Virtual assistants can be your extra pair of hands working on your business during the tough and peak times. In this episode, Host Nathan Hirsch talks with serial entrepreneur of twelve Amazon accounts, Carlos Alvarez about his ventures in Amazon and the biggest adjustments that he had to make his business successful. Using Virtual Assistants in different ways in his business saves Carlos more money, grows his business, and takes it to the next level. He dives deeper in discussing the Wizards of Amazon which helps people maximize each aspect of the selling experiences and provides wonderful and helpful pieces of advice for building a solid process that a virtual assistant can easily follow. Join Carlos as he imparts his knowledge about virtual assistants to help you build your own business empire and achieve success.
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I am pumped for our guest, Carlos Alvarez. Carlos, how are you doing?
I’m doing amazing as always.
For those of you who don’t know, Carlos is a serial entrepreneur. He’s a full-time Amazon seller for several years. He’s the organizer of the largest Amazon Seller Meetup Group called Wizards of Amazon and he’s the only person I know that has more VAs than I do. Carlos, welcome to the show.
What were you like growing up? Taking a huge step back, were you a straight-A student? Were you a rebel? Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Give us a little back story there.
Nothing glamorous. I walked out of fourth grade in elementary school. That was unheard of back then. I went fishing and my house was nearby. There was some fishing stuff I grabbed. I didn’t catch anything and I don’t even know how to put a worm on a hook. I sat there trying to fish at a local golf course. I showed up for a couple of weeks in fifth grade and none in sixth grade. Somehow, back then, they passed you anyway. I was a rebel as a kid, going nowhere fast. I eventually wind up getting a GED later. I have nothing against college, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards for me. Everything played out well anyway.
How’d you get into Amazon originally?
I get asked that a lot in the Meetup, it’s a little polished right now. I had several jobs. I was working delivering subs. I was selling cigars. I was working in public. I had this what I call an expensive ex-girlfriend at the time so I wanted to get things constantly. Those jobs that I had, while they were working me to the bone, still wasn’t enough. I couldn’t see the writing on the wall. One day, I listed something on eBay. It sold quickly. The whole process of somebody buying something from me, I didn’t know the process. Even back then, the shipping, taping the box and everything was fascinating to me. I got paid and they left a review. I was hooked on the process.
You’ve been on Amazon for a couple of years and a lot of stuff has changed throughout the years. What have been the biggest adjustments that you’ve had to make in your business?
If someone doesn’t know how to dress appropriately for a video chat interview, it’s easy to believe that there’s a lot of other things that will be found lacking in later.
It’s definitely been scaling. From the time that I sold that one product on eBay, I didn’t know about contractors with the lack of education. I didn’t know about things like cashflow, wages, and teams. I couldn’t do this by myself so I learned everything the hard way. Once I got hooked on the process and I started selling, I maxed out what eBay could do for me at the time. Amazon was reaching out to us on the platform back then. Everybody that was running a lot of auctions which they’d slam you for if you did it on their platform. They reached out and they’re like “Try this FBA thing.” I was like, “I’m not going to pay to send you products. I’m not going to have any margins but go figure.” When the stuff got to Amazon, for the first time, I was confronted with, “I can’t.” If all day long I packaged boxes to ship stuff out, I would never have time to communicate with the customers. I hit a wall that I couldn’t do it by myself. I didn’t know about virtual assistants or anything like that. I knew I needed help. I wind up tapping friends and family, which was the worst thing in the world, but I didn’t know any better.
When you heard about virtual assistants for the first time, walk us through that. Maybe someone that hasn’t hired a virtual assistant before or they’ve struggled with it. What was your experience?
Accidental, I got lucky. I started an insect business of all things in the early days. I wind up exiting for a few million dollars on that business. I went from broke and single to more money than I thought I’d ever had. I started blowing it on stuff. I thought I was God’s gift to entrepreneurship at the time. I was eight-feet-tall and bulletproof. Two of the things I did was I hired two coaches for a lot of money. One of them was for organizational things. I knew I had an issue with the organization. The other one was for virtual assistants. It was from Chris Ducker. Everything that I paid is now available on a free book. You put a book out and it has ten times the information and value than what I paid for that stuff back then.
