## I spend a lot of time on Youtube and I often opine, as others in the anti-MLM sphere do, that the Youtube algorithm loves to show me ads that are not reflective of my viewing habits. I've seen more than my fair share of business gurus using their outdoor voices to sell me limited time offers for unmissable business opportunities. Maybe it is due to being in the Antipodes, but instead of seeing Grant Cardone or Tony Robbins shilling their seminars, I get an affable kiwi who does her darndest to convince me that I too can make tens of thousands of dollars a month selling on Amazon, with the New Zealand mountains serving big “playground of the rich” vibes. While you can't find out every detail about Sophie Howard (nee Dalziel), her LinkedIn profile and NZ-based entrepreneurial chops are impressive, except when her marketing leaned into pseudoscience and alternative medicine. Prior to receiving a Masters of Science in Genetics at the University of Glasgow, and an MBA from Victoria University of Wellington, Sophie worked a series of public service jobs including at Pharmac, the Tertiary Education Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Somewhere in there she also trained as a Naturopath, but you will only see that mentioned in advertorials and videos for her defunct line of organic teas, Higher Tea. Sophie's introduction to internet selling begins, in her words, in 2014. It's a common enough origin story if you are deep down the MLM rabbit hole: Mom on maternity leave doesn't want to go back to the office, but still wants to make money working from home. Sophie's Linkedin story states that she took a costly, but effective, Amazon Private Label Selling course. Private label selling is the rebranding of products produced by third-party companies (i.e. made in China) and selling them. Sellers can choose to go one step further and ship to consumers via Amazon's fulfilment centres through the company's FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) service. What Howard's first foray into e-selling on Amazon was is unclear. On her LinkedIn, Sophie claims that: Something about this didn't feel right and so instead of following the trend, Sophie sourced and invested in a handmade product from Nepal. Her gamble paid off and through strategic branding efforts and leveraging the skills she gleaned from her time in the workforce, Sophie sold $1M in products during her first year in business. After the success of her first product, Sophie went on to launch 400 items and sold her first account for a seven-figures.” But, in a profile for Exporter Today, the columnist writes: “When I spoke to Sophie she was literally on the road to Wanaka from Wellington, moving her family to a house in their dream location. This was made possible by the successful sale of her very first Amazon e-store, which sold New Zealand wool products to the US and Europe.” It may seem that these two stories are inconsistent, but apparently both are true, as multiple sites (of varying degrees of legitimacy) restate that Sophie's first business was New Zealand merino wool products hand-felted in Nepal. These were then sent to the US for shipping by Amazon, and within the first year made $1.6 million for Howard. In 2015, Howard went on to start the aforementioned Higher Tea, a line of organic loose tea leaf blends. Searches on the NZ Companies Register do not return results for a company called Higher Tea, but do for Bay Trading Limited, one of the many companies in which Howard has served as a shareholder or director in NZ under her former married or maiden name. Higher Tea's flagship product was a Detox tea, followed by a weight loss tea. While Howard claimed to be a naturopath while she selling this product, it is not clear if she had a hand in formulating the blends. There is no mention of a New Zealand-based storehouse or factory to handle the import of ingredients from four different continents, and the product was available for sale in the US prior to being available in NZ. An archived version of the Higher Tea website states that the teas were blended in the US. When Howard spoke about the teas, as in Exporter Today, her focus was on the online side of operations, and how she kept her team small. She was especially proud of the packaging, which did earn her detox tea a rare kudos in an otherwise scalding review. Nevertheless, Higher Tea garnered positive local press. It was a finalist for the 2016 Wellington Gold Awards in the Emerging Products category, for example. Wellington Gold Awards describes the Emerging Products and Services categories as being for small business with ten or less employees, but Sophie states in her LinkedIn that they were finalists for Emerging Exporter of the year. Higher Teas was also chosen to be served in the gifting suite for a pre-Oscar Awards event. The awards that year had multiple controversies, including threats of boycotts due to the lack of black nominees, which inspired Howard to serve a Chai tea called “Diversi-tea”, alongside a Rooibos tea. While the name of the former is merely cringe, it's the issues surrounding the farming of Rooibos tea which would have made Howard's choice deeply problematic. Given her previous life and business success, the Dominion Post's portrayal of her as a Wellington mum being surprised at her success, as well as starting the business from her kitchen table, is rather disingenuous. At some point, Higher Tea was sold and its web presence went dead. Sophie then went on to co-found several more companies, like Sell Global and Aspiring Entrepreneurs - both businesses specialising in Amazon sales and coaching/assisting other business owners to succeed in doing the same. Things really ramped up with the pandemic when Sophie launched the “Blue Sky” Amazon Academy, and added teaching business newbies how to lose money to make money to her repetoire. For $2000 to $3000, Sophie gave seminars on how students can make profit selling products on Amazon like she did. I can't say whether it is a badge of honour, or merely sour grapes, but it is rather impressive when other FBA marketers are unimpressed with your business model: _“When you sign up for Sophie's course, you should be ready to do some work upfront, conduct intense research, spend ample time in the market and prepare a fair amount of capital. These are the things you need to be ready to give when you get into Amazon FBA. Like any business, there are lots of upsides to selling on Amazon, however, there are also quite a few downsides too. This particularly when it comes to the required capital. Basically, you'll need around $5,000 to $10,000 just to get started and place your first order. Amazon is a capital-intensive business model. Unfortunately, if you are someone rubbing pennies together, Amazon FBA might not be the business model for you. You can be as hardworking as you want but if you don't have dough a loan might just be such a big risk.”_ In 2022, Sophie pivoted yet again somewhat with the Kindle Publishing Income Programme. At a similar price point to her Blue Sky Academy course, Howard will show you how you can pay freelancers to write and design Kindle ebooks that you can profit off of. However, because the profits from such texts are so low, the trick to making money is in the quantity of books rather than the quality of them. One of Sophie's reviewers estimated that the total cost of the course, advertising, and freelancing fees would push one's start-up costs to $4000; it almost makes buying an MLM starter kit look like a fair investment. YouTube Channel Folding Ideas provides an in-depth look into why business models like this are a bit of a grift, and summarises some of the common high-pressure sales tactics that Amazon business gurus may use. As with MLMs I've reviewed before, it is possible to make money within these business models, but it is unlikely that you will be making the thousands of dollars that Sophie claims to make from her own ebook business. Rather, your passive income stream will need to work overtime, and get a second job of its own, to earn back the money you have to invest to get your ebooks enough visibility to break into the search engine results page.

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