Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, Starter Story! My name is Jonathan from jonathanismedia.com, where we help Amazon sellers with their product photography to stand out from the competition.
It’s a real blessing to be writing my own story as I have always been reading others here on Starter Story myself. I have been a member since 2019 and love how the platform has developed over time! Hence the reason I will be sharing everything I learned in my journey. I hope to make my story an inspiration to those who are just starting their business.
You are probably familiar with Amazon FBA, or at least have heard about it, but for those who have not. Amazon FBA is a service provided by Amazon where third-party sellers can sell products on Amazon—Amazon then helps with fulfillment, pick, pack, ship, and customer service for these products. FBA can help you scale your business and reach more customers.
At jonathanismedia, we provide the most essential service for an Amazon FBA business. Product photography.
I like Amazon FBA, but I discovered my photography passion early on when I was 11 years old. Fast forward to when I was 15, I went to study photography in school. Two years later, when I was still in school, I came across an amazon seller who needed help with his photography. I helped him and earned some cash on the side! It was awesome. This was my first experience with Amazon, and since then, I have been focusing my efforts on it non-stop.
Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. I was focusing my service on a very niche business and specializing specifically there. In the start, however, I accepted work that had nothing to do with Amazon FBA but realized after a while that I should turn down work if it had nothing to do with the niche I focused on.
I believe it’s better to focus down and specialize on one aspect rather than be an agency that does it all. Whenever I need to work with an agency that says they specialize in social media, website design, SEO, influencer marketing, and marketing, I get unconvinced. How can an agency of a small number be specialized in totally different topics?
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Yeah, like I explained above. I got lucky to meet an Amazon FBA seller who needed help with product photography. The Amazon seller lived near me and asked if I could shoot his product and as passionate 17-year-old photography, I yelled, “YES!”
Finishing that first job was easy work for me. The kind person helped me walk through the exact process and all the photos he wanted. The process is different now for sure… As we now do complete market analyses and have the entire creative process under our belt.
I did not come up with the idea, but rather it was brought to me. I got lucky, although I believe everyone gets lucky in some way. However, after working with my first Amazon seller, I decided to research the industry. At first, I had no clue what an Amazon seller did, yet, I was interested in learning all about it.
After my first “client”, I did not receive another one until I started reaching out and marketing myself. That happened a few months before I graduated from photography school. I had a feeling that I needed to start something for myself. So that pushed me to the online marketing world.
Looking back, it was all very stressful as I still needed to graduate and do all the stuff teenagers needed to do. I do think starting a business is like having a baby. It’s never a good time to start.
If I did not start my photography service back when I was still in school, I would have gotten a job after graduation and not be in the same situation. If you are on the fence about starting your own business. The best tip I can give you is just to start. Begin and see where it goes.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
A significant benefit of starting an agency is the startup cost. Compared with running a brand where you have to design, prototype, and manufacture a physical product. That is why beginning an agency is so lucrative.
I didn’t start because of that reason. However, it was one benefit when I started.
Initially, I had just one offer. Offering my time for whatever you needed. Do you need me to shoot your wedding photos? Sure. Do you need me to film a promo video for your cafe? Sure.
I did everything, but after a while, I went from offering my time to do whatever you want to 3 core offers.
All of the offers are photography packages for Amazon sellers. I have three different packages because there is a gap between an Amazon seller who is just starting out running a side hustle and those who have a dedicated team doing 100k+ a month.
I wanted to serve them both, so I decided on offering different packages. Since deciding on the three packages, I have not changed them.
As I said, when I started, I offered everything the client wanted. Now, I don’t want you to get me wrong because it sounds like a mistake, but I think otherwise. Let me explain. By offering everything, I quickly learned what I liked and disliked. As well as understand what service was the most profitable. You have to understand that I was still in school at this point and didn’t worry about growing the business. The side income was high for my age, and I learned a ton.
In mid-2019, I decided to sell on Amazon FBA myself. This goes against my principles as I now divide my time and energy into two different businesses. However, at the time, I was reading about different income streams and wanted to try it myself. I understood Amazon already and had money in the bank that was doing nothing. So it all made sense just to try.
On top of having an additional income stream, I also started selling myself to provide better photography service. What better way to provide a service than to be in the same business as your client.
