status update: shipping status and catchup

And of course LJ ate my finished status post after I decided at the last minute to add a photo before hitting save (like a genius). Let’s try this again, but the shorter/bullet point version without all the nice little links to previous posts with more details and such:

If you didn’t read this update, start here; it explains where things are at and this is where I’m picking up from in terms of updates. As previously mentioned, I decided this last semester to resign my university teaching position — my “day job” — and leave academia. Over this past week, I finished up all grading and other semester obligations and got everything semester-related tied up. While I still have to sort out and organize some files and records to turn over to my supervisor when I turn over my office and keys, the semester — and thus the related activity that was consuming 80+ hours a week for the last couple of years — is behind me.

I had to spend most of the remainder of last week doing some freelance/pinch hitting work in order to get together the money to get my car with its “new” transmission out of the mechanic’s. As of Friday when I got home with my car, I have spent every available waking hour working to get my bearings with the info and lists Mia compiled for me while she was helping me out (she’s since left town for her summer plans, so I am again without an assistant, but she organized a lot for me while she was here).

As I’ve outlined previously, I have a greater liability for tangible items than for services/reports, so unfortunately I have to get caught up on these orders/packages before I can turn to devoting my full energy to readings/consultations and reports I owe. I have spent a significant chunk of time getting caught up on orders this weekend, but as I also outlined, there’s a Catch-22 going on that means I have two large USPS bins full of packages that are ready to go but that I can’t ship right now (and this cycle is what I have to escape to stop the ship from leaking): my account has not been very far away from a negative balance for more than a few hours for months now due in large part to the way the chargeback situation works with the payment processor I signed up when I moved the shop to a new platform.

As soon as I get a positive balance, I first have to deal with refund DEMANDS that I have no choice about because the customer/client went the dispute/chargeback route; to make it worse, I have to prioritize these ahead of everything else b/c of the payment processor’s and/or credit card company’s deadline. Then I have to juggle often competing priorities with the remaining funds: 1. refunding customers/clients who are eligible for refund and have requested one; 2. shipping labels for packages/orders that are ready to go and need labels purchased and printed; 3. ordering supplies/materials i need to fill in-house orders or fulfill in-house services. Over the past few weeks, I have managed to ship a couple of packages a week, restock the materials I needed for soap-making, refund a couple of consultation clients, pay my assistant for her much-needed help, and restock the containers and bottles I was out of or running low on.

But as of Sunday night, the 24th, my business account is again in the negative (due to yet another panicked dispute that resulted in the processor reversing the charges despite my having uploaded shipping information and a copy of the TOS that buyers agree to by using the site even when they don’t bother to read it). So while I’ve shipped a few packages, refunded a few orders/bookings, and am getting caught up on orders that were waiting on soap from when I was out of soap-making materials, I still have a lot of packages sitting here ready for labels that I can’t ship, I still have customers/clients who have asked for and are waiting for refunds that I can’t process right now, and I’m out of wax for votives and tealights (so orders containing those candle items are still processing more slowly right now).

The longer these packages sit here, the more likely it is that another chargeback will come through because a customer hasn’t gotten his or her order. The longer it takes me to get these packages out and deal with all the red tape associated with the payment processors/customer claims, the more likely it is that another client will request a refund on a booked service. I have to get my head above water and catch up on *all sides,* but the situation forces me to focus on physical items first. Until I get caught up on all sides, the ship keeps on leaking with additional problems.

I’ve already borrowed money from family twice since last fall to ship orders and/or order supplies I needed to fill existing orders, and esp. given the expenses associated with the illnesses, travel, caretaking, and funerals that my family has incurred over the last few months, nobody is in a position to lend me any more even if I were comfortable asking (and I’m not). I can’t just shut the shop for a week or two to get caught up, which is normally what I’d do at the first sign of an emergency or backlog, because the money to fill and ship existing orders *has* to come from the shop; there’s no other source for it right now. But first, there’s a hole that any incoming funds have to fill before I can use any of the money to ship packages or order supplies, and once that negative balance is taken care of, I have to use whatever amount of money as strategically as possible, since it’s pretty damned unlikely I will see a sudden influx of sales netting sufficient funds to cover *everything* that needs covering in one fell swoop.

