Brian Johnson has been selling physical products online for 10 years, including Amazon since 2013. In 2015, he began consulting for brands with revenues in the tens of millions and now specializes in Amazon’s Pay Per Click advertising platform. He is also the co-founder of both the PPC Scope software and Sponsored Products Academy.
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- Value your time
- Diversify – don’t rely on just one party
- Question received wisdom
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:29] – Brian started out selling banking equipment on eBay ten years ago.
- [02:01] – He moved over to Amazon and found that his passion was in pay-per-click advertising.
- [02:46] – Brian’s key revenue streams are consulting, software, and advertising.
- [03:34] – He helps private-label sellers attract the customers they want
- [03:59] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: Creating valuable software that was used by a large business network – when the network collapsed, his revenue disappeared within 2 weeks.
- [06:04] – Money was tied up with a payment processor that shut down all accounts related to the network – Brian never got his money.
- [07:28] – How is your payment processor handling your payments?
- [08:30] – Know your business inside out; know exactly where your money is.
- [09:08] – Don’t have all your eggs in one basket – try to diversify.
- [09:40] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: “Learning to value my own time better”
- [10:10] – “Once I started charging what other people thought my knowledge was worth, it made a huge difference.”
- [10:38] – All you have is time… and you don’t have all the time you think you do.
- [11:59] – Biggest Weakness? – “Time management”
- [13:44] – What has Brian most fired up today? “My Amazon coaching, and the Sponsored Products Academy. I love helping people move further along.”
- [14:57] – Check out the Sponsored Products Academy
- [17:16] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Lack of knowledge”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Value your time”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Booking appointments”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Calendly
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – How Gravity Works
- [21:56] – Connect with Brian in the PPC Troubleshooting Facebook group
- [22:22] – Parting piece of guidance? “Just because you’re working harder doesn’t mean you’re producing the best results for your lifestyle.”
Brian Johnson: Absolutely, I am.
John: Yes. Brian’s been selling physical products online for ten years, including Amazon since 2013. In 2015, he began consulting for brands with revenues in the tens of millions, and now specializes in Amazon’s Pay Per Click advertising platform. He’s the co-founder of both the PPCScope software and Sponsored Products Academy. Brian, take a minute, fill in some gaps in that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Brian Johnson: Alright. I am originally out of the Portland, Oregon area. I’ve traveled around and lived in a couple different places in the world, including Italy, and then back in the States, lived in Arizona, and now I’m actually in Austin, Texas, which is a great city to be in. I’ve got a wonderful family with two sons.
One of the things that I started back, I guess, it was about – man, a little over ten years ago, I guess it was, ecommerce, mostly selling through eBay. That was actually selling banking equipment, so like money counters, coin sorters, that type of thing. Eventually, after having some success there, I finally was moved over, or convinced by a friend to move over and start looking at Amazon more seriously. I did that about probably three years ago.
I just continued to power forward with Amazon and left eBay behind, not to necessarily discount eBay by itself, but I just moved on to a new platform that was obviously up-and-coming and a lot more popular. I started getting into not only my own private labeling as far as product private labeling, but also rolling that into where I was consulting brands as far how to set up and optimize their listings on Amazon. Eventually I found that my focus and my passion was in the Pay Per Click advertising specifically for Amazon, which is Amazon’s sponsored products platform.
John: We’re gonna be getting into your journey a little more in depth in a couple minutes here, Brian, but first and foremost, I really want to talk about today, 2016. What are the specific ways that you generate revenue in your business?
Brian Johnson: My primary three are my coaching, consulting, and software. Basically, those are all surrounded, related to Amazon Pay Per Click advertising.
John: So how does money roll in the door?
Brian Johnson: Combination of consulting fees, as well as software subscription, and then also recurring coaching that occurs.
John: Where do you kind of see the future of Brian Johnson as far as revenue generation? What are you looking to build towards with the foundation you’ve already built?
Brian Johnson: The platform, as far as Amazon’s advertising and platform goes, I mean, it just kind of plays into the ability to drive buyer traffic to sellers who are selling product on Amazon, right? So I see that we’re going to continue to expand as far as the education side of the house; basically educating sellers on how to generate traffic, not only through the Pay Per Click advertisement, but also driving external advertising and external traffic in order for these private label sellers to sell their product more.
