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Becoming a Business, Part 4:  Aftermath  (August 2019, updated October 2021)

 

Play It Again, Paul, LLC began operations on New Year’s Day, 2017.  It was a good day for enjoying the satisfaction of launching the business, reflecting on what was to come, and watching football.  Shortly thereafter, though, I began receiving solicitations in the mail, over the phone, and ultimately via email that, naïvely, I hadn’t anticipated.  I suppose I should have, since the business address became a public record once I registered Play It Again, Paul with Virginia’s State Corporation Commission.  At any rate, the solicitations I’ve received, welcomed and otherwise, are presented below under the headings of Offers, Annoyances, and Scams.

 

Offers

Several companies sent me letters and brochures enticing me to purchase their products or services.  While I can visualize these offers’ usefulness for businesses in general, for me they ranged from necessary to irrelevant.  The following list is presented in order of descending utility given my needs, more or less.  One characteristic that all in this section share is that they were initially sent through the mail, and I therefore could examine what I had received at leisure and pursue or discard each offer based on its relevance and merits.  More recently, emails have predominated.

 

  • Business cards and promotional items:  I took advantage of the introductory offer for business cards, as I anticipated their necessity.  While other items like pens, coffee cups, tote bags, and mouse pads are enticing, they’d be more to flatter my ego than of any use in the business, so I am resisting the temptation.  Something that made items easy to resist was a minimum quantity per order.  I’m not sure what I would do with 150 tote bags.

 

  • Checks and deposit slips:  While a supply of checks and deposit slips is usually necessary in business as well as one’s personal finances, almost all my business payments are made electronically or by credit card.  The handful of checks I was handed when I opened my business bank account will likely last several years.  Additionally, I downloaded and installed the font used for banks’ routing and account numbers and can now print my own deposit slips—see Figure 1.  (I wonder if this would work for checks, too.)

Fictitions bank routing and account numb

Figure 1.  Fictitious bank routing and account numbers in the MICR Encoding font.

 

  • Phone and Internet services:  I have received solicitations for business Internet services and bundled phone and Internet services.  While I acknowledge the necessity of these services, sending the offers one to two years after Play It Again, Paul, LLC started operations didn’t help the providers’ cause.  More recently, I've received two solicitations for phone answering services.  Although this service would significantly screen spam calls, voice mail satisfies my needs, and the additional expense cannot be justified.  Interestingly, the two emails were from different people and showed different company names, but the emails' text was identical, which does not engender trust.

 

  • Credit card swiping attachments:  One of these will be useful for taking point-of-sale credit card payments.  But as customers so far have been willing to use other means of payment, I can defer this and avoid the fee accompanying each transaction.

 

  • Matériel:  I received a 700-page catalogue featuring every possible thing one might use in a business, including, for example, several dozen pages of corrugated boxes of every shape and size.  I noted a couple of items that I might pursue should the need arise, and the catalogue might also be useful for purchasing items for use around the house.

 

  • Stamps:  For a monthly subscription fee, I could obtain the capability of printing my own stamps (postage costs are not included in the fee).  While I would save time and mileage expenses, I couldn’t begin to approach breaking even on this offer.

 

  • Request to provide company credit information:  I was very leery of this request, but after conducting some research, I found it to be legitimate.  I spoke with a company representative, who informed me that this information is necessary in pursuing contracts with the U.S. government.  After I explained what services Play It Again, Paul, LLC provides and that the chances of such contracts are exceedingly slim, we agreed that there was little point in going any further.  We shared a chuckle and parted amicably.

 

  • Charge cards:  I have received several invitations to apply for charge cards, all with annual fees (some outrageously high, in my opinion).  Maybe there’s prestige associated with such cards, but the one that I received when opening my business bank account serves me well, and it’s free.  There’s no need to burden the company with unnecessary overhead expenses.

 

  • Tools:  Perusing the tool catalogue I received is like spending the day wandering around a hardware store, but in the comfort of my home.  It doesn’t contain anything of relevance to my business, but you never know when you’ll need another power drill.

