In this interview, I talk with Amazon Attorney Jeff Schick about how to vet a coaching program or Amazon FBA course.

To summarize, the four questions you want to answer when looking for the “right” coaching program or course:

  1. Can you get a reference? Did someone refer you based on their personal experience? What was their return on investment?
  2. What is the layout of the program? Is it right for you? Is this the right course format for you? Is this the right mentorship format for you? Is everything that you’re paying for included, at no extra cost?
  3. Is this coach, mentor, or course a good fit for your values and your business? Would you start a partnership with this person? Can you call them when you need them? Are they a good fit for your business?
  4. What can you find out about the price? Is it well explained? Is the pricing upfront? The same for everybody? Do you feel good about the price that you’re paying for the quality and the value that is being sold or given away for free to you?

If you can answer these four questions positively, and you feel good about the answers to these four questions, then this is the right coaching and mentorship program for you.

If you want all the juicy details of each of these four steps and our experiences with them, watch the interview above or read the transcript below.

Jeff: Tell me a little bit about your journey and where you started.

Amy: Well, I started selling on Amazon in 2007. But just as a hobby, not serious or anything, I don’t think anyone was selling serious back then anyway. But I was just flipping textbooks and thrift store stuff. I was in college, I was in the military, and I just kind of did it as a fun little side business thing. Two years ago, I decided that I had some stinky litter boxes, and I could not figure out a good litter box, or a good way to clean them. I have migraines that are caused by smells, and lights, bad migraines. I’m wasn’t going to get rid of my pets, I had to figure out a solution.

I started on the journey to actually invent a product, and at that time, I wasn’t selling on Amazon, I kind of took a break from it.  I was working full time and going to school. I started on this journey, and I knew that I could launch my product on Amazon, because I had been selling on Amazon for so long, and had some good experience with it. So now I have a full line of pet products on Amazon.

Since then I have become a business consultant and helping other people figure it out. Because when you want to bring a new product to market, sometimes it can be tough to design and to patent and to protect it, to source it. Sourcing is hard for people when they’re wanting to develop a new product. I have this knack for helping other people figure it out, and so I started speaking at my local business association and helping businesses in my local community. Then helping other Amazon sellers. Now I have my own consulting firm called Amazing at Home. This year, I also partnered with some bigger names in retail, because I know a lot of people want to take their brands past Amazon into small independent retailers and big box retail. So I partnered with some awesome mentors, and we actually created a course to take people to China to the Canton Fair, and we give them training ahead of time to actually teach them the best practices for how to build a brand and how to source unique products and design them and manufacture them and then get them sold not only on Amazon, but to all the many retail channels that are available to them.

Jeff: That’s really cool. Especially because you’re thinking so much bigger than Amazon, you’re one of the omni channel sellers, I guess is the reality, which is really cool. Because it’s so often we see people that think I’m going to strike it rich on Amazon gold. They build their entire business on Amazon, and never think about the fact that there’s other marketplaces ( and Jet and eBay), but there’s also brick and mortar because brick and mortar is not dead. I think, in fact, it’s going to continue to rise in importance. So, this is really cool that you’re that you’re doing that and especially with the IP component, because sounds your litter boxes are not a “me too” product that we find on Alibaba, which is awesome.

Amy: Definitely, they’re manufactured right here in the United States of America, in Dallas, Texas. It’s kind of fun., I have some products that are manufactured in China, and I have good relationships with those suppliers. But I do also have products that are made in the USA. It’s nice to have both sides of things, and you’re right IP is really important. Because at the end of the day, if you’re really thinking about building a big business, you want to move beyond the 4% of retail that is Amazon, IP is really important. People just don’t realize how many retail channels there are out there, distributors catalogs, all these small little mom and pop shops, there’s just so many opportunities. And all the other e commerce channels that you mentioned, which are really cool opportunities as well. But if you don’t have something kind of unique, that isn’t just a “me too” product, those larger brands can basically just private label it themselves. So that’s where we help folks, you don’t always have to invent something from scratch, sometimes you can enhance something or just make a change and create a loyal following.    your brand can really be featured in many places. Again, Amazon’s a great channel, there’s no barriers to entry, it’s a great opportunity. But, when you when you protect your ideas, and you do something unique, it’s worth it’s worth trying to move eventually beyond Amazon.

Jeff: Absolutely. I mean, it’s only a small portion of the ecosystem. It’s a great launch point for testing, There’s no better place to market test than Amazon, because you can get so much customer feedback and data to make your product better. But then once you go beyond Amazon, to brick and mortar, you got your wholesale distribution, it’s another animal out there all together.

