Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Monday, August 14, 2006

If You Build It, Will They Come?

I’ve never had to do much marketing for the various businesses I’ve run, which is good. I don’t particularly like it and I’m not very good at it. I knew, of course, that Curio City would not have an employee whom I could christen “marketing manager”. I hoped that I could spend a few thousand bucks on an ad blitz to get the ball rolling, and then search engines and repeat sales (plus some routine advertising) would be my lifeblood. I was budgeting 2.5% of my gross sales for advertising.

It turned out that professional marketing, like web development, is a lot more expensive than I had dreamed. A serious effort would cost more than my entire startup budget. I needed to cut some corners.

One of Anne's former coworkers had just started her own PR firm. She might, we thought, be hungry for business. I took her out to Legal Seafood in Framingham for lunch, and pitched Curio City to her (I didn’t yet have a website to show). She took some notes, asked some questions, and said she’d bring us a proposal. We emphasized that we were willing to do some grunt work ourselves to keep the cost down.

With Anne and I doing virtually all of the production work, and an assistant handling our project on their end, her bargain-basement fee would be $6,500. Plus expenses. Hah! My budget was $2,500, so we really didn’t have anything further to talk about.

I trolled Craigslist a few times, hoping for a freelance marketing type…a student, maybe. I just wanted to pay someone $500 to deploy the other $2,000 to maximum effect. I found no takers. So, as opening day approached, I had nothing in place.

The second leg of my plan was search engine results. Getting one’s site or merchandise to come up organically in real Google or Yahoo searches turns out to be quite an art. There are companies called SEOs – search engine optimization firms – that promise to do this for you, usually by shady and secret methods. Their typical fee is in the $6,000+ range and theirs is a buyer-beware industry. Reading up on it myself is difficult, because everything assumes that you have an HTML site and know how to maintain it; once again, the PHP engine gets in my way.

Just a few days ago, a caller showed me how to run my URL through W3C Validator, which appears to be an online HTML error checker. It found 49 errors that, according to this salesman, prevent the engines from indexing my pages. I have no idea whether that is serious, or just a sales pitch. I need someone’s help. Eric is unavailable for the time being.

This kind of thing is exactly why I started this blog. I am hoping that someone who’s already solved this problem will read it, and leave a comment. I am also hoping that it will not provoke a flurry of SEO sales calls.

As for repeat sales…my original, ambitious site design was meant to make Curio City a “sticky” destination that people would visit for fun and for community as well as for shopping. Nothing like that was implemented. I have made 341 sales to date. Exactly ONE was a repeat customer who wasn’t a friend or relative. I really expected more like 1 in 10 would come back. I still hope to see a few of them again when Christmas season starts up; even 1 in 100 would be nice! I’ve been sending out newsletters with discount offers, to hundreds of people every month. Each newsletter brings me 0-1 sales.

I ship quickly, I address complaints promptly. Only about one sale in 20 encounters any problem that I know of. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my site, my service, or my merchandise. There’s just no particular reason for anyone to come back. I’ve thought about posting a survey or questionnaire…but again, because of the PHP, I need a developer to do that for me. I have so many higher priorities on my list.

The answer to the title question is, unsurprisingly, No. They will not come just because you built it.

Next: Here They Come

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