 

  • “Pre-qualified” for business loans for up to $500,000.00:  I have received several such offers, though I’m not sure what I would do with a half mil—maybe secure a place in Audiophile Heaven with some huge equipment upgrades.  Some contained a clarification in the fine print that “pre-qualified” is not the same as “approved,” and I therefore adjudged these as misleading.  These offers rarely address interest rates, ancillary costs, and the term of the loan (though one stipulated a term of between 11 and 52 weeks!).  While I can still dream of Audiophile Heaven, that dream is interrupted by the nightmare of having to pay back the loan and its interest.

 

  • Business insurance:  The solicitation was to contact the company for a boilerplate, off-the-shelf business insurance policy.  On-line reviews were mixed, and the negative comments tended to reflect policies that failed to meet specific businesses’ needs.  I figured I’d be much better off working with my insurance agent to get a policy tailored to my requirements.

  • Payroll services:  Irrelevant for Play It Again, Paul.

  • Smart phone app development:  The originators of this solicitation didn't bother trying to understand the nature of the services provided by Play It Again, Paul.  Also irrelevant.

  • Security systems:  Closed-circuit surveillance, intrusion alarms, et al., which would constitute an unjustifiable expense (not to mention an invasion of my privacy).

  • Business contact extraction:  One solicitation offered software that scrubs business listing and social media sites for business contact information, exporting that information into a spreadsheet so it can be used for solicitations.  Interestingly, the web site supposedly containing a testimonial disappeared less than two months after I received the email.  I wasn't interested anyway.

 

Annoyances

There are numerous Internet sites that list businesses in your area, and you can search them by business name (if you know it) or by service category.  The listings are free, and I decided to take advantage of a few of them.  You can enter the business name, web site, email address, phone number, description of services offered, and images—all pretty easy and straightforward.  However, I ran into difficulty trying to find a service category from among those available on these sites that came close to representing what Play It Again, Paul, LLC provides.  “Audio Conversion” would fit the bill, but the business caters to such a niche market that “Audio Conversion” rarely appears in any of the sites.  Oh well, it seemed worth a shot.  But that’s where the annoyances began.  The principal reason that the solicitations below are included under “Annoyances” rather than “Offers” is that most of them contacted me by phone, thereby interrupting whatever I was doing at the time.

 

  • Upgrade to our paid account!  One reputable site has called me with some regularity trying to entice    me to upgrade to a paid account (starting at over $1,800 per year).  When I tell them that I’m not ready to make that leap, they’re very nice about letting me have my way, and then inform me that they’ll check back with me in a couple of months.  They’ve been very punctual in calling back during the first six months following initial contact, but the frequency subsequently lessened.  Update:  I was enticed to sign up for what appeared to be a free trial period.  It turned out that it wasn’t.  Beyond incurring a needless expense, I learned a lot about this company’s sales techniques and, more importantly, the mismatches between my needs and the site’s features (for example, I cannot post a covid-19 update without listing my business hours, for which “By appointment only” is not available).  One solicitor made the mistake of promising that the company would look into making changes to accommodate my needs, thereby providing me with a ready response to ensuing phone calls:  “Have you fixed this and this and this yet?  Don’t call back until those changes are in place.”  Payback.

 

  • One size fits all.  After launching my web site, I used several Internet search engines to see if the site was showing up.  I stopped doing this for a couple of months, but when I next checked, I was surprised to see it show up in business listing sites that I had never accessed, including some that I had never heard of.  I followed one link to see what was there, and the information portrayed was fragmentary at best.  Thinking “Oh well, why not?”, I tried to claim one of the listings and correct and complete the information.  I was unable to do so, as I was repeatedly directed to “ThisIsNotItsName.com” (a name I made up for this article which, as of this writing, does not exist).  Trying to access the listing through that site repeatedly produced an error condition, so I called the site’s customer service number.  The person with whom I spoke explained that Internet “bots” collect business information and use it to populate business listing sites.  “ThisIsNotItsName,” for a recurring fee, provides the service of taking the business information you provide them and populating numerous listings.  The advantage is that maintaining that information in multiple sites can be accomplished through a single portal.  During our interactions over the next few days, I received two automated emails from them, each presenting about 70 sites where Play It Again, Paul, LLC appeared.  I explored all of them and found that several sites did not list my business despite the report that they did, and that the information in the sites where it did show up was incomplete and at times wrong—other than in those sites where I had initiated the listing.  Eventually, I declined signing up for this service (and paying their fee), as I refused to be held hostage by a bunch of poorly designed Internet bots.

