On the first episode of The Full-Time FBA Show, you’ll learn more about Stephen and Rebecca Smotherman and their journey to making a full-time income with only part-time hours via Amazon FBA.
Stephen will share how he first got started selling online and how selling on Amazon was a game-changer in his life. He shares what he learned along the way that most helped him make that transition from selling part-time on Amazon to finally making a full-time income.
Listen on the podcast player below.
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Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
- The Full-Time FBA Blog
- Stephen’s book recommendation: Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
- Listen to the above as an audiobook on Audible
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Announcer: Welcome to the Full-Time FBA Show. In each episode, it’s our goal to help you turn part-time hours into a full-time income selling almost anything on Amazon, and, now, your hosts of the show, Stephen and Rebecca Smotherman.
Stephen: Hey, everybody, this is Stephen Smotherman from Full-Time FBA, and we are so excited that you are here on the very first episode of the Full-Time FBA podcast, and, yes, I did say we because I’m not alone. With me is my bride, Rebecca Smotherman.
Stephen: Hey, Rebecca.
Rebecca: Hello, everyone.
Stephen: We’re excited to be here today to talk about Amazon FBA and how you can grow your Amazon business, and we’re starting this podcast with the goal to give you as much actionable content as we can so that, when you finish listening to the episode, you can go take action and see results quickly.
Stephen: With this podcast, there’ll be times where we will interview Amazon experts. We’ll interview people who are already at full-time status with their Amazon business, people who are making full-time income with only part-time hours, see what they were able to do to make that possible and unlock secrets along the way to see how you, too, can find that same type of success.
Stephen: I’m really excited about it. I’m excited about interviews, and I’m excited about the different content that we have planned for you, and as always, be sure to go to fulltimefba.com/podcast for the latest information about this podcast, but, today, I just want to let you in a little bit behind the scenes on my story, how I got started with Amazon FBA, and so Rebecca is actually going to be interviewing me through this process and asking the questions that a lot of you have asked and give you a chance to get to know us a little bit.
Rebecca: Okay, so, to get started, we’re just basically wanting to talk about how you got started selling Amazon. You’ve been selling on Amazon longer than I’ve known you, and so can you just fill us in on the background of how you got started selling on Amazon, what kinds of things you were selling in the beginning and how you got to the point where you’re able to make a full-time income?
Stephen: It was 2011. I feel like we need to have like the little [inaudible 00:02:21], but we’re like going back in time, music in the background, but this is not… We don’t have that kind of budget. Back in 2011, I found myself in a position where I needed to make a full-time income, except I had no job. I had no job. I was recently divorced. I was trying to find a way that I could make income from home and be able to support myself and my four boys, and find a way where I could… not have to put them in daycare, but I can just work from home.
Stephen: At the time, I’d been using eBay and making a little side money on eBay, and I thought, “Maybe there’s a way I can find a way to make a full-time income with eBay,” so I started doing some research about that, because I love selling on eBay. I sold on eBay for about 10 years up to that point and found some really good success, made a nice little side income, but, obviously, not something that could support myself and my four boys.
Stephen: I studied Amazon FBA, learned about that, and my eyes were opened at the potential that I could have my inventory sent to an Amazon warehouse. They would store it for me. They would keep it safe. If an item is sold, they would ship it for me. They’d box it up. They’d send it out and, if there was customer service issues, they would take care of that. If there was return issues, they would take care of that. I was like, “Whoa, this is like I could just focus on sourcing the inventory,” and then Amazon basically takes care of most of the rest, and I realized how much time that would open up, how much garage space that would open up. My garage was packed.
Rebecca: Oh, my word.
Stephen: It was.
Rebecca: When I first met him, his garage was scary, and it almost caused us to not be able to keep dating because I was like, “What have I gotten myself into? This man, he’s like a hoarder or something.” It was a maze to get from the garage, the door leading into the kitchen past the washing machine to the actual garage door to the outside world. He had this very tight little maze because it was completely packed. The entire garage, two-car garage, completely packed, full of, I don’t know, I guess it was “inventory,” but it was crazy.
