Thursday, January 22, 2015

Journey to Amazon Vine Voices Update #5

According to the Amazon website, they update rankings once a day. For the past few months, I only noticed changes in my ranking every two weeks to a month. Once my ranking reached the 31,000 or so range, it flows every couple days, so the small incrimental changes do not seem blog-worthy anymore. I will only do one final update whenever I actually get invited, if that does in fact happen. What I am assuming most people are interested in would be what my final ranking will be before the committee invites me.

I found a Vine Voice reviewer whose ranking was around 25,000, which gave me hope that I could be invited soon. I have also heard that some people e-mail the committee requesting an evaluation. I think I will hold off on doing that for a little while. I just started a new wholesale business deal yesterday that is really exciting, but it also gives me a lot more work to do, So I will try to have patience when it comes to getting into Vine Voices.

If you have been reading these posts, and your ranking is still in the millions or hundreds of thousands, my advice would be to just keep doing the best you can. So far, I do not think there is any trick to the process. Just write good reviews. Be honest, original, and consistent.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Journey to Amazon Vine Voices Update #4

My ranking went up today! It has been exactly one month since my last ranking increase, and it has jumped again to 36,457  !!!
I am really happy about that, because I skipped nearly 70,000 places since the last time.
I currently have 71 reviews written, and 56 helpful votes.
I wrote a lot of reviews over the past few weeks of products I bought my friends and relatives for Christmas, so I have been increasing my numbers, but it's possible that I have not been working hard enough. I read an article the other day that one of the Vine Voice hopefuls made sure to write a minimum of 2 reviews per day in order to get himself high enough in the rankings.

Recently I have considered setting up my tripod and camera to do voice over review videos. People seem to really enjoy and respond well to videos, and I could also double that content on a YouTube channel if I really wanted to. I'm not sure if that will be necessary to get into Vine Voices, but if there comes a time when putting forth that extra effort is going to get me in, I'm willing to do it.

In an earlier post, I commented that I believe a good strategy was to write about expensive products that people are going to research really thoroughly before they buy them.  I still think that is true, but I wanted to mention how I got a really great response to a very simple review I wrote last week.
I got my brother's friend a $4 Pokemon Card booster pack as part of his Christmas present from the newest set of cards. In my review, I wrote, "It's basically impossible to review a Pokemon Card booster pack when everyone who collects cards knows that it's random every time." Totally cheeky, right? And yet it keeps getting "liked"!  I'm sure whoever read that possibly chuckled, and "liked" it because they know it's true.

I normally do not use humor or sarcasm in my reviews because I have checked the accounts of people who get thousands upon thousands of "likes" from funny reviews (Some of them are hilarious. I mean seriously, laughing so hard I want to cry kind of funny.) and yet their ranking is TERRIBLE.

This example has me wondering if there is more to the process than ratios. After all, wouldn't you think that the person with a comedy review that has 10,000 "likes" and no dislikes end up with a high ranking, and therefore end up in Vine Voices? Somehow, I think Amazon knows how to weed out the true reviews from the jokers. Or maybe it has more to do with consistency, like I mentioned with the man who wrote two posts a day. For example, they look more highly on the people who show up to write reviews on a consistent basis more so than the one-hit-wonders.

Wow, I never thought I would have so much to say about "cracking" the Vine Voice Code, but in truth, I think that if I actually do end up making it in, I would say that there is not a magic formula.
So far, it seems to me that Amazon provides you everything you need to know on their Vine Voice web page. There is no secret. They already told you. Just write good reviews. It's that simple.

I will update my numbers again once it increases. Happy 2015, everyone!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Daily Adventures: Snow Day Pajama Day

Desk essentials: Daruma, Business cards, tape, pens/scissors, & candle
I woke up this morning to see that we had gotten around 4 inches of light, powdery snow. I kept my pajamas on entirely too long. When I had to leave the house every day, waking up to snow was such a pain in the ass. When you work from home, there is something about waking up to snow that triggers my childhood reaction of: "SNOW DAY!" When, in truth, there is no difference between today and any other day, but it still felt like an excuse to wear my pajamas until 2PM. And...why not? When you work from home, there is no dress code.

