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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Friday, July 06, 2007

No Entry, So Here's My Entry

I don’t have a real post for you this week. Between having a visiting guest, the Fourth of July, and a couple of annoying medical problems, I just laid back most of the week. Despite my lack of progress, July’s sales are off to a great start, percentage-wise. (As always, the actual dollars involved are chump change). Today is a good time to post my Yahoo contest entry.

I’m not sure that Yahoo ever saw it. I submitted it once with Firefox, and then again with IE. Both submissions displayed a confirmation screen. But I never got any other acknowledgment, nor did they notify me when voting began despite my ticking a box to request it. When I visited their contest page to see the finalists, I could not figure out how to vote (again, using two browsers).

Four of the five finalists were really lame -- three had products or services for parents and children, and one was a New Age-y looking woman selling ugly fairy dolls. One contestant had a worthwhile looking product – a cross between a game controller and a keyboard. I wish I could’ve voted for him. But he obviously didn’t need me; I see that he was one of the three winners, along with the woo-woo lady and one of the kiddie-product guys.

I thought my entry was pretty good. See what you think.

Tell Us About Your Business (500 words or less)

Curio City Online is a Web site that sells curious gifts for curious people. Bucking the conventional wisdom that a Web business must specialize to succeed, Curio City aspires to offer something for everyone, on any occasion. Being generalists in an age of over-specialization makes our store fun to shop. You never know what you’ll find at Curio City, but you’ll always find something interesting, unusual, and of good value.

Curio City is currently a home-based business whose owner and sole paid employee – the Mayor -- has aspirations that exceed his reach. The Mayor, a now 50-year-old refugee from the high-tech industry, founded Curio City after his third layoff in as many years, and the business reflects its owner’s unconventional history and interests. The store’s Web site combines the Mayor’s technical knowledge, his previous retail experience and his writing ability in a design that evokes his years in the computer-game business – or will, when it is properly implemented.

This is not an ordinary entrepreneurial undertaking. The Mayor isn’t some college kid who expects to make his first million before he’s 25. The Mayor does not aspire to become a high roller at all. He doesn’t wear a necktie. He’s not even keen on wearing shoes. But he does intend to succeed on his own terms. Success means generating a comfortable living for himself and his future employees by offering customers a unique online shopping resource.

Unfortunately, the Mayor’s modest means have never matched his ambitious vision to create a place where people will not only shop, but socialize as well. His original dream to transform his life’s savings into a new livelihood is now faltering. Growth recently stagnated and even slipped.

Because it’s self-financed, Curio City must grow steadily and rapidly to sustain itself. The Mayor’s bootstrap approach leaves little room for setbacks like those that the business is facing right now, and so he’s re-examining his most basic assumptions. He has identified five paths that Curio City might take, and the time for committing to one of these paths is approaching quickly. All of the foreseeable futures require an infusion of money and expertise. You can learn more about these choices and challenges in the posts labeled “planning” at the Mayor’s blog.

What Does Your Business Need to Become More Successful? 500 words or less

The Curio City that you see today is just the seed of what it could be. All of the elements for success – including the all-important vision for the future -- are in place. The business’s infrastructure is sound. Curio City awaits only a helping hand to reach the next stage of development. There’s nothing wrong that an infusion of outside expertise won’t solve.

The Mayor lacks the marketing and technical skills necessary to take his company much beyond its current level. Three aspects of the business need serious (and expensive) work:

  • Web design. Navigation needs to be more intuitive and enjoyable. Several core features from the Mayor’s original 2005 design remain unimplemented. The site needs a cosmetic update to remain timely. And it desperately needs professional search engine optimization. The Mayor has a clear idea of the enhancements that will take Curio City to the next level.
  • Merchandise. The store should evoke an old-fashioned hobby shop-cum-general store, updated for the information age -- the kind of place where every corner you turn reveals some fun surprise. It needs to be overstuffed with strange and amusing merchandise of all sorts. The current selection approaches the necessary breadth of interests, but lacks depth. Many categories languish because they contain only token selections. To achieve the desired atmosphere, Curio City needs about three times the amount of merchandise that it currently offers. Based on 18 months’ worth of sales, the Mayor now knows what type of items to add – and what to punt.
  • Marketing. Promotion has been Curio City’s Achilles heel from the start. Our sales-driven ad budget only buys second-tier placement for most of our pay-per-click keywords. Our few forays into online and print advertising have been expensive and disappointing. Our few media placement successes have come about through luck, not something that we can replicate. Marketing is one very large and important hat that the Mayor simply cannot wear himself. He needs to outsource that job.

Hiring the necessary talent and buying new merchandise will cost more money than the Mayor has invested to date. With his nest egg gone, money has to come either from sales or from loans. Right now, Curio City’s performance is too weak to inspire investors or to cover the store’s needs. And that’s where the Yahoo Ultimate Connection Contest comes in.

How Can the Yahoo Ultimate Connection Contest Help Make That Success a Reality? 500 words

Consider the scale of the Yahoo Ultimate Connection prize in relation to Curio City.

  • $25,000 worth of free clicks will almost double the money that the Mayor has invested in Curio City to date. It will buy prominent placement for our most important keywords. That means buying more traffic than we can ever afford with our own resources. Combined with the next prize component, that jump-start could easily double or triple our modest sales and ensure the success of our business.
  • Since pay-per-click is our entire advertising strategy to date, access to a Yahoo search marketing expert who can teach us to maximize the results of that $25,000 will benefit Curio City much more than it would help a business that employs search advertising less exclusively.
  • Mentoring from a prominent marketing expert is precisely what the Mayor needs the most, because marketing knowledge is his greatest personal deficiency. He has worked in a vacuum so far. His halting struggles to find affordable marketing expertise have gone nowhere. A year’s worth of professional advice at no charge will greatly reduce the amount of money that we need to borrow, or free that money for other purposes.
  • As explained previously, a Web site makeover is a primary goal for Curio City’s success as an online business. The Mayor currently intends to borrow the money necessary to hire a professional Web developer. Winning this service would further reduce the amount that we need to borrow, or free that money up for other important needs (such as merchandise).
  • The Mayor has grudgingly agreed to wear shoes to the “Ultimate Connection” power lunch. He might even buy a tie.

The Mayor currently plans to seek financing from a local bank (or other investors) in the second quarter of 2008. The mere fact of winning this prize – coupled with the expected sales increase from the search marketing infusion -- will give Curio City the necessary credibility to obtain the loan that it needs to expand and thrive. The Yahoo Ultimate Connection Contest prize will make the difference between failure and success for one struggling little business. Your award simply couldn’t be more effective elsewhere.

OK, maybe my business isn’t original enough or valuable enough to make the cut, but I made a pretty good case, didn’t I? Wouldn’t you think that it merits a “nice try” e-mail? Or at least a robotic acknowledgment? Pretty shabby, Yahoo.

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