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Starting A Future-Proof Business with Scott Voelker
I have an awesome guest, Scott Voelker. Scott, how are you?
I’m doing great. I’m excited to be here.
I’ve been on The Amazing Seller a bunch of times. I’m excited to flip the script and interview you for a change. Scott is the Founder and the Host of The Amazing Seller podcast, which is a top rank business show where he helps regular, everyday people start and grow their own online business in eCommerce. He is a serial entrepreneur that has built and helped others build six and seven-figure brands online over several years. He has taught and inspired thousands all over the world through his Take Action approach, which we will talk about. Before we do that, I want to take a huge step back and know what was Scott like growing up? Were you a rebel? Were you a straight-A student? Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I was not a straight-A student. I struggled in school, barely to get my Cs. I would pass my class because I did my homework. A lot of people were saying, “You did your homework?” I was like, “That’s the only thing that allowed me to pass.” I was not a good test taker. I can’t retain a lot of information like read something and be tested on it. I get all nervous. If I’m interested in something, it’s a different story but if I’m learning about science or biology, I’m lost. I was not a very good student. As far as being a rebel, I was a little bit of a wise guy growing up. I got in trouble a little bit here and there like most teenagers, but I wanted to be a rock star. That was my big thing growing up. I was pretty good at sports. I did baseball, some basketball and football. I fell in love with playing the guitar. I had a band. I had long hair. I thought I was going to be a heavy metal rock star.
I was the same way. If I was passionate about something, I was all about it. If it was bio or chem, I couldn’t care less.
It was terrible. I love math as far as figuring out money numbers, but I don’t like anything with figuring out the actual metrics of something or the fractions. I’m gone. I don’t want to know that. I could get into learning money numbers for sure, accounting.
We’re in the same boat there. Did you go to college?
I did not.Selling always comes down to figuring out the market, niching down, and finding out what people want and need. Click To Tweet
What did you do after high school?
Let me back up. I worked through high school at a restaurant. I had a pretty good job there. I was a regular at the restaurant. They trusted me. I used to close the place. Not that I wasn’t interested in college, but my father was a farmer. He came from a farming family. They had nine brothers and sisters. They were raised to be on the farm. Some of his brothers and sisters only went to eighth grade because, once they were available to start working on the farm, they worked on the farm full-time. It wasn’t instilled in me to go to college. My thing was to get a job, work hard and have an honest living. That’s what I was raised as.
As I was working at the restaurant, one of my managers there, her husband worked at a printing press called Quad/Graphics, which prints big magazines like People Magazine and Golf Digest. She’s like, “They do apprenticeships there. You can work towards making $75,000 a year.” I’m like, “Sign me up.” I ended up doing that for a few months. I hated it. I was in a factory. I hated the inside work. I decided to go back to flipping burgers at the restaurant and figure out what else I was going to do. That was the first step out of high school. The minute that I got done with high school, I had a 40-hour job.
How did that transition into eCommerce? Bridge the gap a little bit there.
There are a lot of gaps there. I didn’t know anything about even the internet. The internet was starting to happen back then. I told my father I would never own a computer. I said, “That’s a waste of time. I’m not going to do it.” Just to bridge the gap a little bit on how I even got into the online space, I was working construction for my father’s company. After I got out of the printing company, I did another job at the cable company. My father hired me as a construction worker. I learned the trade. I did that for a few years. I thought I was going to own his company. We built it into about a $2 million a year business. Back then, that was a lot of money for a brick and mortar. The partnership that he had with his partner wasn’t good. It fell apart. I’m like, “I invested all this time. What am I going to do?” My wife and I started a photography business, knowing nothing about photography. We built that from scratch, brick and mortar. I learned a lot about business. I learned a lot about brick and mortar. I left my job and did that full-time.
When I stumbled on eBay, it’s what changed my outlook or my path. My wife and I, in the photography business, would purchase these props for children. We would do a lot of photography for children like Ann Getty style. My wife was looking at these bridges. They were little four-foot cedar bridges. She was looking at them on eBay, but she’s seen them at a local store that was selling it for $30. We heard people selling stuff on eBay. She said, “I’m going to buy one of these and see if we can sell it.” We listed it. We got bids on it almost immediately. We started selling them for $130. We made $100 per bridge. I remember taking the minivan over to the store. We loaded it up with all that they had left. We asked if we could order more. We sold them for probably a good few months. We made probably about $20,000. We’ve put our kids through private school with that money. It opened my eyes to the online world.