Stephen: It was potential profits. I couldn’t get rid of those potential profits, but that’s the cool thing about Amazon FBA. I was able to go through those items and see which ones I could send to Amazon to sell, and then I had items left over that I could try to sell on eBay or try to do garage sales and… but, fast forward to the part where I’m finally making full-time income, I started in 2011 and started Amazon FBA in 2011.
Stephen: Six months later, by the time it was 2012, I was already making a full-time income to support myself and my four boys, so, in 2012, I started making a full-time income, and the garage was beginning to decrease in the density of the items inside the garage, and then during 2012 is when I met Rebecca. In 2013, we got married, and I introduced her to the whole idea of selling online and took her with me to garage sales, and… because I love going to garage sales. I love getting stuff from garage sales to sell on Amazon and thrift stores and stuff, and I remember she was telling me, “Wait a minute, you’re passing over all the fun stuff to sell all this boring stuff on Amazon.”
Rebecca: Yeah, I loved going to garage sales, too, and so I thought, “Oh, this will be fun. We can go to garage sales together,” except I was wanting to look at all of these antique items or vintage items or really cute things that I thought… They were very highly used, but not at all something that you would want to resell, but just very collectible-type items, and I thought, “These are all really great. These would be fun to have around the house or whatever,” and, no, that was not what we were looking for. It was a while before I understood the whole concept of what we were looking for, what would be a good item to resale, what just qualifies as a fun find for yourself, and that’s different from what other types of items you’d be looking for to resell.
Stephen: Right, and so, once we finally made that shift and started looking for new items that people sell at garage sales, because, it’s true, people sell a lot of brand new stuff at garage sales, stuff that they had good intentions for, but never got around to actually opening or using, so we found those kinds of staffs. We would go to the thrift stores and we’d find tons of used books that we can sell. We found some collectible boardgames that we could sell on Amazon and then started to branch into retail stores, buying stuff from retail stores in the clearance aisle, clearance sections and being able to send that in to Amazon and starting to see those items sell really quickly.
Rebecca: Along those same lines, with that period of time, going back to when you were talking about like we started out, you started out with garage sales, and that’s where I came in, too. It was when you were going to garage sales, thrift stores and then slowly transitioned into selling items that you found from clearance, on clearance at retail stores. Can you talk a little bit about what categories you first started selling in and then how you expanded from there and what, how was that same or different from what your main categories are now?
Stephen: That’s a good question. When I first started out, I felt like the two easiest categories to start out, they’re actually in my opinion the two easiest categories to start out right now, are books and the toys and games category. The books category is an amazing opportunity because you can find used books almost anywhere. I mean, we’ve got garage sales, thrift stores. There’s Friends of the Library sale, different types of book sales that go on, Half Price Books, other type of bookstores that sell used books.
Rebecca: You’re forgetting, one our house.
Stephen: Oh, yeah, our house. Yeah. We, both Rebecca and I, are really big readers, and so I just looked on my bookshelf and I saw books that we’re… I’m done reading, I can sell. I know she looked on her bookshelves and… at her place and just decided, “Hey, this is a good opportunity to sell some books,” and so we were able to sell some books, started selling some toys.
Stephen: The toys and games category is awesome because, I mean, yes, it’s great during the Christmas selling season, but kids have birthdays all year round, so parents are buying toys all year round, and so being able to buy and sell new toys, collectible toys that you could sell on Amazon, those were the first ones that I started off with, and those were mainly what I focused on until you and I got married in 2013.
