Saturday, November 24, 2012

Better Than TWO Sharp Sticks in the Eye, or Software Development for the Foolhardy

I've had several questions in the BeadEnCounter Forum, and on the Facebook page, about the future directions of my BeadEnCounter software. I decided to answer those questions here, and link back to each venue so everyone is informed.  Let me say upfront that I want to upgrade BeadEnCounter. I think it's the logical next step... well, read below. 

BeadEnCounter is designed to keep an inventory of craft components and to calculate costs for finished works. It first came on the market in August of 2011.

After 14 months of sales, I think I can pretty confidently say that without marketing, no product is sold. I think I can also say, that with marketing, your profit is small, if anything.

I've gone back over the sales figures and the costs involved and what I found out was very interesting.

When I started developing the software, I was first getting into beading, building my stash, and finding real difficulty keeping track of what I'd bought, what I'd paid for it, where it came from, and what it was made of.  Since I build databases for a living, it was quite easy for me to begin something for my own use. It grew and grew, and in talking to owners of bead stores and people I met there, it seemed like there was a real need for something basic in this market. There were a couple of competing products, but I thought I could build something with fewer features for less money.

At the time, we were very short of paying work (still are, to some extent). So I had time to work to create a commercial product, which is very different than producing a custom database for a business. I was the client as well as the programmer, and the knowledge expert as well! Turns out this all in one approach isn't the best.  A couple of hundred hours of design, refinement and more refinement went by....  I paid a designer for a logo and some look & feel design. 

Then I took the product into testing. I knew there were going to be plenty of things not working as designed, so I found a group of willing beaders who offered to test and to give me feedback. What I didn't realize was that the first round of feedback actually was going to lead to a major re-design of the interface and functioning of the product. Perhaps another hundred hours of my time managing the testing (four rounds) responding to bug reports and feature requests from the group by fixing or re-designing, and redistributing the fixed files. 

I couldn't have produced the product without those testers, who worked only for the reward of a free copy of the finished software. 

Then, there was the work of setting up the website (learning Rapidweaver to build it) and a new web host, and e-commerce (testing two failed products before settling on FastSpring), and getting marketing in order. I had built up some credit with a client who does marketing, so he invested the money he would have otherwise paid me in print ads in Bead & Button. Those ads cost around $1000 per month, and we could only afford four months. I did everything I could think of to publicize the software. Facebook, a dedicated forum, blogged about it, sought out online spots to place links or buy ads. I bought banner ads on Beading Daily, and newsletter ads from them. I got an article in Stringing Magazine, which was free, and actually helped quite a bit.

All this took more time, more research, more investment. 

Sales were never fabulous. Pricing software is always a question. After the print ads, and while the online ads were running, we experimented with the price point. Once the introductory sale was over, and we raised the price to the "regular" price, sales tanked. We dropped the price again, and sales resumed, but at a lower rate. Then the print ads aged out of the consciousness of the consumers, and slowly, the sales slowed.  I tried Google Adwords ads, for around $100 per month. I tried making and distributing about 150 sample CDs to my local S. California beading shops, with a discount coupon enclosed. Not ONE sale resulted from that, after the cost of the CDs, labels, and my time in burning them, labelling, and distributing them to a dozen stores. In the pre-Christmas flurry last year, I sold 10 units in one heady day... but mostly it was ones and twos, and this entire year of 2012 I've sold fewer than 80 units.

We discussed dropping the price further, but then realized that eventually, you can drop the price so far that it becomes a loss due to...  Support costs.... well support costs are only my time, and a few more gray hairs. But time is all we have, hey?  People who couldn't install, couldn't figure out the software, wanted to ask questions, etc. Some got refunds. Some got several hours of reading & responding to emails.  But those hours add up.

After marketing costs and all the incidental costs, my "profit" comes to about $2000. When I add up the time I spent on all the processes above, my per-hour rate is somewhere around $5 an hour.   Maybe $3. 

You know, I love BeadEnCounter software. I use it myself, all the time.  I know it seems to outsiders as if the makers of software products are rolling in dough, but the area of greatest profitability, it seems to me, is those marketing folks who took my dollars, and returned to me.... not as much in sales as the ads cost. Only one ad I took was directly profitable in numbers of sales attributable to it. 

I'm not whining about any of this. Like every other business owner, I have to do what I can to maximize profitability. No one can stay in business if they don't make money.  Could I sell more copies of BeadEnCounter if  I upgraded the feature set? Of course. But how many more, and how much would I clear on each one? I promised previous purchasers a steep discount for upgrade, so they wouldn't feel as if they were paying all over again. So I'd need a ton of new sales as well as re-sales to registered owners, which would probably be profit-neutral. For a ton of new sales, I'd need... you guessed it, marketing. And frankly, I don't have the capital right now to invest in a marketing campaign. I've used up my credit with clients, and our business, like so many others, is on the ragged edge of not making it. We haven't paid ourselves, as owners, a salary for more than the last year.   

