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Hobby Business Time-Lapse Video

This time-lapse video shows all the steps needed to fill six typical BMOW hardware orders. Running an electronics hobby business can be lots of fun, but can also be highly time-consuming. If your operation is too small to support other employees, you’ll spend the bulk of your time prepping product and stuffing boxes instead of developing new tech.

What exactly is involved in filling somebody’s order for a new gadget? Even when the products involved are pre-assembled and “ready to ship”, there’s still work to do. Starting from the beginning of the video, here’s the chronology:

0 minutes – Download the recent order data, and print packing lists. Make a little pile on the floor for each outgoing order. Add quickstart guides and instruction sheets to the piles, as needed.

4 minutes – Pull the LCD off each Floppy Emu, and tighten its mounting tabs. Adjust the LCD contrast to something reasonable – the exact level varies from one LCD to the next. Flash the newest Emu firmware to the board.

12 minutes – Grab a set of DB19 adapters and a bundle of ribbon cables. Remove the DB19 adapters from their anti-static bags, and put the Emu boards in the bags. Connect the cable assemblies, fold them up neatly, and add everything to the growing piles on the floor.

16 minutes – Cut the SD memory cards from their cardboard packaging. Copy the master image to the cards, using a stand-alone SD duplicator. Add to the piles. Also start wrapping some items, during the copying dead time.

22 minutes – Add enclosures to the piles. The enclosure parts were bagged previously, in a separate time-consuming process of punching and sorting parts from laser-cut sheets.

23 minutes – Pack fragile items in bubble wrap. Fold up the papers.

28 minutes – Buy necessary postage. Custom software determines what postage type and amount is needed for each shipment.

29 minutes – Why is this Japanese address getting rejected by the address validator? Manually rewrite the address, twice.

33 minutes – Print the postage.

36 minutes – Pack the finished piles into boxes or padded envelopes. Seal them and affix the postage.

42 minutes – Put some tiny spare parts into an envelope. Hand-address the envelope to the customer.

46 minutes – Collect all the outgoing mail into a bag, and clean up the leftover scraps.

The entire process in the video takes 47 minutes, which excludes the time needed to deliver the packages to the post office. All tolled, it’s about an hour of time.

If you’ve ever run a small hobby business, you’re probably nodding your head at all of this. If you’re thinking about turning your hobby creations into a small business, I don’t want to discourage you, but the reality is that selling physical goods takes time. It’s fun tinkering with interesting electronics, and talking with like-minded people, but the mundane work of getting parts and filling orders consumes most of the time you can devote to the business. Developing iPhone apps is probably a smarter way to earn extra dollars!

Bonus game: Search the video to see how many geeky electronics items you can identify hidden around the room.

Read 4 comments and join the conversation 

4 Comments so far

  1. Adrian March 16th, 2017 11:58 am

    Having fulfilled more than 1000 orders over the last 3 years, I’m nodding like a bobble-head.

    Personally, I enjoy the “dumb labor” aspects just as much as the R&D side. In my mind it’s a perfect balance: 1) design/development (brain) 2) assembly (hands) 3) fulfillment (body). It gets me out of my chair, walking, stretching, kneeling, huffing, puffing… 🙂

    But yes, it can be frustrating how it slows down development cycles, which turns into guilt when tinkering on something unrelated to my “business”.

  2. Felix Rusu March 17th, 2017 6:58 am

    Fun to watch and I feel the connection! May I suggest you really need to get a label printer 🙂

    I use Endicia Dazzle which overall is a piece of trash not software, and I plan to use something else ASAP, but I got used to the quirks and I think it takes me 10 seconds at most to print 1 label (including the customs declaration stuff – just a few extra clicks and typing the values), say 20 if I have to adjust something in the address. I can even print weird unicode characters for Japan, if that’s what they type.

  3. Steve March 17th, 2017 8:00 am

    I’ve come close to buying a Dymo label printer, but decided it wouldn’t give enough of a speed up to be worth it. Am I crazy and should reconsider? I could see if I had 100 labels to print at a time, but for 6, I estimate I’m losing maybe 5-10 seconds per label by hand-feeding sheets through the laser printer. As you say, the real question is the software. My custom setup imports all the address and package info, and handles all the customs declarations too. On a good day I can click one button, and it’ll generate six PDF files for me to print. On a typical day like the one in the video, at least one order will require some kind of manual intervention for the address or package details. Sadly I can not handle unicode characters for Japan, but that’s a limitation of the shipper I’m using (Shippo) rather than the software. I have to email Japanese customers and ask them to rewrite their address in romaji, which is embarrassing.

  4. Felix Rusu March 17th, 2017 8:15 am

    When I saw you how you print labels I had very nostalgic memories of how I used to do it, very similar except I didn’t have to print the same label twice (saw you reinsert the same page again for a second print). Anyway then I got a label printer and it felt like I upgraded from dark ages to the 21st century. IMHO You should reconsider. It’s really worth it. A LP2844 printer will cost you anywhere from $50-100. I am sure you can close the loophole around the japanese font issue, perhaps by writing a little script or asking the users to type in both charsets if they are from japan, you could then have the printer print an extra label with the extra address or something like that. Or have the invoice with original address in a clear sticky envelope on the package. OR just force them to type it in ASCII the first time.

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