Stephen: Rebecca and I got married, and we joined forces with the Amazon business and decided to branch out, and we tried grocery for a little while. We tried doing some home and kitchen items, and we found some success with those. We branched out into some office supplies a little bit. We started trying a lot more categories and… but we were pretty methodical about it. We would pick a new category and then try to learn as much as we could about that category, test things out with buying stuff and selling it online, seeing what we found success with, seeing what the pitfalls were and where we could find the most success and decided, “Is this something we want to keep doing or is this something we want to move on?”
Stephen: For each Amazon seller, that’s a good question that you can ask yourself. Focus on a new category is great. It opens up your inventory to a lot more options, but you also want to really learn that category well so that you can build up your business the right way. If you try to spread yourself too thin with too many different new categories, you might miss out on opportunities for all of them, and so we focused on grocery and started going and buying grocery items and found some success with that, but, at the end, we decided that it wasn’t worth the time and effort to focus on that category, but that’s a personal choice. I have friends who actually I go to church with, and they really love the grocery category. and they’re finding lots of success with it, so it’s just important to find those categories that work best for you.
Rebecca: Okay, so, going back again to that time, those early months of selling on FBA, and you said that you were able to get to a full-time income in about six months of selling, and that was back in the 2011, 2012 era, and I just wanted to know do you think that that’s still possible today, because there’s been a lot of changes in Amazon over the last eight, nine years, seven, eight years? Is what you did at that time period when you start still possible today to get to a full-time income?
Stephen: That’s a great question because, yeah, the landscape on Amazon has totally changed. There’s different rules. There’s different types of restrictions, but, on the other hand, there’s different types of tools that help your Amazon business grow faster that are available now that weren’t available before, so, while I think it’s still possible for you to make a full-time income selling on Amazon in six months, I think it’s a lot less likely now simply because of one key change Amazon has made, and that is the change where they have specific categories, specific brands and some specific ASINs that are gated and restricted from selling for new Amazon sellers.
Stephen: Amazon wants to see a quality track record of good selling metrics before they begin to unrestrict or ungate these different brands or ASINs, and when I say ASIN, I’m talking about a specific item on Amazon, and so I was able to make a full-time income within six months, but the six-month timestamp for a new Amazon seller today is like a magic door where restricted products begin to magically open up to you, and so items that you were restricted from selling before, after six months of being a quality seller with great metrics, great feedback, it begins to open up for you, and so I would say that, if this is you, you can go back and try to be approved to sell certain brands or ASINs that you were restricted from in the past, and things will start to open up, and that will open up your Amazon catalog and open up your inventory and give you higher opportunities to send more inventory to Amazon, and that will, of course, increase your profits over time.
Stephen: Some parts of selling on Amazon are harder now. On the other hand, there’s other things that are a lot easier now. There’s so many tools that do things for you. There’s prep centers that will prep your inventory to send to Amazon for you if you want to outsource that. There’s different types of tools like repricing tools, and there’s different sourcing tools that are out now that we’re not out back in 2011. There’s different information that help you can make smarter sourcing decisions. We’ll break down those tools and strategies and stuff in future podcast episodes on how we were able to find success with that, but those are available today that weren’t available before.
Stephen: I would say that six-month, if I were starting today from zero, from ground zero, I don’t think it would take me six months to make a full-time income. I think it would probably take me 12 months to be able to ramp up to that point, so that’s more of a better expectation that I would expect from someone starting out today.
Rebecca: I see what you’re saying, too, is like a trade-off in that, when you first got started, there were a lot less restrictions and it was… I’ve heard you and others refer to it as like the time of the Wild West on E-commerce, in eBay and Amazon both, and that there was just a lot less restrictions, and so you were able to sell more items from the very beginning than you could if you started today, but there are so many more ways to make to cut down on the work that you’re having to put into it. There’s so many ways to leverage your time with different tools because, when you first got started, in order to earn a full-time income, you were having to also do full-time work, and, today, you’re able to do part-time hours to make that full-time income because there are so many different ways that you can cut out time that’s required for sourcing, cut out the time that’s required for prepping.
