Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Long Winding Road HOME

I am still waiting to hear the seller's response to my offer on the house. I think they may be considering it, I can only hope. They asked for more financial information so I think maybe that's a good sign.

And as I was preparing all this documentation, and trying to think of how I can explain why I am not just blown out of my chair by the fact I have nearly $30,000 in credit card debt, I was reminded just how far I have really come in the past 5 1/2 years. Actually more like the past 22 years ...

In 1989 I accepted responsibility for my then 2 1/2 year old disabled godchild, Ashley, and I spent the next 16 years peddling as fast as I could to keep up. She has a type of Muscular Dystrophy called Mitochondrial Myopathy (sometimes called Mitochondrial Cytopathy).  At the time the doctors insisted she would not live to see her third birthday. I proved them wrong.  In the 16 years I had her I spent not one but TWO substantial inheritances on her special needs, and slowly accrued nearly $100,000 in credit card debt (total of something like 13 cards going at once) and had zero in savings. I always made my minimum payments, and my credit score was actually quite good at 720, considering I had such massive debt. When she moved out in 2005, I was finally free, and started the long arduous road home.

With so many credit cards, I had to make a plan, and I had to stick to it. We had never lived extravagantly: most of our clothes were from thrift stores and we ate a lot of macaroni, even re-used coffee grounds (did you know you can usually make a second pot from them? might have to drip it through twice the second time but it works), I am a master at recycling anything and everything, but now I had a more specific goal.  My ONE extravagance I allowed myself for the first part of this transition period was to move into a very nice house with a higher rent than I'd have been comfortable with usually. I had been doing without so many things, I decided I just wanted to feel a little luxury for a year or two. I molded that in to my financial plan though and it worked out. I started with the cards that had the highest interest rate. Every paycheck (every 2 weeks), I would pay double the minimum monthy required on that one card (and then for the month just the minimum on all the others), and when that was paid off, I chopped up the card and called the company to make sure it was cancelled, gone forever. Then I'd start on the one with the next highest interest. One after the other I disposed of them, and each month I had more money to devote to the whole project than the month before (because I had fewer cards to be paying on). After the first year even though I was still paying off cards I started putting some serious money into a savings account as well, "pay yourself first" as my mother taught me. Near the end, I put the small remaining balances of two cards onto my two lowest interest cards at 8.9%, and have been more slowly paying these off the past year. I went to three days a week at my job -- making almost as much after all with a little "Me Time".

I know to the financial experts, carrying almost $30k in revolving debt is a lot, but considering where I started, I am truly amazed that I have ONLY that much. And with the low interest, my monthly payments are very managable. Assuming I get the house, I'll get these 2 cards paid off over the next 2 years and then start whittling away at the mortgage, a little at a time like I did the cards.

I am living proof that you CAN do anything you truly put your mind to. You have to really want it, and you have to be willing to sacrifice and work at it, and expect NOT to see instant results but to keep plugging away at it, a penny at a time if that's what it takes. Make a plan, make it one you can live with (build in a few luxuries but stick to just those in the plan) and stick to it.

I don't know if I will get the house, I really hope so. If I don't, I'll go back to the plan and continue saving, go back to 4-5 days a week at my job in the coming year and get rid of the balances on those 2 cards to make myself more desireable to lenders next time, and the next house I WILL get. You don't give up, you find a way and you make it work.
I am going to make this work!

Monday, September 20, 2010

TOOT your own horn! No one ELSE will!!

To be successful you MUST backlink, no exception no excuses. It is just how it works.
Back-Linking is like:

OK say you are having a garage sale. You have options.

1) Put up your garage door, pull out all your stuff, display it nicely, put labels and price tags on everything, and sit there in your driveway and wait.
This is what most sellers here do, and expect to get sales. No advertising, no signs, nothing. Somehow customers are supposed to magically "know" they are here and what they have to sell, and be able to find them.

