The Amazon FBA Seller At Home

Recently a fellow seller asked the question on Facebook about how do you spend your time when you go full-time selling Amazon FBA? “Tell me about your day,” he said and it made me think. I was tempted to be a smartass and say “I’m up to my armpits in books,” but there was a more profound question behind the question. He was asking “What should I do? How does it work when there’s no one to tell you what to do?”

When you’ve worked for corporate America for most of your career, you can find yourself a little lost when your time is suddenly your own. When you transition from part-time to full-time it is more than simply having more time for the business. Having a “day job” provides a focus, a discipline, time constraints and rules. You run your FBA business in the pockets of time that are left over. Sometimes, that actually makes you more efficient than when you have the whole day to work your business.

For many people, they’ve never worked out of their homes before so there are additional issues as they learn to work from home. I’ve worked from home off and on since 1994. I’ve had the fancy corporate office with employees and outside freelancers, and I’ve had the desk in my home office as I telecommuted and then, I’ve moved the entire business back to my home and had employees working with me from my home. I’ve lived the dangers and joys of working from the home.

I’ll never forget, for example, the day I was talking to a new employee about one of her projects. We were in my kitchen and I was vigorously spraying baby roaches whose egg sac had dared to enter MY house in a paper shopping bag. There was no way I was not taking care of that right away…but I think she found it a surreal first day. At least I didn’t ask her to help!

Rather than write out my typical day (is there such a thing?), I thought I’d talk this week about what is important to me when working from home. In case you are wondering, yes I DID learn all these lessons the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.

Remember Your Promises To Yourself

Remember all those things you said you’d do if you had more time? Eat better? Work out? Get eight hours of sleep a night? Spend more time with your loved ones? Do them. Make them a priority. These activities will take a piece of your day and at first you may worry that you are not getting “enough” done, that you “should” be working. Shake all that off. A happier healthier you is a more productive you. The time you save by not attending meetings at work can be used to take care of yourself. I find that bike riding in the morning (you have to be done before 10 if you live in Texas) or yoga later in the day makes me more alert, efficient, creative and just plain happier. Working at home means better food at a lower cost and with greater control over the evil triumvirate of sugar/fat/salt.

I’m a night owl and often work late. While sometimes I have to be up with the starlings, I no longer feel guilty sleeping in. I love it. I didn’t know how sleep deprived I was until my husband got a CPAP machine for his snoring. Sleep is like my secret weapon now. I’m a better person. It was like I had been living a half-life. It was like Dorothy landing in Oz. I’m not kidding. Sleep. At first you might sleep a lot because you are way behind. Eventually you’ll catch up and start doing things like waking up before your alarm clock(s). Gasp! It’s true. Many professional and Olympic athletes will skip a morning workout for sleep because it is better for their performance. Now that you work for yourself, keep this promise. It will make your business better, I swear it.

I put this point about promises first because taking care of yourself is usually the first thing out the window when you are nervous about your future financial security. I remember a long period of no work in the early 2000’s after I sold my first business. I was so anxious I was having panic attacks. I didn’t enjoy my free time and put myself in a tailspin trying to generate income. It was ugly and eventually everything imploded with me – health, wealth, happiness. This advice about the promises to yourself? I learned it the hard way. Don’t make my mistake!

Turn Off The Internet, Watch TV Later

Biggest time suck ever. Record your favorite shows and watch them later. Limit your Facebook/Pinterest/YouTube/etc. time until you’ve accomplished something first. This is probably the number one mistake I see people make who are working from home for the first time. They turn on the TV for some noise and to keep them company and suddenly they have watched three episodes of Murder She Wrote. Don’t let it happen to you! Turn on the radio in another room or buy yourself a white noise maker if the house is too quiet.

At home with no one cracking the whip or no deadline pressuring you, you may be shocked at how much time you spend online. I just cut myself off during most of the day because I’m no good at portion control when it comes to social media. If you see me on Facebook during the day, I’m probably in a waiting room or standing in line somewhere with my phone.

Set Office Hours

When you work for yourself, you get to choose your hours. I love scouting during the week but I often have to work weekends for book sales and estate sales. My goal is to spend my weekends with the family as much as possible. We eat dinner together every night year round. These things are important to me. This means I will work at night sometimes and I will sometimes do kid stuff and house stuff during the day. During the summers, I tend to do a lot more of my work at night than during the day simply because my son and his cousins are off from school.

What’s important is to have a plan to work that works for you. Some people are morning people and are most productive before noon. Others are like me and are more productive in the afternoons and evenings. Plan your activities according to your personal preference. That’s the joy of working for yourself!

