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A pandemic pivot: From exporting beer to selling face masks

A pandemic pivot: From exporting beer to selling face masks
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
 

Posted: Mon 26th Jul 2021

Manchester-based entrepreneur Lisa Fan was running a successful business exporting craft beer to China, but the coronavirus pandemic caused a downturn in sales and she was forced to look for new opportunities. She is now running new brands, HelloJiJi and JiJi, which sell silk face masks and other fashion accessories.

With Amazon high on her list of priorities, Lisa joined several Bootcamps as part of the Amazon Small Business Accelerator to get the knowledge she needed. She is now selling her products on Amazon’s online store.

Lisa shares her story.

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you’re already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you’re not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Sign up to the free Amazon Bootcamp on 10 August to learn how to export your products globally.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?

"I started my first business in 2010 after spotting a gap in the market for exporting craft beer to China. However, when the coronavirus pandemic started, bars and restaurants in China closed and our orders were cancelled. I personally don’t drink alcohol so my office became full of beer which only has a short shelf life. I started to explore other business options.

"I’m an accountant by trade. I used to work for huge companies but I’ve always wanted to run an import/export business. Early in 2020 when the pandemic first hit, people in China were already wearing masks and I thought that the general public in the UK and other countries would need them at some point.

"In March 2020, I looked into sourcing fabric masks and contacted suppliers in China. I’m originally from China so I’ve got a language advantage and I’ve been doing business in the country for many years. It means I can go straight to the top and speak to the factory owners who usually don’t speak English.

"I sourced stock and launched our online store on Etsy in July 2020. It was an instant success. I worked day and night whilst living on takeaways because I didn’t have time to cook. I was going to the Post Office with bags and bags of orders. I got complaints from other people that I was holding up the queue as we had to put stamps on hundreds of orders!"

What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

"I was totally new to selling online to consumers so I had to learn everything from scratch. For my beer business, we did wholesale and sold directly to importers so we didn’t have to do much marketing. Once I’d decided what I wanted to do for the new business, I joined Enterprise Nation and attended as many webinars as possible to pick up tips.

"The HelloJiJi Etsy shop was successful but due to the pandemic, delivery times were unreliable. In normal times, for example, it takes 6-7 working days for products to reach Australia, but because of coronavirus, it was taking up to six weeks. I sometimes had to refund customers for no fault of my own. This is one of the main reasons I decided to sign up to Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) so that Amazon handles the delivery side on our behalf and we can concentrate on other areas of the business."

Why did you decide to join the Amazon Bootcamps?

"Amazon was always high on my list of ecommerce platforms due to the advantages of FBA, the ease of expanding to the EU and the large customer base.

"I needed the knowledge for how to sell on Amazon and the Bootcamps provided it. I have joined five of the Bootcamps so far."

What were the key benefits of the Amazon Bootcamps for your business?

"The Amazon Bootcamps are brilliant. They don’t just explain how to set up and sell on Amazon, but also provide advice on a wide range of other topics such as social media, funding and marketing.

"Every time I’ve joined a Bootcamp, I have learned something new.

"One of the stand out sessions was social media advice from Katherine George at Oh So Social. Everything she said was gold. She explained how it’s important to not only promote your products. A third of your messaging should be sales and the rest should be connecting with and informing customers. You need that balance and it needs to be consistent in terms of the language and the colour scheme you use.

"Another good session was a presentation on barcodes by GS1. I signed up with GS1 after the Bootcamp and took up the Enterprise Nation offer for barcodes. It’s a really good deal.

"I also picked up everything I needed to know for selling on Amazon such as registering an account and the paperwork you need to provide. You can get advice on YouTube but it’s not as good as hearing from people at Amazon itself like you do at the Bootcamps."

What actions did you take after taking part in the Bootcamp?

"After joining the initial Bootcamp sessions, I was equipped with the knowledge I needed and I signed up as an Amazon seller in February this year. Dealing with shipping delays has been a big problem with my Etsy shop so that’s why I opted for FBA straight away.

"As our sales grow on Amazon, I am watching Amazon Seller University videos to move to a more advanced level. There is so much to learn.

"I also am in the process of creating A+ content and looking into Amazon advertising and the Amazon Vine Programme."

What is your strategy for making sales on Amazon?

"As a new seller, I’m firstly familiarising myself with all the features within Amazon such as Brand Registry, analysis reports, SEO etc.

"Then I will move on to A+ content, PPC and other advertising tools. My plan is a combination of organic growth and paid advertising.

"My long term strategy is to focus on the UK first and then expand to selling across Europe using Amazon Pan European FBA. I am currently in the process of registering for VAT in Germany as a result of new rules that came into force on 1 July."

Which other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?

"I am a big fan of Elon Musk because of his entrepreneurial mindset, his innovation and how he thinks outside the box.

"As he once said: “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”"

What are your top tips for business success?

"Take a step-by-step approach. Be patient as growth does not happen overnight. It takes time.

"Learn as you go by attending events like the Amazon Bootcamps and take action based on the lessons that you pick up."

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you’re already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you’re not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

 
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
 
Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.
 

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