Technology makes remote work easier: more so, if you're aware how to leverage existing marketplace to your advantage.
Elaine Heney runs a T-shirt business on Amazon and a podcast teaching the tricks of this niche.
If you're not familiar with Amazon FBA – better keep reading.
I never see T-shirts that I design. I don't deal with sales, customers, returns. I don't have inventory, it's all on-demand.
— Elaine, what is your business exactly about?
— Right now I am a T-shirt designer but I think the last couple of years I have done mobile apps, Amazon FBA, teaching online and lots of different types of things. Right now, it's t-shirt designing for Amazon.com.
— How does it work, in a little bit more details? What is your job in your business?
— It started just about a year ago when Amazon opened up a new program for users - «Merch by Amazon». You could apply for free invitation to it. Once you're in, Amazon will allow you to upload 25 T-shirt designs.
They will put them on their Amazon.com website, so I never even see a physical T-shirt. In business language, I don't see any inventory. I don't have to deal with sales and costumers or returns. I allow them to use my art I uploaded.
Amazon puts it on a T-shirt and if Joe in Arizona thinks "yeah, I need that t-shirt and it's just calling me" and he decides to go and buy it, Amazon sells it for about 20$. They actually have a huge warehouse with T-shirts and they print Joe's T-shirt on-demand.
Then they send it to Joe. He's delighted with his T-shirt, pays Amazon 20$ and I get about 7$ for each sale. It's a new thing, Merch by Amazon. It's really nice that you could do it from anywhere.
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— For you it means that you can be in Las Palmas literally one block away from the ocean.
— It's crazy. We're in Las Palmas, and right now, and I've completely fallen in love with ReStation. I love the apartment, it's just magnificent. I'm sometimes all day on the beach – I shouldn't be saying this. I should, probably, say that I'm working really hard. I do work hard sometimes, but honestly, today, I was at the beach all day. It's beautiful. It's a block away from the apartment. Las Palmas and ReStation is the place to be.
I check work every day, but on average maybe 3 or 4 hours a day
— From your daily routine, how much time do you try to designate to work, if there is anything that you try to control about it at all?
— I'm lucky I have quite a large team that works for me. I have some assistance in the Philippines, the nice graphic artists are in Asia. They do a lot of heavy lifts and work for me, and I'm doing managerial job. It terms on the hours, usually it's the morning time and then later in the evening when it's dark. When it's nice and sunny I like to be outside. But in general, I check work every day, but on average maybe 3 or 4 hours a day.
— That also gives time to explore new other opportunities?
— Absolutely. You have to do to build a business, but at the same time there could be another interesting opportunity coming on. Sometimes you don't have space to think about it. I'm looking at it like this: working remotely allows me to have some time off, meet cool people and see what they're doing. Get new ideas, which is really nice.
“Business is like porridge: if you're doing the same thing for too long, you stop enjoying it."
— Usually if I want to start something, I get really excited about it and I jump in. I go crazy, and just try and make it work. In terms of my personality, I'm a starter. I like the idea. I like just to challenge to try to make it work. After that, when it becomes a bit "same old, same old" and I see myself doing the same thing every day, I'm not just as excited.
At that stage I start looking for something else. And then something else comes along, then I go excited, and when I don't have time to do both of these businesses, I make a decision: «while I do the first one maybe I'll sell the old thing».
For me it's something like porridge: if you're doing the same thing for a year or two you stop enjoying it. I have the choice. I could do whatever I want.
Two days ago I was telling to a friend: «maybe I'll do a T-shirt podcast». The WiFi is insanely fast here, so two days later I have a new podcast on T-shirt business – it's called "The Merch Entrepreneur". It took me 24 hours to execute.
— 24 hours from an idea to an execution?
Can you share a little bit more on where our podcast can be found?
— The website is merchentrepreneur.com and you can reach more detailed information to see if it's something that you'd like to try.
It's quite busy now, so I asked my VA to look for additional help from people he knows. Eventually, I have his cousin, his cousin's wife and his friend from school working with us.
— I have a last question here about the team that you already mentioned: how did you actually get to find them and how do you manage a remote team?
— As I've been growing different businesses, I have different skillset of people working for me: artists, assistants, developers. I have about six artists and about five or six virtual assistants. The VAs are full time and I speed dial the artists when I need them: "Help, I need hundred t-shirts!".
I have the most luck on upwork.com, which is a massive outsourcing website. I have to go through a lot of people to find the few that are good. I found my first VA on Upwork as well.
It's quite busy now, so I asked my VA to look for additional help from people he knows. Eventually I have his cousin, his cousin's wife, and his friend from school working with us. That was a genius solution, because I didn't even have to train them, because my main VA did it. Now I'm sending him "work orders", so he deals with the 4-5 people that he's hired and delegates the work to them. And if they have questions, he answers the questions.
In terms of practicality, how do I track everything? I use free software called Producteev. It's a lifesaver and my VA is in that as well. That just cuts down all the emails.