3 Ways to De-Stress Your Business

Whenever someone asks me what its like to run my own online business, I like to tell them how exciting it is. I usually mention how empowering it can be when you get to call your own shots and how nice it is not having to punch in somewhere on a time-clock. What I don’t talk about too often, however, is how exhausting it can be.


kat4 (3)You see, along with the perks of being your own boss there is a downside because you’re also the one responsible for keeping the business going and when something goes wrong, it’s all on you. This can cause a lot of stress and when that stress builds up, it kicks all that excitement and empowerment right out the door. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help de-stress your business and more importantly…yourself.


1.Set some short and long-term goals. I’ve mentioned before how important it is to set goals so you know where your business is going, but there’s another important reason you need to set goals too. Mainly, when you set goals for your business it helps take the pressure off. You then know you’re working toward something instead of just floundering around trying to figure out where the business is headed.


Once you know what the “end-game” is, then you can set some short-term goals to help you get there. While you may have to go back and adjust your plan to reach your goal from time to time, just think how much stress it can relieve to know that you’ve got a clear path along the way. And…As an extra benefit, you can look back at your accomplishments and know it’s all been worth it.


2. Make a schedule and stick to it. One of the biggest ways to build up stress when you own an online business is to never step away from the business. You may feel that you have to keep an eye on things 24/7, but the reality is that will only lead to burnout. You not only won’t feel like listing items on eBay or sending those packages to Amazon, you’ll actually start to resent the business that you once thought you loved.


Set a start and stop point for your workday and let your family know what those hours are. You’ll find you are less stressed and as a bonus, you’ll generally get a lot less interruptions during the day if everyone knows know that at five or six you will be finished with work and ready for family time. You may even realize that want to get at your desk earlier, so you’ll have more free time at the end of the day.


3. Manage Your Money. The biggest point of stress for an online seller is worrying that you are going to run out of money or not be able to pay your bills. I don’t know how many sellers I have talked to that have no clue whether they are actually making a reasonable profit with their business or if in reality, they are actually going into the hole. This can cause a great deal of stress with your business and is usually the number one reason that sellers throw in the towel.


I know that it’s complicated to create a budget based on sales when you don’t know what those sales will be, but you should still have an estimated budget of what you need to make and then keep tabs on how close you are getting to that number. If the numbers are going in the wrong direction, look for areas you can cut back or increase your sales. Also look for additional ways to bring in added income can help further reduce stress and will also help that bottom line.




Shoule You Get an “Exclusive” When Selling Merchandise Online?

 cliff   “I sell merchandise on Amazon.com using their popular Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) program, where they handle all shipping and fulfillment of customer orders from their warehouses around the country.

           I have a handshake relationship with a local manufacturer.  I buy merchandise from them at wholesale and then resell at a profit.  I don’t want to lose that relationship as their merchandise accounts for a significant portion of my sales.  I’m concerned, though, that once the manufacturer sees that there’s a huge online market for their merchandise, they will try to ‘cut out the middleman’ and sell on Amazon directly.

            I would like to ask the manufacturer for an exclusive relationship but am not sure how to go about it.  Can you give me some pointers?”

            You are absolutely right not to rely on your handshake relationship with the manufacturer.  A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on.

Items listed on Amazon appear on a “product page” devoted to a specific SKU or Universal Product Code (UPC); often buyers are unaware they are buying from a third party seller and not directly from Amazon.  Because of that, third party sellers on Amazon have more difficulty building “brands” for their merchandise than they do on eBay and other sites.  Accordingly, although you have helped this manufacturer develop an online market for its products, you have no leverage if the manufacturer decides to sell directly on Amazon or hire another reseller to do so.

            You definitely should get a written agreement with the manufacturer, but if you present the manufacturer with a complex exclusive distributor agreement written in “legalese”:

  • you are likely to spook them – many small companies are not comfortable with legal documents and will not want to spend the money to have their lawyer review your “boilerplate” contract; and
  • they will want something extra in return for granting you exclusive selling rights, such as a minimum purchase requirement (forcing you to buy a specific number of products each month whether or not you think you can resell them), a higher wholesale price for the items you buy from them, or an agreement that you will not resell their products below a certain minimum price (called “minimally acceptable pricing” or “MAP pricing”).

