How to Build Your Brand Identity - Ecom Brokers | EP. #58
On this 58th episode of The E-Comm Show, our host and BlueTuskr CEO Andrew Maff is with Ben Leonard of Ecom Brokers, where he helps brands sell their business and execute their exit strategies successfully.
In this episode, you’ll learn why building a brand identity is crucial, how to differentiate yourself from the competition, plus some nimble marketing strategies to get your brand off the ground.
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How to Build Your Brand Identity - Ecom Brokers
Andrew Maff and Ben Leonard
CONNECT WITH OUR HOST: AndrewMaff.com | Twitter: @AndrewMaff | LinkedIn: @AndrewMaff
Best known as the founder of Beast Gear, Ben Leonard is the classic millennial entrepreneur. He built a business on a laptop, in a cupboard, in his spare time. The difference? Ben grew an international 7-figure business and successfully exited after 3 years; the business holy grail. Now Ben is doing it all over again and helping others to do the same with his ecommerce consultancy and ecommerce brokerage.
To point of peak romances is the point at which your business has got a lot of stored potentials or potential energy and it really could go somewhere. Oh boy, this could be something but on the other hand, still might not. Hey Everyone, this is Nezar Akeel of Max Pro. Hi, I'm Linda and I'm Paul and we're Love and Pebble.
Hi, this is Lopa Van Der Mersch from RASA
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Welcome to The E-Comm Show, presented by BlueTuskr, the number one place to hear the inside scoop from other ecommerce experts. They share their secrets on how they scaled their business and are now living the dream. Now, here's your host, Andrew Maff. Hello,
everyone, welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host, Andrew Maff. Today I'm joined by the amazing Ben Leonard, who is the former owner of Beast Gear. Now currently going through Ben Leonard pro Ecom brokers. He's doing so much stuff on the Ecommerce side. So obviously, we wanted to have him on the show. Ben, how are you doing? Are you ready for a good show?
I'm doing really well. Thanks. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, I appreciate you joining us. I always like to do the very stereotypical thing where we pretend that no one knows who we are. And you kind of give us a little bit of background on how you got to where you are now where you were in past and we'll kind of go from there.
Yeah, absolutely. So I got into E-commerce in 2016. Big change from my previous life, if you like if you want to call it that. I was an environmental scientist in the oil and gas industry. I live close to an oil town Aberdeen in the northeast of Scotland. And I was the dolphin guy who had to tell the engineers that they weren't allowed to throw chemicals in the ocean, and I really enjoyed my job. And then I got really sick with a heart condition. And I'm absolutely fine now but I had taken some time off work and crucially, for my time off my fitness hobbies which were, you know, that was my outlet. Terrible. I started a fitness brand as a hobby, honestly, really as a hobby to keep myself occupied. And at that point, not even with ecommerce in mind, I wanted to sell my products to gyms. And fast forward three years the business was doing $6 million in sales and I sold it. And it was through ICOs first European acquisition, my life took another change, I had a lucky escape from a not-very-good broker. So created a better brokerage with my accountant. And now I'm still building brands, which I enjoy. And I love that I'm a Brand Builder at heart, I'm helping others to plan and execute their exit. And, and I'm doing a bit of consulting and talking to people about it like this.
Nice. Wow. So that's a very interesting story. So let's, let's start with the E-commerce side with where you had started, obviously, crazy situation. But how did you scale that to oversee to 6 million you said right. Yeah. 6,000,003 years? That's usually
would have been about was about three and a half? Yeah. Well, yeah, cool. Three and a quarter.
All right, three and some change. That's still, like, that's not like it's not really a common thing. You find most ecommerce sellers depending on, you know, what they're doing, unless something goes viral or something like that, it takes a long time to even clear that seven-figure range, what is it that you know, kind of helps you differentiate your brand?