Now, selling on Amazon has become a side project as photography is my true passion. I earn about 20% of my net income from Amazon FBA. However, if I wanted to, I can scale the Amazon business to earn more than I do with photography.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I did not launch the service. I slowly got into it because of the first client that came to me.
Writing improves the thinking process and contributes to developing critical thinking skills because an individual has to clearly state ideas.
After my third client, all by just telling family and friends what I do, I figured I wanted to start a business. A legal business. So I applied for a one-person company in my country, something similar to an LLC.
I made a website using WordPress and a page builder named Elementor. The first website only had product photos on it that I took. I did not have much text or eCommerce functionality as I have now. You could simply see my portfolio and contact me by email. It took me about one week to learn how to make a website, another week to make one.
So I put up the website but no real plan on how to promote it. I had not even heard of the word marketing before. Although now, I know better.
Further, I read people who are in business are suppose to have business cards. So I made a few. I also read you are supposed to have social media accounts for your business, so I did that.
You can tell I was a rookie. I didn’t know anything about business, but I was dedicated to learn and make it work.
One of the best skills an entrepreneur can have is to be curious and motivated to make it work. One way I can tell you this is with my own business. I know I can make more money if I focus my time and effort on Amazon FBA instead of just photography. However, I’m not motivated and curious enough to do so. Hence, it is crucial to start a business you have a passion for; otherwise, you will quit.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Like I talked about, marketing wasn’t my strong point. It still isn’t. Yet, marketing is essential for every business. Luckily I know that and focus a daily amount of my time on organic growth and place some money back into paid advertising.
Most of my clients come from the old-school worth of mouth. Not the fancy Facebook ad, Google search ad, or sponsored posts that people love reading about.
The only way worth of mouth works is if you deliver a service or product that is exceptional. So that is precisely what we are doing at jonathanismedia. Although, growth has been slow because I’m trading my time for money as my service-based is still 100% run by me.
I have dabbled into paid marketing on Facebook and Youtube video ads but stopped after receiving several clients that were not a good fit to work with. I believe I can make it work, but we are bombarded with enough clients already. With “we” I mean myself. I do almost everything. I only get help with finance. And from time to time, I have my part-time employee help with product photography when there is too much work, which seems to be a good problem to have.
Actually, I’m in the middle of hiring my first ever full-time employee who can help with product shooting. I will have more time off and can finally, after four years, start working on the business instead of in the business. That is also when I will pick up advertising again.
Apart from paid media. For 2 to 3 months now, I have started getting into SEO. It’s another learning curve for me, but I know the investment return can be huge if done correctly.
With SEO, I blog around topics about Amazon FBA. For now, I focus on long-tail keywords so I can begin to rank. I use Ahrefs to find opportunities and see trends that are arising in my niche.
SEO will be my long-term growth plan, and I’m not expecting any short-term gains right now. The goal is to work 1 to 3 hours every day on writing. Even if I get zero results in the first year, I will continue as I see it as an investment for my business and myself.
Writing improves the thinking process and contributes to developing critical thinking skills because an individual has to clearly state ideas. It also helps with learning about the subject you write and brings you closer when dealing with a complex problem.
I write in English even though I’m Dutch, but I give myself zero excuses to become a better writer.
I recommend everyone who reads this to write every day. If that is not possible, write every week. Don’t do it for SEO in the first place, although that is a significant bonus.
How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?
As a young, energetic entrepreneur, I’m doing fantastic! I’m very blessed that I got so lucky to have landed in the current industry I’m in. Not only is there a good chunk of money to be made, but there are also terrific people to befriend.
I’m on my way towards my first 10k month. Almost all of that is profit. That is one of the advantages of a lean agency; what you make is what you keep. That is if you don’t spend money to acquire customers, which is how I’m operating at the moment.
Like I said before, I’m planning on hiring my first full-time employee very soon. It will free up my time to scale the business.
To scale the business, I have three strategies:
- SEO: As I talked about, SEO is a long-term play for us and will hopefully get us clients in the door without any ad spend.
- Paid media: Before SEO kicks in, I want to make paid media work. The tricky part with paid media is getting high-quality leads in the door instead of customers looking for cheap alternatives. Next to that, our CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) needs to be under $200 per client.
