I can’t believe its April already. Here’s my usual quarterly update that rambles through the things I can remember from the previous 3 months of the year. As usual I have broken it down into work, investment, and personal life sections.

Work life

2021 has kicked off pretty well on the professional front. Below are some key highlights from my perspective:

Massive lead generation gains for I.R.B Law

Visits and leads from organic search had started rising back in late 2020 as I highlighted in my last quarterly update, but with the Christmas holiday period, and then Chinese New Year, it was challenging to get a feel for how the improvements would play out in terms of incremental lead generation [aside from the obvious year-on-year comparisons].

March finally gave us a fully uninterrupted month, and the results have been exceptional. Visits increased 65% YOY, and 110% vs. 2019, whilst leads were up 60% YOY, and 210% vs. 2019. Its pretty incredible to think we’ve gone from around 10,000 organic visits a month when I first started, to 50,000 now.

The outcome of a clear strategy with continuous execution and a sprinkle of patience. The work never ends though!

FrameIT development is taking a while, but almost there

In the latest FrameIT development phase we are making quite a lot of modifications to enable customers to order larger frames directly via the website. In recent times we’ve been taking almost as much revenue from orders that happen offline vs. online and its causing a headache for me in handling all of those custom quotes.

The latest update increases the size we can sell online from 80cm x 120cm to 100cm x 150cm [in either ratio] and this will cover the vast majority of orders we currently have to handle offline. It sounds like the easiest thing to do – just change the max input validation, but in reality its quite complex as different materials need to be considered when the frame exceeds the 80cm x 120cm dimensions. For example, a red mat border might be available at 80cm x 120cm size, but its not available in 100cm x 150cm and we have to handle that nicely within the UI so its seamless for the customer.

There is some other much needed updates, including more guidance on the width of the frame a customer should order based on the size of their artwork. We would get 1-2 orders a week where we’d have to email the customer and ask if we can upgrade their frame from 1.5cm to 2cm, and whilst they never had an issue, its just 1 more additional email that shouldn’t really be needed if we handled it better upfront on the website.

Improvements to size guidance on FrameIT

We’re also adding more information into the main builder page to help educate prospects on what they’ll be receiving, and also give them more confidence in our product. We’ve definitely seen and heard that many new customers will ‘take the plunge’ in buying one frame initially, and once they’ve confirmed that it fits correctly, and the quality is good, they buy many more. As such, if we can just lift consumer confidence generally, I think we’ll do more orders.

FrameIT website showing more information on materials and process

The next development phase will be another big one as we work on allowing customers to upload images to print. I’m working through the visual designs and a proof of concept at the moment.

The printing side of the business is going well

On the printing front, I mentioned in the last update that we’d acquired a large format Canon printer so we can start offering printing in-house. This enables us to be a one-stop-shop for people who need both printing +framing, reducing our costs and travel time on existing printing requests, but also helping us grow a supplementary revenue stream.

I didn’t expect much to be happening here until we’d got the functionality directly built into the website, but in reality we’re already taking on enough standalone print jobs to drive some profit from the purchase. We’ve been printing a lot of artwork for another framing shop, and also doing frame + prints for various private individuals and companies. We recently did some leaving gifts for The Monetary Authority of Singapore and Amazon Web Services.

Whilst the printing industry requires some upfront cost in acquiring the printer and various papers, I must say that the margins can be excellent if you run a tight ship. I’ve massively improved my knowledge and work flow in printing already, so I feel pretty comfortable now handling all kinds of standard print jobs.

We’ve also acquired some canvas rolls, and did a few canvas prints.

Awesome results using NitroPack

May 2021 will bring about a well publicised [and probably extremely over hyped] change in the Google algorithm. They will officially roll out the usage of Google Core Web Vitals as part of the core ranking algorithm. For all the non-SEO related folks who might read this, the basic summary is – faster websites = GOOD, slower websites = BAD, and those faster websites, all other things being equal ‘may’ see some ranking improvements in the Google search results as a result of this update.

Improvements from Nitropack on Merlin Frame Maker

I personally anticipate very little actual movement, but as any good practitioner, I protect my clients best interests, and so I have spent time reviewing and implementing solutions to increase Core Web Vital scores ahead of this update. The best solution I have found so far is NitroPack [no affiliation] where I’ve taken a number of sites from scoring in the 30-40 range, and moved them into the 95-100 range [out of a maximum of 100].

