The Most Common Misconception About “Web Magic”

I belong to a website called Alignable, and how often do I hear small business owners complaining about “not getting ranked” and how all the “big business” is killing small business. After a while, your humble narrator has to jump in and open a can of whoop ass. Maybe you will find this interesting, as what I wrote seems to be generating muchos buzz about it on the site itself.

First of all, the comment that set me off was this (the poster will remain anonymous):

“I am concerned, and I see the rapid reliance and escalating costs of doing business on the internet. I am concerned that what was once freedom for business to proliferate without these giant companies monopolizing advertisement as slipping away, and once again small business will pay the lions share of business advertising expenses with large companies getting fat with lower percentage costs, but getting top placement.”

And here is my reply:

As a web designer, I will say for the most part that it is not the website that is probably the problem. It’s the idea of “saving cost” on the website that is the problem, and then blowing your hard earned dollars on bullshit like AdWords and high-priced SEO companies. Most people I design for say they have “no idea” how to develop a website, and then once the contract is signed, all of a sudden they dictate how the website should be built. That is not how web design should be. You don’t tell a doctor how to remove your appendix, do you? Professional designers have spent many years analyzing code, noticing what works and what doesn’t, researching demographics, etc…And we often see what is best for a business because we have an objective view of it. But how often do we here “I don’t think that is necessary!” or “That is going to cost HOW MUCH to do?!”

*sigh*

Look…If you are worried about the “cost” of your website, you are missing the whole point of having one. A design spearheaded by a professional may cost you more than what you were looking to spend, but it will pay off ten to twenty fold in the return on investment. So if your website is not doing what you wanted it to do, you have to ask yourself this one question: “Did I not let the professional do the job I paid them to do, or did I argue because it was going to cost too much, and I didn’t think it should?”

In other words, did you let the professional do what they needed to do in order to make your website do what you wanted it to do?

I understand what [anonymous poster] below me is saying. But my company specializes in making small businesses look like bigger businesses. We level the playing field on cost for the concerns mentioned. But a client has to trust the professional and the process, or else they get what they have always had: Something amateur. They also have to want to play in the major leagues. I know the biggest complaint about competing with big business is that they have “deep pockets”. But at one point, those big businessess were a small business just like you. The only difference between yesterday’s market and today’s market is those now big businesses understood what small business today does not seem to understand: “the only want to make money is by spending money”. In other words: You don’t skimp on the damn budget when getting people to know you. When we go out on date’s, we wear our best outfits, and let’s face it…Fashion isn’t cheap. We spend oodles of time and money at the gym, so we can look good naked. We spend god awful amounts of money at high end grocery stores so we can “live healthier”…But when it comes to our source of income?! We have a shit fit about the cost…How stupid is that?!

It’s not considered stupid at all. It’s considered “Small Business Marketing Model 101”…Or at least that is what it has morphed into.

And it’s flat out dumb as fuck.

It’s the idea of giving the illusion that you are a successful small business owner to your judgmental neighbors (shopping at Whole Foods spending hundreds of dollars on the “trendiest foods”, driving a BMW, wearing fancy clothes from Nordstroms, etc) rather than the idea of actually being successful and moving away from your judgmental neighbors to a nicer neighborhood.

When people try to cut the cost of how they present themselves to the world, it shows…Trust me. You know it, and so do we all. No amount of SEO will save you if you budgeted the look and navigation of your website. No amount of being at the top of Google will help you, if someone clicks off of your site as soon as they are horrified by it (bounce rate). In other words, you can lead a horse to water, but if you do not make that water look tasty and relevant, that horse will go find another well to drink at…And that well will usually flow from the bigger company who realized when they were a smaller company that they needed to let the professionals do their job, the job they spent years doing, and worry about the cost later. I know I will get flack on this, but sometimes the truth hurts. After all AT&T (Bell) was up against Western Union when they started off, and now the only time we hear of Western Union is when we need to wire money. AT&T believed enough in themselves to invest in themselves wisely…Do you? And don’t get me started on the demon Wal Mart, because that started with just one store, and now it is like the Starbucks of retail. And speaking of Starbucks…Are you starting to get it yet?! That is the difference between small business and big business…The reason big business has “deep pockets” is because they keep investing in themselves. It’s the difference between the “big picture” and “sweating the small stuff”. My business started off with my own money (which was actually below $500), and we are now in competition with big design firms…Even got some of their clients…It’s not because we spent a lot of money…It’s because we spent our money wisely, and listened to other’s who were guiding us in those early days. Sometimes it means “this is going to hurt your pocketbook for a while, but it will pay off in the long run”.