2) Put up your garage door and all the rest in option #1, and then put big signs in your driveway that say "Thanks for stopping by now go on over to Joe's Store over there and buy stuff from him!"
Somehow that is what one fellow here (who wants for some obscure reason to put outbound links to unnamed "affiliates" in their listings) would do if he could. Still no advertising to get people INTO their booth but they insist they cannot get sales because they cannot send customers AWAY to other places. I cannot even see how such a scheme helps the poor affiliate since they still do nothing to get people IN to the booth to even see that affiliates link either. What the hey you say? Me too.


option 3) Put up your garage door, put out your stuff displayed nicely with nice descriptions and prices on everything, and the night before go around to EVERY street corner in the area and POST colorful SIGNS with giant lettering and your address and arrows pointing the way that say "Garage sale here. Vintage clothing" (or whatever you are selling) AND don't stop at that, but make sure you post ads in craigslist and local free newspapers and even any local bulletin boards that will allow it and whereever you can POST PICTURES and descriptions of what you have for sale at your garage sale and how to get there.

THIS (#3) is the equivalent of posting YOUR LINKS in blogs and Facebook and Myspace and Twitter and putting widgets and RSS feeds out there for your booth, everywhere you can, pointing the way so people out there on the internet highway know you are there and that you have stuff to sell and they can actually find you. Every one of these is a sign pointing the way. Putting up ONE facebook or twitter note, or one posting on craigslist, or one anything, is like having one little yellow post-it note on one street corner. Other people are also having garage sales the same day as you, and the more ambitious ones have color coded signs and many many of them, say one seller has all green signs, buyers can follow them easily because they just follow the green signs, or another one has orange or yellow or blue: they WANT buyers to find them easily. And the more there are, the easier it is and the more likely buyers will indeed find them. Shoppers have long ago forgotten about your one little post-it note if they saw it at all.
These ambitious sellers will close their garage doors tonite with nice clean empty garages, while you spend the evening dragging everything back into your crowded garage wondering why.

And while on the subject, constantly saying "I don’t know what RSS is" or "I’m not techie" etc is irrelevant: I wasn't either but I learned because I HAD to. You are trying to sell on the internet, YOU chose the venue of online vs real world, if you are at all interested in actually selling, you’ll make a point of LEARNING what these things are and how to use them because this is where you are. It is the job, YOU chose it.

SO
BACKLINKS people.

or as we used to say in church: don’t hide your light under a bushel basket! LET IT SHINE!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thermodynamics, TANSTAAFL and Online Business

Selling online is a daily job, there is really NO place that you can just "list and forget" without putting in daily work which includes tweeting and blogging and facebooking and getting your BACKLINKS out there on the web to be spidered by search engines so that people searching for what you have to sell can FIND you. It's just how it works. I have also noticed that literally EVERY time I "update my Bonanzle Booth", even if I have not changed a darn thing, I get a sale, so I try to remember to do that at least weekly. It refreshes the feed and makes everything look "new" on the web.

Lots of people on Bonanzle do offer services, both free and for fee, to get your stuff noticed, indexed, spidered, etc. I am currently on hiatus (after I finish these last three orders) until November 1st, but I build Bonzmerchant websites which creates a search engine searchable backlink for EVERY ITEM in your booth (not javascript which search engines can NOT see) doubling your exposure and increasing your "ranking" on the web so your items will show up higher in a web search. Add a blog to that and any item you blog about (and link to) gets triple exposure and if I feed that blog into a bonzmerchant website the same way I do the inventory it then QUADRUPLES the backlinks to those items. Add (tweet) those same items to twitter and that's 5 backlinks to each item and then those tweets added to a bonzmerchant page that is SIX backlinks to those items you have blogged and tweeted and your ranking goes up and up. Greendevil Designs will put up a single feed page (not sure how many items) for you for free. That's still more essential backlinks. Link on a public facebook FAN page and there's even more. THAT is how you get customers.

Everybody and his brother, sister, aunt, cousin and childhood sweetheart is out there on the web competing with you, many selling the exact same or similar items. You have to do the work to make YOUR listings stand out in this crowd.

Bottom line is you get out of it what you put into it, doesn't matter whether you list here or Etsy or whatever, the VENUE isn't the problem. It's like those three laws of thermodynamics (you can transfer energy but you cannot just create it from nothing), or as Robert Heinlein stated "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" often referred to as TANSTAAFL.

Friday, June 11, 2010

BonzMerchant.com off and running!!

I know I have not been keeping up with my blogs as I should, just been so darned busy. I have finally launched my latest enterprise Bonzmerchant.com and this whole month has been full of details and lots of work. If you haven't checked out Bonzmerchant yet, drop on over and see what I can do for you!

