I’ve been on an office spending spree over the last couple days. I bought a wireless keyboard and mouse to try to get rid of some of the hundred wires running around my office. I bought an electric powered height adjustable desk that goes from sitting to standing in just a few seconds. That was expensive 😦 I figured the back and groin problems that I’ve been having give me 2 good reasons to change positions frequently. I’ve proven that I can and will work standing over the last couple months. I’ve been working standing with boxes set on my desk to lift my keyboard and monitor. It works and is cheap but lifting the monitor up and down isn’t so good. This desk should make it possible to go up and down several times a day. Given the price .. it better be the best desk in the world.
Our web businesses have been very slow lately. Our traffic has dropped off since we fell back in the search engines a year ago. Now the ad space has also heated up so ads cost more and there are more competitors clicking our ads (click fraud) so our budgets are wasted on fake clicks. All small business advertisers know this is happening but we are powerless to do anything about it. Google and Yahoo own us. Our businesses depend on these search engines to bring potential customers to our sites. No traffic = no sales. We are currently on page 3 or 4 in Google and 4 or 5 in yahoo. Nobody every looks through the results all the way to page 4. Most people don’t look past page 1. Here’s to hoping that we can move up in the search engine rankings and get more people to see our site. Cheers.
This evening I was cleaning up my file system and zipping up old projects that failed or were abandoned. I realized that I have worked on many failed projects – each with a passion that is hard to even explain to people. I worked on an auto auction site (before eBay). I worked on a bingo parlor directory (no market). I worked on a wiki web service (no profit) and software package (still making a little profit each yr). I worked on a web payment gateway (too much competition). I worked on several failed eCommerce sites (baby blankets, tinnitus relief products, crying baby products, hair loss products, epididymitis relief products, t-shirts). I worked on several unsold software packages: to manage a dry cleaner, manage your checkbook, support open source code sharing, do human resource management, add SSL support to a programming language.
If I had a dollar for every hour spent working on a failed business, I’d have a bunch of dollars. I’m sure I left a bunch of projects out but the point is this – I like working on these things. I like trying to start businesses. Most of them don’t make it. But… a couple have. And a few were very close. I worked on wiki hosting before Google bought a wiki service provider and before they bought blogger (similar technology). I worried about click fraud before ad providers acknowledged it. I worked on a car auction site before eBay. I’ve been ahead of the curve a few times and behind the curve a lot of times. I’ve made more money than I’ve spent and had fun doing it. Not bad. Not bad at all… I think.
In a previous post I mentioned subversion, a version control system I use at work for tracking changes to files. It works very well. I installed TortoiseSVN a subversion client for windows and finally put all of my website files under version control (locally). The repository is just another directory on my file system. Man, I wish I had been doing this all along. I would have all of the older versions of all of my websites’ pages. Most of them would be useless but now and again it is useful to be able to go back and see what a page had on it. The Internet Archive does that (kind of) but not as well as a good version control system. Anyway, better late than never.
I like blogging. This blog is my personal blog. I also maintain a blog to talk just about those TV shows and movies that entertained me lately. I finally created a blog for my web business and manually imported the old entries into it. I was just updating a static page on the site but now it is a proper blog hosted at wordpress.com. It is a pretty nice system. I was also able to back-date the entries so they matched the old manual blog that I had maintained on the site. Pretty cool.
I recently shut down several of my failing web business so I can focus my energy on my successful one. As part of the shutdown I needed to cancel my hosting accounts with various web hosting providers. One of them had unbelievably bad customer service. I opened a support ticket using their web support ticket system and gave them all the information they needed to close the accounts. They closed that ticket and told me to use a web cancellation form and gave me the url. I used that form twice (2 domains needed to be cancelled with these guys) and received email confirmations that my request had been received. A few days later I contacted them via live help on the web and they said they had no history of my request and asked me to open a ticket. I gave them the ticket number from my previous request and they said they could not find it. I could open it still so I have them the url. They said they found it and then hung up their live help session with me. Then they sent me an email requesting the same information that I had already given them via the ticket and cancellation system. Wow! The account is still not closed and my biggest problem is that I have 3 accounts with these knuckle heads and only want to cancel 2 of them. I can’t just call my credit card company because I don’t know which 2 are the charges that need to stop and which one is the one that can continue.
Years ago with the help of a friend we built a wiki collaboration software hosting provider and software package. This was during the dot com boom. I over invested, over burned and eventually shut down the hosting service. I kept selling the software as a way to recuperate my initial investment. I never did.
I have been running several other web businesses for the last few years. The first and most successful business sells colic products to help colicky babies. This business is still successful and running well.
After I started the first colic business and it started making a small profit I also started two similar businesses selling subsets of the same products. One site sold just baby blankets. The other site specialized in products to help babies that cry a lot. Neither site took off.
I also started selling tinnitus (ringing in the ears) products online. This site sold some herbal remedies and some white noise cd’s but it too never took off.
Today I looked carefully at each of these businesses and decided to shut most of them down (the profitable ones are still running). They all had the same problem: little or no profit. I have a hard time admitting defeat. I think that one of my best traits is that I don’t give up easily so it was hard for me to shut down these failing businesses. Sometimes you just need to cut your losses.
We run a few small web business that accept credit card payments. Sometimes orders don’t arrive because they are lost in the mail. For us the most common reason we get chargebacks is that a customer doesn’t recognize/remember the charge when they see it on their credit card. They call the number on their statement and it is our old business number. I have tried MANY times to get that phone number updated with our credit processors but to no avail. A chargeback is when a customer calls their credit card company and says “I don’t recognize the charge”. The credit card gives the customer their money back immediately. Then the merchant has to prove that they shipped the product to the customers billing address and that it was signed for by the customer (no online retailers require a signature at delivery). If the merchant can’t prove it they lose the sale money and are fined by the merchant for the chargeback ($15-$25). Even if the merchant can prove they shipped and the customer signed, they still get fined. This is just one of the many costs of doing business online.