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?!”


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.

Not all clients are “from hell”…

client from hell

It is common for most of us creative types who do work in this field for a living to talk about our “clients from hell”. This may scare some of the new creative people who are up and coming. Look…The reason why we only talk about our “clients from hell” is because it is funny. And really, if you don’t laugh at some of these people, you’ll only end up kicking the cat…And it really isn’t the cat’s fault. Some people just don’t have social skills, and you will find that in any career.

So I would like to say that since I have been doing independent design and video for people in the Central Texas Area and beyond since the beginning of this millennium, I have had only FOUR clients from hell…So in the greater scheme of things, I have had a really good run at this business. But, the main reason why I have a really good run in this business is because of the attitude I bring to the table.

Most confrontations can be avoided if you look at the client like a person. I know! In this day and age! But trust me, they are people. Oftentimes, us creative types forget that. Yes, I am saying that WE have a responsibility in this. If all you are dealing with are “clients from hell”, you may want to think about how you are treating the people you are dealing with.

I often say that the reason why most marriages fail in the United States is because more people are looking for the other person to make them happy. They are not thinking what they can BRING to the relationship, they are thinking what the relationship can GIVE to THEM. That is backwards. Always has been. Always will be. Sure, the person makes you happy for a while in the beginning, but everything is shiny and new…That’s why. Eventually, they will just become a person with faults and needs. Since we also live in a disposable nation (disposable razors, disposable this, disposable that), we tend to think that “Well, I am no longer getting what I need from this person, so it is time to end it.” Rubbish. That is when you should be thinking what you can bring to the table.

Clients need to be thought of as a marriage. At the very least, they need to be thought of as “long term partners”, because that is what they really will be if you are doing it right. In the beginning, both of you are excited to be working together. Everything is shiny and new, full of promises and hope. Sound familiar? It should if you have ever dated. Then comes the first mistake, or in our case, the first draft. Suddenly, there is a critique. You are no longer “perfect” in the eyes of the client, and they are no longer “perfect” in your eyes, because they didn’t welcome what you did on the first try with open arms. Do you take this personally? Do you tell them they are wrong? Do you even offer up an explanation as to why you did what you did, and how a compromise might be better? These are important questions you should be asking yourself upon dealing with the people who are going to be paying your rent.

Oh…Did that last part wake you up? It should.

This is nothing personal. This is business. Us creative types are often so caught up in the creative process, that somehow our creations become a part of us. When someone criticizes our work, well, they might as well have just kicked your first born child. It’s not YOUR child. It is THEIRS. You are just the surrogate. Bring this with you upon revealing the first draft. Don’t take the critiques personal. Listen to what the client has to say, and if it is NOT a good idea, don’t just say, “That’s not a good idea.” Tell them something like this, “I hear what you are saying, but what if we tried something like THIS?” And then explain it to them. You need to remember to bring your A-game with you. You need to offer a solution that works. After all, you are the professional. When you offer solutions, you start developing this characteristic known as “credibility”. You also need to remember this is a person you are dealing with. A person who is giving you money for a service. A person who is probably not made of money. Learn to empathize with your clients, and listen to what they have to say, even if it isn’t complimentary. God forbid you might have misunderstood what they project was all about. Admit that you misunderstood, because you did! I guarantee if you do that, if you practice a bit of humility, the client may actually apologize for not making what they wanted clear enough for you to understand. I have had it happen so many times that I know this to be true. If you do this, not only will the project you are working on turn out fabulous, but there might be future projects to work on as well. I have found this to be the case with most of my clients. And even if they do not do any future projects, they are always willing to give a good referral if someone in the future needs similar work done. Word of mouth is the cheapest and most effective advertising technique there is for you. You can have the coolest website, the best social media presence, the coolest ideas for marketing…But if you’re an idiot, no one is going to really care. They won’t want to deal with you. Why should they?

So please don’t take this personal if it pertains to you. It pertained to me a couple of times myself…I realize in hindsight, had I reacted differently to two previous clients, they might not have ended up on the “from hell” list.

Then there are those other two. Ah, what stories of wonder and horror I could share, like watching an avalanche that is about to occur when you just started down the mountain missing one of your skis. Of course, there are going to be people you can’t do a thing to please. They are entitled and they expect you to be God, lick the screen, and make the impossible magically happen for the least amount of money possible. If THAT is the case, then I recommend venting through a forum such as this: Clients From Hell.

But under NO circumstances give them a reason to say that you were the “contractor from hell”.