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, May 27, 2011

The Great Migration Continues

For those who just tuned in: Mochahost is the worst web host ever. Googlebot, I invoke thee!

The new web server that Mocha spent four days moving me into died on Monday morning. I swiftly sprang into action. Just as swiftly, they declared it fixed…but when I went to verify, it was gone entirely. I lost another whole day of business. Repeated emails and Live Chat sessions brought no response until 7 pm, when I finally got:

“The issue was solved.

“I apologize for any inconveniences.

“Have a nice day/evening.”

News flash: You guys need to work on your communication skills. At least I confirmed my longstanding suspicion that Live Chat is just a deflector shield. And I got a new personal tagline out of it: “Have a nice day-slash-evening!”

So a fifth down day from Mocha finally forced my hand. On Wednesday HostGator ran a one-day 50% off sale, and I snapped it up. I committed to two years of hosting (with a free private SSL certificate) for $167.50, which is a little less than I would have paid to Mocha and GoDaddy for the same services over two years. I just finished the migration half an hour ago and reset my domain nameservers to point to the HostGator version of my site. At the moment Curio City exists in a Schroedinger’s Cat state, simultaneously open on the new host and closed on the old one. That should resolve within 48 hours.

The only downside that I can see is that HostGator’s free cert doesn’t provide an animated, interactive seal like GoDaddy does. That little boost to perceived security was a very nice perk of the $30 annual cost. OTOH, reinstalling a third-party cert every year was always a big pain in the ass that required cooperation from Mocha’s support people; it will be very nice to have that automated. And, of course, I expect a noticeable boost to both speed and reliability.

Superficially, May’s sales numbers don’t look like Mocha drove away any business. But if you subtract out one $850 sale at the beginning of the month the top line would’ve ended up $338 behind LY. The five days of business that Mocha stole (plus one lost to the moving process) would have been worth $484 (based on the corresponding days LY). So after those two adjustments, “normalized” May wound up about flat with LY.

Of course, that’s just blowing smoke. The official Quickbooks numbers look like this:


Total income: +22.4%
Total COGS: +30.6%
Payroll: +89.3%
Net Income (Profit): -133.1%

Year to Date:

Total income: -10.2%
Total COGS: -16.3%
Payroll: -2.9%
Net Income (Profit): -2.7%

Paying HostGator for two years hosting up front blew the botton line away – my monthly Net Income was down by $136 because of $167 in “rent”. But that will smooth itself out over time, especially if I can persuade Mocha to refund my unused months (as if!).

June’s targets are a little scary. But who knows? Maybe having a better web host will make a difference.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Great Migration

The worst-case scenario that I laid out last week came to pass: Curio City got lost in the move. So much for “You should not experience any technical difficulties with your site after the upgrade.”

Curio City Online went offline at midnight on Friday. I didn’t verify that everything was working properly and restart my advertising until Wednesday morning. Today’s blog post started as a day-by-day (almost hour-by-hour, actually) log of my frustration with MochaHost. I had little else to do except rant at my blog and wait. Now that it’s over and my resolve to nuke their offices from orbit is fading, I can abbreviate this entry considerably.

The culprit turned out to be a custom .ini file on my site. I don’t think it should have taken them four days to figure that out. I still have their email from February 2010 stating (in response to an old complaint) “You can create your own php.ini file which you can include in your main xxxxx folder or any folders within your xxxxx. You can specify any necessary settings which you need to alter within this php.ini file.” I won’t take the blame for this file’s existence after they gave us their blessing and it worked fine on the old server. But I’m backing down from savaging their server setup skills.

