Friday, October 29, 2010

Buying Business Stuff

Do you have a little side business?  You’re going to have to keep costs down.  Otherwise, it’s just a money-eating hobby.  I had a store for years, have worked as a Controller for years, and can stretch a buck.

First, do you really need the item at all?  Maybe life would be simpler without it.

For instance, for my little knitting biz selling booklets and DVDs, and I finally decided I needed a printer.  We were going out for printing after a long day at the office, both expensive and inconvenient, and since I already had a machine that makes my DVDs robot-style, I wanted a heavy-duty color printer to make my color booklets while I sleep.  I didn’t want to invest in huge runs of books, because I don’t sell that many and have to store them in my house.  Besides, what if I find a pattern mistake?  I want to fix the book, not staple in errata sheets.  I didn’t want to sell .pdfs because machine knitters like to work from printouts as they sit at the machine.  What’s more, if I got an order and was out of books, I wanted to be able to print a few right at home and not make the order late. 

There are lots of items I think I might need that I haven’t purchased.  I’m waiting it out.  Maybe I don’t need a Silver Reed machine for testing the patterns.  I won’t buy it unless I can get a very good deal.  If I buy it, I’ll have to fit it in somewhere. 

The next thing you’ve got to do is figure out exactly the right item to buy.

I’ve bought lots of items that weren’t the right one.  So have you – whether it’s a shirt that doesn’t match any slacks, a kitchen gadget that’s more work to clean than the work it saves, or a toy that didn’t hold the kids interest, those purchases were total zeroes. 

For my printer problem, I considered that at my day job, we had purchased used Ricoh color printers, heavy duty beasts, and they are great.  They feed cardstock like a champ, and our folks mail a lot of postcards.  I use cardstock covers for my books.  They’re fast, too.  And, best of all, at home, we can refill the toner with kits from eBay.  I need to save money on the toner - color toner will eat your lunch, dinner, and sneak in at night for a midnight snack.

Third, find a very good deal.

It took time, but I found a Ricoh CL4000DN, new old stock, for sale with a crushed box.  These printers went for about $1500 when they were new, and I got this one for $400.  It was never used, just sat on a shelf in some warehouse.  The Ricoh CL stands for color, the D for duplexing (printing on both sides), and the N for network.  This printer is a couple of models before the ones at my office, and very, very similar.  Of course, it looks enormous in our little home office, but that’s okay because it works hard for me. 

For this big bargain, I took a risk, and sure enough, John discovered it had a broken sensor.  He spent $100 for parts and a service manual and fixed it.  We are off and running, and have even refilled the toner once successfully.  For another $10 we’ll put in more memory at go to 1200 dpi. 

I have followed a similar process for all my business purchases.  I appropriated the family computer and camcorder, and when I upgraded the camcorder to HD, I bought a very simple one on sale.  I swiped my husband’s tripod, mike and headset – luckily, he thinks my business helps people and is supportive.  I purchased the DVD-duplicating machine refurbished from eBay.  I purchased the binding machine for less than half of retail on Craigslist, and went with a heavy-duty one.  I found the DVDs I use (we only use one brand of excellent ones) are cheaper at Fry’s than anywhere online, so buy some every time I’m there for something else.  

Virtually all the equipment I bought for my sideline business was USED.  I could turn around and sell it again for about what I paid for it.

Stockpile some items.

When you’re running a household, a business, or any other operation with limited resources – not just money, but TIME, which I am achingly short on, stockpiling is a wonderful strategy.  Guess what else:  it keeps you out of the stores, both brick and online!  The less often you shop, the less you will spend.

For my little business, I keep enough supplies made up so filling an order is a snap.  Once I find the best prices on the packing materials, paper, or whatever, I never let anything run out. For our household, we have stashes of non-perishable items that we bought at the best per-unit prices. We have food in the freezer ready to go – to keep us out of the restaurants, of course!  

Do not stockpile something because it was a bargain purchase!  Only stockpile items that are recurring, tried and true supplies..

Finally, treat people right.

This is a principle of good business and good living.  You could save money, I suppose, by cheaping out on product, in the short-term, but my customers aren’t coming back for the next book or DVD if they didn’t like the last one.  There aren’t many machine knitters around.  My audience is very small, and I value every customer I find.  That’s why the DVDs are the best ones we can buy; that’s why we ship the next business day; that’s why I study and answer so many customer knitting questions; and finally, that’s why I maintain a free, content-rich blog for knitters.  I hope people who buy from me think I’m providing a fantastic value, not being another sizzle-and-no-steak marketer.

You’ve got to treat people right as a buyer, too.  Some people do things to save money that are ugly, cheapskate things, like taking buffet food home, swiping the sugar packets, lying to make a sale, and returning worn clothing.  Don’t lower yourself to any of those strategies.  The whole concept of fiscal discipline is about changing your mind and heart so that you value important things in life (your loved ones, the way you spend your time, your peace of mind, your ability to give) more than spending for instant gratification.  

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