Amy: So, there’s been a lot to learn. It’s been a journey. I had no idea what it would take to get in all these different channels, because every channel has different requirements. But it’s definitely possible. It’s just a matter of learning. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. We’re talking about how do we learn about these things? There are so many courses out there. I have a course, I’ve taken courses, we go to college for these kinds of things. So how do we decide when we’re wanting to either get started on Amazon, or when we’re wanting to go into bigger channels, what is out there? Because as a business consultant, I hear stories every week of people that just lost everything to a course or to a mentorship program. But at the same time, I’m a mentor, and I have a course and I would want to know if someone was having a bad experience with my services.

But it’s hard to hear these stories over and over and over again, and people that they saved up a lot of money, and this is their dream, and then they lost all of it to something that seemed really great, but turned out not to be. Do you hear a lot of stories about stuff like that at the law firm?

Jeff: We hear it pretty much every week, different stories of I tried this, and it didn’t work or even stories where they followed the advice of something that they found in a course, and they’re trying to figure out what why is that not working the way I intended? For instance, forming your own Wyoming LLC, that was featured in a lot of courses as this great option for sellers, because you can be anonymous, you can form it yourself, and it’s so cheap. But they don’t tell you that the fact that all the realities of a Wyoming LLC, and all the downsides of it, that if you’re going to go out of state, you need to be thinking Delaware, because Delaware is where, from a legal standpoint you would really want your business to be organized. But instead, they listened to this course, they have this false belief that in Wyoming, they’ll pay no taxes, they’ll pay no state, income tax. It’s just this magical unicorn state, but it can’t really secede from the rest of the United States very easily. It’s still, solidly in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of the USA. That’s just one example. You see it also with trademarks, and everything else.

Amy: Speaking of vetted resources, I’m surprised how many people I run into that ask where I found my accountant or business attorney. There’s a small business association right in my town. Even though I have an MBA and a couple of undergraduate business, I still went to the SBA and got mentorship to learn how to launch my products and my business overall. I wrote my business plan, I met with a score mentor, and he helped me realize I needed to refine my plan to really sell my business, to really focus my efforts. There are so many great resources out there.

That’s how I found my business attorney. He actually came and spoke at the Small Business Association. I went and met with him, and he helped me with understanding what type of entity I should be looking at what needed to be in my organizational documents, and my annual meeting notes and how to file those. I think people get afraid of the cost of lawyers, and forget that you can ask a lawyer how much they will charge you. Their rates are always negotiable. If it’s a basic trademark service or something that’s on their website. Usually, that’s pretty standard, and you can shop around but if it’s something special that they’re doing for you, a lot of lawyers will work with you and sometimes they can have their legal assistant do certain things for you that aren’t going to have as much legal ramification or, you can draw something up, and then they can just review it for you for a lesser cost. So just don’t be afraid. Ultimately, you want to protect your asset. How bad would it be if you did an LLC, based on something that you didn’t know, and something in your organizational documents were wrong, and you got sued, and they were able to go get after your personal assets.

Jeff: But it happens all the time, people don’t realize how frequently products that should be harmless can harm people. Since you’re in the pet space, you may remember the pet shampoo about five years ago that killed somebody when it was mixed with something, but it was manufactured effectively. This wasn’t sold on Amazon, it was sold in a brick and mortar establishment and it had some sort of harmful gas that happened when she mixed a couple of different shampoos and chemicals together. It must have hit the bathtub cleaning agent that was still kind of there. It was so sad, and it rocked the world because people never thought a pet shampoo could kill somebody. Most things happen in weird ways that you would never expect.

Maybe you’re saving a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars depending on how complex your organization is to go and DIY it. But then if you get a judgment against you for $500,000, and they’re taking your 401k, and your bank accounts and your cars. We’ve seen some people where they take your family photos out of the picture frames, because the picture frames are worth money to auction it off.    It’s so sad to see that happen. People don’t realize that that’s the reality of what could happen.

Amy: I think it’s hard because a lot of people start on a budget, I think it’s smart to start lean, there’s a lot of free training that you can get, and you should even vet your free training. So we’re going to give you great tips today to vet your free training or paid training.  You can apply these concepts to any kind of training or mentorship that you get. Because even at your local Small Business Association, those are volunteers, and you could even get advice from a lawyer that isn’t that good. Right?