I am surprised that I feel motivated to even blog about such a normal day. For the longest time, I had no inspiration to write blog posts. I put a lot of pressure of myself to come up with something good and interesting, but I suppose since no one is reading this anyway, it's OK to write every day about absolutely nothing if I really want to.

My mom and I are both having issues with eBay for the past couple days. I went on the sellers Facebook group to see that we are not the only ones with problems, so it must be some kind of glitch. It is annoying, because it throws a wrench into my original plans today, which was to max out my inventory for my monthly allotment. That is the one huge downside with relying on any single sales outlet, which is why I am trying to expand.

The real solution to this problem is: Pivot. In the past, I think I would have used this eBay glitch as an excuse to not do any work all day. After all, it is snowing, and it's the kind of day where it feels cozy and delicious to just snuggle up with a good movie. It would be easy to justify being lazy, and think, "Well, it's not my fault. I can't help that eBay is glitching."

However, I just had to change my plans. Instead of working on eBay, I spent all day working exclusively on Etsy. I also did a photo shoot, more Photoshop work, and I will continue to make drafts and organize photos.

I think that kind of attitude can be applied to so many different things in life. We can either make excuses, or find solutions. Hopefully, 2015 will be filled with more and more solutions.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Daily Adventure Day One

It's the perfect size!
I dropped off my packages at the post office and went to pick up some new inventory. Unfortunately, I found more things that I plan on keeping for myself than anything I can make a profit on. On one hand, I am super happy to have a few new things that I wanted (pajamas, a new sketchbook, etc.), and maybe I needed retail therapy...but I still needed to get work done, so I decided to drive myself to my old workplace/campus.

To my shock and amazement, they remodeled a lot of the campus, including the library! The former study rooms were each given new carpet, tables, and chairs.

I was actually really happy about this, because just last night, I was trying to look into renting the meeting rooms of my local library. I have also been looking at prices for office space. Obviously, I can't keep anything in these meeting rooms, but there is nothing stopping me from taking advantage of the free space.

I truly did blast through my work. (Tiesto is amazing to listen to while I Photoshop.) I looked up from my computer feeling shocked that it was already 3:00PM. The one and only downside was that the Internet connection was lagging, and I could not do everything I had planned to do. I decided to head back to my inventory spot to give it another go.

My first mistake was driving during rush hour....In a Philadelphia suburb. I even took the back roads, hoping that it would somehow be less crowded. I got stuck behind one of those huge 18-wheeler trucks, and it was stop-and-go traffic, reaching top speeds of 4 MPH when I was going. I only had to drive about 2 or 3 miles from where I was, and it took over 30 minutes. It was ridiculous. I could not believe I used to deal with this all the time.

I remained calm, telling myself, "You made a mistake, but it's OK. Just never do this again."
I looked in my rear-view mirror to see a 40-something year old woman driving the car behind me. Her eyes looked glazed over. She looked exhausted, and yet she had zero emotion to the whole situation. She was used to it. She eventually turned down a side street where she most likely lived.

I never want that to be me, I thought.
Driving so slowly forced me to glance left and right, because there was nothing else to occupy my attention. I started noticing many run-down apartments and houses.
I would never want to pay to live there, I thought.

Maybe I am spoiled, because I grew up in a nice house, with a nice bedroom, with plenty of land. Even if I cannot get along with my family all the time, I love my house. So, imagining a life where I find a halfway decent apartment only to pay around $2,000 a month to for rent and utilities to downgrade my living situation does not make any sense. I used to really admire and feel jealous of young people who found apartments, even in the most ghetto of areas, and worked hard to keep them. I used to think, It may be ghetto, but at least they got out! Now, I am not so sure.

Moving out has less to do with the surroundings, and more to do with independence. I crave that just as much as anyone my age...however, would I really be independent if I am tied down to rent every month? It's trading spaces of answering to my parents to answering to my landlord.

Let's stick with the $2,000 per month idea. That ends up being $67 just to stay alive, staring at your four walls with food in your stomach and heat keeping you warm. That does not even cover furniture, clothes, transportation, or anything else that goes along with living a halfway decent life. That money gets burned every day that you wake up in the morning and keep that apartment. The concept is so foreign to me, even though I used to work as a leasing consultant, encouraging people to rent. I never had to pay a month-to-month lease when I lived at school, but I am still paying back my student loans for the time I spent living in the New York area.