Those books were the whole concept of the virtual CEO. It was so empowering I was like, “I’ve got to try this out.” I don’t remember the name of the site that I went to look for my first virtual assistants initially, but it’s grown. As my business has grown, my virtual assistants have grown and my learning of working with a virtual team has grown. From my Amazon businesses, I have over thirteen Amazon Seller accounts with Amazon’s blessing on all of them. I didn’t want to have all of my eggs in one basket. I was using profits to start unrelated businesses, traditional brick-and-mortar, dance studios, and pet grooming stores. I was finding a place for my virtual assistants in all of them. I’m passionate about virtual assistants.
You use a lot of virtual assistants in different ways. Let’s talk about the Amazon business first. You have thirteen different Amazon accounts. How are you using virtual assistants? What’s the structure?
The tricky part for me was those businesses, I’m the only common denominator in them. They’re totally different entities. There are different business partners in almost every case. My business partners don’t even get along with each other in different businesses. One thing I couldn’t do is train one virtual assistant in the customer service of Amazon and then say, “You’re responsible for all thirteen accounts.” I needed to do it thirteen times. There’s some overlap but it all needed to be separate. Customer service was my example but it’s probably one of the first things people think of when they hire a virtual assistant out. Customer service is one of the most important things in your business, Amazon or otherwise. I was most reluctant to source that out and it’s something that I enjoy doing in my business. It’s something that I found that I could turn a negative experience into not only squashing the negative experience but turn this into an ambassador for my company and my brand.
With everything going on, I still feel that I did my own customer service. Some of the things that the virtual assistants do in my business would be anything that is non-sales or strategic and anything that is repetitive. I probably log in to my Amazon Seller accounts once every month-and-a-half. That’s about it. I have a team of people in place based on my training and based on finding experienced professional learners that I’ve been able to bring on my team and that they’re better than me. There are times I come across stuff even offering consulting and stuff. I come across issues all the time and it’s like, “How do you do this?” I’ll reach out to one of my VAs and I’m like, “What’s going on here? What do you think?” They know.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring someone?
The hiring process is a repetitive task. The actual hiring process is something that I’ve processized and is done for the team or for me by someone who I believe is better than me, which is important to say. I had a lot to do in training that person. When I’m involved in an interview process for a new VA and that means that person is going to be working closely with me. I want to have that interaction with them. I have some ninja tips and all that but some of the old-fashioned things still matter to me. We need to have a video chat. You’d be surprised how many people come dressed inappropriately to a video chat. Technically, I don’t care how they’re dressed when they’re working if we’re not on video. If you didn’t have the etiquette to know this, it leads me to believe that there are a lot of other things that you’re going to be found lacking in later. I’m good at interviewing certain things. I know how long certain things take.
I create test labs for nearly everything that I create. For example, if I’m hiring someone to do a Squarespace website and they’ll tell me how they’re God’s gift to Squarespace websites. I’m like, “We’ll have a live chat. We’ll have one homepage.” I’ll give them the link to a Dropbox and I’ll say, “Here are all the files. Here’s the copy. Here are the media and everything. Go set it up. You have twenty minutes.” For example, if they’re going to be doing anything that involves a lot of organization or customer service, I’ll do something and this is an original to me. I learned this somewhere but once they’re hired, I’ll send them a link. When they get the link, they fill out a form and they get an automatic email. The email gives them instructions. The instructions might be call a phone number and if I know they’re going to be talking to clients, then the phone numbers will have a voicemail letting them know, “Tell me in 30 seconds why you’re the best person for the job.” They weren’t ready for that and they need to record it. They can’t choke and it lets me know how they think under pressure. A lot of things and it gives them a chain of instructions to follow. I look for people that can follow directions, can read all of the criteria that I have to get hired for, punctual and not lying. I consider those the basics. If you master the basics with things, you’re well-off.
On the platform, we work with a lot of Amazon sellers, e-commerce sellers, and marketing agencies, but we also get random clients. You mentioned pet grooming and dance studios. How are you using virtual assistants for those businesses?
For example, Facebook has a good ad platform for local businesses. Also, things like Every Door Direct Mail mailers through the United States Postal Service. That’s an extremely effective way to do local marketing still like targeting a three-mile radius, creating those flyers, and going in and creating that Every Door Direct Mail campaign is a huge one. A lot of people say you’re hiring a VA because it’s cheaper. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a business. I do like saving money and being the most efficient with money, but I don’t look for cheap. I filter out cheap. I found that they’re more effective who I’m hiring. It’s not the money, that I’m saving money as the icing. They’ll do end-of-day books. They’ll do follow-up messaging especially by email or SMS customer service for those businesses, scouring the web for mentions, tracking Google alerts for any bad publicity for any of the locations, checking Groupons and everything that you would do in a local business.
