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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, March 06, 2009

Big Picture and Little Picture

The Little Picture

I didn’t know that Authorize.net bills in arrears until they raided my checking account one last time. Oh well. Now, at last, the savings from changing credit card processors can begin to accrue.

Or can they?

Today I was charged $31.97 for “Visa/MC discount fees.” (At least they have a web page that explains the charge; Pipeline Data did not). They also debit my account daily for discount amounts ranging from a few cents to a several bucks. Turns out that they collect the discount amount daily, but batch and authorization fees are billed with my monthly support fee. Maybe if their online billing report called the charge something snappy like “support and authorization fees” instead of “Visa/MC discount fees”, I wouldn’t have wasted 30 minutes investigating.
This little revelation makes their fee structure about as opaque as was the old bank’s.

It is damned hard to see if I’m saving any money.
Pay-per-click advertising has crept over budget again -- it's running 12% of net sales, vs. my budgeted 9%. It’s my own fault, of course. I’m a sucker for buying more traffic, even when conversion reports suggest that it’s not paying off. Half the time that I set out to pare back my campaigns, I end up raising as many bids as I reduce or cancel. Conversion tracking isn’t perfect, after all. Some people block tracking cookies. None of my “kite” ads reported any conversions on 15 clicks one day last week…but I did sell one bird kite.

Anyway. The point is that I need to keep the big picture in mind while I focus on small day-to-day things that I can control.

The Big Picture

Today’s economic climate does not encourage thinking about long-term strategy or addressing major challenges. As I said above, I am concentrating on controlling costs and making incremental sales…beating LY one week at a time.

Two things that happened in 2008 need counterparts in 2009.

The first is a website upgrade. Last summer I added some new features when I went from 4.1.0 to 4.1.4 -- nothing major, but enough to improve overall sales incrementally. I need to do that again this year, and the sooner the better.

The second was the NY Times gift guide picking up one of my products. That was a lightning strike that I can't reproduce at will. I’ve sent press kits and announcements to major media for each of the past three years, with never a nibble of interest. I’ll probably try again this year, since the only cost is my time. But if December is going to match or beat LY – as it absolutely must if the year is to succeed – then I’m going to need some publicity.
I’ll probably need to buy that publicity…which is to say, place an ad. The potential to waste money is high. To be profitable, an ad has to return about 10x its cost in new sales. If I'm going to spend $1,500 or more on a magazine placement, it can't look like something I made in Paint Shop Pro. But because December 2008 set such a high bar, I need to take that chance. That means identifying a specific product to promote by fall, producing an ad, and placing it to run in November or December, preferably in multiple places.

The Passing Picture

Business started strong last week, then fizzled. This will be only the third week this year to come in below LY. LY was unusually strong, and the rest of March looks more attainable. And, of course, one big sale could still rescue the week.

When a shopper asked about the Infinity Tunnel Clock, I started to reply that it’s no longer available. Before clicking Send, I thought to check. Lo and behold, it’s back! So my open-to-buy deficit suffered a little setback. The next morning I sold an Infinity Optics Lightshow. Coincidence? You be the judge.

And O, how I hate Blogger! I finally figured out a workaround for their resizing fonts; now when I copy my draft from MS Word, I paste it into Textpad before copying it here. Then I can set the font and restore my formatting. Unless, that is, I decided to add images. First, they aren't inserted where I specify; I have to drag and drop them after uploading. Worse, they remove all of my formatting and reset my post to the default font.

With a database of 140 hyperlinked posts built up over three years, I'm not inclined to move my blog. Neither is Google inclined to fix their lousy interface. So I guess I'll have to content myself with complaining periodically.


  1. Andrew4:10 PM

    You mentioned that you send press kits and announcements to major media. Do you send your materials to blogs as well? I think there are a lot of home decor and gadget blogs out there that might be interested in the type of quirky stuff you carry.


  2. That's a good suggestion. My wife handles the media list, and her contacts are all old-school newspapers and magazines. Magazines need too much lead time to be of much use; I don't know what I'm going to promote until October at the earliest. Blogs, obviously, are more nimble.

  3. Matrix2:50 PM

    Yah, blogs are great idea. Especialy because you cant track them, which is hard with regular media. I am doing post card mailing this year, and it will cost me $1500, thankfully my brake even point is a about x2 that amount or 2 clients, so i am hoping there will be some return on investment.


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