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**TL;DR:** I don’t really have time to write this post but it was an exercise I did for myself and I realized it might be helpful for someone else… so I’m sharing. After 1 year in the MBA program I have earned over $10,400 in royalties, sold over 2100 units, have ~2000 designs live and currently sit at T4000. I lay out my thoughts on Year 1 and goals for Year 2 (and beyond).
I hit my one year anniversary on Merch on February 28th. I got the acceptance email that night and had my first design loaded on March 1st. Many people say that it’s a good idea to spend some time reflecting when you hit “big milestones”, and I tend to agree with that approach. So that’s what I did. I did a deep dive in my numbers, my process, my goals, my results and my expectations. I also evaluated what I want to REALLY focus on in 2018 and, click bait title incoming, **you might be surprised by what I decided to do!**
After some reflection, and a bunch of time formatting and writing, I have come up with some lessons learned and my 2018 goals (go-forward plan). They aren’t really in any particular order and they are thoughts/observations which I have experienced. They might not work for others and they certainly aren’t the best, or most successful, approach one can have with the Merch by Amazon program.
But, if nothing else, they are potentially helpful and thought-provoking to some (especially the newer Merchers) so I feel it my obligation to share them in the hope that they’ll help someone have a similar or better *journey* (italicized just for that douchey “PurpleNurple” guy that caused such a stink a few weeks ago).
Here are my prior summary posts from this ride we call Merch:
– [first few months]( https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/6sv6lu/merch_does_have_potential_heres_my_journey/)
– [milestone update 1]( https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/7acnp1/another_milestone_a_little_eye_candy_a_gift/) (see below for a note about an updated spreadsheet)
– [milestone update 2]( https://www.reddit.com/r/AmazonMerch/comments/78xcc2/a_quick_journey_update_a_day_of_milestones/)
I plan on doing these quarterly in the coming months. Without further pontificating, here’s my brain dump.
– Simple Sells – If you look at my [sales breakdown by source]( https://imgur.com/rN7uTnS) you see that most of my sales come from designs I’ve created. Look, they aren’t fancy. Most of them are text only and the just barely get the point across. But they’re designed in the style that I would wear and I guess that’s popular for the people I target (people like me, duh!). I did most of them on a very simple online editing program because, up until this year, I didn’t have access to Adobe at work. I do now but I still make quick “test designs” in the online program because it’s FAST. I view them as tests and when they sell I do more.
– Try Everything – As I alluded to in the sentence above, I test a lot. This is part of my nature – some might describe it as methodical – but I feel data is the best when you can use it to make decisions. Something I did last year that I am still implementing was what I call the “Birddog Approach” (it’s a very Guru thing to do, I know). If you’ve ever seen a birddog hunt (for pheasants or doves) you know that they serpentine from side to side across a field in the hope that they can scare something up. Once they do then you can shoot at it. As soon as I hit T500 I created one scalable design across multiple niches. Think “I ❤ New York” shirts where I just kept changing “New York” to something else. I made 150 of these and put them up, all under the same brand. As soon as one sells I dive deep into that niche with 20-30 more shirts and put them under their own brand. My goal is to have 100 designs in each niche that I’ve “proven” is a buying niche. In this sense, I sent out my birddog shirts and when something was scared up, I shot at it. I could go deeper, but, competition. LOL.
– Pricing Sucks – I’ve tried low, I’ve tried high and everything in between. What I do know is that the design sells first. If they like it and it stands out from the group some people have a higher tolerance for high prices. I’ve sold standard shirts at $25.99 and I’ve sold them at $12.99 (same design). I didn’t sell more at the lower price. But there are so many variables that go into it that it’s difficult to really isolate price without real analytics data. Basically last year I took the approach that I loaded everything at $19.99 and once it sold *a few times* I would up the price a buck until I stopped at $21.99 for standards and $24.99 for premiums. This all happened around Q4 so demand was high for “anything” so I kept selling stuff. It worked then – I’ll have a different approach for this year.
– Game Theory is Real (earn points for playing) – Merch has mentioned a couple times that you should treat your account like a game where you earn experience points and you level up with each tier. With each tier comes more leeway and benefits. I think it will continue this way and maybe even get “worse” in the coming years. Like locking out certain things (AMS, Products, etc.) until you are T500 or higher. One thing I do know, they like it when you don’t get infringements. **I FEEL** like I get more sales when I don’t put up anything that’s borderline… how do I know what’s borderline? Stuff that doesn’t go into manual review or get rejected completely. I also **FEEL** like I get more sales the more I consistently upload. Every time I’ve taken a break from uploading designs (or been capped b/c of my tier) my sales would go down. EVERY SINGLE TIME I’ve loaded at least some designs for several days in a row my sales go up (I’ve found 4 days in a row will see an uptick for 4-5 days). I see some correlation but that doesn’t indicate causation. But what I do know is that if MBA is treating this like a game, they’re going to reward those who consistently “play”, those who get more “kills” from different methods, and those who level up without “cheat codes”.