The thought crossed my mind, as I was stuck there in traffic,
Instead of spending more than $67 a day just to live, why don't I to drive places and spend a night in a $40 motel? That way, I can travel as many places as I possible can.
A girl can dream, right? At the very least, I think I'll start going back to New York more often, but we'll see what happens.

By the time I got home, I was disappointed that I actually did a lot of frustrating driving without delivering great results. During my second visit to my inventory spot, I found a vintage painting that can easily pay for my whole day's driving and retail therapy all on its own, but I still accomplished less than many of my days working from home in my pajamas. I may need to reserve driving to the library for days when I simply cannot concentrate at home, rather than my default working arrangement.

Just because I do not notice a huge difference today doesn't mean it will never work out...However, if I discover that taking my work outside of the home is a huge flop, at least I will have learned this lesson for free, rather than after renting office space. However, if my sales dramatically increase after working in my makeshift office, I just may have to consider it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Laptop Club and Daily Adventures

A couple months ago, my brother John surprised us by bringing home 4 laptops he had gotten from his friend, whose workplace was upgrading all of their technology. They planned to just throw away or recycle all of the old computers. So now, I have a used, but new-to-me HP laptop that retailed at $2,000 a handful of years ago....Soooo I'm totally OK with that.

This whole laptop thing is a big step for me. Just this year, I got a new desktop computer, and obviously, when you get a new desktop, you want to invest time using it.

The one downside to that plan is that my desktop cannot move, and I am subjected to my entire family, including my retired parents who are home all day, and my brothers who have random night work/college schedules while I am trying to get work done and run a business.

While 2014 held a lot of really great progress for me, I was growing more and more frustrated by the day. I could go the entire day feeling like I had gotten nothing done, and resent when a family member asked me for help, because I had not even helped myself that day.

When I was in college, I had no problem studying. I got mostly straight A's. So it should only make sense that I can get my work done like a beast, right?
Well, not so much. I am realizing now that part of the reason why I got such good grades was that I practically lived at the library. I was away from my family and away from distractions. I rented Macbook Pros from the school, so I could not download anything distracting on them.

I also lived a much more nomadic lifestyle back then. I was living out of a suitcase a lot of the time, but I accomplished a lot while doing it. Even though it was hectic at times, I had a lot of fun. I felt like I was always going on mini adventures.

This year, I found Louis Cole on YouTube, and watching his life is just...*sigh* I want his life. He travels SO MUCH, and yet he still runs his vlog and business ventures. He and his friends all sit in cafes getting their work done, doing what he calls "Laptop Club."

Now that gas prices have gone down so much, and the fact that I have the laptop, I think I am finally ready to become more of a nomad again.

So, obviously, my 2015 New Years Resolution is to take my work with me to various places. That was one of my major motivations in starting this business in the first place. I wanted to work and travel at the same time, but I just didn't have enough money to do it. Maybe, if I can focus better by getting out of the house, it will turn into more money, and more money will turn into driving to more exciting places.

I also want to bring my camera around so I can photograph more beautiful moments. Like, today, I went to the very empty campus of my old college/work place, and there were no cars in the parking lot, because it was a Sunday during winter break. This huge empty parking lot was overrun by seagulls...and the field was covered in geese. I've never seen anything like it. This is funny, since we don't live that close to the ocean where you could expect hundreds of seagulls to be chillin.

Sorry that this entry had no pictures. I promise that from now on, my Daily Adventure posts will include pictures, but only if there is something worthwhile to say!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Journey to Vine Voice #3

This post is going to be relatively short compared to my first two posts.
It has been over two weeks since my last ranking update (103,249) and I have stayed the same.
My positive rating has increased to 48, and my total reviews are only 57.
Before these previous two weeks, I was updating my reviews much more frequently. I have only written three reviews in the past two weeks. I know that there is a better chance of going up in the rankings if you write reviews on a regular basis. Now that Christmas is over, I will be writing a lot more reviews of new products. Hopefully, my ranking will go up as well.

