Can I Afford Not To Go After This Business….

I receive an email or two like this a week.  My reading of this email leads me to believe they want me to provide a full list of the products I offer.  Maybe I am in dire need of a personal touch, but I am pretty sure I am not the only random email this was sent out to.  Most of the other emails ask me to reply with the credit cards I take.  Maybe this line was dropped because it was turning off too many people.  😦

The company is listed here:

I wonder if a “Misty Smith” works there?

Here is the Google+ page?  They look pretty active, don’t they?

Bottom line:  They may not live in Nigeria (maybe they do, but are trying to appear otherwise).  They are just thieves wanted you to think they want to give you an order.  Thanks, but I have better ways of wasting my time!


Dear Sir/Madam,
Tiger Development Inc,is a procurement specialists company, we are always interested in working with suppliers and vendors to provide our clients with high quality goods and services. We are interested in making an order for our coming event and the items will be giving out to our clients an incentive.

Please provide us with the technical specification and models available in stock.

We look forward to receiving your reply soon.

Yours Sincerely,
Misty Smith (Admin).

Company Name: Tiger Development Inc
Address: 3701 Perkiomen Ave # 3,
City: Reading
ZIP : 19606****************************************

The End of An Era…..??

It was a early May morning in 2006 when SignSeen and I met.  We took awhile to get to know each other.  After I understood her better, I moved her around a few times and paid different “doctors” to look after her.  When necessary, I brought in experts to help her in areas she was week.  Unfortunately, I think I am falling out of love with the girl….

The internet just isn’t what it used to be.  She used to be more forgiving.  And, often just showing up was enough for her to take money with the promise of product being sent.  If money was spent to bring visitors to her door, she seemed to know just what to show them to make the sale be completed.  She knew what she needed to do, and she was not distracted as easily as she is now.

The older she has gotten, the more and more difficult it is to keep her as popular.  Once she was cute and had enough for most any visitor.  But, as she has aged and failed to get the necessary face lifts; she has lost her allure.

And, as poorly as I have tried to develop an analogy for my website, the bottom line is I am running out of steam for the old girl! Due to technical mistakes (some by me and some by my developer) and a refusal to continue to spend money on marketing that seems to have less than satisfactory results, I am trying to summon one last bit of energy to push the site into a healthy place.  If it makes it, YEAH!!  If not, then, I count on something else to come.  If maintaining a website and breaking even is a worthy goal, then I need to find other goals to try and attain.

I have been letting other parts of my past businesses stick around.  Many of these past businesses are just slightly annoying, but not really big time commitments.  This list includes:

  • My business selling to a large retail chain from Columbus, Ohio  Now, this business is just maintaining the customers existing products.
  • My purchase of an eBay business selling backyard pond supplies (lasted a little over a year, and then let it go to business partner)
  • Purchase of another eBay business. A website was set up to easily update ebay store, but the expense of the site eventually made it unattractive to pursue heavily.  Now, it is just a small eBay store with a sister website—minimum orders without much expense.  However, the eBay store has provided a venue to sell product from other businesses.
  • Purchased another sign site to try and take advantage of the SEO on the site for “sidewalk signs” and other keywords.
  •  I tried to create a variety of other sign sites from the VAST set of domain names I have.  The headache of maintaining became more than I could successfully handle.  I was stretched to thin.  I  am suspect the stretching done by the multiple sites was the push into the land of “no return”.  (Or, if not “no return”, it won’t be a clear path back…)
What business is next?  I don’t need one, and I am not writing off the one I already am working.  I will see where the sign site goes and what experiences I have between now and then.  I will do something. And, if I am lucky, the “something” will be clear.  If not, I will still do…

No Longer Taking American Express On Websites

I sure do seem to be a whiner lately!!

Today, I am ticked (again) .  This time it is regarding the policies of my recent nemesis, American Express.  Besides charging me back recently, they took a bit out of me when I refunded a customer for a Canadian sign order.

