The New Orleans Voodo Tarot deck’s depiction of the Wheel of Fortune card is probably my favourite:
A transdimensional market modelled on an ancien régime city market provides more useful mental models to comprehend and overcome the vicissitudes of corporeal existence.
To me, the market is a better entry point into the meaning of the card. It doesn’t rely on terms like ‘destiny’ or ‘fortune’ that -like ‘soul’ or ‘fate’- have suffered so much semantic drift that they have become clouded and largely unhelpful.
It also avoids the implied inaccuracy that comes with seeing your circumstances as wheel-shaped; ie unidirectional going from great to good to okay to grim to massively shit to grim to slightly better and then back to good and great.
Practically nothing is wheel-shaped except for wheels. Seasons drift, axes tilt, orbits skew, equinoxes proceed and bagels warp in the oven. (Mine do, at least.)
Of course, the card does not depict a real market. (Anubis is shopping there.) It’s an archetypal market. This means, unlike literally any market ever in the world, it has equality of participation, it has no operating hours, no insider trading, no racketeering, the carpark is never full, it goes on forever in every direction and it may or may not be run by trolls.
Things are pretty bad right now. Markets teach us that everything changes. From here, things could get worse or they could get better. Markets give us an emotionless assessment of our current traditions. Do you trade through a downturn? Do you hold your inventory and wait for a better price? Do you partner up to reduce your cost base?
Markets don’t teach us that it’s darkest before the dawn because that’s not even correct in terms of basic optics, let alone metaphysics. It’s that kind of thinking that leads you to take out second or third mortgages just to keep open the doors of a shop open that should probably close. Most businesses fail. It’s not personal failure. It really, really isn’t. Markets give you the freedom to internalise that truth. It’s very freeing.
Markets are up. then they are down. Prices for items change. Some people prosper in a difficult market. More people prosper in a buoyant market.
Markets teach us that our place in the world is small. The world is going to do what it’s going to do, with or without you. A market is devoid of metaphysic optimism which means if you use it as a map you are less likely to make decisions based on a malfunctioning belief system that says, for instance, that things are about to turn a corner.
Your best course of action is twofold:
- Have the best market monitoring software the multiverse can provide.
- Hustle. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
If you discount the idea that market behaviour broadly parallels the exchange and conflict inherent in the biosphere -and you probably should because it inevitably leads to some stringent opinions about poor people- then you reach the conclusion that the market is a manmade idea.
But then I would argue that it is manmade in the same way the idea of a circle is manmade. (This is a chaos magic blog so I would argue that so is a god but that seems to be a less popular position to take. Also it doesn’t come into this discussion.)
And like the origins of the idea of the circle, the beginnings of the market are inherently magical. The first instance of international trade currently visible in the archaeological record is a near-stone age trade in lapis lazuli from north east Africa (Egypt) and southern Mesopotamia (Babylon). Presumably the magical correspondence fans among you will have grokked that this is a stone sacred to mankind’s earliest (stellar) gods, themselves indigenous to the region in question.
Which brings us neatly to the physical magical market, like the idea of the wheel becoming the rubber ring that meets the road.
Magical market strategies
These are really more thought experiments than strategies. And it’s thanks to an astute comment ConjureMan Ali left on my previous post about changing customer behaviour.
My only commercial experience in the supply side of the magical marketplace was when I used to provide ad hoc card readings to friends of friends at university.
So we’re going to use professional card reading as the business example. Also because card readings have a broader appeal than more specialised magical offerings. Even atheists will buy them if you say blah, blah oblique strategies blah, blah.
(For this example, assume you are in some way decent at card reading. Most of us are good enough with a few years under our belts.)
I don’t have much direct experience in the magical marketplace because I try to stick to markets with barriers to entry as these are universally more profitable.
Magic is -and always has been- a grey market. This can’t really change because you are trading intangibles that, at various times throughout history, have also been contraband.
Compounding this is the impossibility of providing guaranteed results when trading in probability enhancement and the sometimes truly spectacular side effects. (Sidebar: Did you know that some of the rarer side effects of psychotherapy include psychokinesis, auditory hallucination and vivid dreams/daydreams? Sound familiar? Large chunks of the mental health industry tends to look unfavourably on psychotherapy as well. Intangibles are more difficult sell than heart medication or, say, laundry detergent.)
1. Demand-side adjustment
You can’t effectively manage your margins from the supply side in a grey (or black) market with no barriers to entry. There are always going to be undercutters, over-promisers and scoundrels. Also, a business tends to get the customers it deserves. (For a detailed examination of both of these factors, see The Wire season 1.)
Which means you have to manage it from the demand side.
The best way to do this is to use another market’s entry barriers to pre-screen your clients. The type of customer that books regular alternative health sessions at a particular price point is more likely to pay above market rates, more likely to understand how an intangible service works, more likely to repeat book, and so on.
A friend of mine here in London is a very successful masseuse. We teasingly call her the masseuse to the stars. (Jake Gyllenhaal is a client. Annoyingly she won’t let me sit in on/video those sessions.) She has been referring her high value client base to energy healers, clairvoyants, etc for years. There’s a big missed commercial opportunity here. It’s incremental revenue, but it’s basically all margin.