John: So you’ve been rocking it for ten years. I mean, you’ve been doing some things online, physical products wise, since like 2006 now. This has been a long journey for you. You’ve had the ups, you’ve had the downs. What would you consider your lowest moment as far as your worst entrepreneurial moment to date? Take us there, Brian.
Brian Johnson: That is an easy one. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, so it was several years ago now, and that was a case of – my partner and I, actually my brother was my partner on a software project, and we actually created this software that was used heavily by the members of a large business network that was very successful. It was very upcoming. There was literally over a million business owners who were in this network. We were just rocking and rolling. I mean, the software was going great. We were providing huge value. We had huge revenue coming in.
Something that occurred that impacted that network, it wasn’t anything that we did, but it was our single point of failure. We were reliant completely on that network existing, and it disappeared. In two weeks, our revenue went from a very high, five-figure amount each month, down to zero within two weeks. That was just devastating. It was because we just had this single point of failure. We were one-legged as far as – we had basically all of our eggs in one basket, whatever analogy you want to use.
John: Let’s talk about this for a second. So you had all of your eggs in this one basket. You were making five figures a month in revenue. How much were you spending to get that revenue in? Were you outlaying a lot of money months in advance or how did that look exactly?
Brian Johnson: No. Honestly, it was mostly profit just because it was basically our own time as far as developing. We had some marketing expenses and some internal staff costs, but most of this was – we developed the software internally, and it was just a case of keeping it running. Basically, we were being paid for the service as opposed to investing in product, as an example.
John: Then you probably had this pile of money that was sitting there and you were saying, “Okay, now what next?” I mean, where was the panic mode coming in if you had been having so much net profit for all those months?
Brian Johnson: Well, I think part of the – the worst part of this actually was not even the fact that the income stopped. It was more of a case of we had our money tied up into a payment processor and they got wind of this network shutting down and they shut down all accounts related to that network, so we actually never got that money back.
Brian Johnson: Yeah. It was basically – it’s a very popular payment processor, too, and they basically took the money and just said, “Yeah, sorry.”
John: What happens with that money?
Brian Johnson: You know, I suppose they spend it on birthday parties or something. I’m not quite sure. The challenge on that, of course, is the revenue, they still reported the revenue to the IRS and, of course, the IRS comes back and says, “Well, we want our cut.” So they’ve got the money, but then IRS comes back and says, “Okay. Where’s our percentage?” It just kept compounding as far as the financial volatility or the swing back from doing very well to, all of the sudden, it’s like, “Oh, man,” and I’ve got obligations.
John: Now the thing I’m kind of curious about because I’m thinking about my setup right now, and every single day when money comes in, goes through my gateway to my merchant account, and then gets swept into my business bank account, literally everything that comes in through 4:00 p.m. Pacific time is in my actual business bank account by 8:00 a.m. the next morning. How is that different for you?
Brian Johnson: Well, I can tell you right now is that we changed the way we handle third party payment processors. You may have the ones where it takes a credit card and directly puts it into your bank account. Some of the third party payment processors that provide easy checkout and that kind of stuff on websites, they may hold the money. The change in practice that we did was we basically started just pulling on a regular basis, on a weekly basis; we basically withdraw money into our own bank accounts.
John: Fire Nation, there’s a lot to learn here. I mean, you really just need to say, “Hey, do I really know from point A to point Z how I’m making my money, how my money’s actually ending up in my own business bank account?” Because until it’s in your business bank account, as Brian just proved –
Brian Johnson: It doesn’t exist.
John: Your money, it might not exist. In fact, not only might it not exist, it might be worse than even making it in the first place because the IRS came after you, Brian, for the income that you “made”, but you never saw that income. It’s the worst of all tales.
Brian Johnson: It stung, yeah.
John: That’s my takeaway, Fire Nation. You just need to know your business inside out. Have that CPA that knows what they’re doing. Have people that have been experienced and know what they’re doing. Make sure that you are sweeping money out of your account on a consistent basis where – like I have a setup, again, everything that comes into me on any given day – so here today is Wednesday, any payments that I actually get today, they’re going to be in my business bank account tomorrow, on Thursday morning.
That’s how we set it up. There are options like that. You just need to find the right gateway, the right merchants. Make things happen. Do your research. Google it. There are some great sites out there. Brian, what’s the one takeaway you want to make sure Fire Nation gets from your story?