When was this?
It was probably in the early 2000s. That’s what opened my eyes to it. Amazon wasn’t even a thing yet. It was books, but that was about all it was. I was also at this point learning the online game. I started to see, “If I can sell this, maybe I can sell other things.” That’s where I started to sell digital items on CD. I was selling digital templates that I was creating for my customers inside of our photography studio. I would take those. I’d put them up on eBay, a pack of templates that I would create for customers. I would resell them to other photographers. I’d sell them for $20 to $30 on a CD. At the time, it was a CD. I was selling those probably $100 a week or $200 a week. I started to build a little bit of an audience on YouTube before it was even a thing. I built a little subscriber base. I did my first digital course and sold about $12,000 in three days, following the Jeff Walker launch strategy. It changed my world forever. What I learned was building an audience, serving the audience with useful content, building the know, like and trust and giving them what they need and what they want. It’s pretty much simple. Amazon came in after the fact. It’s a big gap there. There are a lot of the ins and outs there. That’s what I learned getting into the online game.
When did you first hear about Amazon?
I heard about it, but I heard people doing retail arbitrage. I didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time. There were like, “You’re selling stuff on eBay, you could sell stuff up on Amazon and they’ll fulfill it.” I’m like, “That’s pretty interesting.” I started listening to other people selling and doing the flipping. They would buy something at a discount, flip it and sell it. I’m like, “I could try that.” At this point, I had a six-figure business doing digital items for photography. I don’t need this, but I’m an entrepreneur. I want to dabble. I went into Walgreens or something. I started to look at their clearance. I’m like, “I don’t know.” Ten minutes and I’m like, “This is too much work. I don’t want to do this.” I bailed on it.
I’m spoiled with digital products. I’m spoiled with being able to create something once and sell it forever. Then I started hearing about private labeling and that’s when my light bulb went on. I’m like, “This is a digital item because I can find something that’s selling well. I can do a better job at marketing it or understanding the system, sell a whole bunch of it and keep reordering.” That’s what I did right out of the gate. I did a little test order of 1,000 units for $5,000. It was a risky thing. It’s like, “I don’t know if this thing’s going to work.” Within 90 days, we did over $40,000. I was like, “This is crazy.”
Let me back up real quick. There was another part of the story here. When I was in the photography business, I was doing film transfers. In the photography world, people would come to me in my studio and they’d go, “Do you transfer old eight-millimeter films? Do you do VHS to DVD?” I’m like, “I don’t, but I probably should.” I saw this device that someone had made that would transfer old eight-millimeter silent films. I’m like, “Maybe I’ll buy one and turn that into a side business.” I did that. When I got the actual unit, I’m like, “This thing is just like a modified projector with a couple of lenses and some mirrors. I could build this thing.” I built that. I sold about $100,000 worth of those projectors on eBay. That was another part of it, but I couldn’t scale that. When I did this and I generated revenue, $40,000 in 90 days, I was like, “That was a lot easier than putting together projectors in my basement and selling them.” That was the light bulb moment for Amazon.
You’re doing private label on Amazon. Back in the day, when I started having stuff on Amazon, I almost took the mindset where I’m like, “This is so cool. No one else is doing it. I want to do it by myself as long as possible. I don’t want to give other people the information.” Looking back, it wasn’t the right decision, although it all worked out. How did you get into the mindset of, “I’m doing it. This is working for me. I want to share this out with everyone.”
I’m not worried about competition 100% as far as sharing your information. I’m a teacher at heart. I’ve always been someone that’s willing to share. I’m always at the party, talking about what I’m doing. I have a crowd around me that’s like, “What are you doing? I’ve never heard of that. How is this happening? I don’t get it.” I get excited about that. Once I got into the photography space, I built that business and I built an online business because of my experience, I’m like, “I had some results on Amazon. Why don’t I go ahead and start sharing everything for free, build a little bit of an audience and see if I can repeat what I did over here?” I wanted to get out of the photography game. This was a way to do that.
It’s funny because I’m at a pivot moment in my life where I’m coined as the Amazon Guy. I don’t want to be considered the Amazon Guy. I’m the guy that can create businesses online. As I was doing this whole thing, I’m like, “I’m going to go out there. I’m not going to worry about monetizing.” I don’t even know what I would sell these people. I have no idea. I don’t even know if it’s affiliate offers. I don’t even know if I would create a course. All I know is if I can help people, they’re going to let me know what they want to buy. From there, I can see if I can offer it to them or maybe affiliate offers. I’m not going to worry about it. I did 56 podcast episodes before I made one penny from that move in business in creating a podcast.