You were telling me a story earlier, Jeff, about a lawyer that was willing to help a seller do something that could have got them suspended. But you never know where that person’s from or what their training was. The bottom line is, we absolutely think it’s important to have mentors and to have professional services done for your business. But at the same time, we want to tell you how to vet them so that you can make the best possible decision.

Jeff: Because the other side of it is, they could sue you and take a lot of things and devastate you. But what’s even worse is you could build something pretty amazing. Then have to go back and fix everything. We talked about somebody having a trademark that was not good. They did the trademark themselves and didn’t check for other trademarks. Later on down the line after everything had gone through that they had to withdraw their trademark.     

Amy: Think about redoing everything when you have thousands and thousands of products on the market, redoing all of your websites, all of your packaging, all of your products, even the molds. For my product, the it is carved into the mold that pops my product out. If my legal stuff wasn’t in check, and somebody sued me, and they still could, you just never know you can’t control that sometimes. But that’s why you have business insurance, right?

There are all these things, but you can’t learn about those things. If you don’t get the right mentorship from the beginning, get help for your business. Don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t cut corners in your business. Because you’re afraid of it costing you money, you can get a lot of great free advice, too. But what we’re here to talk to you about today is how do you vet the advice that you get?

Jeff: Exactly. I have a question for you. Let me know the answer to somebody posting pictures or videos of themselves selling that sells courses, but it’s got, a really fancy sports cars in the background. That means that they’ve done really, really well on Amazon, right?

Amy: I don’t know, how can you tell when you’re shopping around for courses? I mean, it’s a fancy sports car. Same thing when you go to the store. I go to Walmart, and I see this really expensive appliance in the kitchen department on the shelf. It’s really expensive, It looks nice, the box is so nice. Does that mean that I’m going to bring this coffee pot home and it is going to be so much better than the $20 Black and Decker?

The answer is maybe not? You never know. Right? But the bottom line is we all know as Amazon sellers the trick of perceived value. We know that if we do a really good job on packaging and photography and marketing, that we can sell our products for a lot more than they are worth. It’s perceived value, we know we can sell it for way over our costs. It’s the same thing for courses. When my web designer first designed my websites and my videos for me, he said, “Amy, I know that you’re on a budget and you’re just starting this up, but believe it or not, you need to look like you don’t need the money.  Your videos, your website, they need to look like you don’t need the money.  Because that’s what people want to see. You’re selling a dream, this end result.”  

I teach a class on differentiating and pitching your business. The third rule of creating a pitch is tell the story of what their life looks with your product in it. That’s the thing, that’s what these videos on our Facebook feed show, we see somebody standing on top of a Lamborghini, and we’re wondering wow, what’s that guy up to? Just because it looks cool doesn’t mean it’s actually going to be good for us in our business.

Jeff: You said something that was really interesting. When I when I was 10 years old, my family moved, my mom was buying a new house. The real estate agent showed up and she was driving a Range Rover and my mom had always wanted a Range Rover. I thought that was really cool that this woman is driving a Range Rover. She’s taken us to all these different houses to look at. After they closed on the house, my mom said something to the real estate agent, “you get to see all these houses and different people all day long. Does it make it hard for you to not want to buy some of these houses that you’re showing people because they’re just so beautiful?” The real estate agent looks at her, and says “No, it’s extremely easy to detach, because I’m selling the dream. This all that we do, the way we dress the cars we drive, the way that we bring fresh cookies into the house before we show it. It’s all about selling this dream of making people envision that they could somehow have all this to if they just move into this house.”

Amy: You see that a lot with courses and it’s not a bad thing.  I love Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, and he talks about in his book, he says, “if you really want to have a successful business, you must learn how to sell. If you don’t know how to sell, you’re not going to be successful in business.” So, it’s a really good skill to have, we don’t want to be giving our showing our product and portraying “well, maybe it’ll be nice, maybe pick somebody else’s product.” Of course, if I am the person selling a course, I’m going to tell you it’s really great.

The thing is, I do sell coaching, and I do sell courses, and they’re things that I’ve put a lot of hard work into. It’s my heart and my soul that I put into my mentorship and my coaching program. It’s my baby, like when we fall in love with our products.  It’s the best thing since sliced bread, because it’s our baby.    We put a lot of time and effort into it. So of course, you’re going to be sold this, but is it the right course or product for you? Am I the right business coach for you, is Jeff the right lawyer for you for your business? I mean, that’s what we’re trying to focus on today is the guy on the Lamborghini, on your Facebook feed? Is that the right course for you? It might be!!! You never know, there are people that come out of those courses and go, that was great. I took it and I took the information from it and applied it to this… I really did well. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But how do you decide if it’s the right one for you? We have four ways to decide if Jeff’s the right lawyer for you, if Amy’s the right business coach for you. If the Canton Fair experience is the right China trip for you, we have some ways for you to think about that. We would love your feedback on this post as well.

