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, September 25, 2015

Minimalist Wages

If you ask me "how's business?" I'll say "Oh, it's keeping me in beer money" and change the subject, since you were just making small talk and talking about myself always makes me uncomfortable (whatever this self-centered blog might make you think). Ideally we'll talk about beer now. 

My last paycheck belies my facile retort. Curio City paid me a record low $87 ($67 net) for the two weeks from Sept. 6-19. I only drink good beer and I drink a lot of it, so that didn't even come close. That revelation silenced a friend who was bitching about only making $55 an hour. To me, he's in the same league as Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.  
Just for fun, let's dissect my $87. That would equal $1.09 per hour if I worked an 80-hour week. Minimum wage is $9 in Massachusetts, so a real job would have paid me $720. 

Of course, I didn't work anywhere near 40 hours a week. During the first week I spent maybe five hours prepping the mini-vacation shutdown, monitoring email while I was gone, and reopening before I came back. The next Monday I spent a few hours processing the sparse business that Curio City did while I was away. With no spendable cash or pressing workload, I caught up on household chores and didn't pay any further attention to business until Wednesday or Thursday. I'd say I worked 10 hours that second week. 

$87 for just 15 hours of work grosses out to a more respectable $5.80 an hour. Minimum wage still looks pretty attractive by comparison, but of course I'd have to leave the house to earn the state-mandated $135 for those same hours, and somebody else would dictate which hours those had to be. When business stumbles along at its customary pace my wage is much closer to the legal minimum. Business didn't rebound this week, though. I wish that I could double my income by doubling my hours, but in reality I'm more likely to triple my hours for no tangible reward. It's hard to get motivated under those conditions.

As much as I hope that that paycheck was an outlier, I do have to consider the prospect that Curio City won't keep me in beer money anymore. That would, of course, spell its doom. With the Massachusetts minimum rising to $10 next year and $11 in 2017, conventional wage slavery looks more and more tempting. (spoiler alert) I'll launch a full-scale rant about September's epic bad numbers in next week's post so let's just leave this here for now.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Zip, Zam, Zowie and SWOOSH!

An SSL certificate ("cert") is one of those techie things that I just have to have. Secure Socket Layer is the encryption that turns your payment info into gibberish to anyone intercepting a data transmission and the cert is what enables the encryption between my server and the bank. Here's a full explanation if you want to know more. 

The most basic GeoTrust certificate sets me back $35. The fancy cert that comes with a dynamic seal and turns the address bar green is $179. Upgrading to flashy security might sway a few more customers, but certs expire after one year and $179 is a big cash flow commitment. I can afford a $35 renewal no matter how lousy sales get. $179 would be a real hardship if it were due right now.

The annual renewal email makes me cringe every fall because, in addition to $35, the issuing authority wants an hour of my time to buy, request, generate, and install a new cert. If I screw up one of the steps fixing it can stretch to several hours, so I block out an afternoon for this chore. This year, though, MDD Hosting offers an automated quick installer. Lo and behold, I installed the new cert just minutes after plugging some basic info into a web form. Hallelujah! 

Now I only pray that it satisfies the new standards that PayPal's going to insist on beginning next month. PayPal keeps sending me scary emails about how they're trying to kill me. MDD assured me back in May that their new certs comply with the latest and greatest requirements and that I only needed to replace mine before October. Mission accomplished; now we shall see. Curio City is so fragile at the moment that it wouldn't take much to polish it off.


Speaking of sales turning lousy... Curio City had just four sales worth a whopping $80 from Sunday through yesterday. I'd expected at least $300. Things always crash after I do the vacation shutdown/revival; I suspect that Google punishes me for suspending my ads. The new SSL cert raised the prospect that something technical went wrong. A test transaction went through with no problems and I got a couple of small orders this morning, so... (shrug). Slumps happen. When they happen back to back, they yield a two-week paycheck that won't even reach $100.  

Blips like this one always pass sooner or later, but they hurt while they're happening. 

No disasters befell me or my computer during last week's mini-vacation. As usual, I'd gotten myself all worked up over nothing. Shutting down in September isn't something I ever intend to repeat, but it shouldn't prove fatal.    

Friday, September 04, 2015

Fear of Flying

Last September I upgraded my website and started the Christmas season on its journey down the toilet. That creates an opportunity to blow away LY's anemic numbers for the all-important Q4, starting right now. 

Bird kite sales are my be-all and end-all from spring until now. Summer is pay-as-you-go for kites, with everything else dribbling out too slowly to replace. Come fall, my old standby Panther Vision caps, Switchables, and golf balls miraculously rise from the dead just as kite sales tank, so now I need to quickly replace all of that stuff that dribbled. At the same time, I need to start bulking up for Christmas.

I need a lot of cash in September and October to do that. If sales crash now like they did last year, I'll be crippled for the rest of the year. I've already run up a big credit card bill replacing most of those dribblers. I'll start laying in Christmas as soon as my credit card statement period rolls over on the 13th.

But there's an obstacle: My first-ever September vacation begins next Tuesday (meaning no blog post next Friday, btw). This is an obligation, not a choice.  

Over the past 10 years I've fine-tuned a July vacation routine: Shut down my advertising, post a delayed-shipping warning on my news page, make a vacation-delay banner for the front page, and insert the warning into the order acknowledgment email. I take my laptop to the Berkshires with me and monitor business daily. Sales usually fall by 50-75% but those customers who do come through know what to expect. 

I'm reluctant to do the full shutdown routine next week, when the stakes are so much higher. I'm going to post the usual warnings but keep running my ads. That means I'll inevitably pay to lure some customers who'll bounce away when they see the delay notifications. Worse, some will order because they didn't read the warnings (shoppers -- especially those on mobile devices -- are terrible about reading), then get pissed off and cancel. But I'll only be gone for six days rather than the traditional 10, and I only need to keep the warnings up from Tuesday through Thursday.

The other big problem is mostly in my head: I'm reluctant to haul my laptop along with me. During July vacation it goes from my desk to my car's trunk to our cabin. Next week's trip is far more nomadic. I'm especially stressed out about my first airplane ride in 11 years because I know that travel conditions have deteriorated significantly in that time. Having my computer damaged or (worse) stolen would be a disaster; Jungle Disk backs up my key files automatically, but I honestly don't know how to recover them from a different computer. 

Instinct tells me to leave the computer home -- I'm not likely to have any gaming time, and it seems like a huge hassle just to babysit Curio City. I can access the Admin interface and perform limited functions from my smartphone with some difficulty. I haven't figured out how to snag my email yet. On my laptop, Outlook vacuums up six accounts and dumps them into one inbox every 15 minutes. Trying to set up the mailboxes on my phone just returns a "failed to connect to server" error message with no helpful details. If I can solve that, then the only thing I really can't do is change the warning banner...so if I don't post that to begin with, I could conceivably manage my business from my phone. 

I haven't been without a computer for more than a day or two in at least 20 years, so the separation anxiety of leaving it behind is as frightening as the danger of lugging it through airports. If I can solve the email challenge, though, I'll probably default to the path of least resistance and leave it home. Many young people rely on their phones exclusively, but I'm not a young person. The phone is a toy. I need a real computer. Losing or damaging my phone would be an expensive inconvenience, but I don't need it for anything except, you know, phone calls.     

I still don't know what I'm going to do. It depends on whether or not I can solve the email problem.  

I'm old enough to remember when flying was a pleasant experience...but that's a whole other subject. Nowadays there's nothing more stressful than air travel.

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