You should contact the manufacturer informally via e-mail and see if they are willing to commit to an exclusive relationship before sending them a contract.  If they are, here are some points to consider:

How “Broad” Is Your Exclusivity?  Do you have exclusive rights to sell only on Amazon, or anywhere online?  An “online sales” exclusive may require you to sell on eBay, etsy.com and other Internet retail venues.  If your exclusivity extends only to Amazon sales, make sure it covers all of Amazon’s affiliated sites worldwide.

How Long Will Your Exclusivity Last?  You want your exclusivity to last as long as possible, but a perpetual exclusive is not possible.  Five years is recommended, with “automatic” renewals thereafter.  During the first five year period, the agreement should be terminated only “for good cause” (someone is breaching their obligations under the agreement, or has engaged in illegal activity).  After that, the agreement should be terminated by either party but only with lots of advance notice (90 or 180 days).  If the manufacturer terminates the agreement, make sure you can continue to sell your existing inventory, or sell it back to the manufacturer with a guaranteed margin (say, 10%).

What Happens if the Manufacturer Breaches the Agreement?  You can sue them, of course, but you should give the manufacturer an easier “out” if they violate the agreement due to a good faith mistake (they didn’t know one of their customers was reselling merchandise online).  You will need a “liquidated damages” clause saying you are entitled to a significant percentage (50% is not uncommon) of any sales the manufacturer makes in violation of the agreement.

Who is Responsible for Online Marketing?  If you are asking for the exclusive right to sell online (not just on Amazon), the manufacturer will expect you to market and promote their products online, which will increase your cost of goods sold (COGS).  Consider instead having them market the products online with your guidance, for which you will of course charge an additional consulting fee.

Is the Agreement Binding on Amazon.com?  The short answer here is “no.”  Your agreement is strictly with the manufacturer.  While you may be able to show the agreement to Amazon if you see someone else selling the same merchandise on the site, there’s no assurance Amazon will help you enforce it.

Finally, keep in mind that no agreement is self-enforcing.  If the manufacturer goes behind your back and deliberately, willfully and wantonly breaches your agreement, you will have to sue them to get them to stop.  Suing a vendor that accounts for a significant percentage of your revenue will not be easy, even if you are in the right.

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2014 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.


How to Deal With a Negative eBay Buyer

Never has the old saying “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” been more true than when it comes to dealing with buyers on eBay. Almost every day I hear from sellers who have a troublesome buyer that they don’t quite know what to do with. Fortunately, there are a few ways to deal with a negative eBay buyer that could help.

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1.Stay calm and carry on. Let’s face it; there are just some eBay buyers out there that deserve a good smack to the back of the head. They’re cranky or rude right from the moment they contact you. They want you to make things right…and more importantly…they want it done yesterday. Unfortunately, they are usually the ones who never bother to read the product descriptions and ignore measurements, or miss that you clearly stated that an item is pre-owned and not new.


While your first response may be to argue back with them, instead walk away from the computer, take a moment to catch your breath and let your blood pressure get back down. Only then should you respond to them and when you do you need to do it in a calm and professional manner. Keep in mind, that although you may be tempted to respond in kind if there is name calling, the best thing to do is to just report the buyer, especially if their messages escalate to where they are using threats or profanity.


2.Apologize and fix the problem. As sellers, we like to think that we will never do anything wrong, but let’s face it…sometimes we do make mistakes and stuff happens. If you realize that you are at fault, apologize immediately and ask what you can do to make things right. Sometimes, a heartfelt apology is all it takes to diffuse a bad situation and that may actually be all that the buyer really wants. You may have to bit the bullet, but it is best to always offer to replace or refund the item if it is clearly your fault. If you suspect that the buyer is actually regretting having made the purchase, see if they are open to a compromise, such as a partial refund on the item or on the shipping.


3.Consider the consequences. Sometimes when there is a problem with a buyer, you will obviously be the one in the right. It can grate your last nerve, however, to think about conceding to someone who is clearly in the wrong. Before you smack them down by stating your policy is in writing or informing them that eBay is on your side, consider what the outcome may be. Is a negative really worth it if you could work out a compromise instead? If the low DSRs the buyer will most likely give you affects your Top-Rated Seller status, is it possible that you are going to lose more money in the long run than you would if you had simply given them a refund?


Finally, think about how would you want to be treated if the shoe was on the other foot. If you were the buyer, would you be happy with your performance or would you actually be one of those sellers that you would never purchase from again?





