Friday, February 10, 2012

I Am the Decider

I suck at making decisions. When I’m facing a choice or a problem, thoughts swirl around my brain until they come to rest in well-worn slots and I wind up right back where I started – nothing solved, no decision made. If I shake my brain like a snow globe the same thoughts take the same paths to the same slots. Sometimes I can work that out right here in my blog. But my innate aversion to risk usually paralyzes me. This is not a good trait for an entrepreneur to have.
Example One: A caller quizzed me about international sales – a sour topic, as I generally don’t like them. They’re a trivial fraction of my business with disproportionate hassles. Would I like to increase them while reducing the headache? His employer would take over my international shipping at no cost to me. All I had to do was implement a few lines of code, and foreign customers would be directed to his company. I would merely ship domestically to their warehouse and they would do the rest. I asked him to send me some materials to review.

After a few days he called back. I hadn’t received his email (he had the address wrong). He resent it. I started researching it, got bored, and set it aside in the hope that it might just go away. It didn’t. He called again; I put him off again. Although his company has plugin modules for several PHP shopping carts, they don’t have one for Sunshop; I’d have to do a custom implementation. He assured me that the process was simple and that their support people would hold my hand. I’m skeptical. Nothing technical ever goes smoothly and I’d very likely end up paying my developer to get me out of trouble. It would complicate future version upgrades. Customers using a ship-to address in a different country than their credit card issuer and their IP address would definitely set off my credit card fraud filter. Google didn’t have any feedback from other merchants, but I did find some customers with various complaints about their service and prices. It seems like something with low risk and a small potential payoff, but a high initial hassle factor.

My gut says that it’s more hassle than it’s worth, and that the potential benefits wouldn’t outweigh the probable drawbacks. A Cayman Islands resort placed last week’s big Create-a-Bird kite order. Would I have still made that sale if we’d had to go through this consolidator?

But caution and inertia might be behind all these rationalizations. Over the years I’ve toyed with ending international sales entirely. Wouldn’t it be better if I could farm them out instead, and possibly even increase them in the process?

See those thoughts landing in well-worn grooves? I think the salesman might have finally given up and gone away while I decided not to decide.

Example Two: A personable young lady rang me up last week to pitch her advertising agency. Ordinarily I get people like her off the phone as soon as I can politely do so…and I’ve been known to skip the politeness part when I’m in a bad mood, which is most of the time. But she happened to reach me while I was despairing over this year’s sales funk, and she persuaded me that Facebook advertising might just break down my limits. I spent several hundred dollars last year trying to tap into Facebook’s bajillion users for Valentines Day and again for Mothers Day. I wrote off Facebook advertising as overpriced and ineffective when those experiments failed. 

But what if I just wasn’t doing it right? What if somebody a lot savvier than me could turn a comparable investment into a big sales increase? This company charges about what I wasted on LY’s experiments. They will succeed or they will not – the results are easily measurable. At worst, I’d waste a few hundred more bucks that I can’t afford and ruin my chances of reining in advertising costs this year. But at least nobody dies. At best, adding a major new advertising campaign might pump my sales up enough to get some momentum going again. I could even pause my Google campaigns for a couple of weeks to cover the cost. Next week was one of the slowest of last year, so I wouldn't even forfeit very much business.

What to do? What to do? As usual, my brain tormented me for days. When my wife joined me on my morning walk one day, she let me blabber on about both of these issues at great length. She asked some good questions as the miles slipped by. I got them answered, and I made a decision: I signed up for Facebook advertising. They have my Amex number. The meter starts running when the campaign goes live next week.

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