Tracy Smith is the founder of EntrepreneurGirl. In this interview, she describes how she discovered her purpose, rejected the 9-5 work model and committed to having play time, travel freedom and financial security.
Here's how her work-at-home journey started.
You’ve experienced some significant hurdles in your life; tell us about that and how it lead you to entrepreneurship.
Several years ago, my life hit a series of events that forced me to analyze who I was, what I wanted out of my life, and what changes needed to take place to get me there. It was only by living through those difficult five years that I can speak to you now as someone who has discovered my purpose.
It started in 2008 when the recession hit our family finances. We went from making the most money ever made to making the least – in just a few months. I watched helplessly as my elderly mom struggled to gain employment; my husband struggled with his business in a deadened industry, and my friends struggle to pay off a college diploma with no work. I was forced to learn the importance of self-reliance and the urgency for financial know-how.
In 2010, I suffered a pulmonary embolism while three months pregnant. Believe me when I say that it is a miracle that both of us are here today. I spent a week in the ICU writing goodbye letters to my children and analyzing what is important in life.
Just as I thought things were finally getting better, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012. My prognosis is excellent, but living through cancer was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with mentally. I learned that life is fleeting and never to wait, but to live now. When I was recovering from thyroid removal surgery, in my newly purchased 75-year-old farmhouse, I was involved in a historic flash flood. Defeated, I watched as 12 feet of water rushed into my basement, but I learned how to persevere.
I took all the lessons learned through those past trials and developed a plan for “my perfect life.” I wanted to have fun and feel passionate and to guide others to do the same. I wanted to show people how to juggle the everyday demands of work and family life. I wanted to demonstrate how an inexperienced, ordinary person can overcome extraordinary obstacles and succeed beyond imagination, just by rethinking your priorities and finding your true place in the world.
So I gathered my meager $200 of business start-up funds and my college degree in business from the University of Florida and created EntrepreneurGirl, LLC. By being an entrepreneur and by combining several streams of income, I can now work anywhere in the world, doing any activity I desire – all from my backpack!
One way you’re earning money is through Amazon’s Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) program. Tell us about that and how you got started.
When I first started my stay at home business pursuits, I began in stock trading, then added eBay, and then FBA. As I continue to add income streams, Amazon FBA stays No. 1 as my personal favorite and as my most profitable income source.
Originally, I just wanted to double the income I was making from eBay by adding Amazon FBA. Once I realized how scalable and easy the platform was to use, I decided it would play a key part in growing my business. Since my ultimate goal is to work from anywhere in the world, the FBA model fits into that nicely. I send my products to them, they sell them on an international platform, deal with all customer service, and ship the items out to the end-user. How wonderful is that?!?
Explain retail arbitrage and how you use it to maximize your profits on Amazon.
Retail arbitrage is where you buy an item at retail and then resell it at a higher price. One time I walked into Walmart and into a sales rack that held several Lego kits. One kit that I purchased for $12.99 and sold for $45.00 on Amazon. That is retail arbitrage in action.
When I first started, I didn’t have much capital, so I went to garage sales and thrift stores. This allowed me to buy an item for $1 and sell it on Amazon in used condition for $10. I was able to grow my business with minimal risks because the overall product cost was so low.
I then grew into utilizing retail stores like Walmart, Kohl’s, and CVS by shopping clearances and selling for full price online. An example of this would be shopping the 90 Percent Off After-Christmas-Sale at Target in January, holding the merchandise for a few months, and then reselling the same merchandise in October for full price. The margins can be quite high if sourced correctly.
Retail arbitrage allows me to maximize my profits on the Amazon platform by selling new, and in higher demand, products.
What are some of your favorite places to buy products?
I’m not sure I have a favorite. I like to shop. I like to find “the deal.” I like to go to obscure locations and score big finds.
I can find items at any of our mainstream stores. Maybe not every time I go inside but generally speaking. I still like to go to garage sales and thrift stores, because it’s fun for me and the deals can be great.
I am constantly on the lookout for new places at which I haven’t sourced inventory yet or thought of trying before. It’s now a game where I try to hit every place in my area and every place of an area I visit. I’ve learned how valuable library sales, mom and pop stores, or small, hole-in-the-wall flea markets can be.
Are there any useful tools for new Amazon FBA sellers?
Tools are the cornerstone of finding good products, maintaining your inventory, and keeping your bookkeeping and tax information in order. I wouldn’t dare shop without my scanning app!
My four personal favorites are:
- Profit Bandit for scanning items to see if they are profitable.
- Godaddy Bookkeeping to keep your books and taxes in order.
- Inventory Lab for inventory management.
- Jungle Scout for finding new product ideas.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start selling through the Amazon FBA program?
Amazon FBA can be a great option for women to work from home! My best piece of advice to someone who wants to start this business would be:
- Arm yourself with knowledge – there is no shortage of training out there: YouTube, coaching, books, and Google. Learn everything that you can.
- Once you’ve got a base knowledge, don’t over-analyze! The heavy subjects of taxes, LLC, resell certificates, etc. don’t have to be done instantly. By getting overwhelmed with these topics, some people will never start.
- Don’t let fear make a single decision in your life. Commit to spending one year and $500 to being bold and brave in your new pursuit. Just start! Take action.
Realistically, how much can somebody earn through the Amazon FBA program in a month?
Since the amount a person can make with FBA depends on so many different factors, it is difficult to state how much a person can make. Will they work full time or part-time? Are they a hard worker or a tad lazy? Are they only wanting to sell books or are they willing to explore other products?
But we all want the security of knowing someone’s true experience and starting place. In the first year, I started with reselling on eBay. In the first month, I made $400, then $600, then $800. I worked it up to $1200, working part-time, the first year. When I added Amazon, I instantly doubled my income. When I went full time, I then doubled my income again.
That is how it works for most of us, gradually. Every month I would strive to beat the previous month. Whether that meant adding another e-commerce site, another type of product, trying online arbitrage or drop-shipping, or whatever it took, I was determined to make it grow.
Even after all these years, I am forever on the lookout for ways to improve and to add to my business. Even though I am now financially secure, I’ve recently added private labeling as a method to grow my current income levels. I will never stop growing, adding, and improving.
Is there anything new sellers should know before getting started?
When I was a new seller, I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me to start this venture as a business from the beginning. I started e-commerce as a hobby, first with my little toe, then my whole foot, and gradually I had a leg in the business.
If I could do it all over, I would commit to my business as the “real deal.” I would have started with Amazon, not eBay. I would have started with a Pro account, not a merchant account. I would have invested in the tools, the office space, and the schedule planning right from the beginning! I would have been bold in planning for my success, rather than playing safe like I was planning for my failure.
As an entrepreneur, homeschooling mom to eight, and wife how do you manage all of your personal and professional activities?
“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” – Ben Franklin
Funny, but true. The more I have to do, the more I do. As the number of my responsibilities increased, I was forced to become more organized, to hone my time management, and to learn delegation.
I’m big on list-making. By doing this, I can prioritize the events of the day, get everything out of my head and onto paper, and evaluate if I am staying on task.
Thanks, Tracy for sharing your story!
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