Just because the internet enables others to find you faster, does not mean they will like what they see. Let’s face it, many small businesses don’t look like they take themselves seriously, because they are cutting costs of the very thing that will get them noticed. These days, it’s all about presentation…Not just getting client’s to your door. Top placement means nothing if the one who clicks in does not like what they are seeing…Or even worse, have to dig for what they see.

I’m A Creative, Not An Idiot

Sleazy salesman pointing
The scams on us creative types never ceases to amaze me. We are often seen as people bordering homelessness who will do any “make money quick” scheme, as long as it involves being creative.

This is just an overview of a phone conversation I had this evening with someone trying to work that shtick.

First of all, the guy owns a real estate company, which should have been my first clue that the lines were about to get greasy. He said he had a bunch of videos he needed to edit which had “great potential” to make a lot of money for individuals. So basically, he was saying he had a “gimmick”, like he was a motivational speaker of some sort. Mind you, I have never heard of this guy. He said he knew someone I used to work with that “praised” my ethics, and got the referral from them. Ethics were pretty high in demand for this guy, because he said he could really “monetize” on these videos. Of course, I have learned to interpret this over the years as follows: “I want someone who has some ethics, because I don’t have many myself.”

Secondly, he went into the pitch. You can tell the pitch is coming. It is usually forwarded by “Well, let me tell you about this great opportunity I have here.” The opportunity he spoke of was how he had testimonials from people about his “inspirational and informative message” to people, about believing in themselves enough to make money through real estate. He also said he had collateral marketing in mind, using his website as a portal through which others could watch videos he did himself…You know, so people did not make the same mistakes he did. In fact, he told me of one “stellar testimonial” from a guy he helped when the guy was down, and showed the man he was “worth investing in”. Apparently, this man is now very comfortable and happy, all because of Mr. Shtick.

Thirdly, here comes the “stroke”. It’s used by every used car salesman on the planet, which makes you feel as if you need a shower after interacting with them. He tells me he knows some very high priced video guys, guys involved in the film industry (to show how “connected” he is, of course), who he could ask to help him, but he felt he would give someone else (essentially a peon like me) the opportunity. Oh gee! I feel so special! [Apparently he saw the few videos I had on my website, but didn’t bother to look at the Philly Puddy Production page or my IMDB profile at all.] The “stroke” comes in the form of this, though: “I want someone who does video editing, who can see the importance of what I do, and for an hourly rate work for me for 10 hours a week cutting these videos down to the marketable asset. Once the program starts making money, I want to basically partner with someone who will get in on a share of the profits.”

I tell him I already have a business partner. This really flusters him. I guess he thought I was going to drop everything me and my business partner have worked so hard for, for some unseen “potential”. Is this guy still in high school?! Maybe “unseen potential” is why people get involved in sick relationships, but it surely isn’t the basis for business relationship.

However, me being me, I humor him with a quick follow up after dropping the “I already have a business partner” bomb. “How much were you considering hourly?”

“Well, probably not as much as you are used to, I am sure…” and then goes on to avoid the question, telling me about the potential for the money I would make down the road. Yawn. Do any of these people understand how many times a creative person hears this in a month? A week? A day?

He gives me more inspirational bullshit. I listen, but I do so to make sure I put a kink in this guy’s technicolor dream coat when soliciting future creative people he wants to “partner” with. In my early days, I used to fall for this crap, and was left broke after doing tons of work. In all honesty, I wanted him to squirm a bit while I was on the phone after giving me his best line of bullshit. In this used car salesman’s words, I am also writing this down, because I want to help other people avoid the mistakes I have made…Except, I am offering this advice for free. You’re welcome.