Product Feature Lists: Making Those Bullet Points Count

It never ceases to amaze me how many Amazon sellers literally miss the point. And when I say point, I’m not talking about the reasons it’s great to sell on Amazon, but rather I’m talking about the good old bullet point that should be part of each and every listing. What’s a bullet point you ask?

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  • <— Here’s an example
  • It helps to separate text and makes it easier to read.
  • It provides a summary that is helpful when you’re quickly scanning a page or document


The funny thing is, however, a lot of people don’t take advantage of using them on Amazon and yet the bullet points are typically looked at more often than the actual description of the item itself. This means that how you use bullet points can literally make or break whether someone buys from you, so it’s really important to use them effectively. Here’s what you need to know.


  1. Amazon only gives sellers 100 characters (or about 15 words) for what they like to call “product feature lists” (the fancy way of saying bullet points!). This means, you want to make sure each bullet point counts!


  1. Think about what sets your item apart from all the other items that are listed on Amazon. Highlight those features of your item and use them as your bullet points.


  1. Choose the most compelling feature of your item and use that feature first in your list. Then list the next most compelling feature and so on.


  1. Amazon gives you 5 bullet points to use for each item. Use them all!


If you’re having trouble coming up with your descriptions, ask yourself why someone would want to buy the item from you. Those are the selling points you want to list. Keep them short and to the point (pardon the pun) though. If each bullet point turns into its own long-winded description, your potential buyer won’t read through them and you could cost yourself a sale.


Don’t make the description too short either though. You want to give enough ôsizzleö to make them envision themselves owning the item and let them know why they need it in their lives. As an example, instead of saying that a sweater is available in four colors, you would want to say that the sweater was available in four popular color choices and that the buyer can choose the color that best accents their own personal style.














Goal Setting: What are Your Goals for 2014?

Can you believe it’s an already February of the New Year? If you’re like most small business owners, you probably made a few New Year’s resolutions on the first, or perhaps you set some goals for your business that you hope to accomplish. Unfortunately, a 2012 report in the Journal of Clinical Psychology (University of Scranton) states that out of the 45-percent of Americans that make New Year’s resolutions, only about 8-percent will actually have success in in following through with them. Kind of sad…isn’t it?



While that may seem really discouraging, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Instead, take a step back and look at what it is that you really want for your business this year. Once you have gotten the big picture in your mind, you can then work backwards to reach your desired goal. To do this, you simply start by making smaller goals.


As an example, one of my goals (or resolutions) for this year is to find a way to better balance my time between my business and my family. To do this, I may make it a goal to start my work earlier in the morning, so that I can be done by a certain time each day. I could also make it a smaller goal that we would eat dinner as a family at least once a week. These are both small things to do, but together they help me reach my bigger goal.


Another way of breaking down goals to smaller easier steps is to make your goals for 30 or 90 day at a time instead of one big goal for the whole year. Instead of trying to raise your sales by $100,000 for the year, you could work at increasing them by $25,000 in the next 90 days. Once you have succeeded with that goal, you then set another goal to make another $25,000 for the next 90 days after that and so on. Same end results, but a smaller picture to look at instead of one that could potentially overwhelm you.

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Finally, remember that the goals or resolutions you set in place now are not actually set in stone. As we go through the year we can almost certainly expect things to change. If a small goal isn’t getting you the results that you want, you can make another one to take its place. Perhaps the big goal you have now, won’t be as important to you as the year goes along either. If so, you can always create another goal to work toward. Oh, and remember, you don’t have to wait until next year to do it. A July 4th resolution can work just as well as a New Year’s one!

3 Ways to Improve Your Bookkeeping for the New Year

If you sell on Amazon, you know that good bookkeeping is essential for your small business and yet it’s the one task that most sellers are loathe doing. When you don’t have a good bookkeeping system in place, it can end up costing you a lot of money and cause a lot of headaches. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to improve your bookkeeping and starting them now will keep you on track throughout the New Year.


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1. Organize your receipts. If you’re like me, you find a lot of your inventory at retail, department, and thrift stores. The problem is that when you finally checkout it becomes awfully easy to just stick that receipt in your purse, pocket or billfold. Hopefully, you think to get it out once you get home, but if you’re like a lot of people you really don’t give it another thought until you’re ready to create your listings and realize that you can’t remember how much something cost. You then have to hunt the receipt down and retrieve it, but after the listings are complete, you probably lose track of the receipt again.