Let’s talk about business in general. You’ve started a bunch of different businesses. You’ve had success. It seems like you hit the ground running pretty quick. If someone’s reading out there and they want to start a business, whether it’s a bakery, an Amazon business or a marketing agency, how have you had that success in that first 90 days, in that first year? What would you tell them?If you can get out of your business, your business will grow better for you and free you up. Click To Tweet
Number one is, looking back at everything that I’ve done, even in the brick and mortar space, find out your target market, focus on who you’re serving and go all in on that. When I started on Amazon, I fell into the same trap as, “Let’s find a hot product and sell it.” Years later, it’s not like that. If you launch a product and that’s all you’re going to do, I can almost guarantee you that the next time you reorder your next order, you’re going to have ten other competitors coming in with the exact same product. The only way to separate and protect yourself and I call it future-proofing, is going out there and understanding the market you’re serving and building a brand that is going to serve that market with products. You’re going to use Amazon as one of the channels to sell your product. That’s it. It always comes down to figuring out the market, niching down, and finding out what they want and what they need. I like to find three to five products instantly that you could sell that one customer. That way, it’s easier to sell to that same customer than it is to go find new customers. From there, keep focused on serving that market with information, content, helpful and useful stuff and products.
How do you go about building an audience? There’s a sense of trust there. They see you as reliable. They’re going to listen to what you say. They’re going to use the vendors you recommend and it’s a lot of responsibility too. How do you go about building that audience, maintaining it and maintaining that level of trust?
It comes down to patience. Many people want the get rich quick like, “What’s the next strategy? What’s the next hack? How am I going to get more reviews?” We’ve never gone after how to get more reviews. We don’t think of it that way. We think of, “How can we serve that customer better? How can we follow up with them better?” It’s about patience and doing the stuff that other people won’t do. If you’re reading this and you are selling on Amazon, you can look at your competitors. Go see if they have a website. If they do, it’s probably crap. You can probably tell also that they don’t have much of a social media presence. All they’re doing is leveraging Amazon. If you do the extra work outside of that, you can create multiple revenue streams and multiple traffic sources, but it takes time. It’s adding value to the marketplace. If you add value and it’s goodwill, people will know, like and trust you.
Many people only focus on 5% of the market that’s buying on Amazon. Amazon is a buyer. We love Amazon. In the same breath, there’s 95% of the market that’s not ready to buy or that’s not there. Why not get in front of those people with helpful and useful content that they’re going to say, “That person showed me how to catch more bass. I’m going to buy their bass fishing lure.” It makes common sense. It’s pretty much basic stuff, but so many people are like, “How do I get my next customer?” instead of focusing on their current customers and, “How do I deliver more value to the marketplace?”
That’s how you see eCommerce shifting towards the brand, towards the presence outside of Amazon, still supporting the Amazon business and getting a lot of sales. It’s that whole external factor.
If you want to stand out, that’s what you do. There’s a brand that we’re building. We have external traffic of over 250,000 impressions per month, 100,000 unique visitors and an email list of over 30,000 people and growing. We have additional revenue streams outside of that. That’s totaling anywhere between $5,000 and $6,000 profit through ads, affiliate commissions and a book that we have running, a digital guide. All of that is external, but it’s also bringing in potential buyers that can also feed our Amazon business, which is doing thousands of dollars per month.
It is the whole package, but it takes time. It doesn’t mean it’s going to take seven years to do. I had an attorney that was interviewing me for his podcast because he’s getting into this space. He’s like, “What do you say to someone that says, ‘Scott, It seems like a lot of work’?” I go, “How long did it take you to get your degree? It took you six-plus years and you didn’t know what you were going to do once you got it. Plus, you’re in debt for how much. You were willing to give it a few years because you thought you were going to have that paycheck at the end. Why wouldn’t you put a couple of years in and build something that could be potentially semi-passive?”
Are you planning three months out, six months out, a year out or two months out? You’re creating the strategy to grow the brand. How far out are you planning?
