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My Crash Course in Businessing

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I have mentioned in interviews that one of the reasons I love being a web content producer is that it requires me to learn something new every day.   Before I wrote “The Guild” I had no idea what producing a scripted show entailed.  During the shooting process, I learned about pre-production, script revisions, casting, props, production coordinating and more.  After the show was shot, I  learned about a whole new set of skills; editing, video uploading specs, sound mixing, Photoshop for credits and graphics, YouTube and more.  After picture was locked I had to learn about marketing, raising awareness of my show, getting press, promoting, retaining audience, WordPress programming, RSS etc:  It was definitely the biggest set of skills and the most important part of making the series what it is today.  And these past two months I learned a whole OTHER set of skills about DVD production.  It was a sharper learning curve than anything before, believe it or not. I suppose it’s because I’ve been exposed to TV and movie productions for years, so learning that stuff was easier since I had experienced it firsthand.  The steps in actually manufacturing a DVD were a lot more complex because I’d never been exposed to it before.  But I feel quite proud now having gone through it.  The DVD looks great.  I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.  But nothing, my friends, has exhausted or tried my patience more than this last phase:  Shipping and Handling.

Don’t get me wrong, part of this was my fault.   We put the pre-order button on the website several weeks before the DVD was actually finished, partially to help us gague how many we needed to manufacture our first run.   We offered free shipping as incentive.  Not that much of a problem, except we underestimated how popular our DVD would be internationally:  A full 1/3 of the orders were from outside the US.  This wouldn’t have been a problem EITHER in a theoretical universe.  We had calculated the average shipping and, besides shipping to Malaysia and South Africa, we didn’t have to eat that much more shipping than we anticipated.

No, all of this could have been handled fine, had we not decided to ship everything out at once on August 1rst, and use PayPal as our service.  O M G.

If PayPal were a man, I would punch him.  I would cold-cock him into tomorrow, even if I had to break my hand.  I think this is a perfect example of a monopoly gone wrong.  The useability of the site is a nightmare:  The documentation, laughable.  Combine this with a Brother Q500 label printer that is bundled with software that was created on Fortran, and you have the perfect storm for driving a girl over the edge to a day job, abandoning web video forever.

Paypal, you suck.  Yes, I had too many orders piled up to do at once, I understand that might have been my problem, but your Multi Shipping option is a nightmare.  What, you say?  When you import orders 100 at a time there’s no indication of the number of DVDs they ordered, and hence, no way to tell if their packages need more postage?  That’s retarded.  Hmm?  You mean, there’s no documentation anywhere about what kind of labels the label printer needs to print properly?  It couldn’t be that no one in the city of Los Angeles or surrounding areas would carry such a label size, that would be ridiculous!  I mean, it seems natural that you’d use a readily available technology instead of having to order it overnight on the internet!  Hmm.  OMG, are you serious?!  You mean, despite not indicating it ANYWHERE, you CANNOT IMPORT ORDERS PAST 14 DAYS INTO THE MULTISHIPPING SOFTWARE?!?!  I HAVE TO HAND ENTER 300 USA DVD LABELS MYSELF!??!

Breathe.  Yes, my friends, the nightmare was partially my doing, but oh, it was a nightmare.  I still can’t move my right hand properly.  The repetitive motion of clicking through 300 individual DVDs and printing their labels one by one, waiting for Paypal to load, 2 out of 10 times having it or the printer lock up and having to relog in…I shut off my brain in a way that I never knew possible in order to accomplish that phase of the task in an 8 hour stint at my computer.  I ate a lot of junk food and ice cream to get me through the day.

Oh, and I forgot.  The international DVDs?  Well, here’s a little tidbit:  Paypal doesn’t allow you to either automate in batches OR print First Class shipping for anything other than the US.  Their only option is an expensive $20.00+ Priority Option, because they insist on delivery confirmation.  Thus leading me to my secondary nightmare:  Exporting all the international orders (know what a .csv file is?  I do now!) and print them out on a DIFFERENT kind of label, THEN HAND PRINTING ADDRESSES ON EVERY SINGLE CUSTOMS FORM.

I have since learned that stamps.com can do that for you, the customs forms and international labels.  Thank you Twitterers for letting me know that.  Thank you Wil Wheaton for giving me a lot of great advice to alleviate these things next time I do this.  I wish I had asked sooner.   My producer Kim Evey has Carpal Tunnel now, I think.  She has lovely handwriting, if you are in Canada or Australia you will see it.  If it’s chicken scratch, that’s my claw working.  We were desperate to get the orders done because we had promised August 1rst shipment, and it was August 5th already (due to waiting on labels and learning software), so we cobbled together this totally crazy system where I had to learn how to use the 1980 software that came with the Labelmaker Printer in order to import a database and print only the international addresses.  Mmm, I’d say 4-6 hours total on that.  I’m actually laughing now, because it’s so absurd and instinctual:  Never let hundreds of orders pile up and do them in 3 days time, especially if you don’t know how to do it already.

Oh, and the post office:  Surly Postal Worker, I understand you get hassled all day, I empathize.  But when my producer comes in with 75 neatly filled out international DVD packages, all nicely arranged in boxes, maybe you should do your job and enter the information in the computer?  Maybe DONT FORCE HER TO BUY $4.30 STAMPS AND PUT THEM ON HERSELF!  And maybe don’t, upon seeing me enter with a wobbly dolly cart that spilled over two times in the parking lot (thank you sweaty construction man for helping me re-pile them), don’t look at me, lock the big dropoff door and then yell: “8 boxes yesterday, 9 boxes today!?  Girl, I’m gonna SMACK YOU!”  That’s kind of the last thing I want to hear.

Learning curve:  Vertical.  Satisfaction: too tired to rate, haha.  I’m so happy they’re out and in people’s hands, but believe me, I’ve learned my lesson:  Some things are meant to be hired out.

Next week?  Accounting and Quickbooks.  Thank God I got a math degree.

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