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 03, 2014
OK, 2014, Let's Dance
I wish that I could predict sunshine and lollipops for 2014. I ought to be counting my money and planning how to invest it; this year I’m not going to be able to pay my January Amex bill. Mastercard will want a few hundred bucks a couple of weeks later, and then I’ve got to scrape together $1,115 for tax preparation and fees. Right now all I see are bills stretching out forever and a checking account that’s stuck in neutral.
I have two goals for this year. The first is simple: Don’t fail. That just means paying the bills and beating the low targets that 2013 laid down. In business as in life, I only ever hope to survive, but that won’t cut it this year, so the second goal is to succeed: That is, to beat 2011’s high water mark by 1% and restore real growth. That requires a seemingly impossible 22% increase over LY.
The only strategy that I have in mind will cost a little money, but maybe not too much money.
I passed up the last two Sunshop updates because they didn’t contain enough features or fixes to justify the cost and risks of upgrading. The only intriguing item is something called “responsive themes.” I’m not entirely sure what that means except that the new templates are supposed to make the store display better on smartphones.
Who cares? I don’t have a smartphone, I don’t understand them, and I can’t afford to get one, so adopting a “responsive theme” is a shot in the dark. My existing website already looks better than I expected on my wife’s Android phone. Analytics says that nearly half of my December visitors arrived on a smartphone and that they were worthless. 84% of mobile users bounced away without looking at anything (vs. 67% of desktop users); those who stayed only looked at 1.5 pages (vs. 3.33); and only 0.48% of them bought anything (vs. 3.9% on desktops and 2.6% on tablets). Knowing that smartphone traffic is of notoriously poor quality I had already reduced my ad bids for mobile devices by 25% to avoid wasting money on their clicks. But they came anyway. If I can’t get rid of them and I can’t force them to use real computers, I have to figure out how to exploit them.
Even if the “responsive” thing goes nowhere, a new coat of paint can’t hurt. Curio City’s appearance hasn’t changed since 2007. Turnkey will do the upgrade for just $75, which is considerably less than I usually pay my own developer (assuming they don’t charge $75 per version!). I might be able to squeeze in $75 as early as next month. I'll be throwing away six years of accumulated customizations in my old “modern black” template. Bringing them along could cost hundreds of dollars in developer time plus potential downtime. But I need to play the only ace up my sleeve early in the year if it’s going to make any difference, even if that means starting over with a generic, uncustomized template.
If Turnkey releases the all-new Sunshop 5 it negates all of this, but that’s been just around the corner for two years now.
I need to do this as soon as we get through the holiday hangover and I can cover my immediate bills. Meanwhile, I’ve cut my bids for mobile devices further so my limited ad budget can reach better quality customers.
Advertising is my only major variable expense. I probably can’t cut the actual spend without slitting my throat, but I might be able to squeeze more revenue from it. For starters, I’m taking another hard look at Bing/Yahoo ads. I spent $200 for just 13 conversions in December, but I screwed up the statistics when I wasted $84 advertising cheap Buglit flashlights -- 3,359 clicks and 0 conversions before I caught that mistake. I’m going to monitor my Microsoft Adcenter spend through January and cut it off entirely if it doesn’t perform. This isn’t the first time I’ve threatened to do that, but it’s the most serious I’ve been about the threat.
How did 2014’s first accounting week go? Well, I beat LY on five out of six days and would have enjoyed a small lead had it not been for a $500 bolt-from-the-blue Switchables order LY. So I’m already running 50% behind LY. And I had two other bulk orders in January 2013 that I can’t expect to repeat this year. I’ll declare victory if January 2014 can merely match LY without the benefit of any big shots in the arm.
I like to end on a positive note whenever I can. That’s a reach this week. Economists are predicting two or three years of normal, healthy growth, and that passes for boom times in the wake of the Great Recession. Curio City has historically done best when the economy has done worst, and vice versa, but I don’t think there’s a causal relationship there. Trickle-down economics has been resoundingly discredited, but a rising tide should lift all boats by at least a couple of millimeters if we can stop the leaks.
I’m in decent shape for merchandise and supplies. I shouldn’t need to buy anything for a few weeks.
There are a couple of silly tricks in my favor: First, Excel’s 2014 will have 53 weeks after it steals December 29-31 from 2013 and January 1-3 from 2015, because both of those three-day segments belong to the four days of their adjacent weeks. That fiction won’t affect the Quickbooks numbers that I report here, but it ought to be good for a few hundred bucks in the numbers that I use for planning and measurement. Second, we decided not to take a summer vacation this year because our cat is too old and fragile to leave alone and we need to put the money toward a new roof. That ought to be good for another few hundred dollars, but this plan could change if Iggy dies soon.
I realize that this blog is in a hand-wringing rut. I’m tired of writing about lousy sales and broken budgets, so Friday entries are going to become more sporadic. Readership has fallen into single digits anyway; maybe more engaging topics will lead a surge back to double digits.