(last edited on January 9, 2021 at 8:15 pm)
Time for the second Groundhog Day Resolution Review Day! Looking back at last month’s review, I’m amazed at how verbose it was. Today, my goal has simplified considerably.
Before, I was thinking that my master resolution was to create a very comprehensive map of my goals, relating intention with action and sorted by work-life category. While the work I did on this was quite illuminating, it actually ended up being the catalyst for declaring a new identity for myself: maker of functional stationary.
So, the major progress I’ve made in the past month has been accepting that new identity. Instead of worrying that I needed to see the COMPLETE SEAH-TIME-SPACE CONTINUUM on a big sheet of paper, I focused on two main things:
- I’m a stationery designer, hee hee hee!
- I’m a freelance designer, working on important client projects
These two identities, while not necessary at odds with each other, do represent a time allocation conflict between the old me and the new. March was also the month that I officially started a very-involved design project that will continue to the beginning of summer. It was difficult to stay focused on the difficult project work when the prospect of being a stationery designer seemed so much more enticing.
At the end of this month, I’ve affirmed several ideas that have kept me balanced:
Finding Faith to Act
I’ve accepted that worthwhile endeavors are inherently difficult and not possible to optimize. Difficulty usually manifests as something I have to learn that I don’t have time to learn, while at the same time making-up solutions that WILL suck up energy and time WITHOUT guaranteeing success. This is the only attitude that works. While it’s possible that shortcuts or other processes will fall into my lap, to seek such things first is self-defeating. The longer you’re in it, the more likely you are to win it. And I’ve come to believe that the journey is NOT the reward; the journey is where you HAVE TO BE in order to HAVE ANY CHANCE of grabbing whatever brass ring appears before you. It may not be the brass ring you want, and it may even begin another long journey instead of granting sweet rest, but you’ve gotta be on the road if you ever want the opportunity to see where it takes you. After ticking through the stories, personal experiences, and observations over the years…I think I finally believe this as a First Principle. That takes a lot of the questioning out of the work.
Community-driven Product Making
Last month I launched the Emergent Task Timer StickyPads, which was a product based on a reader email asking me if it was possible. He had provided a link, and I followed it, and then asked my printer (whom I’d built a working relationship with over the past several years) if it was feasible. I’m now looking at a followup product that will be a dry erase board, which was based on a photo of the DIY ETP-style white board that another reader posted on my Facebook page. I thought it was a cool idea, after talking to some local suppliers it looks like I can do it. The larger size offers new possibilities too that I’m excited to start prototyping with y’all. The upshot of all this activity? It’s fun and engaging. I like to share what I’m working on with people, and it’s even better it’s in the context of wanting to do more. I want to make products that reflect my own standards of cool, and there are people out there that want neat-looking organizational tools so they can be productive badasses! That’s a synergy I can work with.
Building Machines for Selling Stuff
I’ve been thinking a lot, perhaps to the point of public crassness, about what business is. To me, a good business is the result of research into a “machine” that successfully creates desirable benefits at a well-defined cost to be sold for profit while delivering exceptional happiness to the customer.
After deciding to call myself a “maker of functional stationery”, I found that this mental model of business pointed to a singular rule: devise more machines that make selling stationery easier. I have that already in the form of Amazon Pro Merchant and Fullfillment by Amazon, but it can be better. This exercise is unexpectedly fun, because Amazon provides me with feedback in terms of sales numbers and I can see if what I’m trying is working. Feedback rocks!
Seeing the Snowball Grow
Say you spend $100 to make 100 cookies that you sell for a total of $125. Take $100 from that $125 and make another 100 cookies. This is a self-sustaining process, and it’s how I am maintaining production of the Emergent Task Planner Pads.
