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The Toy Coach – Niching down and making an impact as a coach and a podcaster, with Azhelle Wade (MNM Season 1 Episode 10)

August 27, 2021

141 Email Ideas

The Toy Coach – Niching down and making an impact as a coach and a podcaster,

with Azhelle Wade

Episode 10, Season 1 – Azhelle Wade

 

Welcome to the tenth episode of The Micro Niche Mastery Podcast.

Our guest for today is Azhelle Wade aka The Toy Coach, an entrepreneur, podcaster, and a 3x patented inventor who helps toy creators in designing, developing toys that the market will surely love.

Do you have that childhood hobby that you are passionate about? Azhelle’s journey might be the sign you need for you to work on it too! 

  • Wanna know what it takes to be a toy coach? It’s on the first part of the interview
  • Azhelle narrated how she made her name through her podcast and how the pandemic inspired her to be The Toy Coach
  • The two Cs to make money in the toy industry- courses and consultations 
  • The cheapest thing you can buy from the toy coach is The Toy Trade Show Handbook & Pitch Event Handbook
  • How big is the market for toy designers? Azhelle’s answer might shock you!
  • Why is your network important as a toy coach?
  • The BEST toy shop in the world for The Toy Coach is in the second part of the interview
  • Why designing a toy is an excellent process study 
  • The first step in producing a toy- start as an inventor. More tips on how to do it can be found in The Toy Coach Podcast: Making It in The Toy Industry
  • If you want to have a toy job, Toy Creators Academy is the key
  • Azhelle shared her opinion about crowdsourcing and how it works
  • How does Azhelle choose her podcast interviewees? 
  • “So as long as I keep doing what I’m doing, I really believe that it will work out, and anytime I don’t believe it will work out, I changed course” – The Toy Coach

    This podcast episode is fun and inspiring! Make sure to listen.

Transcript:

Click Below to see the full transcript of this episode

Open Transcript

Welcome to the Micro Niche Mastery Podcast, where we help you establish yourself in the perfect micro-niche. So you will get noticed and grow your business faster. And now your host, he created the findability, breathability, and sellability test for micro-niches Ziv Raviv.

Ziv:

Hello, welcome to the micro niche mastery podcast. This is season one, episode 10, and I’m here with Azhelle. Hello. Hi, how are you?

Azhelle:

Hi, how are you? Thank you so much for having me here today.

Zivi:

Oh, that is so exciting because you chose for yourself such a specific role in this world, such as Micro Niche, which is to be a coach for toy makers. How did you find yourself in this wonderful war?

Azhelle:

Well, you know, I always wanted to work with kids and so I did a bunch of different things for kids. Like I was designing exhibitions for kids for a little bit. Then a teacher of mine saw what I was doing and told me that there was a toy industry. So I worked in the toy industry for 10 years after studying toy design at school. And then I just thought one day, I guess I could be a toy coach. It kind of all just kind of fell into, I didn’t mean to this pick such a specific niche, but I just happened to have all the skills to fit me into this niche and all of the experience. So, I just went for it.

Zivi:

So what type of skills do you need?

Azhelle:

Well, I guess it’s just, I guess the skills are probably just a knowing of how the toy industry works and what makes a product toyetic and understanding how kids want to see products. And our parents want to see products and how buyers want to see products and then having the skillset to be able to marry all of those things and create something that’s sellable. But I’m also like a very experienced and skilled graphic designer, product designer marketer. Now, because of my business, I had to learn how to do a little bit of that. So, it’s those skills combined with the toy knowledge that made me perfect fit to be the toy coach.

Ziv:

But when you started, when you decided, okay, you have the skills, but like how do you get your name out there?

Azhelle:

Right. I wasn’t. So, I actually got my name out there before I decided to be the toy coach. I was actually trying to get my name out there to just grow my toy career because I was a vice president of product and a brand and product at a toy company. And I just wanted to make sure that the industry knew me and knew what I was doing and knew all the great things I was working on. So, I made a podcast called making it in the toy industry and I would share it on my LinkedIn where people in the industry were following me just to let people know that I was there. You know, just to say, hi, I’m here. I have an opinion, and this is what it is. And then eventually what happened is the pandemic happened. And I started spending a lot of time at home and realized how important that time was for me and to be with my family. And then I started thinking about me like being as a woman, like, am I gonna want to have a family one day? What do I want that life to look like? So, I decided to maybe go out on my own. And I had built this. I had like subsequently built an identity because of my podcast. And I used that identity to launch, you know, my own consulting business as the toy coach.

