Things are jumping along at PassingThru Enterprises! Although Pete has always kept meticulous and insightful statistical performance data on our online stores, we’re going to start reporting our business progress on a quarterly basis. We hope this is more than just a way to hold ourselves accountable. Instead, we think this idea will lead to lots of good stuff:
- illustrate achievement in relation to our objectives
- identify areas and projects that could use attention
- spark strategic planning with a big picture emphasis (to build upon the valuable insights we gained from utilizing business coaching over a two year period)
- inspire you to incorporate similar efforts and objectives within your personal success blueprint
Want to get started with us? Read on . . .
The idea to start reporting our progress came about while we were preparing our 2011 income taxes. It was actually fun to see the LLC’s first annual Profit & Loss report and Balance Sheet. Our numbers were pleasantly surprising! (Preparing the taxes themselves? Not so fun.)
This process is a departure from our comfort zone. It’s one thing to evangelize a lifestyle, and quite another to share how it’s really working. No, we won’t be sharing specific dollar amounts, but we will be sharing percentages and other data, and the conclusions and strategic planning that result.
These progress reports will have a loose categorical structure: sources of revenue, travel-related activities, pending projects and their potential (when possible due to confidentiality or other concerns) and strategic planning. We’ll also cover problem-solving and any creative solutions we’ve implemented in response to challenges or modifications we implemented in response to changing business conditions.
Does all this sound like too much gobbledy-gook for a lifestyle business? It really shouldn’t. If you’re in any type of business, this kind of accountability and strategic planning is vital. You can’t make progress if you stay inundated in the minutiae of the day-to-day. If you do, you’ll sacrifice overall awareness, which is crucial for the kind of creative thinking and strategic decision-making good executives do (and you’re the chief executive of your own career even if you’re an employee). This kind of strategic planning might be out of your comfort zone, but it’s possible our example might encourage you to take a bigger-picture approach. Let’s dive in!
Consulting: Our global franchise client projects include electronic marketing services to franchisees, regional and global franchise sales marketing and development, internal communications, social media services, franchisee mentoring and education. For other consulting clients we provide electronic and direct mail consulting services including list and project management, training, ideation and strategic mentoring. Overall revenue in this category is even with last year. Note: through all but the last two weeks of the second quarter last year, Pete was still working at his previous employer. There are seasonal aspects to our consulting client profiles that contribute to “sleepy” first quarters. We’re anticipating increased revenues during the remainder of the year due to this seasonality.
Online Stores: We have multiple online stores with several produce on demand business partners, including Zazzle, Cafe Press, and Greeting Card Universe. Overall receipts in this category are up 165% for the first quarter when compared with last year. This is great progress!
Pete’s creative thinking has been to focus heavily on our Zazzle stores for several reasons: the commissions per item are higher and there is a greater range of products.
His product creation methodologies have scaled: we now have over 27,000 products. Best selling items: iPhone and smartphone cases, political bumper stickers and embroidered caps for wedding party members.
Trending merchandise categories are seasonal: wedding, political (because of the election year). Our popular “We’ve Moved” card series continues to perform.
Our Zazzle-specific revenues are significantly up over last year (January +116%, February +192%, March +261). This is due in part because the items we are selling are more expensive, and we’re often selling them in multiples.
We are also selling many more items that Pete designed several years ago for the first time. This proves the residual nature of the Zazzle and other produce on demand business models: put the product up once and it’s forever available for purchase. This aspect fits our passive income objective to a “T”!
Zazzle is at the vanguard for new product categories, such as skins for electronic devices including phones, iPods and MP3 players, gaming gear, tablets and laptops. Zazzle has recently rolled out decorative ceramic jars, pitchers, tea pots and pet bowls, along with home decor items such as cloth napkins, toss pillows and placemats as well. This range of products is vastly diversified from when Pete started with Zazzle.
Publishing: Publishing revenue for the first quarter has no comparative as we didn’t monetize The Narcissist: A User’s Guide until June of last year. Revenues began to flow in a month later due to Lulu’s payment structure. The User’s Guide landing page routinely shows one of this site’s highest visitor counts per Google analytics, and narcissist-related search terms brought thousands of visits during the first quarter of this year. Sales remain steady for the Guide, even though it’s two years old. The User’s Guide Facebook page is active as well.
Travel Business Opportunity: PassingThruTravel, our travel search and booking site, continues to serve us two-fold via customer-booked travel and for our individual travel booking. This is part of World Ventures, a six year old network marketing company, which offers a DreamTrips wholesale vacation club membership. World Ventures has expanded to 19 countries, with over 20,000 DreamTrips members. Our individual team is in high growth mode as well, with over 22 members added since the first of the year. These are folks who have made the move out of their comfort zone to begin working their own Plan “B.”
