Michael Begg is a co-founder of AMZ Advisers, Precisely and Wanderlust Digital Services. His interest in entrepreneurship was heavily influenced at a young age by his grandfather’s own business venture. After graduating from university with a dual-degree, Mike started working in consulting at Deloitte which he quickly grew tired of. He believed that a career change would help him feel more motivated and engaged in his work, and moved into real estate – a field he had always loved. Working as a real estate developer was much more engaging and personally rewarding, but Mike knew that something still did not feel right working for someone else.
His first entrepreneurial venture was to create passive income from selling eBooks on Amazon. After becoming more engaged in the Amazon platform, Mike recognized other opportunities to make money with Amazon. Himself and his 2 business partners created their own private label brand and started selling their products on Amazon. They later sold their business and started looking for new opportunities to make money with Amazon – and that is where his current business, AMZ Advisers, came from.
Mike and his business partners capitalize on their knowledge of the Amazon platform to help other brands and manufacturers grow their Amazon sales. After 3 years, they have been able to help over 100 clients dominate Amazon Search Engine Optimization and advertising to outperform their competitors. Mike has since gone on to co-found Precisely, an Amazon SaaS tool to help with off-platform advertising, and Wanderlust, an employee leasing operation focused on finding the best talent for businesses.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
This business was just kind of a natural progression of what I had been doing before. We started selling on the Amazon platform and it just hit from the start. I remember sitting around my living room with my business partners on the first day our inventory was live at Amazon fulfillment centers. The orders just kept coming in. We kept refreshing the apps on our phone to see what the new order total was – and at that point, we were hooked. We sold over a $1,000 on our first day and couldn’t believe what we had stumbled upon. At that point, we knew we had something special but focused all of our energy on growing that business.
It was my first time running a product-based business – or any business for that matter – but we learned quickly what our strengths were. Myself and my partners were extremely good at creating the Amazon SEO content, product images and managing the advertising. However, we really struggled at managing inventory levels and it was an issue that kept popping up. After a year, we decided to sell the business and try our hand at consulting. We knew we had the skills to make products to sell well, and when we looked at the Amazon marketplace all we saw was opportunities to help other people be successful on the platform.
How do you make money?
As a consulting business, we largely make our money from monthly retainer fees and/or commissions with our clients. We only take on clients where we believe that we can add significant value and drastically increase their Amazon sales. Our team is constantly working with our clients to split test different content, manage advertising and troubleshoot issues, and we make sure that each client is getting the most out of the fees they pay us.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
In the sense of the business making profit – day 1. But personally, the first few months were difficult. The attitude I took to this was to burn the ships and go all in on this new business idea. I had money saved up and money from selling the business so I need I had what I needed to survive for a while, but I had no idea how long it would take until I wasn’t spending my savings. Luckily, we were able to duplicate the success that we had on our own accounts for our first clients and started getting lots of referrals from that. It wasn’t until about 7 months in though where I wasn’t spending my savings and was making enough to live. The first 7 months really taught me what was important to live though, and you learn that fast when you are only making a couple hundred dollars a month!
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes I definitely had doubts in the first months. The original approach we took was doing our consulting work on an hourly rate, but we realized in probably the first 3 months that doing that was not scalable. We had clients in the first months and we were working our asses off to get things done, but we just couldn’t see how it was possible to start scaling and hiring our own employees.
Getting through that first period was vital. Myself and my partners were pretty much together 24/7 to make sure we were all on the same page, and to also hold each other accountable. Any free time we had we looked for opportunities to grow the business. I learned SEO from a Udemy course and used any spare time I had to try to create content. I started creating videos for YouTube covering many topics that a client might be searching for. For me, I think I handled that first period by trying to keep myself so busy that those thoughts couldn’t enter my mind – and if they did, they were forgotten very quickly!
How did you get your first customer?