Then, of course, I have to eat. Obviously, I haven’t drawn a paycheck from the shop for myself in a long time now, and the way things have been going, it could be a while before I will actually see any income from it again. All incoming funds are immediately absorbed by operating expenses. That’s why I had to pick up some outside/freelance work last week to pay the mechanic, since the hours I sink into the shop/orders/correspondence don’t directly/immediately result in money in my pocket right now. So until I have the funds to get caught up, I have to do additional outside work too since I’m no longer being paid by the university and I do need at least some of the hours I sink into work to result in cash so I can feed my kid and pay bills. I also have a looming deadline for paying a fairly significant tuition bill to my PhD institution so I can get re-enrolled to finish and submit my dissertation and finally graduate; while I finished coursework a long time ago and got the job I just resigned from without the PhD in hand since I was nearly finished (and had even published a chapter of the dissertation in article form already), I do need to formally finish the degree before it’s too late. So the sickening irony is that when I finally have time to put all of my attention into the shop and the backlog, I can’t actually afford to do that.

It isn’t out of the question that I end up being forced to take the shop offline for a while or even go out of business, but I am still going to try to avoid it in the hopes that if I can just get caught up, it can be a viable business again (and perhaps, finally, even grow in directions it couldn’t when I was in grad school full time and then teaching full time). But I have to survive all of this mess and clean it all up first, before I can even start to actively pray that I have any readers, clients, customers, etc. *left* who are interested in giving me another shot down the road and before I can even think about turning any of my time to writing actual content, finishing any of these books I have had on the back burner for so long, developing any of the new lines or formulas I was working on at various points in the past, or trying out new models for handling scheduling and conducting sessions for clients. It’s conceivable that I could in the near future actually have time to do some of these things, but what I need now in order to get caught up is cash: the cash to order supplies I need to fill orders and to ship these orders that are waiting on shipping labels (and those that will be joining them in the “ready to go” bin shortly).

This, of course, at a time when my old clients and customers have had their patience strained beyond any reasonable limits and I have done virtually no work to cultivate new client/customer relationships or give folks any reason to want to get to know me or my work better! I am trying to encourage customers to make purchases in the midst of my explaining that I really need them to because otherwise I can’t ship stuff they (or somebody else) already ordered last month or the month before! Without my explaining how the situation got like this, it would sound insane, like “hi there, thanks for reading, please order something that you might *never get* because I am always playing catchup with old orders and still haven’t caught up after promising for five months that I was working on it!” Even *with* my attempts at explaining how some of these events have been (blessedly) unrepeatable and that things in my life have changed sufficiently such that I have about 500% more time to put into the shop and customers/clients now, it’s still not a very reassuring proposition, I imagine! (See here for the blessedly unrepeatable and here for the plan of attack on fixing this mess.)

This has been a year of so many ironies; I only hope I can laugh about at least some of them one day. I’m explaining all of this not in an attempt to make excuses — I freely admit that I have not handled things ideally and have not been a model of good emotional, psychic, or spiritual health and hygiene these last months, never mind a model of even remotely imitable business practice. I’ve handled a lot of things very poorly and if I’ve done anything well at all by way of making an example, I’ve been an example of what not to do (maybe, at best, I’ve demonstrated that I am in fact very human and can fall flat on my face and be overwhelmed and depressed despite my supposed experience and knowledge with navigating rough spiritual and emotional waters — but that’s not actually a quality most folks are looking for in a rootworker; not surprisingly, most folks would usually rather trust a worker who isn’t out there flailing around in rough waters with them but in fact has found some firmer ground to stand on and from which to help them navigate….)