Sound familiar?


If so, there are a couple things you can do to help yourself out.


First, either keep a coupon folder in your purse or carry it in your car. Make a habit of putting the receipt right into the folder instead of stuffing it into your coat pocket. Once you are done with the receipt, either file it away or put it in a designated spot. I actually know one seller who likes to use an old shoebox. There is still a little work to be done when tax time rolls around, but at least all of the receipts are in one place and half the battle is already won.


Second, use a bookkeeping system that compliments online selling. It’s always funny to me how many accountants just don’t get what Amazon sellers do. That’s why I like Go Daddy’s Online Bookkeeping (formerly Outright) and TaxJar. Go Daddy Online Bookkeeping helps you categorize all your receipts and they will even help get your Schedule C done for you. TaxJar, on the other hand, helps you keep track of all those different state-to-state sales taxes you have to pay. Then when it comes time to go to your accountant, you simply print out your paperwork from the website and carry it to them. Just think of all the time and money you’ll save!


Finally, keep your business and personal accounts separate. When you’re first starting out, it’s usually fairly simple to know what was a business expense and what was personal. As your business grows, however, trying to keep up with what is what can become a huge hassle. This is why it’s a good idea to have a separate bank account and credit card for your business. If that’s just not possible right now, make a point to always notate what expenses were for your business just as soon as the credit card statement rolls in or whenever you balance your checkbook. This will make it a lost easier to divide everything out when it gets to the end of the year and it’s tax season once again.



Amazon Anticipatory Shipping: Crazy or Crazy Genius?

First it was the use of drones to cut delivery times, now Amazon wants to cut its delivery times even further by shipping out your package before you even order it. Crazy — or crazy genius?


Amazon.com logo According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, Amazon got a United States Patent back in December for what they are calling “Anticipatory Package Shipping.” The idea is that Amazon will work to cut delivery times by boxing and shipping products that it believes customers in a specific area will want.


While it remains somewhat of a mystery as to how Amazon might know in advance that I’m craving dark chocolate or that I’m thinking of ordering the latest Downton Abbey DVD, it appears that they will probably base what they ship to customers off of previous orders the customer may have made and perhaps some other factors it has learned from their customer’s shopping habits. Some of these factors might include, products the customer has searched for, wish lists, previous orders, and some of the customer’s other online shopping practices. In fact, it could even be something perhaps as simple as lingering too long on a page when you’re searching for something that might be all it takes for the item to get shipped out to you.


Although it may seem a little bit too “Big Brotherish” for some who might not like the idea of Amazon predicting what they would like to order next, Amazon insists that it is all part of the bigger picture of cutting delivery times and building customer satisfaction. As you probably already know, Amazon has been hard at work at this already by building additional warehouses and experimenting with same-day deliveries.


Oh, and the drones. Don’t forget the drones.


There is still the question, however, of what happens if you don’t like the item they have sent out to you? Amazon brushed that aside by saying that they would probably either offer discounts to their customers to get them to pay for it or even let them keep the item as a gift. As the patent states, “Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill.” It should be interesting to see how this all plays out.


Oh, and Amazon — if you’re reading this, there’s a purple sweater that I wouldn’t mind having. I’m sure you know the one!



Ebay Announces End to About Me Pages

If there’s one thing you can say about the world of eBay, it’s that change is constant. As an example, last fall, eBay debuted a bunch of new features that were designed to make the site into more of a social gathering place. The idea was that by encouraging members to engage with other members, they would then find new and exciting products that would appeal to them.

 ebay_95x39-1At the time of the introduction, eBay was suggesting that people fill out their ôAbout Meö page so that other members could learn more about them. Well, the times are a changin’ again because this week eBay announced that on June 2nd they would actually be deleting the About Me page. In its place, eBay has launched new profile pages that are designed to connect with the rest of the social structure that includes “following” and member’s collections.


This really isn’t the first time that eBay has played with their profile pages. Some of you might remember that once upon a time back in 2006, they introduced a new and exciting profile page called “My World.” They then did away with those in August of 2013 and well — here we are again.


