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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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Friday, May 18, 2007

Turning Points

As we saw last week, my last chunk of investment money became available in the midst of the Mother’s Day Bloodbath. My 2007 goals are in ruins, and sales are still lagging way behind last year.

So what?

The benchmarks that I explained last week were all self-imposed. They were supposed to give me the confidence to borrow big bucks and expand my business in 2008. Being financially cautious, I won’t bury myself in debt unless I’m pretty sure of success. Missing my milestones shakes my confidence…but there are no other, objective consequences (except, of course, for prolonging the personal poverty to which I’m well accustomed).

In a way, I’m glad that Turnkey fell so far behind in releasing Sunshop 4.0. My entire plan for progress begins with that free, major upgrade to my basic software. Had it come out on time, I’d already be financially invested in developing Curio City version 2.0 – a more feature-rich website that finally begins to resemble my 2005 design. Maybe I’ve made no progress this year, but at least I’ve spent no money on it, either.

What are my options? I can:

(1) Stick to Plan A. Invest mainly in website upgrades, with smaller spends on marketing and new merchandise acquisition.

(2) Invest a smaller fraction of my startup cash in the web, and put the rest into marketing instead.

(3) Invest little to nothing in the web or in marketing, and apply most of the money toward a new direction instead (click the “Planning” label to the right and read the five “possible future” columns if you want the full background on that).

(4) Go back to the drawing board, and re-imagine Curio City entirely.

(5) Reduce Curio City to a hobby, get a job, and give up the dream.

Stick to Plan A. If the forecast is for failure, investing the last of my cash to prolong the long downhill slide that I’m on right now is not a very smart move. On the other hand, we are not talking about a huge sum of money here. Where would $10,000 make a bigger difference than in upgrading my website? It would buy a couple of new features, some search engine optimization, and a minor facelift…all very appealing, but would that make $10,000 worth of difference to the bottom line?

Invest in Marketing. Good idea! How? This question has plagued me right from the start. I still have some unspent Phase 2 marketing money lying around, simply because I don’t know how to spend it. Nothing I’ve tried so far has worked. Suppose I take $7,500 out of my $10,000 and call it marketing money? What do I do then? Write a check to “marketing” and mail it to the Marketing Fairy?

Take a Different Direction. Being an online business brings some handicaps I might never overcome. With no expertise in technology or in marketing, I’m dependent on other people – people whom I’ve not yet met. How could I hire these hypothetical experts when I can barely pay myself a fraction of minimum wage? I am leaning strongly toward Possible Future 1 (opening a bricks-and-mortar store). Not because I want to, but because I know how to do that. Opening a store will probably cost at least $50,000. Should I apply my last $10k toward that effort, rather than throwing more money at the web?

Go Back to the Drawing Board. This is more difficult than you’d think. I work in a complete vacuum; I have nobody with whom to brainstorm (except my wife, who is hardly objective). It’s hard to even recognize and articulate my core assumptions, much less challenge them. But the more thought I put into it, the stronger grow my doubts about such fundamentals as bootstrapping this business without acquiring debt. Perhaps I need to play for much higher stakes than I’m doing now -- reach for dramatic success while risking catastrophic failure.

Give Up. That’s Possible Future 4, and I am not at that point yet. I would always wonder if that last $10,000 might have made the difference. I would always regret not seeing it through to the bitter end. As Anne keeps saying, we’re so close. I have all the ingredients for success. Curio City Online is poised between failure and success...it just needs a spark that I can never quite seem to supply.

Two things are certain.

First: Being 50 years old and impoverished is getting tiresome. I am sick of having no money, and especially of making no progress toward our life goals. The calendar pages flip by faster and faster while I scrape along with no progress and waning hope. I need to change something, and deciding where to deploy the last of my money is critical.

Second: I’m not going to make these hard decisions until I see how Father’s Day goes. It was a big holiday for Curio City last year. If it's going to materialize again this year, it should be starting again right about now. I can't possibly recover the financial ground that I lost over Mother’s Day. But a strong showing will restore some of my confidence. Maybe there is nothing wrong with my business model, or even my execution – maybe I just have the wrong merchandise. I mentioned a few weeks ago that my 2006 mainstays aren’t doing it for me this year, and I’ve found nothing to replace them. If that’s all that's behind this crisis of confidence, I can easily fix it by spending my cash on new items, rather than on the store itself.

Turnkey will probably release Sunshop version 4 next month. That’s when I need to make my decisions. In the meantime, I’m going back to Excel to see if I can quantify some of my options. Next week I’ll if the numbers are pointing me anywhere.

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