Sketchy communication made this the worst customer service I’ve experienced in the 54 years that I have stalked this earth. Apparently the techs can only respond by updating the actual trouble ticket, so most of my email inquiries were ignored. The few answers I did get were in a cryptic, staccato style devoid of information. Forty-eight hours into the ordeal they said “Currently the migration is still in process. In a couple of hours it should be done and then your application should be fixed.” A herd of elk could migrate across North America in the time Mocha was moving data from one server to another. Sixty hours after they killed my store they said “Your site is up and running at our end.” Bully for them! The rest of the world only saw an error page, but it was Mission Accomplished as far as they’re concerned. Two more urgent emails got no response at all.
For two of those four days I didn’t even know if anybody was working on my ticket; I still don’t think they did anything at all on Sunday. Not until I used Live Chat on Monday morning did they escalate my complaint for higher-level investigation, and even then I got no feedback all day. A second chat session Tuesday morning brought the reply “Your ticket has already been escalated,” as if that was all I needed to know. I was in the dark, growing more anxious and depressed with every passing hour, for most of those four days. You see, nobody works on Curio City except me, so when something goes horribly awry I have to take it personally.

The consequences of being offline for four days are surprisingly light. I can only speculate about sales I missed, of course. I only did $210 worth of business on the corresponding days LY. I saved roughly $70 on ads I didn’t run and I didn’t generate $42 worth of payroll (which is nice for Curio City but less nice for me). Having no pending deposits was frightening. But three people somehow managed to place orders on Tuesday despite my store winking in and out of existence all day. Wednesday was better than average. Yesterday was a shutout and I’ve had no sales yet today either. Now I’m nervous again even though everything looks normal; one small sale this afternoon would put me at ease. I had originally deemed this the worst disaster to befall Curio City in its 5.5-year life. Yet unless something unknown is causing my current drought I should easily make my plan this week. All of that drama adds up to a minor blip that won’t even register, statistically.

On Tuesday I was desperate to move to a new web host ASAP. But I’m getting cold feet now that Mocha’s stable again. Moving is perilous. A new IP address would destroy my site’s search engine rankings, for starters (if the Mocha move didn’t already do that). It would require more downtime for at least part of a day. And one never knows what one is getting into until the first time one actually needs support from the new host. The host that I’m courting has a free transfer service and gets stellar reviews for support, so I’ll likely engage their services to test their expertise (while avoiding paying my developer to do it). After the ordeal of getting Curio City back up on Mocha, I’m inclined to leave it alone until we go on vacation in July.

BTW, this is my 250th post. There are 249 others like it, but this one is unique.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Moving In Place

A tiny Mothers Day bounce came much later than expected. Sales surged to eight on Monday, fell to four on Tuesday, then dropped to background levels on Wednesday. One of those eight Monday sales was to a business that cleaned out most of my remaining unstructured 3-LED caps. I discounted them heavily and I threw in free freight and the credit card processor took its usual punishing fee, so it wasn't especially profitable and my cash flow crisis isn’t solved. But the infusion of dollars bought me some breathing room and I gained a little space in the overstuffed cellar. Best of all, this customer will probably come back. Gaining a happy new customer is always more valuable than any single sale.

I corked my Bottled Up Facebook ads after just five days. It cost $60.48 to convince myself that what didn’t work for Valentines Day wouldn’t work for Mothers Day, either. After 104 fruitless clicks the ad couldn’t possibly recoup its cost. Fool that I am, I might try it one last time with a different product for Fathers Day. FB ads are wicked expensive but they draw heavy traffic; I just can’t seem to convert it to sales. The one thing I learned this time is to hold off on advertising until the final few days.

This week was the best since my big spike in early March and one of the top three of the year to date. May should generate healthy numbers unless my web host kills me tonight, when they transfer Curio City from the boxster server to a new home “which will provide you with the following benefits (free of charge):

1. Upgrade to our latest hosting plans and latest cPanel control panel
2. Upgraded server hardware which will provide you with more reliable and faster server architecture
3. Improved server software
4. Improved network performance and network DoS/DDoS protection

“The account transfer is completely automated and no action is required on your end. You should not experience any technical difficulties with your site after the upgrade.”
That sounds reassuring. Several paragraphs of worrisome gobbledygook about IP addresses and DNS servers and SSL ensue. My developer (Brad, whom I’ve not actually hired for anything in nearly a year) assured me that it ought to be routine. Pray that he is right, for he shall be offline all next week, leaving me at the mercy of my web host if Curio City isn’t there when I wake up tomorrow. The worst case – which I always expect – would be a full week lost until Brad gets back.

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