– Build for Q4 – Last October, November and December weren’t as great as everyone had hoped. We get that, now shut up. What it WAS though was much better than Q1-Q3 combined for me. Again, I was new to the platform last year so it’s to be expected but the reality is that it was great. I’ve never earned that kind of money passively before. And IT WAS PASSIVE. We were frozen, locked out for part of the month of December so technically everything I earned was because of work I did in the past. I earned without working. So, I would tell everyone that your goal should be to build up your ASSET during Q1-Q3 so that it’s ready to go during Q4. Make sure you have stuff out there on multiple products (those who haven’t tried Premium are leaving money on the table IMO). Who knows what will happen this year – but I know I’ll have a grip of designs loaded and ready to go no matter what happens!
– Be Organized. I’m not going to go into this too much because it’s kind of an individual thing. But make sure you have a process in place – even at the low tiers. Because when you have to load 200/day you’ll wish you had your S#!+ together. Make sure you have a plan and you know where your designs are and how to find them (and make sure you back them up somewhere – it’s your freaking asset, keep them in a “bank” somewhere).
– Learn from Everyone – There’s something to learn from everyone. Just because someone is a lower, or higher, tier than you doesn’t mean that they don’t come to the table with experiences that YOU WILL NEVER HAVE. My pops told me growing up: “A smart person learns from their mistakes, a wise person learns from others’ mistakes”. Same applies with Merch. You can learn something from everyone… even if it’s “what not to do!” haha.
– ABC’s – Always Be Creating – I look for shirt ideas everywhere. When I’m at the store, when I’m watching movie trailers, talking to my family and sometimes when we all get together and just throw out “dumb shirt ideas”. Some of these have turned into my best sellers. **Book Recommendation:** Read *Steal Like an Artist* by Austin Kleon. It’s a good primer on how everyone can build on someone else’s ideas. And, by way of update, I’m almost done with *Sketchbook 2* – I just have to turn those into actual designs!
– Patience is Rewarded – everyone is screaming about how the sky is falling currently. “Sales Suck!” they crow. But I remember last year when I came onboard everyone was saying “Hey you’re lucky you didn’t have to go through the crappy November-February period… it sucked.” It’s all relative. Compared to last year this year is great. But compared to November, January SUCKED. That’s why I did my “Daily Sales” graph. It helps me see that I’m doing a lot better than last year. Also, if you are testing, make sure you give it a few weeks to see if it works. It’s painful but I’ve found that most changes will actually take effect (+ or -) in about 3 weeks. It’s a long time to wait but the results will teach you.
– Don’t be afraid to spend some money. I hired 2 designers on Upwork last August. Since then they have consistently provided me with ~40 designs/week. That’s like $700 each month… it’s crappy to pay that much for designs but I’ve seen the fruits of their *Leveraged Labor* and know that I can scale that process/system as I grow. I’ve also paid a few bucks for some courses, online tools and apps. Some were a huge waste of money but others have been helpful. I’m not going to go into the tools/apps in this wall of text, but my history shows some of them.
– You do You – I don’t do the “improvecat method”. Some people who are much more successful than me do this method. It works for them. I don’t have the time to research or trademark checks. I don’t have the desire to copy. I’ve always marched to my own beat so avoidance of this strategy was a conscience decision early on. (I did plan on doing the Improvecat method with my wife’s account but that plan was changed for me!) I know I’m leaving money on the table but it’s a fickle b!+C#. I’ve heard more complaining from people who follow this method because, if it makes someone money, they’re going to try and protect it. Trademarks get filed, copyright infringements get claimed and feelings get hurt. I do designs that work for me. And FINALLY:
– A little music helps. I prefer Pandora – current favs: Johnny Cash Radio (*God’s Gonna Cut You Down*), Deftones Radio, *Stairway to Heaven* Radio, Knife Party Radio & Rainbow Factory Radio (not ashamed at all!!!) – All good stuff depending on the mood & the task at hand.
Now, what do I plan on doing in Year 2? What will I change and what will I test?
– Pricing – each month I’m going to test a new strategy. In February, everything I loaded was started at $16.99 (S) and $18.99 (P). In March, everything I load is going to ALL start at $19.99. April will be $19.99 (S) and $21.99 (P). And then more stuff. I plan on playing around with price until September – then I’m raising everything that has sold to $21.99 (S) and $23.99 (P) until the end of Q4. I figure I’m going to make money while demand is high (and who cares what MBA decides to do with stock & throttling).
– Products – I load everything to standard & premium to start. Once the design has sold a total of 5 times I load it to LongSleeve, SweatShirt & Hoodie (I use LS, SS & H as codes in my stuff). I haven’t seen much success with the other products so I’m in no hurry to load them if I just have to worry about them rolling off.
