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, October 28, 2011

Scary October Numbers

It’s time for the annual leap of faith: I have bought $2,000 more Christmas stock than I can pay for on the assumption that customers will start showering me with money next week. If they don’t, I’m seriously hosed, because that’s a ton of money considering that nothing I’ve bought really stands out. And I’m not done buying yet. It doesn’t help that one of my vendors (who shall remain nameless for now) short-shipped me by $288 and has ignored two inquiries; if my past struggles with this company are any guide, it will take a month to straighten it out, and they'll screw it up a little worse in the process. Meanwhile my credit card statement is unbalanced, and you know how I hate that.

This month’s numbers show that the money shower is a light drizzle at best. I would have loved another double-digit increase in October. I was hoping to break even until this week devolved into a double-digit decrease. Excel says the month finished down $750; Quickbooks calls it $900. Not a good Christmas omen either way. 


Total income: -18.1%
Total COGS: -21.4%
Payroll: -0.4%
Net Income (Profit): -177.6%


Total income
: -4.3%
Total COGS: -7.4%
Payroll: -0.7%
Net Income (Profit): -307.3%

At this time last year I was running a $400 profit. This year I’m $900 in the red. The difference comes out of my bonus at the end of the year. Anything can happen during the eight weeks of Christmas that are just starting now. But to close a $1,300 bottom-line gap I need roughly five times that amount on the top line, and I'm not physically capable of moving that much additional stock. 

Advertising is the biggest blot on my bottom line -- $2,000 more than LY. Second-biggest is internet access, which is a new expense this year. Those two items together account for more than the entire deficit…which means I’m doing well with my other expenses. Thanks to Congress's financial reform, credit card processing fees are running 14% behind LY. 

Well, with the hand-wringing out of the way all I can do is keep on plugging.


Feedback from a couple of friends, combined with today’s newsletter publication, verified my suspicion that anything auto-posted to my Facebook wall by Constant Contact or Networked Blogs won’t appear in Facebook news feeds. That means that only a handful of motivated people will make the effort to read my blog entries or newsletters from now on. The new-product announcements that I post manually do appear as expected, so I’ve not gone completely dark.


And just because I’m a statistics junkie, yesterday’s newsletter looks like this: 

•    201 emails sent
•    6 bounces (four of them to @mac.com addresses, whatever that is)
•    1 opt-out (from someone in the Netherlands)
•    65 opens (33%, considered very good)
•    19 clicks (29.2%, also very good)
•    1 known sale

Not bad considering there was no coupon offer. The LED Motherboard Christmas Tree was the most-clicked item…people are definitely holiday shopping. I don’t expect that former bestseller to do very well this year after the price rose from $9.99 to $16.99.

Friday, October 21, 2011

One Last Try at Facebook

I don’t think that last week’s post, in which I lamented the previous post’s non-appearance on Facebook, appeared on Facebook. There’s a toggle on the business page that says “Use FB as Curio City Online” or “Use FB as Ken”, and I accidentally posted as Ken last week. I can see the number of impressions for all of my posts through October 12. That stat disappeared entirely on Oct. 13, and just came back today, confirming that my new-product announcements are being seen normally, but blog posts are not. (I wrestled with the reason for that in my previous three posts.)

From my late teens through my mid 30s, I composed my thoughts about life and the world in general in a handwritten journal that was never meant to be read by anyone. I lost the compulsion to write when I went on antidepressants, and didn’t start writing again until I created this blog to keep a history of my business. The thought that others might read it made me uncomfortable, but maybe other small business owners with similar concerns might share their experience. After all, I work in complete isolation and frequently confront problems that thousands of other people have already solved.

I acquired dozens of readers when I found an app that connects my blog to Facebook (and Twitter, although I don’t pay any attention to that). Now, to my surprise, I find myself frustrated at once again writing for nobody but myself. So I hereby attempt to put my blog before my FB readers one…last…time. Networked Blogs is still installed and superficially appears to work properly, but I don’t think it’s appearing in your News Feed. My posts still appear on my wall, but only show up in your feed if I link to them manually, as I just now did. I’m not going to do that every week because Curious Business is not meant to be a marketing tool. If you want to follow my blog, you'll need to subscribe using one of the services there, or just visit my wall every Friday.

(If I completely misinterpreted FB’s feedback and my posts are appearing in your news feeds as expected, but nobody chooses to read them, then I’m just plain embarrassed.)

In semi-related news, I deleted the Shopbuddy tab this week. I stopped using that Sunshop plugin a few months ago, when Turnkey started charging money for it. AFAIK it never delivered any sales and its absence will not be noticed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Invisible Man Puts In an Appearance

I come before you to pimp my blog today because my posts don't appear in Facebook’s “top stories” after Networked Blogs publishes them to my wall. Whether FB’s last interface overhaul blocked them by design or by accident, I don’t know. Do you think they’re deliberately suppressing auto-posters or hobbling business marketing to sell more ads?

