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.

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?

Creative Folk: You Are Worth It

I recently watched this Abbott & Costello video, and figured out the math some clients try to use on creative people. Go ahead and watch it…I’ll wait.

Now you see what happened there? At the time, it makes perfect sense. And most clients who utilize our services talk about how they aren’t making enough to afford your regular rates. Since you are tired of eating Ramen and Peanut Butter and Jelly every day, you think to yourself, “At least some money is better than none.”

You give in. You want to be seen as the nice and understanding one, and quite frankly, rent is due. You think, “Gee…Maybe I will get some exposure, and then the money will roll in.”

Clients count on this. While they go shopping at Whole Foods, get $120 hair cuts, and go home to a house with a view of the city, you are in your one bedroom apartment eating Ramen and Peanut Butter and Jelly.

This is what you need to know. Because if you don’t, you will soon give up…Financially, you will have to…And we all know you are worth more than that.

No other professional is treated quite the way that creative’s are, because clients want us to believe they really don’t need us, even though they are the one’s who hired us to do what we do. Think about it. Why would they hire us if they didn’t need what we do? Do you go to the doctor if you are not sick? Do you go to a restaurant if you are not hungry? Do you go see a hairstylist if you do not need a hair cut? Well, why do you think they called you then?

They hire creative professionals because what they have currently sucks.

That’s right, I said it.

Creative folk everywhere! Hear me roar! They need us to continue to have a Shop-At-Whole-Foods budget! They need us to keep buying those $120 hair cuts! They need us to afford that house on the hill! So now I will explain some of the common excuses you will hear, and even give you some ammunition to blow those excuses away.

Excuses And Comebacks

1. “I can get someone else to do this for less.”
Oh really. Is that why you called me then? No, the truth is they either want to believe this, or they have called around and no one else caved in. They are hoping the one that caves in will be you. Your portfolio is what had them call you. They want what you have. Never forget that.

What you should say: “Then I encourage you to shop around, or go with those cheaper options.”
This calls the client’s bluff. They know how much time it takes to shop around and find a creative they like at the price point they like. This is why they called you, and you are about to walk out the door. We have always received call backs from client’s like this if they are smart enough to swallow their pride for making such a moronic statement to a professional.

Another thing you can say: “Sure. And you will get what you pay for.”
Again, calling their bluff. Not only that, but you remind the client why they like to shop at Whole Foods and not the other stores for their food…Because they believe that statement…They live it.

2. “I can get a student to do this for next to nothing!”
Yes, they can. A student is hungry for a portfolio, and they do not have the confidence to say “no” yet. They will do whatever you tell them to do with hopes the client will be happy and give them lots of exposure. They will also re-produce something this client currently has, and as you know, what the client currently has sucks. Once that student starts to realize their portfolio says nothing about what they can do creatively, and is also hurting them professionally, they will stop always being the “yes man for free” clients seem to desire.

What you should say: “If you do not care enough to invest in yourselves, that is a viable option you have.”
Whoa! Yes, this sounds scary. But you know what is scarier? Hindsight! The hindsight being knowing the value you brought to that client, while you eat Ramen yet again. It also puts the client back in their place, and reminds them why they hired you. More often than not, when we do this, we not only get the gig, but we also get the client’s respect.

3. “All I’m asking for is a website/logo/video/whatever…”
Of course, that is all they asking for! But as you know, that stuff takes time out of your life, and how much do you value the time in your life? And what is the client asking for? Brand identity! What does brand identity do? Helps a client get recognized. What happens when your client is recognized? They make more money! More hair cuts! More shopping at Whole Foods! Especially if it is done correctly. The point is, brand recognition done professionally earns a company money. When businesses decide to design their own stuff in-house, it doesn’t. Ever see a website/logo/video/whatever designed by the owner or the IT person at the company and cringe? If you cringe, you can be sure others are cringing as well. They are not dealing with that client, because it looks like the client doesn’t care. You are that professional they need. The ATamp;T logo was designed in 1983 with slight variations on it since. It cost ATamp;T a bunch of money to be made, and more to be re-marketed to replace the bell it had for years. Yet that logo earned them billions of dollars because of brand recognition. That AT&T logo has a 93% brand recognition rate. That recognition rate turned into dollars. I’m not making this stuff up! Them’s the facts:

What you should say: “And all I am asking is for what I am worth, and asking you how much you value what others think of your company.”
Boom! Bring it down hard! This gets them right where it hurts, because the truth does hurt. If they value their employment, they want the best, and the best costs money. Not making their company look it’s best hurts their bottom line, and threatens their value as an employee. Which in turn, threatens their Whole Food budget. If they try to belittle the work you do, and you accept the belittling, then you are not going to do your best work. This not only reflects on your skills as a creative, but also makes their company look bad…Which again, reflects your skills as a creative. Believe in yourself more than the client believes in themselves, and you both benefit.

4. “Our product is going to change everything, and you will get so much exposure!”
I don’t remember the last time I walked into a grocery store, went to the checkout, and the person said, “Aren’t you the person who did that thing? Just go ahead and take the groceries! Their on us!” Until exposure means you get fed, exposure is only good for the client…And you are the one who will be making that happen. Remember that.

What you should say: “If you believe in it that much, then you should consider me an investment…Otherwise, you don’t really believe that at all.”
Owned! The reason they say such a dumb thing is because they are hoping you are gullible enough to believe their hype. They are appealing to the “artist ego” myth that has been around for years: All we want is recognition for our work. Even if this is true (which, let’s face it, it is), it doesn’t mean your ego can pay your rent. This also turns their hype on them in a “put your money where your mouth is” sort of way.

You are starting to get it. They have excuses ad nauseum, but we keep allowing the excuses to happen. It is up to us as professional to assert ourselves as professionals.