So, what's new:
I have developed and redeveloped the FAQ section and even added a second page for all your questions. I've done my best to anticipate and answer your questions about Bonzmerchant, how it works, WHY it works, what it can do for you, etc. Please read through the FAQ and then if you still have questions, feel free to email me at conjurewoman@aol.com
I have made the TOS printable. I have very few rules, and in fact they mostly center around public decency and intellectual property rights. Most of my TOS mirror the web host's TOS that I myself have to abide by, so it's nothing unusual.
I have set up a scheduling page or the "Queue" so I can plan my work and coordinate with my day job as well as my personal life. Start dates are approximate: Life happens.

I am a little behind but catching up. Had to deal with some technical issues: my own fault cos it didn’t occur to me to ask one client where her graphics came from and I know better! Still that artist did NOT have to be so nasty about it! Now I make a point to ask no matter what. As it turned out, the complainant didn't even OWN the artwork in question, it is owned by OutlawbyDesign, from whom I obtained written permission to use the little fairy in question. A nicer person you will never meet! And I will be working with her again to be sure. I did NOT use this client's banner to begin with because it was totally unuseable, very distorted and full of "noise", what we call "dithering", so I had to go to the original fairy image to create a new banner from scratch. It did come out rather nice if I do say so.

I absolutely respect other artists’ copyrights and if I EVER make a website with something that belongs to YOU and neglect to give you credit, PLEASE contact me directly and I will fix it immediately. My personal integrity is very important to me and I want you to always know that I take your intellectual property rights very seriously. Be NICE about it: if I did it, it was not intentional.

I would never intentionally use another artist’s work without permission. I do get “public domain” stuff from the internet and I have paid memberships in several Royalty Free graphics sites including Animation Factory and Outlaw by Design, among others. AND I have my own extensive library of graphics which I have license to use. I usually significantly alter the graphics I use anyway to make them match whatever I am doing so often what you see is literally my own creation in whole or in part.

If I make a website for you, PLEASE tell me before I start who made your banner or avatar or anything else you might like me to use so I can give proper respect to the creator of those items. I will ask you, but if I forget, tell me anyway.

If you want a website, please email me and I'll put you in the queue.
While you are waiting I need specific things from you that you can be gathering to make the job go quicker. I need first to know who made your graphics, and I need to know what graphics and colors you prefer. If you want something different than what is in your booth, do your best to describe it for me. If you have seen something you like on the web, send me the URL and I can use it for inspiration (again I will NOT take another arist's work but I can often see HOW they made a thing and can usually do something similar for you in my own style).
You do NOT have to know or DO anything technical, that's MY job. All you need to do is maintain your Bonanzle Booth, I do the rest.

I will need 30-40 GOOD key words to use for your metatags -- again you don't have to know what metatags are, I do, but YOU need to provide them to me because YOU are the expert on what products you sell. I also need to know 5-6 categories of items for your page feeds: Your "product pages" come from your Bonanzle RSS content. If you don't understand what that is, it's OK, I do. However I need 5-6 categories that correspond either to Bonanzles built-in categories OR to your Custom Booth categories because that is the only way the RSS content can be gathered into your pages. I cannot combine categories on a page and you really do not want more than 5-6 categories (most I have done is 10) because it gets too deep for the average customer to peruse. The objective is SIMPLICITY so keep it simple. 5-6 categories of 20-100 items each is best.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Comfort Zones

The Comfort Zone

Someone made a really great business suggestion to me today, to get my online
business listed in GooglePlaces. It actually sounded pretty good, except that I
am a home business and would never ever give out my home address online.
But since I use a "PMB" and that has a physical address that is good enough for
Fed-Ex, I figured I would try it. Three lines into the application I hit the one
and only roadblock I cannot surmount: required phone number.

I can not, will not, ever talk on the phone nor accept any phone call I am not
specifically expecting from a known individual at a pre-planned time. It's not
a matter of being unfriendly or unavailable or not wanting to, I actually CAN'T.
Like a blind man cannot see or a deaf person cannot hear or a paraplegic
cannot walk, I CAN'T talk on the phone. Period. Maybe I should take this
issue up with the ADA or the ACLU: The law requires accomodation.