Well, I was a brand first sell stuff on the internet second guy, and I still am. And there were things in my, to my disadvantage, which in some ways worked to my advantage. So my disadvantage was, I have no business background, no business degree, no product development experience, and marketing experience. When I first heard my idea to launch a fitness brand, that was my idea, right? Launch a fitness brand not sell stuff on the internet. I didn't even know I was gonna sell on the internet. I thought it sounded like Jim's. It was whilst I was developing the first product that I became aware that selling on Amazon was a thing. I thought when you bought something on Amazon, you were buying it from Jeff. And I didn't know I knew that I could be fooled built websites and selling their stuff on their website. But I didn't know the first thing about it. And I didn't know there were platforms for idiots like me like Shopify to help me do it. And so, my the advantage, the disadvantage of that was, of course, I knew nothing. The advantage was I was very naive. And so I wasn't scared. And because I had a science background, I was able to apply that scientific approach of learning by doing, you know, have a hypothesis, try it, see what happens, analyze what happens, tweak what you do, and go again. And that meant that quite quickly. I was able to figure out what worked and what didn't work. And my naivety meant that I was not scared to have a go and give things a try. And the circumstances I find myself in of being sick with very little to do meant that it gave me something to get my teeth into. And then the whole way through Ay ay ay zigged where everyone else is I made myself an average, average li fit normal guy, the face of a fitness brand. And I treated it as a brand rather than trying to find the latest hack to get ahead on Amazon. And so that pushed me ahead of competitors who weren't thinking about brand. They were still there. They were just selling stuff. Yeah. And that approach told me Hey, go
Yeah, say back in. So that was what you said you started in 2016. So through pre-pandemic, yeah, it was very much like just selling products, no one was really focused on brand building or anything along those lines, or at least not many. So when you say you were a brand first before you started selling products, there are usually two things that I think about when you say that as either your you kind of went like the media direction. So you do pumping out a ton of content. And you're kind of always talking about it or B, which can also kind of be both you have more like the influencer side. So which was one of those that you were kind of building the brand first before you launch your own product
from so it was all about building a brand identity of a brand for me. Like I felt like there was no brand for me. Fitness is a very elitist world. Yet it runs appeals to the people who are the fittest strongest, fastest, the thinnest muscle list, and I created a brand that said you're all welcome. If you're going to be the next heavyweight champion of the world, you're welcome. If you're really overweight, and you're trying to do a couch to 5k and improve your health, you're also welcome. I'm an asthmatic, averagely fit normal dude. And I'm the face of the brand. Anyone has consistent goals and if you get after them, You're a beast. Welcome to our tribe. We're skiers. Right. That was the message. And it worked. And it was I call it micro agility, the ability of small nimble businesses on a laptop in a spare room to outmaneuver the big boys with these nimble marketing strategies, like one-to-one relationship building a WhatsApp and Instagram DMS. That was the approach. And then yeah, we had influencers but they were mostly normal people. And then yeah, we created content helpful, free, engaging, useful, and valuable information that makes people know like, and trust this classic Gary Vaynerchuk, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook stuff. But I was doing that before I'd read Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, it just made sense to me, Well, if I'm gonna have a fitness brand, I have to fit this information. So I started writing about it.
Beautiful, and it's genius that you were able to find a hole in the market. He said it's a very good point. Like I've worked with fitness brands all time. And it's always like, who's the biggest most jacked guy we can get pictures of with the product on and that's, that's actually a very good point. I never even thought about that. So let's, let's jump forward a little bit. I'm always really interested when I hear an ecommerce seller that has exited and kind of gets a little bit more into like the service side or helping other sellers. But you did kind of figure out you know, the magic on the E-commerce side. What made you want to get into you know, starting, you know, kind of getting into a more or less like consulting side, and then you obviously have econ brokers like what made you get into that as opposed to either a continuing to grow bass gear or be starting a different econ business?
Yeah, great question. So I decided not to continue to grow bass gear because it was the right time for me and my family to move on. I'd become aware of how valuable the business could be. My wife was pregnant, we wanted to move house. And it was I talked about this sometimes. It's kind of wishy-washy. Definition of when to sell, and a lot of people don't like it, but I love it. So some advice I received not thinking about selling beach gear was to sell the business at the point of peak romance. Some people will roll their eyes and say that sounds very wishy-washy to me. It's not very numbers oriented isn't that don't get me wrong, the numbers matter a lot. But the point of peak romance is the point at which your business has it got a lot of stored potentials or potential energy and it really could go somewhere, oh, boy, this could be something but on the other hand, it still might not. So there's this romantic notion that it could go somewhere. That means that it is quite attractive to a buyer because there are a lot of growth opportunities, but at the same time if you sell it and it doesn't quite achieve that potential then you got out at the right time. So that's kind of why we saw bees here. So then why did why the consulting and why the brokerage Well, I felt somewhat response Of all to pass on my knowledge because the space was and still is awash with slimy gurus posing in front of fast cars who actually don't know what they're talking about, are peddling lies and ridiculously priced courses. And I was trying to say, here's, I actually hear from someone who's actually been there and done it. Yeah. And then with the brokerage, it was the classic entrepreneurial, scratch-your-own itch. You know, the experience I had with the broker I used and managed the situation was resolved in the end, thanks to Alison, my accountant. It was, we said to each other, clearly, we can improve on this experience. So we created a better brokerage, which has a happy side effect and is better for sellers and buyers. And so that's why we went into that it was like the obvious opportunity to solve a problem that existed in the space.