Let’s shift gears a little bit. You’re running these Amazon businesses. What made you start the Wizards of Amazon?
A couple of friends of mine and I used to meet every week for nearly the last decade at a Starbucks. We would toss around the different things we were doing in Amazon to grow. All of us have been wildly successful with Amazon. After the years, I got tired of hearing the same war stories. We were like, “Let’s get some fresh blood in here.” I’ve used Meetup and virtual assistants with my Meetup groups extremely effectively over the last decade for launching brands and building lists. I said, “Let’s do Meetup.” One of my friends was supposed to create the Meetup group, and they did not so I had a VA go on there for me. I built a quick process for them to do it.
They started the group and my first event was at a Starbucks near my house because I didn’t think anyone was going to show. I don’t want to drive a long way. It was for people that showed up. Our events have anywhere from 60 to 120 per event. We meet nine times a month. The reason I started it initially, there were definitely three main goals in mind. One, I wanted to get into annual events. I wanted to create a massive annual event for not just Amazon sellers, but for online sellers. I knew to do that effectively. I probably should have a good base. I provided a lot of value in the Meetup group. Keep it free so everybody joins. I’m going to be able to build that base in a year or two. Another one is I offer marketing consulting services for the Google side of things for local businesses and for online sellers.
This is probably going to translate into one of these situations where you’re getting all this information from someone. You’re using it and it works. When you get to a point where you want a little more handholding, I’m probably the first thing you’re going to want to reach out to it. That’s what’s happened. Every month, I wind up connecting with some people. One or two of them were on the same page and we work together so that there is a profit side of that. That was once a month. Getting it to nine times a month is definitely my main motivator. I love doing it. I realized that when I was doing it, it was the first time in my life that I was in a position where I was teaching if you will and it was intoxicating. It’s a power trip. At the end of it, you get up there and everyone’s looking at you. It’s a little rush and you know that you’re helping them out. I’d say that’s what drives me to do it nine times a month, going on ten. I wish there was a screen share thing I can do to show you a quick thing on my content flow for the Meetup. There are half-a-dozen virtual assistants that all they do is the back end of that Meetup group.
If you’re an Amazon seller, hiring a virtual assistant will give you some quality of life.
Let’s talk about the seven, eight-figure sellers that attend your group that have a lot to give back when it comes to the bigger sellers. What are you consulting bigger sellers on? What do you see that’s working? What should people be aware of if they want to take their Amazon business to the next level?
The first thing I tell anyone that wants to scale, especially if they’re a bigger seller is virtual assistants. Amazon makes it so easy to hit that seven-figure mark. We’re talking about gross sales here that you can squeak into that vicinity going solo or with one VA that you’re totally overloading and has inflamed out yet or the reverse, they have eight VAs and they have no hair. They’ve lost their hair behind this and they’re trying all day long on a chat communicating with eight virtual assistants with, “I’m finished. What do I do next?” That’s a recipe for disaster too so I would advise getting building your team correctly, Having one, I call it a GVA or a General Virtual Assistant, but we call it a gatekeeper, a buffer or anything. Get someone in place that can make this an enjoyable experience and give you some quality of life. I advise them a lot on that. Apart from the administrative side, I’m a fan when it comes to Amazon selling of inch-wide mile-deep approach to sourcing products basically niche down. Get into what you’re passionate about or would like to be passionate about.
That doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it. I have some friends that are a pure mercenary with it and they’re doing great as well. I can only speak to what I do and I give advice along those lines. I also advise them a lot about not having the blinders on with Amazon thinking. The only way to rank is reviews and PPC. There are a lot of other digital marketing strategies you can deploy and you should be deploying to have a lot of success on Amazon. Usually, what that means is they’re like, “I know PPC. I know how to send an FBA shipment but what do you mean Facebook ads? What do you mean a contest?” I’m like, “You don’t have to master that. We can hire this.”
You have twelve businesses, you’re a serial entrepreneur of twelve Amazon accounts, and you’ve got business outside of the Amazon. Where do you spend your time as a CEO? Can you walk us through the average day for Carlos?
First of all, it’s over 50 businesses. Only twelve or thirteen are on Amazon. My average day doing what I try to do most of what I love which over the last few years has been creating content. I love building processes. I love having a new business idea and saying, “This is awesome.” I barely have any time but who are the people that I can put into place here that will make me look like a rock star? I love that side of it. I spend time doing that. In the last couple of years, I’ve spent a good amount of time learning how to be a dad for the first time. That’s what I do mostly. I look at different business ideas. I build processes on them on how to automate them as much as possible, build revenue streams and allow me to keep doing that.
