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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sales Pass $2,350 8 Days Into May and The Importance of Reflecting on One's Accomplishments to Maintain Perspective

My posts on this blog have become less and less frequent, and have gotten more and more business focused. This is a reflection on the reality of becoming an entrepreneur: In the summer of 2015 when I started this blog, I was excited by my newfound freedom. I was taking time to garden. I was literally stopping to smell the flowers. I was quitting at 5:00 pm every day. I was cooking gourmet meals and posting the recipes here. I was working out every day. But this was when my bank accounts were flush with one full year of my savings and when I either had fresh investor money coming into the bank account, or the promise of it. The reality of actually having to generate enough sales and re-invest to sustain the business had not hit.

In 2016 as the expenses of living in Toronto depleted our savings and I watched the bank balance go down, the reality hit me HARD. At the same time I became acutely aware that the interest clock was ticking on the money that the investors had put in. I was going to have to find a way to generate enough sales to:

  1. Make a living for Steph and I.
  2. Re-invest in inventory so that I don't run out.
  3. Pay my investors and have enough to buy them out when the time comes. 
It became apparent very quickly that as encouraging as it is to sell $100 in one day, I was going to have to get to a point where I'm selling between $300-$500 a day if I really want this to succeed. Little by little, as that realization set in, I began to sacrifice  and work harder and harder. Now, I am working late every weeknight until 2 am or 3 am, and I still don't feel like I'm getting enough done. 

What has happened in large part is that I have lost perspective. I have lost the ability to see my and Steph's accomplishments objectively. I've been so focused on putting one foot forward and then the other foot, that I haven't really sat back and reflected on what Steph and I have accomplished as a couple and what I have accomplished since I began this journey 4 years ago. 

So now, as our sales reach $2,350 in just 8 days, I want to reflect a bit and share our accomplishments as well as mine so far:

  • In January 2013 I moved out of my downtown Toronto home that I owned jointly with my now ex-wife, taking only my stamps and a few family heirloom furniture pieces with me. It was a major loss of nearly everything I had spent 15 years working hard for, as my ex had not contributed financially for more than half of our relationship. Yet, she got the house, which is now worth almost $600,000 more than we paid for it, at least. I was a new partner in a Toronto accounting firm, and although I made decent money, I owned nothing but my stamps. I was completely dependent on my position at the firm. Although I liked working with my clients, I grew to hate working in a firm environment. I hated the wasted time, pointless meetings that accomplished nothing and the constant politics, politics, politics. I spent the last year of my employment wanting to end my life - literally. 
  • In February 2013 I met Steph at a meetup for Beer Lovers, which is funny because Steph doesn't drink. She was wingwoman for her friend Jackie who was there to meet people. But she got more than she bargained for. She met me. Within 10 minutes of talking to her she revealed that she knew what a philatelist (stamp collector) was. I revealed my knowledge of gender politics, the Kinsey scale and fluidity of gender, and from that point on we were destined to become one. We dated for close to a year before we moved in together in January 2014.
  • In July 2014 I made the decision to leave my position as partner and to save as much money as I could to start my business. I spent 2 months on my business plan, and in November 2014, while I was attending a conference in New Delhi, India, I completed my financial projections which settled the question that had plagued me, which was "Is this business viable?".
  • In January 2015 I took the very difficult step of informing my partners that I would be leaving the partnership. That was one of the toughest discussions I have ever had with anyone. But I got though it and worked with them on a transition plan which would see me ease out of my role between then and July 2015. 
  • During my transition, several of my clients expressed an interest in investing in my business - something that completely took me by surprise. It stood as a testament to the level of trust and confidence that I had built with these people. While there were many people that couldn't understand how I could make a living selling stamps to collectors, not one person thought I was making bad decision, or at least no one said so. 
  • In July 2015 I left my position and started the business in earnest. I also started the three blogs that I write today. I have published well over 300 posts between all three blogs since July 2015 and I have grown the daily readership of my Canadian stamp blog to 300 visits a day and the others to 50-60 visits when the posts are published. Feedspot, a content reading service and feed-building service ranked our blogs among the top 60 stamp related blogs that are online just last month. I'm not sure how meaningful this award really is, but it is nice to be recognized. More and more of our customers are recognizing our blog and commenting on how much they like it, and there is no doubt about its role in driving sales. 
  • We started off with less than $20 a day in sales back in July 2015. In early 2016, we were getting $100 a day on average, and a good month was $3,000 gross. We were just starting to get the types of regular customers who would engage with us, but nearly everything happened within E-bay only. We were not generating enough sales to pay the bills, not by a long-shot, so we depleted savings. By the middle of 2016 all our savings was gone and we had to depend on two infusions of investor money to survive, while we continued to grow the business.
  • We suffered some major setbacks. One investor who had committed funds, which were essential to the execution of my business plan pulled out. I spent a good part of 2016 trying to line up another investor to replace the first one and he too pulled out in December last year. 
  • In October 2016 Steph and I got married. Steph managed through her incredible ingenuity to plan and execute a wedding for just over 60 guests, at a beautiful location in Toronto, with minimal help from me, and a weeklong honeymoon in New York, all for just under $8,000. Eight grand! She did this while we watched friends of ours spend $60,000 and $30,000 on their weddings. We paid for everything from savings and did not incur one scrap of debt to do it.
  • In September 2016 just before we got married, we drove 1,800 km from Toronto to Saint John, New Brunswick to look at houses. We found our house, which I have written about at length for $133,000. After we made our offer, we went to work to get the downpayment and financing together. As many of you who haven read the blog will recall, we nearly lost the house when our mortgage broker was negligent and the lender he was working with screwed us over. However, we found a local broker and we did manage to get our mortgage.
  • At the end of November 2016 we moved from Toronto to Saint John. Again, we managed to pay the entire moving expense bill with money we had saved. Steph, once again, managed to acquire the vast majority of our furniture for free or for very little from people in Toronto, who were trying to get rid of stuff. Again, she did virtually all of this on her own, so that I could focus on the business. 
  • We made it through the winter, with all its added expenses and set-up expenses of establishing a life in New Brunswick, including all the government fees associated with various licenses and registrations, fuel costs, water bills, property taxes, sewer bills etc. We have done this without going into debt.
  • We have now managed to grow the business to the point now where we are averaging between $150-$225 per day. I have established a relationship with a local accounting firm here and they value my work and send me work that I can do to make extra money. With all of that, we have been able to invest in turning the house into a Bed and Breakfast; I've been able to put $1,000 a month back into new stock for the business, and we will have enough to pay our investors - all without having to go into additional debt and raise more capital.
  • We went from renting a place in Toronto for $2,500 a month and literally pissing money away to owning a beautiful home here in Saint John. Sure, it may never be worth more than we paid, but even if it never goes up, it is still a worthwhile investment, give that the mortgage is less than it would cost to rent here. We are about to open a beautiful Bed and Breakfast, which probably won't get any guests this year, but eventually will. Once again, Steph all the work in this regard, so that I could focus on the business. 
  • We have customers who engage us by e-mail every day now. We do a lot of sales outside of e-bay and we have want lists and repeat customers who buy from us all the time.
  • We have our own logo and business cards that are building our brand recognition. Just this week, I have started including the cards in my mailings. 
  • We have been developing our own stand-alone website outside of E-bay, so that eventually, we won't have to pay $500 a month in E-bay fees, and we won't be at the whims of E-bay. Development on it has stalled, but at least we have a working website. 
  • After years and years of thinking I could never have pets because I was allergic, I got my first cat when I met Steph, and then in August 2015, Steph gave me Viktor. Viktor is a little black male Siamese, who looks just like a miniature panther. Every day, he jumps up onto my desk and curls up behind my computer screen and keeps me company. I am greeted by him first thing in the morning with his tail sticking straight up to tell me how excited he is to get food. He is a very dear friend, and I now understand after all these years why pet owners feel as they do about their pets. 
  • I have managed to maintain and deepen my relationship with my wonderful son Sequoia. I was worried back in 2013 that I would lose him in the divorce, as he was 18 at the time and the divorce was hard on him. Indeed it is one of the reasons why I don't think I will ever be able to fully forgive my ex, as she was the one who ultimately set in motion the events that lead to the divorce, and she chose to do it at a critical time in Sequoia's development. However, despite this difficulties that he has faced, I have watched him embark courageously on his own journey. He loves music. He loves to mix and produce music and that is what he is trying to make his career in. I have every confidence that he will succeed. I can feel it. I love that I get to be a part of that.  
  • Through all of this, I realize that my greatest accomplishment of all was finding Steph. Here is a woman who knows the value of a dollar, is thrifty with money and is happy to do stuff on her own. She understands that we are a team and she is happy to handle her responsibilities, while I handle mine. It is a complete 180 degree turnaround from my former marriage in which my ex demanded that I be involved in absolutely everything to the point where I couldn't focus on anything, or build anything. I am forever in this wonderful woman's debt because I see now just how unstoppable we are and have been. 
After writing this, I feel a new perspective: a much greater appreciation for Steph and a greater sense that we are ultimately going to be okay. If you are burning the candle at both ends and feel that constant sense of "there aren't enough hours in a day", I urge you to do the exercise that I have just done. Start at the beginning of your journey and make a timeline of events, important dates, setbacks you have overcome, things you have accomplished and savour it. This is especially important because your momentum moving forward is the best predictor of how your business will fare in the coming months. It is very easy to think that each month is just a fluke and to worry and stress about whether next month will be any good. This exercise should help alleviate some of that stress. 

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