Nice. And I'm assuming the brokerage side because you mentioned this earlier, was you had some kind of issue with a broker, am I correct?
Yeah. So the service I used was not very bespoke. Or I was recommended by a friend who sold two businesses through them. And using it's one of these, I'm not going to name them. But it's one of these popular sites that list businesses for sale. You know, they relegate your business to them, nothing more than a garlic press on eBay. And they don't do very much else, a lot of it is automated, and a lot of it is outsourced. And it turns out the guy, the guy crunching my numbers was a recent graduate with a history of art degree, who had been trained how to pull some reports from Amazon slamming a Google Sheet, not qualified to do it at all. And their business model is to get lost and lost deal flow in and just get it sold fast. Yeah, and that's appropriate if you've if you're flipping like an affiliate site or something, but not for a grown-up physical products business. But unfortunately, in 2019, there weren't that many options. And they made a catalog of errors, one of which, after the business had gone right through their QA process, they were ready to sell it and present it to buyers, I had made a crucial calculation error, which would have undervalued the business by something like 300,000 pounds, what's that happened? We dollars. So after I knew something wasn't right and analyzed and looked at it, we figured out what had gone wrong. And I went back to them and was able to negotiate down their commission. And even at their lower commission, they still made more money as a result of us finding their error than they would have. Right, unfortunately, we got everything ironed out and the deal went through. And so then Alison and I said to each other well, you know, we can improve on that Allison's an accountant and specializes in E-commerce. And she's got like 30 years of mergers and acquisitions experience. I understand how to develop a physical product brand, from product development to marketing. So why not put those skills together and actually have a brokerage that understands both sides of the equation? So we did.
Beautiful. I've had one of those had someone on our show a while back, that was the founder, I think he's the founder. If not, he was definitely the CEO of one of those sites. I'm hoping it wasn't him.
Personally against those services, per se, like when they came to exist, they came to exist to serve a different niche. They came to exist to serve, selling blogs and affiliate sites and that type of thing. And in many ways that service is kind of appropriate for that. But they branched out into selling real businesses, without offering the necessary level of service and skill level required. Yeah, and I don't think that's right. And sellers deserve a bit better than that.
I would agree with that. So you were and you mentioned you were thrash CEO's first European acquisition, correct?
Yeah. Back in the day. Yeah. I mean, I say back in the day, right? It's not a long time ago. So the deal was close is fine. The deal was closed on Halloween 2019 just a couple of days ago in terms of like anniversaries, like three-year anniversary, three years, and ecommerce years, though, is like dog years. Right? So it's a long time ago now.
What? Alright, so now that I'm sure your time is a little bit split. But are you more focused on the Ben Leonard pro side? Or are you more focused on income brokers or is it pretty much split?
Well, the good news is that I've got an important lesson I learned about partnering. So everything I do is partnering now so you can't brokers on my co-founders, Allison, we have a deal director John who sits in Chicago. He's great because he's actually X Amazon and X forum brands who are big aggregators, so he kind of understands he brings another side to the work to our understanding. And then in my brands, you know, I own a baby brand, boxing brand and I have equity and several other brands that I advise so I'm either in advisory roles or co-founder roles. And I'm able therefore to focus on working with others who are better than me at my weak points, and I can focus on the parts that I'm best at which are the brand, the vision, and that type of thing, and the marketing side and therefore I'm not overburdened the whole ventilated pro thing. You know, that is my consulting I really have had one or two big corporate clients and I'm doing less of the individual mentorship now we kind of brought that into econ brokers to mentor people through to their exit so yeah, my website's been like a pro but that's really just where I kind of park my I hate this phrase, but I have to use it because what you use my personal brand, right? You know, positioning myself as someone in this space who knows what they're talking about, hopefully,
yeah, I got it. I got one. I wanted to not have to have one of your comments about the Guru is like giving advice standing in front of like, very expensive cars. Flawless. I've seen way too many of those like standing in front of a Tesla and just having some random like, what do you need to do is grow a community know like, and
it's so frustrating. The funny ones are though when they get called out like there was one recently where the person had taken a photograph of themselves in front of a private jet. They've clearly just like opportunistically managed to get onto this airfield, they put like a doormat up a doormat branded with their brand in front of the door of the jet. The steps weren't down on the cover, like the protective rain cover or whatever was on the engine. So it wasn't going anywhere. They weren't about to board that's James clear. So obviously not their jet. Really funny. All the comments were like calling it out. I love it.
