If you think it takes many years to build a million dollar business, here's a great story from Darius Lukas, on how Sophie Howard achieved it with 18 months and the right mindset:
When Sophie Howard, a diplomat from New Zealand, went on maternity leave, she decided to put her spare time into launching an Amazon business. She never dreamt she’d be selling it for $1 million only 18 months later. So, how did a mother of two, with no experience in e-commerce, manage to become an Amazon expert with multiple seven figure businesses and mentoring programmes?
Sophie Howard didn’t see her maternity leave as a ‘break from life’ but rather as an opportunity to create a lifestyle she always wanted for herself and her growing family: “I had a good career up to having children and, on maternity leave, I was motivated to find something I could do at home to replace my income."
"My vision, however, was always freedom-based rather than having lots of zeros at the end of my bank account, it was about having options, being able to travel, having quality time and living well.”
She was looking for a business model that worked for her and came across the idea of selling on Amazon: “I liked Amazon as the best option from among many e-commerce models - I didn’t want it to be client-based or involve much face-to-face. I just wanted something that was a real business and not too gimmicky."
"Amazon ticked the boxes for being low-cost to get into and it suited my skills. I quite liked the idea of scouting around for products.” In no time at all, Sophie had joined a course on how to set up a business on Amazon and familiarised herself with its subtleties.
The next step was to figure out what her business was going to be and what she was going to sell: “Most other Amazon sellers were ex-internet marketing boys looking for hacks, following a blueprint, and all sourcing the same products from China."
"I, instead, ended up choosing New Zealand wool products hand felted in Nepal. I started about 400 products in that first year, rather than focus on one or two products as I was told to. I ignored a lot of the rules from the Amazon course I took, which was expensive at $4,000. I’m glad I did though - now I coach people who did similar courses and need retraining!”
Sophie’s business was profitable from the first month and within the first year she had made over $1 million. Enjoying the start-up stage of business creation, and certain that she didn’t want to turn it into an empire, Sophie began to consider selling it:
“I was talking to a friend of mine, a broker who sells digital businesses, and I’d just tidied up my finances for the year end tax. I showed him my numbers and he said: ‘I’ll get you seven figures for that tomorrow’ - and he did!’
Sophie had cashed in at its peak; she gave the buyer about 80% of the 400 products she had and kept 20%, seeding three new brands on Amazon.
Having achieved early success, Sophie decided to take a break to think about the next step on her entrepreneurial journey and moved to Bali for three months with her family. On the look-out for a mentor, it was here that she met Roger James Hamilton, a social entrepreneur and futurist: “I had time and money and didn’t want technical training; I wanted someone who would help me leverage my strengths and pick from my many business ideas. A friend referred me to Roger James Hamilton and, at the time, he was organising the Exponential Entrepreneur weekend at Vision Villas in Bali. I quite liked the idea of getting a different perspective on my business and meeting fellow entrepreneurs, so I joined the weekend and then his Crystal Circle.”
Crystal Circle is a high-level mentoring group for entrepreneurs led by Roger and Sophie shared the same values as its community: not only growing wealth, but focusing on freedom and creating a fulfilling lifestyle.
“Working with me, Roger really focused on how easy it is to slip back down when you’ve had a windfall and have some money in the bank. He told me: ‘You need to grow assets; cash for today but wealth for tomorrow.’”
Sophie began to see her Amazon businesses as assets and, with Roger’s help, she decided to focus on building another, faster stream of income - coaching, which would run in parallel with her Amazon business and cover costs such as her team, expenses and her salary.
Roger remembers: “Sophie’s Amazon business expertise was a value she could leverage. She was inspired by the Crystal Circle community and learnt how to become a mentor, put together mastermind groups, and provide VIP coaching, so she was quickly earning a six-figure consulting fee.”
Sophie then put together an online course comprising eight modules on how to run an Amazon business, and her one-to-one coaching fees soon went from $5K up to $10K.
Now she is moving from one-to-one coaching in favour of her new model - Product University: “My main focus at the moment is Product University, which is a membership site; members pay $97 per month for a live and recorded call. I get a good turnout - I had 60 people join last month - and I only started it this year. I charge $997 for the year and they get lots of bonuses if they sign up for the whole year."
"This is my favorite thing because it’s really scalable, and I get to justify learning from people all around the world, then I distil it and teach it. And I really love teaching.”
With a fast and constant cash flow, Sophie could continue developing multiple brands on Amazon. However, she couldn’t do it all on her own. Roger remembers: “She was running everything herself, so we looked at setting up virtual teams and other Amazon businesses that didn’t need so much of her. She had to gain time and freedom and start to think really differently about the impact she could have.”
By hiring a full-time virtual assistant, IT support specialist, researchers, a community manager, and a marketer, she freed up her time and was able to focus on growing her partnerships: “I’ve got a target - five partners each month. My first partner was a woman with a tea subscription box business, who approached me for samples - one of my Amazon businesses is selling organic teas.”
Sophie now runs multiple Amazon businesses, with her most successful currently hitting seven figures. She has just developed a herbal tea to rival the booming nootropic ‘cognitive function’ drug trend on Amazon, and has a partner project in Auckland - to create a platform, which puts artisans in touch with consumers. To top it off she’s developing a B2B Amazon course and is writing a book to help aspiring entrepreneurs through the challenging early stages of starting a business.
What is the lifestyle that you want to have and what business model should you consider pursuing to achieve it?
How could you secure a constant cash flow that would allow you to develop other projects simultaneously?
Wealth is the ability to fully experience life. - Henry David Thoreau