Automation can save businesses a lot of money. The adage “time is money” has never been truer for business owners today. Whether it’s your time or an employee’s time, there’s always an associated cost. Finding ways to streamline business processes to make your business more efficient and effective should always be a consideration.
Earning money on Amazon as a third-party seller is becoming increasingly difficult. A slew of factors that include unscrupulous sellers and increased competition encouraged by self-proclaimed Youtube Amazon gurus have drastically reduced profit margins for many sellers.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to settle for less. Increased competition isn’t necessarily bad for third-party sellers. In fact, it’s an opportunity for you to streamline and automate areas of your business that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered automating. In the process, you may end up working fewer hours and earn even more. At the very least, you’ll save valuable time.
In this article, we’ll go over different methods and resources you can utilize in order to automate or streamline various aspects of your business.
One of the most popular accounting platforms in the USA is QuickBooks. QuickBooks has a market share of over 75% of all small businesses that use some kind of accounting software. If you’ve ever owned a small business, chances are you’ve had to work with some version of QuickBooks.
Keeping proper records in QuickBooks isn’t easy since it requires a discipline and dedication to recordkeeping that isn’t usually a top priority for small business owners. Creating an invoice with the proper transactions can be time-consuming even with existing accounts, products, and services.
Additionally, it’s just not practical to manually create individual documents in QuickBooks if you’re a successful Amazon seller. With potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of orders, reimbursements, and refunds a day, you’ll need more hours than exist in a day just to enter those transactions into QuickBooks.
That’s why many sellers don’t bother with individual invoices or documents. They may just reconcile the settlements when they need them–usually around tax time. Or they may just hire an employee specifically for data entry. While hiring a data entry employee may free you from having to perform the task, you’re still limiting your growth.
As your Amazon sales increase, so will your need for more and more data entry clerks to keep up with the work. Soon, you’ll find yourself in need of a manager for your data entry team and a human resources team to handle interviews and other employee-related issues. This is the kind of trap many small to medium-sized businesses fall into–hiring people to perform tasks that could potentially be solved with technology.
That’s where automated data import services like SellerZen come in. SellerZen automatically imports your Amazon transactions into QuickBooks Online. Cloud-based services such as SellerZen work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and their costs are a fraction of what it would cost you to hire, train, and manage employees.
The benefit of a service like SellerZen is that it doesn’t make mistakes, unlike an employee who hasn’t had his coffee in the morning. A typographical error can lead to disastrous results when it comes to accounting. Even small errors, over time, can lead to countless hours spent reconciling different accounts and inventory.
Finally, many small businesses waste a lot of money paying for accountants and bookkeepers to go over their messy and inconsistent financial records. Using SellerZen to automatically sync Amazon transactions to a QuickBooks Online company in a reliable and consistent manner will result in fewer billable hours for accountants and bookkeepers. That’s because the accounts will always be accurate, requiring less time for accountants to do their job.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t have to hire a data entry clerk when you can automate the task. Find a service like SellerZen to automate your accounting. Whether you use Xero, an Intuit product like QuickBooks Online, or even GoDaddy Accounting, some app or service exists that will handle the task for you. Not only will you be guaranteed accurate accounting, but the service will be online and active all the time.
Try to avoid services that require you to download and submit Amazon reports. Such services may seem appealing at first, but having to submit various reports daily can be a chore, and if you’re already paying for an automated service, then it should be completely automated, requiring no more work after the initial setup. After all, you have a more important job to do than remembering to download and submit various Amazon reports that may be up to a week old.
Ask 10 different Amazon third-party sellers, and you’ll receive 11 different responses regarding Fulfillment by Amazon, better known as FBA. Nightmare FBA experiences from sellers abound in the Amazon seller forums. While FBA is not for everyone, you should seriously consider the advantages.
FBA handles all customer support regarding FBA inventory. That means you don’t have to answer questions, process refunds, or handle returns. You don’t need to have an employee responding to customers in a timely manner in order to keep on the good side of Amazon’s seller metrics.