He rounds out his sales pitch, thinking he has made me “reasonable” enough to basically take whatever he is willing to give me. But then he then asks, “Why? How much do you usually charge?”

Welcome to Pandora’s Box, bitch.

I tell him. I can hear his asshole pucker over the phone. It comes in the audible, “Well, I am not cheap, but…”

So I cut him off and give it back to him.

“You know, you should really believe in yourself. People often hire non-professionals to form the basis of their truly great ideas, only to see them fail because of the lack of professionalism shown in the foundation. Or, they try to do it themselves, and are not objective enough to see what other people want to see. You need to consider it as an investment in yourself, and the future of this great idea, which we both know has a ton of potential, correct?”

Now he starts to stutter and backtrack. Even insults what I do for a living by saying it is not “rocket science”, which is what everyone wants to hear about their career. Makes them feel good about themselves. Well, being a doctor isn’t rocket science either, but I would rather have a doctor who is a professional cutting me open rather than a doctor who “dabbles in some medicine and stuff”.

I tell him maybe he should ask some of his film friends to do it for that hourly rate, but I already know that is why he is calling me. They told him to get bent. No professional is going to help someone else get rich for $10 to $15 an hour unless you are working at WalMart. Then he gives me the sob story that “some initial investment needs to be low in order to get this off the ground” bullshit. Sure. How about I not invest my time in this project of yours? How about I invest my time with those who feel my expertise is worthy of investing in? He, like others, do not understand a creative makes their living off of this “non-rocket science” stuff…Sort of like a person who sells other people’s houses, which is not rocket science either, by the way.

He said he would get back to me. Sure. I will hold my breath until then.

Maybe he is going to go listen to some of his videos until he feels like he can follow his own advice?

Have some integrity, will ya?

Begging Everyone To Do The Right Thing

I think the biggest complaint we ever receive is this: “I gave some so-and-so guy/girl so many thousands of dollars and they still haven’t built my website yet!”

And then who do they give a hard time about it? You guessed it. Us. Or someone else like us. Either way, it’s wrong.

So I am writing this both for the people who do these sorts of things, and the people who need to be on the lookout for these sorts of things.

I don’t really believe that the people who are taking people’s money with the promise of a product are actually designers. I think they SAY their designers, but I don’t think they really are. Scam artists, maybe, but not designers. If they are designers, what a designer needs is a portfolio. If they are just taking people’s money and not building up their portfolio, they will not be carrying on this scam for long. With web-trends changing all of the time, their stuff will start to look dated, and they won’t be able to get the pay off they used to. One of these cases involves a friend of mine who worked for months to get a small business loan, and they gave a supposedly reputable designer $2000 to get started on her site. That was over 5 years ago. She still has nothing to show for it. I’ll tell you why later. Now, $2,000 may not have been much to this jerkwad, but it was everything to her. And you know what? I know who this guy is! He was more concerned with being a rock star and being “seen” then he was in having some integrity. In his eyes, she may have been a “nobody”, and people do think this guy is awesome, so he probably thought it didn’t matter. In fact, you often hear people like this saying, “Yeah, I got the money, but she kept calling me and bothering me about the site. I don’t need that in my life!”

Really? So she gave you money, and you decide since she is asking about what she paid for, that now you just take the money and run?! Look…if a mechanic takes longer than a week to fix my car, I am on the phone asking them what the hell is going on…And I haven’t even paid them yet! But I need the car. I need to meet clients. I need to go food shopping. I have things to do! Likewise, so does a small business owner. And it means more to them than getting around. It means they are not making a living. On average, we can design and build a website within 4 months. Hearing stories from people that are still waiting 2 to 6 years later to have a website built is ludicrous. It doesn’t take that long if a designer is diligent. So how does this guy look at himself in the mirror every morning? I have no clue. He probably believes all the hype he has built around himself, plus he has a major client…One. But he hasn’t had another major client for years. Maybe all other clients look small to him, and he doesn’t think it matters. But it will. Some day. There is a rule in our field, or ANY field for that matter, that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I know that we treat each and every client as a human being. They are all equal. We treat the corporations the same as the “Mom and Pops”, even though we don’t charge the same for the “little guy” with the “limited budget”. Why? Because we have integrity, and if a person succeeds, especially the small businesses, we feel good about ourselves. That is the true reward of doing what we do. That is the true reward of having integrity. Plus, we don’t have to ask these people to say good things about us. They just do. 85% of our client base are people who have either been referred or are repeat customers.

