It’s once again the end of the month and time to reflect on what I’ve been up to.

March was a good month! I worked quite hard, celebrated my birthday, made more money than in February, and generally moved things along with my most exciting projects.

Here are the scores for March:

%

Hours Worked

%

Productivity

%

Profitability

%

Optimism

  • Work Rate: This is the raw number of hours I’ve spent working. In March I worked pretty hard, particularly towards the beginning of the month before I got distracted by my birthday and Easter.
  • Productivity: This is how much I’ve managed to get done. I spent quite a lot of time reading grant applications which lowered my productivity. Still managed to get quite a lot done.
  • Profitability: This is how much money my businesses have made. March saw slight increases in sales and profit across all companies. Which is great! But there were no big jumps forward.
  • Optimism: This is generally how happy and excited I feel about the future. I am currently very optimistic as there are some really cool projects in the works.

Ok, let’s dive in.

Gin

I am getting so excited about Pipehouse Gin! (read episode 1 of starting a gin brand)

We have been working on it for about six months now and everything is starting to fall into place. March was a busy month.

We spent a lot of time getting the word out and meeting local business owners. We joined Tunbridge Wells Together, a community interest group for local companies. And introduced ourselves to a lot of the local bars and business owners.

We launched our Instagram page (please follow!)

 

We signed up for a couple of local markets. We will be at the Pantiles market 2nd and 3rd June, and then at the Gin and Jazz festival on 9 and 10 June.

We started planning our launch party, found a venue and started writing our invite list. After I finish writing this post I have a meeting with the venue to design some cocktail recipes… what a hard life.

We did a lot of work on our website (sorry, no sneak peaks into the design).

We got approved to sell alcohol on Amazon!

email confirming we can sell wine beer spirits on amazon

And we finalised our label designs and sent them off to the printer. If our suppliers work to their timeline our first batch of gin will be rolling off the supply line in the first week of May.

I have really skipped through because I will be writing episode 4 of starting a gin brand soon. Watch this space!

Table Tennis Brands

I run two table tennis brands. Palio ETT (aimed at beginner/developing players) and Eastfield (a more high-end/professional brand). March was a bit of a meh month for both.

Firstly Palio: we saw sales increase in every country. Which is great! But was mainly due to the business being on autopilot.

We had launched in India in February and planned to spend quite a bit of March pushing sales there. That didn’t really happen, we were both just too busy. Sales have been slowly ticking along selling 1 or 2 bats a day there and we are on average between 20 and 40 on the bestseller list.

Although the sales aren’t great, the low bestseller ranking is actually quite exciting because it shows that the market for table tennis bats in India is pretty big.  Stepping up marketing in India will be a priority for April.

In the Uk we continue to dominate the bestseller rankings. Here is a screenshot from today, we are number 1,2 and 5 on the bestseller list:

we are 1,2 and 5 on amazon bestseller list

We seem to have found a good level where the brand just ticks over by itself. But there is still a lot of room to grow outside the UK. I spent quite a bit of time coming up with a strategy to target Germany which we’ll be executing in April.

I also spent quite a bit of time dealing with admin. We had someone try and sell a counterfeit version of one of our products which took far too long to deal with, and it was VAT month.

VAT month is every three months and means I had to go through and reconcile every transaction we had in every country. It is mostly automated (read my post on automating my Amazon FBA accounting) but still took about half a day.

Talking of VAT, we also started the process of trying to get VAT registered in Germany. Amazon have a new product called Amazon VAT Services. For 400 euros a year per country Amazon will register and file your VAT tax returns.

I had been avoiding registering with for VAT outside the UK because it would be a massive headache, but that deal is really good. So I signed up and chose Germany as the test run. I was asked to upload a bunch of documents:

the documents you need to upload to register in germany via amazon vat services

To get the VAT Certificate and Trade Register Extract I had to spend a while on the phone talking to HMRC and companies house. But apart from that was pretty straightforward. Now it is being prepared and hopefully sometime in April we will get our VAT number.

And on Eastfield, you may remember that last month we launched a new bat the Eastfield Offensive. Well we have had some problems with that bat. Our first batch had a few quality issues so we went through every bat and took any that weren’t up to standard out. That means we currently have very limited stock. It is going to be at least another month or two before we can shift into high gear marketing this awesome bat.