Rebecca: It’s a really good trade-off in that, yes, it might take a little bit longer to get to that full-time point, but when you get to that point, you’re able to spend a lot less hours doing it and you’re able to focus on other aspects of your life or other businesses or have an even bigger than just full-time income business to grow beyond a full-time income, so what would you say were some of the biggest hurdles early on? If you didn’t have the restrictions that a new seller would today, what would you say are some of the biggest hurdles that you experienced early on in selling?
Stephen: I think there were two main hurdles that I needed to overcome early on. Think back to how young the kids were. Some of them were still in preschool when I first got started trying to transition to Amazon, and I think just managing working from home and trying to manage my time with the kids, and so when I first got started. I think most people when they first get started, they’ve got that buzz, that excitement, but then real life hits you and you’re like, “Whoa, I still have to change diapers. I still need to go to the grocery store. I still need to take care of all these other responsibilities,” and, you, who are listening to this right now, that you might be experiencing the same thing. You might be thinking, “I’m trying to grow an Amazon business while I’m working a full-time job.”
Stephen: Being able to manage my time was a big hurdle, knowing what time I needed to spend on my business, because it could be really easy to just let the hours slip away sourcing at stores or sending stuff to Amazon and miss out on time with my kids, and on the flip side, there’s times where I could totally get lost just playing video games with my kids or whatever and just… and not sending inventory in, so just learning how to balance that was… through trial and error was a big hurdle I needed to overcome, and then the next big hurdle was trying to decide how much of my profits do I need to reinvest in my business versus paying the bills. It’s like, “Okay, I got bills to pay. I want to even start signing up for these different types of tools that I’m learning about, but I also need to buy more inventory,” and so trying to manage that was a big hurdle.
Stephen: I’m a big Dave Ramsey followers, so all the bills get the priority. Bills got the priority. There’s no question about that. I’m never going to decide to spend money on inventory or even go into debt or anything when I’m just totally ignoring my bills, and so I decided to make sure the bills were taken care of, and then I just started playing around with, okay… I decided that, when it comes to my inventory that I’m sourcing, focus on inventory and then decide how much time am I going to be able to buy back by using a certain tool, and is that going to help me to eventually increase my inventory, and so I would decide that I would slowly add new tools to my business one by one, again, not trying to do too many things at once, but just add one tool to my business, see how much time it’s buying me back or how much it’s better increasing my buying decisions or my profits, and then, going from there, to compare it to, okay, is that a tool I’d keep or is it something I need to not use and then really focus again on making better decisions with my Amazon business and spending stuff on inventory that’s going to be able to make me money?
Stephen: For everybody, it’s going to be different, and so you just have to, with trial and error, figure that out, but those were two big hurdles that I needed to overcome and finally were able to do that.
Rebecca: I think that’s really good because it’s easy to forget what it’s like at times when you’re first getting started, and it’s overwhelming because, whether it’s on our blog or somebody else’s blog or podcast or website, there’s so many tools that people say, “This is a great tool that saves time,” or, “This is a great way to streamline your business and to find more inventory quick, more quickly,” or, “To list products faster,” or whatever, but pretty much any tool that’s out there, there’s a way to do it for free. If you can get started doing things with free tools and then work your way up to those others, I think that is a great way to overcome that hurdle.
Stephen: Also, there’s tons of tools out there that give you free trials, and so try to make the best use of that free trial, if it’s a seven-day free trial or a 30-day free trial, making sure that you make the most of that free trial by watching the training videos before you start your free trial. A lot of times, we spend most of our time with the free trial with the training part, and you’re not even actually using it yet, so go through videos, learn things how to use whatever software, how to use whatever you’re learning. Go through the free trial and make the most of it, or if you’re buying a course, most of them have returned windows that you can return things with no questions asked, so, again, making the most of the opportunity going through that course before the return window closes so you can make the most of your time and the most of your money.