Right now I certainly don't feel like working hard, for another few hundred hours, to make the marketing people happy and rich.  BeadEnCounter software will go on working indefinitely (or until your OS will no longer run it).  I'm going to keep using it myself.  I am going to plan the next upgrade from lists of requested features on the forum and from my testers. 

And things may turn around. If I come across a windfall of marketing money, or I have a long stretch of no paying work, I'll be back at. Because despite what it sounds like, it was a certain amount of fun to do. I learned a lot. And I feel good knowing that some people are using and enjoying a product I built. 

So, if you've made it this far, reading this novelette, thanks for asking the question. Thanks for purchasing BeadEnCounter. Thanks for your continued interest. Keep in touch. I'm always searching for a business case to do what I want to do, which is keep BeadEnCounter alive.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Funny, It Doesn't LOOK Like a Wildebeest...

Just because I haven't blogged in a while, I thought I'd get back into everyone's good graces with a picture of my cat, Meri. She's on what we call her "wildebeest," the back of a chair. She leaps upon it like a hungry lion on an unsuspecting wildebeest, digs in her claws and gives us her best ear-tilted, wild-eyed crazy look, right before she shoots down the hallway to the other end of the house. It's a long hallway so she can get up some considerable speed.

After a few minutes of ominous silence, she reappears from the hallway, running at top speed, leaps off the top step at the end of the hallway, and hits the ground with a solid thump. Sometimes she'll fetch up entirely across the living room (about 23 feet square) and bang her body into the door to the garage. Sometimes we'll hear her making a little "rrrrrr" noise under her breath as she runs, like a small boy making motor sounds as he pretends he's an airplane. 

Funniest cat I've ever had. She makes us laugh at least once a day, sometimes much more. 

That wildebeest never knew what hit it.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beading Time, eaten by the Black Hole of Facebook...

Okay, it's not so much the time on Facebook (no really, I can stop any time!) it's the following of tempting links posted by friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, and some people I have NO idea how they got on my newsfeed...

Links ramped up a couple of months ago, in tune with the coming Electoral Tornado of Ads, Venal Ads, Despicable Ads, and Dreadful Rhetoric. Oh, and I truly cannot help clicking on the cat & dog links. I'm going to have to un"like" those pages, honestly. 

Even then, I could probably get by just reading the articles the interesting headlines lead me to. But then I click into a blog or something, find an article of vital interest, and Dog help me, eleven-hundred-plus comments!  Something very strange in my head often doesn't let me skip them, though I know I should.

And then, there's this.  Go ahead. Click it, I dare you. I'll wait here. 

By Marsha Wiest-Hines
of Haute Ice Beadwork
Done? Lost a couple of hours, have you?  The Battle of the Beadsmiths is an extremely active FB page, with probably a couple of hundred new comments per day, up to a dozen new subject posts, and practically infinite pictures of competition-level beaded works. 

I didn't know what I was getting into when I liked that page, honestly. I can't really say I wish I hadn't seen all those gorgeous works of art, and been inspired by them. But they're sucking the hours out of my days and I've got to bead more or I'm going to go nuts.

And I have been working, slowly. I have a backlog of pictures to get up. 

I'm going to try limiting or eliminating to the extent I can my time on FB. Really. Just don't go there. 

Maybe if I took it off my Bookmarks bar that would help. If it wasn't Right There all the time.....

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back after a short hiatus

If you stopped by the blog yesterday, you would have seen a "placeholder" site from my hosting provider instead of the actual blog. That's because I changed the URL of the blog from the blogger address to, and it took a few hours to let the change propagate through the nameservers of the Web.

So now we're back to an easy-to-remember URL. The old URL will still forward here, so you don't have to change your bookmarks if you have them. Just a little housekeeping, so we can market the blog more effectively. 

Thanks for your patience. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

"And the Hits Just Keep On Coming..."

Who decides when a song played on the radio is a 'hit'? Just simple number of airings can't be it, because that's decided by the playlist programmers. Used to be DJs, when DJs did their own programming, but not any more.  Do listener requests have anything to do with it?

(Note: There is no actual beading content in this post. It's a rant, because it's my blog and I can. Venting can sometimes be good.)

For that matter, in this age of downloads, are there any verifiable 'hits' anymore? Or are they 'heroic downloads?' 

What brought this aggravation on, you ask? I woke up from my nap this afternoon to the travesty that is "Hey, Mr. Big Stuff, Who Do You Think You Are?" by Jean Knight. This, on a radio station, KRTH, that alleges to be "all hits." Not even close. That song was banal and creepy when it was new. If it got airplay enough to qualify as a hit at that time, it was because all the musicians had collectively gone insane and stopped releasing real music. Must have been, because that song is not music. It's just meaningless noise.

