Building an Online Business – with Douglas Levin

Partial view of a laptop keyboard

Today more than ever people are looking at building an online business. Douglas was no different when he went from playing in a cover band making $18k a year with long nights. He started an online business first and foremost to collect “credit card Miles” and thought selling a few things here and there would help fund his desire to travel and give him the means to do so.  
As things started to grow he found it all at risk due to a damaged shipment found himself 20 grand in the hole. He realized he could lose everything he had built with a click of a button.

This is the story of an enterprising young man who started a business and now has a life, a business, and a series of brands he never imagined. 

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Morning Marketing Machine Podcast

Douglas Levin from Morning Marketing Machine

Some Questions from this Episode on Building an Online Business

Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

What challenges have you run into as an entrepreneur?

How did you overcome them?

What’s been one of your proudest moments as an entrepreneur?

What Impact has the Pandemic had on the Online Business Community?

He has seen his business grow and in general, the pandemic has made it hard to keep up with demand.  Due to lockdowns some entrepreneurs who run online businesses have had to take over other parts of their operations including processing shipments since their staff wasn’t allowed to come into work.

Inbound inventories have remained a challenge.  Amazon had a huge hit and at one point was a month delay on their own fulfilled shipments. It’s led to sellers sourcing sideways from another seller just to meet the demand.

Transition from Musician to an Online Business Owner

In 2014 he took his free time during the day since being a working musician was a night-time occupation the lure of credit cards with “bonus miles” and free points for selling things on line combined with good credit opened the door. It wasn’t about making money or starting an online business but rather as a way to earn free travel.

He started as “Fulfilled by Merchant” meaning that selling things from around the house and making the right buys at retail buying in what is called an arbitrage model buying items at retail for less than they would be sold for.

Amazon sellers have two options – Professional Plan which vs. The lower level plan where you were charged each time you had them process an order. One of the benefits was the ability to leverage Amazon’s rates for shipping which helped offset some of their warehouse costs.  

Using Tools to Analyze Your Online Business

Every product has a specific code related to them an “ASIN” and the tools will tell you a break down of the fees based on a specific selling price so you can understand how much margin you make after the costs and packaging. It allows for a quick view of the Return on Investment.

Other tools look at the item’s popularity against its sales history over the last 90 days. They offer insight into sales trends and pricing. Part of the evolution of growing his own online business Douglas hated going into stores and buying products for days on end.

One option would have been to outsource their targeted shopping list, another option is to take the steps to become an “authorized Seller”. Many popular brands hate that their own supply chain is used by third parties to sell on Amazon.  It’s a catch 22 to attempt to protect their images.  One option is filing an Intellectual Property Claim” and have the seller banned, suspended, or flagged by Amazon.  

Yes, small online companies can try to fight it however most lack the legal resources to fight a corporation.  By going to and becoming an authorized wholesaler to legitimize their businesses.

The Challenges of Going into Wholesale

  1. You need product and brand knowledge when talking to those companies
  2. Small Size and Light Weight Products are better for shipping into Amazon for logistics services
  3. Consider multiple niches – Categories with an expiration date such as groceries are
  4. The next evolution is creating a private label    

Building a Private Label Business

Getting an exclusive on a product with in a brand can be a game changer since it shouldn’t be a race to the bottom against others over price. Used Sold as New Complaints led to the realization that it was time to move away from Amazon as a sole platform for sales.

The strategy for building his online business was a joint effort with a market need.  Moving past the secretive community of Amazon sellers Douglas and his wife went into a new space creating his own product. Using his knowledge of amazon and learning how chatbots could increase customer engagement combined with the focus on making sure their product was high quality.

They built and grew their own marketing list using the chatbots. In short, they are really just an automated response tool intended to drive opt-ins to their messages. By creating enough value they would also collect email addresses and SMS info and gain permission to market to them. That approach led to the opportunity to sell other products through their website and capitalize on opportunities they would have never had solely on Amazon.

How Do You Drive Traffic to A Private E-Commerce Website

Driving traffic to your own website starts really simply it is,

  1. Know Who Your Ideal Customer Is
  2. Know What Your Brand Values Are
  3. Give Your Customer an Experience No One Else Can Give Them

To sell on your own site requires a real marketing plan and a brand identity. This gives you the ability to create loyal customers, raving fans, and the ability to grow and scale With the average attention span being 7 seconds you need to get in the trenches and do the research. Unless you are inside your customer’s head and understand where they are and what their hopes and dreams are.

One option is to model it to start then see what relates to you as a brand, your culture, and create a unique view that stands out as people scroll through their feeds.  

Knowing Your Purpose

On the business side it is helping people who have been in the same situation. The Stress of Amazon, cash flow problems, and so many other things. Douglas’ mission is to help people learn and evolve so they don’t have to face the same issues he did in building his business.

Continuing to develop and grow his brand remains a priority but it’s the need to help others that is driving him. His belief is that the community of sellers as a whole will take 5 or 10 minutes to help others entering the space.

The Evolution of Building and Online Business and E-Commerce Space

Walmart, and Shopify are chasing Amazon but has a lead. Part of the problem is despite huge infrastructure it is a different business than traditional Business to Consumer space traditional retailers still have a gap to close. The approach has been IT focused but the volume of transactions is 10% of what it has been on the most popular platform.  

Tim Kubiak

Business Geek, Nomad, Aging Metal Head, Nerd, & Coffee Addict. plus the only big guy at Hot Yoga with 25 years of Sales and Leadership experience in organizations of all sizes.

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