The purchase price (with shipping) was $674.  The credit card fees were over $23.  When realizing I would not be able to ship to this customer, I completed a refund yesterday.  Typically, when I do a refund, the credit card fees is added back in.  So, my portion of the refund would only have been a little over $650.  The rest would have been supplied by PayPal refunded their fee.  However, due to a change at AMEX (or PayPal), the credit card fees are no longer refunded.  So, my refund of $674 ended up costing me over $697.

Since I am a man of action, I decided to reduce any additional pain in this area.  I called PayPal and let them know that I want American Express turned off on my websites.  And, I had it done to both of my PayPal accounts.  So, I am sorry if you want to check out on my websites using American Express, but their (or PayPals) policies have started to make it a poor business decision.

Credit Card Chargebacks

I will be one of the first to admit that my products are not perfect.  And, not every customer will love the item they purchased right out of the box.  Since I want to try and keep customers happy, I will try and work with them when this happens.  As the seller, I usually think I get the worse end of the deal, but if the customer is mostly happy, then it hopefully all works out.

As I opened my email this morning, I received one of the worst type of emails I could receive. A customer had initiated a chargeback for the item he purchased.  Because I had no idea of the problem he had with his sign, this was very disturbing to me.  I immediately emailed the customer to try and find out what problem  he encountered.  I also logged into my credit card processor to provide the proof of shipping and receiving information that they required.  I then went about my day with a less than positive attitude.

When my email was checked a few hours later, the customer had responded.  He let me know he had emailed me 10 days ago and addressed his concerns.  (I never saw it until this morning.) After I did not respond, he told me he had no choice but to file the chargeback.  Did he have the right to file the chargeback?  Of course!  Did he have a choice?  Well, if his phone worked he did!  It is hard to try and resolve an issue if you don’t know the issue exists.  And, if you are about to make a decision that affects another persons ability to do business (my credit card company haq “frozen” funds for the total cost of his purchase until the issue is resolved–sometimes this takes 2-4 weeks), it seems like a phone call and voice mail is the minimum step any customer should go to before choosing to initiate a chargeback.

I have filed chargebacks in the past.  Before I have done it, I have sent numerous emails and left several messages.  If they don’t respond to voice mails, then the assumption is they don’t want to be reached.  Rarely (if ever), do I send one email to a person and automatically assume it goes through.  If they don’t respond, I send another or I call.  When you assume, neither one of us is completely innocent.  And, I believe customers need to take some responsibility…especially if the sale is over $1,000.

The additional irony with this sale was this:  After the customer placed the order, I called him (yes, with a phone) within 2 hours of the order being placed to confirm what he wanted with the sign.  I guess he didn’t remember my phone worked after the sign arrived….

Reducing maintenance time of your websites

I have a couple of websites on Ebay. And, I also wanted to have websites to sell products outside of Ebay. I tried one option that allowed me to pay a monthly fee AND a percentage of my final sale. And, beyond financial issues, I never fully used the product. After additional searching, I found Prostores.

A few of the reasons I like ProStores….

  1. Cost: If you have an Ebay store, the cost is about $20/month.
  2. Convenience: If a product is on Ebay, it AUTOMATICALLY is uploaded to your Prostore. And, if you want products JUST on the Prostore, that is fine, too.
  3. Marketing: GoogleBase is an automatic part of the Prostore website. And, Yahoo is also easily integrated.
  4. Maintenance: Easy site navigation when doing backend functions.
  5. Neat little gizmos, like the one seen below, that let you show you site off in all sorts of places…
  6. Integration: I know I stated this in “Convenience” above, but this is key. If you run multiple websites with a small staff (i.e. you), then Prostores is really a choice you need to consider.
  7. Customizeable: I haven’t spent as much time on customizing as I could, but there are many templates available OR you can make your own. A Prostores site can really have the look you want to give it!

If there are any questions about how I use my sites OR if you need some assistance trying to run your own sites, please let me know.