There is not much to update, but since I have been updating every two weeks, I thought I would try to be consistent.
I hope everyone had a good holiday, and a Happy New Year next week.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ShannQ's Best of 2014 Part 1

It is a week before Christmas, so it may be too soon for me to sum up the best parts of 2014, but I am tweaking out from having coffee so late at night. (Terrible decision.) I was going to make a list post, but I realized that I write way too much, so I will do multiple posts.

1. Couponing.
Coupons deserve its own blog post, because it has been truly life changing. In July, I watched an episode of Extreme Couponing for the first time in years. I asked myself- How do they do it? Is it really possible? I had a lot more time on my hands this year to figure it out. Now, 5 months later, it is a way of life for me, and I will never go back.

Today, I checked my Rite Aid account, and I earned 1,000 points and reached Gold Status. (1 Point= $1.)
As you can see from the photo, I am currently at 1,005 points. It will reset back to zero on January 1st, 2015, but my Gold Status will remain. (20% off everything in the store.) It shows my total sale and UP Reward discount, but it does not account for my coupons...
So essentially got over $1,000 in products for around $100 in real dollars. This week alone, my shopping trips to Rite Aid will get me roughly $40 in products for free. (4 bottles of Excedrin, Ivory soap, 4 Herbal Essence body washes, Monster energy drinks, Christmas candy (M&M's and Dove), Axe Shave Gel, and 6 boxes of Playtex Tampons.)
AND THIS IS JUST RITE AID! I have been getting free and cheap stuff from Shop Rite, CVS, Walgreens/Duane Reade, Walmart, and Target. In total, it is more like $2,000 retail value of products over 5 months for only 10% of the actual cost. That is more money than my part-time job in college paid me for an entire YEAR of work. Couponing is literally a part-time job, or at least like a revenue stream.

Seriously, it has ruined me forever. I can never go back to paying full retail EVER again.
This is a screenshot of my Rite Aid member dashboard.
This week, I was able to donate a giant Macy's shopping bag filled with toiletries (deodorant, soap, feminine products, etc/)  to a charity my brother was participating in for National Honors Society. He is graduating High School this year, so I was happy that I had this opportunity to directly help my community through him without having to go out and find a Women's Shelter on my own. (I guess I'll have to figure that out next year.)
Aside from toiletries to the poor, I was able to score a lot of really great toy deals to give to the Children's Ward at the hospital and Toys For Tots.

My parents no longer have to worry about dish washing soap, laundry detergent, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. We have 6 people in this house, so trust me, these things get used up really quickly. It has only been in the past few months that I truly realized how much money it takes to run a big family.

It's mind-boggling how much money my parents must have spent over the years without using coupons. I feel AMAZING to know that I have this skill before I even get married and have even one child of my own.

For the first time in my life, I walk around my house, and everything is a name brand product. Tide, Colgate, Palmolive...
I was always one of those people who scoffed at name brand clothes or products, because I thought: "What's the difference?"
In some cases, it's true. There is not much of a difference. In other cases, it is clearly better quality.

I can't even explain how desperately I wanted to help my family with their struggles. My dad is disabled, my younger brothers are still in High School and college, and the Depression is really hitting us hard. I would feel so powerless when I would see us running out of things around the house, and I could not afford to buy anything. I would actually hide products that I bought in my room to make sure I was the only person using it, so it lasted longer.

Now, I have back-ups of just about everything in my closet. It's like having my own personal drug store. If we run out of shaving cream, I just open my closet, take it off the shelf, and bring it to the bathroom.
It truly makes me feel empowered. I feel like no matter how poor I get, I will never have to worry about coming up with the money to buy these necessities again. I have enough back-up necessities to last me a few months, if an emergency happened. And no matter how rich I may become some day, I will never waste unnecessary money into products that I can get for 90% off.

My goal for 2015 and beyond is to have a big enough stockpile so that whenever my brothers and I move out and start out own families, I will be able to give them a gigantic box of things that will save them hundreds of dollars to get their lives started. I also want to make sure my parents have everything they need. I also want to gather enough to give to even more charities next year.