Over the past couple of months I have come across a few clients that, to put it mildly, have been lead down the garden path. There seems to be a cancer in our industry with dishonest dealings and promises made with no delivery in sight. However this disease is not limited to our industry and that all sectors of business have their bad apples.
But what is it that happens that gives our industry a bad name? In all my dealings with clients that have been bitten, they all end up saying very much the same. “I wish I knew better, next time...” Sadly also the converse happen and there is no next time, once bitten...
I believe that business men and women are duped sometimes by snake oil salespeople with techno garble and catch phrases and rather than heeding the voice of caution, they put ink to paper to save their pride or ignorance of these lingo-spewing, fork-tongued, snake oil sales people. But what went wrong?
Everybody cannot be an expert in everybody's field of work. It is this lack of knowledge and comprehension of the subject matter that give these snake oil sales people the home ground advantage. Most people are intimidated by computers and the internet as it is only a recent development in businesses in general. There are many business people whose businesses operate perfectly without any of this new fangled stuff, but global customer pressure is putting a spanner in the works. Email is the communication of choice, websites showcase products and service renderings, and online orders broaden one's business reach to the whole wide world. And this is new to most people.
So where does a “must have” turn into a nightmare? More importantly, how do you guard against it?
I believe there are four categories to this disease. These are four commonly encountered points where sales people do not share the pros and cons of their products with the client. But, as long as people are ignorant and do not ask questions, the snake oil sales people will prey on easy targets.
1. BAD, BAD People
There will always be dishonest people no matter what. They will not change or go away. They will always promise you the Moon, Mars and the whole galaxy while they're at it. Unfortunately they can operate as individuals and within companies.
They usually make claims that are too good to be true, even by moderate expectations and their presentations and sales pitch are peppered with lingo, abbreviations and terminology designed to confuse.
Call their bluff by doing the most important thing possible: ask questions. Don't fall for their techno lingo; they rely on your silent ignorance not to challenge their knowledge. Ask them to explain what “that” word mean, snake oil con men don't like it when their cleverly rehearsed lingo and phrases are broken down into everyday sensible language. Honest people do not mind educating their prospective customers, dishonest operators like to keep their mark in the dark for as long as possible.
2. One man band.
These salespeople are the sales team, marketing team, designers, tea lady, technician, public relations person and the managing director. For obvious reasons, time is their worst enemy. When their business was small and there was ample time, things were good. However, there comes a point when the balancing act collapses.
They will often tell you that they are the owner and pride themselves on their skills and abilities as well as achievements. Due to the business structure they more often than not have to make use of 3rd parties to render certain functions. An example of this, and a very important example, is the hosting of the website and emails for your new website.
Ask yourself what your expectations of your website will be in the years to come. Will Mr. One-Man-Band be able to support you, your staff and company to the same levels into the future? Often, it is the 3rd parties that fail to deliver service to Mr. OMB and this knock-on effect travels back to you. I see it so often, where there are too many cooks in the kitchen, the client is the one that carries all the expenses and costs in the end. Ask questions like: Who will be hosting the website? Who owns the domain (scary one)? Who will be designing the website? Check out their website and scale of business.
3. Cheap or Free
There are hundreds of free or cheap websites programmes and designers out there. Very rarely do they make it to the top of the search engines. Please understand that you get what you pay for. Cheap usually restricts you to outdated templates and restricts you creatively. Free comes with drawbacks and bugs or somebody else's advert on your website. Nothing is truly free.
Cheap means that I can only give you a little bit of my time because we all know, time costs money. And that free site designed by my brother's neighbour's cousin's uncle's friend in Pofadder, that's into computers because he knows this stuff, never goes live. This category is singularly responsible for driving the most new clients to our business.
Can you truly afford to cut corners in your business? Then why waste your time and money over and over by trying to do it cheap or for free? You are in business to make money and, with a professional website and online marketing plan that is what you will achieve. Cheap or free usually does not understand how the internet works and how your image out there is portrayed. Cheap and free seldom comes with support or somebody to deal with when things break.
4. CMS or Content Management System
This concept or product is more often than not sold under a false or misguided impression, purposefully or unknowingly. The premise of being able to control and/or be in charge of your own website is a dream that soon turns into a nightmare for many business owners. CMS's have been around since day one and nine out of ten times are completely FREE. Still people end up buying this product in big bottles covered in snake oil. Most of these websites never see the light of day and/or fail in their upkeep as sold by the snake oil sales people.
There are only two routes with website design: one, you do it yourself and two, you have somebody do it professionally for you. CMS means that you do-it-yourself. This makes life difficult for many business people, as they now have to invest precious time (and money) in learning new software. Quality is often sacrificed for cost savings through creativity.
For many businesspeople CMS is sold as the ultimate solution to sidestep expensive web design companies and site control. Basic ftp (file transfer protocol) rights (username and password) will put you onto your little space of the World Wide Web. Old FrontPage™ from Microsoft® or their new version called Expression Web™ will do everything you need to manage your own site and at a fraction of the cost. Let the experts deal with what they are good at so that you can focus on business.
Most of the questions can be answered by a few simple web searches if you doubt what you are being told by the person in front of you. After all, it is your hard earned money.
Remember: ask questions...