- Word-of-mouth: I don’t know if this is a fundamental strategy or not, but helping clients in the best way possible has brought me to where I’m today. I’m looking to do my job even better in the future to have a fly-wheel effect on my business. It will lead to growth without spending a dime or effort on SEO. It’s the ultimate marketing strategy, in my opinion.
I don’t necessarily have the ambition to become a huge company. I want to stay lean with a handful of employees. At least, that is my ambition now. Who knows how that will change in the future.
Currently, the operations are all done by me, and the process goes as follows:
- A potential client comes in the door through word of mouth, SEO, or paid media.
- We jump on a call together to discuss his business in more detail.
- If the potential client is a good fit, we decide together on 1 of the 3 packages and purchase over the phone.
- The client now sends the product directly to our headquarters.
- They fill out, what I call, an insight document to set expectations and understand what the client wants. See it as the pre-production of the process.
- When the products arrive, we start production. In other words, the actual product photography part. Afterward, we jump into pre-production to retouch the product depending on the package the client bought.
- We send the product photos directly to the client without loss of any quality.
The process is simple compared to how some agencies work. I will say that some clients of mine have even purchased directly from our eCommerce website. It’s a bit strange not having to talk to someone to sell the service we offer. However, it has worked wonders.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
What haven’t I learned? I started the business when I was 17 years old. I started the business, not knowing what the word marketing was. 4 to 5 years later, I’m doing my first 10K/month in profit.
The most valuable skill I have learned is not to overthink it. If you know me, you know I’m always overcomplicating the situation. I believe it comes from some sort of anxiety not to have a poor business or to have clients talk negatively about me.
For example, it took me three months to figure out how to talk to clients only. I was like, should I use Zoom? Or Skype? Should I let my client do the talking, or do I need to talk? What questions do I need to ask? How do I wire a payment online? Or does the client pay afterward?
All these questions and a ton more were going through my head. I wanted to be sure the process was carefully run. So I didn’t look like a rookie trying to sell a service online, but in the end, it only made me more anxious—it overcomplicated everything.
Still, to this day, I’m the same person and overcomplicate many aspects of my business. However, now I know what not to do. This way, I can catch myself trying to procrastinate instead of jumping in headfirst.
Another considerable skill that helped me was to built habits. Habits account for about 40% of our behaviors on any given day.
Understanding how to build new habits is an advantage to making progress in your business.
I build my habits from a strategy I learned from James Clear. Changing your daily habits is hard. We all want to become better, stronger, and healthier people. I do this by creating small habits instead of having big goals.
For example, I didn’t start blogging every day from the start—I started with one blog every week. I made it stupidly easy enough so that I could get it done without needing motivation.
Next, I increased it by a small amount now and then. Ones per week became twice, then three times, then four, and so on. Currently, I’m blogging for one to two hours every single morning the minute I wake up. It’s a habit now. I wake up, grab my coffee, sit behind my desk and start writing. I don’t need any motivation to get started.
The tricky part is not to be a perfectionist. Just put out what you wrote, and over time, you will get better.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Here is a list of all the tools I use to run my business effectively.
- WordPress - as my CRM
- Elementor - built pages for my website
- AWS lightsail - for hosting
Adobe Creative Cloud - for my creative work
Photoshop / Illustrator
Premiere Pro / After Effects
Facebook - business page
Youtube - video content hosting
Google workspace - tool for Gmail, agenda, meetings, docs, sheets, and more
Stripe - payments
Paypal - payments
Moneybird - accounting software
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
To begin with, Starter Story is incredible. I have been a member since 2019 and manage to read 1 or 2 stories every week. When I read a story, I always go and research it. Check out their website, google the business, search the founder on Facebook, etc.
Further, I’m a big podcast guy—I listen to podcasts whenever I do a product shooting, go for a run, or have time to relax. My favorite podcasts at the moment are:
I want to start my podcast in Dutch or English one day. I have not decided yet, but it will probably be about starting founders as well! Or something around photography/videography.
Btw, I can’t wait for Starter Story to begin their own podcast. Who else agrees? I think it could be huge!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes and no, I’m currently hiring my first full-time employee from my local area. However, after my first hire, I will not likely hire very soon after.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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