We’re always trying to stay a little bit ahead. We also have to listen to the market because the market is always changing. There are always maybe new ideas or new products coming out that we can then create accessories for. We’re always listening to the market. Now we’ve pretty much got it systematized. We figured out that adding content on a regular basis, letting our email list know that we have new content, driving traffic and letting the search engines and Google help get organic traffic over constantly feeds itself. As far as planning, we don’t plan all that far ahead, other than we keep repeating what we’re doing. We’re always keeping our eyes and ears open for what we should be creating or what has performed well in the past and putting another spin on it instead of reinventing the wheel. It’s a lot of repeating what you’ve already done versus trying to find the next shiny object.
Let’s shift gears a little bit. You’re on the Outsourcing and Scaling Show. Let’s talk about the teams that you’ve built, the people you’ve hired. You’re running a podcast. You’ve got your Amazon business growing a brand. How have you hired people and structured these teams?
After I met you, I started going through the process of finding other people that can assist us, not even as a full-time but more as a one-off job. You and I met at a Seller Labs event, Resonate. A lot of people, even my listeners, had a lot of great things to say about FreeeUp. I’m like, “That’s awesome. I’m recommending them.” I haven’t used them all that much at that time. I have since. A lot of people, even on my inner circle, which is a high level, they’re seven-figure businesses, are using your services. Good job on building such a great platform and a good marketplace. I’m all about slow, steady and not trying to grow too big too fast. It’s always about, “What do you need?” and finding that person that’s either going to find the people or the person that you could say, “Let’s give them a few projects to try to slowly build out what we don’t want to do or what we’re not good at.”
For me, I’m not a good writer. I wasn’t good at school. I’m not good at English. I do write all my own emails, but I don’t want to write my show notes. I don’t want to write blog posts. I don’t want to do that, so I hired someone to do that. All I have to do is my superpower. We all have our superpower. I jump on the mic. I can go ahead and ramble. I can talk, rant and do whatever I want and then someone takes that and they make it look pretty. They make it so people can understand and read it. That’s that person. I’ve made it so I can show up, do what I do best, hand it off and it gets done. That wasn’t an overnight thing either. It took me 150 episodes before I started doing transcripts, which I had to find someone that was good at transcripts. It took me a little while. You’d get them and you’re like, “That’s gibberish. That doesn’t sound like me.” They didn’t take out the ums or the pauses. It takes time.
I would tell people always, “Look at your current situation in your business. Where do you put the time in that you’re like, ‘I could probably hire someone to do this. I feel like I want to be in my business all the time?’” If you can get out of your business, your business will grow better for you. It’ll also free you up. You do not have to say, “Tomorrow, I got to write show notes.” I don’t want to write show notes. It’s like, “I got to do that. I got to do a transcript.” Who wants to sit there and do a transcript? People that can type 100 words per minute are good at it. That’s their superpower. Be slow and steady. Don’t think you’re going to land one right away. It might take a few. You are good at that because you pre-vet them for us and only give us A-players, which is good.
I love the slow and steady approach. Some people think I just woke up one day and hired 50 people. You slowly build it up. Talk a little bit about your family. At Resonate, your son was there. He looked like he was involved in the business. Is your wife still involved? How do you separate that business and personal that a lot of people struggle with?
I’ve got three kids. I’ve got a 23-year-old daughter who will be 24. She’s married. They’re looking to have kids. It’s crazy that I’m going to be a grandfather. I got married when I was young. I’m going to be celebrating our 25th anniversary. My son’s going to be 21. My other daughter is eleven. That’s what I do everything for. When I started our first brick and mortar business in photography, I did it because I wanted to free up my time so I could be home with my kids and watch them at that exciting time of their life. I was able to coach my son all the way through Little League, all the way up until he was sixteen on travel teams. I coached.