You talked a lot about building the process and that was your passion. I work with a lot of clients and sometimes those processes are lacking. Any tips or advice for building a good rock star process that a virtual assistant can easily follow?
You said something that used to take me about 30 minutes to verbalize. I start rambling when it comes to this and you did it on a post. I can’t quote it, so you might be able to help me out here. Maybe one of your VAs did it and you don’t even know it.
Are you talking about SOPs?
It had to do with it, but it was like a 30-30 Rule or something that you put X amount of time ahead of time before you start building the process. Would you remember it or not? You said it much better than I can say it.
No, I thought you were referring to something else. I’m trying to think of what it is.
It had to do with the amount of time you put into yourself going through all the steps on what needs to be done. It’s like a crude map and then going in, fine-tuning it and spelling it out whether it’s in video, audio or text and then giving it to someone to work.
My Three-Month Rule. Is that what you’re talking about? In the first month, you’re throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. In the second month, you have a good idea of what doesn’t work, you’re focused on what’s working and creating a process for it. In the third month, you’re focused on passing it off your plate with the end of it.
That’s what I go for. It doesn’t always come out that clean and sometimes it’s more days on one phase than the other. That would have taken the whole podcast for me to explain until I saw that post by you and I’m like, “That’s it.” I’ve quoted the post in my Meetup group and that’s what I do now. What those look like is I try to keep it simple and internal tools. Trello is the best thing since peanut butter. I love Trello. For the most part, I use the free version of Trello. The paid version with the Butler and everything like that is great. The other thing I’ve switched over the years, for a long time, I used process.st. I use Teamwork projects for the assigning of all the day-to-day tasks throughout all businesses. In hiring, you go to FreeeUp.
Carl, this has been great. Where can people find out more about you? What are you most excited about?
Finding out more about me, the easiest way to get a hold of me would be the Wizards of Amazon Facebook group. If you’re on Instagram, @WizardsOfAmazon. I’m trying to jack up my Instagram so I’d love the connections over there. The thing I’m most excited about is I started the Meetup group. My biggest goal was to create an event and I finally launched it. It’s at www.OnlineSellerCruise.com. We’re going to be in the Caribbean, workshops and everything like that. My Meetup group as well, you text the word Amazon to 269922 and it sends you all the links for that. Even if you’re not local in South Florida for that Meetup group, we have the recordings available. You can see Nathan on one of the recordings when he came down to speak.
I had a great time at that Meetup group. People had nothing but great things to say about you. I want to give you props for an awesome group.
I appreciate you having me on the show. I hope in the future if I can never add any value, invite me back. You’re amazing, FreeUp is amazing and your show is amazing. I’m trying to model a lot of the stuff I see you doing on YouTube. It’s good stuff.
I appreciate it. Follow Carlos and check out his Meetup, Wizards of Amazon. Thanks so much for coming on.
Carlos Alvarez Serial Entrepreneur, Full time Amazon Seller of nearly 12 years. Organizer of the Largest Amazon Seller Meetup group in the World. Wizards of Amazon.
Carlos Alvarez has more than 20 years of combined experience as a successful Amazon retailer and as a consultant and marketing expert for online sellers. He entered the Amazon Marketplace when it was in its infancy, and quickly mastered non-traditional marketing and selling strategies while organically achieving first-page rankings. Since the late 90s he has built, invested and sold several brands in many Amazon categories including: grocery, apparel, kitchen & dining, beauty, electronics, supplements, coffee, and patio & garden. Now, Alvarez teaches others how to achieve success selling online.
Alvarez and his team empower online sellers through his consulting agency Blue Bird Marketing Solutions. He is also the founder of Wizards of Amazon, the largest and most active Amazon seller Meetup group in the United States. He is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and events and was recently appointed as the first City Organizer by Meetup, where he serves as a liaison between Meetup.com and all other Meetup Organizers in Miami.
In addition to being an Amazon Selling Expert speaker for the U.S Small Business Administration and the Miami Bayside Foundation, Alvarez has been featured in the Miami Herald and Washington Post.
Alvarez sums up his mission to help online sellers with a quote he heard early on in his career. “New sellers constantly compare their Chapter 1 to another seller’s Chapter 20. They see what other veteran sellers are doing and they judge their success and failures by this benchmark.” His goal is to show sellers a realistic path to success, and how they can enjoy every chapter of their own, unique journey.
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