FBA picks, packs, and ships all of your FBA inventory. Not only does this save you from having to hire a warehouse worker to pick, pack, and ship, but you’ll also save time and money from shipping services. Chances are you won’t be getting the same rates that Amazon gets. So you’ll pay more to ship since you won’t be able to charge too much just so that you can remain competitive. FBA also means that you won’t have any incorrect shipments mistakes because of warehouse workers.
FBA generally protects you against negative seller reviews. Because Amazon handles customer service and fulfillment, you won’t have to worry about negative seller reviews. When customers give you a negative seller rating because of customer service or shipping, you can have those reviews removed. If you were to fulfill the orders yourself, you’d be stuck with those reviews, and you’d take a hit on your seller metrics as a result. Even one bad review can translate to tens, if not hundreds, of lost sales for a new seller.
FBA also gives you a higher chance of winning the buy box. It’s no secret that whoever owns the buy box gets the majority of the sales. That determination is based on metrics such as seller ratings, order metrics, and stock availability. Sellers who use FBA will have an advantage since their seller ratings and order metrics tend to be higher than sellers who fulfill their own orders due to the reasons mentioned above.
Many sellers just look at FBA fees and don’t consider other factors that go into fulfillment. For instance, small businesses won’t need large warehouse spaces, warehouse workers, and customer service representatives. FBA and storage fees are but a fraction of what you’d have to spend in order to do the same job. You’ll also find more free time because you won’t have to manage employees. Anyone who has managed or even worked with bad employees can tell you how much time a bad employee can take up.
If you’re still not convinced about using FBA, then consider other third-party logistics companies to store, inspect, and fulfill your orders. More and more companies are starting or expanding their fulfillment services. Companies like Walmart, eBay, and even FedEx have already announced or are looking into fulfillment options. Smaller businesses that specialize in Amazon fulfillment are showing up every day.
There are a number of applications available that can save you time and increase your sales. Using such applications can save you time, money, and in some cases, get you money that you’re owed.
Repricers are one of the most common services used by Amazon sellers. These applications automatically reprice your inventory so that your price is always the lowest. The idea is that your seller rating, combined with stock availability and low price, will win you the buy box. Then you’ll get more sales. The danger is that setting up a repricer incorrectly can lead to a race to the bottom on price, so you can end up losing money on the sale.
Email services offer to send your customers a friendly reminder to leave feedback in order to boost sales rankings. If you’re a new seller, these services may seem invaluable since positive customer feedback boosts your sales rankings, leading to more sales. But be careful, as Amazon has cracked down on the number of emails you can send and the manner in which you ask for feedback.
Reimbursement services look through your Amazon reports in order to see if Amazon owes you money. These services reconcile various reports to get you your money back. For instance, one of the most common reimbursements is for items that are lost during inbound shipping and receiving. The degree of success varies from one service to another, but the fact remains that they will get you money that you’re owed and would have otherwise never received.
Inventory management is another type of service for Amazon sellers. Some services offer a more accurate inventory prediction model than what Amazon provides, and those services account for lead time. This ensures that you can place an order at the right time and receive stock before your inventory runs out. Running out of stock is a retailer’s worst nightmare, and the consequences on Amazon are magnified since no stock means a drop in the sales ranking. Conversely, you don’t want to have too much stock since that’ll cost you in storage fees or take up valuable warehouse space, so knowing when and how much to order is a fine balancing act.
One often overlooked part of business is the hardware cost. Many businesses owners don’t factor in the cost of computers, networking, printing, and all the related expenses. But these expenses are well below what it takes to hire a competent computer technician to maintain and repair the technology. Unfortunately, you can’t automate computer repair services, but you can reduce the need to for a computer technician.
When your computer, laptop, or internet goes down, that can completely halt your business. Then you’re spending time on the phone calling your internet service provider or taking your computer into repair places with questionable privacy practices. Even a few hours of downtime can cost you thousands of dollars if your employees are unable to work.