So I imagine I’ve done myself nothing but damage in explaining all of this. But this has been an absolutely unprecedented, very longstanding backlog and I feel like I owe you guys an explanation even though I can’t possibly expect people to just take my word for it that things are clearing up and there won’t be any more problems. I don’t know how many times I’ve said “Well, things have to start looking up now, after that!” only to face yet another challenge this year, so I’m not going to keep tempting fate by making any promises.

But I do want to at least explain what has changed and how I can now put more time into things, and to explain how things got like this in the first place so you guys don’t think I just suddenly stopped giving a damn and that I don’t care about you, your orders, your concerns, your faith in me, or your own challenges and situations that you’re seeking to apply spiritual remedies towards. I do care and I’m very sorry, and I know that nothing but my proving it through actions and consistency in the future will serve to reassure; all these words aren’t worth a lot by themselves, not until I back them up. But I do feel like I need to explain the admin side of this mess at least a bit so folks can understand that it’s not as simple as my just turning all my energy to the shop and the backlog now that I don’t have such a time-consuming day job, such that I can just ship all these in-house orders, catch up on all the consultations and reports in a week or two, get to the bottom of the inbox in a few days, and then be back to business as usual. Getting caught up is going to require a lot more than just my having more time to put into it now.

To this end, then, the most realistic strategy I have at the moment is a sale, and my next post will announce Memorial Day coupon codes offering up to 40% off of any items or services at all. For some stuff like condition oils, a 40% off coupon means I’m selling the item at no profit to me at all; but a bird in the hand, as they say…. I have to stop the vicious Catch-22 of chargebacks/disputes by getting the backlog shipped ASAP. Focusing on services that don’t require consumable materials would seem like a good strategy, since the fees for readings or consultations are not absorbed by the cost of shipping or materials. And doing those via phone or chat would seem ideal, since I can do them more quickly that way and since readers charge more and clients pay more for the short turnaround on phone sessions. But the queue of already-owed consultations is so long that I couldn’t book any new ones for phone or chat before the queue was taken care of, so while I still plan to schedule some of those for clients who’ve been waiting as soon as I can sort out the logistics of scheduling and conducting real-time sessions, that isn’t a short term strategy for increasing cash flow. And I’d love to be able to finish some of these nearly-finished new shrines and altar bottles/altar items and jewelry to make available, but I have to prioritize on the backlog mess right now and so I can’t afford to put my energy into anything that isn’t definitely going to turn into available cash in the short term and thus help me get these packages shipped; if I work on these for a couple of days and they don’t sell right away, it will get me deeper in the hole.

You can see the kinds of decisions I have to make about where to put any available money and time. And you can possibly imagine, if you’ve been reading these past months, how easy it has been for me to get to a point where I’m just plain not sure what the best decision is about where to allocate available time and energy. At the very least, I hope you can see at least a little of what’s on my plate, enough to be assured that despite my poor handling of some stressors and tragedies (that has fed into my poor management of my business and my customers’ / clients’ needs), that none of this has been about contempt for my clients or their lives or concerns, or lack of interest in them or their situations. I have not stopped caring. I just stopped functioning very well for a while, after functioning at burnout levels for too long. I spread myself too thin and when I stumbled, I fell. I am dusting myself off, and I intend to get my feet back under me and take care of business. If you are still around when I do, I’ll be grateful beyond measure for your patience and faith. But even if you find that you aren’t so inclined to trusting me for your spiritual goods and services, thank you for giving me a chance to at least try to explain.

I’ll provide more updates when I have them. In the meanwhile, watch for a second post with sale/coupon codes and details. While it’s quite likely shipping will continue to be delayed beyond the ideal minimum of about 10-15 business days since I have to get older orders shipped out first and there are quite a lot of them, I can definitely assure you that I have a whole hell of a lot more time to put into my shop, my altars, my inbox, and my customers/clients now, as of this week, and I am working like hell to prioritize available time and resources to get caught up, track down and resolve every outstanding issue, and make every order and booking right with the client/customer, one way or another. It will take time and it’s not going to be simple, but nobody is going to get lost between the cracks.

Happy Memorial Day; blessings to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to their country and defense of our freedom; and peace and healing to those beloved they left behind.

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