That's ridiculous. Those guys drive me crazy. So alright, so on the kind of consulting side, what would you do when you kind of get involved with brands and you kind of, you know, giving them insight on you know, suggestions, things like that? What do you have is like, you know, what is your differentiator? What's your like, kind of story or thing that you work with them on the most. So
I've been trying to bang this drum for several years now. It's still all about the brand. So many people are still they're very, they're and it's not their fault, because it's the narrative that's out there. But they've bought into this short-term, just idea of trying to hack their way to success and find, use this software to find this gap. And then launch a product to fill that gap and make some money. Rather than develop a brand that solves problems for a particular group of people provide value to them so that they will like your brand and love your brand. And buy your products to support their interest profession, whatever it might be. So that's what I'm trying to encourage people to do is to build a sustainable brand that isn't just stuff on Amazon or stuff on a website that you drive Facebook ads to, but looks and feels and behaves like a legit CPG brand. And I have to say to people being a brand is not only for the big guns, it's not only for Nike, you have a brand too, and you need to treat it with self-respect. By treating it like a real brand. It's kind of like you know, Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy. Ecommerce, business owners should aspire to have a real brand. Yeah. And that's what matters when it comes to an exit now you could sell like a really crappy ecommerce business, it was basically just an Amazon account selling stuff a couple of years ago, you could sell it for actually quite a high multiple. But now you really need to have a business that is represented by a real brand identity that has everything you'd expect from a real brand. So if you're listening asked me so what's your favorite brand related to your hobby or your job. Or your favorite brand related to the food products in your cupboards? What do they do? How do they look and feel and behave? What do they have? What content do they produce? What social media assets do they have? Go do all that as it relates to your business. And you'll be doing a heck of a lot better than the people that are still stuck in the 2017 mindset.
Yeah, you are on the exact same page with that, like I've I've been preaching this for years, especially with Amazon sellers, where they you know, do well on Amazon. I'm not a big fan of the ones that like kind of like you mentioned, where they're just selling random products. And it's like very difficult to build a brand around that. But the ones that are like have a private label, they've got some product that's relatively differentiated and branded. You know, I like to help them like start to develop brands off of Amazon and start to actually turn it into a brand and because of exactly what you just said is the multiple that they get when they exit when they have a community that they can reach like at any moment or you know they have a big email list or a big social media following or Something along those lines, they almost always tend to get a significantly higher multiple than if they're just peddling product on Amazon. Is that more or less what you're?
Oh, yeah. And I, you know, this is an example I regularly give is, people will say, Oh, yeah, but then it's just as if I if I just gave the algorithm and get, you know, get ranking and optimize on PPC on Amazon for these products. In a couple of years, I'll have enough profit that I can sell. And that's good enough, right? Well, no, because buyers and investors backing buyers will not put up with that anymore. And if even if a buyer will buy it, they won't pay a particularly high multiple. And somebody might say, Well, that's good enough for me, right? But hold on a sec. If you take two businesses in the same niche, one of which is really just kind of selling stuff, and one of which is selling almost the same stuff, but with a fantastic brand identity and everything that goes along with that and legions of raving fans on Instagram, and tick tock, tick tock on your email list, who will buy your stuff again, and again, and again, the multiple for the real brand is that much higher. So you're gonna get more money when you sell. But then think about this. Suppose, you have a half million business, and the great brand is able to sell it at 5x. And the less good brand is able to sell it at 3x. Right? So that's a million-dollar difference in the exit. Now, that's a lot of money. But what happens if you invest that million dollars in a low medium risk stocks and shares portfolio that grows at like, you know, 678 percent? Well, five years later, that's even more money. And 10 years later, that's even more and even more money, thanks to compounding. So people need to think about that kind of stuff.
Yeah. Yeah, you clear that? What, like three or $4 million mark, and you start making six figures a year just sitting on your feet, sitting on early?
I mean, you only need to sell your business for, you know, a million and some change. And technically you could retire, it'd be pretty boring. Yeah, you could.
Yeah. It's very interesting. So what's your philosophy on building a brand if you are solely focused on Amazon, because that's, I find that to be incredibly challenging.