They can’t all be great customers…

As a small business owner, you have your days when just wonder why you continue to do it. Others can go out and work their 8 or 9 hours. They come home after their day, and don’t worry about any of the stuff they left behind. (Of course, they may worry about their job.) But as a business owner, I can’t often take time off. And, when I don’t take time off, I have to deal with things like this:

First, I have already talked about my ebay web store. It has been a great adventure for both my sons and I. We cut the order, and have them shipped often within 24 hours. We really try hard to take care of the customers. However, it seems sometimes you do everything right, and it still goes wrong. Recently, this happened when we received a “neutral” feedback on Ebay. And, a neutral feedback is not so bad. EXCEPT, when you are at 100% feedback, you now no longer are 100%. After fuming a bit, I research the person who left this feedback. My feedback was, “Generic filter…low quality…Filters needs to be cut to fit.”. Feedback he left for others was something like, “High Shipping charges – $9 for Priority !?” Well, he had to know the shipping before he purchased. All of this to say, sometime you do everything right, and a customer who is having a BAD day decides not to contact a seller with a very high rating to try and work it out. They decide, “It will be fun to take them off of their pedestal of being 100%. I will give them a rating so they won’t be.” And, that is his option, and I also have options. (Ebay doesn’t let you give negative or neutral feedback anymore.) So, I have blocked this seller so EVEN if he wanted to buy from me again, he can’t.

Second, I had a rather slow day for orders. And, when I received a call from a customer who wanted me to give them a deal, I said, “Sure.” I was not making a huge profit, but I was still making something. I eventually had another couple of orders, and thought, “It was an okay day.” Then, later that evening, the customer calls and says the order must be canceled. He was having financial problems and couldn’t afford it. Obviously, I refunded his money. However, he will NEVER get that deal again.

Third, I had a customer who purchased from me. From the start, I had concerns about what she was trying to do to me. She went to the credit card company for a full refund when I wouldn’t give her a sizeable refund based on dubious evidence. What follows is the memo that was prepared to try and contest her chargeback claim.: (The customer’s name has been changed.)

1. The sign was received by Ms. Smith on 4/14/08. The signed Bill of Lading (see attached Bills of Lading that were faxed) by both the trucking company and the receiving person at Ms. Smith’s company did not indicate that there was any damage to the box or sign. Generally, when an item is damaged upon arrival, the general practice is to reject delivery so the buyer avoids being charged with receipt of goods. Ms. Smith or her representative accepted delivery. There is an unsigned Bill of Lading (see faxed Bills of Lading) that my company, SignsSeen, received from Ms. Smith on 4/28/08 which indicated damage. I contacted the delivery company who indicated the delivery was “clean” and they only consider the signed Bill of Lading as valid for delivery purposes.

2. The merchandise was shipped to a business, not a consumer address. Ms. Smith works at a Drury Inn and, from her e-mails, seemed somewhat knowledgeable about signs. No doubt the Drury Inn has received deliveries in the past and would know the practice is to reject delivery of damaged goods or understands that an unsigned delivery receipt is not valid.

3. In addition, Ms. Smith waited almost 2 weeks before contacting my company the first time to complain of any damage to the sign. The sign was delivered on 4/14/08 and she contacted my company on 4/26/08. The manufacturer requires notice within 24 hours of receipt by the buyer. It is unusual for a customer to wait that long to complain about damaged goods due to shipping and unreasonable for a customer to expect that anything can be done to rectify the situation after that length of time. There is no proof that the damage that Ms. Smith claims to have occurred due to shipping had actually occurred. Ms. Smith’s handling of the merchandise during this time period after delivery and before contacting me on 4/26/08 could have caused the damage to the sign.

4. Ms. Smith took the sign to a local sign store for customization. Ms. Smith’s local sign shop was upset that I had sold the sign less expensively than they would have sold it to her. They called the manufacturer, Wayne Industries, to complain about this. My sales rep at the manufacturer talked to the local sign company who did the custom vinyl work for Ms. Smith’s sign My sales rep informed me that the local sign company never mentioned any damage to him during the phone call.

5. I have attached some additional information that was excluded from the email thread provided when the complaint was filed. In this previously excluded information, I was very willing to work with Ms. Smith. However, throughout our email thread, Ms. Smith very typically received a same day response from me. And, I waited for up to a week or more in some cases for her response.

6. Ms. Smith is still in possession of the sign.

7. I respectfully request that you reverse the chargeback and find in my favor as there is no evidence to support that the merchandise arrived in a damaged state. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

So, I may lose a few hundred dollars if I lose the chargeback claim. Completing this was good, but it is still stressful having your honesty questioned.