While there’s no way to prevent catastrophic hardware failures, you can minimize the downtime caused by a computer malfunction. Here are some tips you can implement now.
Use cloud services whenever possible to store your data and backup your information. Using services like Google Drive, iCloud, or Microsoft’s OneDrive can allow you to retain backups of important, but not sensitive, business data. The added benefit is the ability to access your information from any device. This can save you thousands of dollars and months spent waiting for data recovery services. Save on the cloud only data that you’re comfortable exposing should there be some kind of hack. Sensitive business data should be backed up and stored through other methods.
Try to use a single technology ecosystem whenever possible. Don’t use an Android tablet, a Windows-based computer, and an iPhone. Doing so means more workarounds when trying to access data across the different devices. What’s worse, the same apps for each device may have different or limited features. Instead, use an iPad, iMac, and iPhone. While the cost may be initially higher, you’ll save time sharing documents amongst the devices. And you’ll only need to learn one ecosystem rather than three. Sticking with Apple devices also means that you’ll be less exposed to malware, and you’ll have better quality control rather than the lower build quality that comes from some budget desktop Windows computers.
Pay for quality, reliable internet service. Don’t get the cheapest business plan because you want to save a few dollars on your monthly expenses. Slow internet means that you’re wasting time waiting for downloads and website access. If you have to update your computers or you need video streaming, you’re sitting around waiting. And while you’re downloading, your workers experience a slowdown in their work because their connection is limited by your usage. Let’s face it: employees won’t be working and active 100% of the time, and some will find ways of streaming video. The last thing you want is for your workers to lose focus because the website is taking a few seconds longer to load.
Look into chat applications like Slack to connect all of your employees. In a big organization, keeping in contact with team members is crucial to productivity and workflow. Instead of having employees on the same team or across different departments contact one another through text messages or email, look into something like Slack. Creating chatrooms focused on different teams, projects, or departments allows your team members to keep in contact with one another no matter where they are located. Those messages are also saved, allowing you to monitor their communications, progress, and create tasks. These messaging applications are also available with most devices.
Virtual Assistants or Remote Workers
If you need to hire someone to manage your Amazon account, one common method is to hire a virtual assistant. Hiring someone to manage your Amazon account may not be necessary if you’re looking only for specific tasks like customer service or inventory reconciliation. Instead, look for Virtual Assistants (VAs) who specialize in Amazon. They will cost you a fraction of what employees cost, and you won’t have to spend as much time training them since they’ll already be familiar with Amazon. Give them specific tasks, and you can hire multiple remote VAs to cover shifts for your Amazon account.
VAs can handle customer service for your products if you send them those products to use. You’ll want your VAs to be familiar with some or all of your inventory if you expect them to answer customer questions and provide support.
Both Amazon and accounting applications like QuickBooks Online also allow limited user access. You’ll want to set up user permissions to limit a remote worker’s ability to compromise your accounts. With limited user access, virtual assistants can reconcile inventory and accounts and then report any discrepancies to you before the issues grow too large.
Whatever you decide, the use of specialized remote workers can really reduce the amount of work you’ll have to do and the amount of money you spend on hiring employees. Almost all facets of your Amazon business can be delegated to a remote worker you’ve trained. For instance, many sellers spend hours a day policing their listings to keep other sellers away. Instead of doing that yourself, why not hire a remote worker and have him monitor your listings and report to you when issues arise? Delegating such work can save you a lot of time and money.
There’s no reason why a single person can’t run a multimillion-dollar Amazon business with low overhead costs. Amazon’s marketplace provides just this opportunity to run a successful business without the expenses of a traditional retail store. With the right services and an emphasis on automation, you can streamline your business to such a point that a slow sales period won’t leave you struggling to find funding to keep your business afloat. Better yet, you’ll find even more free time to enjoy the money you’ll be earning!