I felt hopeful on the first day of my new accounting year. Really, I did. An unexpected Switchables spurt had put some momentum into the weekend and Sunday’s sales plan was a modest $122. It sure would be nice to start 2011 in the plus column.
Sunday was also the first day of the USPS’s new rate structure. I discovered halfway through the afternoon that Sunshop’s postal rate lookup function wasn’t functioning. Shoppers could only access UPS’s always-overpriced rates. I spent the rest of the day slapping together a rate table to replace real-time shipping, but by the time I finished the momentum had fizzled. Sunday finished with one $5 sale.
Happy New Year indeed.
Monday brought more of the same. It turned out that shopping carts all over the Internet were blindsided because the USPS never released new API specs or development docs. Turnkey dodged a “Reasons to hate” tag this week by emailing me fixed files on Monday night. Everything was hunky-dory again by Tuesday morning…and then a refund for a missing shipment dragged my total sales for the year down to $40 out of a planned $427. Total salary earned in three days: $8.
The week was doomed by the time normality returned on Wednesday. Repeat after me: This is a blip. This is not an omen. Let’s move along.
I wonder if I’ve passed the zenith of my current glide path. The ideas that follow should boost me a little higher on this trajectory, but I might need a new course entirely. Of course if I knew of a better route, I’d already be on it. That subject will occasion a whole lot of future hand-wringing. If I can hammer out a reasonable, carefully calculated new direction in the coming months, I will try to overcome my natural risk aversion and my fear of change and my pathological abhorrence of debt. After all, I did beat the first two handicaps to get as far as I have now.
Facelift: Choose a new Sunshop template, play with the layout and graphics, and pay my developer to customize it for me. Brad is willing and able. I’d like a fresh, clean new look without departing so far from the standard template that future version upgrades get overcomplicated. This is likely to be 2011’s biggest investment.
More video: I need to buy one of those little Flip cameras so that I can post simple product demos on Youtube. The videos that I embedded in my bird kite pages made a huge difference in sales, and I can think of a few products that would benefit from demonstrations. This is one investment that's sure to pay for itself.
Mobile computing: “Smart phones” are supposedly where it’s at. I’ve never used one and I don’t really want one, but my flip phone is more than five years old and its second battery is shot. It’s overdue for replacement and I need to learn how the new gadgets work. Curio City will pay for both the device and the data plan, so I’m eyeing one of those fancy Androids, or possibly the new Windows 7 phone that’s getting such rave reviews. They’re apparently the best phones on the market today, but I’m not sure that Verizon has them yet.
Random Acts of Media: 2006 had the USB Fan’s airline magazine appearance. 2008 had the Recycled Mobo Christmas Tree in the NY Times gift guide. 2009 had Whisky Stones in the Boston Globe (pure coincidence). 2010 had…nothing. I need to make something like that happen this year. If I can’t pull off an al-Qaeda scale spectacular, maybe I can at least manage a CIA-style hit or two. Anne knows of a company that will distribute PR releases to their list for as little as $80…I will probably start there.
SEO: This has probably been on my list every year; every year I back down. It’s expensive and there are a lot of fly-by-night operators. Sunshop’s template construction limits my ability to make technical (non-content) changes without paying a developer and complicating future version upgrades. And the payoff for proper SEO is gradual and long-term, not quick and dramatic. Despite my reservations, I could still be talked into it by somebody with good credentials and a solid offer.
Reevaluate newsletters. They seldom generate enough sales to cover my Constant Contact subscription and they take a lot of time. I need to rethink how I use them, possibly integrating them more closely with Facebook. My blog and FB work together to drive a good deal of traffic, but my newsletter usually lands with a thud.
Further Exploit Facebook: I shut down my FB ads after Christmas. They were effective but expensive. I’m sure I can get more bang for the buck based on what I learned – starting with Valentines Day. FB surpassed Google as the Internet's most-visited site last month, and its users cheerfully sort themselves into nicely targeted marketing demographics.
Start using LinkedIn. A few people have contacted me that way, so I ought to fill in my bare-bones account there.
Focus on Profitability: I need to avoid whittling away the bottom line while I try to pump up the top line. Most of what I’m talking about in this post costs money and reduces net income. I could be a little less cavalier about small expenses, I suppose, but I’m already a tightwad.
Carry More Weight: It’s time for Kraken Enterprises to pay us for Internet access and landline phone service, which we only keep for the Fax capability. If 2/3 of our BELD bill goes for those services, Curio City ought to pay 1/3 of that amount (Anne’s business already deducts a portion of that). Doing this will reduce our household budget’s monthly deficit. Of course, it directly contradicts the profitability goal above. But paying household bills with pre-tax dollars is just a good idea.
Give myself another raise? I would eventually like payroll to reach 25% of net sales (it's currently 20%). If I’m meeting my 10% sales plan in July I’ll bump myself up 0.25%. If I make it for the year, I’ll take another 0.25% next January. This, too, comes off the bottom line…but I'm OK with money going into my pocket.
Insurance? This could be a huge drag on the bottom line, but being without it is risky. One frivolous lawsuit or big casualty loss would destroy me. I have to find a way to investigate the cost without tipping off my agent that I’ve been doing it for five years already. This being a home business, it must mesh with our homeowner’s insurance somehow. If it runs $200 a month it will wipe out my annual profit.
Speaking of shipping: The latest USPS rate hike widened the gap between Priority Mail and Parcel Post rates. Since I can’t implement my preferred solution, I will either have to discontinue Parcel Post or actually start shipping that way – probably the former. Keeping fees collected higher than postage purchased is probably the easiest way to improve the bottom line, but ending the cheapest postage rates will drive some business away.
Categorize: Turn golf balls into a top-level category, get rid of travel. Revisit category names in general and discontinue the smallest ones.
Add “Light source sold separately” text to all Switchables photos. My product descriptions make that crystal clear, but many customers don’t read them, and I’m sick of taking returns from the confused. (See “Concentrate on profitability”)
Try to cash in on Valentines Day by putting some effort into jewelry, my only pertinent category. It will probably flop but it’s worth trying. I also need to milk Mothers Day and Fathers Day somehow.
Write something off. I wanted to do this immediately after New Years, but now I’m waiting to see if business is going to come back. The object is to close out one or more defunct categories, and/or reduce the bulk in my cellar.
Create a Rock n Roll subcategory under Themes.
Purge the Constant Contact list again; it is getting near the 500 threshold that raises my monthly charge. Purge old customer accounts that haven’t seen any activity in 3+ years. Should I purge old orders, too? My database still has every transaction going back to November 2005, and sentimentality is the only reason to keep it. I wonder if shrinking the database would have any benefit on site speed.
Polish the new shipping table so that I’m ready the next time rate lookups go offline. The current table’s numbers were pulled out of thin air.
Next week’s post will be about product focus, which nearly took over this post before I peeled it off.
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.