASINs on servers that Amazon has, so I can see why they do this, but it is still frustrating.
We know that we did good research in the first place and that there is customer demand there. That is why I recommend that anyone that has done the same puts their shirts right back up when they come down!
Hopefully you can see that image, but there are now 20 pages of removed shirts for the 90 day rule.
Fighting this 90 rule was the very first priority this month. The first issue was actually FINDING all of these designs on the computer. I am not the most organized person, and neither is she when it comes to computer folders so it took a good many hours to find all these designs and get them ready to upload them all.
The entire strategy here was 1: find the designs, and 2: do the research over again.
So once the designs have been found, she would open Merch Informer and do a search for that phrase/niche to see what was selling at that moment. As an example, if she had a chef shirt taken down, she would find that chef shirt, then do a search in the product search for “chef” and see what was ranking:
From here, she would pull the keywords they were using to rank in their title, bullet points and description and then use those same keywords in her own sentences. We know that these are ranking because of those keywords, so using the same keywords on her own unique shirt designs seems to have worked very well. We often saw sales come in the same week on the designs reuploaded after they were removed after the 90 day rule. This just goes to show that the research we did the first time was solid, and that all it takes is a second look at the keywords we should have added previously.
We have continued to do research just like we laid out in the previous article. In case you missed it, here is the TLDR version:
- Go to Pinterest and search for shirts
- Write down all phrases seen on shirts
- Bring phrases back into Merch Informer to see what is selling
- Target any phrase that has low competition with a few shirts ranking and selling
- Outsource to designer
This was the example we used last month, and the technique seems to be working well with a lot of these designs that show only 10-20 results on Merch making sales within the first week.
The biggest hurdle though has been outsourcing!
I have a solid team of designers working for me at this point, but it never seems to be enough since I want the work done RIGHT the first time. Many readers do not know this, but my sister is also doing Merch by Amazon (and crushing it!), but currently the designer that is doing all of the designs for her is also doing all the designs for my girlfriends account. Since both of them are in the higher tiers now and we are trying to really ramp up production for Q4 since it is now here, I find myself a bit short.
Thankfully my girlfriend has had shirts to reupload because of the 90 day rule, but now that those are already uploaded and we seem to be caught up, I am going to need to hire yet another designer (which is a pain but worth it in the end). If you find yourself in the same situation, you may want to read about how to outsource your t-shirt designs here:
If you just scan the article above, I want to again mention 2 quick tips.
The first, is that you should be asking 2 screening questions when hiring. I generally ask “who is the 23rd president of the United States” and “What is your favorite hobby and why”.
The first question allows you to see if the freelancer can actually use Google and look things up. This is important so you can have them link you to design eliments they use in their designs so you can check to make sure they are free for commercial use.
The second question allows you to see a longer written out response from the freelancer. This lets you know if they can communicate well in your language. If you cannot communicate with your designer, you are going to have a bad time.
The other tip I have is to hire quickly and fire even quicker. You do not want to waste your time with a designer who can’t listen or is putting out bad work. There are plenty out there, so make sure you do not get stuck in the spiral of trying to train someone who does not want to be trained.
The Results For September
Before we get to it, here is a quick recap of the August numbers:
Last month you will see that August looks a little bit higher than was reported in the last article. This is because Amazon will pay based on when the product ships out. The extra money should be attached to the payment the month following. This month was still a slow month, but it was a little bit higher.
Almost all of the shirts are priced around $16.99 except for those that have a review or two and have proven to be great sellers. In fact, one of the shirts that has 3 good reviews crushed it last month:
Here is what the current uploads look like (keep in mind some of these are from October since I forgot to take a screenshot. Sorry!) :
Here is a summary of the totals for September 2017 from downloading the excel spreadsheet:
519 shirts sold with $2230 in royalties!
We expected more than this, but a few really slow days mixed in, we still ended up better than last month by 49 more shirts sold!
Something we did not go over in this article that we will next month is that she started the Etsy integration as well.
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.