I am autistic. High functioning Aspergers, but still that is what I am. I actually
do not consider what I am to be a "disability", it is who I am and I have many
gifts "normal" people wish they had which I would not trade for all the social
gracefulness in the world. BUT I do live unfortunately in a world that is mainly
run by and for those socially graceful people who are ready without notice or
preparation to chit-chat on the phone and accept uninvited visitors at their
door. I recognize that I will never be one of them. So in the sense that I am
absolutely physically incapable of performing this function which "normal"
people take for granted, well then yes, I am disabled. I am not "shy" or "socially
awkward", I am autistic. I live with it every day. It has prevented advancement
or at least success in most of the professional environments I have experienced
over the years. It's life. I have spent most of my life since I could talk
apologizing for being different. Once again, I am sorry. My feeling at age 55
is I am tired of trying to accomodate and "fit in" and try to be like "normal"
folks. It's time they accomodated ME. Meet me on MY level.

Talking on the phone is outside my comfort zone. I can email with you till the
cows come home but I don't talk on the phone. I have one lifelong friend in
Florida who calls me about once a week. When the phone rings at 9pm on a
Sunday, I KNOW it's her and that's OK, I'm comfortable with this person who
has known me and my quirks for nearly 50 years. She is the safe zone.
My ex is a safe zone. I don't need prep time for them. I do for anyone else.

ONE local person, for whom I built a website, SCHEDULED a phone
conversation and a personal meeting with: that was planned in advance,
I could prepare for it. It went fine. I got plenty of sleep the night befiore,
I went over my skills checklist: make eye contact, offer food and drink,
see to their comfort, speak in a normal volume, show them around, introduce
them to my companion by name, etc that "normal" people don't have to think
about, and Kat will tell you (I think/hope) that I seemed "normal" to her.
That is a far cry from just publishing my number out there for any stranger
to call any time without warning.

"Oh but they won't really call you." Wanna bet?? Once on Ebay a 'customer'
called my home several times in a day and late at night, waking my terminally
ill daughter at least once, demanding to know when some item they purchased
like the day before would be delivered. This was a GROSS invasion of my
privacy and freaked me out for days. I then changed my Ebay phone number
to my work number and the following month a different jerk tried calling me
at work several times and then emailed me saying "I couldn't reach you
at work". WHAT THE HELL! Don't call me! There is no reason to call me,
ever, period. I answer email.

A few weeks ago when I signed up for my new domains, I found the cheapest
ones at Godaddy, and they can be hosted anywhere (I like my own host) and I
foolishly gave my phone number on the domain registration. Register.com after
all never called me or bothered me. DAMN if these clowns did not call me not
just once but FOUR times and left me messages wanting to sell me this or
that (under the poorly veiled guise of "welcoming" me) and THEN they emailed
me and said "sorry we couldn't reach you on the phone".
THEY HAD NO RIGHT TO TRY!!!!

Sorry, I get real emotional about my privacy and people assuming
they have any right at all to just casually invade it.
Maybe that's OK with you, it is NOT OK with me.

By trade I am a visiting nurse. Been doing this for over 30 years.
Tried other jobs, can't make it in an office environment or really anywhere
I have to have prolonged and/or unexpected contact with humans. Maybe
I should have been a vet, animals love me on sight. Anyway, I am great as
a visiting nurse: any contact is preplanned, and of limited duration, AND I
have the advantage that in that environment, I am the expert, the authority,
the boss. My function is to do whatever nursing task I went there for, and
leave. Short and sweet. Most of my time these days is spent documenting
those tasks on a computer (before it was reams of paper). And even with
all this planning and organization I do to prescript my day, it is still hugely
stressful and exhausting, and takes an actual toll on my health. Mind you
I am a great nurse, great IQ and I know my stuff, and I am actually a
pretty good teacher too. I see things 'normal' people don't see and that makes
me even better. And my patients love me and thank me, saying things like
"no one else ever helped me before" and "you're the first one that cared".
It makes me feel good. But it's still hard.

Hardest is to remember eye contact: it is something I have to think about
constantly, and remind myself to do. It does NOT come naturally, even
after years of dedicated practice. If I am tired or not feeling real well, I
forget, and then the encounter doesn't go so well. Likewise I forget volume,
or speed of speech, or to smile or please and thank you or say something
inappropriate or a thousand other little things that you never think of if you
are not autistic. WE think about it (or are painfully reminded after the fact)
every day. Every human encounter is accompanied by at least some degree
of pain: life becomes about controlling and limiting that pain.