I had a coaching call yesterday with a client in Romania.  She was talking to me about how now these big courses are even being sold in Romania, locally to them. She said that it’s the copycat thing. There are so many courses that are all teaching the same thing. They’re just putting a new label on it. It becomes this new course. But it’s basically the same thing. But when she told me that, that in Romania, there’s all these people selling these Amazon FBA courses locally. That just blew my mind.

You think of it as being a US thing. But I guess that that’s the first time I’ve heard that. But that is really shocking to hear.

Back when I started on Amazon in 2007 there was nothing, all of us old hat sellers that have been around forever, we didn’t need it. To us taking a course is kind of like what we’re in because we learned by putting stuff out there and selling it.

Jeff: I don’t know if you if you ever made mistakes back in the pre suspension days, but they used to call you on the phone and teach you what you did wrong. I don’t know if you ever had one of those learning experiences?

Amy: No, I don’t think I ever got a call from Amazon. I mean, I’ve had plenty of more recent seller support, frustrating phone calls.

Jeff: But there are certain things you shouldn’t go to Amazon about. Just like you shouldn’t go to your lawyer about a shipping plan you should go to Amazon about that.

Amy: That’s what we’re talking about, making sure you have the right mentors for your business at the right time. How do you do that?

Jeff: So how do you tell? I read your post, which I have to say was great. The post that you wrote all about mentorship and how do you choose a mentor? How do you choose a course?

Amy: How do you tell a sales funnel course for robots versus a good mentorship program? I’m a paid coach, I offer paid coaching services, but I also get paid mentors myself, to help my own businesses grow.   How do you properly vet a program, free or paid? I gave four points:  

Did someone refer you based on their personal experience? What was their return on their investment? When you see the guy on the Lamborghini, on your Facebook feed, and you’re    thinking “Wow, this looks really great., that’s my dream. That’s what I want. I want the Lamborghini.” Nothing wrong with that. I like my Prius, but if you want a Lamborghini, I’m not judging you.  But did you actually get referred to that program by someone? Or can you find somebody that will give you their personal experience? You often see these posts in groups, people say, “Hey, is anyone taking this person’s course?” Then you get lots of candid feedback.    Post in a group and say, “Hey, has anyone does anyone have personal experience with this? If so, can you tell me about it?”  If your first call is based on an ad you saw on Facebook, do some research and try to find some genuine references. This comes on the legal side of things, when vetting a Chinese supplier, you want to make sure that you can actually find them on the internet.

Yesterday, I had Angelo Vergara from QIMA inspections company on my podcast. He said that the reason you should do a factory audit is because many cases they’ve sent people out for inspections after the orders been paid for and they say it’s ready for shipment and there’s nothing there at the address that was given. Their stuff is just gone and their money’s gone, everything. So that this is just due diligence!

Go out there and search, make sure you can find them on the internet, make sure that you can find a personal reference, ask your supplier for references. Whatever it is, whether it’s a supplier, or a course or a law, make sure that you are getting someone else’s personal experience or references for that person. You wouldn’t hire an employee to work in your business without vetting their references, would you? Why would you partner with a lawyer or supplier or business coach or a course that’s costing you thousands of dollars without vetting?

What’s the return on investment? Return on investment is different for everyone, so some people will say, “it’s tripled my sales”, and other people will say “it gave me the direction that I needed to move forward”. It doesn’t always have to be “are you a millionaire now because you signed up for this?” It can be “that allowed me to get unstuck”, or “that allowed me to move forward in my business”. Everyone’s return on investment is different. But make sure that you at least ask  “What was the value that you got out of that?”, and then align that with your own values.

The second thing is, look at the actual course content and the course layout, is this a program where you just watch videos and make your own decisions? Or is it combined with one on one mentorship at no extra cost? We got a lot of feedback from our China trip from some folks that had been through other courses. Sometimes they paid for courses that they just saw videos, and they paid thousands of dollars to just be shown videos, and there wasn’t any actual direction. Then some people had taken trips to China with other groups, and they would get there and learn that if they wanted to learn something else, it’s another thousand dollars. They’d already paid so much, but it’s framed in a way where they feel    if they don’t do this, they’re not going to succeed.