Brian Johnson: I probably, on that one, it had to do with simply just not being so reliant on one other third party that if that disappears, that you’re completely left with nothing, or even worse, as we found out. Try to have a little bit of diversity so that your entire lifestyle is not reliant on one person or one company.
John: Let’s talk about an ‘a-ha’ moment. Let’s talk about an epiphany that you’ve had on your journey. You’ve had lots. What’s one of the greatest? Take us to that moment. Tell us that story.
Brian Johnson: One of the things that one of my current business partners really embedded into me, that took me a while for me to really understand because I never did it very well, was to value my own time better, really understanding that I do have expertise and to not simply just give away that knowledge because that knowledge has value. A lot of times, I would try to be the nice guy and try to please everybody, and at my own expense as far as time, usually.
Once I started actually learning how to value my time better and actually charging what other people actually felt that time was worth and what that knowledge was worth, then all the sudden, I realized that it kind of separated between those people who just wanted something for free and those people who actually needed my time, could implement what they learned from me, and make a whole world of difference because a lot of times, the people who got it for free, they never implemented it.
John: Fire Nation, all we have is time. That’s it. We have a limited commodity in this world. It’s called time. Use your energy, your bandwidth, your finances, and your time in a very, very sacred manner. This is yours. You need to keep hanging on to it. And, Brian, to your point right there, when you say yes to something or to somebody, you’re saying no to everything else that you could have said yes to.
Just think about that next time you agree to do something, to speak, to meet with somebody, to “jump on a quick call”, to meet for a cup of coffee so they can pick your brain. Just think about that. The answer is not always gonna be no, but just remember when the answer is yes, all the other answers are no that could have been in place of that. Just think about that. Weight it correctly. That’s my big takeaway, Brian. What do you want to make sure Fire Nation gets?
Brian Johnson: Sometimes we learn in life that time is a much more valuable commodity than we give it credit for. A lot of times, we think like, “Well, I’ll get to that next week,” or, “I’ll get around to it. I’ll make plans for next year or next month,” or whatever. When something occurs in your life, either to yourself or somebody else that completely takes that away and changes that perception, it temporarily, it doesn’t permanently, but it temporarily kind of shocks the system and says, “You know what? You don’t have all the time that you think you do, so you better respect the time you have.”
John: What’s your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Brian Johnson: Time management, actually.
John: That’s so funny.
Brian Johnson: Here I am where on one side, I’m committing too often, saying yes too often, and then on the second side, not being organized enough to basically have my time scheduled in a day. A bad habit that has developed as a result of that is pretty much becoming a workaholic where I would work 10, 12 hour days would be pretty normal. And depending on what project I was working on, maybe that would even increase to 15, even 20 hour days.
Part of that had to do with I was trying to commit myself to too many people who had a good sad story or who really did need my help, but at the same time, as my previous example, maybe they didn’t value it because they were getting it for free or maybe they were getting it for cheap or something like that. Once I started setting my boundaries as far as my value, I could manage my time better in combination with I could also use tools in order to book my schedule and actually make appointments for my time and make sure that that time had value and was allocated correctly.
John: Fire Nation, such a valuable thing to do is set boundaries. We need to set boundaries. These boundaries need to be real and we need to commit to them. I have boundaries every single morning with my morning routine. There’s a certain amount of time for every step in my morning routine. Otherwise, it would just continue to flow into later and later into the day. Boundaries are key. What’s the one thing, Brian, you are most fired up about today?
Brian Johnson: Without a doubt, it has to do with the coaching that I do for the Amazon and Pay Per Click advertising. Not only am I direct coaching with individual sellers on Amazon as far as how they’re handling their advertising, but also through our recent training course that we launched, which is what you mentioned earlier, the Sponsored Products Academy. It’s a great community and I love being able to move people forward down the field, if you will, to basically help them to get the concepts and really understand how to actually use the advertising properly.
Probably one of the coolest things is when you kind of blow their minds, when they’re taught by other people incorrectly and they learn bad habits or they learn techniques that are theoretical or somebody else said was the correct way to do it, and you come in and say, “No, no. This is how it actually works and this is how you use it,” and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh. That changes everything.” I love that piece of it.
John: Where can Fire Nation find out more about that?
