2018 Business Improvement Plans (2017 Recap Pt2)

If you missed the first recap of the business, make sure to catch that as well.
You can find it here.

This post is about some of the planned changes coming in 2018. Note that these are planned, but not guaranteed. Reality can, and often does, put a damper on things. That and un-planned opportunities and ideas can get in the way too. Great example? I never planned on doing LED adapters for the Bally/Stern equipment. The opportunity was there, I went with it, and it was the single biggest thing that ever hit this business.

So what IS planned for this year?

Software Upgrades]

Software upgrades are already in progress, but the change will be swift and dramatic as I start 2018. A lot of this goes back to the profit margin / efficiency improvements discussed last post. Having a healthier bottom line makes many things possible which weren’t affordable until now. The many freeware packages out there are decent, but professional software does have big perks.

Financial Software

All my internal accounting is moving away from crappy Excel spreadsheets designed by yours truly. They have been making my bookkeeper/wife cringe for a couple years now, and they’ve become cumbersome. We’re moving to Quickbooks. This will be a more streamlined, integrated, and powerful approach. It may not be something that makes money for me, but it makes handling the business a lot easier, which gives me more time to work on production and product development.

Design Software

Speaking of product development, I’m rapidly shifting away from KiCad for board design. It’s served me well for close to a decade, but I’m bumping against its limits now. Particularly the need for improved routing of schematics and traces. After trying the demo for a month, I’ve started moving up the tree with DipTrace. It may not be perfect but it’s definitely smoother and faster to use for me in most areas. Since I have to re-design everything already, it’s the perfect time to switch. The full-up package may be expensive, but DipTrace is also scaled. Meaning I can buy the more basic pack, with certain PCB size limits, and upgrade over time as I need to. It’s a good fit for where I am right now.

New Markets

Oh, and about the product lineup? Well, I’m going to be moving outside of doing exclusively pinball. Don’t worry, I’ll still be doing all the pinball stuff I’m currently handling, and continuing to expand my lineup. I have far too many good ideas, a rather full pipeline, just that I’ve identified another market that I want to start working concurrently. That is the Arduino makers market. Parts of my current lineup would be a good fit to get my toe in the door, and I’m well positioned to start adding some Arduino specific products as well. In fact, they’ll probably be easier as I can hopefully stick with 100% surface mount assembly there. Due to the nature of the Arduino customer base, it’s actually advantageous to NOT solder connector headers in place. I’ll just include the headers in the package.

I’m going to ramp this up a bit slowly at first, but once I get traction it could be a hell of a ride. I’m not going to make myself dependent on this, however, because it’s going to involve some new business issues I haven’t had to deal with before. One is having actual competition, there’s a LOT of AVR stuff out there. The other is Chinese knockoff’s, which would become a very real possibility if I have a good idea brought to market. These issues aren’t even close to scaring me off, just that I have to plan for how to deal with situations of this nature.

My Online Systems.

Then, lastly for now, and this is actually a top priority that I’m going to work on right away, my shopping cart software. I’ve been using Prestashop since I set up my shopping cart system. I’m having issues right now with it, and it’s causing havoc with international customers. I can’t ignore 30% of my customer base, so I need a solution. The more I did, the less happy I am with my current system and its quirks. So it’s time to evaluate different software packages for my shopping cart. I don’t need a complex system, but I do need it to look professional and be a self-hosted package.

Right now I’m leaning toward OsCommerce, so don’t be surprised if my shopping cart completely changes in a few days here.

In Closing

So those are the major changes going on for 2018, some of which are going to be visible to you, some of which will not. I also have a healthy plan for product development, but I’ve decided to stop making that public. I’ve had a few people jump onto design ideas, and beat me to market with them. I’ve also had some designs move down in priority and/or get cancelled. So I won’t be announcing new stuff until it’s just about ready to hit the market.

In a few days hopefully I’ll have my numbers put together for how 2017 ended, until then keep ‘flippin.