Zivi:

And when you provide value through the podcast and people listen to it and find it out, it’s, you know, find your opinions meaningful and valuable. You start to see feedback coming in. What are some of the feedbacks that you got in the beginning of like your days when you started to like the listener ship growing?

Azhelle:

Yeah. People were commenting, oh, I’ve been waiting for this, like for 10 years. Thank you so much for creating this. Please don’t stop things like that. I think people realize how much work it is and how much it costs to produce this kind of information. So, they really appreciate that I’m taking the time to do it and they don’t want me to stop. So, I’m trying to do my best not to stop.

Zivi:

And what are some of the results people got from listening to you?

Azhelle:

Yeah, well, it’s not just from listening to me, but also, I have a Facebook group attached to my podcast, which is just called the toy coach podcast community. Um, that’s on Facebook. And so, in that group, because it’s people that follow the podcast, I share things. And so, people have gotten placed in magazines just because I’m telling them like, today’s the day to apply for this or submit your stuff for that. And here’s what you say. And so combined with the things they’re learning in the podcast, and then me keeping them up to date in the group, sharing like really timely information in the group. People have just gotten placed. You know, they’ve made partnerships with people that promote their products and Instagram they’ve gotten placed in magazines. They’re pitching the toy companies. They’ve improved their pitch styles and like through PowerPoints and sizzle videos, but I’ve only started like a year ago. So, I mean, I guess my, my success stories aren’t as many, but I hope bill I’ll have more as I continue to grow.

Zivi:

Speaking of growing, like going also an email list I presume. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do to grow that email list?

Azhelle:

Oh, I mean to grow my email list, I don’t really, I mean, I guess I should put more of a focus on that. I don’t, I mean, I have free resources on my site that you have to give your email in exchange for. I have some things on my podcast that like specific for episodes. So, I think for the latest episode was how to be a toy designer, episode 78. So, one of the free guides is like interview questions. You might be asked if you’re interviewing as a designer. So that’s something you can get by actually that one is available to my podcast insiders club members. So that’s something that you can get for signing up to my podcast insiders club, which is clubbed up the toycoach.com. But sometimes I’ll just have like free pitch templates that people will send their email addresses, give their email addresses and they get a free template or just to check off the product development checklist to get things like that. But for me, primarily, I think I do a lot of PR like grassroots PR, like I’m on a lot of podcasts and TV shows and I’m focusing more on visibility than, I guess I am on email. I am still collecting emails, but it’s honestly not my top top focus.

Zivi:

So, uh, tell me about how you make money.

Azhelle:

Yeah, my courses, my course toy creators academy is where my income comes from and then consultations. Like I’m still at the end of the day, a consultant. So, I will do one-on-one hourly consultations for people that need them. But I also have clients like bigger clients that I work with and I might either develop social media for them right now. I’m in conversations to do a curation for a museum exhibition. I might design packaging or help do product development. So, say they already have an idea and they need somebody to get them a designer and coordinate creating their product specification packet for China or find them a factory. Like I’ll do all of that. So, it’s a mixture of things, consultation courses, and then kind of contract gigs, which could be social media to museum curation.

Zivi:

What’s the cheapest thing that someone can buy from you as a toy creator?

Azhelle:

Yeah, definitely. My toy coach podcast insider. Well, hold on. I just, I have something new. I have a toy trade show handbook. That’s actually 9 97. That, yeah, that’s a great, it’s a great guide. It’s billed with the top 13 toy trade shows and pitch events in our industries together. That’s 9 97 right now. I would definitely grab that. You can go to the toycoach.com to get that. But the other thing I was going to say was the toy coach podcast insiders club, which is more of a membership. So

Zivi:

How much does it cost to be in

Azhelle:

1999 right now? But I’m going to be adding more things to it. So, I do see it growing in the future, the price point.

Zivi:

And what’s the, uh, like the flagship of, uh, like when someone is going to be warmed up and excited about what you can do for them, what would be like a more expensive investment into learning from you and being supplied?