Rebecca: Okay, so, going on from there, what would you say, when it comes to both you and I together working on the business, because a lot of this we’re talking about, when you first got started, and then maybe, in a future podcast, we’ll talk about how we added me into that whole business, but what would you say for you and me together has been the biggest key to our success to this point, because our business is very different than it was when you first started and then when I joined it after we got married?
Stephen: Yeah, I would say that one of the biggest keys to this, to our success, has been our mindset, and mindset is really important in all things in life, but especially with running a business from home, and just having a growth mindset, if you want to check out a great book about mindset, I highly recommend Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset. You can actually find out about it, fulltimefba.com/mindset and… Having an abundance mindset really opens up your… the possibilities of finding more inventory.
Stephen: Having a marathon type mindset helps you know that you’re in things for the long haul and this is not just a sprint, and those with the marathon mindset understand that you’re playing the long game and you’re going to have times where you’re doing well, times when you’re not doing so well, but if you keep things going and stick with it, you’re going to find success, and so many other different types of mindsets. We’ll probably even have just a whole episode coming up on mindset by itself that will walk through some of these things, but understanding mindset has been a really big key for our success.
Rebecca: Yeah, I think about abundance versus scarcity as a mindset, and that’s been something that I’ve really had to learn about. You taught me a lot about that concept, and she talks about it, Carol Dweck talks about it in that book, too. That’s been a really big part of how we’ve been able to grow our business the way we have.
Rebecca: One last question before we get to start wrapping things up, what do you think is the sustainability or the viability of making a full-time income on Amazon in the years to come? Moving forward, this is 2019 when we’re recording this, what is the sustainability of full-time income on Amazon?
Stephen: This is a really good question, and we actually had an Amazon couple ask us this question. We were out to dinner with them, and they were like, “Okay, if we are going to put our life into building an Amazon business, putting money into building an Amazon business, put our time and energy into building an Amazon business, what’s the long-term viability of this? Is this going to be around in the future? Where do you see things?”
Stephen: We know that Amazon as a company is really, really strong. It’s really set up for long-term success. They’re a company that prides itself on trying new things, failing at things, but learning from it. They’d try new stuff all the time. In fact, earlier this year, Rebecca and I went to a conference that Amazon held, and they talked about, at Amazon, they have a day-one mentality, here we go with mindset again, the day-one mindset, that they want to see every day as day one where the opportunity is huge, where the excitement is there, where they’re like, “There’s new things that we can innovate and grow.” When you have that kind of mindset, it really helps you in the long run know that you’re going to continue having type of success, and I feel that’s the way with Amazon, and so I think Amazon’s going to be here for a long time.
Stephen: Right now, Amazon is the number one place people go to when they want to start a buying search. A few years ago, it was Google. They’d go to Google and they would Google, “Best baby walker or toy,” and… but now they go to Amazon and search those items, and so I just know that Amazon is doing a really good job with making sure that that stays there, and so that gives us an opportunity as third-party sellers, people selling on Amazon, the opportunity as well, and then, in Jeff Bezos’ most recent letter to the shareholders, he talked about how third-party sellers, that’s the people like you and me who sell on Amazon, they’re… Third-party sellers have actually sold more on Amazon than Amazon themselves.
Stephen: Amazon is a seller and then there’s third party sellers, and so we actually sell more than Amazon does, and they’re really thankful for us, and they are ready for us to be even more improved in the future, and they’re doing things to help us sellers along the way, so I see that the future is really bright. It’s really open, and I feel like it’s even, as an Amazon seller, we’re still in the early stages of selling on Amazon, and there’s so much more possibility that lies ahead.
Rebecca: Okay, so, for this last part, we’re going to call this the lightning round, and this is something we’ll do every podcast episode with whatever guests we have on the show, so, if we’re interviewing another seller or an expert of some sort, we’ll ask them these exact same questions, but, today, I’m going to ask you, Stephen, these.
Stephen: Oh, boy.
