Interview with Shola Parker, founder of The Winning Students

Shola Parker is a serial entrepreneur, mentor and founder of The Winning Students.

What’s your career background?

I’m a serial entrepreneur, online merchant and mentor. Once upon a time, I was thousands of pounds in debt, working long hours in two jobs as a train driver and teaching assistant, and still unable to pay my bills. I was quite ashamed of by financial situation, given that I had no dependents to account for my five figure debts. I also had no other means of financial support.

My mother is disabled and on benefits. I battled anxiety and depression and, for a period of about four years, I evaded the bailiffs. Becoming an online seller and entrepreneur crucially turned my life around. I chose to become this because I needed a flexible means of obtaining additional income whilst still retaining my two jobs. I’ve gone from being thousands of pounds in debt to earning up to £10,000 a week.

I now mentor people through my own courses showing them the tricks of the trade of being a successful online seller. Some of my students have cleared £100,000 in their first year, and other students make up to £15,000 a month after just four months. 

Before running my current businesses, I once aspired to become an accountant. I think this was largely because it paid well and was a career that would make my mother proud. It wasn’t until university that I realised the job just wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy it. 

After that, I tried my hand at many things: from working in sales and property management to becoming a train driver. And although my education gave me options I felt, at one point, rather directionless.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Honestly, it was borne out of quite desperate circumstances. As soon as I was old enough to get a credit card, aged 18, I did and soon accrued debt in excess of £10,000. This was though car finance, credit card debts, bank loans and interest on overdrafts. When things got really bad, I had bailiffs turning up at my house practically every week. For around three to four years,  I lived in fear of the knocks on door, always advising my family to check before opening.

It was at this point that I knew I couldn’t live on like this and so I committed to do something about it. I knew that I needed a way to supplement my income with a job that still allowed me to work in my two part time roles. It was 2019 when I decided to become an online seller for Amazon. It wasn’t my first foray in online selling; I had tried to sell hair extensions and kids clothing, although it wasn’t profitable. I knew I had to take on a different tactic if I were to make this successful. 

I would sell basic household items like washing up liquid, laundry detergent, beauty creams and deodorants and soon expanded to pet food and accessories. Amazon is a massive platform and because the products I sold were well-known brands, it didn’t require any advertising spend. All I had to do was purchase the product at a low price, list it on Amazon and then resell it for a profit. 

In my first accounting year, I was able to turnover £94,000 from selling on both Amazon and eBay. I earned a further £70,000 from teaching others the tricks of the trade. I would typically make £1,000 a day, but the most I’ve ever made is £3,000 a day. 

When I started clearing £1,000 a day or more, I would post about my successes on social media, using Instagram and YouTube. The more money I made and posted about my successes, the more people would ask how I had done it and whether I could also teach them too. 

At first, I would provide advice to a few people a day, but it soon escalated. It was then that I decided to set up a community of ‘students’ that could learn collectively the tricks of the trade of being an Amazon online seller. The Winning Student was thus born. 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

Someone close to me who was selling on Amazon, so the transition from idea to actually starting the business was swift: no more than a week. When I watched him at work, I immediately wanted to do the same too. I registered my business that same day and then set up a business bank account. In a matter of days, I was sourcing established brands to sell on Amazon store.

What’s your USP?

I have multiple online shops selling everything from household good to pet care. But my mentoring business, The Winning Students, provides participants with the tools to scale their business without having to stump up a sizeable amount of capital.

I teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to set up their business with as little as £250. Students get access to an online course comprising 35+ videos, access to a student community and portal containing useful resources as well as monthly mentoring with myself. This is an interactive online course although my business is based in London. 

Who’s your target audience?

My target audience are motivated individuals that are passionate about starting up a business and earning a second income that can eventually takeover their main income. At the moment, my main students are under 30, but naturally the course is for all. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media has been extremely powerful publicity for me. YouTube and Instagram have been very effective platforms for gaining new prospects and engagement with my courses. I am now using PR to add credibility to my brand. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

While being an online seller was certainly the answer to my debt issues and has since become a very lucrative source of income, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. I once unwittingly violated Amazon’s policies as a seller and, at one point, was blocked from selling on the platform and had £14,000 of funds withheld from me. It was a lesson I learnt the hard way. From thereon in, I paid due diligence, studying many of Amazon’s policies to ensure that I never violated a policy again.

Also, my Amazon business experienced rapid growth in a short space of time. In a year, I went from having £10,000 worth of debt to earning over £100,000. But I was very conscious of my lack of knowledge in wealth management. It was precisely this ignorance with money that led me to debt in the first place.

I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again. Initially, I managed my money myself and it led to me making mistakes. I am now looking to employ a financial adviser to assist me with this challenge. 

And your proudest moment so far?

Just turning my life around. I wouldn’t say that I love money but I would definitely say that I love what money has allowed me to do, the freedom it has given me, how it has allowed me to help my family, especially my mum who is disabled.

I am able to drive a nice car (Mercedes GLA), do charitable work and give money to people that are in need. And, if I need to, I can have a lie in whenever my anxiety attacks arise. I can govern my time better because, quite literally, I now make money in my sleep.

Why is work so important to you?

Even though my mum has a disability and cannot work, she stressed the importance of working. I got my first job at 16 years old and that instilled a strong work ethic in me until I left my job last year and became my own boss.

Working for someone else also instilled in me discipline, responsibility and punctuality; these are skills that are crucial to running a business successfully. For me, discipline is important. I no longer have a manager or a boss so I have to ensure that when I set a task or goal I complete it.

Who inspires you?

I’d say that Grant Cardone, the sales trainer and author, definitely inspires me. Many say that he’s too harsh and abrupt, but I like his style. That’s the type of motivation I need. If you tell me I’m doing well, I will probably take my foot off the gas … Weird as it seems, someone like Grant Cardone telling me in his audiobooks that I’m absolute rubbish and have a long way to go actually keeps me on my toes. 

My mother has struggled with illness all her life. Fibromyalgia and lupus has caused her to live  with severe bone pain, seizures and fainting every day. But her resilience and determination has been a huge inspiration for me. Even when she’s bed bound, she sets goals to fight the pain and get out of bed regardless.

This is a simple act that so many of us take for granted. For her, it is a small but important victory against the everyday challenges that beset her life. My mother has always pushed me to do better, so her attitude has shaped my work ethic today. Her tough Caribbean love has made me resilient. 

How do you balance your business with your family?

Having systems in place and a solid routine gives structure to a day and allows me to strike a work-life balance. My business operations have become a lot more efficient; I can source products quicker than ever before and my warehouse operations are smooth running. Most importantly, I have an assistant that deals with my admin and an accountant that deals with my finances.

At home, I’ve outsourced time-consuming domestic chores to a cleaner. Having that extra time freed up has really helped me to keep my personal and business life in balance. I think the key is understanding and accepting that, if you’re going to run a business successfully, you can’t do it on your home. Hiring people to do the nuts and bolts so you can work on the bigger picture is so important. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

I would say just do it. Get started. Learn along the way. Get educated about your sector. If you want to be an online seller like myself, study the host platform’s policies carefully. Mistakes will cause stress and, worst case scenario, loss of money. Finally, things will get tough from when you start up, and even when you grow and become profitable. It’s par for the course. Never give up. 

Find out more about The Winning Students.