I've been grumpy for several days, in fact, about the tired, repetitive playlist on KRTH. It's the radio station on my alarm clock because I really like the morning drive-time team and their byplay. Formerly, I liked much of their playlist as well. But lately, not so much. 

Thursday, I was drowsing along...if I have nothing pressing I can fall right back asleep for quite a while if the music is conducive. A few extra minutes of snooze, without having to actually hit the snooze button. It's so comfortable and floaty, a fine way to wake up gradually. But along about 7:17, my ears were assaulted by, I hate to even type this, "Boogie Wonderland."  Raised me right up like I was levitating, going for the Off button before another 8 beats hit my brain.  The shot of adrenaline as my brain screamed "SAVE ME LYNN BEFORE I GO INSANE!!" didn't make for a gentle start to the day.

Now, some other mornings I have a similar reaction, particularly to awfulness like "It's a Brick, Huh, House" by the Commodores, or anything by War. And then I lie there wondering why in the world they never play any of the actual hits from those days. I never hear any good music from the day. Okay, I take that back. Just did a Google search for "hits of the 70s." Apparently there were no good songs released during that decade. 

Have to retreat to the 60s for good stuff. Moody blues. Jethro Tull. Creedence. Christopher Cross. Frank Zappa. When's the last time you heard Frank Zappa on the radio?  More Motown, dammit! Play the damn Beatles other than on Sunday. Where's the Phil Collins? Mamas & Papas? Beach Boys? James Taylor. Zombies, for cryin' out loud.

And then Friday, KRTH did the same thing, but at 7:02. Never mind any leisurely drift to the surface of waking..."Boogie Wonderland" holy crap. It's not bad enough they skip all the potential good music out there, their playlist isn't even 24 hours long! How many times do they repeat Boogie Wonderland every day? And why hasn't the lightning of the gods obliterated KRTH long before now?

That's it. I've either got to find another wakeup station or invest in an alarm clock that lets me pick my own music. KRTH morning team, I loved ya', but no more. One more run of "Boogie Wonderland" will do me in.

Oh, and for those who got an earworm of one of these awful songs, I apologize and recommend singing a few brisk measures from "Yesterday." That usually clears out the stuck songs in my head.

And if you made it this far, thank you for bearing with me. Feel free to list your own Most Despised Songs in the comments. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beads, or Rocks? Or Beads Rock!

My grandmother's second husband was an unassuming man named Sidney, from England. He met my grandmother when they both worked for "The Railroad" as she always put it, and you bet you could hear the capital letters. 

Anyway, Sidney lived in America for many years, and then at one point he and my grandmother decided that it was time for a visit to his former home, in a small country village. This was sometime in the late 1950s or early 60s, as they traveled on the Queen Elizabeth II, in style.

My grandmother told me that as he walked down the main street for the first time in 35 years, an old codger taking his cane for a walk looked up at her husband (a fairly tall man) and said, in a quavery voice, "Is that you, Sidney? Have you been away?"

In somewhat the same fashion, I've Been Away from my blog. Life piled up and I kept meaning to Get To It, yet never did. So, in an abrupt jump-cut familiar to movie-goers where you don't have to watch all the boring stuff between the exciting parts, I'm back! 

I'm on vacation, for the first time in nearly two years, visiting my beloved Mendocino again. Usually I take the opportunity of a trip like this to hit every bead store I can. This trip, not so much. I have a huge stash at home. Acquiring simply to acquire has lost it's luster, at least for the moment. I've gone into bead stores, and come out with next to nothing.   Well, I did buy a mini-kumihimo disk, which is great treat. I love it as it's easier and more efficient to use compared to the big disks.

But no real bead acquisitions. Instead, I've been visiting rock shops. Searching for unique cabochons or specimens I can incorporate in my work. Next week I'll probably drive three hours north (one way) to the biggest, best rock shop I know, south of Eureka. Oh, and I'll get to see redwoods on the way, so it's all good. 

Today is my husband's birthday. Last night we had a spectacular thunderstorm. Big booms of thunder that echoed off the cliffs in ways I hadn't heard before. Southern California is truly deficient on thunderstorms, so a good one is a treat. Flashes up in the hills, and lots of winds. So the surf we're seeing this morning in the bright sun is wonderful. Some of the larger splashes look like they're nearly as high as the 90 ft cliffs.

Earlier I looked up from my beading, with the view above, and found the window filled with pelicans drifting along the cliff thermals. About 30 of them, lying relaxed on the lift beneath their wings, cruising for seafood.