BUT, the good thing that happened was I started a new website two weeks ago. AND, I received my first sale already. Not a large sale, but it confirms I am doing something right. And, although financially it doesn’t balance the negatives financially of the first three items listed, having success so quickly on a new venture is a BIG positive.

You can’t tell what type of customer is going to come your way. Most of them are honest and have realistic expectations. And, when they aren’t, you hope they go to your competition. 😉

Any thoughts?

Visit my new site at:

What does it take to start a home-based business?

As a member of a large organization that helps small businesspeople, I often get the opportunity to communicate with new business people about the businesses they want to grow. In most cases, this is via email, but occasionally, I have the opportunity to meet with one of these clients in person. And, yesterday at Panera was one of those times.

Jill (not her real name) had a couple of product she wants to market on her e-commerce site. We did not spend much time discuss the merits of any of these products. (She had determined my role to be the “web” advisor.) She already had her business set up as an LLC. She had spoken to her accountant, and she was focused on getting her product out on the internet and selling. She told me she had discussed getting a logo and website designed for over $2,000. And, she assured me she was willing to spend less. Her accountant had recommended a program like Quickbooks. And, beyond that, I tried to recommend within those limitations. The bullets below are the point we left the meeting as actionable items:

  • PayPal: Frankly, I was surprised Jill had not set up an account already. Short term, PayPal was going to be her credit card processing. She could sign up for the “virtual machine” and other features that would allow PayPal to process all credit card transactions. And, if she ever needed to refund a payment, this was easily done with PayPal. And, since her product mix was limited, she could create the buttons within PayPal that would allow PayPal transactions to easily process.
  • Google (base & Adwords & blogs): Quite a few things for Jill to keep in mind here….
    • Adwords: This is not for everybody. BUT, if you know the right techniques, you can make sure the money spent to get traffic has a higher percentage of results. (Don’t let your ads show up on “Adsense” sites.)
    • GoogleBase: Based on your products title, you can skip to the top of Google search results!
    • Webmaster Tools: Depending where her website was hosted, this could be very helpful. When you know how your site is being found, you can try to bridge the gap and do what is necessary so you can be found using other keywords.
    • Blogger: Although there is some writing required, it is a good way to let information trickle out about your product expertise.
  • GoDaddy (or any other registrar): Jill already knew what domain she wanted, but after discussing other website options, she wasn’t sure she needed to register her domain name. I don’t know if she was sold on the idea. But, when you are a small company and want to look big, having multiple email addresses at your domain (i.e.,, etc.) is a quick way to achieve this.
  • Ebay: (newsletters, etc.) After our meeting, Jill believed this was the least expensive way for her to get her website. For less than $20/month, she could load up her store and begin selling. Ebay has many features a regular e-commerce site would have, but it is just not your domain name. I really believed this to be a good quick solution for Jill as she seeks the right product mix.

Well, after our meeting, I emailed Jill the information I had on my logo designer. She replied back that ebay did not seem to be the right venue for her products. So, she wants the name of the designer I have used for some of my websites. I don’t believe I would have success with Jill’s products, but me and the other SCORE volunteers are willing to help her as much as we can. Maybe I can spend some more time on the right “products” in the future….

Once bitten, twice paranoid

As a small business owner, I have my small staff AND a few consultants I use for a variety of efforts. Recently, I hired a consultant to help me with one of my website efforts. After we met via web conference, I decided to go forward. The price was agreed upon, and the exchange of requirements began. After the requirements were agreed upon, the work was scheduled to begin.

And, it is here where things got a little crazy….

I emailed my contact a couple of times and I did not get a response. So, after thinking she was busy, I thought I would just call her up. And, after listening to, “This phone number is not in service,” a few times, my paranoia started climbing.