Now, for the hell of working for yourself from home…your office is always open. People working from home often fall into the trap of working all the time. The office is right there and they can’t tear themselves away. Without meaning to, they find themselves working 60-70 hours a week and thinking “why did I think this was a good idea?” They are exhausted and sick of the house. This is why I strongly recommend you set office hours for yourself. If you want to continue to work 40 hours a week, figure out what hours in the upcoming week will be spent on work. Maybe it is 9-5 every day just like when you had your job. Maybe you work a lot of hours Friday-Sunday and then few hours on the other days packing, shipping and repricing. Maybe you work four hours a day during the week and then 4-6 hours a day during the weekends. I will often shut the door to my office as a physical reminder that I’m done working for the day. I need to do stuff like this because I’m a recovering work-a-holic and can easily find myself working instead of living.

Lastly, maybe you don’t set hours but you set weekly goals you want to accomplish. There is no rule that you have to work 40 hours a week! What you want to do is build your business. In my case, I don’t have a huge inventory budget. There would be no point to me shopping six days a week because I’d run out of money early in the month. So my goals are to get out one decent sized shipment a week. I have UPS come on Fridays and I try to have a lot of boxes ready to go. Someone else with more resources may be having UPS pick up three times a week or even daily. I keep a steady pace that has helped me grow over time.

Jessica Larrew mentioned in a blog once that she and her husband each work about 25 hours a week on average and they have a very successful business. The point is, when you work for someone else, they want their 40+ hours from you and they’ll fill up your time. When you work for yourself, you can focus on what makes you money and drop most things that don’t. It is very liberating. If you are focused during that time and cut out distractions, you will get a lot done.

Make A Plan For Your Feelings

Sounds weird, right? But here’s the thing. When you go to work every day, you are in a professional mode. You may have had a fight with your sweetie or be sad or angry, but work keeps you focused (most of the time) and you deal with your feelings differently than when you are home. When you are home – often by yourself – there is no buffer or structure. You may discover that you are feeling your feelings more than you did at work and it can be stressful. If you have kids at home when you are trying to work – you may find yourself frustrated and grumpy by the constant interruptions. You may find that your house is eerily quiet during the day and you are distracted by the silence which gives you time to ruminate.

I’m pretty disciplined in my work at home except when I get the blues. I used to watch hours of mindless TV to numb the feelings. This is OK for an occasional day here and there, but actually makes me feel worse. I’m overall happier when I’m doing stuff that I think is important. Now if I’m having a down day, I read and sleep. I try to exercise and take care of myself. I’m an introvert so going inwards recharges me. You may be completely different. Maybe being with people recharges you. In that case, go out. You might find yourself really lonely at home. Find a Starbucks and set up your business there for a few hours (repricing maybe?). Or call Amazon and ask them a question about your business. Chat for a few minutes with a friend. Go to the gym. Break up your day so you are not alone all day in front of your computer listing and shipping. You will be happier and more productive overall.

Even introverts can get lonely in this business. We spend a lot of time alone in stores and at home working. This is why I like to go to yoga classes during the day when I can. It is also fun to have pals in the business that you can call or text with your latest cool deal. That is part of the fun of being part of the ScannerMonkey online community – friendly scanners who get it. I have friends that I like to go scouting with as well. Not only do we cover more ground with our divide and conquer approach, we get to squeal together when the deal is super wonderful.

While it is nice and comfy to wear your PJs all day…don’t do it too often. Getting dressed tells your mind that you are ready to work now. You are ready to spring into action. It has been proven that getting dressed in the morning makes people more productive. There is something about jammies that makes you slower and more inclined to nap. Save them for sick days. Being dressed also means you will not be embarrassed when a neighbor or the UPS guy knocks on your door or shamed by your sweetie coming home from work and seeing you unwashed. You will not feel grubby and stinky at the end of the day. All that being said, my work uniform usually consists of a t-shirt and jeans or yoga pants and a t-shirt so I’m still pretty comfy.

 Make A Three-Goal List For Yourself

When you were working the business part-time, you probably focused on the essentials because you didn’t have a lot of time – scout, ship, reprice. Things like sales tax, increasing the amount of seller feedback, wholesale vs. retail arbitrage and so on were put on the back burner. Now you will have more time and the confusion sets in. Where should you be spending your time? My suggestion is to spend most of it the same way you did before – scout, ship, reprice – and take all the other issues and elements and make them side projects. Take them one at a time rather than tackle everything at once. Make sure you are focusing on buying and selling inventory first and foremost.