Meanwhile, eBay tells us that as of February 17th, members will no longer be able to create a new profile page or edit an existing one. This means that if you haven’t done anything with your latest profile page, you better get started. To do this, simply click on your user name in the top left hand corner of your home page, then click on your name again in the first part of the drop down menu. You can also get there to the same page directly by going to ebay.com/usr/eBayUSERID (that’s YOUR user ID that goes at the end of the link…since this might not be that obvious to newer members).


Once you are on your profile page, you can upload a cover image (this can be your company logo or a picture of you), showcase any collections that you have created, and tell members more about you and your business. This has always been important, but it appears that it will be even more relevant in the very near future, so if you haven’t done this yet I suggest doing it now.


You can read more about this latest announcement from eBay.








Amazon Aged Inventory Assessment: Ouch, that’s going to hurt!

If you’re still somewhat new to the ways of Amazon’s FBA program, you might have got a bit of a shock last week. That’s when Amazon sent out an email to sellers informing them about how much they were going to owe for what Amazon likes to call “aged inventory.” This is the polite term they like to use to describe old inventory that has been sitting in their warehouses for at least a year. The email gets sent out every six months and tells sellers what they’ll owe and also tells sellers the date that this fee will be assessed (February 15, in case you’re wondering!).


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The fee is steep and (even worse) it’s in addition to those other normal fees you already have to pay. Now, you might be wondering why the fee is so high, but the reason is really pretty simple. Amazon wants you to get your old stuff out of their warehouse and they have found that the best way to get people to actually do this is to charge you a hefty fee if you really want to keep it there.


You can find out how much these fees are going to be by going to Seller Central and looking under “Reports” and “Fulfillment.” Look over to the left side at the bottom of the page and you will see “Recommended Removal.” Keep in mind that you want the amount from this report and not the long-term storage fee charges that are under “Payments.” That number is actually the amount that you were given for your last assessed long-term storage fee charges, not the amount for what you might soon owe.


Once you have looked at the report, you then have a few decisions to make. You can lower the price of the items and hope they move out by the 14th (day before). You can tell Amazon to just send the items back to you, or you can tell Amazon to just destroy the items for you. If you decide to lower the price, you will then want to look at the report again on the 14th and decide if it’s still worth leaving the items there and taking the hit from the fee, or if you would rather have the items returned or destroyed. If you do decide to let them continue to sit for another round, don’t forget to add the amount in as an expense with your original cost and make sure that you adjust the number for the amount of profit you plan to make to make.





Amazon A Year in Review: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As 2013 draws to an end, I want to do a little review about selling on Amazon. First, I have to say that over this past year Amazon has renewed my excitement for selling online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big eBay fan, but Amazon’s FBA program makes selling online so incredibly easy, it’s hard not to sing its praises.


Have things gone perfectly with Amazon this year? No, not all the time. As an example, there was a big ugly shipping glitch last week after UPS got bogged down and failed to make some deliveries on time. This meant some Amazon buyers were short a few Christmas gifts and not too happy with the online marketplace giant.


Thankfully, Amazon quickly stepped up and offered $20 gift cards to the members who were affected and didn’t get their items on time. This calmed most members down and some refunds issued by UPS helped too.


There have been some glitches and headaches for sellers as well. It’s very frustrating when items get lost in transit or part of your order heads off to one warehouse and part of it goes to another. The confusion about collecting taxes for online purchases and learning about the big bad “Nexus” had some sellers wanting to pull their hair out. Sellers were also subject to new photo requirements, saw some policy changes, and had some higher fees to contend with too.


Still, there’s plenty of good news to report that more than make up for the bad. There are many new warehouses being built, so Amazon has lots of room for expansion. Sellers can now ship a lot of items internationally and simply let Amazon worry about filling out all those pesky shipping forms. You also don’t have to worry about filing insurance claims if something arrives damaged or worry about your inability to track packages to their destination. It’s all in Amazon’s capable hands.


The highlight for the year, however, might have been when Amazon announced they are looking toward the future. Almost “Back to the Future,” so to speak, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos surprised everyone by announcing on 60 Minutes that the company is seriously considering using drones to deliver packages to their customers.


Seriously, if the thought of drones delivering your items to buyers isn’t enough to make you want to jump on the Amazon bandwagon, I don’t know what is! If you’ve been on the fence about selling on Amazon, 2014 might just be the year to do it. The future of Amazon certainly looks bright from here.