Rebecca: There’s three questions, and just give me whatever answer that comes to your mind. You don’t have to think too long or give too long of an answer, but, three questions, so what’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working on your Amazon business?
Stephen: My favorite thing to do when I’m not working on my Amazon business, I mean, I’m a big baseball fan, I love baseball, so I love watching baseball with my family. I love going to the baseball games with my family. I love playing baseball with my family. Okay, that’s two things, baseball and family. Combine those two things, and those are the things I love to do most when I’m not selling on Amazon.
Rebecca: Okay. That’s probably not any big shock to anybody that has followed you on social media or the blog even. What non-Amazon book are you reading that’s impacting your business right now?
Stephen: I just finished a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. If you know Cal Newport, he wrote the book Deep Work, which I also recommend. It’s an awesome book, but Digital Minimalism talks about minimizing your time online, on social media, any type of digital type of content that you consume. It talks about minimizing that.
Stephen: There’s the whole craze about going around with like Marie Kondo and minimizing your stuff and how much freedom that gives you in your life when you get rid of stuff and only keep the things around that spark joy. I think it’s really awesome when you think about that digitally as well where you can take a step back, and so that’s helped my Amazon business because, man, there’s too much time I spend on Facebook, and so I actually have more time to spend with business, more time to spend with my family because I’ve cut back on the social media that I used to consume even more.
Rebecca: Then, lastly, what are you most excited about when it comes to the future of Amazon?
Stephen: Again, I talked about how we went to the 2019 Amazon Seller Summit, Selling Partner Summit, and they talked about a lot of what’s coming in the future, and I’m excited about that, but I’m really just excited again about more tools that come out about Amazon and how Amazon really is trying to do their best to be the most customer-centric platform on the planet and the growth that they have projected and how that impacts us, because we’re sellers on Amazon, and so with Amazon projecting this different type of growth, the new things that they have in the pipeline that they’re working on and how they’re improving things on both the customer and the seller side of things, it just really gets me excited about that.
Rebecca: Okay. That wraps up our first podcast interview, and that’s a great summary of your stories, Stephen, and pulling in some of the things that you learned in the early days of getting started selling on Amazon and building up to being able to earn a full-time income with only part-time hours.
Stephen: Yeah, and I think maybe in a future episode I will turn the tables and interview you one day, and we’ll have some fun with that, but for those of you curious about any of the links we talked about in this or any of the resources we’ve talked about in this podcast, you can go to fulltimefba.com/1, and that will lead you to the show notes for episode one.
Stephen: If you’re just curious about other podcast episodes, you can go to fulltimefba.com/podcast, and if you’re listening to this recently after the podcast launch, we’re doing a launch contest. If you go to fulltimefba.com/podcast, we have a launch contest going on right now. Get a chance to win some Amazon gift cards, some free courses from us, so be sure you take advantage of that sometime soon, and I always want to ask you, if you found anything in this podcast helpful or enlightening or just you feel good about yourself after listening to this, go to fulltimefba.com/leaveareview, and you’ll find the links where you can go leave a quick review about this podcast. We appreciate it. We read all the reviews, and so be sure to do that.
Stephen: Thanks so much for hanging out with us during this podcast. In our next episode, we are to break down the Amazon Buy Box. I think it’s the most important part of being an Amazon seller is understanding the Buy Box. We’re going to talk about the Buy Box, not only how it works, but how to win the Buy Box, and, spoiler alert, over 80% of sales on Amazon come from the Buy Box, so you want to know about this.
Announcer: That’s all for this episode of the Full-Time FBA Show, so head over to fulltimefba.com/podcast where you’ll find the show notes and links from this episode. While you’re there, subscribe to our newsletter where you’ll get several free downloads of our popular and helpful Amazon FBA resources, including a free ebook. Now, take action on what you’ve learned today so you can find success at turning part-time hours into a full-time income with Amazon FBA.