Continuing the example, after 4 batches of 100 cookies have been sold, I’ve now saved $100. I can spend it, or I can use it to create a completely NEW kind of cookie that taps a different market need (so it doesn’t cut into sales of the first kind of cookie). Presuming that the new cookie sells at the same rate as the old cookie, I’m now selling 200 cookies at a time for a total take of $250. So now I’m saving money at twice the rate. In two batches of two types of cookies sold, I have another $100 that I can use to launch a third cookie product that, again, taps a different market.
In this third run, it takes two batches to save $150, which is more than I need.
In the fourth run, it takes one batch to save $100 selling across four different cookie types, presuming they’re all selling at the same rate. This is where it starts to look interesting. I’m now able to save enough money per run, selling about 400 cookies in a time period. This is the magic point I’d like to reach.
This is a highly idealized model, but it shows me that I can invest profits from my production runs into new product development and increase the rate of revenue generated. That is presuming, of course, that having more kinds of products to sell is actually the way to grow the business. As I’ve seen sales of the ETP pads stay pretty consistent over the past few years, the addition of a new product has only added revenue. The more products that are maintaining this kind of slow positive growth, it seems the more likely I can ramp up the long-term revenue of my weird little stationery business. The other way is to increase volume of sales through marketing, or by placement with bigger retailers. That’s not off the table, but it’s nice to have an ALTERNATIVE PLAN to that. The more I can grow through my own efforts, the better I think. The big takeaway is that I can see how the money machine works in context with what I can control. That’s a HUGE relief.
So, reporting for this month’s Groundhog Day Resolutions Review, I’d say that I’ve found my set of working principles:
- Turn that Work Crank and see what comes out. Keep cranking. Even if nothing appears to be happening, it really is the only way!
- Create products for my tribe, with my tribe!
- Make simple machines that improve my capacity to sell, without requiring more of my precious hands-on education.
- Save profits to fund production of new products. Revenue levels will, in time, snowball into significant amounts. Also growing the volume of existing sales through marketing activities can help, but it’s not the only game in town. Good products first. Marketing second.
I’m feeling pretty positive about this, and the great thing is that all of these activities can be done in small pieces, which frees my large blocks of time up for contract work, which continue to pay the bills. By the time I hit 10 products for sale, I’ll be able to evaluate this strategy for sure. In the meantime, the numbers seem promising.
By next month, I hope to see development progress on the following products:
- 50-sheet, thick cardboard ETP full-sized pad (test product)
- Fountain Pen Notebook
- Dry Erase ETP 18×24″ board
- Certificate of Chain Letter Breaking
- A5 Bound ETP Journal
It’s unlikely I can fund all these at once, but I can certainly put the legwork in now! I’m pretty excited.
Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2012
Here are other posts about Groundhog Day Resolutions for the 2012 season.
I am REALLY excited for your upcoming product line. I plan to buy pretty much everyone. I think you’re really hitting the market you’re aiming at.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Will!
I wonder how to describe that market…somewhere between productivity/process aficionados and lovers of sexy office/stationery products?
I am all in for an ETP Journal. I love the ETP sheets but they are large to carry around (and the back is not solid enough/ has no cover) so I need to put them in a folio or on a clip board. This just seems bulky. Now I carry around a standard moleskin for meeting notes and another for action items. But neither is good for “time boxing.” So if you could have a moleskin size journal that would be awesome. Also as a side note I am trying to get to paperless. Today the stylus input on the ipad just stinks (big crayon). But with windows 8 there may actually be a friendly tablet you can write on effectively and afford. So my longer term suggestion is get out in front of the windows 8 thing. Repackage (in addition to current plans) the ETP as an app and as a productivity system in the windows 8 “app store”. Create a dedicated website for just the app and productivity system and keep this blog for personal thoughts / stationery.
Best of luck
It has been a long time since I have surfaced, but I have been keeping up with your blog. My suggestion is a follow up to Joe G., you really need some smartphone apps, iPhone, Android and …. if necessary Win 8.
I really want a CGT app for my iPhone. And although I keep restarting the iTunes U Stanford class on iPhone development … I am willing to help out where I can.
Your fan, Katrina