Sometimes, life is really really good. It's important to acknowledge and grasp those moments, and store them in vivid memory. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Value of Perseverence, or Persistence, or...

One of those "per" words.

I just startled my husband out of his chair by bellowing "I AM TRIUMPHANT!!!" after many hours of silent work at my beading.

Yesterday and today, perhaps 5 hours or more in various sessions, I've been determined that this time, tubular bead crochet would not defeat me yet again. Earlier I spoke with my dad on the phone, and at that time, I told him, "It's whipping my ass."  I've tried this, reading along with various internet tutorials, watching different YouTube videos of people making it look ridiculously easy, at least 4 times before this weekend. I failed miserably each time, giving up, putting it aside.

So what did I learn today?  Besides that I'm irretrievably stubborn?

I learned that the right size crochet hook makes it possible, instead of impossible. Too big and it's clumsy, difficult to maneuver, and you can't get the darn thing through the loops. Too small and the thread slides off wayyy too easily and you're hunting for the lost, critical loop, which happens far too often even under the best of circumstances.  Just right, and working is slick and much easier.

This time I used size 3/o heavy metal seed beads. They're nearly spherical, and slippery, and I'm not sure yet if those qualities are good or bad. I used Wildfire 6lb thread, and a 1.25mm crochet hook. Perhaps I should have used S-lon thread or something heavier, but I wanted to learn how to work the smaller thread so I can use smaller beads, eventually.

I also learned that those first two rounds are real #*(&@# buggers. Eventually I resorted to using seven different colored beads for the first round, so I could clearly delineate where round one ended and round two began. I pulled out, and re-started, the first and second rows, at least 20 times. Eventually the casting on, the connection of the seventh bead to the first, and the transition into the second row became easier.

Half the times I restarted was because my hook slipped out of the working loop and I had to chase it all the way back to the beginning. After getting the right-size hook, it was easier to capture that loop before it unravelled all the way, even if I lost a bead or two to a slip.  That was something else I learned, locating the working loop in the mass of thread inside the rope as it grew.

Early on I realized that trying to transition from round two to round three was not going to happen if the piece was flopping about loose. It was totally impossible for me to determine which bead was next when none of them lined up properly.  So I learned that after connecting the first round into a circle, the best thing to do was to shove a pencil up the middle and work around it. It held the orientation of the beads for me, and let me clearly identify The Next Bead. It still took me about 15 more tries to get past round 4.  I missed a bead here or there, noticed the gap several rows later, and had to unravel and work back over it.

I learned that Tension Matters in crochet. I knew this from previous yarn crochet experience. One time I crocheted a popcorn-stitch scarf, which due to tension problems and persistently missing stitches, had 21 popcorn bumps at one end, and 10 at the other, and yet maintained the same width the whole way. Very strange-looking item, though it was functional and warm. Just strange. Tension is even more important with beads. Once again, you strive for Just Right.

And, like many other techniques, I learned that once you're well into the piece, and you're doing it correctly, the Next Bead becomes obvious, the thread and the working bead fall into place, and once integrated, they slide into the correct orientation smoothly, verifying that you got it right.

So finally, after all those starts, mis-starts, restarts, and retreats, I have a properly built crocheted silver tube about 20 rounds long, about 2.5 inches.  It has seven gold beads on the starting end, which I suppose I could remove, if I weren't afraid to touch it.  It only took me about 12 hours in all (counting all the previous, unsuccessful learning sessions). It has been the most difficult technique I've ever tried to master. I can't wait until I try to add pattern to this whole deal. That ought to be fun.

Thus, the bellow. I'm really glad I kept trying. It didn't, in the end, whip my ass.  Next, I learn to use my new microwave kiln. A bit scattered? Moi?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Japanese Beading Thread, Who Knew?

Click to see item for sale

Okay, why didn't I know about this before? I was looking for a small item to fill out an Amazon gift certificate, and thought, why not?

I got it and tried it out for the first time, and holy cow! No wonder Japanese beaders can make such amazing pieces, if they use this thread. It's downright obedient! Previously the only thing I've tried when I needed lighter thread than Wildfire or Fireline was Nymo. As anyone who has used it knows, Nymo frays, twists, knots, tangles and splits all over the place.

With the KO, I found I was beading much faster since I wasn't spending any time fighting the freakin' thread! I was able to use longer working lengths, since it doesn't fray. Between the nature of the thread and Thread Heaven, it also didn't knot or misbehave in other ways. Glorious!  I have to be careful because it maintains a much tighter tension than Nymo will, I can see it becoming too tight with a bit of encouragement.

I'm going to have to get many more colors of this stuff. I encourage anyone who hasn't tried it to check it out!! I wanted to share because I've spent way too long struggling with Nymo, and hope I can help someone else out.