So really look at what’s included.  If you’re a visual learner, and the course is not in a visual format, it’s probably not right for you. My first coaches didn’t really work out for me, because I’m a visual learner, we weren’t screen sharing, and it wasn’t something I felt I could leave the coaching session and execute.   We would just we would sit and talk I’m thinking “Okay, now what?” Make sure you take your own learning requirements into consideration, and look at the course format. If you need one on one mentorship after you watch a video, is that going to be included? Or are you going to have to pay extra for that? If that mentorship is included, can you actually get a referral for that mentor? Remember that marketing is going to look really good. But can you actually vet that? Think about the course content, and whether or not it’s right for you.

Jeff: Another thing to think about, too, is we’ve seen some clients sign on with consultants to coaches, and they think they’re getting one on one mentorship with that expert in the field. Then after they’ve paid the money, and they’ve gone through the sales talk, they’re reassigned to somebody else on the team, who might even be in the Philippines. A question writer that’s taking the questions, looking it up seller support would do and if they don’t have it, then they take it to the expert to get an answer, and bring it back to you.

Amy: Such a good point, yes. Because the coaching that a lot of these bigger programs sell, you’re not actually getting coaching from that programs mentor, you’re getting coaching from some 800 numbers.

Jeff: That’s where the slick marketing comes in, you got to watch out. What if someone is just a really great marketer, but they don’t actually know Amazon that well? They just know how to write a really amazing funnel, and they’ve got course materials.  Then you’re asking them, hey, I need help with launching my private label product, this issue happening with it. Now you’ve got an issue that exceeds the limitations of their pre written course format. Talk to two to three different sellers that have gone through a course recently for feedback.

Amy: I would try to get a public resource of some sort, has somebody posted publicly about this? Often, what happens in a lot of the private mentoring programs when people start to ask questions, they will be banned from that group. It’s a cult mentality, and their stuff is deleted, so you’re not going to see it publicly. There’s a couple of big groups that I’m in that people have asked questions about the coaching and a bunch of people private message them afterwards and warn them about pricing differences and problems with the program.

Business coaches, course developers, and sales people need to keep that in mind. Because they’re not going to get away with it for long. If you’re unethical and your sales, you can delete posts, and you can try your hardest to cover it up, but the word is going to get out.  Public information shouldn’t be that hard to find, especially if it’s one of these well marketed courses. One or two people who can give you their honest feedback.

That brings us to the third point, you want to make sure that the coach or mentor program is a good fit for your values and business relationships. Would you look forward to your time with them? Would you partner with them? Would you enter into a business partnership with them, because that’s honestly what you’re doing. For example, when I’m looking for a good lawyer, I want somebody that I can call when I get a trademark infringement and I’m terrified, and I need this taken care of ASAP. I need a responsive lawyer, I need a business coach that I can email or call when I suddenly my listing is down or something is happening., I need somebody to give me information on the fly. Or maybe I don’t want that kind of relationship. Maybe that doesn’t work for my business. Take that into consideration. Do you need the Lamborghini coach? Or do you need somebody with that one on one mentorship and experience? Everybody has different values and different needs.

Also the advice that you’re taking from people about a course being terrible. Are you taking it from the disgruntled person who doesn’t align with your values at all? Or are you taking it from somebody that you’ve at least seen some of their other posts and stuff and have grown to respect to their opinion.  

Making sure that they’re a good fit for your business is really important. If you don’t get that good gut feeling that this is a good fit for you. There’s probably a reason for that.

Jeff: It’s not just a onetime transaction, especially if you’re relying on somebody’s advice for growing your business, whether it’s a course that you’re following the videos, you’ve got to have that trust in what they’re saying. Because if you don’t trust what they’re saying, you don’t trust the process. You don’t respect them as a person, then you’re going to discount everything they say, you’re not going to follow through with any of it and you’re wasting your time and theirs.

Amy: The last thing that we wanted to talk about is, what do you know about the price? Is the price completely hidden? In order for you to get to the price do you have to do a sales call or go through this huge funnel? Some of the feedback that we got from our Canton Fair experience attendees was that what drew them to participating in our program was that we didn’t put them through a funnel, and we were upfront with the price.

If you have to go through a whole bunch to figure out the price a common tactic is these programs will try to figure out how much capital you have to invest before giving you your special price. There’s a pretty well-known coaching program, what they do is they get you on a sales call. They will ask you      how serious are you about this business? How much capital have you saved up? Guess what, they will give you a special price based on the information you just gave them.

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