Investment Life

Q1 2021 has been quite the rollercoaster in the stock market. After the almost never ending gains of 2020 [post March] the first quarter of 2021 ended with some pretty nasty red days. During these down days I obviously saw losses in paper profits, but thankfully the markets kicked back into life towards the end of March and I’ve capitalised on some great gains.

I added to many existing long term convictions during the ‘dark days’ and opened a number of new positions.

Here are some of the key actions I took across Q1:

  • Despite my prior resolve, I sold off my entire Alibaba holding during the recent pullback. I have since done some short term trading here for quick profits, but I am currently completely divested of Alibaba as of today.
  • I sold off my full position in CloudFlare after a great run-up. I wanted to take the profits and leverage in other investments where I felt more upside was likely.
  • I started new positions in some of my favorite previous buys Microsoft, Google, and SEA Limited.
  • I also started small positions in two completely new companies to my portfolio: GoodRX and Walt Disney.
  • I decided to put a small portion of my investments into more value driven companies [i.e., high dividend, low share price fluctuation]. I started some positions in AbbVie, AT&T, and Verizon.
  • I continued to add to Tesla.

My current holdings by percentage outlined below. Those with the asterix * are new holdings since my prior update.

Summary of my current holdings

Last point on the investment section is that we decided to start a small investment in the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF which is intended for our two kids. To get it started I just stuck a small initial deposit in there, and then each time they receive money [i.e., Birthdays, Christmas, Chinese New Year] I will pocket the cash, but reinvest the same amount into their ETF tracker. I imagine eventually they’ll get old enough to want the cash themselves, but for now, they don’t care.

In addition to this, we are going to add $300 per month into the ETF and just leave it to build for them over the years. Aside from hopefully building some good savings for them [they’re up 5% at the moment] it will act as a form of financial education in the future. The ETF also pays out a dividend, so we should see some compounded interest benefit over the years. Just received the first dividend of a whopping $2.88 this morning!

Personal Life

As we’re still dealing with the realities of COVID-19, there is not much to talk about outside of the routines of every day life generally. Its made a lot more fun by having a 5 year old daughter, and now 9 month old son though. I am so happy that we’re living in Singapore, a country where the government has done a fine job of controlling the spread, ensuring that our ‘normality’ is considerably better than the vast majority of the western world over the last 12 months.

Robin is non-stop crawling and standing these days, so I expect he’ll be walking soon enough. With trying to work from home and prevent him from constantly getting into dangerous situations, we decided to buy a simple playpen to keep him more stationed in one area. Of course the reality was that Robin figured out that the playpen was not actually a playpen but a prison, so every time he’s inside, he gets cranky unless multiple people accompany him. Little bastard!

We signed up for some annual passes at Kiztopia recently so we’ve been taking both the kids there for 3 hours twice a week. Its basically just a big indoor playground, but good environment for the kids to tire themselves out and socialise a bit.

Alice managed to basically become a professional kids swimming coach in March. She spent hours watching swimming lessons for kids on YouTube, and to her immense credit, after just a couple of weeks of teaching, Riley has become a different person in the swimming pool. She’s now full of confidence and really improving her general technique.

On the reading [or I should say listening] front I’ve now finished all of the Simon Scarrow Eagle Series up to book 19 via Audible. I find them a good escape when everyone is asleep on an evening, or I am walking somewhere. I’ve always been fascinated by the Romans, and this is just the latest series of novels that I’ve ploughed through on the subject. I’ll be waiting for book 20 to come out next.

After completing the Simon Scarrow books I moved onto Ready Player Two. I really enjoyed the first book [and the subsequent movie] but the second book was not quite as good for me. I did still enjoy it overall, but there was large sections that contained to much detail and pop culture references that I found over the top. The whole section with the 7 Princes for example was just a bit over played for me.

I’ve now started with a book by Ken Follett called Pillars of the Earth. I’m really not sure why or when I bought this as its about the building of a cathedral in a fictional town called Kingsbridge during the medieval times. That doesn’t fit my typical reading profile at all, but so far its pretty good, although its 809 pages, so let me update you on my feelings by page 400.

Focus for Q2

I’ll look back and check how I do against these, but my primary focus areas for April -> June are:

  1. Deploy the upcoming FrameIT release mentioned above.
  2. Complete the designs and proof of concept for how we’d implement printing into the FrameIT website.
  3. Keep learning and growing the printing aspect of the FrameIT business.
  4. Have fun with the family.

Thanks for reading, and wish everyone the best for Q2!

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