2. Go for volume
Okay so this is pretty much the complete opposite idea. In a large, low-cost marketplace the best strategy is to go for volume.
Groupon is a competitor of mine in Europe so I watch them with great interest. (DO NOT buy Groupon shares when they float. It’s a giant ponzi scheme. Turning down Google’s acquisition offer was a spectacular mistake. Let the greedy bastards languish in penury for their hubris!)
What has crippled businesses who have incorrectly used daily deals is:
- Steep discounting on products with low margin (like food).
- An inability to manage a large increase in customer volumes.
- An inability to effectively manage redeemed coupons. There are horror stories of people showing up with printed out coupons five or six times to the one small cafe and then threatening them with bad yelp reviews if they don’t get the discounted price. (Disgusting behaviour when we’re talking about small businesses.)
- Cash flow. Groupon takes money from you as a customer upfront and then fully pays the merchant sixty days later. (It needs the money in the interim to buy more Google ads to get more of us to buy more deals. Hence ponzi scheme.)
- If you get new customers out of the deal they may not be repeat customers or, if they are, they are price sensitive. (Why would I pay full price for a steak I got for ten bucks last time?)
Now, consider this hypothetical:
- Get two or three local card reading friends together, register a business name and throw together a website. (Moonfruit is easy and cheap.) It’s probably a good idea to buy some business insurance from an insurance comparison website as well, if you’re keen to carry on trading after the campaign. Rules change on a state by state basis as to whether you need a business bank account, etc. That bit’s up to you. You may already have one.
- Get business cards from Moo. About one in three business cards I receive these days doesn’t even have a phone number on it. It’s website, email, twitter, linkedin, skype… no phone number. So no line rental for you.
- Agree with a local cafe or indy bookshop (if there are any left) that you can provide readings there. Cafes should presumably like this because it’s people buying coffee. (You should stick to tea or you’ll die of heart failure on day 1.) Restrict yourself to non-peak times and/or agree a maximum number of occupied tables at any one time if you have to. It’s all about the scheduling. Whatever you choose, the key is to pick a location you don’t have to pay for. Don’t run this from your house and always make the customer pick up the travel costs. You can do phone/skype readings if you like. (Side option: Consider partnering with a cafe owner if you are flying solo. That way all the business procedures are in place.)
- Sign up to a Groupon clone -they need the business more so will be more flexible- and reduce your prices from, say, sixty bucks down to twenty seven. What does it matter at this point? Determine this based on what share the coupon company makes. (I say Groupon clone because, hilariously for a company with such lopsided operating practices, Groupon is careful with the merchants it partners with. Which isn’t to say don’t try with them, especially if you already have a business that’s been running for a number of years. They’re very keen to get a variety of businesses on board as this improves the open rates of their emails. All evidence to the contrary, it can’t be teeth whitening and hair extensions every day!)
- Use a free/freemium online booking tool (there are plenty) to schedule your business partners and your customers so you don’t get swamped. If you have the time to manage it, a public Google calendar will do at a pinch. Just be sure to capture email/voucher details.
- Get a Square. (Revolutionising craft/Renn fairs near you!) If you independently trade anything, you need this. Besides, some of the customers will bring friends who won’t have bought through the coupon site. Or you might want to sell them magical items at the same time.
- Get Aweber and sign up every customer to a database. Tell them they can have the coupon price next time if they bring a friend (who also gets the coupon price). Email the database weekly with an affirmation or astrological tip -your bookshelves are groaning with them- and always include a link back to the website/booking tool. Conversions from a database lift from below 2% to over 10% after seven opened emails.
Think about it. No overheads, microscopic outlay and a product that’s all margin. As for repeat customers, card readings aren’t really a repeat business in the same way haircuts are. But you will at least get as much repeat business as possible because you will have built a database of paying customers. Rinse and repeat with any coupon business that will have you.
From limited personal experience, card reading is a largely referral-based business. What better way to kickstart that friend-of-friend word of mouth than by powering through a large volume of completely new customers?
There you have it. An out of the box, hypothetical apocalypse business. Use it or mutate it as you like. (Rune Soup Law of Apocalypse Trading: Any business that does not properly use the internet will be properly used by the internet.)
The secret teachings of the market
That hypothetical apocalypse business points to a couple of secret teachings of the market.
The first, in a very Grant Morrison sense, is that a marketplace -like the atomic bomb or Superman- is built of ideas. That’s very empowering. If the market is tough then have better ideas. What could be more magical?
The second secret teaching behind is that markets are built by the sum total of everyone’s participation. It is everyone else’s striving and journeying, combined, that builds our world.
If nobody shows up, you don’t have a market. You have a village square with some empty stalls. You come to the market not just to procure, but to exchange, to share. Procure the ideas you like or need. Set up your own little shop. You are in the flow of all things. For me, this is the inner wisdom of the Wheel of Destiny card. In my mind, that’s your true market value.
We build the market with our heads. It’s made of ideas. We literally build the world.
Let’s get down to business.