  1. I did a search on the company name. I found some negative information on them posted within the past week. And, I was then “certain” I had been taken–I had already paid a percent of the project costs.
  2. I found the website of the local Better Business Bureau. I punched in a phone number of the company, and I was able to determine they had a satisfactory rating. And, I thought, at least this is one positive thing to “sorta” alleviate my paranoia.
  3. I did a search on the name of the owner. I found 2 phone numbers that were possible candidates to be my “man”. I called the first one and talked to the owner’s mother. She asked me to call her back, and she would provide his cell phone number. I did, and SURPRISINGLY, she answered and provided the number.
  4. I called the number, and he picked up! He told me their phone system was being upgraded, and they were still in BUSINESS!!!
  5. He got back to his office, and called me again. He had my project coordinator email me right away. And, he emailed me a couple times, too.
  6. And, I called the company’s phone number, and it now worked!
  7. AND, the next day, the owner emailed me a longer explanation of the negative comment I had found on the internet. And, he invited me to call/email him with any other questions I may have had.

Conclusion: No matter how many times you have been burnt, there are good people out there to work with. When you are burnt, you can’t just close the doors. With internet consultants being such an important part of a small entrepreneurs cost savings, you need to get wiser each time you take on a consultant. I haven’t learned all of the lessons yet, but I continue to realize the limitation of SignsSeen. And, consultants are the only way that I can effectively make improvements to the site without distracting the rest of us from what we need to do…sell signs!!

Consultants aren’t perfect

I use a consultant who is a pretty good guy. He works inexpensively, and I try and give him good projects. And, he also manages my entire server. So, I try to give him enough business that it is worth his while. BUT, he isn’t perfect.

  1. He “released” my SSL certificate and told me it worked. Well, it didn’t! And, after more patience than I would have liked, it now works.
  2. When one thing works, another doesn’t. These aren’t big things, but they do seem to keep me wondering how much testing he does before releasing. But, did I mention he was inexpensive and that my time is “cheap”?
  3. IT guys are often not the best communicators. He does okay, but he doesn’t always think, “What would my customer think if I don’t respond to him in 3 days?”
  4. He is a shared resource. I am probably his biggest customer, but I am not the only one, so I either need to find a new less busy guy who will probably cost more OR I need to adjust my expectations.
  5. A couple of times I have been sold a module for my shopping cart that will do “everything” I need. But, when it is installed, we find out that a couple things that were supposed to be in this release just “didn’t” make it. So, I get the newest and greatest, but my consultant was just overselling what was oversold to him.

Well, if he is imperfect, why keep him?

  1. He is honest.
  2. When I get him on MY tasks, he is pretty good.
  3. When he quotes a price, he sticks to it even if he missed something when he was scoping it.
  4. He knows my shopping cart inside and out. He can tweak it, write modules, and fix other peoples broken modules.
  5. And, he doesn’t think I am to big of a nag when something is broken….

Good Luck finding the consultant to help grow your business!!

But I have lots of products on my site!!!

After having a goal of placing as many products on my site as possible, I have reached a point where the fallacy of this logic is apparent. And, this is why:

  • Some of the products on my site became more complicated to order when “many” was the goal. Due to my shopping cart software, I created a separate product for EVERY letter of the alphabet. If I would have had one product for all and had a pull down list for the letters of the alphabet, customers could more easily taken care advantage of tiered discounts. (I have now set my signs site up this way for the LEDGO, LetterLED, and Neo-Link.)
  • Some products just don’t have much margin. As I begun the site, I thought, “I will put EVERY possible product I can on the site.” Once supplier costs and the cost of stocking non-moving products are figured in (let alone possible returns), it is just not worth the small profit you will make on a product.
  • Many of the products I have removed from the site were large items that needed some level of expertise to install. As an example, there was a very problematic outdoor LED sign I sold last year. I was very honest about SignsSeen not doing the install. The customer realized this, and did their own install. But, prior to installing, my customer did not test any of the wireless functionality. So, what should have been a very easy process, turned into a couple of weeks keeping a customer happy until the wireless communication issue could be resolved. FUTURE PLAN: I have contacted a new outdoor LED company that works to find the installation company. If this takes place, I will have their products included in teh near future.

What if someone still wants the items I have deleted off of the site? I will either tell them where to go to buy them direct OR I will quote them the product. My goal will always be taking care of the customer. And, if the customer can get a better value buying direct from the supplier, I will let them know. And, if I can’t provide a good value, then I need to find another line of work…