Brian Johnson: We’re not currently open at the moment for outside. However, we’re gonna set up a special link. I don’t know if you want me to mention that.
John: Yeah. Mention it right now.
Brian Johnson: It’s SponsoredProductsAcademy.com/fire.
John: SponsoredProductsAcademy.com/fire. Check it out, Fire Nation. Don’t you go anywhere because we are about to crush the lightening round. We’re gonna take a quick minute first to thank our sponsors. Brian, are you prepared for the lightening rounds?
Brian Johnson: Yes, I am.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Brian Johnson: I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a teenager, so I didn’t actually start going full-time into it until about ten years ago. But each time that I ran into resistance and frustration in being an entrepreneur, it usually had to do with a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding as far as how to execute and actually – basically having a plan as far as, “Okay, I need to make sure that this happens by this date. Otherwise, I’m just blowing time. I’m learning, but I’m not executing.”
John: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Brian Johnson: Value your time. By valuing your time, you set boundaries. I mentioned before, you set boundaries and your time becomes more valuable. You enjoy that time with the people who appreciate that time, who are willing to respect that time and the time limit that’s available. Especially for me, it allows me to have a better business and life balance so that I can spend better quality time with my family, as well.
John: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Brian Johnson: These days, it’s booking appointments, so actually using a calendaring tool in order to schedule my consulting and my coaching appointments so that I know exactly what’s on my radar and not simply just trying to communicate and say, “I’ll get back to you on email.” No, no. “I’m gonna set time aside specifically to work with you or to address an issue.”
John: If you could recommend one resource for Fire Nation, what would it be and why?
Brian Johnson: For the past year, I’ve been using the scheduler called Calendly, it’s C-A-L-E-N-D-L-Y, for a new coach or a new consultant. There’s both free and paid options. I use the paid option of that. It allows my clients to look at my schedule, book a time, make a payment for that schedule, provide any kind of interaction ahead of time as far as, “Here’s my request for information. Here’s some information you need to know,” and the time gets booked directly on to my Google calendar. It just keeps me very well organized. I don’t have to worry about exchanging emails a bunch of times because I let the system do that for me so that when that appointment time comes, I’m ready to go.
John: If you could recommend one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
Brian Johnson: This is kind of funny is that it’s not a business book at all. It’s an obscure book, in fact. It’s called How Gravity Works by Maurice Cotterell. It’s funny that I recommend this simply because it’s more of a science geek book as opposed to a business and productivity book. But I’ll tell you what this did. Maurice Cotterell was a physicist in – actually, he still is – he’s a physicist in the United Kingdom.
He was classically trained as a physicist and he started questioning – he basically went through and started questioning as far as, “What I’ve learned as far as classic, as far as Newton, as far as Einstein, in the science world, we would just assume they had it right and, therefore, those are the laws that we’re following. These are the rules. These are the laws of physics,” as an example.
So what he actually did is he said, “You know what? What if they’re wrong? How would I basically start over and just question what has been taught up to this point and that everybody else has accepted? What if everybody is wrong based off of a single point of failure in the assumption?”
This book basically goes through and is basically talking about how he reinvented the concept as far as like how the force of gravity actually works. What that taught me was to question my pre-established and what our popular, pre-established ideas or notions and see if we can just completely turn them on your head.
John: Well, Brian, let’s end Today on Fire with a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Brian Johnson: Probably the easiest, as I mentioned before, obviously the course that we have that we’ll open up for your audience is the SponsoredProductsAcademy.com/fire. Easiest way if you are a private label seller on Amazon, on Facebook, you can locate the Amazon PPC troubleshooting Facebook group. That’s a pretty good community of about 5,000 sellers, and it’s very active. And then, of course, our software, which is the PPCScope.com, is the software that is used by sellers to optimize their advertising on Amazon.
John: And a parting piece of guidance?
Brian Johnson: You know what? I’m kind of taking it back to value your time and try not to – just because you’re working harder and working long hours does not mean that you’re producing the results that are correct for your lifestyle.
John: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you’ve been hanging out with Brian and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. You can just type Brian in the search bar. His show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. Best show notes in the biz, time stamped, links to all, and of course, that link for you, Fire Nation, is SponsoredProductsAcademy.com/fire. Go check that out as well as his Facebook group. Brian, I just want to thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Brian Johnson: Thank you very much. I was glad to be here.
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