– Promotion – I’ve run FB ads, AMS ads, Reddit ads and Pinterest ads. I’ve seen moderate success from each but I think that’s more from Amazon seeing an increase in off-site traffic – they reward that. I’m going to focus on AMS ads and Pinterest this year. Just those two. Nothing more (unless they take away the AMS ads).
– Designs – I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing for now. If I reach my goals early I’m going to start looking at more designers and spending more time researching stuff “outside my comfort zone”.
– Uploads – Fortunately my wife has finally started to come around to helping me load designs. I get them ready (in my “bullet generator” spreadsheet) and she does the boring task of copy/paste. She will focus on re-uploading designs that have rolled off. If a design hasn’t sold in 3 quarters then we’re scrapping it. Her goal is 50/day. If we hit the tier cap we load to draft. I’d love to go into next year with a backlog again – it was helpful when I finally decided to work again.
– **OTHER:** *As crazy as this sounds, I’m going to back off from Merch for a bit starting in March.* I just went through this whole post to tell you how AMPED I am about the program and the potential it has… but now I’m backing away. My process has been streamlined and I have people in place to help in the parts that take time. I’m going to work on one of my Amazon affiliate websites. I have one site that only has 3 articles on it but it earned $500 last year. I had started it in Jan/Feb last year then I get accepted to Merch and let it sit. I literally stopped mid-sentence ½ way through my 4th article and haven’t touched it since. It’s optimized like crazy and it has proven to be in a good niche so I’m going to focus on it this year. The timing couldn’t have been better! I earned $90 in January and $120 in February and all I did was change the titles & posting dates of my three articles from 2017 to 2018. My goal is to end 2018 with 30 more articles. My stretch goal would be 50 but that’s going to take some focus to hit that. I think I can potentially do $3000/month by the end of the year if I keep going the way I started with it. Watch r/juststart as I may start posting updates over there if it takes off and I find the time…
**2018 MERCH GOALS:**
In typical “Henry Fashion” I choose to control those things upon which I have control. I don’t set revenue or sales goals because I have no control over those. But I do have hopes & dreams, so I’m putting those under the “wishes” heading. haha
– Uploads – My goal is to average loading 20 original designs each day. So far I’m ahead for the year.
– Total Loaded Designs – I want to finish the year with 7000 loaded designs. If the tier ups don’t happen for me these won’t all be live but I WILL have at least 7000 loaded by the last day of the year.
#Wishes & Targets
– Royalties – Based on my historical STRs I think it would be reasonable to expect 2-3X royalty revenue for year 2. Simplified: $25,000 in 2018 and $30K in Y2 total. *(Conservative)*
– Profit/Sale – $4/sale in Q1-Q3, $5/sale in Q4
– Tier – this is out of my control, but I hope to be eligible for T8000 by the end of the year.
– Sales – In order to make the wish above I’d need to sell less than 6000 units by the end of the year which works out to an average of 655/month from Feb. – wow, gonna be interesting to see how this goes.
– Daily Sales – 50/day
– Daily Revenue – $200/day
#THE REAL MEAT
[table id=3 /]
P&L | 2017 | 2018* | Total
Royalties | $8,701 | $1,739 | $10,440
Outsourcing | -$5,419 | -$980 | -$6,399
Purchased Clothing | -$996 | -$90 | -$1,086
Advertising | -$318 | -$80 | -$398
NET Profit/(Loss) | $1,969 | $589 | $2,558
* Through Feb 2018
**EYE CANDY** *Data is beautiful*
[2018 Sales through Feb]( https://imgur.com/3tT4YuF)
[Year 1 Sales Part 1]( https://imgur.com/xGQnjoJ) – I like seeing color choices, product mix and popular sales days of the week.
[Year 1 Sales Part 2](https://imgur.com/rN7uTnS) – Interesting take on things. Daily sales numbers (notice the 70 sales on Cyber Monday), the source for all my selling designs (and how they break down in my total portfolio) as well as when a design was loaded and how it contributes to my sales.
[Full album]( https://imgur.com/a/tl8f8)
These fancy charts come from my updated sales tracking spreadsheet. **If you want a copy of it shoot me your email in a PM.** I’ve got a few minor tweaks to do still but it should be ready soon. I’ve added sections for 2015 – 2019 so it’s more useful for those who have been around longer & I’m adding a how-to section to make it helpful for those who aren’t Excel savvy.
Let me know if this helped you out!
EDIT: still working on formatting.
EDIT 2: I’ve had a few PMs about this so I think I’ll address it…. No, I’m not giving up on Merch, to the contrary, I think 20 design/day is still pretty heavy into it. I’m just not doing all the heavy lifting anymore. My wife is helping and my designers will be doing more (one is going to 40/week, the other will still do 20/week). I’ll do more variations of good selling designs and I’ll continue to flood the niches that are already proven sellers. But I’m not going to stress about it much and I’m going to work on my website more. That’s all. Hopefully that clarifies. Merch is still my most profitable online venture to date.