You Don’t Need Those Who Don’t Value You In Your Life

When you go to the doctor, you do not haggle the price. The same goes for a restaurant, a coffee shop, Walgreens, Wal Mart, a mechanic, etc, etc. The price is what it is. If you cannot afford it, you shouldn’t have it. That is Economics 101. You are the product. If they want what you have, they should pay for it. Plain and simple. Sure, you may lose potential clients this way, but it’s just like dating: Weed them out quickly, so you can focus on the one’s that are worth it. Once you start realizing you are worth it, the quality of your clients goes up, the quality of your work goes up, and you can walk past the Ramen aisle once and for all.

Our kind has become a co-dependent type that has devalued the nature of our work, and it all stems from fear. But we are creating our own fear by devaluing ourselves. I have seen designers, video editors, etc making less than employees at the local Wal Mart. We created this mess. We need to un-create it.

Go get ’em, Tiger.

Dear Student Designer,

We know. We have all been there. You want to develop a portfolio. You want to get your work recognized. You want to excel in your field so you can be set when you graduate. But I am here to appeal to you from your future. Stop under-cutting those of us working in the field.


Now, you might say, “Pfft! Of course he is going to say that. He’s not in my shoes. He’s already in the business.”


Well, you’re right. I’m trying to pay bills, have a life, afford gas…But I am telling you that YOU are going to be doing this in the future. And you are soon going to hear “Why should I have you do it when I can get a student to do it for next to nothing?”


That is when it becomes real. When your rent is due. When your bills need paid. When you want to go out on a date on a Saturday night. When you should be a self-sufficient adult. By under-cutting those people working in the field, you are under-cutting your own future in this business. That is what they don’t teach you in school. So I am going to try and teach you Designing Life 101 right here.


What they don’t teach you in school is that you are a value-added service. What you do for a company adds value to what they have. They can have the best product in the world, but if they have no form of marketing or advertising, no one is going to even know about them, let alone use them. So that $50 bucks you charge them to make a really snazzy logo that will eventually end up all over their marketing material is going to make them thousands, maybe even millions. Sure, you have the bragging rights that you created that logo, but when people ask you how much you created it for, you are going to feel that twinge in your stomach. You suddenly know you were duped. And will the company give you credit for it? Nope. You know you made it, but no one else will. It is now the company’s logo, not yours. As far as they are concerned, they have always had it.


The most common excuse that people will give you is, “Well, I have a limited budget…” If they cannot afford the standard cost of your time, then they are not going to be in business long enough to have your logo noticed anyway. Every good business with a solid platform starts off with a marketing budget, no matter how small they are. If they didn’t include that, then they are not using good business practices. And what they are not telling you is that, yes, they have a limited budget now, but how much do they plan to make from your labor in marketing their product? How much do they value the product they are selling? You need to look into what the standard rates are for developing logos, websites, video and other marketing material. And yes, under-cut the pros by a bit, but doing them for near-slave-labor prices are only hurting yourselves in the long run…Because you are watering the market down. By the time you get ready to practice your art and make a living for yourself, you are going to find it impossible to do so.


Plus, what are you telling people about your worth? About how you value your time? About your professionalism? Knowing these things are valuable will make all of our work more valuable in the future. Customers WILL try to take advantage of your insecurity! There. You have been warned. If they feel you are too unsure of what you are doing, or the process of doing things, they will try to even under-cut what you already have under-cut yourself. I know you have big dreams and ideals and think the best of your future. We all did. We all started off with the best of intentions in an ideal world we were planning. I know you are the “next big thing”. But in all honesty, out here, you are a number on a piece of paper among many other pieces of paper that have been thrown into a hat. To BE the “next big thing”, you have to act like it. Because we put the time and the energy into knowing principals of design, UI development, best-practices, etc, we deserve to be treated like any other professional service out there. No one tries to negotiate the price of a doctor’s visit. We don’t tell the mechanic what we plan to pay for them to fix our car. We don’t tell the dentist we are working on a limited budget. We pay the market price. As a soon-to-be professional designer, so should you. What we do just looks better than what the average consumer can do with the free website services offered, the picasa photo fixer, or the video editing software that comes with their computers. We as designers and videographers have a skill! It is a marketable skill! Don’t sell yourself short.


Learn your value. You owe it to yourself. $50 is a lot of beer money for a Saturday night kegger, but when you start paying your own taxes and need to eat, that $50 is nothing. If you want to develop your portfolio, just start creating. Make up fictitious companies, think of their product, how they want to show themselves off to the world. When you start thinking in those terms, your creativity actually increases, and you end up with a cool story for each logo you create. Design a web page for one of them. Create a whole marketing scheme for your fictitious company. You don’t think your future employer or client is going to appreciate all the time and effort you put into doing that? Think again! That is what we call PROACTIVE. They will find it MORE appealing, because it shows you are creative and can think in broad terms. We LOVE that stuff. Those are the people we want working for us. Those are the people that future clients hire to do the work for them. Forward thinking is vital for our practice…So start practicing! But when the time comes for you to be called upon, remember your future…Remember your future colleagues…Remember that you want to leave your parent’s house when you graduate…And start charging accordingly.


Don’t be a creative slave. You are worth it. Trust me.


Hugs and Love,
Creative Director at Philly Puddy Designs


P.S. I live in a major university town (University of Texas), and I mean NO disrespect to those of you studying to get into this field. I and many other’s like myself have just noticed that this is a common theme nowadays, and are trying to maintain this field to be a lucrative industry in the future. Otherwise, that degree you are working so hard for will be worthless…So please keep that in mind. I am here to help, not hinder. I look forward to seeing your talent in the future. 🙂