My philosophy does not solely focus on Amazon, solid Philos. So even if it's okay, people will say be up, Ben, I've tried it. And like 95% of my sales are on Amazon, not a problem, absolutely fine, provided you have got the other channels. Because if you have built a legit brand, yes, your customers who are going back to buy more from you are going back to Amazon and new customers are going to Amazon. But they will be checking out your website. And they'll be checking out your social media and all that good stuff. And they'll be getting on your email list. And they will not be looking on Amazon for widget X, they'll be looking for your brand. And if something bad happens, as you get suspended, or your product is suspended. Not everyone, of course, because many people value the ease with which they can bottom and but a decent proportion of them will then hunt you down where they can buy you that D risks the business to a potential buyer, which pushes your multiple up pushes the amount that somebody is willing to pay for it. So my advice is, don't focus only on Amazon, be on Amazon, be on your own website, and be on other channels that make sense where your customers will be. So if your customers are on Walmart, go on Walmart, if it makes sense for you to be unfair or tundra, go on there. And if you're international, and you're selling in, in the UK, in Europe, for instance, and then be on Omni channel, the other marketplaces see the discount in France, Allegro in Poland, bowl in the Netherlands, all these things. It's, it's too easy to do, like the tool will still allow you to do it and the service is to allow you to do it. There's no excuse not to do it. And yeah, that's my philosophy.
Yeah. I mean, it makes total sense. There's also you have the business health side of just being able to diversify. So kind of like you mentioned, if you get suspended off Amazon, at least you're not immediately shutting your doors. But then even outside of that, we've always taken an omni-channel approach, because years ago, I actually was just sitting at home watching my wife shop, and she would go on to a website, and see if she liked what they were selling. And she would if they didn't have a lot of reviews, she would go and see if they were available on Amazon to read reviews. And since she'd get it in a couple of days, she would probably order on Amazon. Yeah, but then she would also do the opposite where she would shop on Amazon and find something that she's interested in, but she wants to make sure that it's a legitimate business. So she would leave Amazon and Google it and if they didn't have a website or if they did have a website and it looked like crap. She wouldn't shop with them. So I realized like there's so much fluidity with the customer on where they're interested in shopping that you have to have like your brand aesthetic, your brand voice needs to be nailed across every channel that your customer could potentially be because they're, they're judging you
100% And it's interesting because there's that kind of general shopping behavior that you've just spoken about, they're checking all the different channels and the reviews and all that stuff, seeing if it seems legit. That's kind of more of general shopping behavior, but then you have niche-specific behavior. So if you are selling fishing products because you have a fishing brand, you need to make sure that your brand is present where people into fishing are but also that there's social proof within the fishing community, from the right people and on the right forums and on the right subreddit, Reddit and discord groups and whatever wherever they hang out. That legitimizes your brand. So if your competitors on Amazon are doing that, and they're appearing on the right fish forum, and you're not even if you you think you've got everything optimized on Amazon, it's your competitors who are more legit in the eyes of a fishing fan who are going to get the sale and subsequently get that conversion boost and the ranking boost and the flywheel always been faster for them and not for you and they will win and you will not yep
beautiful then we could do this all day really appreciated having you on the show. I know you're super busy. I'd love to give the opportunity here let everyone know where they can find out more about you and econ brokers and Ben Leonard Pro and any other brands like Have at it. This is your
love to if you want to learn how to plan your exit you cannot do that too early even if you don't think you're gonna sell for a couple of years.ecombrokers.co.uk click the big yellow button. If you want to see something funny, and how we make something pretty boring into something very funny. Go to ecombrokers.co.uk/movie, it only takes a few minutes of your time. I promise it's hilarious. And if you want to contact me, email me, Ben at econ brokers.co.uk I'm on all the main social media channels. I'm on LinkedIn. Ben Leonard, my handle everywhere has been Leonard Pro on YouTube, we got a podcast econ made easy access Made Easy There you go. That's a lot of plugs. I'll leave it there.
You've got a ton of content out there. Then really appreciate you having me on the show. Obviously, everyone that tuned in thank you as well please make sure you do the usual rate review and subscribe to all that fun stuff on whichever podcast platform you want or however the ecommshow.com. You can check out all of our past episodes there as well. But as usual, thank you all for joining us and we'll see you all next time.
Thank you for tuning in to The E-Comm Show head over to ecommshow.com to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or on the BlueTuskr YouTube channel. The E-Comm Show is brought to you by BlueTuskr, a full-service digital marketing company specifically for E-commerce sellers looking to accelerate their growth. Go to BlueTuskr.com Now for more information. Make sure to tune in next week for another amazing episode of The E-Comm Show.
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