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 30, 2010

While I Was Away (and July Numbers)

Even with all of my advertising shut down and vacation warnings posted on my home page and News page, 21 people placed orders. Two of them canceled after getting my followup emails. One of those was a nice juicy $200 sale (ouch!). Even without that, this was my best “closed” week ever. Google Analytics says that 69-87 visitors arrived daily without any paid inducement. Curio City’s grown to the point where “soft closing” is becoming impractical.

My developer upgraded Sunshop from version 4.2.2 to 4.2.4 without a hitch. The changes were all minor, but it supposedly fixed the longstanding PayPal checkout loop bug. Unfortunately a customer reported encountering it just yesterday, so it seems that this upgrade was entirely pointless.

Anne accepted a job, ending our drawn-out health insurance crisis just days before I would’ve had to commit to a $1,114 monthly individual policy. We will be uninsured for one day. The takeaway lesson from all of my agonized research: There are no decent health care coverage options for people who are frozen out of traditional employment, and that fact was all that kept us from succeeding as two self-employed people. The situation will improve somewhat when federal reform takes effect in 2014, but the core problem – linking health insurance to employment -- won’t change. At least I can finally drop the subject as far as my blog is concerned.

Senate Democrats overcame Republican obstructionism and renewed benefits for the long-term unemployed. Even though the payments are retroactive to our July 4 cutoff date, there’s a wrinkle that might leave us twisting in the wind. When Anne’s claim expired the DUA opened a new claim against her part-time teaching job. We received conflicting paperwork about that just as we were walking out the door and have not yet resolved it. Because the Medical Security Program is slaved to unemployment benefits, there’s a lot of money on the line. As grateful as I am that these programs exist, not having to deal with the DUA or the MSP anymore will be an enormous relief.

Business jumped right back to normal within hours of reactivating my ad campaigns. What had better be the two slowest weeks of the year – and my smallest paycheck – are now behind me. Yay, I guess. Even though I had to work at least a little bit on each day of my vacation, and I went home to a heavy workload, I greatly enjoyed the getaway.

Unfortunately, I got wicked sick a couple of days after getting home. I could barely keep up with my orders and am still dragging myself through the day.

Thanks to the Vacation Week That Wasn’t, July ended up pretty good. The month-over-month increase dragged the YTD rate down slightly, but it’s still comfortably over my planned 15% increase.

Total income: +23.5%
Total COGS: +30.8%
Payroll: +59.3%
Net Income (Profit): -71.1%

Year to Date:

Total income: +33.8%
Total COGS: +49.7%
Payroll: +41%
Net Income (Profit): -129.2%

The YTD bottom line isn't scary when you know that it only represents $247.

Today I've been battling an apparent fraud attack. At the same time, I changed our Internet service after 14 years with Earthlink. And, as I mentioned, I'm still sick. I'll follow up on these topics next week. Right now I need a nap.

Friday, July 09, 2010

35 Days Hath July, September and -- What?

I don’t know how I started using the week as my basic accounting time. Four-week months have 28 days. Five-week months have 35 days. That’s unnatural (as you would expect from an arbitrary calendar convention with no astronomical basis). I must have learned the convention from some managerial job in my distant past.

As I’ve said, “calendar creep” routinely bumps a week from one month to another, and that screws up month-to-month comparisons. No mnemonic or knuckle-counting can help me.

And yet, I finally decided not to convert my Excel accounting spreadsheet from weeks to calendar months. I find week-to-week comparisons very helpful. Since Quickbooks automatically minds the months for me, why not preserve Excel’s different perspective?

This compelling topic shows you what a dull week it was. I’ve been writing orders and creating product pages for new Fall merchandise, but most of the products won’t stagger in until September and October. I’ve found a lot of things that should sell a few units and nothing with bestseller potential. Selling two pieces of 100 different items is much more work than selling 200 pieces of one item…but I’m content if the dollars add up the same way.

There will be no blog posts for the next two Fridays due to vacation.


It was a more intense week on the personal front. To briefly update my lament from two weeks ago:

Anne’s unemployment benefits are exhausted. Convoluted rules about freelance income (why didn’t I listen to her cronies who warned her not to report her earnings?) might prevent her from reopening her claim even after the Senate passes the rescue money. So the checks that were supposed to keep coming through November suddenly stopped, probably forever. That was our only reliable income.

The Medical Security Program was linked to unemployment benefits, so those reimbursements (which have been unreliable right from the start) end just as suddenly.

Our COBRA health insurance expires in a couple of weeks. The circumstances above have derailed my replacement plan.
How do you cover a bill that’s bigger than your mortgage at the same time that you lose your primary source of income? If I do nothing, we will be uninsured as of August 1. Anne refuses to gamble on good health for even one month, so I’ve got to do something…but what?

I know! We’ll go on vacation! The timing couldn’t be much worse. But since our major expenses are paid in advance and nonrefundable, we are committed.

Meanwhile, Anne’s anticipating up to four job offers by the end of July. One is an excellent job that would return us to the middle class. Two of them are acceptable jobs that would provide insurance and replace her lost unemployment checks. Let’s not talk about the fourth emergency-backup job yet. Any one of them would end the financial road to ruin that we're on now.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Vacation On the Brain

When you’re a one-man home-based business you can never leave work. I have to shut down the store to get away for more than a weekend. Someday, when I can outsource order fulfillment, I’ll shed those shackles. But Curio City will be my ball and chain for as long as I’m my own shipping clerk – another 2-3 years, I reckon.

“Shut down the store” just means turning off my pay-per-click ads and toggling my website from “open” to “closed”. Five minutes and a dozen clicks can set me free. Curio City has indeed closed a dozen times for software upgrades in its 57-month history, but never for more than a couple of hours. There are consequences to going dark. The most obvious is a 100% loss of income; the self-employed do not get paid vacations. There’s a risk of permanently losing customers who find a mysteriously frozen website where they expected a store. There’s also a risk of losing favor with Googlebot, if it’s smart enough to recognize a broken website. I’d have to implement a temporary popup message or “Closed for Vacation” page or something to let the world know that all is well in Curio City. This year’s floods and thefts leave me no money for development.

I probably cherish my annual week off more than most people, even if it’s not what you’d call a real vacation. I’ll be in a cabin with broadband internet scarcely 100 miles from home. The store will remain open while my ads are turned off. I have to stay on top of email; I can’t assume that shoppers will see the notice on my News page, so I have to warn them of delayed shipping. I have to do at least that much work every day of my vacation. But for 10 glorious days I’m freed from packing and schlepping boxes, and I’m actually away from home!

We’re going to take the Berkshires vacation that we take every year; very little has changed since I wrote about it in 2008. Boring stuff by most people’s standards, I know, and humble even to me -- after all, we used to travel to the Caribbean and Europe when times were good. But it’s still the high point of my year.


A couple of good days kept this week from taking its expected place as one of the slowest on the calendar. Merely average business blew away last year’s anemic benchmark. My targets between now and vacation are actually pretty challenging in the context of July’s usual deadness.

Vacation…it’s all I can think about. I’ll try to dream up something more interesting for next week’s post…and then I’m outta here for two Fridays!

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