So once again, I apologize for my disability. I do not mean to make anyone
feel uncomfortable -- believe me I know how that feels and strive to avoid
doing it to anyone else. You can email me day and night, but I can not talk
on the phone. I will freely give my mailing address and email contact
information. That should be enough. And any site or entity which requires
me to give a phone number just will not get my business. Just
like those that require paraplegics to climb stairs to access their
business. GooglePlaces is not disability-accessible.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Find a Niche -- and Fill It!

I keep reading on the Bonanzle forums posts from people who have anywhere from 3 to 25
items in their booths, complaining they "can't sell anything". Those of us who are successful
TRY to explain to them how it works: to be seen you MUST have more than a hand full of items
to sell, you MUST promote it everywhere in FaceBook and MySpace and Kaboodle and
Twitter and all the rest, and most importantly you MUST sell what people are buying. If you sell
something that everyone else in the world is selling, competing with big sellers with thousands
of items, what makes you think anyone is even going to FIND your hand full of items? And then
there are the ones we encourage to branch out, sell other things as well, who whine (and it
really is whining) "but I only want to sell..." whatever single item they want to specialize in.

No matter what you are selling, buyers are not going to magically come to you. You gotta take it
to THEM. And you have to sell what people want and/or need, especially in a bad economy, but
really any time. My mom taught me to be successful at anything you have to toot your own horn,
cos nobody else will. And she taught me that to make your way in the world you have to find a
niche (ie what people need) and fill it.

I like to make stained glass. Alas I am a perfectionist and it is slow work: to make a living at
that I would have to charge way more than most people would spend, and likely only sell a few
pieces a year. Good for the artist in me, but won't pay the rent. My nursing job (again
something people need) pays the rent. For now. And for my online selling, again I'd love to just
sell stained glass, and maybe even some pretty depression glass. But that's not realistic.
There are THOUSANDS of sellers out there making and selling little stained glass baubles,
and selling collectible glassware from the 40's and 50's. So I sell a bit of everything,
anything I can basically get that looks new-ish that is either free or very cheaply had,
I will try to resell at a profit. And I do and it works. But it don't pay the rent.
And then momma says in my head "find a niche and fill it". And BonzMerchant.com was born!
Time only will tell but I think I found it. But I digress.

"Find a niche and Fill It"

My mom was a smart lady. She was also an artist and eventually was marginally famous in her
way for her seascapes and floral paintings which she sold WORLDWIDE by the time she died in 1996.
She did NOT start out that way.

In the late 60's and early 70's, we were struggling. Dad was a carpenter, and had another of MANY
layoffs as that industry is known for. Mom was just a housewife who loved to do crafts,
gardening. Anything to do with color and design, she had an eye for it: God-given talent (cos it
comes from nowhere else, never doubt it).

What she LIKED to paint was alas not what people wanted to buy and hang in their homes. You'd
admire them in a gallery, but not hang it over your sofa.
Her favorite thing to paint was scenes from her childhood home in New England, things like an
old covered wooden bridge, or a stream in winter or fall, or a farmhouse and barn surrounded by
wild flowers and a broken down fence. She also loved the sea, and so she painted ships and docks,
and my favorite was a pair of 24-inch tall paintings of gondolas in the waterways of Venice.
Her favorite two were a painting of a child she saw in a magazine ad, one of those pitiful-looking
Save-the-Children ads with the half-naked child with the huge belly and sad expression
that she made into a portrait, and a copy of St. George and the Dragon, which she was incredibly
proud to demonstrate was identical to the real one except that it was exactly 1 inch taller and
wider overall. She wanted to show that she, blind in her left eye since age 14 and without even
a High School education, and never an art class in her life, could do what the 'masters' did.
And she did.

