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.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Retooling Old Goals
It’s amazing how quickly one can burn through $10,000. I’m down to $500 after paying out my bonus, slaying my December credit card bills, and making all of my various tax deposits. January sales are not replenishing the coffers as fast as expected. I still need to pay the Mass. Secretary of State $456 for the privilege of remaining a corporation and come up with my CPA’s tax prep fee. Meanwhile, I’ve got no means of buying the spring products that are starting to ship already…but that’s not stopping me; my credit card just began a new statement period today so $700 worth of orders went out this morning. Welcome back, cash flow crisis! I’m half tempted to loan the company some of the money it just repaid me. But only half tempted. After six years in business the money should only ever flow one way between us.
It looks like Congress isn’t going to shut me down this year after all. Even if they get their act sufficiently together to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling that exempts online retailers from collecting interstate sales taxes, the bill that they’re considering reportedly exempts businesses with sales under $500,000. Whew. Being forced to charge both sales tax and shipping fees would take a huge bite out of sales and the complexity of becoming a tax collector would crush my spirit, which isn’t all that bubbly to start with. I’ll be keeping an eye on the news reports, though; you never know what kind of crap the 112th Congress is going to pull next, but it's a safe bet you won't like it.
Let’s assume that the government won’t accidentally put me out of business and make some operational plans, starting with a look at 2011’s goals.
Facelift: I shelved last year’s planned cosmetic overhaul when Turnkey announced that Sunshop 5 is development. No point spiffing up templates that will soon be obsolete. The new Sunshop is now scheduled for October; of course, so is Christmas season. I never buy version x.0 of anything until other users have found the inevitable bugs. So even if Turnkey publishes on Oct. 1, I wouldn’t be comfortable upgrading before November. My site needs a new coat of paint almost as badly as my house does, but I’m going to face a hard decision about whether to risk adopting new software while Christmas spools up. This goal therefore stays on the list. At a minimum I should mock up a layout and color scheme that I’d like so that I can move immediately after Christmas.
More video: They stopped making the Flip camera that I wanted to buy. The free iPod that I won at a whiskey tasting takes video, but its camera quality is marginal and it outputs some proprietary Apple file format that I can’t use without a file converter. I haven’t tried to use my new cell phone’s camera yet. I did add a few more manufacturer videos with very minor impact. For 2012, the goal is to learn how to use my phone’s video function and decide whether or not I still need to buy a camera.
Mobile computing: I finally broke down and replaced my old dumb phone with a new dumb phone. The smartphone goal is officially scrapped until the contract expires in two years. My iPod does most of what a smartphone can do, but does it poorly and doesn’t mesh well with the Windows world. My wife got a smartphone that I could use if I feel that I need one for some reason.
Random Acts of Media: The one random media insertion that came my way was a complete flop. Why is this even on the list? It’s random by definition. I’m not carrying it forward.
Ess-Eee-Oh: These three letters are chum that makes spam sharks frenzy, so I dare not type them out. There are too many shady operators eager to take advantage of the gullible and the reputable ones are much too expensive. Still a backburner possibility, though, should I stumble upon both an unexpected fortune and a good company with a great price, so it stays on the list. Meanwhile I will keep reading my email newsletter and doing the small things that I can understand and affect.
Reevaluate newsletters. I’m still putting them out, and they’re still ineffective. I could save $250/year by discontinuing them, but I’d probably lose about as much in sales. Since I’m not planning to change anything it ought to come off the list.
Further Exploit Facebook: Last year’s Valentines Day experiment ruled out Facebook advertising as too expensive and ineffective. Trying to profit from free FB posts is futile. I raised my follower count to 144, only to discover that only 20 or 25 of my 144 FB followers ever see my updates…even my own wife can’t see them…the “Reasons to hate Facebook” tag has more about that. FB is probably a lost cause unless I can scrap my current page, which is a sub-page of an unused personal account, and start over with a proper business page…which I probably can’t do since my store name is tied to the existing personal subpage. FB changes their rules and their technology arbitrarily and without warning, making any investment of effort highly speculative. So, does this stay on my list or not? Just barely, I guess. I can’t ignore any opportunity for free marketing, however frustrating and ineffective.
Start using LinkedIn. No, I did not. I just don’t care about LinkedIn. I probably should. LinkedIn users have more money and influence than Facebook users…so maybe it’s worthwhile in some abstract way. It makes the list.
Focus on Profitability: This would be a clear success had advertising costs not inflated faster than the universe following the Big Bang. This year I’m changing the name of the goal to reflect my focus on controlling advertising expenses. Even after whittling down a lot of keyword bids, I’m still racking up $20 per day on Google without reaping anything near the $200 in sales that would justify it.
Carry More Weight: Accomplished! Kraken Enterprises is paying the Internet portion of our BELD bill now. I could make a case for Curio City picking up some gasoline expenses again – the gods know our household budget needs all the help it can get -- but my company budget is tapped out this year. This comes off the list.
Give myself another raise? Uh, no, I certainly didn't. I’m not a Fortune 500 CEO who gets bonuses for failure. However, I’m dangling it in front of myself again in 2012. If I am running 7.5% ahead of LY in July, I’ll raise payroll by 0.1% of gross. If I finish the year over plan I’ll bump it another 0.1% and buy the company a new laptop.
Insurance? I avoided it again. I need to find a way to ask about options and prices without tipping off my agent that I’m running a home business or inviting some other agent to woo my business. This stays on the list…I can’t afford insurance, obviously, but I’d at least like to find out what my homeowners policy covers (if anything) and whether Kraken Enterprises needs separate liability coverage or just a rider on my personal policy. And I need to do that without letting an inspector see the fire hazard that is Curio City’s warehouse!
Speaking of shipping: I cut my shipping fee collections by 8% and outlays by 9.3% by selling fewer big, bulky items. Assuming that next week’s USPS rate hike goes smoothly, I’m not planning any changes this year, except possibly to cut my handling fee by a dime. This is off the list.
Categorize: Accomplished! I will fiddle with categories more in conjunction with a facelift, if I indeed do that. I've written off enough dead product to close or consolidate some obsolete categories.
Everything else on LY’s list was too picayune to address here. Suffice it to say that I achieved most of it and ceased caring about the rest. Next week I’ll build a new goal list for 2012 so that I can promptly start ignoring it.