But on a more happy note, we launched our new range of bat cases:

eastfield table tennis bat case for sale on amazonWe have gone from one bat case, to six. A single and a double in each colour.

You may have read my post Step-By-Step Guide to Creating and Selling a Physical Product which I wrote in mid-2015. That post explained step-by-step how we created, got manufactured, launched and sold the original bat case. We now almost three years later that range has expanded.

Books Sales

In February our sales of Expert in a Year: The Ultimate Table Tennis Challenge were really low, but they jumped up a bunch in March. No idea why! We didn’t touch them or do any marketing.

One thing it might be is our YouTube video.

The video has 9.1 million videos and at some point it got taken down due to a copywrite infringement complaint. We only noticed a couple of weeks ago and got the complaint removed.

So maybe it was down in February also and that is what led to the lower sales? Or maybe not and it is just random luck we had a good month.

Automatic Betfair Trading

I have always been fascinated with making money by gambling. From Poker, to Matched Betting. But one that has always alluded me is trading on Betfair. Betfair is a marketplace for bets, similar to the stock exchange. There is no bookie and the only thing stopping you from making money is the efficiency of the market and the skill of the other traders.

Back in 2009 I entered a competition to trade on Betfair. We all started with £50 and the person who made the most money by the end of the month would win. You can read about it in My Experience Trying To Make Money Trading On Betfair.

And I won! I turned my £50 into £135.11. Which is a great return on investment, but a really rubbish hourly rate. And that was the issue, over the years I would keep coming back to Betfair trading, trying to increase my bet sizes or automate my strategies. All without success.

Well in March I decided to give it another go.

I have signed up to a service called BF Bot Manager. It is a very powerful (and geeky) bit of software that allows me to set automated rules for my trading on Betfair. You basically give it a series of true/false conditions so it can decide when to place a bet.

I have been playing around with it trying to reproduce my strategies from 2009. 

I spent March learning the software. In April I will start using some real money.

Blog

Both blog traffic and income have gone up. The blog made £4,451 in March, a large jump from the £3,678 it made in February. But still below the average of £5,000 a month it did in 2017.

Traffic jumped but did so mainly because of my Entrepreneurship Grants. If we strip out the traffic from the voting pages then traffic was pretty stagnant.

Once again this is not a big surprise (although still a bit disappointed), as I made a conscious decision in December to stop all marketing and instead focus my blog time on creating content. Revenue and traffic have been dropping ever since.

What content? You may ask. Well in March I actually did a lot of work on the blog behind the scenes getting it ready for a large push of content.

I rewrote my Start Here page telling my story and giving new people an easy way into what this confusing blog is about. And I also redid the front page to make it easier for returning readers to get straight into the content. The recent posts were moved up and the intro stuff was shortened.

I also hired a speed optimisation specialist on Freelancer to help make this site load faster.

I am still working with her but it does seem to be working:

Hopefully we’ll be able to cut another second off that load time.

I also planned out and started writing a bunch of blog posts. If I stick to my plan there will be some really good ones released in April!

Grants

Between March 2017 and March 2018 I gave away $12,000 in grants to budding entrepreneurs. I split them into four stages and March saw the final three being awarded, which meant I spent quite a lot time reading through applications (there were 84), choosing the finalists and then monitoring the public vote.

I am very glad the grants are now over. I will write a proper post about how they went soon, but in short, I think that they were actually bad for my brand. On top of the money they cost and the vast amount of time I spent on them, I have got a lot of animosity and hate mail from applicants who weren’t selected. And when I went through and started giving feedback on applications that just made it worse, with people telling me my reason for not choosing them was wrong.

I also got a lot of comments accusing me of being a scammer (why would any blog give away no-strings-attached grants?!).

Investing

Not much to report here. I continue to put my money into peer-2-peer lending (read more here) and the Vanguard Lifestrategy 80% acc fund (a global tracker fund). I invest the same amount each month using what is known as dollar cost averaging.

Summary

The Good:

  • Launched some new table tennis cases
  • Gin came along a long way
  • Speeded up my site
  • Finished the entrepreneurship grants
  • Sales were up across all companies

The Bad:

  • Not enough time spent marketing table tennis
  • Continued low blog traffic