What people WANTED in their homes was HUGE flowers in whatever the color fashion of the day
dictated, so a 4 foot by two foot painting would have one huge flower in the middle and two
more smaller ones for balance, exactly three leaves and the background would be whatever the
interior designers that year were telling people to use. She would "puff up" her flowers to make
them three dimensional and her well-kept secret that all her competitors wanted to have, now that
she has been dead these 14 years, was Elmer's glue. Nothing more. She painted a lot of seascapes,
nothing more than rolling surf and a few rocks and seagulls, maybe some sea oats in the
foreground. And the "orientals" which consisted of a pair of paintings usually, of a single woman
in Japanese kimono with full makeup and fan, a little tree or pagoda in the background. Common
stuff, everyone was painting the same thing, but it was what people wanted.
So much for pure art. But, that was later.

In the beginning there was the housewife, who 'borrowed' $40 from her grocery money to buy some
paints and brushes and 'turps' and a couple of mounted canvasses. She made a few paintings to
take to a local craft show in front of the local strip mall, "Shoppers Haven" as I recall. I
think I was maybe 11 or 12. She had a card table and a couple of those wire easels you see at
funerals, and a few canvasses with her painted angels and still-life flowers and a reproduction
or two of famous paintings she was practicing on, and some jewelry pins we made from tissue paper
and colored mucilage glue. There were also a set of used kitchen cannisters she painted flowers
on, a wooden spoon with butterflies painted on, little stuff. She WANTED to sell the canvas
paintings of course, they would make the most money and it's what she loved to do. She KNEW
however that the LITTLE things, what my husband would now call "kaserai" was what would draw the
customers and may, in a bad economy, be the only things to sell.

She was right. We sold EVERY piece of the tissue-and-mucilage jewelry (we're talking 25 cent
items), as well as the wooden spoon and the cannisters, and not one painting. BUT she had lots of
lookers and they all took business cards (which she had painted and printed by hand). This was
1970 or so. There was no internet, no computers or home printers. Mom promoted herself like mad.
She made friends with someone at the local throw-out paper, not the Sentinel, the little free
community thing you pick up at the grocery store. He took photos of her stuff, and ran a little
story. She kept going to craft shows, and she kept painting. And she kept promoting. And every
penny she made went back into the business itself, not into our household. Whatever supplies,
entry fees, gas money, etc she needed for this venture had to come from what she sold, if
anything.

For 2 years we made tissue-and-mucilage flowers, pins, floral arrangements, any little thing that
would sell. She made wooden plaques and little signs for bedroom doors with frogs and butterflies
on them, and whatever people wanted them to say. She hand-painted greeting cards. Any little
crafty nickel and dime item that she could make to sell.
And mom LISTENED to what her customers were saying about colors and designs, what they liked and
what they didn't.

Most Artists paint what THEY want to paint. Mom wisely decided to paint what people wanted to
buy. Mom painted on anything and everything. And finally sold one canvas painting. And by 1973
was selling several per show: and she went EVERY weekend to a show all weekend, 12-16 hour days
with set up Friday afternoons and sitting there in the mall with hundreds of other artists trying
to sell their wares, all day Saturday and Sunday and tear down on Sunday to come home. She worked
HARD at this, and in between painted and painted. She started going to ART shows, instead of
outdoor "craft" shows, having earned her way up to this. And shows all over the state, so that
literally every weekend of the year was booked at some art show or other. And longer shows, 4-5
days instead of just weekends. And finally by the mid-80's she was making a living at it and my
dad officially retired and joined her in the business, making her picture frames and stretching
her canvasses, which she was now selling 10 or more in a week (large 48" paintings too).

Moral is: it takes TIME and it takes persistance and it takes LISTENING to what your potential
customers are telling you they want, and being willing to sell what they want and need at any
given time, even if it isn't what you want to be selling or doing. Mom didn't especially like
yellow and orange, but when style dictated that was how people were decorating their homes,
that's what she painted that year. The next year if it was purple and green, that's what she did
too. That's what people wanted.
And her competitors? They made fun of her, told her she wasn't a "real artist", waving their
diplomas and snooty attitudes in her face, all the while speculating about what she used to
puff up those big flowers because they couldn't get theirs to do that, and complaining that sales
were bad. But guess what: she was the one selling, making a living at it, and they weren't.
And she would quote Liberace, who laughed all the way to the bank!

I know my mom's paintings are in homes (and probably more than a few attics by now) all over the
world. You can't, alas, Google M.Lent Florida artist today and find her. But I know how many
paintings she sold. She's out there. I have a small stash of her paintings I may even sell one
day. But not yet.