Azhelle:

Yeah, honestly that would be working with me on a contract basis. Like that would be you come to me and you say, okay, let’s work together for three to six months and you tell me specifically what you want to accomplish in that time and I’ll make a custom packet for you. So that’s not going to be something that anybody can go and buy at any time. Cause that’s really a commitment of my time where I say no to things in my calendar to make space for you and your business.

 

Zivi:

How big is your team?

Azhelle:

It’s just me and a VA at the moment.

Zivi:

So it’s, you’re also very proficient with graphic design and with marketing, like social and stuff. So what does your do for you?

Azhelle:

Yeah. Any systems that I’ve built, she kind of helps run them. So mostly she’s focused on the podcast. So let’s say I’ll write an episode, I’ll record an episode, I’ll edit an episode. She will go in and, and listen to it and see if there’s any edits that I missed, that she will take the artwork that I’ve made for the episode and schedule it to go on the podcast platform that I use to sup to load up my podcast. She’ll put it on Squarespace, which is my website platform. She’ll just kind of do, I don’t know how, like the admin work, you know, putting the copy where it goes, putting the images where it goes. Um, but I really do the heart of the work for the business.

Zivi:

What is your estimate of the size of this niche?

 

Azhelle:

I mean, as far as what?

 

Zivi:

Like how many people out there actually are designing toys?

Azhelle:

I mean the toy industry is like a $97 billion industry globally and it’s 25 billion in the us. So, it’s big, it’s big, but it’s so funny. Cause like the, that those numbers are no, the traditional toy industry, that’s like target and Walmart and small mom and pops that are selling toys and probably some Etsy numbers are in there, but there isn’t the market that I’m really discovering is a little bit different from that market because these are people that have had an idea, but never had anywhere to go for it. So, there is no data on that. Um, it’s a risky thing that I’m doing. There is no true data on who these people are because even I’m still discovering them. Like my students are. I always say that as students are like bakers and clown, psychologists from all different walks of life. So, no one’s quantified it yet, but maybe I will be the first to figure out how big this new market is.

Zivi:

I think he will be the source of information after a while because they will sign up for your email list and you’ll know there’s a tool through where it’s not like a, the people that are designing toys as a hobby or even professionally as a side hustle, potentially. It’s not like that. They all are the out there in the open admitting it and saying it’s to everyone. They’re more like interested in these types of topics. So, you want to be out there, you want to do your PR and do your, I guess, SEO to make sure with the podcast as well, to make sure that if they are searching for something, how to do this and how to do that. And you’ve mentioned so many hurdles in the way that, uh, the story creators have, like from design through manufacturing. So marketing, social media pitching so many problems to solve, to help them. And it seems like you can help them with every step. Is there something that you say, no, I can’t help you with that.

Azhelle:

Yeah, of course like legal stuff. Number one, like that’s number one. When people will ask me, like, do I need to get NDA or do I need to get a patent before I continue? And I can tell you the reasons why and why not, and the benefits of, and I can tell you the toy industry, usually people are showing ideas that are not patented. They might be pending, but they’re not fully patented, but I can’t be the deciding factor whether or not you go forward and, and patent that idea. And I just tell people what I know. I don’t know everything, but what I know is the cost of defending your patent. You’ve gotta be ready to spend like six figures. It’s different. If somebody rips off this patent, if you’re going to really fight that you need a lot of money to fight that. So, you have to think about that. And then think about the investment of getting the patent, which is tens of thousands. Like, like a $10,000 investment could be, if you’re going to hire a lawyer and you’re not going to do it yourself. So yeah, the legal stuff, I have, my people who have come on, my podcast that I refer people to, and I say, you reach out to them. They’re an IP lawyer. They can help you. That’s not my area of expertise

Zivi:

Within the toy industry. I’m guessing there’s some electronics involved in some of the toys. Is that a distinguished that you also make, like I only do toys with fel comics or without, or whatnot.

Azhelle:

Yeah. I have done very simple electronic toys. So, there’s like a difference on if you’re going to just put a button in something and it’s an open market, open-source button piece that you just need to change the sound chip of. That’s no big deal. If you’re going to come to me specifically and say, oh, I want to create like a really intensely heavy, complicated electronic toy. Obviously, that’s not my area of expertise. And you would want, I mean, the only thing that I would tell you is you want a factory that specializes in this or, and, or an industrial designer that has experienced with this. And that’s what I do as a toy coach. Like I connect people to my network. So, I have many, uh, people in my network that have helped people develop just like doll, let’s say dolls with like several buttons or several ways to activate different play patterns.