Now I am not saying that there are not pain in the butt customers out there. Some complain no matter what you try to do for them. They say they know nothing of the workings of the web or video, but they sure know you did a crappy job! But if the work is done, and you have tried everything to please them, and get it through an email trail or some form of writing, well…Then your safe. You can let the courts decide. Hey…It happens. It’s happened to us once. That’s just business. BUT…And I mean BUT…If a person has paid for something, and you have never done a thing about it, you need to get on the ball and start doing some work. Seriously. It makes it harder on those of us WITH integrity. We have to do all the damage control that you caused. It takes us twice as much work to repair what damage in trust you have caused when it comes to us “artistic types”. It hurts the creative industry. Seriously. Stop it. And get to work. Now. Yes, you might have already spent that money, but so what? You wouldn’t have had that money to spend had it not been for that person. Show a little gratitude, you sociopath. And yes, I know…There are clients who are sociopaths as well. But those are what the courts are for, not for you to decide.

Now, people looking for work to be done…I have some tips for you to protect yourselves. This is why our clients love us.

1) Make sure that the person or people doing work for you make you sign a contract and give you a copy of it. Yes, you think that contract locks you into something, but it also locks the person or people doing the work into something as well. Make sure you at least do much of your correspondence through email. Why? Because, even if you did not sign a contract, there is at least some sort of electronic trail that this person was doing work for you, an amount had been paid, and this gives you at least some legal standing to file a lawsuit. Yes, it’s ugly, but so is giving away a large amount of money for nothing in return. Phone calls, conversations, and feelings have no legal standing in a court of law.

2) Never trust anyone who requires ALL of the money up front. Never. That is a sure sign you are getting scammed. A common practice is getting a quote and paying half up front. OR, another thing we do for those with a limited budget, is work on an hourly basis which requires only a $200 “faith payment”. But never have we asked for all of the money up front. It’s just not good business practice to pay the full amount for something you haven’t received yet.

3) Contact some of their past and present clients. It is not illegal to do some snooping on the people you plan to have work for you. In fact, if people come to us, we encourage it. We are aware that someone somewhere is always going to complain, but if the people who are shopping around are smart consumers, they will listen to the complaints and the person complaining. People say bad stuff about the iPhone, too, but there are some people in life that are never happy with anything. We call them “entitled”. But the people who are truly happy with someone’s services, you can tell. Since 2005, Philly Puddy Designs has had only 3 complaints about them, and all 3 complaints were people who felt they were “entitled” to receive more than what they paid for. No one is slave labor, so we don’t have to take that as a business. Only one of those 3 will and still do say bad things about us. The other two apologized to us for not understanding the scope of the services, and we actually ended up completing what they had requested for a minimal cost. We understand that people aren’t always clear about what they are shopping for when it comes to creativity, or what all is involved, and we cannot hold that against them. So we have 1 client since 2005 who just isn’t happy about us at all. Out of 33 clients, those really aren’t bad odds. We must be doing something right. Maybe it has to do with that integrity thing?

Having integrity makes life easier on everyone; the client and the designer. As a designer, try to explain the project to the best of your ability, remembering that some people will play that they are smarter than what they are. That is because they don’t want to be taken advantage of. That is totally understandable. For us, no matter how smart they are or appear to be, we always try to over-explain so there are no misunderstandings. But it is ultimately up to the consumer to make sure they maintain their integrity by not jumping in to expensive business deals frivolously. That goes for anything in life.