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Being straight with potential web design clients.

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
My father is an honest man. In point of fact, people have often accused him of being too honest. Some years ago when he was trying to sell my parents’ house which, to tell the truth, had a lot of things wrong with it, my mother and I listened to him talk prospective buyers practically right out of buying because his conscience wouldn’t allow him not to explain everything that was amiss with the old house. Thank goodness the fast-paced realtor in charge of the sale never heard him do this! Of course, all potential problems have to be disclosed to buyers on paper, but my father couldn’t help warning people himself and was unwilling to put his own important need to sell the house ahead of his more important need to tell it like it was. I have discovered I have picked up this trait from my father, and it may have something to do with the fact that we’re not exactly striking it rich around here. It may also have something to do with the fact that people feel they can trust us.
Some time ago, I was approached by a potential web design client who really needed some setting straight in regards to their expectations of running a web business. They seemed like a nice woman, and had seen in our portfolio that we had worked in the past with other companies in similar industries. They had a good supply source for what they wanted to sell on the web and the opportunity for them to break into this industry was possible, as far as my research showed.
But, there was a real problem. The woman did not have photos of her products, and was not willing to take any. She was also unwilling to write descriptions of her products. I was really perplexed to receive subsequent communications from her that stated this would be too much work. Despite the fact that she was coming to us as a result of looking at the great businesses in our portfolio, she wasn’t willing to expend the effort to do what our clients do – get photos of their products and write, at the very least, thorough text descriptions of these item.
Wanting to be of real help to this lady, I spent the time explaining to her that people would be unwilling to buy things that they couldn’t read about or see a picture of. The more time I spent trying to advise her, the more certain I became that this consultation was not going to result in a contract being drawn up between us. She said she thought she could just put up a list of products, and hopefully people would figure out how to find her site, would scroll through it to find what they wanted and then would buy from her. Again, I was very straight with her in my reply that you couldn’t expect e-commerce customers to do all of that work on a web page where they couldn’t even see what they were buying. I told her her only hope of competing was to look at what her competitors in this industry were doing and not only match them in their efforts to win customers, but also try to go one better than the competition in hopes of getting sales.
I was very sorry to receive her reply to my detailed explanation of what would be required from her in order to compete – she said I had discouraged her. I must admit, I threw up my hands at this point. If education = discouragement, I’m in the wrong business.
What it all boils down to is that a realistic business plan for a small e-commerce business has got to hinge on the fact that the owner is willing to make huge efforts toward providing a shopping experience that meets and exceeds customer wishes. Yes, taking photos can be costly and time consuming. Writing descriptive content certainly takes a lot of time. But if you are unwilling to do the work that goes into running an e-commerce business, how could you reasonably expect that the public will be interested in giving you any of their money? What have you done to earn their business?
Attitude is really key here. We have talked to so many interesting business owners from so many walks of life. All have different talents, drives and abilities. What joins our clients together is that they all have a really vibrant work ethic. I don’t want to sound like a boot camp sergeant, but ‘too hard’ is not a phrase we expect to hear from serious business owners.
I have a feeling that the lady in question will be able to find a web designer who is willing to take her money and lie to her that her incomplete business plan is just great. But I couldn’t do this. I simply could not envision myself signing a contract with this person, only to build them a vague list on a web page that would sit in no-man’s land at #502 in Google’s index, not bringing her a single sale but having drained her of the budget she had that could have gone towards building a real, competitive website – if she had been willing to do her part.
Ammon Johns recently said that 95% of all web businesses fail. That’s such a huge number. Some part of that total must come from situations like this, where the owner not only does not have a realistic idea of what it takes to compete in the Internet marketplace, but responds to professional advice on this as though their feelings have been hurt. My advice to this woman was totally free. I genuinely wanted her to do well with her idea. It would have been a pleasure to take her beginnings of a plan and turn it into a viable business concept…but it just didn’t work out this way.
So, obviously, this is one contract that will never come to pass, and while I certainly need to do all I can to earn a living, I’m not sorry I was honest with this woman. Several times a week, I find myself turning away people who contact us. EBay has been an especial problem for us, as it has given its storeowners the unrealistic expectation that they can own a web business for $15/month. People are often shocked to discover that this kind of budget is not going to cut it in the e-commerce world, and they either respond with:
A) understanding (okay, I didn’t realize that, I’m going to start saving my money)
B) disbelief (you’re charging too much, Ebay doesn’t charge that much)
c) bitterness (well, you’ve certainly discouraged me about my business)
The ironic thing about this is, we are a small business. We completely understand what a meager budget looks and feels like. We’re never going to write someone’s hopes off because they aren’t wealthy. But little guys like us know that what we can’t put out in budget we’ve got to make up for with our time and effort. We’ve got to work hard!
In conclusion, if you are in the process of putting together a plan for a web-based business, don’t think you’ve got to be rich to get going, but do expect your profits to be commensurate with the efforts you are willing to make. Commitment, fire, passion, and a really solid work ethic still go a long way on the world wide web! If you’ve got these qualities to give, we’d like to work with you.