Azhelle:

And by squeezing their hand, they might go on one play pattern route. And by squeezing their tummy, they might go on another electronic play pattern route. I would direct you toward, okay, this company can help you. Not only flesh out this idea so that a factory can understand it, but connect you to the right factory. Or this person has experienced working with Vtech. Let’s say, as a freelancer, they can help you. That’s what I would do, but I wouldn’t say, oh, let me develop this item. It’s all about connecting you to the right people. The toy industry is so specialized. You want a doll designer for doll products. You want a tech designer for tech products. You want very specific specs. You want a niche within a niche, even in the toy industry.

Zivi:

Do you have some toy shops that you visited somewhere in the world where you felt like, oh man, this is just the best toy shop in the world?

Azhelle:

Well, in the world, I mean, there was one in the U S that I went to and I thought was amazing. And that was the camp stores. It’s so funny. Cause when I travel abroad, I go to toy stores, but I don’t go to the big, like I never look up like a big, fancy toy store. I always want to go to the, like the target equivalent or the Barnes and noble equivalent. Because when you see mass market toys, you’re getting a real understanding of the society and the culture and the pricing of that area. So, I recently, I was in like Puerto Rico and we went to like the stores just to look at what toys are like in like Walgreens, because I like to see like what prices are fit here. But anyway, in the U S I saw the camp stores. They’re amazing.

Azhelle:

It’s about a whole experience. So, when I went, they had like rotating exhibitions. But when I went, it was like a summer camp theme exhibition. And they had like a tree house. And I mean, they had like a fire pit area. They had like a play Jeep and the way that they design it is so essentially the whole thing looks like a play room with like different sections and play areas that are like themed. And then on top of that, they have their product strewn without, so they’ll have like say it’s like a tree house. They’ll create shelves out of little like wooden tree looking limb things. And they’ll put products on those shelves, say it’s a spaceship. They’ll create shelves in the spaceship and put products on that. So, it’s like a fully immersive experience for the kids who get to run around and play and pick up products and then their parents pay for it. But I love the camp store there. It’s amazing.

Zivi:

Are you still these days designing your own toys?

Azhelle:

So, I did recently create one, well, two, a couple. So no, my own toys. I’ve created one little figure, which is going to be kind of like a Funko pop style figure. Um, but that is really something I’m designing so that my students can watch the entire process of it’s not necessarily that I want to sell a bunch of these, but I think it’s a great process study. So, we have, like, I just got the 3d files finished. I’m going to be ordering a 3d sample soon so they can see that whole process. And then aside from that, I still do freelance. So, it’s not my own product, but it feels like it is like whenever they say, okay, sketch this and do a turnaround drawing, and we’re going to create this in real life. It feels like it’s your baby. So, I’ve done a couple of those, but of course I can’t share what they are cause they’re not out yet. But yeah, done

Zivi:

Sweet. What’s your vision for the toy coach brand for, I dunno a year from now,

Azhelle:

Just, it’s more about my lifestyle, I think, than my brand. I would just love to have the freedom to help the people that I want to help without having to worry about, oh, am I going to be able to keep this business afloat? Am I going to be able to keep doing this full time? Because what I’ve had to learn is whenever I cut my prices too low, I’m actually doing a disservice to the people that I want to help because if my prices are too low and I can’t afford to maintain my business, then all the health goes away. All of the connection goes away, everything goes away. So, I just hope that I can keep maintaining it and that I price it just right, so that everything can keep going. And when I have, I have like students that come to me and I have this dream be able to help them in a way that I can only help them. Once I establish my business at a certain level, like I have to get to a certain level so that I can create the space to help my students really affordably. I really want to make sure that they’re okay. Like they’re just getting started in this industry and I want to make it easy for them, but you know, you’ve got to eat. That’s the thing you got to eat when you’re working for business.

Zivi:

So, if someone is hearing this and he’s thinking, oh wow, I want them to, I had a dream about this toy that I want to produce. What would you say the first step is? And how much do you think to the put money aside?