Most likely it was just sloppy development. Never ascribe to malice what incompetence can explain.

I won’t manually link to my new posts like this every Friday. I’ll do it if a particular topic (like this one) seems particularly relevant to FB readers. If you want to follow the weekly ups and downs of Curio City, you’re probably going to have to subscribe to Curious Business outside of Facebook. I would appreciate your “Likes” or recommendations or shares or whatever it is that draws attention here, though.


I’m having second thoughts about my “merchandise lite” Christmas strategy. In years past I’ve brought in dozens of items that I thought might sell a few units apiece. All I had to do was sell half of them to recoup my cost. The more stuff I threw at the wall, the more likely one or two things would stick. Although this tactic did more or less break even financially, it’s left my cellar cluttered with small quantities of hundreds of dead products – all of them taking up space, tying up money, and competing for shoppers’ attention.

This year I’m being more selective. That’s been easy since I haven’t found anything that I think has bestseller potential. But I am getting nervous as October slips away with no feeling of Christmas momentum.
I've been on hold anyway while I wait for an $850 payment from a purchase order customer. After three inquiries, they told me this morning that the check is in the mail. I hope so, because…well, because $850 is what we in the business world call "a lot of money". This week I paid my own salary, remitted my payroll and sales taxes, paid my developer for a Sunshop upgrade, and paid my Amex bill, leaving a checking balance of 71 cents versus a $2,222 Mastercard bill that’s due in two weeks. You can see how $850 would come in really handy right now.

Business is decent and cash flow is steady. It could have been better had I not rebuffed somebody who wanted to use a purchase order to spend $1,200. I would’ve had to place a $700 order immediately and I couldn’t do that with an $850 payment already outstanding. The little brouhaha that I explained last week about Sunshop’s image display routine cost me a day’s sales, too, and that didn’t help. I should be able to pay Mastercard in full, and I’m already racking up big charges for my November statement.


Speaking of the Sunshop upgrade, Turnkey released another version that restores the rollover images that they removed in the last version. This week I hired my developer again to restore my site to the condition it was in before I paid him to do the last upgrade. At least my software is stable and up to date going into Christmas.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Is There Anybody Out There?

It looks like Facebook’s latest interface upheaval killed the Networked Blogs app. Last week’s post appeared on my wall and my Twitter feed as usual, but the “number of impressions” fell from 200-ish to 25.  A manual wall post made on the same day appeared under “Top Stories” and got the expected exposure, so I have to think that autoposts from Networked Blogs aren’t making the cut, even though they look normal to me.

Sigh. Sometimes I wish the Internet would stop being such a prima donna and be pre-Madonna instead. Should I reinstall Networked Blogs? Look for a new app? Hope it automatically fixes itself? Post blog links manually? I don’t know. Ken White’s Popehat promos often inspire me to click through -- but their posts are inherently more interesting than mine. 

So why not make Curious Business more like Popehat? In the first place, I’m not a collective of writers. In the second place, it’s hard to be fresh and witty after writing about the same narrow subject (namely, Curio City) for five years. And in the third place, I’m simply not clever enough to come up with “You Wouldn’t Say That If A Terrorist With An Expired Registration And Six Tons Of Ammonium Nitrate Drove Onto Sesame Street, Killing Big Bird And Elmo, Would You?”

Betcha all 25 of my readers will click on that one.


Last week’s Sunshop upgrade didn’t quite rise to disaster status, but it sure stretches the definition of “upgrade.” What should have been the most visible improvement – the Flash image viewer – doesn’t actually work in a typical Internet Explorer install
(and Apple products famously don't support Flash at all, but I already knew that). Neither did Turnkey’s fallback routine, at first; I spent a lot of time figuring out why IE8 was being petulant. To my dismay, Sunshop dropped support for the old rollover thumbnails, so my product display took a great leap backwards. 

I decided to try the Flash viewer despite these drawbacks, and promptly went 36 hours without a sale. Wednesday became my first shutout since late August; the corresponding day last year was $588. I reluctantly turned it off again on Thursday (sorry, Firefox users) and within five minutes a sale came in. Coincidence? I’m sure not going to test it any further to make sure. This week's shortfall mostly wipes out my gains from the past two months.

The much-delayed random act of media finally yielded exactly one sale…from a New Jersey resident who bought some Switchables. So much for the ravening hordes I greedily anticipated. I never sold a single Science clock. I didn’t know that any publicity could flop so completely, even for a year-old product that had already proven itself a turkey.


In the Nobody Cares Department: I have decreed that payday shall fall on the Monday following the close of the pay period, rather than Friday, as before. I originally delayed payday in case the cash flow wasn’t there to support it; that concern has ebbed. Advancing payday by five days should bring in one more paycheck this year than last.

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