  • Web site augmentation:  Several emails began by pointing out weaknesses in my web site, generally focusing on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  The platform in which I developed my web site and that continues to host it maintains control over the kinds of things these solicitations propose, and little would come of responding to the offers.  Since the vast majority of my customers have found Play It Again, Paul through generic Internet searches, my site seems to be performing satisfactorily.  (That most of these emails originated in India tempered whatever enthusiasm I might have mustered.)

 

  • What about this one?  Something that’s more of a source of amusement than annoyance is Facebook, where I have set up a business page.  As with other business listing sites, Facebook doesn’t offer a service category that fits what Play It Again, Paul, LLC provides, and so I listed it under the generic “Local Service.”  As Facebook users are aware, its software is always churning in the background, populating one’s news feed with suggestions for people to connect with (most of whom you’ve never heard of but whose names keep reappearing), groups to join (some of which you’d never want to be associated with), and commercial announcements to Like and Share.  In a similar vein, Facebook has taken it upon itself to suggest more specific service categories for my consideration.  Some are related to my services, albeit distantly:  Music Production Studio, Movie & Music Store, Information Technology Company, and Media/News Company.  Others are so far-fetched as to be laughable:  Contractor, Sporting Goods Store, and Dry Cleaner.

Change your category - Business Service.

Figure 2.  One of Facebook’s suggestions to change Play It Again, Paul’s business category

 

  • Or this one?  Facebook eventually ran out of suggestions for the business category and instead focused its attention on my business page’s Zip Code (Figure 3).  Aside from the implication that I don’t know my own Zip Code, I was bothered by the suggestion’s presentation:  strike-through of my current Zip Code, a green font for the suggested Zip Code, and an “Accept” button that uses a larger font than that of the “Reject” option and also employs an eye-catching background.  The obvious cues to influence me toward clicking “Accept” make me wonder about Facebook’s true motivation underlying this suggestion.

Change your Zip Code.jpg

Figure 3.  Facebook’s suggested change for Play It Again, Paul’s business page.

 

Scams

It hadn’t dawned on me that businesses become scammers’ targets the same way that individuals do.  Fortunately, I’ve encountered only two attempts, both of which were easy to spot.  (Google and YP are not involved in these scams; the scammers used these companies’ names trying to legitimize their pitches and fool their targets.)

 

  • Claim your business listing!  I received two calls a month apart on my home phone with a recorded message urging me to verify and claim my business listing on Google.com.  Since I had no business listing on Google.com, these were easy to ignore.  Using a reverse directory, I tracked the call’s originating number to a marketing LLC; the number that the message instructed me to call belonged to a private residence in California—obviously spoofed.

 

  • Sign up for our premium plan!  A “James Carter” called me on my business phone to encourage me to enroll in a YP.com (Yellow Pages) premium plan.  My suspicions were raised at several points.  First, there was a mismatch between the English/American sounding name and his heavy Indian accent.  Second, while I had started to create a business listing on YP.com, I abandoned it after a customer service representative confirmed that YP offered no service category that would fit my business (something for which “Carter” “apologized”).  Third, “Carter’s” knowledge of the services provided by Play It Again, Paul, LLC was fragmentary, and he never paid any attention to my clarifications.  Lastly, he used hard-sell tactics, unlike the reputable business listing services I mentioned in the previous section, and such tactics always raise red flags.  I subsequently looked up the phone number, and the report documented this as a recurring scam.  (I’m happy that he only called once, and I eventually succeeded in getting a legitimate—and free—listing on YP.com.  It’s listed under “CD, DVD, & Cassette Duplicating Services,” which is about as close as I can get.)

  • Email lists:  Did you know you can purchase 500,000 email addresses for $150 or one million for $250?  The cost goes up if you want the lists restricted to a single country:  $200 for ten thousand addresses and $250 for fifty thousand.  Another solicitation offered the service of sending business ads to one million addresses for $99 and up to two-hundred million for $750.  I detest receiving such emails, and I find the idea of being an originator abhorrent.  Besides, neither of the solicitations I received mentioned anything about generating email addresses that are valid only until the ads are sent out.  I’m sure that would drive up the expense.

 

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