Azhelle:

Oh, well the first step I would say, listen to my podcast. I tell people this all the time and I would start with episode one. I would start with the very first episode, maybe one through like five I’d probably would say too, because I kind of those episodes, I started them very sequentially. Yeah. I would do that first. And then it depends, like, it depends on where you are in your life. If you have an extra 10, $20,000, you can set aside and you’re willing to start with like your less ambitious ideas first, like maybe you start with your paper products, which is what I always tell people. You start with your ideas for games. You start with your ideas for paper dolls or things like that, because that will keep your costs low. And you develop those ideas first, before you go into like custom doll mold and custom this and custom that like stay away from that when you’re just starting out, because you’re going to make mistakes.

 

Azhelle:

You want to, you want to give yourself room to make those mistakes and not feel like you just wasted your whole life savings. But I would actually say to start the very first time you get out there, try to start as an inventor because when you’re an inventor, you just have to tinker and play with a lot of things and experiment and you spend more money creating prototypes. But if you land a deal, you don’t have to spend any more money. You literally land this deal and you get royalties. And essentially all your money just goes into prototyping instead of investing in like $10,000 worth of samples or product, and then having to pay shipping fees and import fees. And you don’t have to do all of that and dealing with like customer complaints and refunds and all of that. So, I would start as an inventor first and I have a podcast episode on inventors too. So just search for that.

Zivi:

What’s your opinion about crowdsourcing for toy creators?

Azhelle:

I’ve heard great things. You know, I’ve heard really great things about crowdsourcing. It’s a lot of work. And I think a lot of toy creators don’t realize how much work it is, essentially everything I do for my business. As the toy coach, you will have to do for your toy product idea. As much as like I live and breathe being the toy coach, you need to be ready, ready to live and breathe, whatever your, if your ideas, this like wonder woman figurine, you got to like live and breathe. This wonder woman figuring like every post, every time you’re featured anywhere, every like outfit you show on Instagram, you got to relate it back to this, this figuring. So, I mean, crowdfunding only works. If you build yourself an email, you build yourself a following. And in order to do that, you have to be committed to your toy. Like your it’s your whole business, your whole life. And that’s, that’s tough for some people

Zivi:

Coming back to your podcasts. Is that a show that you often have interviewees in?

Azhelle:

I do. I do.

Zivi:

So how hard is it for you to find an interviewee on your podcast?

Azhelle:

Isn’t so far that hard, but I am getting more and more nervous about it now because I’ve interviewed so many people. I am getting a little nervous. Like when I first started my podcast, I actually never wanted to have interviews. And then I started doing a few interviews and I was like, oh, okay. I get, this is good. So now I’m trying to work on like every other or, or two, every two solos, one interview. I go everywhere. Like I might interview somebody who’s a student of mine, so we can so that my listeners can see their journey. But I also might interview someone who has had success on their own and never worked with me. Or I might interview ahead of a company, or I even like to interview people outside of this industry. Like people have like baby clothing brands or just like, I’m looking to interview like a couple of animators right now. Like I am very anything that I think will help. I think I’m open to the people that I will interview. So, it allows me more freedom and flexibility as far as who I interview. And I just am really strategic about the questions I asked to make sure that it’s giving information back, that can be applied to the toy industry.

Zivi:

Nice. If you were able to give yourself advice like a few years back, what advice would you tell yourself?

Azhelle:

Am I gotten by crypto? Is what? By crypto? Uh, no. Yeah, probably that’d be it. Uh, it’s like buy more stocks. I made, I bought a lot of Moderna, but I would’ve bought way more. Uh, yeah, no, like business wise, like just, I would do what to keep doing. What you’re doing would be the advice. Cause like follow your gut. Instinct has always led me well. So as long as I keep doing what I’m doing, I really believe that it will work out and anytime I don’t believe it will work out, I changed course. So, I would just tell myself to keep doing all of those things. It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.

Zivi:

Nice. Where can people learn more about you?

Azhelle:

Yeah. So, head over to the toycoach.com or find me on Instagram at the toy coach. I hang out there the most and I hope to hear from you.

Zivi:

Sweet. Thank you so much. This was fascinating. And thank you for listening for the Micro Niche Mastery.

 

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