I remember we got our first customer through Upwork. It was a distributor of products like potato chips and we were working for what seemed like nothing at the time. I remember spending hours working on one of their projects and I think we got paid like $50 for it. They had thousands of products that we had to manage and it was super time consuming. It was good in the end though, because it helped us learn the best ways to manage large accounts and we were doing things a lot differently than from when we had our business with 5 products in our catalog.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
SEO is probably one of the best investments we made. The pay off at first seems low because it takes so much time for SEO to work well. I started by learning the fundamentals of optimizing a website and then by creating on-page SEO content that was designed to be picked up by the search engines well. Over the past year, we’ve focused on the off-page SEO through guest blogging, podcasting and other forms of link building and it is paying off dividends. I remember being excited getting 200 users a month, but seeing something I built go from 0 to over 10,000 users per month in 3 years is incredibly rewarding.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision we had to make was about hiring our first full-time employee. Up until this point this business had pretty much been run by myself, my 2 partners and some freelancers that we were working with. Again, we reached that point where we realized what we were currently doing was not scalable. We knew that to take the business to the next level we had to put our trust in someone else to care about our business as much as we do, and that is a big step and hard decision to take. Luckily, we found a great salesperson with a great skillset outside of sales that has helped us improve a lot of our business processes and helped us position ourselves to take AMZ Advisers to the next level.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think what makes our business successful is that we are just constantly learning and trying to improve the way we do things. I’m never satisfied with the status quo and luckily, I have two business partners who are exactly the same. Our desire to learn and improve helps us to stay ahead of our competitors and provide the best client service to our customers. More importantly, it helps us to constantly be innovating our business by taking advantage of technology to improve processes or developing what we need if it does not already exist for us.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
For me, this most satisfying moment was when we started actually paying ourselves enough to survive and stopped dipping into our savings. I had so many people doubt me and had felt so much judgement from leaving a six-figure job to start something that I had no idea about whether it would be successful. Everyone criticized me for leaving the security of that job and the benefits – all things that I did not really care about. Reaching that moment was incredibly rewarding for two reasons: 1) I no longer had the same feeling of something being wrong working for someone else, and; 2) knowing that I could make this happen and I never need to rely on someone else for a paycheck again. The funny thing is that since leaving that job I’ve made more than I ever was there, and that business has gone bankrupt.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
The future looks bright for our business. We started at a great time and positioned ourselves to become one of the authorities in our field. Our focus right now is continually improving our internal processes and developing more proprietary software programs to help our clients more. However, the thing I am most excited about is to push into a new market and we see an incredible opportunity to provide our services to international manufacturers that are looking to sell on Amazon.
What business books have inspired you?
I used to read a lot more than I am now, and I badly need to get back to it. There are many different books that have inspired me. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris really started motivating me to start my own business. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason helped me to understand my personal finances better and looking at what I’m purchasing or doing objectively to see whether it is helping me reach my goals. When we were starting the business and things weren’t great, reading books like The Mediations by Marcus Aurelias, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand really helped me to stay motivated and keep my belief in what we were doing strong. Finally, books like The Virgin Way by Richard Branson, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Zero to One by Peter Thiel, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday have helped me shape my ideas and ways that I want to manage my business, help my customers and even live my life.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I think the most helpful purchases that we’ve made lately are into a few software subscriptions like Slack, Zapier, Close.Io, Reply.Io, and Instabot. They have all serve slightly different purposes, but Zapier allows us to connect everything which has allowed us to take more advantage of our website leads. We’ve significantly improved the number of leads we are generating each day from 2-3 a day to over 10 on some days. This has helped us scale our sales processes and we are on pace to have another great year of growth.
How did you decide that starting a business was right for you?
I had thought about my different experiences in my work career and realized that something had to change. Working for a Big 4 consulting firm was boring and unrewarding to me and I knew shortly after I started that I couldn’t continue doing that forever. I’ve always loved real estate and working in real estate development was my dream job, but something still felt missing and I felt frustrated being accountable to someone else. I think that is what made me realize that I can’t have that in my life.
I knew starting a business was a risk, but I always knew I could fall back into real estate if I failed. I saw that the upside was I could become my own boss, determine my own projects and be responsible for my success or failure instead of what someone else had decided. Taking the jump was hard, but I’m incredibly grateful that I did and that I had such great business partners to do it with.