We routinely feature current DreamTrips in our monthly email newsletter (subscribe here). With over 400 trips per year, as well as access to timeshare and villa vacation inventory, the DreamTrips membership sells itself. A new membership category for younger people aged 18 – 25, called DreamTrips U, is on fire. When they add the World Ventures business opportunity, the potential for offsetting education expenses and funding a better than entry-level lifestyle gets them excited.
We spent about 40% of our time during the first quarter of this year away from home, working and traveling. Beginning in January, we based ourselves in Hawaii on Maui and Kauai. We then spent a week in Michigan with family in February, and then several days in Nebraska for the Sandhill Crane migration. Utilizing methods you can learn from our Travel Resources list, we kept costs down quite well. Unsurprisingly, though, by comparison with last year they are up significantly. Still, it’s all part of the program and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
During our time in Michigan, we assisted a family member who is a classically-trained chef with his Plan “B” setup. Wow Your Food has its own growing Facebook page, Zazzle store and a website in progress that will showcase a lifetime of gourmet cooking skills in video, still photo and blog post formats.
We’re excited about several pending projects we have in the hopper. Pete is finishing up an e-book, “How to Get Started on Zazzle,” which will be available in multiple formats very soon. This book mirrors the information we taught in a beginners-focused Zazzle seminar last November. Plans are to build upon this information toward more intermediate formats. These would encompass creative thinking and strategic planning for new and established entrepreneurs alike who wish to add this passive income component to their business repertoires.
There is one more e-book project in progress which is under wraps at the moment. This should round out our diversification strategy in this component of our business pretty well for the first half of 2012.
Moving our business activities from the comfort zone of employment-subsidized revenue to complete independence required creative thinking for each stage. This kind of strategic planning is comprised of several elements: broad goals, specific objectives and then action steps for each objective.
When you have a revenue diversification goal, the corresponding objectives get complicated very quickly. When this first started happening with our business, I developed a task list spreadsheet to keep track of project categories in a column-based format. I also mapped out a flow chart of the inter-relationships each element of our business had. These are great tools for visual learners, and they often spark creative thinking. I like using the task list spreadsheet in particular as my dashboard, which provides status-at-a-glance. We know exactly where we have lots to do, and which areas are receiving less attention.
Checking our first quarter Profit and Loss and comparing it with last year shows revenue trending upward, always a good thing. 🙂 But we still need to balance our diversity: we’ve got a number of sources, but some of them are still disproportionate in comparison with where we’d like them to be.
We are fortunate to have so many opportunities continually presenting themselves to us. Like many entrepreneurs, our primary comfort zone lies in start-up phase – we enjoy that initial infatuation with an idea and envisioning its potential. We’ve refined our recognition skills a bit to become a little more choosy now that we’ve settled into a more easily-described niche, so we’ve matured somewhat in that respect. 🙂
Looking at our first quarter results and comparing them with last year’s numbers yields a big change in overall expenses. The culprits? First there’s Hawaii, of course, which is an expensive proposition for older folks like us who like our creature comforts, no matter how skilled our travel hacking might be. Wouldn’t you like to stay in a room like the one we had at the Westin, pictured at right? That’s what they call the Heavenly Bed and the Heavenly Bath, folks. And it’ll cost you, but probably more than it cost us. 😀
Advertising expenses are up as well, due to several online campaigns we are expensing in partnership with a client. While overall results are building as a result of these campaigns, no direct ROI is attributable to us. We’re watching this activity closely, and have temporarily suspended it while funding sources build up again.
The good news is, we did better in other expense areas than last year. Dues and subscriptions are down; office and legal expenses are way down from equipment purchases relating to our LLC start-up phase and move last year. Non-travel meals and entertainment are way down, as they should be. General administrative and ongoing office expenses have been reduced by half.
Still, we are going to have to continue to watch and plan for expenses carefully within the context of our revenue structure. As well, we’ll have a better idea of how our biggest revenue categories will scale this year with another quarter’s worth of data to review.
The best news is that we’ll add more revenue from pending projects to the mix in our second quarter 2012. These will settle into the passive income category with little else than monitoring required once they’re completed and launched. We can replicate this process over and over with additional projects throughout the life of our business, sustaining our location independence and providing more enjoyment.
All in all, not a bad start for the year! We’d love it if you’d share how you are doing with your personal and business objectives in the comments, and, as always, if we can help with anything, please don’t hesitate to ask!
- The Purpose of a Plan……Continued (servicepointconsulting.wordpress.com)
- Lack of Strategic & Critical Thinking: Why Most Businesses Fail? (selfassemblysites.com)
- Strategic Thinking and Leadership (coachstationsteve.com)
- Strategic planning: Getting back to why you started your business in the first place (enmast.com)