I would never have been able to do that if I didn’t make a choice to work for myself, take the chances and take risks. For me, it’s all about family. I could make more money if I work more, but I don’t want to. I’m not one of these guys who are going to be like, “I sold a business for nine figures.” I don’t care about that. It’s great you did that. For me it’s like, “Can you wake up and do what you want to do in the morning?” I can. Can you say, “I’m going to block out this day and this day because my daughter has a recital or this?” I can do that. I couldn’t do that if I worked for someone else. I experienced that. That’s what it’s all about. My kids, I’m proud of them all because they all have entrepreneurial blood. They’ve heard it forever.Find out your target market, focus on who you’re serving, and go all in on that. Click To Tweet
My son who’s big into basketball, he’s going to college to be a physical education teacher, but he wants to coach. He also got a training business on the side. Here’s a funny little story. I said to my son, “Here’s what you got to do. You have these free camps. Everybody from the area knows about you. You’re going to put on this free camp. It’s outdoors. You’re going to get a whole bunch of kids to come in. The parents are naturally going to come up to you and go, ‘Do you do any private coaching?’ From there, you can say, ‘I do.’ You can give them a special price. You can build a little email list on the side.” What does he do? He does his first camp. He gets a client. He does another camp. He gets three more. Now he’s got ten, eleven clients paying him $150 for six sessions. He’s going to college full-time. He’s got an email list of about 50 people. He sends an email out and says, “I’m going to be doing a camp over here. Come on over and show up.” He builds that. I’m showing him to give value, build the know, like and trust and the money will follow. That’s pretty much simple. That’s what I’ve been doing for years. That’s what I’m teaching my kids as well.
I love the work-life balance. There are tons of entrepreneurs that struggle with that and have family issues because they can’t take themselves out of work. You’ve got the podcast. You’ve got these businesses. You’re a big family guy. You’re putting on a conference called Brand Accelerator LIVE. Talk to us about that and why you’re excited about it.
That’s another thing that I never thought I would do. I never thought that I’d have a podcast as successful as it is. The event was one of those things where I’m like, “I’m never going to do an event. It’s a huge responsibility. There’s a lot of logistics.” It’s not a huge money-maker, as people would think. I’ve been told that if you can break even on your first one if you’re doing well. I wanted to be able to serve the audience, but I didn’t want to put all the work in. I had a friend of mine now that wasn’t. I met him at Sellers Summit, which is Steve Chu’s event. He came up to me and said, “I’m a listener. Have you ever thought about doing an event?” I go, “It’s a lot of work. I don’t want to get involved in that.” He goes, “I used to be an event planner. If you want, I’ll help you coordinate one. I’ll do all the work.” I’m like, “I’m listening. Why don’t you plan out what it would look like? Come back to me with a proposal. Let me know and we’ll see.”
Long story short, we’re doing an event. It’s called Brand Accelerator LIVE. It’s going to be a smaller event. It’s going to be under 300 people. I’m going to cap it. It’s going to be all about building a brand that’s future proof. It means optimizing what you currently have running on Amazon. We’re not saying, “Don’t sell on Amazon.” We’re saying, “Sell on Amazon but protect your brand from not being dependent on one channel. Diversify. Build that know, like and trust with your audience. Serve your customers. Go out there and show up in your marketplace with content that helps people. Build that email list. Go on YouTube and build that channel if that’s where you want to be and if that’s where your audience is hanging out.” Focus on that.
The other reason is I had someone come up to me at Seller Labs. It might’ve been that conference. They said to me, “I want to go to more events. I love these events. I love the energy. I want to go to another Amazon event.” I go, “Let’s time out for a minute. You’re at an Amazon event. You’ve been to one over here and one over there. You got to go to a digital marketing event. You got to learn digital marketing. That’s where you’re going to have an edge. You don’t need any more information about Amazon. You know that. If you want to come to one or two a year, it’s perfect. Why do you want to keep going down that road when you should be focusing on building a brand? That comes with email marketing and social media marketing.” It comes down to understanding marketing. That’s where the other idea comes in. I’m like, “I’m going to create an event that serves both parties.” You can help you build your Amazon business on the side. On the other side, we can go ahead and start building out your brand with the digital marketing side of things. That’s what I wanted this focus to be. I’m super excited about it.
Check that out. Thanks so much for coming on, Scott. I appreciate it. How can people find out more value? They can go to the conference. You’ve got The Amazing Seller podcast. Is there anything else you want people to check out?
I’ll see you at Resonate again. I’ll probably see you at Sellers Summit. I’m sure I’ll see you all over the place. We always do.
I appreciate it.
- Scott Voelker
- The Amazing Seller
- Brand Accelerator LIVE
- Sellers Summit
- iTunes – The Amazing Seller podcast
- Stitcher – The Amazing Seller podcast
About Scott Voelker
Scott Voelker is the founder and host of The Amazing Seller podcast, a TOP Ranked Business show where he helps regular, everyday people start and grow their own online business in E-commerce.
Scott is a serial entrepreneur that has built and helped others build 6 and 7 figure brands online over the past 15 years and has now taught and inspired thousands all over the world, through his “Take Action” approach!!!