I learned the three-goal list technique from one of my favorite Zen guys and one of the most accomplished and productive guys I’ve ever seen: Leo Babauta. He wrote the book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. In a nutshell, this recommendation of his is that you select three big goals that you want to work on. They can be personal, business, whatever, but they have to really matter to you. This is not a “honey-do” list of chores but a life-affirming list of accomplishments you want to achieve. Assuming that one of them involves building up your business to a certain level, every day you would work toward that goal until you reached it. Before you did anything else that day (if at all possible), you would take action on that goal. In this way, you will accomplish something really important to you every day. Naturally a really big goal has lots of parts and may take time to reach. Here are two of my three current goals:

  • Consistently earn $5,000 a month (after expenses and reinvestment) in my business so we can…(I have an exciting list here of things to do with the money – money itself is not inspiring)
  • Be healthy enough not to require any medications

These need to be goals that provide juice and keep you motivated. Every day I work towards these two goals and another. Sometimes I do a lot, sometimes a little. Sometimes my “to-do” list under the first point is incredibly long but I don’t plan to do it all in one day, week or month. I break it out. What is great about this approach for me is that it simplifies what is most important to me and I have a sense of accomplishment every day. According to Leo, you don’t drop or add a goal until you’ve achieved one. Once I’ve achieved my first goal, for example, I will replace it with something new but until then, no new projects.

Now am I saying I only do three things a day? No way! What I’m saying is that these are my “big rocks” and the sand of life has to fit in around them. Once I’ve checked off something towards my three goals, I have plenty to do as a mom, wife and business owner. What this approach does for me is helps me to strategize and then execute on that strategy. Once I have my goal, I work backwards towards what it will take to reach it. I’m forced to look at my activities in light of reaching the goal and determining if they make sense or not. In this way, I get something done that matters to me and my life isn’t consumed with housework, homework and chauffeur duties.

Writing this blog, for example, is a double win for me because I get to help other people which makes me feel good, and the blog supports sales of my book and video which are part of goal #1.

Review Expectations With Your Family

Don’t be surprised when you move into the house to work, that your family might not get the memo that you are working. Home is so associated with downtime, chores and weekend stuff that – without realizing it – your spouse may suddenly expect you to do more around the house during the day. If this is also your plan; all is well. If you are like me, however, this is a recipe for marital disaster.

I’ve spent time off and on over the years setting boundaries and expectations with my husband about the times when I’m working from home. I had to make it clear that I’m still working and that is my priority. If I get in a load of dishes, fine, but it is my choice and there should be no expectation that I will do domestic chores during my working hours (cockroach killing being an important exception). To my mind it is no different than if I was going to an office.

I’m OK as a multi-tasker, but I do better when I’m focusing on one thing at a time. When I’m in “work mode,” I don’t want to be disturbed and NO, I won’t remember to do something else outside of that. I often lose track of time when I’m writing or working. I once set a pan of boiling eggs on fire because I forgot about them. My husband sets timers to remind me of things. He’s a smart man.

On the other side of the family, they have rights too. You have now moved work into their home – the place where they like to relax, sleep and play their music way too loud. They want to be able to live in the house too. This is why having office hours is important. You can tell them when you will be done and ready to be with them. One thing I learned early on was that it bothered my husband if I kept working when he came home.  Now I make a point to stop for a few minutes to chat, hug and catch up even if I still have work to do.

When we adopted our son and I moved the business home, I did so specifically so I could spend time with him. I cut my business back and I picked up more of the chores. I made a commitment to stop working at 3:00 p.m. and pick him up. This was our decision as a family. Everything changed.

When I started my Amazon business, I had a full-time business run out of my home, care of my son and then Amazon. It was crazy. My husband has a full-time job, too, and we had to revisit expectations again. He picked up more of the home chores, we gave our son some chores and we talked as a family about making it all work. I fully expect we will have future conversations about work and home because that’s life – it is always changing.

Plan For Fun

Because you will likely be at home more than you were previously, you might think that you will have more time with your family. This is true to an extent: but are these quality hours? I’m home for my son after school to nag him about his homework, make dinner, drive him to his various activities, etc. He sees me cooking and running around but we aren’t necessarily having quality time together. Those of you with teenagers know what I mean – you mostly see the tops of their heads as they text their friends about how lame you are. Because the business is at home and because there are likely a jillion other things to do around the house, it is easy to forget to have fun together. Life becomes one long to-do list and set of logistics.

Early in my marriage I started scheduling fun for us just like any other appointment. There’s a time and a planned activity. To the best of our ability we have fun together at least once a week. My son and I have made a game out of snagging movie tickets to reviewer previews and usually are able to see a couple of movies a month for free. Free always makes the movie better than expected.

A friend of mine just took an amazing trip with her son to England where they hiked across England…one coast to the other. They had built up their hiking legs during many months of training beforehand so they could hike 20 miles a day in rough terrain. They were rewarded with the most astounding experience, views and adventures during their nearly three weeks in England. I couldn’t wait to see her FB pictures every day. I am so inspired by her story. One of the things I loved about it was she got to spend lots of hours every week with her son before the trip as they hiked around North Texas. This is a journey neither she nor her son will ever forget. She paid for it with her business. It really got me thinking. This kind of experience is why we work and if you’re going to plan for fun, plan BIG.

As a final note, there are a lot of benefits to working from home – be sure to enjoy them! One of my favorites is that it is always “take your pet to work day.” My sweet dog Tess went to heaven this week and I miss her terribly. She always supervised my work with genuine interest and made sure I had fun every day.

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